Daily Reflections on Acts — February

Day One. Acts 1. The story begins with . . . Waiting (v.4). And as the followers of Jesus wait, we find them preoccupied with questions and expectations (v.6). But the words of Jesus and the “two men in white robes” (v.10) point them beyond their preoccupations and toward a hopeful and empowered occupation (v.8,11). The response of these disciples? They devoted themselves to prayer together (v.14). How about us? How do we wait for all that God promises?

Let’s ponder today the choice between preoccupation with questions and timetables, and the holy occupations of prayer and witness. May we follow the example of holy occupation. Together. By the transforming power of the Spirit. Amen.

Day Two. Acts 2. As Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, he quotes the Prophet Joel, including this phrase: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (v.17). Similarly, in his Gospel, Luke records Isaiah’s word: “All flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6). Both stand early-on in both volumes as signposts: Jesus is Savior of the world and salvation is offered to all people. Then, in each book, Luke goes on to tell the story of God’s love without borders (extended to women, children, the poor, the outcast, the sinful, Samaritans, Gentiles, and Rome . . .)

The promise of salvation includes us. And “all flesh.” How shall we flesh this out today? Individually and together? May we, as people transformed by the Spirit, embody God’s love in Christ for all people. Amen.

Day Three: Acts 3. Today we read of Peter and John giving what they have to bless the man at the Beautiful Gate. The man then gives himself to “walking and leaping and praising God” (v.8). This, in turn, brings blessing to others as Peter points them to Jesus (v.16). Then, as the chapter draws to a close, Peter quotes God’s word: “in your descendants all families of the earth shall be blessed” (v.25) . . .

Let’s consider our own commitments to giving what we have for the blessing of others. How does this chapter encourage us? Challenge us?? Call us to transformation??? May we, in our living and in our gathering together, be a blessing to someone today. Amen.

Day Four: Acts 4. We read today of Peter and John being arrested, placed on trial, and warned to speak no more to anyone in Jesus’ name. Their bold response? “We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (v.20). May their bold example and wise words inspire us to courage too, as we face daily opportunities (see Luke 21:13) to bear witness by speaking what we see and hear of Jesus in the world today. Amen.
Day Five: Acts 5. Martin Luther once called security “the ultimate idol.” In today’s reading, we see two examples of this deadly foolishness in Ananias and Sapphira (personal security), and the religious leaders (the security of the status quo). In contrast, we see in the apostles a courage that embraces risk as a part of obedience and a sign of faithfulness (v.41). How about us? Where do we place our focus and apply our energies — on Security or Risk? And how might God be calling us out today? May we join Peter and the apostles in the risky business of obeying God (v.29). Amen.
Day six: Acts 6. “We have heard him say that this Jesus . . . will change the customs that Moses handed on to us” (Acts 6:14). The charge against Stephen: Change. Dangerous, disorienting change. Jesus . . . Stephen . . . the church . . . threatened the way things were . . . Today’s scripture offers us the opportunity to evaluate our own uneasy relationships with change. Are we open to being transformed by the Spirit? Or resistant? Would the charge against the church today be change? Or more of the same? Might Jesus still be in the business of changing the way things are? May we be willing partners in the journey of discovery and renewal. Today. Amen.
Day seven: Acts 7. Today we read Stephen’s defense before the council. Notice this theme: God is present with Abraham and Joseph in foreign lands, with Moses wherever he wandered, with Joshua on the journey, and with David and Solomon in their leading. God is also with Stephen in his dying . . . The message? God’s presence is not limited by place or space and, in truth, is perhaps best represented by a movable tent (v.44). Beloved of God, receive Stephen’s message today: Wherever you are, whatever you are going through, God, who created you, is with you. Come what may, God is present. And God does not rest (v.49). May we see and welcome God with us. Always. Amen.
Day Eight: Acts 8. “Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word” (v.4). Today’s text offers us the opportunity to ponder words. There is such power in words! And choice . . . With words we can proclaim the good news of Jesus (v.12), or (looking ahead) utter threats and do harm (9:1,2) . . . Words can reveal our hearts (v.18,19), speak truth to error (v.20-22), and express repentance (v.24) . . . And, scattered by persecution, the followers of Jesus proclaimed the word wherever they went – a reminder that words even have the power to redeem difficult transitions and bad situations. Words rightly used, that is . . . May we, with wisdom, grace, and love, employ our words in the service of God’s kingdom this day and every day. Amen.
Day Nine: Acts 9. Today we read the story of Paul’s conversion; his “Road to Damascus” story. Three times the story is told in Acts (9:1-25; 22:4-16; 26:9-18) and once in Galatians (1:13-17). Four times recorded in the scriptures; who knows how many times told? And why? Surely as a witness to God’s grace and the power of transformation . . . and, perhaps, as an intentional practice of remembering . . . There is also this: Paul’s story invites us – today and every day – to remember the ways in which God has acted in our lives. Have we known God’s grace? Are there identifiable points of transformation in our journeys? We do all have stories. Might God use our stories for good when remembered and shared? May we remember — and share — our stories; for the sake of others; for the sake of the Gospel; for our own sakes. Amen.
Day Ten: Acts 10. Today, we read of Peter being “greatly puzzled” (v.17), see Cornelius staring at the angel “in terror” (v.4), and learn that the Jewish believers with Peter were “astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (v.45). This much is sure: Not one of them expected what they were given! How about us? Has God ever shown up in unexpected ways, times, or places? Might God be guiding us now into places we would never expect God to send us? And, if so, how shall we respond? Well . . . “The next day he got up and went with them” (v.23). Peter and Cornelius both obeyed. Puzzled as they were, they each came to a place of attentiveness; listening and then responding with action . . . Who knows what God will show us if we will do the same?
“God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (v.28)
Day Eleven: Acts 11. Peter faced criticism when he returned to Jerusalem. Going to Gentiles? Eating with them? Baptizing them into the church? In the view of Jewish Christians, his behavior was completely unacceptable. What did he have to say for himself? Peter’s response is instructive: He “began to explain it to them step by step” (v.4). That is, he simply told the story of God’s dealings with him and the Gentiles. And he finished with a question, “Who was I than I could hinder God?” (v.17). No argument. No accusations. No attacking. Just the story and a question. And? His critics were silenced and turned their focus to praise (v.18) . . . Such wisdom for our times! Speak of God’s grace-in-action and finish with a question. Do you see it? Peter trusted in the ability of God’s Spirit to do the work of transformation, and he didn’t allow himself to get in the way. Oh Lord, may we follow Peter’s example! Amen.
Day Twelve: Acts 12. Violence against the church continues and, at the same time, ”the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents” (v.24). James is martyred. Great grief. Peter is delivered. Great joy . . . Loss and gain. Setback and progress. It is all here — in the Word and in our lives — together. Messy, isn’t it? Herod rages. AND the word of God advances . . . Does one negate the other? Not in Acts. Both are real. And present. And true. And, though we try mightily to tidy it up and fit it all together, transformation is not found in such efforts. Grief and grace exist together. May God’s Word advance – and may our faith grow – through it all. Today.
Day Thirteen. Acts 13. Today we read of Barnabas and Paul being set apart by the Holy Spirit and sent out by the church on their first missionary journey. And what were the believers doing when they heard and responded to the Spirit’s direction? They were engaged in worship, prayer, and fasting (v.2,3) . . . Notice: We are reading this chapter on Ash Wednesday, the first day in the season of Lent. Lent is rooted in Jesus’ experience of being led by the Spirit in the wilderness, a 40 day period during which he fasted (Luke 4:2) in preparation for ministry. As we enter this season of spiritual reflection and preparation for new life, Acts 13 invites us to embrace worship, prayer and fasting as practices that open us up to being transformed by the Spirit. How shall we respond?
Day Fourteen: Acts 14. Our reading today makes it clear that the ministry of Paul and Barnabas was both effective and difficult; extremely so. Not one or the other, but both. Together. Notice this phrase early in the chapter: “So they remained for a long time” (v.3). So. Faced with nasty opposition, the chosen response was to . . . stay. For a long time. How about us? When the way gets rough, do we cut and run? Or do we stay? Do we go through? Or attempt to go around? And how effective is our witness when we walk away? What, beloved, might God do with us (v.27) when we remain faithful? May we move beyond romanticism today; and into transformation. And may we be encouraged by the word recorded as v.22: “It is through . . .”, not around.
Day Fifteen. Acts 15. In this chapter, we witness the church in Jerusalem wrestling with the inclusion of Gentiles. Note: The debate among these believers was over something the Spirit was already doing “out there,” beyond the “walls” of the church . . . Would the Spirit have ceased this inclusive activity if they had voted “no?” We know the answer . . . So how about us? Where is God working beyond our boundaries today? Are we “out there” with God? Or are we debating and resisting? And how open are we to being led new places? Let’s reflect today on our own openness to the Spirit’s guidance and activity “beyond” . . . and let’s be “out there” with God. ” . . . in cleansing their hearts by faith God has made no distinction between them and us” (Acts 15:9).
Day Sixteen. Acts 16. Suggestion: Try reading this chapter through the lens of “freedom.” There are those who seem to be free, and those who are truly free. And, to turn a familiar phrase, freedom is as freedom does . . . Lydia, opening her heart to transformation, demonstrates her transformation by opening her home (v.15) . . . Paul & Silas, responding to being unchained & set free, stay put for the sake of the jailer (v.28) . . . and the jailer’s first response to his new freedom in Christ? He washes the wounds of Paul and Silas (v.33). And all of this stands in stark contrast to the slave owners, the crowd, and the authorities, who would think themselves free . . . True freedom, it turns out, is not about the ability to do whatever we want. Those who are truly free employ that freedom in the service OF God FOR others. May our lives embody true freedom. Amen.
Day Seventeen. Acts 17. Today we hear Paul quote ancient and poetic words: “In him we live and move and have our being” (v.28). We do well to sit with these words for a while . . . Read them again. Speak them. Think on them. Commit them to memory. Take them deep within. “In him we live and move and have our being.” What wisdom! What living truth! God is the atmosphere in which we exist; the ocean in which we swim. We are as prenatal children in the mother’s womb. There is no absence . . . no hiding . . . as Paul writes elsewhere: “For from him and through him and in him are all things” (Romans 11:38) and “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Beloved, God is with us; we are in him. May our living and moving and being reflect this reality today. Amen.
Day Eighteen. Acts 18. Today we read that Paul, in the face of dangerous opposition, continues on in Corinth, heeding the Lord’s instruction, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you . . .” (v.9,10). How was it that Paul was able to move beyond fear and continue proclaiming the word? Might it be that Paul respected and trusted God so completely, that any fear he may have had was overcome by obedience? And, perhaps, this leads us to a few transformative questions: Does our respect for God exceed our fear of others? Is our living governed more by trust in God or the pressure of the crowd? What shall it be — Fear or Obedience? May we each move beyond fear and step out in bold obedience this day, knowing that the God of the universe is with us. Amen.
Day Nineteen. Acts 19. In today’s reading, notice a contrast: First (v.9,10), we discover that Paul taught “daily” in Ephesus “for two years.” Then, as Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths inspire the crowds to riot, we find folks who didn’t even know why they were gathered (v.32) chanting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for “about two hours” (v.34). Two years of teaching vs two hours of emoting . . . Well. It is no accident that life in Christ is called “The Way” in Acts (9:2; 19:9,23; 24:14). As Paul models, following Jesus is a way of life; a daily journey of faithfulness that goes far beyond one or two hours of emotional energy. May we continue in The Way, engaging faithfully and wholly — head, heart, and soul — in the journey every day. Amen.
Day Twenty. Acts 20. “After the uproar had ceased, Paul . . . left for Macedonia” (v.1). Chaos and confusion in the previous chapter, plots (v.3), accidents (v.7-12), and grief (v.36-38) in this. Circumstances beyond personal control . . . such is the nature of life on this earth. And, through it all, Paul keeps moving. Encouraging. Breaking bread. Teaching. Conversing. Paul does not try to control the chaos. It simply propels him on. How about us? How do we deal with chaos? Where do we place our energies? Into attempts to control? Or do we keep journeying on as captives to the Spirit (v.22)? May we go where the journey takes us, knowing that God goes with us. It is called faith . . . Let’s live it today.
Day Twenty-One. Acts 21. In today’s reading, we see two contrasting responses to Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem. On the one hand, as James and the elders hear him tell of the things that God has done, “they praised God” (v.19,20). On the other hand, upon seeing him, others “stirred up the whole crowd” (v.27), inciting violence (31). Where might we be in this? Are we more inclined to listen? Or to stir? The question applies both to our inner lives, as the Spirit seeks to lead us, and to our life together, as being with others proves challenging. May we practice listening more and stirring less. And may the resulting openness lead us to praise God for all that God is doing. Amen.
Day Twenty-Two. Acts 22. “Up to this point they listened to him, but then they shouted, ‘Away with such a fellow!’”(v.22). What to do when someone challenges our prejudices? Shout! Stop listening and go on the attack. Away with anyone who would include those we exclude! Such people “should not be allowed to live!” Wow. Throw out the message and the messenger. After all, who wants good news if it includes people I don’t think should be included? Well. Suggestion: Perhaps prejudice and shouting down the opposition are spiritually self-destructive behaviors. Just ponder what we will forfeit in the name of being “right” . . . May we willingly examine ourselves this day, pondering the scriptures, listening to the Spirit, and walking in the light of truth. Amen.
Day Twenty-Three. Acts 23. “Keep up your courage!” (v.11). So speaks the Lord to Paul. Notice. The encouragement is not based upon a promise of rescue from the trouble, but upon a promise of purpose and presence through the turmoil: “you must bear witness also in Rome.” Courage comes, then, in trusting God to be redemptively present no matter the circumstances. Paul gets this. How about us? Do we live as if God is sometimes absent? Or do we trust God to be with us at all times? The truth be known, the answer is most likely “both.” Courage. We may, or may not, as of yet, have the confidence of Paul, but God is still faithful. Amen.
Day Twenty-Four. Acts 24. “I have a hope in God . . . Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience toward God and all people” (v.15,16). In Paul’s defense before Felix we hear that, far from putting himself and his rights first, Paul placed priority on consideration of God and others in his decisions and actions. He clearly saw himself as part of something larger than himself. Imagine that. It is good for us to reflect upon Paul’s hope and clear conscience in our present context . . . Where do we place our hope? In God, self, stuff, or others? How might our lives be transformed if we emulated Paul’s priorities? What course corrections might be in order today?
May our hope in God and the promise of resurrection guide our decisions and give shape to our living. Today and always. Amen.
Day Twenty-Five. Acts 25. As the stage is set for Paul’s final defense before being transported to Rome, let’s pause to notice the cast of characters present (v.23,24): a King and his sister, Roman military officers, prominent citizens , the Governor . . . and, of course, Paul. As we view this collection of folks, let us also review Paul’s commission: “to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15), and the words of Jesus: “you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify” (Luke 21:12,13). It seems that Paul, in prison and at the mercy of his captors, is right where he is needs to be in order to follow his calling and fulfill Jesus’ word . . . So here we are, again, facing this inconvenient truth: Following Jesus isn’t about avoiding difficult situations, but about being faithful to our calling in every circumstance. May we, by the power of the Spirit, embrace the opportunities presented to us. Today and every day. Amen.
Day Twenty-Six. Acts 26. Today we hear Paul’s defense before King Agrippa. At the center of his presentation is this: “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me . . . (v.16). Notice: his defense is not centered on himself, but on Jesus — The Lord appears to him and appoints him. More than being a recounting of his conversion, the focus is on his commissioning — he is to serve and speak of things that point others to Jesus. His defense is not about him; his story is bigger than self. What might we learn from this? Might the “beyond himself” focus of Paul’s story provide a model for our stories? Perhaps commissioning is the purpose of conversion . . . Suppose being “saved” is about being “sent” . . . How would this focus transform what we see? How might it inform the content of our speaking? How would it shape the living of our days? May we become such as Paul was (v.29) for the sake of all. Amen.
Day Twenty-Seven. Acts 27. Here we read the dramatic story of storm and shipwreck. And at the point of hope abandoned, we hear Paul say, “keep up your courage . . . I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (v.25). As the tempest rages, God speaks to Paul. And Paul listens. Then Paul speaks God’s word of courage to his storm-tossed companions . . . and God’s word is proven true (v.44). Does God speak to us? And through us? Or does it all seem more common in scripture than in “real life?” Might we learn something from Paul that would open the communication lines? How about this: Paul has learned to listen to God before speaking. See the order of things modeled in this narrative: The Lord speaks, we listen, and God then speaks through us. Simple? No. Listening is a skill we learn and practice as we are transformed by the Spirit. God, revealed from the beginning as the first voice of creation, still speaks. In storm and calm. May we learn to listen before speaking, and to speak what we hear. Courage.
Day Twenty-Eight. Acts 28. “On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage” (v.15). In this, the final chapter of Acts, Paul reaches Rome, where he is greeted by fellow believers coming from as far as 43 miles away. And the sight of them gives rise to thanks and courage. Let’s reflect today on the ministry of presence. These believers, upon hearing of Paul’s arrival, came to meet Paul and his companions. And by the act of showing up, they become an encouragement to a storm-tossed and weary traveler. It is an action both simple and profound, showing up. It takes time and requires effort, but words are optional and often even unnecessary. “On seeing them” Paul gives thanks and takes courage . . . And so may we, together, as we practice the ministry of presence. May we “show up” for someone today. And may we all be en-couraged and filled with gratitude. The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!