Reading Through Acts — March 2013 Daily Reflections
March 1. Acts 1. As we return to the beginning of Acts, we once again hear Jesus say, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v.8). In opening this volume with this instruction, Luke invites Theophilus – and us – to read the book of Acts through the lense of “journey.” This is the story of people on “the Way” (Acts 9:2); of followers being led by the Spirit into unknown and unimagined places. As such, Acts is much more than history.
Acts exists as an ongoing invitation to every follower of Jesus to be more than an armchair traveler: “Join the journey!” says Luke. “Walk the Way!” Today, check-in at lamdep2t To read this narrative with an open heart is to embrace a continuing journey of discovery and renewal. May we join the journey anew today, by the empowering and transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. Read on, dear traveler, read on!
March 2. Acts 2. Suddenly. From heaven. A sound like wind. Tongues like fire. And “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability” (v.1-4). Then Peter (!) proclaims the word boldly . . . This is a turnaround story; a report of amazing transformation. How is it that these folks — led by the very same Peter who denied Jesus (Luke 22) – now speak publicly and powerfully, and in varied languages, “about God’s deeds of power” (v.11)? A Suggestion: More than a story of “How,” this is a telling of “Who.”
Luke would have us see clearly that it is God the Spirit who transforms, empowers, and equips Peter and all as they wait and pray (Acts 1:4,14). This is a message for us, beloved of God. Transformed, authentic, empowered living is, first and essentially, not about “How,” but about “Who.” This is why the Spirit, represented as mysterious, powerful, unpredictable, risky, relentless, refining wind and fire, is poured out on those who are obediently waiting and praying; asking and receptive. We are not “in charge.” We are not those who “make things happen.” We are transformed and animated by the Spirit. May we live this day as the lifted and led; the engulfed and empowered. Amen.
March 3. Acts 3. As we read today of Peter and John, and the healing of a man unable to walk since birth, let’s stop and sit for a while with this question: “Why are you staring at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or holiness?” (v.12). With this, Peter and John point the people past themselves and on to God, declaring, “This is God’s doing.” How essential do you think this action is to the events that unfold in this chapter? And what learning is present for us in this question? This attitude? This action? Might it be a willingness to “get out of the way” and point people beyond ourselves that unleashes the transforming power of God? May we be channels of God’s grace this day. Amen.
March 4. Acts 4. Today, as Peter and John are ordered to cease speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus, we hear them answer, “We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen & heard” (v.19). Understand: This is, at the heart of it, a conflict over power and authority (v.7). Will the apostles listen to – and obey – the rulers of the people? Or God? And here Luke makes clear that there is only one course of action that is “right in God’s sight” (v.19). So how is it with us? By what power do we do the things we do? What voice speaks into the direction of our days? Who – or what – has ultimate authority in our lives? Self? Other People? Fear? Or God, who creates, calls, and empowers us? God with us, we pray this day for the in-filling of your transforming Spirit, so that we may live, move, and be wholly “in” the healing, saving, powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
March 5. Acts 5. Today’s narrative invites us to this transformational truth: Our relationships with others are intimately tied to relationship with God. See it in the “many signs and wonders” done among the people through the apostles (v.12). Witness it in those who are cured by proximity (v.15). Hear it in Gamaliel’s warning that opposing the apostles could mean “fighting against God” (v.39). And then there is Peter’s word to Ananias, “You did not lie to us but to God” (v.4). It is an essential truth that is woven into the whole of scripture and summarized in the two greatest commands (Matthew 22:34-40). In 1 John it is stated like this: “those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters (4:21). Lie to others, lie to God. Love others, love God . . . So what do we do with this? How about this: practice it today. May God, by the gift of the Spirit within us, bring healing and wholeness to those with whom we interact this day. Amen.
March 6. Acts 6. This chapter opens with a complaint: the Hellenists (Greek-speaking “newcomers,”) see their widows being neglected by the Hebrews (the Aramaic-speaking “establishment”). How will the leadership and the community respond? And how will this conflict impact the health of the church? Suggestion: read chapter six with chapter five in clear view. There, we see the religious leaders responding to the challenge presented by the apostles with rigidity, anger, force, and decree. Here, however, the apostles lead the church in responding to the Hellenists with openness, flexibility, creativity, and partnership. And the result of each approach?
The Council, blind to the truth while defending the truth, fights against God; while the Church continues to move and grow in obedience to the Spirit. And how shall it be with us? As we endeavor to be faithful to God together, how shall we respond to the adaptive challenges we encounter? As the Council? Or after the model of the Spirit-led community of disciples? May we be open to the movements of the Spirit. May we respond creatively to new challenges. May we be committed to partnership. And may the “word of God continue to spread” (v.7).
March 7. Acts 7. Today we read Stephen’s sermon and witness his martyrdom. In his speech, Stephen uses the scriptures to confront his listeners with their opposition to God – past and present. Their response is to continue charging down the same path. How about us? What is our response as we are confronted by Steven’s witness in word and deed; in life and death? Are we open to the examination of our own lives? There are probing questions here, if we allow them entry: Am I, in any way, living in opposition to the Spirit?
Might I be covering my ears and living a loud and rushing life as a means of shutting out the truth? And, honestly, is there anything I value that I would identify as worth living and dying for? God’s word, we see, is meant to both comfort and confront, always with a goal of growth and transformation. What will we do with what God is showing us today? Continue down the same path? Or follow Jesus – and Stephen – in the way of life? May the Spirit transform us through the witness of Stephen this day. Amen.
March 8. Acts 8. Persecution. The very day Stephen died, violence broke out against the rest of the church in Jerusalem (except for the twelve). The result was a scattering of the hunted “throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria” (v.1). And these refugees, Spirit filled and undaunted, “went from place to place, proclaiming the word” (v.4). Remember the word of Jesus in the first chapter of Acts? “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria . . .” (Acts 1:8). And here it happens. Propelled by persecution. What do we make of this? And how might it speak to us? Comfort is good, right? And discomfort is surely bad.
Yet . . . Philip, uprooted and forced to relocate, proclaims good news in Samaria and there is “great joy in that city” (v.8). Who knows? Perhaps Saul had this moment in mind (among many) when he later wrote to the Roman church: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). And perhaps our own experiences of dislocation, disorientation, and discomfort might propel us to new places of transformation and, dare we imagine it, joy. By the grace of God, may it be so.
March 9. Acts 9. Saul, Ananias, and Barnabas. Peter, Aeneas, and Tabitha . . . This is a rich narrative with so much to offer! Suggestion: in this reading, ponder the significant contributions that Ananias and Barnabas make in the story of Saul’s transformation. How challenging it must have been to come alongside this man who is described as “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (v.1)! We hear it in Ananias’ words, “Lord, I have heard about this man, how much evil he has done . . .” (v.13). We see it in the fear of the disciples who “did not believe that he was a disciple” (v.26). Might we even feel it in our own “gut,” if we sit with it for a moment?
Walk with Ananias as he goes to this dangerous man, lays hands on him, and speaks healing and new life in the name of Jesus. Fall in step with Barnabas as he brings Saul to the apostles and tells of his transformation . . . What would God have us learn from the obedience of Ananias? From Barnabas’ encouragement? Well. How will we, following their lead, embody God’s love for those Saul figures in our own lives? Hear the word of Jesus: “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . (Matthew 5:44). Ananias obeys. Barnabas acts. And we . . . ? O, Spirit of Jesus, transform us today! Amen.
March 10. Acts 10. Today, we read about the conversion of two men: Cornelius and Peter. Both need to be transformed for the story to continue. And both have not a clue as to what is going on! See Cornelius send a delegation to a man he does not know for a purpose undisclosed (v.4-8). Watch Peter go with them “without objection” and without an inkling of what is about to take place. (Would he have gone if he had known?) It is almost comical to picture Peter standing in the home of Cornelius asking, “Now may I ask why you sent for me?” (v.29), only to have Cornelius respond “to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say” (v.33).
This much is clear: God, not Cornelius, and not Peter, is the author of this plot. This story is about God. And what, exactly, is God up to in Chapter 10? Nothing less than the breaking down of barriers (of law, tradition, culture, and prejudice) in a manner that makes it absolutely, astoundingly clear that the Holy Spirit “had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (v.45), AND that “God shows no partiality” (v.34). Truly, there is no border around God; there is no barrier that will keep the Spirit at bay. Let us thank God for that! And, more, may we follow God in this, going where we are led, speaking what we are commanded, and calling no one profane or unclean. After all, this is God’s story, not ours!
March 11. Acts 11. In this chapter we see God’s Spirit on the move . . . continuing to go ahead of God’s people, leading them “out there” in ways and spaces that stretch and challenge. As is commonly the case, the first response to change is resistance (v.2-3). Yet, by remaining open, receptive, and teachable, resistance is transformed into praise and rejoicing in the recognition of God’s amazing grace (v.18,23). May we be open to the Spirit’s leading today. May we choose to be part of what God is doing no matter how much it may stretch us. And may we be known as people “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (v.24). Amen.
March 12. Acts 12. The church is in peril as King Herod employs his power to murder James (John’s brother) imprison Peter (this is Peter’s third imprisonment). As this confrontation between the power of Herod’s word and the word of God unfolds, how do the people of God respond? “And the church prayed fervently” (v.5). And where does Luke place his focus? “The word of God continued to advance and gain adherents” (v.24). And what might we learn from this chapter – about the word of God and the power of prayer – as we journey through our own challenges? May the Spirit of God encourage us to prayer and faithfulness this day. Amen.
March 13. Acts 13. As this chapter opens, Barnabas and Paul are “set apart” by the action of the Holy Spirit and sent out by the church on their first missionary journey. Let’s notice two things: First, Paul and Barnabas are not here exercising their own volition; the sending is at the initiative of the Holy Spirit. Second, the means by which the church partners in this new stage of mission is through the combined spiritual practices of worship, prayer, fasting, blessing, and sending (v.2,3). So it is that the Spirit and the community work together . . . Now, what might the Spirit be seeking to initiate in and through us in these days? And how are we positioning ourselves to be part of the next stage of mission? Are we faithfully engaging in worship, prayer, fasting, blessing, sending, and going? And, when we do worship, pray, and fast, are we hoping to move God? Or seeking to be moved by God? May it be the latter first, for the Spirit is still in the business of working through open and faithful partners.
March 14. Acts 14. Our reading today makes it clear that the ministry of Paul and Barnabas was difficult. At times, extremely so. Yet, having said this, Luke’s primary focus is on the effectiveness of the mission: “they . . . made many disciples” ( v.21), and “strengthened their souls” and “encouraged them to continue in the faith” (v.22). Notice, though, the content of this encouragement: “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God” (v.22). What!? This is what Luke calls encouragement? Well. So much for “every little thing’s gonna be alright . . .”
What are we to make of the fact that Paul and Barnabas find it encouraging to tell the truth about the difficulties inherent in following the Spirit of Jesus? (Remember: they had the bruises to prove it). And what might this mean for our own attempts to find strength and encourage others? Could it be that simply telling folks what they want to hear weakens the soul? Beloved of God, hear the word of truth this day: Following the Way of Jesus will not be easy, but there is nothing better than being part of what God is doing. So stay with it. Don’t give up. When the way gets rough, God will open a door of faith (v.27). May we find strength in being faithful, and may we transparently encourage one another to carry on. Amen.
March 15. Acts 15. In this chapter, the church in Jerusalem wrestles “officially” with the inclusion of Gentiles and, more broadly, with the question of what is necessary to be “saved.” This was no small controversy, and Luke tells us that it involved “much debate” (v.7) among the believers. What is required to become part of God’s covenant community? It is a question with which folks still wrestle. Are there actions required, and rules to adhere to, in order to be saved? (v.1,5). And, if so, who can be saved? Peter’s declaration is bold and clear: “we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (v.11). Level ground.
It is grace, pure grace, that saves us all. No distinction. Why, though, is it so difficult for us to accept – for ourselves and others? What is it in us that compels us to add “requirements?” And what would it mean, for all people, if we ceased striving to work our way into God’s good graces? To be sure, following Jesus leads to transformation – of everything. But this is a response, not a prerequisite. And it is made possible and real by the Spirit working in and among us. May we be overtaken by God’s amazing grace. May we be people full of grace. And may we embody the truth that God, who knows and loves all people, “has made no distinction between them and us” (v.9).
March 16. Acts 16. Today, as we read a chapter filled with opportunities for reflection, let’s sit for a while with Paul and Silas “in the innermost cell” (v.24). More specifically, let’s focus on the reason for their imprisonment: A slave girl had been liberated from her inner demons in the name of Jesus (v.18). And the problem with this was??? Money. “But when her owners saw their hope of making money was gone . . . (v.19). Her owners cared not one whit about her; their sole interest in her was that she brought them “a great deal of money” (v.16) – as long as she remained in the grips of her illness, that is. And there it is: Paul and Silas were beaten and locked away because they messed with the bottom line. Teaching, preaching, praying – being religious – has a place, but don’t mess with our money! So it was when Jesus healed the wild man in the country of the Gerasenes (Luke 8:26-39). And so it is that Jesus’ words include these: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13).
Why? Because one will always reign supreme. See it in these who seize Paul and Silas. See it, also, in “a certain woman named Lydia,” who, in clear contrast, employs her wealth in the service of the mission (v.14,15). And what of us? Does the Spirit hold sway over our finances? Or are we under the Lordship of the bottom line? When it comes to transformation, who are we most like in this story? The “owners?” Or Lydia? May God open our hearts, minds, souls – and all the doors that imprison us (v.26) — in the powerful and liberating name of Jesus. Amen.
March 17. Acts 17. St. Patrick’s Day. What might we learn today from Paul’s way among the Athenians? Notice how respectful he is when speaking: “I see how extremely religious you are in every way” (v.22). Note how he “looked carefully” at their valued objects of worship (v.23), linking his message to their traditions and quoting their poets (v28). Paul is clearly a student of the people, seeking to understand those he hopes to reach . . . Patrick, in his life among the Irish, seems to have embraced the example of Paul in this regard, connecting the new story he was bringing to their old stories and baptizing folks in places they already considered sacred . . .
How about us? Are we respectful of others? Are we students before we ever attempt to speak? And how might we follow the example of Paul (and Patrick) in the world today? May we look carefully, listen attentively, and speak kindly, ever mindful of the truth that we are all God’s offspring (v.28,29). And may we heed this word from St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer: “Christ in every eye that sees me; Christ in every ear that hears me.” Amen.
March 18. Acts 18. In this chapter, Luke introduces us to Apollos, “an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures” (v.24). As the description continues, we also find that he is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable teacher, accurately communicating what he knows concerning Jesus (v.25). Apollos does, however, have more to learn about the “the Way of God” as it is lived in the power of the Spirit following repentance and, when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, “they took him aside” and gave him further instruction (v.26). Several aspects of this story might be explored, but these two rise to the surface today: First, following Jesus in “the Way of God” involves more than enthusiasm, ability, or even knowledge of the scriptures. The disciple’s life is a journey of deepening relationship and life-long learning. There is always a need to be instructed and led further along the Way.
Always. Second, we do well to sit with a single phrase long enough to allow it to find root in our souls and our life together: “they took him aside and explained the Way of God more accurately” (v.26). “They.” No distinction is made between the leadership of these two faithful and gracious people. Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos. Together. And he was a better informed and empowered leader as a result (v.28). The Way of God is a journey of deepening relationship and life-long learning together, no disabling restrictions allowed. May we be ever open and teachable, willing to learn from one another and guide each other along the way. And may we, men and women together, model the truth that “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34), no matter what chapter we are reading. Amen.
March 19. Acts 19. Today’s chapter begins with the story of baptism. Or, more precisely, re-baptism. It is the only account of such an event in the New Testament. The key question in the narrative is this: “Into what then were you baptized?” (v.3). The answer, “Into John’s baptism,” provides Luke with the opportunity to give instruction on the distinctives of being baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v.4). Christian baptism is, we see, about more than repentance. It is larger – and more powerful – than this. As was taught by John the Baptist himself, the new spaces and possibilities opened by the door of repentance must be made fruitful by trust in Jesus and the in-filling of his empowering Spirit.
Without the Spirit of Jesus, repentance is no more than an empty space at risk of being filled with anything and everything (Luke 11:24-26). This is not, however, some kind of magic (v.13-19). The water isn’t magical, “the Way” isn’t easy, and the Spirit is not a commodity. To be baptized “in the name of Jesus” is to be immersed into a way of life that is deeply relational, centered on loving, trusting, and obeying Jesus together with other disciples learning to do the same. We can immerse ourselves in many things, so today’s text asks each of us: “Into what then were you baptized?” It is a question worthy of reflection as we approach Holy Week, and as some among us prepare to celebrate resurrection by being baptized “in the name of Jesus.” May we all be immersed in – and filled with – the powerful name of Jesus and his transforming Spirit. Amen.
March 20. Acts 20. Today we find Paul, not surprisingly, on the move. And as he makes this journey, Luke tells us that Paul is “bound” (v.22). On the surface, he is bound for Jerusalem, driven by a desire to get there in time for Pentecost. By his own admission, he goes “not knowing what will happen” to him there. However, perhaps anticipating the suggestion that he not go to Jerusalem, Paul explains on a deeper level that he is bound for Jerusalem because he is bound in the Spirit. By this Paul indicates that he is impelled by the Spirit to go there. Tied to God’s Spirit by the strong cord of trust, Paul continues to move forward to accomplish the will of God in obedience to God’s Spirit.
In other words, Paul is a willing captive of God’s Holy Spirit. The words and the example are a mighty challenge to us, living as we do in a culture drowning in the notion that freedom is found in pleasing ourselves by doing as we please . . . Paul, who elsewhere writes, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1), is here offering himself as an example to follow. How shall we respond? Will we trust the Spirit and go where we are led? Will we today choose self-service or holy obedience? Shall our lives be wrapped up in self or bound in God’s Spirit? May we see this day that to be wrapped up in self is to lose everything, but to be bound in the Spirit is to gain life and freedom and strength. May God’s transforming Spirit continue working in, among, and through us. And may our lives “testify to the good news of God’s grace” (v.24). Amen.
March 21. Acts 21. The tension is palpable in this chapter, as Paul, having “resolved in the Spirit” (Acts 19:21) to go to Jerusalem, draws near, arrives, and is arrested and bound . . . Luke’s telling of the story is an echo of Jesus’ own journey, he who “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), with this exception: Then, Jesus’ disciples “understood nothing” (Luke 18:34), whereas, here we find the disciples warning Paul and telling him not to go “through the Spirit” (Acts 21:4). The difference? The indwelling presence of the Spirit now empowers these believers to grasp where this journey leads. With understanding, however, comes the further responsibility of discerning the Spirit’s leading in the given circumstances. That is, if the journey involves risk, is the Spirit saying “do not go on” (v.4) or “go up to Jerusalem” (v.15)? Clearly, this discernment is no easy or tidy task, for grasping the situation and determining what to do about it are two very different things.
So how do we move forward when discernment differs? By prayer (v.5,6), open conversation (v.12,13), and trust — “The Lord’s will be done” (v.14). And this: the example and teaching of Jesus, who said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 18:33). In the short term, circumstances may tempt us to turn back or even say “I told you so” (the danger to Paul is real), but for those committed to trusting the Spirit for the long-haul, the danger of Jerusalem just may be the gateway to doing God’s will in Rome . . . May we trust God enough to follow Jesus wherever the Spirit leads. And may we faithfully do the work of discerning the path together, praying, speaking, listening, trusting, and going on, no matter the circumstances.
March 22. Acts 22. Today we read Paul’s defense before the people of Jerusalem, in which he tells the story of his first encounter with the risen Jesus and the journey of transformation that followed. Notice this: At the center of this telling, Paul relates that he responded to Jesus with a question: “What am I to do, Lord?” (v.10) . . . What, indeed! As we stand on the threshold of the week set aside for remembering Jesus’ passion and resurrection, Paul’s story invites us to recall our own stories of encountering the risen Jesus and entering the way of transformation. And, always, this remembering centers on the question, “What am I to do, Lord?” And with it, the call to follow through on answers received.
What is your story? And how is it animating your life today? Have you considered the role your story plays in your ongoing transformation? How about the transformation of another? Are you open to telling your story to others? Our stories are meant to be remembered and related, treasured and told. Honestly. Oh, and about that central question: “What am I to do, Lord?” Is it active in us today, stirring us still? Might it need a resurrection? May we celebrate our stories of encountering the risen Jesus today. And may each story spur us on in the transforming work of doing God’s will. Amen.
March 23. Acts 23. Today, as Paul takes his stand before the High Council, we see his wit, intellect, skill, and intensity on full display. He who once relentlessly pursued Christ-followers in service to God and High Priest, now takes on the “powers that be” with the same audacious tenacity. Hear him dispense with the expected formal greeting, claiming equal footing with “Brothers” and the declaration of a “clear conscience before God” (v.1). See him poke at the High Priest with wit and precision – does Luke actually want us to believe Paul did not know who it was that he was addressing? (“The Message” conveys the tone of verse 5: “How was I to know he was the Chief Priest? He doesn’t act like a Chief Priest”). And watch Paul, with full knowledge of the rivalries and opposing theologies in the room, deftly set the members of the council against one another (v.6-10). Brilliant!
What might we glean from all of this? Well. How about this: Following Jesus in the power of the Spirit does not mean checking our personalities, skills, or wit at the door. To be transformed by the Spirit is to have our personalities filled full (fulfilled), not wiped out. To be sure, there are attitudes, assumptions, activities, etc. that must be changed (Paul’s past perceptions of God and persecution of others had to go) . . . Following Jesus does require knowing who serves whom and who does the leading . . . Being filled with the Spirit does involve replacing self-reliance with a new and deeper source of courage and boldness . . . And serving God does mean giving our full selves away. But God, who created us and knows us fully, desires that we live into our whole selves on this journey. Nothing less. In Acts, we see the Spirit transforming Paul fully into Paul. And we see Paul’s whole personality in the service of God. May the Spirit fill us and continue to transform us into our full selves. And may we serve God wholly, by God’s grace. Amen.
March 24. Acts 24. Palm Sunday. “After two years had passed . . . Felix left Paul in prison” (v.27). So ends chapter 24. Two years in Caesarea. Two years “between” Jerusalem and Rome. Two years waiting. And the waiting isn’t over . . . Yet Paul, who does his best “always to have a clear conscience toward God and all people,” (v.16), invests those two years in speaking boldly and bluntly to Felix “concerning faith in Christ Jesus” (v.24). How do we spend our “between” times? While we’re waiting and hoping for the next “big thing,” do we make the most of the present moment? And how might Paul’s faithfulness in Chapter 24 guide us as we journey through the days “between” Palm Sunday and Easter? Will we be present and engaged? Will we, heeding the word of Jesus, “stay awake and pray” (Matthew 26:41) with him along the way? May we always be present and open. And may we, as we remain awake to the Spirit in this week called holy, be available to God and present with others every step of the way. Amen.
March 25. Acts 25. Monday of Holy Week. Today we read that “the chief priests and the leaders” were attempting to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem because “they were planning an ambush to kill him along the way” (v.3). Next to this, let’s place Luke’s description of Jesus’ situation following his entry into Jerusalem: “The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him . . .” (Luke 19:47). And yet, Jesus is found “teaching daily in the temple” and Paul is given the opportunity to testify for Jesus before the powers that be! In both cases, as plots thicken and opponents maneuver, these two men press on in advancing the word of God with no sign of distraction. What might we learn from Jesus and Paul, as they remain faithful to God in the midst of trouble? And how shall we account for their boldness in the presence of the enemy? Do we see that it is by the Spirit’s power working in them? Will we see that this same Spirit fills us? May we, this day, empowered by God’s Spirit, live with focus and faithfulness. And may we join with Jesus, Paul, and the Psalmist in declaring, “even though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Amen.
March 26. Acts 26. Tuesday of Holy Week. As Paul makes his case before King Agrippa, hear Jesus teaching in the temple days before his death: “You will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify” (Luke 21:12,13). And Paul does, indeed, testify – speaking of his own transforming encounter with the risen Jesus (Acts 26:12ff), declaring the work of God in Jesus (v.22,23), and persuading the king (and all who are listening) to become Christian (Acts 26:27-29). There is no doubt about it, Jesus spoke the truth and Paul took full advantage of the opportunity given. And how is it with us? As we reflect on the suffering and rising of Jesus (v.23) this week, do we recognize the fulfillment of his word and work in our present lives? Are our eyes open to God’s faithful help? And are we awake to the opportunities given by God for the purpose of proclaiming light to all people? May we live with our eyes wide open to God’s deep love for all. May we embrace every opportunity given to testify to the life-giving work of God in Jesus. And may we join Paul in praying that “all who are listening” to us might become such as we are, except for our chains. Amen.
March 27. Acts 27. Wednesday of Holy Week. Today we read of Paul’s voyage to Rome. It is a dangerous, storm-tossed journey that “ends” in shipwreck, with all aboard being saved. We shall soon see that the ending is but an interruption . . . On this day, however, we do well to notice that Paul, in the midst of the storm, “took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat” (v.35). The result? “All of them were encouraged” (v.36). Bread blessed, broken, and shared . . . we are familiar with this imagery, are we not? “Then he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19). An act of encouragement in the midst of the storm. Jesus’ followers did not “get it” then, but they did get there. Eventually.
On this day, in preparation for Maundy Thursday, might we be willing to reflect on life as a voyage? Have there been any storms? Shipwrecks? Terrible endings? Interruptions? Are we not, quite honesty, all in the same boat, sharing the same hope of being brought safely to shore? And, if any of this sounds true in the depth of our souls, imagine what might happen if we – together – receive bread blessed, broken, and shared as encouragement in the midst of the storm. Might this sharing be, in truth, at the very heart of life beyond endings? It seems that Paul believed it to be so. And Jesus knew it, instructing, “Do this in remembrance of me.” May we comprehend bread and cup as encouragement in the storm, not as something removed from it. May we recognize one another as being in the boat together, and remember that Christ is with us. And may God, in Christ Jesus, bring us all safely to land. Yes.
March 28. Acts 28. Maundy Thursday. Today we read of Paul’s arrival in Rome where, while under house arrest, he lived “two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him” proclaiming the kingdom and teaching about Jesus “with all boldness and without hindrance” (v.30,31). On this day we also remember the words and ways of Jesus on the night he was betrayed. Suggestion: Observe Paul’s behavior in Rome – giving, welcoming, proclaiming, teaching – through the lense of Jesus’ example; he who said to his disciples at that last meal, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
John reports that Jesus demonstrated this by washing the disciples’ feet and instructing, “I have set you an example . . . do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Paul, who saw himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ, not Rome (Ephesians 3:1), allowed the Spirit to shape his life around Jesus’ instruction. So it is that Luke leaves us with the image of Paul as one who serves. Boldly and unhindered. Let us this day reflect deeply on the examples before us: Jesus and Paul, serving. Do we find this inspiring? Encouraging? Challenging? Are we among one another as those who serve? Or are we back there with the disciples on that night so long ago, posturing . . competing . . . seeking to be served (Luke 22:24)? What hinders us when it comes to service? And what is the Spirit of Jesus leading us to do about it today? May God grant us servants’ hearts. And may we be generous, welcoming, unhindered followers of Jesus, doing for others that which he has done for us. Amen.