A Destroyed Barrier

Scripture Focus: Acts 21.17-24
17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 

20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.
Reflection: A Destroyed Barrier
By Karen Yarnell

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, came to Jerusalem, bringing offerings from the Gentiles for the poor, gifts from Gentile to Jew. It was the festival of Pentecost, several years after the Holy Spirit was given following Jesus’ ascension (Acts 2.1-4). The Jews’ most sacred space, the Temple in Jerusalem, was filled with Jews celebrating.  

 Seeing Paul in the Temple, some Jews from Asia, the province that contained Ephesus, stirred up the crowd saying that Paul was a threat to “our people, our law, and this place.” They falsely accused him of bringing a Gentile into the courts reserved for Jews. The Roman-enforced law stated that any Gentile passing the barricade into the inner courts would receive the death penalty. Amid this uncontrollable mob, Paul was beaten, troops were brought in, and Paul was arrested. 

 Later, from a Roman prison, Paul wrote to the Ephesian church these words: At one time, you were “excluded from citizenship in Israel.” “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2.12-14) A physical barricade existed, but the spiritual barricade had been destroyed! Now, the redeemed people of God were being built into the Temple for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. 

The gospel entrusted to Paul was not a threat to Israel. The inclusion of all nations was God’s intent all along, from the covenant with Abraham to the formation of the Church. As Jesus said, his people were to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8

God desires his followers to worship in the Spirit and truth (John 4.23). Otherwise, we may find ourselves practicing our religion in a way that does not please God and in a place where He cannot be found. We may find ourselves not only missing where God is working but opposing Him. 

In our religious fervor, have we erected or enforced barriers in the Church? The Jews were zealous to keep God’s Law, yet they were missing God’s work. Are there ways in our zeal to keep God’s Word that we misunderstand God’s intent and find ourselves opposing His Holy Spirit?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good and to those who are true of heart. — Psalm 125.4

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 63 (Listen -3:25)
Acts 21 (Listen – 5:55)

Read more about Sewing up the Veil
We don’t have a literal Temple veil, but we each stitch up a veil of our own cultural assumptions…what it takes to approach God.

Embrace Your Mission

Scripture Focus: Acts 20.1-2
1 When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. 2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people…

Reflection: Embrace Your Mission
By Carolyn Soto Jackson

After seventeen scorching days in Italy last month, the music ministry in which I serve came back with hundreds of testimonies, many of them my own. 
This was my first mission trip, and one on which I had much to learn. My prayer was two-fold. Lord, change as many lives as possible with the gospel, including my own. God answered my prayers beautifully.
This mission frequently brought Apostle Paul to mind. 
Paul is one of the most pivotal and influential leaders in Christian history. Paul’s frequent missionary journeys seemed to have similar goals to my own. In his letters, we read on many occasions how Jesus changed his life. Of course, his purpose was to share the gospel with as many people as possible. 
Other disciples often joined Paul in his adventures. His mission was rarely accomplished alone. Paul’s mission brought others together and molded diverse people into unified disciples. But how? 
One way was by making himself available for others. 
Often Paul “embraced” and “encouraged” others while ministering to them. Part of his journey involved enjoying others and their company, and offering encouragement when things turned bleak. 
Let me be candid, on a mission when you are hot, exhausted, and hungry, life becomes real. Emotions arise, complaints begin to surface, and you realize serving with others puts you in vulnerable places. So, after a long trip, even amidst frustrations and complex emotions, embracing and encouraging others is an example of serving others well. This spirit of hospitality shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is crucial to embrace others in love, especially when we do not want to. 
How imperative is it to encourage others with our words and prayers? Read through Paul’s incredible travels, and notice how often he traveled with others and broke bread with those he encountered. 
We are all on a mission. 
On this mission, we must bring love wherever we go. Whether we go overseas or across the street, let us bring light to every place of darkness.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you; show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you, — Psalm 143.8

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 62 (Listen -2:09)
Acts 20 (Listen – 5:22)

Read more about Humble, Welcoming Servants
Help us to serve all and humbly welcome those whom you place in the center of our gatherings.

Holy Spirit Power

Scripture Focus: Acts 19.1-6
1…There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” 
“John’s baptism,” they replied. 

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Reflection: Holy Spirit Power
By Thoblie Mogane

The Holy Spirit comes when we hear and believe the gospel, the Good News, about Jesus. It is the privilege of every believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is with us in every need. Paul encouraged the Philippians to think about things which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report.

Paul asked “Did you receive the Holy Spirit,” because Paul wanted these believers to taste the anointing that comes through the Holy Spirit. Paul did many miracles and signs that demonstrated the supernatural things that come through the children of God, when filled with the Holy Spirit.

The people Paul was talking to did not have full knowledge of the gospel. They only knew what John the Baptizer taught. They knew the kingdom of God was near, but did not understand that Jesus is here through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.

The Holy Spirit gives believers power to overcome any obstacle that competes with God’s word in our lives. I have seen it in my own life.

I was raised by a stepfather who had bad intentions to abuse me and I hated him. One night in a dark dream, I saw myself dead and I asked God to rescue me. In my dream God said, “You want me to have mercy on you while you fail to forgive those that wrong you.” I realized he was speaking about my stepfather and light came. Through this dream, and the Holy Spirit, I was able to overcome bitterness and vindictiveness.

God calls us to bring his kingdom, but it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can finish this race. In this process miracles can happen. God can mend broken relationships, heal incurable diseases, change hopeless situations. What if God is waiting for us to walk in the authority given to us through the Holy Spirit?

My mother, my sister, my father, my brother, may we be led by the Holy Spirit, may we depend on and rely on the Holy Spirit for our spiritual growth, finances, marriages, in raising our children, in our work environments, and in our community. Making the world a better place is the responsibility of born again children of God acting with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.” — Luke 9.35

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 61 (Listen -2:23)
Acts 19 (Listen – 5:47)

Read more about Well Equipped for Good or Bad
Spiritual disciplines allow the Holy Spirit to equip us for good and prepare us for bad.