Demonstrating Repentance–and Christianity

Scripture Focus: Acts 26.20
20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

Reflection: Demonstrating Repentance–and Christianity
By Bridget Jack Jeffries

King David. Martin Luther. John Calvin. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These are names that we as modern-day Christians often revere, names of men who fought for the kingdom of God. 

Yet King David is also known for his murder of the righteous Uriah and his taking of Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Martin Luther was a rabid antisemite who called for graphic violence against Jews. John Calvin was complicit in the state execution of Michael Servetus, while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an unequivocal plagiarist and serial adulterer who spent his last night on earth with another woman. 

My point here is not to diminish the enormous accomplishments of these men, nor to cross-examine their Christianity. My point is that actions matter and their own actions (very unfortunately) cast an enormous shadow over their work for the kingdom of God. 

Paul also preached that actions matter—that we as Christians “should repent and turn to God and demonstrate [our] repentance by [our] deeds.” This is because Paul understood that few things would undermine incipient Christianity faster than Christians whose lives were indistinguishable from non-Christians–that is, Christians who continued in sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6.18) or greed (1 Timothy 6.10) or neglect of the poor (Galatians 2.10) or the worship of other gods (1 Corinthians 10.14). We see the consequences of neglect of Paul’s teaching in the modern-day church, where many Christians are “deconstructing” and leaving their faith because they see no actual Christianity in the lives of the so-called “Christians” and “Christian leaders” around them.

We believers often have a fraught relationship with works, and it certainly is grace that saves us (Ephesians 2.8-9). Yet Jesus also advised that we could discern true Christians from false ones by their fruits (Matthew 7.16-20), meaning their actions and results. Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah warned that we can be undone by our own actions: “Your wickedness will punish you, your backsliding will rebuke you” (Jeremiah 2.19a). 

Ultimately, being Christian is not supposed to look the same as being non-Christian. We should pursue lives of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5.23-24), lives that showcase the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit within us. By this Spirit, Jesus promised to teach us and lead us into lives of holiness, if we will only surrender to him.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

Today’s Readings

Jeremiah 2 (Listen -5:54)
Acts 26 (Listen – 5:17)

Read more about The Ever-Patient Agriculturalist
The purpose in deconstruction is reconstruction…in uprooting is to replant…May we rejoice in being pruned and replanted.

Plod On, Dear Brothers and Sisters

Scripture Focus: Acts 23:11
11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” 

Reflection: Plod On, Dear Brothers and Sisters
By Jane Schaible

Paul was determined to go to Rome, despite the suffering he knew that awaited him (Acts 9.16; 20.23). Paul had told the Ephesians that he had to go to Rome via Jerusalem (Act 19.21), and he was in a great hurry to be there (Acts 20.16; 21.11-15). He didn’t actually make it until chapter 28, but this was the long path of obedience for him, the path he kept plodding along on. 

Paul’s determination to proclaim the gospel in Rome takes up at least nine chapters. Nine chapters of foils, risks, warnings, persecutions. Nine chapters of grieving and hospitable brothers and sisters. Nine chapters of actions and words proclaiming the Lord’s salvation. 

Though continually empowered by God, there are just a few verses where we get to read his words of encouragement to Paul. 

In the quiet safety of the barracks, when the uproar before the Sanhedrin faded, the Lord reassured him. “Take courage!” Jesus reminded Paul that Jerusalem won’t be the end of his story. He will make it to Rome.

At a time when perhaps this journey seemed to be taking forever, when maybe it didn’t seem certain how he’d escape the bloody plots of the people, the Lord “stood near Paul.” He came close, he spoke. He reminded Paul that he wasn’t alone, that his goal was still before him, that he was on the right path. “Keep plodding, Paul.”

There are seasons in our lives where we feel like life is taking forever. We may be trying to evade obstacles. We may be plodding along the path of obedience. Days like these can feel unending. What do we do when we aren’t feeling sure of the call?

Paul plodded on. This is what he’d tell us to do: “Follow my example.” Yet, in the same breath he calls us to follow another. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11.1). We keep plodding because Christ kept plodding. He stayed on the long, slow-going, forever-taking road. He kept walking the path through suffering to glory, so that we might share in his glory (Romans 8.17). 

Plod on, dear brothers and sisters. Your Lord is near you. He has plodded the path before you, and he has promised that he is always with you (Matthew 28.20).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will meditate on your commandments and give attention to your ways. — Psalm 119.15

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 65 (Listen -5:00)
Acts 23 (Listen – 5:15)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 66 (Listen -5:20)Acts 24 (Listen – 4:11)
Jeremiah 1 (Listen -2:01)Acts 25 (Listen – 4:40)

Read more about Peace of Endurance
Believers are called upon to accept the hard paths they are on, even to captivity or death.

Above All, Follow Christ

Scripture Focus: 
Acts 22.14-15
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. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 

Reflection: Above All, Follow Christ
By Karen Yarnell

Paul understood the mindset of the rioting Jews. As Paul spoke to the angry crowd from the fortress steps in Jerusalem, he emphasized his Jewish upbringing, and that he was a Pharisee trained by the leading Rabbi, Gamaliel. He said, “I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.” (v. 3) In fact, he was so against those practicing the Way, that he hunted them to arrest them. He even stood by and watched as Stephen was stoned for following Jesus. So, what changed? 

Paul met Jesus! Gifted, highly trained, zealous, determined Paul came face to face with Jesus, and when he did, Paul met the One greater than himself. He met the Son of God. Musician Phil Keaggy sang it this way: “Like waking up from the longest dream. How real it seemed, until your love broke through.” Paul’s face-to-face encounter with Christ, though it made him temporarily blind, caused him to see the scope of God’s kingdom. Paul’s spiritual blindness was replaced with the ability to see God’s Spirit transforming lives. 
Now Paul, entrusted with the good news, would go wherever and to whomever he was sent, even if it meant persecution or death. He said, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13) Paul focused on a singular task: sharing the gospel entrusted to him. Persecution did not matter, if the gospel could be shared (Phil 1:12). The words of those who opposed Paul did not matter if Jesus was being preached. (Phil. 1:18) 
I am often overcome with the depth of Paul’s love for Jesus and with the strength of his determination to share the good news. Nothing else mattered to Paul. I look at myself and question, what matters most to me? What occupies space in my heart and, at times, takes precedence over sharing the gospel? How would my view of life be different if the lens through which I filtered all things was an urgency to love and share Christ? May He give all of us grace to walk worthy of the calling we have received from the One who is worthy, Jesus Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel, for he has visited his people, he has set them free, and he has established for us a saving power in the house of his servant David, just as he proclaimed, by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times. — Luke 1.68-70

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 64 (Listen -2:01)
Acts 22 (Listen – 4:26)

Read more about Gospel Faith or Garbage Faith
Once he met Christ, Paul realized everything prior was waste, rubbish, by comparison.

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.