Discovering deficiencies

“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?

“My people”

“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.

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?

Repentance, baptism, and fellowship

“At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay” (Acts 16:33). The jailer’s washing the wounds of Paul and Silas was such a beautiful expression of repentance. This tender act has me asking myself, “When is the last time you expressed repentance with a action that so clearly communicated your repentance?”

“He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God” (Acts 16:34). After the jailer and his family were baptized they shared a meal with Paul and Silas. There are so many jokes minimizing the importance of food in fellowship activities. Some mock “bellyship.” Others laugh at church casseroles. But, how many times did Jesus share a meal with people? And here, the shared food was a symbol of the joy of sharing life.

Coming clean about greed

“But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities” (Acts 16:19).  I find it easy to criticize the owners money- driven desire to seize Paul and Silas. It’s easy to label them as greedy. I find it far more difficult to take a look at my own heart and my own actions when it comes to the Good News of Jesus challenging the economic system in which I have lived comfortably all of my life. Lord, help me look into my heart and recognize, own, and repent of  any greed I find.

Those tricky doors

“They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6). Luke records times when travel plans were changed due to being forbidden by the Holy Spirit or not being allowed by “the Spirit of Jesus” (16:7). Paul then has a vision from God to communicate an open door not forbidden by the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere we read of Paul wanting to visit people but being “blocked by Satan” from doing so (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Am I the only one who finds it tricky to know whether it is the Holy Spirit who is forbidding or Satan who is blocking my plans?

Don't make it difficult

“Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:10-11). I am convinced there will always be some who want to demand certain behavior from people or else they “cannot be saved.” Further, I am convinced that those same enforcers are completely unable to keep the code they are trying to enforce.  Oh, and one more thing, I need to be aware of the possibility that I could be the hypocritical enforcer.

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19 NIV). Imagine having this mindset toward people, especially “those people,” who are turning to God. What would it look like if we stopped putting up barriers and stopped making it difficult for them. A woman once told me she met with a church leader to request baptism. The leader told her she was “not a candidate for baptism.”  He presented her with a lengthy list of demands she must meet before she could be considered a “candidate.” Lord, have mercy.

“Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company” (Acts 15:37-39a). I have found it is much easier to talk about and apply grace to the world than it is to extend it to someone who has disappointed us personally. Interesting to consider side-by-side the accounts of the Paul vs. Barnabas disagreement and the willingness to have Timothy circumcised.

Seasons

“The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers” (Acts 14:1). Experience is one of the greatest blessings of experience and longevity in ministry. I am far more likely to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of turmoil if I have seen and experienced the scenario before. Of course there is a way in which every situation is different. Different contexts. Different people. But there are times when the same thing happens and God blesses you with the memory of the previous occurrence.

“After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith…” (Acts 14:21-22). Ministers go through seasons of ministry. Churches go through seasons of ministry. Sometimes there will be a time of boldly proclaiming the word to unbelievers and seeing them respond by turning their lives around to follow Jesus. Sometimes in large numbers. And in other seasons, there will be a time of strengthening the souls of disciples, urging disciples to continue following Jesus, and appointing elders in churches. One season is not better than the other. They are just different. They are seasons. And both are important to the life of ministry, in ministers and churches.