“I was on my way and approaching Damascus…”(Acts 22:6a). We have already read Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion. Now we read Paul’s words as he shared the story of his conversion. We will hear Paul tell the story again later in Acts. He tells his story. The people are quiet and listening carefully at first. By the time he finishes telling the story he says a “magic word” that leads to people throwing off their jackets, shouting, and throwing dust in the air. There is a lot to process in this account, but as I read it today I am thinking about how I need to be prepared to tell my story of encountering God and becoming a follower of Jesus. In fact, all of us who follow Jesus should share our story. Are you ready?
“When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. We came in sight of Cyprus; and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there” (Acts 21:1-3). Each time I come to a passage in Acts that could be described as “travelogue,” I try to imagine what the travel would have been like. I am afraid my imagination is lacking when it comes even to trying to picture the situation and the challenges. The sailing. Trying to make connections. The waiting. The additional waiting. Still more waiting. Maybe I have trouble imagining the scene because I have so a low tolerance for inconvenience when it comes to my travels, and I face nothing like Paul faced.
“When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed” (Acts 20:36). Much of Acts chapter 20 describes the relationship Paul had with the elders at Ephesus (particularly from verse 17 to the end of the chapter). I am inspired by the cooperation and teamwork of Paul and the elders. This section serves as a model for how I want to be a cooperative teammate with elders in church leadership.
“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?
“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?”
“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.
“They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus (Acts 17:7b). Jesus is King. Do we realize that political leaders can displace Jesus as King?
“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?
“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.
“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.