Tuesday, April 24, 2018

THE EARLY CHURCH - The Life of Faith

LETTERS TO THE CHURCHES - Romans

Read Romans Chapters 2 ─ 3

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. Romans 3:20 NIV

* * *
     Paul speaks especially to the Jewish believers in these chapters. He teaches them the reality that every human being has sinned in God’s sight. Some are obviously sinners by the wicked deeds they do – but then he goes on to tell them that they too have transgressed God’s laws. 
     The only hope for all of mankind is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (3:22-24)
     These new believers needed to be taught that just as they had received Christ by faith, now they needed to live their lives in that same faith. A truly righteous life would not come from observing the law, but by trusting in the Son of God who wrote the law.
* * *
     Thank you Lord, that in spite of my sin, You paid the price on the cross so that I could live an abundant Christian life by faith. Help me to apply this truth to everything I do for my family, in my church and out in the world – that in everything I would trust in You.
* * *
     Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.    Romans 3:27 NIV

Friday, April 13, 2018

THE EARLY CHURCH - Mutual Encouragement

LETTERS TO THE CHURCHES - Romans

Read Romans 1:1-19

     I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith   Romans 1:11-12 NIV
* * *
     The church at Rome was established by Jewish believers who came to faith at Pentecost. (Acts 2) Paul wrote them this letter to encourage and build them up in a full understanding of the Truth. He also encouraged them to build each other up through the abilities God had given them.
     Reports of the ongoing spread of the gospel brought tremendous encouragement to Paul. He said, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.” (Romans 1:8)
     Paul had suffered much for preaching that Jesus "was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead…" (1:4) But in spite of persecution he said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (1:16)
* * *
     Dear Lord, grant me the ability to share my faith, realizing that it is not my ability to convince, but the power of the Holy Spirit that will bring men and women to faith. Help me also to be a source of encouragement to other believers.
* * *
     For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."   Romans 1:17 NIV

Monday, April 9, 2018

THE EARLY CHURCH - House Arrest in Rome


Read Acts 25:1-1228:16-31

     Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God- the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures…To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:1–2, 7 NIV
* * *
     The church at Rome grew from the nucleus of Jews who believed the gospel during the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem. At the time Paul wrote this letter to the Roman church, he was in Corinth and had not yet been to Rome. This inspired letter contains very concise doctrinal teaching for both the Jews and Gentiles who made up the church.
* * *
     Paul had been on three missionary journeys preaching the gospel to those who had not yet heard which he believed was his primary calling. He wrote, “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again…” (Romans 15:14-15a) He then tells them that he is going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there, but he hopes he will be able to come to Rome after he delivers a gift to the believers there.
* * *
     Later in Jerusalem, Paul was arrested for preaching the gospel and taken before the authorities, where he claimed his rights as a Roman citizen. Because he appealed to Caesar, he was taken to Rome, where the authorities allowed him to live in his own rented house under a guard. 
* * *
     Three days after his arrival, he called together the leaders of the Jews. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. Acts 28:23b-24 NIV
* * *
     When the unbelieving Jews left him, rejecting the message, Paul said, "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!" (Acts 28:28) and so it was that the church in Rome grew through the ministry of a preacher confined to his house.
* * *
     Lord, I praise You that your plan for reaching men and women is not limited to our efforts and vision for the future. What a wonderful thing that the apostle Paul, under house arrest, was still able to preach the gospel to all who came to him. Help me to remember that it is still Your Holy Spirit who draws men, women and children to You.
* * *
     For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 28:30-31 NIV

Friday, March 30, 2018

EASTER DEVOTIONS - Sorrow Turned To Joy

SCATTERED BUT NOT ALONE

Read John 16:5–33

     "It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you."   John 16:7 NKJV
* * *
      The disciples were still trying to grasp what Jesus was telling them. He was preparing them for the frightening, sorrowful days ahead. He said, "Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you." (16:22) 
* * *
      At one point, the men thought they understood; they said, "See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God." (16:29–30)
      Jesus replied, “Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone…”(16:30-32 NKJV) 
          The disciples would indeed be scattered, but they would be gathered again, empowered by the Holy Spirit and made into the foundation of a church that would turn the world upside down.
* * *
      Lord, I see from the lives of these men that I don't have to understand all that You are doing in the world. I just have to trust that You are the Son of God who has taken away my sin, and promised a fruitful, abundant life, by the power of Your Holy Spirit.
* * *
     "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33 NKJV

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

EASTER DEVOTIONS - At The Cross

BEHOLD YOUR MOTHER

Read John 19:17-37
     Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.    John 19:25-26 NKJV
                                                                         * * *
     Years before, Mary and Joseph stood before the priest to dedicate her newborn Son. The old man Simeon had prophesied, "This child is destined to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35)  
     Now Mary was experiencing the ultimate piercing of her soul, as Jesus hung from the cross in agonizing pain: 
     When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!" Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.   John 19:26-27 NKJV
     Jesus knew the emotional pain that this moment brought to His mother. God had chosen her of all women to give birth to His Son, but His plans for her were not over. After the resurrection and ascension, Mary's other sons became devout believers. In Acts we read,
   "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers."   Acts 1:14 NKJV
* * *
     Lord, so often Mary stood in the background watching God's plan unfold. She is an example I would like to follow when it seems better to be still and wait on You. What honor came to this humble woman as the Son of God saw to her needs in His last hour. I know that You are aware of my needs and the needs of my children. I pray that like Mary's sons they will follow You.
* * *
     One of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water... These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled ..."They will look on the one they have pierced."    John 19:34-37;  Zechariah 12:10

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

EASTER DEVOTIONS - Behold Your King!

THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY

Read:
 Luke 19:28-40


     …the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: "'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"  Luke 19:37-38 NKJV
* * *
     After leaving Zacchaeus' home in Jericho, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, where a colt was already prepared for Jesus to make His entry. Jesus knew the donkey would be there, because His Father had prophesied "Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9b NKJV) The praise of the crowd echoed the words of the angels at His birth - all planned since the beginning of time.
* * *
     Lord, I want to praise You for all Your mighty works. You are the King of Kings who will one day return to Jerusalem again. You have ordained that the mouths of babes would praise You. I pray for the "babes" in my family that their lives will be lived in praise of the King and that one day we will all stand together and see You face to face.
* * *
     And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out."    Luke 19:39-40 NKJV

Monday, February 26, 2018

THE EARLY CHURCH - Finishing with Joy

FROM EPHESUS TO JERUSALEM

Read Acts 19:21–41; 20:17–38

     Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. Acts 20:37b–38a NKJV
* * *
     For the first three months in Ephesus, Paul preached in the Jewish synagogues, but when opposition to the gospel escalated he began to reason daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (19:9b–10 NIV) 

     After three years of ministry in Ephesus, Paul was forced to leave. Later, when he arrived at Miletus, he sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said, "And now compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." (20:22–23 NIV)
* * *
     Paul traveled on three missionary journeys, planting churches everywhere. Then he would go to prison and accomplish the greatest task of all – writing inspired letters that are still ministering to us today as part of the Word of God. Lord, help us to build carefully on the foundation others have laid – and be faithful to pass on the message of Your grace.
* * *
     But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24 NKJV

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

THE EARLY CHURCH AT EPHESUS

A FAITHFUL COUPLE - AQUILA AND PRISCILLA

Read Acts 18

     There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Acts 18:2 NIV
* * *
     Leaving the city of Athens, Paul traveled to Corinth where he sought work. He met Aquila and Priscilla, Jewish believers who had recently been banished from Rome. As natives of Pontus, Aquila and Priscilla may have heard the gospel on the Day of Pentecost and fled to Rome during the dispersion of the church from Jerusalem.

     Now by God's sovereign design, He used them in the evangelistic ministry of Paul, traveling with him to Ephesus, where they stayed and worked with the Ephesian church. Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. When Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos' dynamic preaching, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (18:26)
* * *
     This faithful, mature couple set an example of patient endurance, hard work and fruitful ministry. Lord, I pray that our home will always be a welcoming place where other believers are encouraged and built up in the Word.
* * *
     When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. Acts 18:27 NIV

Saturday, January 27, 2018

THE EARLY CHURCH - Preaching in Athens

THE UNKNOWN GOD

Read Acts 17:22–34

     "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.   Acts 17:22b–23a NIV
* * *
     After fleeing to Athens, Paul found himself in a very different setting. He went to the marketplace daily, preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection to all who would listen. This was easily done since all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. (17:21) 
     A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers disputed with him about Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Paul began his argument by referring to their monument to "An Unknown God." 
     "Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth…(17:23b-24a) From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him…”(17:26-27)
* * *
     Paul was trained in the Jewish law, but the Holy Spirit enabled him to present the gospel to secular philosophers. Lord, I need this kind of discernment to be ready to give an answer to people I meet out in the marketplace of ideas.
* * *
"In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent."  Acts 17:30 NIV

Thursday, January 11, 2018

THE EARLY CHURCH - The Noble Bereans

THESSALONICA AND BEREA

Read Acts 17:1–15

     Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ."  Acts 17:2-3 NKJV
* * *
     For three Sabbaths Paul taught in the synagogue at Thessalonica before opposition began. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks, both men and women. These would become the founders of the Thessalonian church. But the Jewish leaders were jealous and hired some evil men to round up a mob and cause a riot. When word of this arrived, the believers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea.

     Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:11-12 NIV)
* * *
     Lord, help us to be like the Bereans, getting to know Your Word and teaching it accurately to our children, so that they can recognize the difference between truth and error and find Your perfect will for their lives
* * *
     When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea.   Acts 17:13-14 NIV

Saturday, December 16, 2017

THE WISE MEN OF CHRISTMAS

WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM

Read Matthew 2:1–12 & Micah 5:2

     When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: Matthew 2:4–5 NIV
* * *
     Long before Jesus was born, the prophets  predicted His coming. The priests and rabbis knew that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem – a prophesy they explained to Herod and to the Kings from the East.  We know that even the common people were taught this prophesy because later, after Jesus began His ministry, they said, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" (John 7:41b-42)  
     The people must not have realized that Christ was born in Bethlehem during the time of  the census though his home was in Nazareth. They really had  no excuse for not recognizing their Messiah. Had they truly been looking for Him, they would have known who He was–just as the Wise Men and even Herod did. The wise kings sought to worship Him, but Herod caused the murders of thousands of children in his attempt to destroy Him.   
* * *
     Lord, I praise You for the reliability of Your Word. Help me to be willing to share the message of Your coming with my children, my friends and all who might be seeking for truth. As the Christmas cards say, "Wise men still seek Him."
* * *
"Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."  Matthew 2:2 NIV

Thursday, November 23, 2017

THE EARLY CHURCH - Singing in Prison

ARRESTED IN PHILIPI

Read Acts 16:16–40

     At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25 NKJV
* * *
     One day on the way to the place of prayer, a demon possessed girl followed Paul and Silas shouting "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the demon, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" (Acts 16:17-18) 

     This act of compassion for the girl resulted in a loss of profits for her owners. They arrested and flogged Paul and Silas, threw them into prison and fastened their feet in stocks. At midnight, as they were singing hymns, a violent earthquake caused the doors to open and everyone's chains to come loose. The frightened jailer, said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household." (Acts 16:30-31) At that hour of the night, Paul spoke the Word of the Lord to the jailer's family and they believed and were baptized.
* * *
     Lord, Your chosen ones were in every place the apostles traveled: A city given over to demons, a cold dark prison, a prayer group by the river – all known to You before the beginning of time. Thank You for including us in this vast multitude of believers.
* * *
     So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed. Acts 16:40 NKJV

Sunday, November 12, 2017

THE EARLY CHURCH - The gospel spreads toward Europe

LYDIA OF PHILIPPI

Read Acts 16:6–15


     And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."  Acts 16:9 NKJV
* * *
     Paul, Silas and Timothy attempted to enter Asia on their second missionary journey, but the Holy Spirit prevented them, closing the door on their plans. Paul saw a vision as he slept, of a Macedonian man pleading with him to come and help them.
     When the three men arrived in Philippi, Macedonia, they stayed for several days. On the Sabbath they went to the riverside where prayer was customarily made. What they found was not a man, as Paul saw in his vision, but a prayer meeting for women.
     One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. (16:14 NIV) Lydia opened both her heart and her home for the apostles to stay, planting a church at Philippi and beginning what would become a lighthouse of the gospel in Europe.
* * *
     Lord, how glad I am that You value the ministry of women like Lydia, Mary, Martha, and so many others who helped to start the early churches. May our home be a welcoming lighthouse and may our influence be multiplied through our children.
* * *
     When she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay."  Acts 16:15 NKJV

Thursday, September 7, 2017

THE EARLY CHURCH - Paul and Barnabas Disagree

TIMOTHY

Read Acts 15:36-411Timothy 12 Timothy 1:5–7

     He came to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek.    Acts 16:1 NIV
* * *
     Many of the believers in Antioch were taking on the responsibility of teaching and preaching, so Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." (Acts 15:36) 
     Barnabas insisted on taking John Mark along, but Paul sharply disagreed because Mark deserted them on the first journey. So Paul chose Silas, while Barnabas continued with Mark and they went their separate ways. God blessed the ministry of all these men.
* * *
     It must have been a heartbreaking loss for Paul to break fellowship with his friend, but soon after that, Paul met another man with the gift of encouragement, Timothy. Paul would later say of him, "Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel" (Philippians 2:22)
* * *
     Lord, sometimes we are saddened when believers disagree. But You are always faithful to provide the encouragement we need to keep going. Help us to trust in Your perfect provision. 
* * *
     "For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church."    1 Corinthians 4:17 NKJV

Friday, August 18, 2017

PAUL AND BARNABAS - Good News for the Gentiles

TO THE JEWS FIRST

Read: Acts 13:13–52

'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" Acts 13:47 NIV
* * *
     Paul and Barnabas, led by the Holy Spirit, set out on a journey to Cyprus where they spoke in the synagogues. From there they traveled to Pisidian Antioch where the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak." (13:15)
     Paul stood up and motioned with his hand, "Men of Israel and you Gentiles, who worship God, listen to me …We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus…" (13:16, 32-33a)
      The people, eager to hear more, invited the apostles to speak the next Sabbath when almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. (13:44-45)
      The desire for power in these men blinded them to the truth that their Messiah had come and offered them forgiveness of sin. By rejecting Him, they were giving up the gift of eternal life.
* * *
     Lord, I am so thankful that You offered that gift to us also, so that we could share the good news with others, both Jews and Gentiles.
* * *
     "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles."  Acts 13:46b

Friday, August 4, 2017

THE EARLY CHURCH - King Herod's Persecution

AN UNEXPECTED ANSWER

Read Acts 12:1–24

     (King Herod) had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword… So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.  Acts 12:2, 5 NIV

* * *
     On the last night before Peter's trial, the disciples gathered at John Mark's home to pray for his deliverance. What they did not expect, was that their prayers would be miraculously answered that very night. 
     A young servant girl, Rhoda, came to answer the door, and we are told that "when she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!" "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." (12:14–15)
     While they tried to process what was happening, "Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished." (12:16)
* * *
     Lord, I wonder how many times I have prayed without really expecting an answer. It is a comfort to me that You worked this miracle, not because of the strength of their faith, but on the basis of Your Almighty power in answer to earnest prayer. 
* * *
     …Herod, (who had murdered James) wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.   Acts 12:21–23 NIV

Thursday, July 27, 2017

THE EARLY CHURCH - Barnabas


THE GIFT OF ENCOURAGEMENT

Read Acts 11:19–3012:24–13:3

     They sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.   Acts 11:22-23 NIV
* * *
     Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, received a new Christian name from the apostles. They called him Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement." He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lordthrough his ministry. (11:24) He went to Tarsus to find Saul, and brought him to Antioch, where the two of them ministered for a year. In later years Saul, also called Paul, would write of Barnabas and his cousin John Mark, "They have proved to be a comfort to me."(Colossians 4:11)

     Barnabas possessed the gifts of encouragement and discernment. He was quick to recognize the Spirit of the Lord in a new believer and slow to write him off when he failed. His cousin John Mark ran away during a time of persecution, but later rejoined Barnabas in powerful ministry. 
* * *
     Lord, help me to be an encourager like Barnabas. Grant me the wisdom to teach our children how to encourage each other as well. As with Barnabas, fill us with the Holy Spirit and faith so that we can encourage other Christians to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. (11:23-24)
* * *
     The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:26 NIV

Friday, July 14, 2017

THE EARLY CHURCH - Gentiles Included

PETER AND CORNELIUS

Read Acts 11:1–18

     But the voice answered me again from heaven, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.' Acts 11:9 NKJV

* * *
     Up to this time, the apostles preached primarily to the Jewish people. Even at Pentecost, the people from various nations were professing Jews. To come to God, Peter believed a person must become a Jew and follow the Jewish laws, abstaining from unclean foods. 
     But God told Peter that he was going to do a new thing through him. He directed him to an Italian centurion named Cornelius whose heart was prepared to hear the gospel. Today he and his household were going to hear the good news, believe it, and receive the Holy Spirit; bringing Gentiles into the New Testament church.
* * *
     Dear heavenly Father, help me to remember that before I ever speak to someone about Christ, You have already paved the way. You said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,"(John 6:44 NKJV) I pray for the drawing of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our children and grandchildren. Speak to their hearts, so that our words will fall on willing ears.
* * *
     If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?"      Acts 11:17 NKJV

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

THE EARLY CHURCH - Persecutor Forgiven

THE MAN WHO RAISED HAVOC

Read: Acts 9:23–31

     All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name?" Acts 9:21 NIV
* * *
     After Saul's conversion, and recovery from blindness, he began to preach openly, that "Jesus is the Son of God." Believers were afraid of him, and Jews wanted to kill him; so his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. (9:25) 
     From there he traveled back to Jerusalem to join with the believers, but they didn't think he was sincere. With the help of Barnabas, he told his story to the apostles, and was accepted into the church. For a time he spoke boldly to the Jews about his newfound faith, but persecution began again, and Saul now called Paul, left for Tarsus.
* * *
     Lord, I can just imagine how those early Christians must have felt. Saul was the one who stood by while Stephen was martyred. He was the one who dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Not only did they need to believe him, they also had to forgive him. Thank You for forgiving me, and help me to learn to forgive others who have "caused havoc in the church."
* * *
     Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit; it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. Acts 9:31 NIV

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES - A Special Appointment

PHILIP AND THE ETHIOPIAN
     Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road-the desert road-that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." Acts 8:26 NIV
* * *
     God had a special appointment for Philip on a desert road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza. Though he didn't know it, he was to meet with the chief treasurer for Queen Candace of Ethiopia. This man was sitting in his chariot reading aloud from the book of Isaiah the prophet. (Isaiah 53:7-8)
     Philip approached and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me? …who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" (Acts 8:30b-31a, 34b)
     The passage read, "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice…For his life was taken from the earth." (Acts 8:32–33 NIV) Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. (8:35)
* * *
     Philip didn't know why he was told to go to the desert, but God had a specific reason for sending him there. Lord, when I am worried, help me to trust Your leading for our family, knowing that You have a purpose for our lives, and perhaps that purpose will be to influence and encourage other people along the way.
* * *
     Then…Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.   Acts 8:38-39 NIV

Saturday, June 10, 2017

AFTER PENTECOST - God's Unexpected Choice

WHO ARE YOU LORD?

Read Acts 8:1–3; 9:1–22


     Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Acts 8:2-3 NIV

* * *
     The day that Stephen was martyred, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem. The young man, Saul, asked for official approval to go to Damascus, and arrest any who belonged to "the Way," whether men or women. (9:2)
     Saul did this believing that he had God's approval as well. Later he would say, "I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." (Galatians 1:14) On his way to Damascus, this fiery zealous young man had a massive change of heart. He met Jesus who said, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" His immediate response was, "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 9:4–5)
* * *
     Dear Jesus, You are the One who knows men's hearts. Help me to believe that even those who seem to oppose the gospel may have a heart that is searching, and when You speak to them, they will recognize Your voice, because they are Your chosen ones.
* * *
     "God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles… " Galatians 1:15-16a NIV

Thursday, June 8, 2017

AFTER PENTECOST - Persecution of the Church

STEPHEN MARTYRED

Read Acts Chapters 6 ─ 7


     These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. Acts 6:9b–10 NIV
* * *
     The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. This was a major threat to the powers in control, so not finding anything with which to accuse Stephen, they lied about him and brought him before the Sanhedrin.
     Amazingly, in the face of death, Stephen began by giving a complete overview of Israel's history – ending with, "Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous one. And now you have betrayed and murdered him…" (7:52 NIV)
* * *
     Stephen was chosen by the church to be a deacon. His job was distributing food among the widows, but he also faithfully continued to teach and preach about Jesus Christ. God had a particular Pharisee for Stephen to influence and we are told that "the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul." (7:58 NIV) Later this man would be converted and become the Apostle to the Gentiles, renamed Paul, who would write letters from prison which are now included in Holy Scripture.
* * *
     Lord, we never know what You will accomplish through those we influence, especially our children. Help us to be faithful as we share the good news of the gospel in our day.
* * *
     While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 NIV

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

AFTER PENTECOST - Imprisoned

WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN

Read Acts 5:12–32

     Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him . . . laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.  Acts 5:17-18 NKJV
* * *
     Through the preaching of Spirit-filled apostles, "more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number." (5:14 NIV) The result was that the High Priest and other Sadducees were filled with jealousy, and had them arrested. 
     After a miraculous escape from prison, the apostles were again taken to the High Priest who said, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,…yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…" Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! (5:28-29 NIV)
     One of the most convincing proofs of the power of the Holy Spirit was the courage of these ordinary uneducated men. But with God's help, they became extraordinary witnesses for the kingdom.
* * *
     Lord, I pray that You will give this ordinary woman an extraordinary filling of Your Spirit today. Help me to keep eternal values in view as I do my daily tasks, and try to love my family and other people as You love me.
* * *
     Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.  Acts 5:42 NIV

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

AFTER PENTECOST - The Stone of Stumbling

JESUS THE CORNERSTONE

Read: Read Acts 4:1–22

     This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. Acts 4:11 NKJV
* * *
     The religious leaders were in a dilemma: A man had been healed and Peter and John insisted that the healing was in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the One they had crucified. 
     The apostles claimed that Jesus was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophesy: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed." (Isaiah 28:16 NIV) But this same Jesus had become to them "…A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense." (Isaiah 8:14 NKJV)
* * *
     They stumbled because they refused to receive the Lord as Savior, in spite of His miracles and fulfillment of prophesy. But God has something better in mind for those of us who have received Him: 
     "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy," (Jude 24 NKJV) to Him be the glory! Thank You Lord Jesus!
* * *
     'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 NKJV

Thursday, May 11, 2017

AFTER PENTECOST - Peter Heals a Lame Man

IN THE NAME OF JESUS


Read Acts 3

        Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Acts 3:6 NIV
* * *
     After Pentecost the Apostles were granted the gift of healing that Jesus had promised before He went to the Father. When this man began to walk and praise God, the people were astonished because "they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."(3:10) 
     Peter said, “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (3:12b)
    This was a moment when Peter and John could have taken credit, but instead Peter began to preach a courageous message: 
    He proclaimed to them, “you killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this…  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see." (Acts 3:16 NIV)     
* * *
    Lord, I pray that whatever ministry you accomplish through my life, that I will always give glory to You. Help me to be sensitive to the kind of message that will be received, speaking boldly or gently as the occasion requires. You have promised to give the wisdom we need. Thank You, Lord. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

AFTER RESURRECTION - Pentecost

POWER FROM ABOVE - WITHIN

Read: Acts 2:1–47

     Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Acts 2:2 NIV
* * *
     Jesus told His disciples that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit and they would be witnesses to the world, beginning at Jerusalem. So they waited until the day of the feast of Pentecost when Jerusalem was filled with God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. (2:5) As the apostles began to speak, the people all said, "How is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?" (2:8)
     Peter, who had once fled in fear of the Jews, now stood up in front of the largest crowd of Jews he could possibly imagine, and says, "This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." (2:23-25)
* * *
     What a change God's indwelling Spirit had made in Peter. Lord, this same Holy Spirit lives in us, please give us the courage to witness to our generation and the one to come.
* * *
     The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call." Acts 2:39 NIV