Devotional Thoughts on Acts 13:1-3, 14:8-18
April 20-26, 2015
Monday, April 20, 2015
“Now at the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabus, Simeon, who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul” (Acts 13:1).
One of the favorite songs of the Sunday school that I attended as a child was “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” You’ve probably heard it. “Jesus loves the little children/all the children of the world/red and yellow black and white/they are precious in his sight/Jesus loves the little children of the world.” It was a wonderful song, and still is, that celebrated God’s love and God’s inclusiveness. Unfortunately it was not a physical reality for us white kids living in North Central area of the United States with Scandinavian or Germanic last names.
The church at Antioch as described by Luke was wonderfully diverse. Antioch was a crossroads city that enjoyed the presence of travelers from all over the world. The church reflected that characteristic. There were Jews and Gentiles, Whites and Blacks (perhaps even a few reds and yellows) rich and not-so-rich. Though diverse, this gathering of followers of the Way were united in being recipients of God’s grace, trusting in the efficacy of the Cross and their desire to live out their faith in love and faithful obedience.
In an ever increasingly diverse world, inclusiveness is a challenge for the church. Our homogeneity is not the work of the Holy Spirit but caused by our hard hearts and stiff necks. Such a pattern can only be changed as we realize the inclusiveness of God’s love and grace—just like the Christians at Antioch—and as we live out that inclusiveness in words and actions.
God of Creation, it is obvious as we look at your creation that you love variety. May your Spirit move within us that we seek to promote diversity in our congregations and in our lives. Amen.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
“The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
For those of us who live in societies that place a high premium on individuality and personal freedom, it is difficult for us to imagine the bonds of community in the early church. Barnabas and Saul didn’t wake up one day and say, “Hey, it’s getting a little boring around here. Let’s pack our bags and do some traveling.” It was the community—Saul and Barnabas’ brothers and sisters in Christ—who set them apart for mission. It was also the community that supported the two missionaries in prayer and perhaps financially, also. While it never works for us to attempt to bring back the old times, we can acknowledge the importance of community and both seek to build it and practice it in our lives.
Of course the idea to set Barnabas and Saul apart for a special work did not come from the community itself. The Evangelism Committee didn’t plead with them to go because no one else would. Nor were they elected by popular vote at a congregational meeting—narrowly gaining the victory over two incumbents. It was the Holy Spirit guiding the community of believers along with Barnabas and Saul. The Spirit was moving in and through fellowship. The Spirit already had a plan and was even going ahead of the duo to prepare the way. When Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20) it wasn’t that he would simply follow them around but rather he would go before them.
What a partnership—God and God’s people. God’s Spirit moves and leads and the people seek to discern God’s will and be faithfully obedient to it.
God of the multitudes you have gathered us together. Move within us that we may be the community of believers—the mission society—that you have created us to be. Amen.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
“Then after fasting and prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3).
Alan decided that he had to do something. He tipped the scale at over 250 pounds. He had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. His doctor had just told him that he was dangerously close to being diabetic. Action needed to be taken, so Alan joined a fitness center and Weight Watchers. “I have to work hard to become healthy,” Alan told himself. “Health doesn’t just happen.
One of the side effects of the Reformation is an inordinate fear of works righteousness. “We are saved by grace through faith,” we declare. “We don’t need to do anything to earn our salvation.” As the reformers would say, “This is most certainly true.” However, that doesn’t mean that a vibrant relationship with God and spiritual life just happens. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, devotional reading, Bible study, meditation and fasting nurture our relationship with God and promote spiritual health.
Prayer and fasting were part of the lifestyle of the early Christians. They didn’t just do it as individuals, either. They prayed and fasted as a community. Those early Christians weren’t totally focused on their own spiritual health, they were also concerned about the health of the community of which they were a part. After they prayed and fasted together, the people of the Antioch church gathered around Barnabas and Saul, laid their hands on them and sent Barnabas and Saul off on their mission. A disciplined and healthy community of believers set out to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.
Holy God, empower us that we may be a disciplined, healthy community that works hard together—not to gain our salvation but to honor you and share your love and grace with others. Amen.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
“And Paul looking at him intently, and seeing that he had the faith to be healed” (Acts 14:9).
Sheila had been severely wounded during her tour in Afghanistan. She had recovered physically and on the outside she only had a few visible scars to show that she was ever in Afghanistan. Inside was another matter. Sheila struggled with PTSS. Occasionally a wave of despair would wash over her driving her to the brink of suicide. Mental health was illusive even with the psychological care she was receiving.
Sheila doesn’t understand how it happened, but one Sunday she went to church with her parents. During the pastor’s sermon his words of God’s love and grace touched her heart and Sheila felt a peace that she hadn’t felt in a very long time. It was a turning point in her healing. As her mental health improved in the months that followed, Sheila took a step of faith and volunteered to serve in a facility that helped in the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers.
We don’t know what sparked faith in the life of the man who couldn’t walk. The Holy Spirit could have used Paul’s preaching alone, but the Spirit probably also used the many of the man’s life experiences as kindling for the spark of faith. Because of that divine gift of faith, the man was able to respond and literally take several steps of faith.
We never know what the Holy Spirit will do with our words and actions. We do know, though, that when they are combined great things will happen.
Powerful Lord, we are yours. Use our words and actions to create faith in others so that they can walk with you. Amen.
Friday, April 24, 2015
“The shouted in the Lycaonian language ‘The gods have come down to us in human form’” (Acts 14:11).
One Sunday morning, four year-old Kurt pulled on his mother’s arm as they entered the church. He pointed to Pastor Carrie in her flowing vestments and said to his mother, “There’s Jesus.” Pastor Carrie heard Kurt’s comment. Squatting down to Kurt’s level she looked at Kurt and smiled. “Thank you, Kurt,” she said, “I’m glad that you can see Jesus in me. I’m not Jesus, though. I’m only a child of God just like you.”
When we use our gifts and talents to serve others, life situations can change and lives can be transformed. People might be appreciative and give us both thanks and praise. We might receive commendations, awards and notoriety. It is easy to allow such words and actions to go to our heads. We begin to believe that we are people who are special; a cut above the rest.
When the man walked after Paul had called out to him to do so, the people thought that both Barnabas and Paul were gods. The two men had to work hard to convince the Lyconians and remind themselves that they were mere mortals. Dag Hammarskjold said it best in his journal, Markings, when he wrote “How humble the hammer when praised for what the hand has done.”
Almighty Lord, help us always to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with you (Micah 6:8). Amen.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
“You should turn from these worthless things to the living God” (Acts 14:15).
Martin Luther once wrote that whatever we put our trust and hope in becomes our god. In modern, industrialized societies few people worship pieces of wood or stone. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have our gods, though. We are tempted to place our trust in our health and our hope in our jobs. We build safety nets with our 401k’s or 403b’s. As innocent as these items are, they can become our gods.
These little gods can’t give us the safety and the security that we crave. They are not worthy of our trust and hope. A blood clot the size of a small pebble can destroy our health. Our jobs can be ended by a pink slip. Remember what happened to our retirement funds in 2007—and our collective panic?
We too should pay heed to Paul’s words, “You should turn from these worthless things.” This is not to say that health, jobs, or pension plans are bad. They just aren’t gods. Only the God of all creation can act like a God in our lives—providing for us and protecting us, forgiving us and showering God’s love and grace upon us. Only this God is worthy of our trust and hope.
God above all gods, forgive us when we place our trust and faith in your gifts to us. Help us to worship only you. Amen.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
“Yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17).
The Lyconians made a common human mistake. They thought that gods could only be seen in big super natural events. A paralyzed man who could suddenly stand and walk was a big enough miracle that they thought they saw the gods in it—Zeus and Hermes. They didn’t see God in the little things of being able to walk, run, skip and jump. Paul reminds the Lyconians and us that God can be seen in all aspects of life both big and small.
It may be easier to see God in a miraculous cure from stage four cancer. If we look closely, though, we can see God in a recovery from the flu or a cold. God may get the credit for extra money coming in to pay for unexpected expenses. God is responsible, though, for the daily job that puts food on our table and a roof over our head, too. If you really want to see God and see God every day, then look for God in the little things and not the big things. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven,/And every common bush afire with God,/But only he who sees takes off his shoes;/The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
God of Creation, open our eyes so that we may see you in all of life and offer your thanks and praise. Amen.