Paul purposefully checks on the churches he planted. He doesn’t just want people added to his “saved list”; he wants disciples who love the Lord and keep the faith. He wants to personally pour into them and spend time with them. Paul knows his time with many of the people he has ministered to is coming to an end.
He leaves them with wisdom, teaching, encouragement, stories, truth. For so long he speaks at one location, a young boy with heavy eyes after hours of preaching and the fumes of oil lamps leans toward the fresh air of the open window and not only falls asleep but falls out the third-floor window. But no worries, with God’s power, Paul brings him back to life.
Paul breaks bread with his friends. Long slow meals paired with rich conversation. A staple in the early church life. One that is lost to some degree in our culture of over-scheduled rushing from one commitment to the next with barely time to catch our breath. I’m guilty for sure.
Among the beautiful words of Paul and the miraculous rescue from the third-floor fall, and though not the main point of the chapter, God has me planted at the supper table. The breaking of bread. The making quality time for fellowship. The gathering that opens doors for genuine sharing and deep discussion. For encouragement, support, advice, brainstorming, venting, laughing, crying. I know my introvert over-scheduled self needs to be more intentional here and my soul is telling me I need to do more than type about it. My plan is to schedule time with friends for a meal or even a cup of good coffee this summer. If you are in Jacksonville reading this, you just might be getting a message from me soon. 🧡
So, how do you do community? How do you pour into relationships? What are your hopes for community and relationships? Who would you like to sit down over coffee or tea with?
Following are some conversation starter questions I would love to discuss with friends over coffee. What questions would you add?
What’s your favorite part of your life right now?
A common scenario in Acts (as in much of the Gospels) begins with a group of people getting upset because their power base is being disrupted. They aren’t interested in truth, but only what will keep the power, esteem, and money rolling in. And since truth isn’t on their side, they resort to other efforts, finding new ways to generate buzz and stir up the crowds. If they can’t win with truth, they will win with the mobs. The crazy thing is, it is sooo easy to do. People love to follow. People blindly follow. People go to the loud voices craftily manipulating them.
The Jewish leaders did it against Jesus and again against the apostles. They won’t stand for someone coming in and messing with their status and status quo. In Acts 19 we meet a silversmith, Demetrius, whose way of life is being messed with and who has something to say about it. The gold, silver, and bronze idols they create are rolling in the dough. The worship of all these false gods must go on. But this Paul character and his friends are converting people to Christianity and persuading many that gods made with hands are not gods at all. Demetrius strategically gathers together the others in his trade and shares how their wealth is being threatened by Christianity. Naturally, the others are outraged and begin crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.”
Others hear the chants and begin to whisper, begin to wonder what is going on. They lean into the chaos and confusion. They gather friends and rush to the theater to join the mob. As bystanders see the people run by, they too join in. They don’t want to miss something good, after all. “Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together” (Acts 19:32). All these people are rushing in and shouting, and most don’t even know why they are there. Yet for two hours they cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
And we live in a time where messages can flow and spread so far so fast. There are more tools to manipulate and stir up a mob mentality. People are so quick to rush into the metaphorical theater running high on emotion and low on facts and to begin shouting, even if they don’t even really know why they are there. It is such a wake-up call to understand what we are hearing, reading, seeing, following and to know how to bump it up against truth. The authority of truth is God’s word, and we need to know it ourselves. We should seek to follow Jesus, not just His followers and certainly not the misguided crowd.
Paul leaves Athens with little “success.” It is a city full of idols and whose primary idol is intelligence. The people love to talk and debate, but rarely commit to anything, keeping their options always open for the next big thing.
From Athens, he travels to Corinth. A city also full of idols, but on a different level. Corinth is a relatively new and bustling city. It is a military base and trading port. Alcohol and prostitutes flow freely. Their idol is wealth and pleasure.
It is tempting to think that Paul has this supernatural bravery. He is diligently and passionately pursuing that which God has called him to despite consistent persecution and rejection. But in his letter to the Corinthians, he writes of this visit, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” (1 Corinthians 2:3).
One of my favorite quotes is, “If you can’t beat fear, just do it scared.” Because the opposite of fear is not bravery, it is faith. It is stepping into God’s plan and God’s territory and trusting the process.
Despite Paul’s fears, he pushes through, and God is with him. While in Corinth the Lord spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you...”
Just when Paul needed it most, God shows up and provides the comfort and encouragement he needs to persevere. And He also provides friends and fellow workers, Priscilla and Aquila, who were tentmakers like himself. God never intended for us to do this thing on our own or in our own measly abilities.
“And he [Paul] stayed [in Corinth] a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
I think we often read the incredible accounts in the Bible and believe everything happens so easily and quickly with people much stronger and smarter and braver than we are. But it is more often than not a slow and steady process, by flawed people, riddled with rejection and trials along the way. The spectacular conversion of thousands in the early church account is the exception, not the rule. It is one at a time. Building relationships and telling of what Jesus has done and who He is. It is often laced with uncertainty, failures, and fears. But that is when God shows up to give just what is needed to keep going. When we are weak, God’s strength is magnified.
Alone in Athens, no longer with his missionary team, Paul walks the impressive city streets. An ancient proverb says that you could find more gods than men in Athens. Paul can attest to this. He examines the countless structures to all manner of gods. It is estimated there are tens of thousands of alters of worship for nearly as many gods.
Athens prides itself on its intellectual prowess. The city is full of brilliant men and scholars. “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” (Acts 17:21). And yet they keep constructing more temples, looking to more gods than they can count, and even establishing a place of worship for “the unknown god.” With thousands of gods, they still need another yet unknown. They know there is something there, but they just don’t know what it is. All their knowledge still leaves them unsatisfied…a hole still unfilled.
And today we have even more access to information. Knowledge abounds. But wisdom is scarce.
Like the Athenians, we too seek to fill that hole. We gain knowledge. We acquire more stuff. We try the next new thing. We follow the latest formula. But we remain unsatisfied. These aren’t the things that will fill that place within us.
Paul addresses the men of Athens, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” They are seekers for sure. He goes on to basically say, “Hey, you know that unknown god over there…you worship him, but you don’t know him. I KNOW HIM. Let me tell you about Him.”
God created us to know Him and to give Him glory. This desire is planted within each of us. It cries out within us regardless of our current beliefs. It pursues us. There is contentment, peace, and joy -- even in the hard -- that is found in knowing Him. But instead, we search everywhere else to fill that God-sized place within us.
John MacArthur says, “No matter how many gods a man has, no matter how much religion he has, if it never gets to the true God then he never knows satisfaction.”
Do we know the one true God? Or is that place planted within us full of so many things, but yet still empty? Have we tried so. many. other. gods….even the “just in case” ones, only to have that nagging feeling remain that we are still missing something?
Sin separates us from the one who Created us and the only fit for that place within us. And in this separated state we groan with the void in that place. We search and search for ways to fill it. Some temporarily do an average job at it, but the gaps of not being a perfect fit grow wider and wider with time, leaving us just as unfulfilled and often in a worse state. BUT JESUS…the one who was with the Creator at the beginning of it all; the one who is the Creator…He came to remove that separation. Through Jesus, we can KNOW God…the once unknown that we sense is out there can become known. And this is what we were created to do. This is the thing…the thing that fills that elusive hole within us. To know and glorify God. The perfect and only fit for that anxiety-ridden hole within us.
God, help us to seek You alone to fill that place you created within us. Quickly cause our spirit to recognize when we are attempting to fill it with anything else. May we KNOW YOU and glorify You alone.
📷 Background pic @loveyourmelon …
Paul has a front row seat in the explosion of the new Christian church, with joyful memories and deep wounds to prove it. He is taking seriously the call to go and make disciples to the ends of the earth. He has a plan, and nothing can stop him…or can it?
Next up on Paul’s agenda, Asia. But the Holy Spirit forbids him to speak the word there. Change of plans…Bithynia. Again, a ‘no’ from the Spirit that doesn’t allow them to minister there.
Do you ever have doors that just seem to keep closing? They are good things. Really good things; Godly things. They line up with Scripture. You wonder why it just isn’t happening. So, you just keep trying harder; look for new avenues. You become more determined, refusing to take no for an answer. But yet, the doors are air tight. Nothing is happening.
David Guzik sums up Acts 16:6-7 this way, “The Holy Spirit often guides as much by the closing of doors as He does by the opening of doors.” This was certainly the case with Paul and his companions. His ministry will eventually take him to these places, but not now. Not yet. God has other plans for this season and this missionary tour.
We know that Paul is disciplined in prayer and fasting, positioning to follow God’s direction. Instead of Paul’s plans, God gives him a vision that leads him to Macedonia. God’s plan was Europe before Asia. Dead ends and temporary disappointments become new directions. Sometimes we don’t get what we want or go where we want – even when they are good things. But obstacles can become blessings when we pray about that ‘no,’ spend time with God and wait to hear what His ‘yes’ is instead. God doesn’t say no just for the sake of no. We need to submit to the ‘no’ to hear the ‘yes.’ The more we fight the ‘no,’ the more we miss out on God’s higher plan. Only the Holy Spirit can direct us when to keep fighting and when to change course. Our job is to be flexible and listen.
The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9.
The church is beautiful, but it is a conglomeration of people, which also makes it messy. In Acts 15 we see two disputes: a macro dispute over a deal-breaker theological issue and a micro dispute of differing opinions between two people. There are timeless lessons here when we are faced with both.
Jewish Christians come from Judea to Antioch teaching that unless the Gentile believers are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, they could not be saved. Basically, they felt Gentiles had to first become Jews before they could become Christians. The clung tightly to the Jewish people being God’s exclusively chosen people. Naturally, this was a hard thing for them to break free from. It was such a big part of their life and culture. They had no problem with Jesus... as long as they also followed Jewish laws and rituals to be saved.
Paul and Barnabas initially attempt to persuade them otherwise; to help them see what they have seen and understand that it is faith in the grace and work of Jesus ALONE that saves us. But their persuasion falls on deaf ears, and they can’t let it go.
This was no insignificant issue…this had to do with SALVATION. This was about the core of Christianity. It wasn’t a nuanced belief or preference, but the essence of Christianity. A matter that needed to be elevated, addressed and resolved.
A decision is made to go to Jerusalem to have the matter settled by the apostles and the elders. The question at hand: Are Christians saved by faith in Jesus alone or by faith PLUS obeying the law of Moses. Is the work of Jesus enough, or do we also need our own works?
After warm greetings and much discussion and debate, Peter rises to reflect on what God had been doing and how He had given the Gentiles the gift of the Holy Spirit just as they had received it. The multitudes in attendance keep silent and listen. James also responds, pointing to Scripture to confirm what Peter, Paul, and Barnabas were saying. Through bringing people together, discussions, debating, keeping quiet to hear what others were saying, and most importantly reflecting on the work of God and the words of Scripture, the issue is settled. Jesus alone saves us.
Now back at Antioch, the matter settled and communicated, Paul suggests he and Barnabas return to visit the churches they planted to check on them. Barnabas wants to take John Mark, but Paul argues against it. After all, Mark had let them down on their last missionary journey. Both dig in their heels, “and there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.” Barnabas takes Mark and heads to Cyprus. Paul takes Silas and heads in an entirely different direction. Luke doesn’t say who was at fault…perhaps neither were. Perhaps Barnabas, the encourager, felt his calling in this season was to be an encouragement to Mark. Perhaps it was time to move on; to divide and conquer...no longer one ministry in one place, now two ministries covering even more territory. And on Paul’s new journeys with Silas, Timothy – who becomes like a son and mentee to Paul – join them.
Unlike the issue of circumcision for salvation, this was no deal-breaker dispute. Though they didn’t resolve it, they didn’t drag the church down with them. They didn’t let it derail them or cause church friction. They didn’t go out and bash the other, instead, they went out and furthered the Gospel message. They remained united in cause and message, though separated for a time. We see later in Paul’s letters that he ministers with Mark, and even specifically asks for him in his last recorded letter.
Unity is so highly valued and preached by Jesus, but people will have personality clashes, varying preferences, different callings, and disagreements...even with the same theology. Ray Pritchard says, “Hold your convictions firmly yet graciously knowing that God may lead someone else differently than He has led you.”
We need discernment about when to dig in our heels and when to agree to disagree. And ALWAYS we need to look to GOD'S WORD. Issues of salvation are always worth the fight, but personal preferences and callings may lead us down different paths, which we must walk in love for our brothers and sisters, not as a platform to hurl insults and create disunity. God, give us discernment to know when to fight and when to walk away. Let your Word and your Truth always be our compass.
My top 12 favorite (and some not-so-favorite) truths all tucked into Acts 14…
So, what is your favorite/not-favorite truth in this chapter?
So here they are. Amidst persecution and deliverance; preaching and unfathomable growth. The refrain of Jesus’ commission rings steadily….GO! Make disciples to the ends of the earth. But tactically, what now? Where to go? How? Who? What roles for each person? Where to start? What does it look like?
Do you ever feel like that?
The diverse and beautiful church body is worshiping, praying and fasting together over these questions. It isn’t the theological questions, but the directional questions related to the bigger calling. They want to be obedient to the larger calling, and they want the Holy Spirit to guide them in all their ways.
While worshipping and fasting, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” The time is now. The men are Paul and Barnabas.
The church is in a posture to hear God, and He speaks to them. God works by sending people out with a call and the power of the Holy Spirit for the good works He has prepared in advance for them.
“Set apart for me…” the Spirit says. To be set apart we must separate and part from other things. From things that keep us where we are or distract us from our call.
It isn’t always easy to GO when you are in a close-knit community where you are loved, cared for, comforted and feel at home. Being set apart and sent off is hard.
So, you know what this church body does? They fast and pray some more. Then they lay hands on Barnabas and Saul – a commissioning – and send them off.
Paul, the well-educated, fiery, former persecutor, and Barnabas, the respected “son of encouragement” go. And their going launches a movement of church planting and teaching that changes the entire Roman world.
What are you being set apart from? What disciplines have you incorporated into your life to hear God?
I’m convicted today to worship, fast and pray more deliberately. I love the Lord and I love the Word, but I’m convicted to go deeper and to make it a habit and a discipline. To get in a posture to hear from God. To soften my heart for the setting apart and sending off God has for me, in whatever capacity that might look like.
I hurry to the door to welcome another guest. How many now, I wonder to myself…40…50? I make a mental note to count when I get back to the main room. I have a strange thing for numbers.
“Greetings, Rhoda!” I wrack my brain…what is his name? Why am I so forgetful? I force a smile, hoping he won’t notice.
“What did I miss? I’ve just returned this morning,” he says.
“Come, the brothers will fill you in.” He looks past me, clearly shaken by my trembling voice. I follow him to the main room. So many people, but only whispers can be heard as various side conversations fill the heavy air.
“Steven!” Mark is the first to acknowledge him. “Have you heard the terrible news? James has been beheaded by Herod and now Peter is in prison awaiting the same. We must pray.”
I let it sink in again, even though I am well aware of the current situation. Just when things seemed to be going perfectly. Good report after good report of brothers and sisters hearing the good news and being baptized. The church is growing like crazy. It seemed nothing could stop us. And now this. It feels like the bad guys are winning. Is this how it will all go down? Will this be the fate of all of us? Will Christianity die with the death of more and more of our leaders? I find an open space in the corner close to the door so I can quickly let any latecomers in.
The room goes eerily quiet as prayer after prayer saturated with thanksgiving and request is lifted up. Some heads bowed low and some hands up high. Words, psalms, Scripture rolls off the tongues of these men I have come to love. Several women in the far corner are huddled together tightly as they murmur, “Yes, Lord” as the disciples’ passionate and desperate intercessory prayers for Peter are lifted up to God. My heart feels at ease. It’s strange to me that I can be scared and at peace in the same body. The beautiful echo of prayers fills the space and fills my heart. I am safe and loved here, that I know.
I jump to the sound of banging. I quietly tip toe to the front of the house to get the door. I’m stunned by what I hear. It can’t be. But it is! It is Peter’s voice. I know it! I would know it anywhere. I rush back to the main room to tell the others.
“You are out of your mind!” they say. “It must be his angel,” another voice chimes in over the continued sound of the banging. OH NO…I’ve just left him out there knocking. What is wrong with me?
“Come…come with me and see!” I shout as I quickly turn toward the front of the house again. Together we open the door and Peter is there. Not an angel. Not a ghost. Not a vision. Peter. He has to motion with his hands for us to be quiet because the buzz is so loud as all of the guests are in shock at the sight of him. Why are we surprised when God graciously answers our prayers?
It is several weeks later and I still can’t believe I get to be a part of this group. The love, the fellowship, the shared meals, the prayers, the compassion, the passion to tell of our Lord. I’ve never been loved like this. And I still can’t believe the account Peter told us that day…the angel that made the shackles fall from his hands, escorted him past a total of 16 guards, and then opened the iron gate leading into the city. Incredible. And then the fate of Herod…eaten by worms as he breathed his last breath. You can oppose God, but you will ultimately lose. Just ask Herod. I rehearse the story of God’s faithfulness over and over in my head this day, like every day before. I never want to forget. I don’t know why James died and Peter was miraculously rescued, but I do know God is good. I know God has a plan. I know James is with Jesus today looking out for those of us persevering. God, thank you for your provision and protection. Thank you for this community. Thank you for letting us be a part of your glorious work. - Rhoda
You can’t help but be encouraged reading of the mighty hand of God working in the early church. I want to be there. I want to feel the energy. I want to watch people passionately preach this message of the Jesus they personally KNEW and ate with and walked long journeys with and learned from.
In community and unity; in the Word and prayer; in a posture of listening and obeying…God is moving!
And among all of these disciples, we meet Barnabas. I’m showing my age, but when I read about Barnabas in particular, my mind goes to the early 90’s Gatorade commercials featuring basketball legend Michael Jordan. Anyone remember these? “I wanna be like Mike!” We see footage of his great basketball moves and charming personality. Kids, teens, and adults all emulating him on the court singing, “if I could be like Mike.” And Gatorade had just the solution to be like Mike!
I wanna be like Barnabas. We met him first in Acts 4. He was called the son of encouragement. He sold his land and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet for this ministry he was ALL IN for. And then again in Acts 9 after Paul (Saul)’s conversion. Paul goes to Jerusalem and tries to join up with the disciples there who were skeptical for a good reason …he was their chief enemy and persecutor. Barnabas takes Paul and brings him to the apostles, vouching for him and how he had witnessed the Lord working in Paul and teaching in the name of Jesus. I wanna be like Barnabas.
We meet up again with Barnabas in Acts 11. Word is quickly spreading regarding the work going on from the scattered Christians. Of those in Antioch, “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” So they send Barnabas to Antioch. He witnesses the grace of God. His heart is full, and the son of encouragement offers just that to the new Christians to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose….”for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.” I wanna be like Barnabas.
Barnabas goes to Tarsus searching for Paul and brings him to Antioch. Together they teach and meet with the bustling new church there for a year. “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
I wanna be like Barnabas. Son of Encouragement. Humble and generous. Full of joy and love. Brave. Obedient. A good man. Full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. A vessel to bring a great many people to the Lord.
FYI...here's one of the "I Wanna Be Like MIke" commercials (so the song can get stuck in your head like it is in mine)...
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