Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

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I'm Not Who I Used To Be

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

BIBLE READING: Acts 26

Paul’s about-face to follow Christ had a profound and lasting effect on the church. But it also created enemies to his work. Those who had one been supporters of his zeal for the Jewish traditions weren’t just upset—they wanted him dead. They would chase him from town to town, ultimately resolving that he must not only be silenced but killed (Acts 9.23; 23.12; 25.3).

Their efforts culminated in Paul’s arrest and trial (Acts 22.31-36). Throughout these proceedings Paul had opportunity to present his case not just to the authorities, but to his fellow Jews. He knew them, they knew him (Acts 26.4), and his desire was to help them see the truth about Jesus (Romans 9.3-5; 10.1-4). To do this, he gave his personal testimony as compelling evidence to the truth of Jesus as the Christ.

“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth…” (Acts 26.9). “But I received mercy… that in me… Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe…” (1 Timothy 1.16). In every account of Paul’s conversion his message was, “You know who I used to be… but look at me now! I’m not who I used to be.

Personal testimony can be a powerful tool. Luke records the conversion of Saul 3 times in Acts (Acts 9, 22 & 26). Throughout his letters, Paul would recount the changes Christ brought in his own life (see Galatians 1.13-24; Philippians 3.4-11; 1 Timothy 1.12-16). Jesus’ intrusion into Paul’s life was significant, and the effect on his way of life proved a powerful witness to Christ. Paul was not the same person after he came to know Jesus. I wonder if the same could be said for us.

A couple of thoughts to consider:

  1. The gospel prompts change. Change in priority. Change in allegiance. Change in the way we talk and think and live. Our habits, desires, and goals must evolve to align with a manner worthy of our calling. A life without change does not understanding the calling of the gospel. We are to put off what we want and put on new things that model Jesus. The longer we know Jesus, the more evident the change should be in our lives.
  2. Your past makes the gospel valuable. There may be things in your past of which you are ashamed. It’s ok to reflect on, and even share those things from time to time. It reminds us how much God has done. We are not who we used to be by the grace of God.
  3. The effect of the gospel in your life is powerful. When we practice what we preach, it draws others to Christ. Paul would often encourage believers to imitate him as he conformed his life to Christ (1 Corinthians 11.1; 2 Timothy 3.10-11). How you live becomes a model for others to witness and follow Christ.

Take some time to reflect on the changes Jesus has brought into your life. Is your way of life a witness to the work of Jesus Christ? But don’t stop there. Think about how you still need to change. We are all on a journey to become more like Christ. By his grace let’s grow to become more like him today.

“I am what I am by the grace of God.” (1 Corinthians 15.10)

Resurrection

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

BIBLE READING: Acts 17

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” (Acts 17.32)

Resurrection— Can we take it seriously? In our Hollywood society, the subject is tied to fantasy stories and sci-fi epics. To bring someone back from the dead defies logic and immediately forces us to consider things we cannot fully understand. The Athenians fancied these sorts of subjects (Acts 17.21), but resurrection was a step too far even for them. Many of them scoffed when Paul brought it up. Many today have that same attitude. Resurrection is a figment of the Christian imagination to deal with the unknowns of afterlife.

As difficult as it is to fathom, it is the foremost truth professed throughout the scriptures. The prophets of old pointed to it as an indicator from God (see Psalm 16.10; Isaiah 53.10). Jesus foretold of his resurrection, three times (see Mark 8.31, 9.30-32, 10.32-34). Resurrection was the primary truth professed by early believers. Every gospel discourse in Acts includes the resurrection. If proven false, Jesus would be a liar for the claims he made, and his disciples would have disappeared from history (consider Acts 5.33-39). And yet, this claim has been sustained and affirmed to this day.

The resurrection must not be an afterthought in our minds because it is the focal point of faith. “If Christ is not raised our faith is futile and we are still in our sins” (1 Corinthians 15.17). There are many proofs of Jesus’ resurrection, but the response of 1st century believers is a powerful testimony to its reality. Even in the face of persecution and rejection, the resurrection emboldened “ordinary” believers to not just exist but to thrive and share the gospel of Jesus. If Jesus was not raised, they would have no such motivation.

Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Of course, we do in theory, but we must consider the implications. Our profession of faith in Jesus is not simply about following a good man. We are not choosing to follow Jesus simply based on his teaching. We don’t accept him simply because of the miracles he performed. These all build the case for his divinity but without the resurrection, our faith is incomplete. There would be no hope in addressing our greatest need. He would be just like every other religious thought-leader in history who died.

That’s why we must take this subject seriously, and consider what we believe. If Jesus was not raised, death is a scary thing. The uncertainty of life beyond the grave will destroy your peace. But because we believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, we also believe that God will raise us to eternal life (1 Thessalonians 4.14).

“If a man can predict his own death and resurrection, and pull it off, I just go with whatever that man says.” (A. Stanley)

Strength in Adversity

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

BIBLE READING: Acts 14

“When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples…” (Acts 14.21-22a)

Paul liked to revisit places he had already been. Together with Barnabas, their journeys helped the church to grow tremendously. But given the events of Acts 13-14, their return to these cities was unexpected.

In Antioch, the leading men and women ran them out of town for preaching the gospel (Acts 13.50). In Iconium, the city was divided about them, and an attempt was made on their lives (Acts 14.4-5). They fled to Lystra where the people treated them like gods (Acts 14.8-18)... until the folks from Antioch and Iconium showed and incited the people. Paul been dragged out of Lystra, stoned, and left for dead (Acts 14.19); and almost immediately he went back to all those place. Why in the world would he go back?

Paul could have avoided these places and moved along, but he cared about these brethren. His choice to come back to their city after being treated the way he had and seek them out spoke volumes to his love and his faith.

A display of resolute strength is the face of adversity is powerful. I recently had a conversation with my uncle, who suffered for months in the hospital through a double lung transplant. He has been at death’s door on multiple occasions. But he only wanted to tell me how it changed his faith. He gave glory to God for the experience because it has brought him to greater trust. Faith that is tested offers a powerful testimony to other believers.   

Your attitude in difficult situations has the potential to inspire determination in others. Your persistence may encourage someone who wants to give up. Paul didn’t return complaining about what happened, but he didn’t try to hide it either. He was persecuted for what he did and taught. This was part of being a follower of Jesus. When he came back this was his message (14.22b). Paul sometimes struggled with what he suffered. At one point he was nearly driven to despair (2 Corinthians 1.8-9); but he never lost sight of whom he trusted (2 Timothy 1.12). He found peace and contentment in the promises of God (Philippians 4.10-13), and he shared that freely with other believers.

We will all have difficult seasons. It’s important we share that with each other—we’ve all been through tough times . Like Paul, let’s determine to seek out other believers to lean on and find encouragement. But we need to remember that how we carry ourselves matters. We can give into despair, or we can dig into our faith. God has designed the church to bear one another’s burdens, but we must all make a commitment to trust him. A church united in this trust is a powerful source of strength to all involved.

“…with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14.23b)

Useful For The Kingdom

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

BIBLE READING: Acts 9

“…Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9.1-2)

Saul was public enemy #1 to these early Christians. His authority and actions drove fear into the new Christian community (Acts 9.1, 13-14). These were fragile times for believers in Jesus and Saul had potential to crush the whole movement.

Given the events of Acts 5 you might have expected God to handle Saul decisively. But instead, how did God deal with Saul? He repurposed Saul for His work and glory. “He is a chosen instrument of mine,” God told Ananias (Acts 9.15). Following Jesus’ appearance to Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul made a dramatic about-face that no one expected. “…immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, “He is the Son of God.”” (Acts 9.20)

This came as a shock to everyone (Acts 9.21). Even when God told Ananias his plans, he was skeptical and uncomfortable (Acts 9.13-14). Given Saul’s deep ties among the religious leaders and recent actions (see Acts 8.1, 9.1-2), no one could have predicted what Saul would become. But God knew how useful he would make Saul for the kingdom. This is Saul’s (Paul) testimony to others. He would give no pretense about who he once was or why he changed. He gave all credit to God’s grace, mercy and patience (1 Timothy 1.12-16).

We all have a past and some of it we’re not proud of. There are some of you who may not want to talk about your past. You are embarrassed about who you were and what you have done. But somewhere along the way you heard the gospel and it changed you. Look at what God has done with you; think about how God has changed you. For many of us, the people we are today has nothing to do with what I wanted and everything to do with the power of the gospel and what God has done in me.

The story of Saul reminds us that God’s invitation is for anyone. God may be working in the lives of someone who doesn’t appear to care and may even be opposed to him at the moment (Romans 5.8). But the gospel makes enemies into family; Sinners into saints. The gospel is an invitation from God for every single person to be useful in his kingdom.

May we never forget the source of our change, but also the purpose God has for us. “We are a chosen race, royal priesthood, a people for God’s own possession, that we might proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2.9-10).” God’s calling is for us to be useful in the kingdom, as we introduce others to him. It is not our job to change people but simply to get them connected to Jesus. Sometimes we plant, sometimes we water, sometimes we simply put life events in the context of Jesus, as Ananias did (Acts 9.17). Whatever the case, we are useful when we open the door for God to be known and let him do his work.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1.16)

Connecting With Others

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

BIBLE READING: Acts 3

“And a man lame from birth was being carried, who they laid daily at the gate of the temple… And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.” (Acts 3.2, 4-5)

There is a reason in our digital age, that the Girl Scouts continue to sell cookies face-to-face. Having to look those girls in the eyes makes their message more real and relevant to you. They are asking you not just to buy cookies but to invest in them. The Girl Scouts have run one of the most successful direct to consumer businesses in my lifetime simply because they recognize the value of personal interaction.

We live in a world where kiosks are replacing cashiers, social media is replacing true social interactions, and many people just don’t want to be bothered by the anxiety talking to another person. Besides that, Covid has complicated social exchanges altogether. What this means for us is that opportunities to connect with people are becoming more and more scarce. It has become easier to accept this norm rather than step up to the call of the gospel.

But we must not shrink back or give up. In fact, now, more than ever, is when we need to be connecting with others and pointing them to Jesus. But how do we reconnect with people in an increasingly disconnected world?

Notice how Peter turned this potentially awkward moment into a real social connection. He looked this man in the eyes and acknowledged his situation. Surely it would have been easier to just walk on by. This man had been there every day, and I’m sure many others passed by without a thought. But Peter and John stopped. They looked at him and had a conversation. They let him know he mattered.

Choosing to engage someone you don’t know is probably the hardest part of evangelism for most of us. But did you notice it doesn’t have to be a big deal? Peter didn’t lead off with some deep theological question or force himself into this man’s life; he simply acknowledged him. We can’t fix everyone’s problems, but we can show compassion and concern for everyone. Certainly, God has done that for us (John 3.16; Romans 5.5-10)!

More than anything this episode teaches us the personal nature of the gospel. The good news cannot be communicated unless God’s people do so (Romans 10.14-17). We live in a world of people in need. They are our friends, neighbors, people we see regularly at coffee shops, people we see at events we go to, maybe even people in our own family. We may not be able to meet their immediate needs, but because of the power of the gospel, we can give them what they truly need. But we have to take the first step and engage people with compassion and love for their souls.

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4.19)

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