December 13

December 13

Paul — Journey #3 (Macedonia, Troas) — Paul teaches the Elders how to shepherd.

Today’s Readings:
Reading 1: Acts 20
Reading 2: Titus 1:5-10
Reading 3: 1 Peter 5:1-11

Paul travels through Macedonia on his way to Jerusalem, and in his journey we see details about many of the churches to which he wrote letters (Philippi, Ephesus, for example). It is notable that Paul cares deeply about leadership and godly structure in the churches he oversees. He teaches the elders, from his own experience, how to shepherd.

These verses have often been overused to prohibit women, divorced men, and others from serving as elders or overseers. But this approach is not supported by the original texts, nor is it consistent with other records in Acts and the rest of the New Testament. There is not space here to discuss the Biblical roles of women and men, even in church leadership, but there are some excellent articles challenging the “status quo” teaching that excludes women. One example is here and another, which addresses a parallel passage in Titus directly, is here.

Have a great day!

Mark.

December 12

December 12

Paul — Journey #3 (Plan for Rome) — Paul’s plan to visit Rome after visiting Jerusalem.

Today’s Readings:
Reading 1: Acts 19:20-22
Reading 2: Romans 1:8-17
Reading 3: Romans 15:20-33

We have seen in many of our readings how Paul is deeply motivated to share the good news, especially with the Gentiles, and in places where others have not yet started churches. Paul is a pioneer and his energy, strategizing, and willingness to suffer have caused the church to expand dramatically.

He writes to the Christians in Rome telling them what he has been doing and looking forward to being with them. His expectation is only tempered by his desire to first take the love offering from Macedonia and Achaia (including Corinth) to the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem who are suffering. Thankfulness for the heritage passed on from the Jews and early believers in Jerusalem inspires the more recent believers in these far-flung places to honor their forerunners in the faith.

As we read about Paul’s example, and about the gratitude of the Macedonian and Corinthian believers, let’s think about those in our own lives who have been an example, or paid a high price, for us to be in relationship with God. How can you honor them?

Have a great day!

Mark.

December 11

December 11

Paul — Journey #3 (Ephesus) — The story of the church at Ephesus through scripture.

Today’s Readings:
Reading 1: Acts 19
Reading 2: 1 Timothy 1:1-7
Reading 3: Revelation 2:1-7

Ephesus was the center of travel and commerce in the first century – the Paris or New York of the Ancient world. So it was very significant that Paul and his group started a church there by first helping the few believers already in the city to receive the Holy Spirit’s power. Then these newly empowered believers, led by Paul and his companions, start evangelizing in the synagogue and later in a public hall.

This model is used to plant churches in many cities around the world to this day. After the seven sons of Sceva have an unfortunate encounter with a demon, the result is that many people are saved. So much so that the pagan tourist industry is threatened. Imagine if there were such a turning to God in Myrtle Beach that all the strip clubs closed – such would be the impact here that Paul and his companions had in Ephesus. The owner of the Temple, finding his Gift Shop business dwindling, starts a near-riot to get his way. Thankfully the Mayor is able to calm people down!

Paul’s later letter to Timothy shows that Timothy was left behind to lead the church there, and has to battle religious thinking to keep his flock focused on God. When Jesus writes a letter to the church in Revelation, he compliments them for their hard work but also warns them that they have lost their first love.

Today let’s keep Jesus at the center of our lives, and His love in first place!

Have a great day!

Mark.

December 10

December 10

Paul — Journey #3  — The stories of Paul & Apollos (as co-laborers).

Today’s Readings:
Reading 1: Acts 18:24-28
Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Reading 3: 1 Corinthians 3:1-8

Yesterday we saw the ministry of Priscilla and Aquila alongside Paul, and reflected on the important place women have in Christ’s Church. Today we see the importance of investing our lives in one another for growth and maturity.

Apollos came to Ephesus (where Paul had left Priscilla and Aquila) and there he shows his skill as a speaker and teacher. But Apollos only knows about repentance (John’s baptism) and not the full gospel of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit (you may recall that John referred to Jesus as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire). Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos privately and helped him be even more powerful in his eloquence, and thus to convince more people to follow Jesus.

What a great demonstration of the power of friendship and community. Let’s make it our goal to identify those we can mentor and encourage, passing on what we have learned from those who mentor and challenge us.

And as we do, let’s give Jesus all the glory and allow Him to unite us, rather than splitting into factions based on the famous names we prefer. There can be no room in the church today for “I follow Joel Osteen” and “I follow Rick Warren” or “I’m a Beth Moore fan” versus “I only listen to Joyce Meyer”- these factions hinder the work of God, which all of those men and women are doing.

Have a great day!

Mark.

December 9

December 9

Pause and reflect

I am so thankful for these moments of reflection. In these readings they are like an oxygen mask on a plane in crisis! This week we have seen church doctrinal meetings, interpersonal conflicts, teamwork, spiritual fathering, and great suffering for the sake of outreach and sharing of faith.

As you review (and draw breath) today, which of these speaks to you most? And what supernatural impartation does God have for you in the situation(s) He has highlighted?

This will be our final pause before the Second Coming (which takes us to Christmas Day) so savor this moment: the journey continues apace tomorrow!

Have a great day!

Mark.

December 8

December 8

Paul — Journey #2 (Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch) — The story of Aquila & Priscilla.

Today’s Readings:
Reading 1: Acts 18
Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 16:19
Reading 3: Romans 16:3-5

Throughout Paul’s Second missionary journey from Antioch, there have been those who believe, and those who oppose his message. Today’s readings are no different, but we focus on one couple in Corinth – Priscilla and Aquila. Here we have an example of a couple working together in God’s Kingdom. They make tents to support themselves (like a general contractor would today) but they also host a church in their home.

The key thing to notice is that they are both  called co-workers with Paul, i.e. leaders in the early Church and part of his missionary team. It was revolutionary for Jesus to have female disciples (such as Mary and Martha) and women were the first apostles (witnesses of the resurrection sent to tell others about Jesus’ victory over death). Now we see Paul working alongside a married couple to plant and strengthen a church in Corinth. Clearly God’s plan is for men and women to lead together in the church; not an idea cultivated by Jewish religious tradition, but certainly one which has roots in many Old Testament examples (such as Ruth, Esther, Deborah, Miriam, and others).

It is also noticeable in today’s chapter that Paul tried to reach out firstly to the Jews (his own countrymen) but they mostly rejected him so he goes to the Gentiles instead.

Later in the chapter, Paul takes Priscilla and Aquila with him to Ephesus before going on to Jerusalem and back to Antioch, from where he begins his third journey in Acts 18:23.

Have a great day!

Mark.

December 7

December 7

Paul — Journey #2 (Thessalonica, Berea, Athens) — Paul’s ministry to Thessalonica.

Today’s Readings:
Reading 1: Acts 17
Reading 2: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20
Reading 3: 1 Thessalonians 3

Good people, bad people, the world is full of them! Today we read about Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, Berea, and then Athens. (Map here).

The Thessalonians who did not believe  caused more trouble for Paul and his companions, so the believers sent them on to Berea. Have you ever considered that the troubles you face are being used by God? That was certainly the case here.

The Bereans were more open than the Thessalonians, and carefully examined what Paul taught, seeking to reconcile this new teaching with what they already knew. It is a skill which is increasingly rare in our polarized society, and we would do well to learn it.

When the Thessalonian trouble makers caught up with them (since the two cities are not far apart) the believers escorted Paul all the way to Athens. There he found a city full of ideas and with much discussion. Notice as you read how Paul adapted his preaching to the needs of the audience, and successfully introduced them to the ideas which could lead them to faith.

This is another skill which is in short supply today, and I encourage you to develop it by applying what you read to the situations you face, with as much Christ-likeness as you can muster!

Have a great day!

Mark.

December 6

December 6

Paul — Journey #2 (Lystra, Philippi) — Paul’s suffering at Philippi & other places.

Today’s Readings:
Reading 1: Acts 16:6-40
Reading 2: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Reading 3: 2 Corinthians 11:22-33

Sometimes we have a distorted view of greatness!

Paul was a great apostle, even though he had not been a disciple until well after Jesus’ death and resurrection. But Paul did not have the trappings of greatness that his Jewish Pharisee colleagues would have expected. No lavish home or opulent clothing, no group of faithful followers, just Paul and his little team working very hard to support themselves while they ministered to the Thessalonians, after being beaten in Philippi.

There was no sign of the easy life for Paul, but there is no hint of self-pity or resentment in his writing. Instead he sees his sufferings as a “badge of honor” and his hard work as an opportunity to tell others about Jesus.

How valuable those qualities would be in our lives! Let’s ask God to help us live for Him in our daily lives

Have a great day!

Mark.

December 5

December 5

Paul — Journey #2 (Derbe) — The story of Paul & Timothy (as spiritual parent & child).

Today’s Readings:
Reading 1: Acts 16:1-5
Reading 2: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Reading 3: Philippians 2:19-24

Yesterday we saw Barnabas and John Mark going to Cyprus, after the disagreement that caused Paul and Barnabas to separate. Today we see that Paul goes to Derbe and Lystra (map here) where he meets a young believer called Timothy.

Timothy becomes a spiritual son to Paul, and their lives are intertwined to produce much Kingdom fruit.

Who are your fathers and mothers in the faith? Why not thank God for them today? You wouldn’t be who you are without their influence and example. Maybe you can thank them too?!

Have a great day!

Mark.

December 4

December 4

Paul — Journey #2 (Paul & Barnabas Split Up) — John Mark quits & learns not to quit.

Today’s Readings:
Reading 1: Acts 15:36-41
Reading 2: Colossians 4:10-11
Reading 3: 2 Timothy 4:9-18

Have you ever been in a sharp disagreement? It can be very painful and lead to all kinds of negative consequences. It is refreshing to see that even the leaders of the early church could have such sharp disagreements. Paul does not trust John Mark in Acts 15, because he remembers the disloyalty of Mark’s sudden departure from them in Pamphylia. But Barnabas (who it turns out is Mark’s cousin) wants him to have another chance. Barnabas is being true to his character as the “son of encouragement’ but it is not enough to prevent these two top-level leaders splitting up and going their separate ways. Barnabas goes to Cyprus (his homeland) while Paul goes to Syria.

Later we read that Paul’s view of John Mark has changed, because he writes to the Colossians to welcome Mark if he comes to them, and toward the end of Paul’s life he describes Mark as “useful to my ministry.”

You can read more about Mark here.

And don’t despair if you have experienced a sharp disagreement, rupturing a friendship and causing parted journeys. God is able to take such human occurrences and bring much good from them – what has He done in your life in that vein?

Have a great day!

Mark.