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DAY 1 – Acts 15:1-35
We are at the halfway point of our Acts study. Chapter 15 is a pivotal chapter with a paradigm change. It may be the single most important chapter in Acts that explains the mission of God. There is a lot at stake. The gospel is at stake. What exactly is the gospel? The identity of the Church is at stake. Who are the people of God? Who is invited to be a part of the new community called Church? The way of salvation is at stake. How does one become a follower of the One True God and the Savior-Lord Jesus? What must I believe and do to be saved?
This passage is worth reading twice. It has intricate details, fast-paced action, profound biblical and theological debate, a divided Jerusalem church, and a beautiful resolution. Here are some highlights and observations.
15:1-3 is the setting. “Unauthorized” teachers (v. 24) were teaching the Gentile believers they must be circumcised to be saved. It created sharp dispute and debate. Is it true or not?
15:4-18 is the discussion on these issues by a Council. The leadership of the early Church gathers to map a way forward. The Jewish party speaks first (v. 5). Then Peter, Barnabas, and Paul give a powerful report of gospel and grace (vv. 9-11). Peter says, don’t test God in this (v. 10). James says, don’t make things difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God (v. 19).
15:19-29 is the theological and spiritual answer that guards the gospel of grace, the mission of God, and the Church of Jesus. Verses 20-21 and 28-29 are the basic encouragements for a way of life as they follow Jesus.
15:30-35 is the joyful response of the Gentile church.
DAY 2 – Mere Christianity
How are we saved? How shall we live? Who will we be as God’s people? These core questions will be addressed by Paul and others in every letter in the New Testament. These questions are just as important today.
Mere Christianity is the phrase used by C. S. Lewis to explain historic and orthodox Christian faith. These are the things believed by all Christians in all times. It is the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
The True Gospel is the essential core of Christianity. Jesus is Savior, Lord, and God. We are apart from God (it is called sin). We are lost, broken, and hurting. We need to be found, renewed, and healed. This is salvation. It is by grace, the free and generous gift of God, doing for you what you could not do for yourself.
Real Faith is you turning from your current path, believing the gospel Good News of Jesus, and accepting and receiving Jesus as your Savior, Lord, and God. Faith is a dynamic combination of belief, conviction, acceptance, and allegiance to Jesus.
All this sets in motion a new WAY of life as one who belongs to and follows Jesus. God’s grace means you are on a new way of increasing forgiveness, freedom, healing, transformation, and empowerment. This is imparted to you by the power of the Holy Spirit. You don’t do the Christian life on y our own power.
Wide Church means the people of God are all who call on the name of Jesus for salvation. Wide church includes every race, ethnic group, political group, gender, age, socio-economic class, occupation, and more. All the hierarchies and differences that divide humanity are overcome in JESUS. Grace makes us one with Jesus and one with each other. Acts is the still unfinished story of these realities expanding and growing as the MISSION of God continues in the WORLD.
DAY 3 – Acts 15:36-41
Luke is selective as a historian and he has a purpose for every story he tells. There are too many years, too much geography, and too many people for Luke to tell all their stories. Every leadership story and lesson Luke tells is significant.
Luke focuses on some leaders and completely ignores others. Peter, Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, and Paul receive a great deal of focus. There are another dozen or so who are mentioned, and we can only wonder about their bigger story. In every city, there are prominent women and men who are well-to-do and who open their homes, provide funds, and lead new churches.
There are apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, elders, shepherds, and benefactors—all used by God to advance the mission and build the Church. There are teams of leaders. They work together. Acts 12:25–13:3 describes one of these early leadership teams. The church of Antioch is loaded with talent and diversity. Barnabas is a Levite from Cyprus. Simeon is a black African. Lucius is from North Africa. Manaen is related to King Herod! And Saul is a former Pharisee with Greek-shaped insights from a city (Tarsus) renowned for its philosophy. What a team!
They are all Christlike leaders, Spirit-filled leaders, Church-forming leaders, wise in the Word of God and strong in prayer leaders, and always, missional leaders. They are also human. They make mistakes. Parts of their personality are still rough and prone to error. They can disagree and have falling outs. That is what happens to two of the greatest leaders in the closing paragraph of Acts 15.
Life together with others is beautiful and difficult. We are all still broken. We are finite, frail, and foolish. Leaders are in the same situation. They simply have more responsibility and there are more repercussions when they fall short.
In this challenging and disruptive season of our times, your prayers for the leadership team of Living Word (staff, board, and ministry partners) is vital. Please pray often for us as we build the church and advance the mission of Jesus.
DAY 4 – Acts 16
The second missionary journey of Paul is told in Acts 16-18. This is a longer trip, lasting over 2 years and covering a great deal of territory. Paul is moving deep into the Roman Empire. Many of the cities he visits will receive letters from him. Some of those places are mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3 (the seven churches).
Acts 16 is a report on Paul’s travels through the regions of Galatia and Asia. Young Timothy becomes a vital part of Paul’s team (vv. 1-3). The city of Philippi is the setting for the rest of the chapter. He meets Lydia who becomes a major benefactor-leader in the Philippian church (vv. 13-15). Also read Philippians 4:2-4 about two other significant women leaders of that church.
This chapter is shaped by an exorcism of a fortune-telling slave girl that has financial loss for her owners (vv. 16-18). The owners retaliate and drag Paul and Silas to face authorities. Read how severe the situation is. Be sure to notice how Paul and Silas respond (vv. 25-27). See how God delivers them and how they use the situation to share the gospel.
The work of God is unstoppable. Beatings and prison become the occasion for a new work and more fruit (vv. 31-34). Read Philippians 1:3-8, 12-14; 4:10-13. Unstoppable is the word that comes to my mind. When God is with you, you too will be unstoppable.
DAY 5 – Acts 17
There are three main cities Paul visits in this chapter: Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Paul follows his standard pattern of synagogue first and then going to the Gentiles. Angry Jews start trouble for him in the first two cities (vv. 1-15). This chapter has the famous passage about the more noble Berean Jews who eagerly studied the Word of God to learn more about Jesus.
The third city is the city of Athens and we have recorded a remarkable missionary adaptation as Paul speaks to a very different audience of philosophers and followers of other religions (vv. 16-34). Paul has deeply studied the philosophies of the Roman Empire. What a great lesson for the Church today. We need to study and understand the non-Christian worldviews that dominate our culture.
Paul finds a common meeting ground with this audience. He speaks their language and reasons with them from their own starting point. It is more important than ever, in our post-Christian culture, that we do the same. We try to help you understand the dominant ideas, voices, and beliefs around us. We use illustrations, ideas, and stories from our culture to connect with our culture.
We do NOT live in a church bubble. We engage the world, dialogue with it, carefully reason with it. We do NOT condemn it from a distance. That is a flawed and foolish strategy for reaching the world God loves. Paul models the way. Some reject the message. Others believe it. Still others want to learn more.
Get to know non-Christians, build relationships, practice listening, avoid preaching, tell your story, and have loving conversations. That is the new way of evangelism. Actually, it is one of the original ways as well!
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