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BIBLE READ-THROUGH: DAY 35 REFLECTION (ACTS 6 – 28:31)

“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”

DAY 35: AUGUST 26

ACTS 6 – 28:31

Today we move deeper into the book of Acts, reading all the way through to the end. It’s telling that the book is called “Acts” and not “Belief” or “Faith”. Many Christians cherry-pick verses from the Bible and, based on those one or two verses, claim that you only need to believe to be saved or have faith to be saved, but the very title of this book says otherwise. Belief and faith alone are not enough to save you; you need to ACT to prove your belief and faith: You need to put your belief and faith into ACTION.

Even so, those actions will only bear good and lasting fruit if they are accomplished by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, not by our own strength. That’s why Jesus cautioned the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had received “the promise of God” (the Holy Spirit), and then they could start their ministry.

Doing the works of the law (the ones that we read about [or skipped over…] back in Moses’ books) are not enough to be saved. You need to do what God guides you to do, and you need to do it in his power and in his time. Saying “no” to God when he guides you to do something is the same as being disobedient to him. You don’t want to be disobedient to God. Good things do not happen to people who are disobedient to God, as we’ve seen throughout the Bible.

  • After initially focusing on the acts of the original 11 disciples, the book then switches gears and focuses on the acts of the new convert, Paul. Of all Jesus’ followers at that time, Paul was by far the most visible and most dedicated. After his conversion, he lived his life as Jesus had lived his – as an unemployed, unmarried, childless, homeless, possessionless itinerant preacher whose whole existence centered on preaching and teaching the Gospel. He lived and breathed God’s Word, just as Jesus had.
  • We are all called to follow Jesus like Paul did. How closely does your life mirror that of Jesus or Paul?
  • As with every other time I’ve read this book, I was struck by how Stephen’s final words, when he was being stoned to death, were a prayer to God to forgive those who were killing him. Jesus did the same on the cross. We need to pay attention to this. God says he’s in charge of doling out revenge. Our job is not to get even or to hold grudges, but to let God repay all offences done to us.
  • Remember that Jesus said to be offended in nothing; if we’re offended in nothing, we won’t be holding grudges or looking for revenge. Our job is simply to choose to forgive and to pray for those who hate us and treat us badly. That means everyone. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E. No exceptions at any time or for any reason.
  • Remember, too, that Jesus told us that God doesn’t hear the prayers of those who have unforgiveness in their heart. If you’re having a hard time hearing from God lately, it’s likely not due to an earwax build-up, but to a grudge or resentment that’s clogging up your prayer line. Let the grudge and/or resentment go, and then you’ll hear clearly from God again. Take the time to practice forgiving now, because it will likely be your final test. It was for Jesus and Stephen. No-one with a hard heart gets into Heaven. You don’t want your final words on Earth to be a curse. Practice choosing to forgive now, and it will stand you in good stead when you need it most.
  • In reading Acts, I was also struck again by how Paul didn’t fight against the Roman ptb when they arrested him. At no time did he fight against them. Neither did the other disciples fight against or protest the ptb. God had told Paul that he needed to go to Rome, so Paul permitted himself to be arrested in order to be taken to Rome as a prisoner. On the other hand, in situations where Paul was being attacked by angry mobs, God rescued him time and time again.
  • There is a clear distinction between God rescuing Paul from mob attacks and God protecting Paul during his arrest and final incarceration in Rome. The same pattern played out with Jesus. Until it was their time to go home, they were constantly being rescued, but when it was their time, they submitted to the ptb and endured whatever they had to endure to the end. These scenarios are not just Bible stories; they are guidance for us. They are meant as an example of how we are not to submit to angry mobs (God will rescue us from those), but are to submit to authorities when our time has come. We’ll know it’s our time, because God will tell us. If he told Jesus and he told Paul, he’ll tell us.
  • Paul was a genuine convert. Like most genuine converts, he signed up 110% for the program. He held nothing back. Even after God showed him how much he’d have to suffer, he still stayed the course. Genuine converts are unstoppable. That’s why there’s more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who need no repentance. God’s angels know that in genuine converts they’ve won a strong human ally on Earth. The ranks of God’s holy warriors are expanded every time someone genuinely repents and genuinely converts. The converts join the ranks of God’s holy warriors.

What do you think of the book of Acts? Do you see yourself anywhere in there? Do you relate to anyone in particular or wish you were more like a certain someone? Jesus is our main example of how we should live our lives, but Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and the others show us what “living like Jesus” looks like in the real world. We make mistakes. We disagree and fight with each other. We misapply and misinterpret scripture. We get tired and lost and hungry and sometimes need to get away from it all (like Jesus did).

But no matter what, we keep going. That’s what the book of Acts ultimately shows us – we need to live our faith and belief through actions, and that no matter how badly we mess up, we keep going. Even those with the greatest of belief and the greatest of faith occasionally messed up, but they kept going. They never gave up. That’s what made them great in God’s eyes. As Jesus says: “Those who endure to the end will be saved.”

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The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is posted below.

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY: THE TURNING OF A PROPHET

When Jesus burst on the scene in the early days of his ministry, it was like a honey moon for him and his followers. He could do no wrong. They hung on his every word and the mood was constantly upbeat. These were the days of the Sermon on the Mount that included the oft-quoted beatitudes about blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are the meek. Jesus was hailed as a great prophet and champion of the underdog, the long-awaited leader of his people. Everyone loved him and wanted to be near him, and his reputation as a healer drew thousands wherever he went.

But as the months turned into years, the promised kingdom materialized not as a geopolitical realm but as a spiritual one, and the followers started to drift away. This happened slowly at first and then more quickly as the doctrines grew less feel-good and more demanding. At the same time, Jesus expected more of his followers. He grew increasingly impatient and occasionally angry with them. He even openly voiced his desire to be finished his work so he could get back to Heaven and not have to deal with them anymore. This was a different Jesus than the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” who’d fed thousands from a few loaves and fishes. This was a Jesus who was whittling his followers down to a core group of believers, down to those who truly wanted to buy what he was selling and were willing to pay whatever it cost.

In the final days before his execution, Jesus again changed. He became distant but magnanimous towards his followers. He was preparing for his transition to Heaven and also steeling himself to endure his final agonizing hours on Earth. It was then that the first fruit of his Messiahship fully ripened from the flowers that had bloomed earlier in his ministry. While the kingdom had already come (as was witnessed in his casting out of demons by the power of God’s Holy Spirit), it was only in his last days on Earth that Jesus ascended the spiritual throne as King. No more Mr. Nice Guy – in his place was the Great Messiah who was to rule over the prophesied Kingdom that would have no end. He had truly become King of the Jews, just as the sign over his crucifix proclaimed.

The lives of all true believers follow a similar trajectory. Their early days of spiritual rebirth are full of joy and wonder and miracles, and they are a blessing to be around. This phase is followed by a long trek of ups and downs, mistakes and repentance, reaffirmations of promises made and a steady deepening of the commitment to God and his Messiah. How long this second stage lasts is entirely up to God. Sadly, many fall away during this time, even those who were once fervent believers.

But those who remain faithful to God finally enter a transition phase that is glorious to behold: They grow more powerful in their witness, more assured of their salvation, and more formidable in their presence. This is Stephen before being stoned to death and Paul in his final letters in Rome. This third phase may last either a few days or a few decades, again depending on God’s judgement, but God’s Spirit is strong with these tried and trued believers and they are an immovable force for good on Earth.

This is what we’re aiming for – to endure to the end, as Jesus said we must, so that we may stand strong and immovable and with a full measure of God’s Spirit, witnessing the Kingdom to all who want to hear: No more Mr. Nice Guy, but instead a powerful prophet of God, moving mountains and people with God’s Word.

NO LONGER QUITE HUMAN

No Longer Quite Human

When you’re born again, you leave the human race.

You are no longer quite human.

Your focus is no longer human-focused endeavors, but God-focused endeavors.

You live somewhere between Earth and Heaven, not completely in either place.

This is God’s Kingdom on Earth.

The closer I grow to God, the farther I grow from humans. This is the natural progression of born-again believers. Jesus also grew farther and farther away from humans. We can see this in how he distanced himself from his family and village, and then from his religion and culture. During his ministry, he engaged with the world not as a fellow human but as God’s suffering servant. Ultimately, he distanced himself even from the so-called normal human response of self-defense. At his crucifixion, he willingly permitted others to abuse and debase him as if it meant nothing to him, because it actually did mean nothing to him.

At that point, Jesus was no longer human.

This is what we are all aiming for – to be no longer human, to get to the point where what people do or say to us no longer matters because we’ve moved beyond being human and responding as a human.

Stephen got there. He was stoned to death for preaching the Word. Just before he died, he saw a vision of God and Jesus. The ecstasy of God’s presence sustained him as his enraged executioners buried him alive under a hail of stones. It’s an excruciating way to die, being stoned to death, and yet like Jesus at his crucifixion, Stephen simply let it be done to him. He didn’t try to flee, he put up no fight, and he even prayed for those who were killing him.

Jesus did the same.

And we’ll be expected to do likewise.

Paul called this process of dehumanization as “dying to the world”. In dying to the world, our focus shifts from desiring the values of the world (buying houses, getting married, building a career, making money, having children, accumulating possessions, protecting our possessions, protecting our loved ones, etc.) to desiring the values of Heaven (mercy, compassion, truth, honor, self-sacrifice, etc.).

Ironically, the farther away we grow from humans, the more merciful and compassionate we become towards them.

This is a great mystery.

We are not hard-wired to understand this mystery, but we are able, with God’s help, to become part of it – to extend mercy to the unmerciful, compassion to the uncompassionate, truth to liars. This is the opposite of what we are hard-wired to do. Being born-again rewires us spiritually and enables us to do what we couldn’t do before.

This, too, is a great mystery but one that we born-agains can understand because we live the reality of our spiritual rewiring every day.

I do not pretend to know how it is, but I do know that it is.

If it were not so, I, a former atheist, would not be writing this to you.

If you are truly born again, you know what I mean.

You, too, are no longer quite human and are aiming to become no longer human at all, like Jesus.

When you get there, nothing will be able to touch you – neither stick nor stone – because you’ll finally see as God sees and you’ll love everyone unconditionally.

And then you’ll get to go home.