Monday, January 31: 1Chronicles 1-5- People matter

Okay, this was not the most stimulating reading for me. Scripture is alive for me when I read, but lists of names with little or no history wasn’t the most captivating. And yet as I read name upon name, family grouping upon family grouping, the thought sunk in that ‘people matter’. People, names and faces and lives and descendants matter to God. History and lineage matter to God. Life and how it is lived and who it is lived with, matters to God.

As I allowed that to spin in my heart, I began to think about the people in various circles of my life.  The neighbors on my street, the students on my son’s bus, the kids in son’s dorm, the workers at the stores I frequent, my coworkers, church family, college class mates… they all matter to God.

Lord, help me to engage my world and the people in the pathways of my life in a manner which allows me to share how much they matter to You. Lord, help me to treat people with the respect due people who matter to You… in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.


Saturday, January 29: Acts 28- Faithful to the end

Acts ends with Paul preaching and proclaiming Jesus.  He was faithful to the end. Chains did not deter him. Plots against his life did not deter him. Success did not soften him, nor did rejection harden him. Paul was faithful to his Lord to the bitter end.

What an example Paul sets for me and for you and for all who follow Jesus. Faithful to the end, that is something to aspire to!

Holy Spirit, Father, Jesus, I pray that the same is true of me… that I am faithful until my last breath when You sweep me away into eternity where I will see You face to face. Amen and Amen.



Friday, January 28: Acts 27- your character at the worst of times

I found myself attracted to verse 3 and the kind of person Paul must have been to win the kindness of a centurion. The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs.

To the centurion, Julius, Paul was just one of the prisoners over whom he had charge.  His task was to bring his prisoners to Rome. Did Julius know each prisoners’ record? Probably. Julius likely had to provide a letter from the governor to the Emperor’s court upon arrival. Whatever the case may be, Paul apparently connected with Julius in a way that caused Julius to show kindness to Paul.

I took a moment to think about things from Paul’s perspective. He was arrested on trumpeted up charges, had death threats from Jews on his head, was  shackled like a common prisoner, and holed up in a ship. This is not exactly a delightful Mediterranean cruise. Paul had every human reason to be grumpy, depressed, bitter, even angry. I certainly might have been. And yet Paul rose above his human circumstances and apparently showed Julius kindness in order to receive kindness in return from him.

I ‘ping-ponged’ off Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, … Paul was living proof that God’s fruit can and will grow in our lives if we allow God to hone and shape us and develop His character within us. An indicator that God’s fruit is growing in me is how I act during the worst of times…

Lord God, I have so much growing and maturing to go. I fall short far too often for a person who has been walking with you for 35 years. Continue to change me to be the man of God You long and desire me to be. Groom me to live with so much fruit of Your Holy Spirit that on the most difficult days it will feel ‘natural’ for me to display Your fruit. In Jesus’ name and for the sake of Your kingdom I pray. Amen.


Thursday, January 27: Acts 26- proving our repentance...

This is the third time Luke has recorded Paul explaining his conversion testimony. This time Paul uses it as his ‘defense’ against the Jews. Paul also appears to be using his conversion story to influence King Agrippa to become a Christian.  Ahh, the power of our testimony.

One sentence by Paul particularly caught my attention. Throughout the centuries, believers have wrestled with the role of ‘good works’ in salvation and the life of a believer. Paul provides straight forward insight concerning the role of ‘good works’ in Verse 20 … I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

According to Paul, turning to God and repentance will result in good deeds. Good works result from a changed and repentant heart.  Our deeds don’t merit or earn us salvation, they are the proof, the result of a redeemed life.

I love it when key elements of the Christian faith are stated so plainly…

Jesus said it this way; By their fruit you will recognize them. … (Matthew 7:16).

As I steep in this thought for a few minutes, a self-examining question fills my thoughts, “Ok Bill, what fruit are you producing? Do your deeds show you to be a Christ-follower?” I believe it was Lloyd Ogilvie who asked it this way; “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Lord, do my deeds prove my repentance? Speak with me Lord, show me if and how and where I can improve my Christ-living. May You receive glory, Lord, through my life and my living… Amen.


Wednesday, January 26: Acts 25- Do you have a spine?

Reading, rereading, reflecting and pondering this chapter… a question fills my thoughts. Do you have a spine? The question tumbles round and round. Do you have a spine? Are you merely a pawn for others or do you have personal character and conviction.

Festus comes across as a spineless politician… currying favor with powerful constituents instead of governing and deciding based on personal conviction and truth.

The text notes that the Jews ask a ‘favor’ of Festus to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, which as the account unfolds he was clearly seeking to do. I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges (20). Clearly he sees no basis to send Paul to the Emperor (25-26), yet he does.

The entire account screams of petty politics… Festus currying favor with the Jews.

My initial questions bubbles to the surface again, this time not so much as an indictment of Festus, but a probe of my heart. “Do I have a spine? Do I curry favor or ‘keep the peace’ with others at the expense of sharing my faith in Jesus with them?

Ouch, tough questions…

Lord, help me … help me grow to be the faith-filled man you desire me to be. Amen.


Tuesday, January 25: Acts 24- Seasoned with salt.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes, Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6). These words filled my mind as I was reading Acts 24. It struck me that Paul was living out his teaching before Felix. The opportunity God presented to him was to speak with King Felix, so he seized the opportunity and applied a gentle sprinkle of salt into his defense. Nothing offensive or over the top but just enough to create curiosity, so that if the Holy Spirit was at work in Felix’s life or anyone in the court they could follow up, publically or privately, with Paul. That was cleaver, artful and dedicated to the spreading of Jesus’ name!

Lord, I pray for the conversational savvy of Paul… savvy that injects just the right amount of the Jesus-message into situations, so as to open doors for sharing the gospel with people you place in my path. Lord, I pray Paul’s instruction:  May I be wise in the way I act toward others, making the most of every opportunity. And, Lord, may my conversations always be full of grace and seasoned with the salt of the gospel, so that I may know how to answer everyone about the faith I have in You –Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen..


Monday, January 24: Acts 23- Cooperating with God


What happens when you get a nudge from God to do something or you receive a word from the Lord about something God wants you do? What do you do? How do you act? A one-word answer comes to mind… cooperate! Cooperate with God.

In today’s chapter, Paul is in Roman custody and one night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome" (11). What does Paul do with this word from the Lord? He cooperates! Paul doesn’t sit back saying, in effect, “If God wants me in Rome, He will have to get me there.” No, Paul cooperates with the intentions and direction of God’s word and works toward getting to Rome.

Case in point; in the ensuing verses Paul learns of a Jewish plot to kill him.  So Paul alerts the Roman authorities about the plot and thereby saves his life and sets in motion his trip to Rome.

Paul acted in accordance with prudence and God’s word, thus cooperating with God…

When God speaks with us, in whatever manner God chooses, we need to cooperate, partnering with God in the bringing forth of His will.

As I muse on this, one caution bubbles to the surface from my life experience with the Lord. We are to cooperate with God, moving through the doors He opens. The key is walking in God’s timing, not forcing the issue and trying to do in OUR own strength and timing whatever it is God has told us about.

Cooperating with God… that is my prime thought for today.  What is God showing me (&you) about 2011 and the things He would have us do? If so, how would God want you to cooperate with His leading today and in the coming days.  Think about it.

Lord, show me the steps I should take to cooperate fully and faithfully with You, in regard to the things You would have me do. Show me, Lord. Lead me, Lord. I will remain watchful and will follow Your lead. Amen.


Saturday, January 22: Acts 22- The power of your story

We all have a story… the story of our life and for those of us with a faith, the story of our faith… how we came to having our faith, what it means to us and how it provides an anchor for us in life. Stories are powerful and connecting…

When asked to give a defense, Paul told the story of his faith, how Jesus came into his life and what Jesus as asked him to do. This is the 2nd time Luke has recorded Paul’s story.  Ever wondered why? One answer is that stories are powerful.

Stories do not always result in our listeners accepting the faith we have but they do plant seeds.

What’s your faith story? How did you come to the faith in Jesus that you have? What were the important moments for you in your journey toward believing in Jesus? What is your life like after believing in Jesus? That’s the story flow Paul uses. Clear, concise and personal…

God’s nudge as I sit this morning is simple. I should think through my story and hone it so that when opportunities arise to interject faith into a conversation I can do so by using my story,just like Paul does, to the end that my story might lead others to faith in Jesus Christ.

Bill Hybels in his book Just Walk Across the Room suggests that we hone our story to 100-words. The brevity means we can interject it into any conversation without dominating. And if the Holy Spirit is working on the person(s) with whom we are talking, then they will ask questions which will allow us to elaborate. And if the moment isn’t orchestrated by God to go deeper, we have planted a seed for possible future conversations.

Can you tell your story in a clear and concise way? Think about that. Better yet, write it, hone it, pray it and offer it to God to be used when He opens a door…

Lord, thank You for my story. Open doors that I may use it to share my love for You with others… In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Friday, January 21: Acts 21- Brothers and sisters in Jesus

The first half of the chapter is a travel log, Paul’s journey from Ephesus to Jerusalem. It is none too exciting. Sounds a bit like a vacation journal I sometimes keep, did this, did that, went here, went there. As I was reading this portion of the chapter, one aspect jumped out at me. Everywhere Paul and his companions landed and stayed, whether for a day or for a week, they connected with believers. Some, it seems, he might have known or at least heard of, others were completely unknown prior to their meeting. These brothers and sisters of Christ’s body lodged Paul and friends, fed them, prayed with them, and blessed them.

The wonder of the body of Christ. There is something to being fellow believers in Jesus. I can’t explain it but I have experienced it.

I have been blessed to be part of half a dozen local churches during my adult life and in each location I have been blessed by members of Christ’s body. Christ’s Body is amazing, from rural western Pa, to sophisticated Greenwich CT, from Cincinnati to Boston, a tiny church of 15 to multiple service congregations of hundreds.  In each stop I have experienced the love and care of sisters and brothers in the Lord.

And beyond the borders of the US, I have experience Jesus in His body in places where I am clearly an outsider. In Nigeria I have been warmly received and loved by my Lord’s church. In Germany I have been warmly received and loved by my Lord’s church. In Juarez I have been loved and warmly received by my Lord’s church and in England, too. Such is the blessing of the Body of Christ.

Last summer in Nigeria I stayed at a guesthouse filled with young campus ministry workers from all across Africa attending a conference. We laughed, cheered alongside one another during World Cup matches and we encouraged and prayed with one another. One of the most profound prayer experiences I have ever experienced came when these brothers and sisters in Christ prayed for me the night before I had to leave… such is the blessing of the body of Christ. (If you want to read more about that night check out a blog I wrote about that experience:

Reading about how fellow believers cared for and loved Paul, I was reminded how much the fellow believers –some with whom I have had a long-term relationship and some I have been with only momentarily- have cared for and loved me over the years.

I sit here with the Word open and my fingers on the keyboard, delighting in the gift of sisters and brothers in Jesus… a gift of immeasurable value.

Thank You, Jesus, for the gift of Your body, the Church…men and women washed in Your blood with whom I have deep kinship because of our common faith in You… Amen.


Thursday, January 20: Acts 20- What will you say at the end?

Among Frank Sinatra’s famous songs was “I Did it My Way.” I am guessing that you have heard it. It is an ode to self, to the strength of human character, who needs no one else but does it on his/her own. It could be the theme song to American rugged individualism.

Paul, I believe, would have sung a different song. “I Did it God’s Way” might have been his song’s title, or maybe “To God be the Glory.”

Verse 24 communicates a great deal about the focus of Paul’s life.  I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

With the subtlety of a 2x4-to-the-head, I hear a question in my heart: “Bill, what’s the focus of your life? What song are you singing…?”

Seems to me those questions are appropriate for all of us… Think about it.

Jesus, I think I am a mixed bag, sometimes singing Your song, often singing mine. Forgive me when I stray from the way You have for me and journey in thedirection I want to go. More than forgiveness, I pray for strength to finish the race and complete the task You have for me…

To You be the glory… Amen and Amen.



Wednesday, January 19: Acts 19- Jesus is THE way

Reading today, the big picture rather than individual incidents, seems to link onto my ponderings. What I saw was that Jesus is THE way of salvation. Paul was constantly meeting people where they were religiously/spiritually and attempting to move them to belief in Jesus. Sometimes he experienced success, other times ridicule or even persecution but his ‘modis operendi’ was to have people change from their present belief to belief in Jesus.

In verses 1-4 he meets some purported disciples.  Through conversation, Paul learns that they know of John not Jesus.  He instructs them in the way of Jesus and they are baptized with water and the spirit and the church is born in Ephesus. Paul was determined to make sure they had the whole truth and understood Jesus…

Supported by these dozen disciples of Jesus, Paul spends 2 years in Ephesus preaching to Gentiles and Jews the way of Jesus. Some believe, others malign the Way, miracles occur and so does persecution.  Paul never changes his message. It is all about Jesus, not Artemis, not Judaism… Jesus is the only way of salvation.

Where the Spirit nudged me next was all about how to live this truth in my 21st century world where ‘pluralism’ is the buzz word. God is gently reminding me that I have to discover ways to penetrate my pluralistic society with the message of Jesus.  And, yes, some people will reject Jesus, others will reject and even malign me.  No matter what comes my way, I should be displaying a Christ like character and attitude.

This, I suspect, will not be easy for me…

Lord, I need Your help. The nudges of the Holy Spirit are uncomfortable. They push me beyond my comfort zone in so many areas. One comfort I take in all this is that I know I cannot do this on my own, I know I need You and Your strength and much growth to begin to grow in this direction. And all I can do now is cry,” Help me, Lord, Help me”… Amen.


Tuesday, January 18: Acts 18- Home base

I sat for a while pondering this chapter.  Nothing in particular connected with me. I surveyed the chapter again. I tried to imagine meeting some of the new cast of characters… Aquila, Pricilla and Apollos. I wondered about some of the converts listed.  What was it like for Crispus and his family? As synagogue ruler turned Christian, was he ostracized from his friends at the synagogue? I just wondered….

Nothing really stuck to my heart. I sat quietly with my Lord, silently praising Him and thanking Him for who He is.

Glancing back at the text, I landed upon verse 23, which mentions that Paul spent time in Antioch before setting out on another journey. This tiny inkling, a small spark glowed… home base! Paul spent time at home. Antioch was the church that initially sent Paul out. Antioch was Paul’s his home base, his anchor, his church. I thought about missionaries I know, called to live for a while in a foreign land.  Most I have met have a sending church, a home church, a church family with whom they have a special bond. Antioch was Paul’s.

I switched focus to my life.  Since my earliest days as a Christ-follower, my local church has always been my home base.  It’s a place where I seek to let my gifts flourish, where I make friends who can encourage me and walk with me on my daily Christ journey. Home base – an anchor, a place of belonging - my church.

I hope you have a home base like this. If you don’t, find one, invest in it. Don’t stay on the periphery, instead watch what God will do as you plug in and invest in your church.

Lord, thank You for my church family… a sweet gift from You. Amen.


Monday, January 17: Acts 17- Religious or a Christ-follower


Listening to Paul, I am constantly amazed by his ability to take advantage of every open door to proclaim the truth of Jesus. Whether risking riots in Thessalonica or deep thinkers in Berea or creating a speech about an unknown god in Athens, Paul presses Jesus as often and as cleverly as he possibly can. His ability to read people and engage people is uncanny, as are his powers of observation.

Standing in Athens, Paul makes a keen observation. He differentiates between being religious and knowing God.  Go back and reread verse 22-23. Many people to this day are religious. They follow some religious (or in today’s parlance ‘spiritual’) system. They may be adherents of a major world religion or some concoction of established religion(s) + a mixture of their own thinking. Bookstores have shelves lined with texts on spiritual things!

What Paul notes is that people can be highly religious/spiritual and yet not know God. There is a profound truth in this observation.  Not all religious/spiritual roads lead to God, the one true God, that is. Paul understood that and so he argued cleverly for belief in Jesus and the need to repent. Paul gave them just enough information that those truly interested would want more and those not sure would think and ponder what he said….

All religious/spiritual roads do not lead to God.  Only faith in Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead, leads to knowing the creator God of the universe.

There is much to chew on in this thought… happy chewing.

O, Jesus, give faith to believe, that in believing in You we might know the one true and only God and in Him receive salvation, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life forever more. Amen.



Saturday, January 15: Acts 16- Dedication to the cause.


This chapter is filled with amazing incidents… dreams directing decisions and earthquakes freeing prisoners. What amazing days those must have been. And yet what attracted my attention and thought this morning was the depth of dedication of those who carried the message of Jesus. Paul is like a Bible superhero.  It is not easy for me to relate to him. His dedication to Jesus seems to be on a different level than mine. The people who spurred me on toward deeper faith and dedication, as I read today, were the other lesser known people who pop up in today’s reading.

Timothy, a young man of good repute, was invited by Paul to travel as Paul’s aide on one condition... surgery. Understanding the prevailing culture of the day and Timothy’s mixed heritage, Paul knew if Timothy remained uncircumcised that many doors to the gospel would be closed. Timothy agreed. Now I have been on mission trips which required various vaccinations, but I have never been asked to have elective surgery! The surgery in question isn’t life threatening but it is painful for a week or so and Timothy said, “Yes”… dedication to the cause!

Let me present it another way. I have met many Fulani in Africa and most have various facial markings, small yet noticeable patterned-cuts on their cheeks and face that distinguish their tribe. Would I have my face marked for the sake of the gospel if a Fulani missionary asked me to travel with and help him?  (FYI, this is a totally hypothetical question, used only to make the point). I don’t know?!?

Then there is the example of Silas, another traveling companion and aide to Paul. Silas accompanied Paul on the evangelistic mission to Philippi. The trip began well but turned unexpectedly mid-trip resulting in imprisonment and a Roman flogging. We have no idea what Silas’ role was on the trip.  For all we know, Silas was Paul’s porter, carrying bags or running errands. The text is silent regarding Silas’ role. What we do know is Paul’s exploits landed Silas in prison where he was beaten severely… dedication to the cause! It is clear Silas was not traveling grudgingly, nor was he at odds with Paul for getting him in all this trouble. Instead, in the middle of the night of their imprisonment while still nursing wounds from their beatings, Paul and Silas are singing hymns and praying.  That’s the level of dedication this young man showed!

I was reduced to prayer after pondering this and all I could honestly muster was this simple prayer…

Lord, groom in me dedication for You that I see in Timothy and Silas.  For the sake of kingdom advancement, I pray. Amen.


Friday, January 14: Acts 15- Problems lead to expansion.

The early church was not perfect.  They had problems just like we have problems. What I found interesting is that in the solving of problems, the church moves forward. It happened in chapter 6 when the unequal distribution of food to Greek and Hebrew speaking widows was handled. It happened in chapter 10 when God bridged the Gentile divide with a vision to Peter, preaching in Cornelius’ house and then Peter’s defense to the brothers. It happened when God scattered the church in chapter 8 due to the persecution of the church.  It happens again in today’s reading a dispute about whether converts to Jesus need to follow the Jewish law leads to growth.

Often I dream of a ripple free life, no problems, no disagreements, no issues… sounds like utopia… and someday in the presence of Almighty God we will have that. But this side of eternity, we will never experience a problem free life. And yet, in God’s economy this side of eternity, problems when handled well actually lead to growth. As I noted above, we see it in the church and the church has continued to experience this truth through out its history. It is even true in secular living. Problems handled well lead to advancement. Diseases led to vaccines and antibiotics in medicine. Energy needs led to advances in energy production… and so on. Over the years, in my personal life, handling my issues have pushed me toward maturity. Most of my growth has occurred in response to problems and pain.

The Spirit whispers, “What problems are you experiencing???” Handling those issues well will propel you to new and better and healthier ways of living… think about it!


Lord, may I have Your grace to see solutions to my problems and other problems that are beyond mere human ingenuity and determination. And, Lord, may I have Your wisdom to implement what You show me rather than fall back on “my best wisdom.” Finally, Lord, may You grant me courage and strength to do what You have shown, growing in the process even as Your grace expands in and throughout the world. Amen.


This devotional above came as a surprise. I began writing with a completely different thought in mind… As a result you get a two-for-one today here is where my initial thoughts were originally going…

Simplicity of the gospel:

I was attracted to the simplicity of Paul’s summary of the gospel message as articulated in verses 8-11: God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

Ponder some of what it teaches:

·         God made no distinction…

·         God purified their hearts by faith…

·         Why do we make following Jesus harder with all manner of human made rules?…

·         It is through believing in Jesus that we are saved. That’s it! Faith in Jesus is a lot but it is all that is necessary for salvation!

If you have time ponder these things…



Thursday, January 13: Acts 14- A plan for gospel advance

Two separate phrases jumped out at me and provided the spark for my devotional musings and prayer.

The first came in the very first verse.  It was the two-word phrase “as usual’: Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. It caused me to realize that this duo had a plan or routine for spreading the gospel in their travels. From that realization, I jumped to my life and had a conversation with myself, which I believe was guided by the Spirit.

It started when I posed the question to myself, “Do I have a plan for spreading the gospel?”

“No, I don’t,” came my internal reply.

Defensiveness kicked in and I thought, “But I’m not an apostolic-missionary.”

To which I sensed a reply, “But we are all to be witnesses to Jesus and His resurrection…”

I was convicted by my own dialogue. I could be doing more to be effective in my living for Jesus. Maybe I should develop my own “as usual”…

After this I returned to reading the text and my second ‘a-ha’ came in verse 22, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. Paul and Barnabas said, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God".

It was Barnabas and Paul’s words that made me sit up and take notice. We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. My first reaction was, “I don’t like that.” Next I thought through my 26+ years of preaching, I don’t think I ever said that or an equivalent. Then I wondered, “Why?” And one of the places I went in my wonderings was to Christianity in America.  Are we too soft? Have we lost the missionary/witnessing edge that brings us into conflict with others? Have we settled for a faith that is timid so we don’t have to endure hardships? That thought just kept turning over and over in my head. I couldn’t let go of it and neither could I answer it. I was left stewing in the juices of that thought… wondering what changes are You birthing in my life, O Lord?

Lord, what changes are You birthing in my life? Lord, how can I take today’s gleanings and apply them to my life?  Lead me and teach me, O Lord, I pray. Amen.


Wednesday, January 12: Acts 13- Stepping out.

Saul (Paul) and Barnabas are with a bunch of leaders fasting and worshiping God when God, the Holy Spirit, called them to be apostolic missionaries. This is a new adventure. This is something never done before by the church, and what I love is Barnabas and Saul’s response, “Let’s go!”

Now those words aren’t actually in the Bible but that is what they do. The text says that the group prayed for Barnabas and Saul, then comes verse 4: The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.

I just love that! God called and they responded immediately, “Let’s go!” I am convinced that they have no idea into what God is leading them.  However, they know and trust God. He said. “Go!” and so they went! What wonderful examples of faithfulness.

Not many of us will be called by God to be apostolic missionaries but God will call each of us to do things that stretch us. That’s where this text is leading me to meditate.

What, God, are You calling me to do… ???  As I contemplate this more I find another question filtering through my thoughts, “What is the growing edge of my faith (?) and how can I step out in that arena of my life???”

Lord, lead me and call me to deeper faith and more committed living for You. And, Lord, even as You call, spur me on to the faith of Barnabas and Paul who stepped out right away after You called them. Help me to grow that kind of faith … In Jesus’ name and for the sake of gospel advance, I pray. Amen.


Tuesday, January 11: Acts 12- Angels.

Three times today angels are mentioned. The chapter opens with an angel helping Peter escape from prison. Upon his escape Peter flees to the home of Mary, where the church gathered. As Peter knocks on the door, the servant Rhoda announces to the group it is Peter, but the gathered community doesn’t believe her, replying instead, “It must be his angel” (15). Lastly it is an angel who strikes Herod down for not giving praise and glory to God (23).

The ‘no-big-deal’ approach to angels –another way to say it might be the ‘not-surprised-by-angelic-presence’- of the early Christians caught me off guard. Truth is for me, angels and angelic presence, is more of a faith-belief (I see it in scripture and therefore believe) as opposed to a life reality. I have never personally experienced or seen an angel in a manner in which I knew it was an angel. I will not say, however, that I have never experienced angelic presence or angelic protection. Possibly I have, I just didn’t know it was an angel.

My struggle and my ponderings today are bouncing around the activity of angels. Again, in Luke’s account, angelic activity is so matter of fact.  I am wondering why that isn’t so for me or for the church I have experienced all my life? Truthfully, I have no satisfactory answer to my wonderings. Angelic activity is a given in scripture and therefore in my life. Why I am not aware of them or more aware of them I don’t know.  It is this last thought that drives me to my knees in prayer.

Lord, why? Why am I so oblivious to angelic activity, at least compared to the women and men of the early church? Lord, is there something in my life –a lack of faith aspect- that is blocking me from seeing angelic reality? Is it Your protection and gift that I don’t need to know because knowing might puff me up in some way. Lord, I am left to wonder.

Lord, I believe in angels and their evil counter-parts, fallen angels/demons. Lord, I have witnessed the work of the latter in people’s lives. Lord, should it serve the kingdom advancement for me to become more cognizant of angelic presence and work, please open my eyes, heart and faith to their reality, much like you did for Elisha’s servant in 2Kings 6:15-17. But Lord, if kingdom advancement will not be aided by me knowing when and how angels are working, then, Lord, I will gladly continue serving You as I have so far in my life. All for Your glory, Lord. All for Your glory.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Monday, January 10: Acts 11- Setting the nail

I have done enough building to know you cannot pound in a nail with only one whack of the hammer. Most nails, especially the larger ones used with 2x4s, require multiple hits. And then once you get them flush, most carpenters will add one final blow to ‘set the nail.’

Reading this chapter, I felt like the Holy Spirit was ‘setting the nail,’ adding one final hit to make sure the Church (and I) understood the radical change through which God was bringing them. The fact that Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, retells Peter’s adventure with Gentiles at Cornelius’ house, again in this chapter, causes me to sit up and take notice. It is like hearing the Holy Spirit say, “This is important! Don’t miss what is going on here.”

And the church leaders get it, When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life" (18).

The dismantling of ‘human-created barriers’ between peoples for the sake of the gospel is major. God wants the world to know about Jesus and God doesn’t want any human pettiness to get in the way.

Even as I am typing the previous sentence, I can feel the elbow of the Holy Spirit. “Bill, I am not only talking to Christians back in the first century, I am talking to you…” At that point I began to ponder barriers I erect that separate me from others.

I don’t feel compelled to list specifics the Holy Spirit brought to mind, however, some surprised me. One, I will mention, is the conversational awkwardness I feel with people I do not know very well. I am wondering if I cultivate that personality trait, rather than seek to grow out of it. And more to the Holy Spirit’s point, is it hindering my gospel witness? Is it separating me from others with whom God would like me to share Jesus? This is a new thought for me and one I need to wrestle with in prayer…

Lord, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel I willingly, albeit with honest trepidation, lay down anything that might hamper me being used by You in advancing the gospel. I lay down my introvertedness and tentativeness in new conversations. I lay down any fears… that I might be a tool in Your hands, O God. May my life be in total service to You. In Jesus’ name and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I pray. Amen.




Saturday, January 8: Acts 10- Even on Gentiles

It is hard to grasp in the 21st century the radical nature of the events we have just read… a devout Jew entering the home of a Gentile. Other devout Jews (Peter’s companions) watching as God crosses the largest religious gulf one can imagine in order to bring the good news of Jesus. We read this account as if one neighbor crossed the street to another but it is so much more. I am struggling to construct a modern equivalent.

As my heart listens to this story, the Spirit is saying to me there is no human division which Jesus does not seek for His followers to cross for the gospel’s sake.

Crossing barriers requires sincerity. Peter’s heart needed to be changed first before he could venture into the home of a Gentile with sincerity. God did this through miraculous intervention but Peter brought friends along. Think about it.  These men did not have the benefit of a divine-vision, they only had the testimony of a trusted Christ-follower leader.

I, you as a reader  of this devotional and Christ-followers today, fit better into that second category. Few of us will have visions from the Lord that change our hearts and direct us to cross some specific human-constructed barrier with the gospel. But all of us have the example of Peter and the testimony of believers throughout the ages, who have sought with humble hearts to take the gospel to the world, including people with whom they were at one time enemies…

Think about it, I will…

Lord, my heart needs so much more work.  It is still corrupted by prejudice and fear of people I do not know and these, I realize, are barriers for me to speak about Jesus with others. Work on my heart, change it. Change me, that I may have courage and obedience, like Peter, to go and speak about Jesus with all You bring in my path. In Jesus name and for the sake of the advancement of the gospel, I pray. Amen.



Friday, January 7: Acts 9- A changed life


Believing in Jesus, being saved, confessing Jesus… however you say it, conversion should result in a changed life. The change might be dramatic like Paul or it might build over time but, no matter how we slice it, a person should live differently after becoming a follower of Jesus and being filled with the Spirit.

Paul’s conversion is a dramatic example of change. Paul went from persecutor to preacher within a few days. His change was so dramatic that a price was put on his head.  If he had not been snuck out of Damascus, he would have been killed by the people he worked for before his conversion.

Join me in taking a few minutes to review your life. How have you changed as a result of following Jesus? Conversion will bear fruit resulting in changed lives, lives resembling Jesus more and more with each passing year. How have you changed and how are you changing these days? … Think about that.

Lord, I see some areas where I have changed and I bless and thank You for the unction to make these changes. Lord, I also see some areas with which I still struggle. Send Your Holy Spirit to be my teacher, that I might learn from You and change accordingly. Through the name of my atoning Savior, Jesus, I pray. Amen.


Thursday, January 6: Acts 8- Everyone.

This is one of the few chapters in Acts where Peter and Paul are not the main character. Instead Philip, one of the seven, commands center stage and God uses him in extraordinary ways.

Despite this observation, the everyday believer garnered my devotional attention. The chapter continues the account, which began with Stephen’s martyrdom in chapter 7 and Luke explains, On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. … Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went (1-4).

This persecution affected everyone in the church in dramatic ways. First people were scattered. Linger for a moment. Long time residents of Jerusalem flee from their homes and possibly their inheritance. Visitors who were saved while being in Jerusalem have to cut short their visit and flee, hopefully home. The disruption for people –everyday people like you and me- was great, not to mention carrying the possibility of death! The ugliness continues as Saul leads raiding parties that break into homes, drag out believers and imprison them. This is the kind of story that surfaces in despotic regimes that dotted the 20th century.

What simply blew my mind, however, was not the cruelty of Saul and men like him, but the faith of these scattered men and women who preached the word wherever they went. These regular men and women of the church, fleeing for their lives, continued to talk up Jesus. Luke is not talking about the big name apostles or even the Seven.  He is writing about moms and dads, teens and slaves, who were saved by the blood of Jesus, and were now spreading Jesus’ name through out the world as they scattered to safety.

What got to me is that even though the apostles and other leaders get most of the print in Acts, the church grew because of the ‘everyones’ of the church.

And the same is true today. Christian celebrities have a place in the church, but real growth of the kingdom occurs because men and women share the name of Jesus during everyday life!

Lord, I want to be a faithful ‘everyone’ sharing Jesus as I live life. Help me to listen well to the promptings of Your Holy Spirit, so that in tune with You I speak for You that others might believe in You, Jesus. In Your name. Amen.



Wednesday, January 5: Acts 7- Knowing God's story.

As I read Stephen’s defense to the Sanhedrin, I kept thinking about how well he knew scripture history. Stephen recounts for his hearers, God’s story of redemption beginning with Abraham and continuing though the prophets all the way to Jesus.

Listening to his keen understanding of God’s workings and man’s rebellion, I understand why the church called Stephen “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5) and “a man full of God’s grace and power” (6:8). Stephen saturated his life with the word of God!

How well do I (do you) know God’s story? Can I (you) speak it with clarity and poignancy?

Lord, help me to hide Your word in my heart. Give me diligence to read and study Your word. Send the Holy Spirit to be my teacher, not only so I know the facts but so that I can apply Your word to the many and various situations of my life.

Lord, may Your word be a lamp for my feet and a light for my path (Ps 119:105). Like David, may I desire Your word more than gold, may it be sweeter to me than honey from the honeycomb (Ps 19:10 adapted). In Jesus’ name I make my plea. Amen. 



Tuesday, January 4: Acts 6- caring for those in need.

Two thoughts grabbed my attention. First, was the word ‘daily’, as in daily distribution of food. The church in Jerusalem placed a high priority on caring for those in the community who were in need. Widows had few resources and if a widow didn’t have family to care for her, there were no food stamps or government services, like Social Security to step in and help out. The people of the church accepted this responsibility. Every day the church made sure food got to widows in need. Every Day! Without this food the widows and any children she had went without food that day. And these widows would need this food every day until they remarried or if they had children.  When the children grew, they could support mom. Care for widows was a significant undertaking.

I never considered the enormity and longevity of this need. All too often I consider the needs of the poor as a ‘when I think about it’ issue. These first Christians understood the on-going nature of need for those who are poor. Day in and day out they cared. The church rose to the need in Jesus’ name.

Now this ministry was not without its issues.  What impresses me is that the leadership recognizes the need and deals with it and moves on. Stuff happens, sin and favoritism sneaks in.Okay, make corrections and move on.

People in the church step up and accept responsibility to be solvers. It comes down to people playing their part.  People daily giving the food for the widows to eat and some people managing the task of the distribution of the food. Everyone plays a role in giving and supporting those in need.  Some accept the added responsibility of organizing and doing the actual distribution.

My meditation lingers on the people daily caring for those in need within the community. There seems to be a different quality of caring for those in need in the text than I see and take part in today. I have to think on this some more. Are they more connected with one another? Do they have bigger hearts? What is the difference? I’m not sure it is a simple answer…

Lord Jesus, what is it You have me to learn today? Lord Jesus, where am I to grow today?. What changes should I make today? Help me, Lord, help me. Amen.


My second observation was the apostles understanding.  Their particular call to witness –preach, teach, lead  etc.- helped the community find a solution to the problem of inadequate distribution of food, but the apostles didn’t accept that role themselves. They knew what they were to do and stayed within the new job description they were given by Jesus back in Acts 1.

Interesting… this puts great ownership on the body to work out a solution.


Monday, January 3: Acts 5- Dedication to their call.


So much happening in this one chapter, that I have enough ponder points for a full week. After thoughtfully reading the full chapter, I sat and pondered.  Where is God speaking to me today? This word and that sentence surfaced, but nothing stuck. After more thought, I began to ponder the whole rather than smaller bits and pieces.

God’s inner voice began to speak. I found myself astonished at the dedication of the apostles. Here are some of the observations I began to make.

They had a willingness to confront wrong within their “family”, the church. There are not many followers of Jesus, yet. Yes, 3,000 came to faith on Pentecost and others along the way. But that’s it.  That’s everyone who believes in Jesus. They are a small dot on the landscape of Jerusalem. Then one day, a couple pull a rouse. Informed by the Holy Spirit, Peter confronts Ananias and later Sapphira, publically. Maybe I am alone in this but I don’t like to confront people, people I love and worship with, when a wrong surfaces. Peter, however, willingly and for the sake of the entire body, confronts their lying. Dedication to the call…

Peter and the apostles continue to go about their business of witnessing to Jesus and one day they are arrested. Thrown in jail, they are miraculously released at night.  They were also told not to flee for safety or to go home and get rest, since it had been a long day. No, the angel tells them, "Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life" (20). They are told to get back out there and preach some more. It doesn’t take super intelligence to guess what will happen when those who arrested them, the first time, find out they escaped and are preaching/healing again! Dedication to the call…

Arrested again and ordered to stop, Peter defies the leaders, “We must obey God rather than men” (29). Dedication to the call…

They would have been executed were it not for the voice of a wise leader, Gamaliel (who by the way was Paul’s rabbi –might Paul have been present learning from his rabbi???). Instead they were flogged then released. Upon their release the text comments: The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ (41-42). Dedication to the call…

I am awe struck by their dedication to Jesus and His call. Their dedication challenges me and asks of me, “Am I willing to be that dedicated to Jesus and His call? Am I?”

Lord, that question is not easy to answer. My puffed up ego would like to answer ‘Yes, of course.’ But as I examine my life, I cannot find evidence that would support that answer. Lord, all I can do is fall before Your mercy and call out for courage and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform this life of mine. Oh, Jesus, help me in my unbelief and in my inadequate dedication. Amen.


History nugget, a flogging: leather thongs made into whips were beaten against the bare, upper body of the bound prisoner. The prisoner would be made to kneel, then the triple-strap whip would be beaten across both chest and back, with two beatings on the back for every one on the chest.



Saturday, January 1: Acts 4- why all the witnessing.

Why would the apostles and members of the early church risk life and limb to witness to Jesus? An obvious answer is that they believed Jesus. They saw His miracles and believed what He taught. I found another reason in my reading this morning. Verse 12: Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

The apostles understood that Jesus was the only way of salvation. Plainly said, there are no other options for salvation. No other options to receive the forgiveness of sins and to be saved from this ‘corrupt generation’ (2:40). Following Jesus is the only way out, period, end of options.

I realize this can be a hard pill to chew but there it is in black and white. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. The apostles understood this, appropriated Jesus’ call to witness and explained His story and lived accordingly. Human communication is the only way for the message of Jesus to spread.  So they communicated, proclaimed and witnessed to what they had seen, heard and knew.

Human communication remains the only way to spread the message of Jesus, the message of salvation and forgiveness. And now, add the truth taught in verse 4:12 and it is easy to see why all the witnessing to Jesus.

The Spirit’s reminder … the formula hasn’t changed, the formula is the same today. The only difference is that the witnessing today needs to be through our communication…

O, Lord, teach me to be bold and effective in witnessing to Jesus… Amen.