With All Boldness

Acts 28

May 16

In Acts chapter 28, Luke continues the detailed account of his and Paul’s journey to Rome. We read about their encounter with the kind people of Malta, as well as the not-so-kind viper who didn’t seem to cause Paul much distress, all the way to their long awaited arrival in Rome. This arrival was a big deal. Paul had been determined for a long time to find his way to Rome, (as seen in Acts 19:21 and Romans 1:15) and not only fulfilled this promise to himself, but also Christ’s prophecy that his disciples would be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). 

Paul spent every bit of his time there (two years waiting for his case to be heard before Caesar) teaching everyone who came to him, sharing the message with Jews and Gentiles alike, welcoming anyone who would listen. Two whole years “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:31) Even in this season of waiting and uncertainty, God did not waste a minute of Paul’s time. In fact his ministry continued “without hindrance” – despite every trial they faced, from storms to snakes, the will and word of God was unhindered; no trial, no amount of unfair treatment, nor the passing months of captivity mattered as much as the immeasurable good Paul could be doing in the lives of others. Imagine the amount of soldiers he spoke to, the amount of brothers and sisters in Christ he met in Rome, every Jew eager to meet Paul, whose famous letters they had previously received, every Gentile curious about or zealous for Christ, and eventually Caesar himself. He made a profound impact, even while in chains.

The book of Acts doesn’t have a grand finale; this story continues even today. Paul said “Yes” to God time and time again, and every person who’s said “Yes” since continues his ministry, bringing the Kingdom message to the ends of the earth. Surrender your life and boldly say “Yes” when you hear God’s voice calling you; His plans will not be hindered. 

-Isabella Osborn

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways can you proclaim the kingdom of God even when you find yourself in a period of trials or uncertainty?
  2. What do you hear God calling you to do to further His Kingdom today? 
  3. How did Paul continue forward with such courage and boldness despite the many tests of faith he faced? Similarly, how can we?

Your Story

Acts 22

May 10

A personal story is an effective way of connecting with others, often opening doors to intimate conversations.  I often felt that I was missing out on something by not having a “come to Jesus” moment to tell others.  Raised in church, I knew right from wrong.  Though I didn’t always choose wisely, I never veered too far from the path.  What’s encouraging about that?! 

I found some pointers for writing a faith story…

Think about your life before your baptism.  What was missing? 

What did you do to feel fulfilled and accepted?       

What led up to your decision to be baptized? 

Was there a person, event, scripture that opened your heart?        

How has your life changed? 

How is God meeting your needs? 

What is your relationship with God today?

And this tip from 1 Peter 3:15-16 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. See questions above… 🙂
  2. Who do you personally know who could benefit from hearing your story? How will you make opportunities to tell them?
  3. How can you share your story (or pieces of it) with others beyond your closest friends and family? When? Where?

One Goal

Acts 21

May 9

Unlike many Jewish leaders, James and the elders were not jealous of Paul’s success among the Gentiles.  But they were aware that not everyone was so accepting.  To head off problems, the elders asked him to pay the costs of men completing a vow.   Likely a Nazirite vow, this voluntary, temporary commitment to total dedication to God required extensive sacrifices, including a female lamb, a male lamb, unleavened bread, loaves of bread, crackers, oil, and a grain and drink offering.   

Paul wasn’t buying acceptance. In 1 Corinthians 9 he writes “19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”  He had one and only one goal….to win others to Christ.  Let’s be as focused as Paul.

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. If people who knew you were to guess what your main goal was, what might they guess? Would they be right?
  2. How have you become “like others” (while remaining true to Christ’s law) in order to be able to share the good news with them?
  3. What group(s) of people would you want to be accepted by, so that they are willing to hear from you about Jesus Christ? How can you go about this mission?
  4. What was Paul willing to do, and willing to give up, in order to reach more people with the saving gospel? What are you willing to do, and willing to give up, for the same purpose?

So Much to Share

Acts 20

May 8

Paul has so much to share and so little time to share it.  His ministry has taken him from Ephesus to Macedonia, to Greece, to Troas.  It’s a farewell tour.  He preaches all night, knowing it’s his last chance to convey the essentials of salvation.

I’m struck by the caring urgency that Paul has.  He’s spent weeks (even years) with these people and developed relationships.  Shared joys and sorrows.  He wants to be sure they “get it”; the truth of the kingdom of God.   The shared hope of eternal life binds us together over time and distance.

Blessings abound when God’s people gather.  Whether for a long weekend at a retreat, a few days at a camp or a conference, we build friendships that last. “What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.”  We’ve all experienced that pang of parting.    But oh the joy of knowing we WILL see each other again as we reign with Christ in his glorious kingdom.

Feel the urgency!

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What do you most admire about Paul?
  2. What attachments have you made to Christian brothers and sisters that have bound you together through time and distance?
  3. How would you rate your “Caring Urgency”? If it’s a little low, what can motivate you to bump it up?

Scatter and Preach It

Acts 8

April 26

Acts 8:4 – Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

I once went on a mission trip that included an evening of street evangelism. It was one of the most overwhelming and intimidating experiences I’ve had. For some people, walking up to strangers and asking them “How’s your relationship with God?” is exciting and effortless. For me, it was incredibly awkward – I stumbled over my words, I felt panicked and I just wanted to run back to our bus. 

As I read through Acts chapter eight, verse four caught my attention. My imagination runs wild with scenes of the disciples speaking with random people at the market, or attending a synagogue to share the radical gospel of Jesus Christ, or even standing at the center of the town square and preaching to anyone and everyone who passes by. 

I don’t think that I would employ similar evangelism tactics as the disciples did back in the day or even as some continue today in our modern culture. 

For me, it’s about building authentic relationships with others. Getting to know others and letting others get to know me. And while this is much more in my zone of comfort, I still sometimes get hung up on how much I share with others about my faith. I greatly admire people who seamlessly weave the gospel into their daily conversations with others. It’s an area of growth for me, I know. But if I genuinely care about others, I must get over my own insecurities in order to share the best news of all – the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God! 

We have been scattered into the workplace, schools, community organizations, as well as our online associations with others for a purpose. Let’s not waste the opportunity to preach the word wherever we are!

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Why share the gospel? Is that just a preacher’s job?
  2. How would you rate yourself when it comes to how often or how well you share the gospel? If you want to improve in this area, what 2-3 specific steps can you take?
  3. Consider your circles (work, school, family, church, community & online). How can you share God’s love, what Jesus means to you and your kingdom hope in each of these circles?

Come and See

John 1

March 29

There is so much theology, hope, and amazing insight we could unpack from John chapter one, but I want to focus on a detail that is perhaps overlooked. At verses 35 and 36, we see that John the Baptist saw Jesus and shouted, I’m sure with plenty of excitement, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” There were two of John’s followers with him. One was Andrew, Peter’s brother. Out of joy and wonder, the disciples rushed toward Jesus and wanted to know where he was staying for the night. Jesus’ response was simple, inviting, even a little odd, “Come and you will see.” Keep that interesting response in mind. 

Later in verse 45, we see a conversation between two of Jesus’ disciples, Philip and Nathanael. With excitement, Philip is breaking the news that the promised one that Moses spoke about long ago is actually here, his name is Jesus, and he comes from Nazareth! By the way, Nazareth was a very small village that was looked at as a run down place where nothing exciting or important happened. That is why Nathaneal responds the way he does: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” How does Philip respond? “Come and see.” 

Now, I want to come back to both Jesus’ response earlier and Philip’s response to Nathanael. Jesus was just starting his ministry on earth. He knew that he needed to grow a following of people so that they could observe the things he taught and the way he lived. Jesus just met two strangers; he could have told them to stay somewhere else and come back and see him tomorrow. Instead, we see Jesus taking every opportunity he could to invite people into his life for one main purpose: so they could see what it truly means to be made in the image of God. We also get to see how Philip used this approach with Nathanael. Philip is evangelizing to his friend and he is met with skepticism. Rather than trying to make sure he had the right wording or seeing if he could win the debate about whether or not anything good can come from Nazareth, he decided to simply let the power of God, through Christ, speak for itself. “Come and see”.

That simple response speaks to the heart of how we should tell the gospel to those around us. We often are nervous when it comes to evangelism, because we too often try to sell the gospel to people rather than having the gospel sell itself! We need to remember that it is God who gives the increase, not ourselves. Rather than trying to come up with the perfect strategy, we simply need to bring people to the spot where they can “come and see” the incredible things God is already doing. I promise you whatever God has planned will be better than what you have planned. Do what Jesus did and invite people into your life in hopes they can see the Kingdom. Do what Philip did by pointing people towards the One who actually is worth seeing. The Kingdom seed’s growth is not dependent on you, but on God. All we need to do is ask others to “come and see.”

-Isaac Cain

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How can Philip motivate you? Did he wait to introduce Nathaneal to Jesus until he knew all the details and could quote every sermon of Jesus’ backwards and forwards? How can you do the same as Philip with enthusiasm and urgency?
  2. Who do you know who needs to meet Jesus?
  3. Specifically how can you invite people into your life with the purpose of introducing them to Jesus and His Heavenly Father?
  4. Don’t wait to make the introductions until you know everything there is to know about Jesus – but how can knowing more about who He is excite you into action and evangelism? What can we find out about Jesus in this chapter – what names and titles is he given? What is the meaning of each? Does this sound like a person the world (and our family, friends and neighbors) should get to know?

Not Fair!

Matthew 20

January 20

That is not fair!

Have you ever found yourself saying this very same thing? A coworker or classmate does not seem to be doing their share of the work but they get the same pay or grade as you, maybe even better. Maybe you say it when nothing seems to be going your way; car troubles, relationships fractured, bad grades, your sanity cracking. We all experience situations that make us want to scream at what we perceive as an unjust life.

But what makes one thing fair and another unfair?

In Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard, everyone was paid the same. Is that not fair? The first workers agreed to a set amount, reasonable pay for a day’s labor. The other workers only agreed to work for what was right. They left it to the discretion of the landowner. In his generosity the most recent hires received what he had promised the original workers. Those who were hired first said nothing as the landowner began to dole out the money. Because of his generosity towards the newer workers, they expected more.

And that is the key concept that strains so many aspects of our life; what we expect. Our expectations make it difficult sometimes to see God answering our prayers or His hand actively working in our lives. Our expectations may set us up for failure in our schools, our jobs, our relationships with one another, and certainly in our relationship with God through Jesus. If our expectations are not met then, “I guess I did not really need to learn that,” “It will not matter in the ‘real’ world,” “I will just find a new job,” “I do not need anyone else.”

Our expectations, our limited understanding of all that is makes us think that God must have failed to answer our prayers, He is not here with us, He does not care. The reality is that could not be farther from the truth! God loves us all! He is with us in every moment but rarely how we would expect.

This parable has a double lesson to teach. The first is that God is just. God alone rightly discerns what is fair and unfair. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). If we truly want life to be fair, we would all be dead the first time that we sinned. If that were the case, I doubt that humanity would exist and we would not even be here to debate the fairness of life.

God’s justice is tempered by His abundant love. In His love for us He is merciful and forgiving. Those who come to God through Jesus, will all receive the same wage when the days are done: eternal life and citizenship in God’s Kingdom, to be called His children!

This message is reiterated as Jesus addresses the request of James and John’s mother. They have an expectation of their place in God’s Kingdom and their mother wants assurance that it will be so; after all they were among the first disciples to be called by Jesus. Jesus answered this question through the parable before it could even be asked, and still it was asked.

The second lesson to learn from the parable takes us to Matthew 9:35-38 and 28:18-20. We are the workers, called to go out into all of the world and make disciples of all the nations. We have been given a task, a responsibility, a privilege to live our life for God and preach the Good News of His Coming Kingdom so that everyone would have the opportunity to choose to come to Him through Jesus, our savior!

This is not easy but it is immensely satisfying. What we do and say here in this age can open people’s eyes to see the glorious future our amazing God has planned for all who enter His vineyard. We may never give the physically blind back their sight but thanks to God’s love and power we can heal the spiritual blindness of those we encounter each day. Rely on God’s power, His plan, and His will. Trust in Him with all of your heart, soul, and mind and rejoice in knowing that the God of all creation will wipe away your tears and call you son or daughter!

-Jeff Ransom


Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What are your expectations of God as you pray? Do you have a preconceived notion of what an answered prayer looks like? Can you think of times when you missed His answer initially only to see it later on?
  2. Do you see circumstances in your life as being unfair? Think about how they might be helping you to grow stronger in your relationship with others and especially with God through Jesus. It is difficult sometimes but how can you turn your view of these circumstances around? Our response to situations is often more powerful than the situation itself.
  3. What does your work within the vineyard look like? How are you working to spread the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus and the Coming Kingdom of God? Is there someone specific that you can think of who is blind to God’s love? How can you help them to finally see?

Love and Truth

Matthew 15

January 15

We have used the word love to describe Jesus and his ministry many times in the last few days. And that is certainly true. But we would be creating a grievous error if we thought love was all that mattered to Jesus. Jesus’ ministry was about love and truth. Truth and love.

In Matthew 15 (and throughout the gospels) we don’t see a soft and cuddly pushover full of love and open arms. Indeed, Jesus is still love, but that includes love for the truth and love for those being led astray by deceit and human traditions. And sometimes love looks a little harsh when it is armed with truth.

The teachers of the law in Jerusalem were so curious about this Jesus. A delegation was sent to find him and question him. It would have been an 80-90 mile hike, or a 4-7 day journey from Jerusalem to the Gennesaret valley west of the Sea of Galilee. They were committed to this search for answers. How will they be received by Jesus?

There were a lot of Jewish laws and traditions about what to eat and not eat and what needed to be done surrounding the meal (like ceremonial washing of hands). The disciples and Pharisees were shocked to hear Jesus say that it wasn’t what goes into a mouth that makes you unclean, but what comes out of it. The disciples were also a bit surprised, I think, that Jesus answered the Pharisees the way he did, asking him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matthew 15:12). It is certainly NOT our purpose to try to be as offensive as possible when in religious discussion. And, it is wise to remember we don’t have all the wisdom of the Son of God. But, neither ought we be willing to keep the saving truth from those that might disagree with us, just because it would be more polite – or loving – to be silent.

How will you mix love and truth as Jesus did?

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Jesus warned against following traditions of men that lead you to break the commands of God. What are some examples of how this could happen today? What are the benefits and drawbacks to following the traditions of men? What are the benefits and drawbacks to following the commands of God? Which would you rather follow? What will that look like this week?
  2. When is tradition a good thing? When is it a bad thing? Are there any traditions you are currently following that are not helpful in drawing you closer to what Jesus wants to see in your life?
  3. How can you bring truth and love into the lives of your family and those you are closest to? How can you bring truth and love into the lives of those who may not understand you or may outright oppose you?

Taking God’s Message to the Rebels

Ezekiel 1 & 2

When I think about responding to God’s direction to “go and make disciples of all nations”, the last place I want to go is into a hostile community. 

And yet this is exactly what God commands Ezekiel to do.

Israel is described as being rebellious. They know what God requires of them, but they flat out refuse. Instead, they partake in all sorts of immoral acts that God detests. 

But God sees Ezekiel as one whom he can trust to deliver a message. And God tells Ezekiel to not be afraid; that whether or not Israel listens, Ezekiel needs to be bold and speak. 

Have you ever had to deliver a difficult message to an individual or a group? You know what you have to say won’t be received well, but you still have to say something? Maybe it’s to a friend at school or work. Maybe you’re a supervisor and you have to correct your employee. Maybe it’s a family member who isn’t doing what they should be doing.

Holding others accountable for their actions can be very challenging, especially, when the others haven’t asked for you to do so. It’s even more stressful if you’re seen as the enemy. 

So how do we go about entering a hostile environment to deliver a difficult message?

The first thing you can do is to pray. Confirm that it is indeed a message that God wants you to give. Pray that you’re given the words that God needs you to say. Pray that the recipient of the message will be soft-hearted. 

Second, remember to be compassionate. This isn’t the same as “giving in”, but you do want to remind the recipient that you are there to help and support them. 

Third, keep the message brief, to the point and honest.

The recipient will most likely not react well, so you will also want to acknowledge their frustrations, while helping them see a way forward. 

Finally, remind the individual of God’s love for them. They can have forgiveness if they are willing to repent. If they are open to it, offer to pray with them.

There will undoubtedly be times when God asks us to have difficult conversations with others. Do not be afraid to speak the truth in love.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 1-2 and 1 Peter 2

Don’t Withhold the Cure

Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

The Old Testament prophets who spoke for God, including Jeremiah, were entrusted with preaching a lot of doom and gloom. Because God’s children had strayed from his commands, judgment would be coming and the people needed to know. I loved Jeff Fletcher’s illustration in his devotion yesterday of a doctor who could be charged with malpractice if he knew the sick condition of a patient’s insides and knew how to fix it and what changes the patient would need to make in order to cure the potentially deadly ailment, and said nothing. This would be like the Christian who sees the broken sinful world and pretends everything is okay. Don’t withhold the cure.

Jeremiah paints a very vivid picture of a world that is not okay. Chapter 9 opens with the prophet mourning the sinfulness of God’s people. He would love nothing more than to pack up and go to a desert retreat where he could get away from and forget this crowd of unfaithful people. Can you relate? But, rather than abandoning the people in their sin, Jeremiah continues passionately speaking truth for God, over and over, even though his words often seem to fall on deaf ears. He still must speak and write and hold out the cure to these wayward people.

God has had it, too. He aptly describes the situation this way:

“It is not by truth that they triumph in the land. They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:3b NIV)

and again, “They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sining. You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:6 NIV)

It sounds to me like God and Jeremiah are describing the sad state of affairs in 2021. So many lies and deceptions abound when attempting to justify and explain and even celebrate sin and sinful lifestyles that fester and grow when individuals and nations and societies have turned their backs on God.

It is as though God is left without a choice. “What else can I do because of the sin of my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7 NIV) “‘Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?’ ” (Jeremiah 9:9 NIV). God had drawn up the rules long ago with blessings promised to those who followed and curses to those who stubbornly disobeyed. Many chances had been given. Prophets had been sent to remind the people of the deadly disease and of the cure – repentance, turning away from sin and turning back to God. But these were a very stubborn people who took delight in continuing in their sin and lies and more sin and more lies.

God had given mercy. God had given reminders. God had given prophets. God had stretched out the cure. But, to no avail. So, God says – it is time. It is time to teach your daughters how to wail – death and destruction is coming. (Jeremiah 9:20,21).

Towards the end of chapter 9 an interesting section seems almost out of place…

 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

Perhaps it was written more for us who would be reading Jeremiah centuries later, to remind us of the choice we have. And, the great opportunity we have to boast about our God, our Creator, Our YHWH. He created the cure. His Son is the cure that was not yet available in Jeremiah’s day. Sin is the same and comes with the same consequences – death. People today need to know about the cure. They don’t need to hear you bragging about your dinner, your kids, your car, your job, your grades, your house, your ______ (on social media or at the checkout line). They need to know about the LORD our God who exercises kindness AND justice and always righteousness. The Psalms passages today have some great examples of boasting about our God while holding out the cure. How can you hold out the cure today to a nation and world that is unknowingly in the stages of the deadly disease of disobedience?

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 9-10 and Psalms 99-101

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