Paul Before Felix

Acts 24

May 12

Once again Paul is calmly stating the facts against his false accusers.  He stresses “there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (v.15).  Felix likes to listen to Paul, probably hoping for a bribe.  He’s a willing audience until Paul starts stepping on his toes.  When the subjects of righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment come up, Felix suddenly has better things to do.

Take care not to listen to God just when it’s convenient.  Or stop fellowship if someone steps on your toes.  Proverbs 27:17 tells us “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”   God wants us in fellowship for a reason.

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Have you ever been in a “bad situation” (before your accusers or in custody for two years or something else) that was an opportunity to share about Jesus and a coming resurrection for the righteous and wicked? (Hint: the answer is yes) Did you seize the opportunity? How could you see the opportunity and be bold to do so next time?
  2. Are you easily offended or avoid further contact when your toes are stepped on? What is a healthy attitude to take?

Violence

Acts 23

May 11

Let’s start with some definitions.

Pharisee-felt spiritually superior; held themselves to the strict letter of the law; observed traditions to be as binding as the written word.

Sadducee- wealthy upper class; didn’t hold to tradition; denied there was a resurrection of the dead… which is why they were Sad-you-see

Sanhedrin- Jewish court of justice.  Made up of both Pharisees & Sadducees.

When the commander realized Paul was a Roman citizen, he wanted to unload this problem in a hurry.  When brought before the Sanhedrin, Paul took the bull by the horns.  As a Pharisee, he focused on an issue he knew was divisive:  resurrection.   So strong were their differences, the groups came to blows and even plotted to assassinate Paul. 

Violence is never the answer.  In our dealings we must remember to represent our humble Lord.       

Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath”.   Paul calmly stated his belief.  He didn’t shout down the opposition. 

James 1:20 “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires”.                      

I Corinthians 16:14 tells us to “Do everything in love”.   Paul didn’t bully people into his way of thinking.  We are called to preach the kingdom.  God will change men’s hearts.

-Annette Osborn

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How was God working through this situation so that what He wanted done would be done? (see verse 11 and the rest of the chapter)
  2. What groups today are in sharp dispute with one another, sometimes leading to violence?
  3. How will you practice a “soft answer” and “doing everything in love” next time you are in the middle of a dispute?

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?

Do Not Be Silent

Acts 18 

May 6

Paul leaves Athens and arrives in Corinth at the start of Acts 18. Paul meets Priscilla and Aquila and works with them as tentmakers in Corinth. Paul visits the synagogue and tries to appeal to the Jews and Greeks. He was reviled in the synagogue and then shakes out his garments and declares that he will only speak to the Gentiles. Even with the ruler of the synagogue being converted he still faces danger in the city. 

Paul had been chased from the towns of Thessalonica, Derea, and Iconium. I am sure Paul must have been wondering if this was his time to get chased from this city as well. The anxiety of knowing that in every new city he came to there was a chance of being thrown out of it and physical harm coming to him would have been a lot to bear. 

God comes to Paul in a vision. God giving Paul this vision is an act of grace towards Paul. God is trying to comfort Paul and give him direction. God starts out with the simple statement of “Do not be afraid”. This feels a lot like Joshua 1.9. God gives Paul two more commands; Go on speaking and do not be silent. Paul has probably realized that most of his trouble befalls him when he speaks and he is not silent. The same thing is true of me except it normally isn’t because I’m preaching the gospel. God gives three commands and the unique thing about this vision is God also gives Paul three reasons why he should do those things. 

We have plenty of commands of God and God very often gives us the reasons why we should follow his command. Sometimes we aren’t willing to look hard enough for the reasons but there are almost always reasons. Sometimes we won’t find out the reasons until later or maybe we find out the reasons why in the kingdom. There is an element of faith in following Christ. 

God’s reasons for why Paul should obey his commands are that God is with him. God being with you may result in a kind of fearlessness. God’s next reason why is that no one will attack Paul to harm him. This statement must have relieved a lot of anxiety from Paul. God’s third reason why is that God has many in this city. 

God makes good on his promises to Paul. In verses 12-17 Paul is brought before the proconsul of Achaia, the ruler of that region, by the Jewish rulers and the new ruler of the synagogue. He is accused of persuading people to worship God contrary to the law. Just as Paul was about to speak the proconsul says that because it is a quarrel about words and there is no wrongdoing that he refuses to rule on this. The proconsul drives all of Paul’s accusers away. The mob that had formed ends up beating the new ruler of the synagogue, one of Paul’s enemies, in front of the proconsul. 

When we follow God’s lead and direction it will put us into positions where we get to see God work in situations. This situation for Paul worked out well for him. He didn’t even need to do anything to get out of the situation. He relied on God and God worked it out. The proconsul responded in his favor before Paul spoke. God was clearly at work in this situation because after that his enemy, the ruler of the synagogue, ended up being killed by the mob. His enemy was killed by the people who had originally intended to kill him. 

When we join God in what He is doing we will see this provision for us as well. There will be suffering and some pain but there will also be moments where we get to see God do God things and experience Him through those events. That’s part of what makes Christianity so exciting, fulfilling and awesome. 

-Daniel Wall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Can you think of a time you didn’t speak up for God, perhaps because of fear or discomfort? What promises of God might you have missed out on with that failed opportunity?
  2. When have you had the pleasure of “see(ing) God do God things and experience(ing) Him through those events”
  3. What can we learn from Apollos and Priscilla and Aquila later in this chapter?

What are you living for?

Saturday, August 7th, 2021

Job 7-8, 2 Corinthians 5

We began this week by asking the question ‘Why?’ Why do you do what you do? What motivates your actions? Knowing our why – the purpose behind our actions – can help us align our thoughts and actions with what we really find important. To help us find our why, we need to ask ourselves another question. This will be the question on which we are judged before we enter into the kingdom (or to the lake of fire). This is the defining question of our lives: “What are you living for?” 

The answer to this question will show us what our why is. When we are living for our next paycheck, every action that we do will lead us back to how we are going to make money. When we are living for attention from others, every action we do will lead us to how we are going to get more likes, more glances, or more applause from others. It’s so important to know what we are living for. But, hopefully, it’s not too hard to figure out that the thing we are living for is Christ. 

When we are raised to Christ, everything we do should be to live for him. Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 5:15, “15 And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised.” We live for him! 

What does living for him look like? Paul gives us the answer later in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 “18 Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” 21 He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Christ began the reconciling work when he died for our sins, and now, we continue his reconciling work as we become more like him and inspire others to do the same. We can have the righteousness of God only because Christ did this reconciling work for us. When we are living for Christ, we become ambassadors. We become the hands and feet of Christ in this world, and at every moment, we should be pointing others back to who God is and what he’s done. 

What are you living for? Be the minister, the ambassador, you were called to be in Christ. Point others to who he is, because you live for him!

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 7-8 and 2 Corinthians 5 .

Don’t give up!

Friday, August 6th, 2021

Job 5-6, 2 Corinthians 4

I live a short drive from the Blue Ridge mountains. The rolling hills of the piedmont area where I live slowly turn into mountains that tower over everything, rising up in the distance to dominate the landscape. Being so close means that hiking was a favorite pastime of mine growing up. The go-to hike in my area is called Table Rock. Just to the north of Greenville, there is a mountain that overlooks the rest of the upstate. At the very top, there is a bare rock outcropping that provides the perfect spot for a picnic. It can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to get to the top of the mountain and most of that time is spent going straight up. Still, I loved the feeling of anticipation of what the view would look like when we reached the stop and that anticipation kept me going even when I felt like my legs were about to give out. Towards the end of the hike, I was always red faced, gasping for breath, straining towards the next step up. But, that momentary struggle paled in comparison to the views at the top. 

We’ve all probably faced times where it feels like our physical body is just about to give out. If you’re like me, it may be running 5 or 10k, a hard workout, a game of ultimate frisbee (or your favorite sport), a day spent weeding the garden in 100 degree heat, mulching the yard (also in 100 degree heat), or maybe just a really long day at work. These are moments where it seems like you’ll never make it to the end and your main thought is how can you just stop what you are doing and sit down. Each of these things, even if it seems like the difficulty will never end (and I’ve pushed through them all), has a time stamp on it. The struggle will come to an end, and we will arrive at what we’ve been working towards. 

Paul knows about this. In 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, he writes, “7 Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. 8 We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; 9 we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. 10 We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who live are always given over to death because of Jesus, so that Jesus’ life may also be revealed in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you. 13 And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke, we also believe, and therefore speak. 14 We know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with you. 15 Indeed, everything is for your benefit, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to increase to God’s glory.”

The clay jars are us! We are fragile. We can be pressured, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but through it all, we will overcome. We live knowing that God will save us and raise us with Jesus. So when we feel like we are at the end of our rope, we are reminded that we are overcomers. 

Paul goes on in verses 16-18, “16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

We are renewed day by day for an absolutely incomparable eternal hope in glory with Christ. We will be glorified in the kingdom, so we don’t need to worry about the present sufferings we may face here. Our momentary struggle pales in comparison to what we are promised at the end. Don’t stop striving! Don’t give up! We have an eternal promise that is greater than everything we face now!

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 5-6 and 2 Corinthians 4 .

The Law of the Letter or of Life

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

Job 3-4, 2 Corinthians 3

The Olympics are going on in full steam with the final days approaching this week. Though I’ve never been one to follow gymnastics, swimming, track, or fencing, when the Olympics comes around, I’m glued to the screen watching people strain towards earthly glory in the form of a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Today, I was watching the morning news, and Caleb Dressel was doing an interview. When asked about how he took care of his mental health, he said that the first thing he did when he got back home from a big event was to not think about swimming for at least two weeks. When he got home, he wasn’t a medal winning athlete; he was just himself. He said if he didn’t do this, the pressure would be too much. He would start to go after an unattainable goal that would ultimately lead him down a dark path. 

Though we can pursue earthly achievements in our careers, finances, homes, sports, hobbies, etc., we are called to live with eternity in mind as Christians. A gold medal, large retirement account, promotion, or degree is not the pinnacle of our life. The way that we live now is working towards that final goal which will come when the trumpet sounds. As I talked about earlier this week, we can rest in assurance that this goal has already been achieved. The victory is won, and we wait for Jesus to come. 

I can say that… but in my heart of hearts, sometimes it’s hard to live like that is actually true. I like to be in control, and for the things that I’m actually good at (which is not sports), I like to be one of the best. I will go all out. And, so in my Christian walk, I can fluctuate from being distracted and worried about the cares of the world and being so legalistic that I stifle the relationship that I’m trying to work towards. When I make it about me, I can go down a wrong path – just like Caleb Dressel. I can’t do anything to add to the accomplishments of Christ, and so all of my actions where I am trying to be the ‘best’ Christian ultimately burn me out and leave me empty – and they can actually leave me further away from Christ (like the Pharisees). 

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul writes, “17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We don’t have to live by the law of the letter anymore. We can live in the freedom that comes from living in the Holy Spirit. We are not changing ourselves on our own power; we are relying on the power of God. And, God can do so much more than any man – Olympic medal winning or not. When we rely on him, we have the victory! Whose power are you living in?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 3-4 and 2 Corinthians 3 .

What’s That Smell?

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

Job 1-2, 2 Corinthians 2

My husband is a great cook, but he takes a long time to prepare his meals. On the nights when he is in charge of dinner, I wait patiently for him to chop all of the vegetables, season the meat, and get something sizzling over the stove. After 30 minutes (or a few hours), I finally know that dinner is ready when I get a whiff of something that smells delicious. That smell draws me into the kitchen; it’s enticing and promises a great meal. 

In today’s reading, we read a little bit more about Paul’s testimony. He explains some of the trials that he has faced in his ministry, some of which are difficult and bring him to tears. At the end of 2 Corinthians 2, Paul begins to turn his focus on the way the Corinthians are living. And the question he asks is one that is a little strange, “What do you smell like?” 

At home, I get to smell the delicious smell of my husband’s cooking. But, at work, the smells are not so pleasant. Middle School boys back from PE hang out in a cramped classroom, where Axe Body Spray mixes with some pretty rank BO. Sometimes the students can’t take it anymore and they say, “Mrs. Fletcher, I need some Febreeze in here, because it STINKS!” So, obviously I get to smell the best of smells and some of the worst of smells. Smells that bring me joy and lead to life and smells that make me die a little inside. 

So let’s go back to Paul’s question – “What do you smell like?” He’s not talking about smelling nice like you are about to go on a date to a nice restaurant. Or smelling bad like a middle schooler back from Field Day. He’s talking about the way that our ‘fragrance’ – our way of living – shows Christ to other people. 

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, “14 But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this? 17 For we are not like the many who market God’s message for profit. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.” 
Paul here is saying that we are the fragrance that points people to who Christ is. Through us just being in people’s lives, we should leave behind a scent of Christ. This scent can encourage others to know Christ more – an “aroma of life leading to life” – or it can convict others who refuse to follow Christ – “an aroma of death leading to death.” Our testimony points others to Christ. People are watching, and they are judging the Christian faith based on how you are living. So, I’ll ask you the same question: What do you smell like?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

Our Testimony

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

Esther 9-10, 2 Corinthians 1

So far this week, we’ve seen how we need to live in light of our ‘why’ – or our purpose for living. Our why should be the gospel. We’ve also seen how we can live in light of our final victory. Jesus has already won the war, so we can face our battles with strength and determination. As Paul begins 2 Corinthians, we see him turn his focus onto another important element of our Christian walk – our testimony. 

The word testimony means “evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something.” When we think of a testimony, we may imagine someone getting up in court and attesting to what they believe happened in a situation. Testimonies are important and can be used as evidence in serious cases. If a testimony is given in court, that can make the difference between whether or not justice is served. 

In our Christian walk, we also give a testimony. Our testimony is the evidence of Christ’s work in our lives. It is our account of how the gospel has changed us. Sometimes our testimony may look like it does on true crime documentaries. We get up in front of our church or small group and recount in 1-5 minutes how we came to know Jesus and what he has done for us. Our testimony however is much more than a short speech. Our testimony is our whole lives. 

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul gives his own personal testimony of issues that he had previously in his missionary journey. At one point in their travels, they had even despaired of living because things had gotten so bad. But Paul reminds himself and the Corinthians of his hope. He says, 

9 Indeed, we personally had a death sentence within ourselves, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and He will deliver us. We have put our hope in Him that He will deliver us again 11 while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:9-11) 

Even in the midst of his trouble, Paul reminds himself of what God has done for him in his life. He knows that God has already delivered him, and so, he can trust that God will deliver him again. This truth helps to strengthen Paul’s own faith when faced with a difficult circumstance. It also becomes an amazing testimony for the church as a whole. The Corinthians can see how Paul handles this time of trials, and they can live with the same mindset in their own lives. 

Our testimony can be based on the past times that God has been faithful to us, but our testimony also includes how we treat others. In verse 12, Paul goes on, “12 For this is our confidence: The testimony of our conscience is that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with God-given sincerity and purity, not by fleshly wisdom but by God’s grace.” The way we treat other people is also a part of our testimony. If we treat others well – with God-given sincerity and purity, we will testify, or show evidence, that the gospel makes us better people. It makes us a people full of love and grace. Our actions can testify for God or they can testify against God. It depends on how we live. 

What is your testimony?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

We Will Win the War!

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

Esther 7-8, 1 Corinthians 16

Esther took a chance and invited the King to dinner again. By this point, she knew that she had to act fast, but you can tell that she was nervous. If the king was angry at her request, she could have been sent away like Vashti – or worse. The king asked her again what she desired and she spoke out against Haman, letting the king know that Haman was planning destruction for her, Mordecai, and her whole people. Furious, the king sentences Haman to be hung on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai. Mordecai was then given Haman’s estate and role as advisor to the king. 

A happy ending for Esther and Mordecai, but there was still a dark day planned for the Jews. After the king gave the edict Haman advised him to give, he signed it with his signet ring. An order from the king was not able to be revoked; the day Haman had planned for the Jews would still happen. In order to prevent total destruction of the Jews, Mordecai planned another day where the Jews would be able to face anyone in battle who was hostile to them. Because of this order, there was rejoicing. The Jews could defend themselves, and consequently, they would not be destroyed. They knew they faced a battle, but ultimately, they had already won the war. The king was on their side. They would have victory. 

Most of us will not face a battle like this in our lifetime. We don’t need to worry about anyone destroying our communities, families, or – for the most part – even our property. We may not face physical battles, but we will face spiritual battles. Jesus promised in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We know that we will have trouble in this world, but we can be encouraged that Jesus has the victory. We may have battles, but we know that we will win the war! 

Paul encouraged the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “13 Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. 14 Your every action must be done with love.” We need this encouragement too. Whenever we face difficult trials and temptations, we can stand firm in the faith. We can be strong. And, we know that we can overcome. We pray – as Paul did – ‘Lord Jesus come’ and then we face our battles head on, because we know that we will win the war! 

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2 .

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