As you drive or walk past those who are working (remembering advised Social Distancing if on foot) why not pray for them as they go past. Lift them in a silent prayer to God, He knows them and their situation. Those doing postal deliveries, refuse teams and utility workers, to name a few who keep our neighbourhoods working.
We have a growing prayer team here at Christ Church, if you would like prayer, please add it to the comments box. If it is for others please do not include personal details that could identify them to others.
This was titled as a prayer blog but really it is a daily bible reflection based on the New Testament readings for morning prayer. Where the readings may be changed, for a feast day, for example, the bible thread will be maintained for continuity. I do hope that out of these reflections you will find themes for prayer and your own reflection and study.
20/10 – This letter to the church in Philippi is one of four prison epistles, probably written in Rome, but some view the letters as more than one written to that fellowship, so perhaps a compilation of fragments. In Philippians 1:12-end Paul talks about the sharing of the gospel message, whatever the motivation. He writes “whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” He writes about his purpose, both in his life and death; he expresses that in the well-known verse “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. He acknowledges his vulnerability, expressing it by saying that he hopes that he will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage. He calls upon those receiving his letter to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, whatever happens. “I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved — and that by God.”
The truth is we all need to hear his words, to let them settle on us, and understand the power that they convey. Many are frightened by those who oppose us. Perhaps in today’s climate that opposition is more disguised and actually puts us on the back foot; we don’t want to offend or alienate the people around us. Under the conditions that we face, how do we share the gospel? The deeper question we have to ask ourselves is: Is the gospel worth sharing if we have to face the negative consequences? The conditions faced by Paul and the church in Philippi may not be that different from those we face today, in terms of hostility to the message. Did they stop sharing the Gospel? What do we do? We act together as a church, that is as the family of Christ. We testify to each other and share what God is saying to us, however unclear that may seem. By strengthening each other, ’to stand together as one’, we can turn to face the world outside and ‘stand firm in one Spirit’. Lord God, You have called us together for a purpose, enable us to live out Your purpose. Lord, we lift each other to you in prayer and in these challenging times strengthen us to bring hope through Your Son Jesus to those who struggle. Lord draw them to us so that we may share Your love with them.
19/10 – In Philippians 1:1-11 (verse 9) Paul writes: “this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” What a prayer. So often Paul opens his letter with a prayer of thanksgiving, blessing and hope; it was a common style at that time. However, Paul in this letter, as in 1 Thessalonians, has this church on his heart, expressed in the sentence “I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus”; there can be no greater affection than that. Paul was in Phillipi, where Lydia had been converted (Acts 16:11- 40) and Paul and Silas were imprisoned for a while before travelling on to Thessalonica. The new Christians stood firm beside Paul during the disruption that his presence caused. But the church was birthed and people understood, from what they saw and experienced, that Christianity was not going to provide an easy option; they received conversion with their eyes wide open. Their experiences and Paul’s must have created a powerful bond. But a still greater bond was that found in a shared faith in Jesus Christ.
In sharing experiences together, in being vulnerable, we create a much stronger bond with each other. Would members of this new church in Philippi lay blame on Paul for the disruption and inconvenience his presence must have caused? Most probably not, because they shared in it all – and the prize of redemption and salvation in Christ Jesus was worth it. We talk about being in fellowship with each other, but what does that really entail? How open are we prepared to be? If someone lays bare their heart are we prepared to respond? Can we respond with the affection of Christ? Being in any relationship should mean being truthful. As Paul puts it in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, we share in a “work of faith and a labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” However, being truthful should not result in causing pain or hurt; that isn’t the love Christ calls us to show. Heavenly Father, guide us and strengthen us as we share together, give us hearts of compassion that reveal the true depths of Your love.
18/10 – Luke 13:31-end. The Pharisees warn Jesus of Herod’s intent to kill him, to which he responds – “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” Which goal is Jesus talking about? His death was a healing death, a sacrificial death for all, regardless or not of whether they believe. But like any gift it has to be unwrapped for it to be received, appreciated and used. But the people of Jerusalem are bereft, lost; their leaders mislead them. The truth is that for them their house has left them desolate. Jesus knows that whatever he does, however he sets about enfolding them in his protection, ‘like a hen gathers her chicks’, they will still not be willing to accept the truth about Him. Jesus knew that what He achieves through His resurrection, that promise of redemption and new birth, whilst done for all, is accepted by a minority. To accept it and treasure it, is to live it.
We see around us what Jesus knew first-hand. In Matthew 16:3 Jesus said “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” Perhaps that is still true today. People think they know best, but maybe they are reading the wrong signs and not looking for the truth that matters. Today there are plenty of voices, like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time, who mislead the people. It’s simplistic to say Christianity holds the answers, as, if the truth is faced, Christians over the years have not lived out the truth very well and there is now a credibility problem, certainly in the West. To turn to Paul’s well used response in the letter to the church in Rome: do we give up? No! Not at all. We, as the Christian Church, are not brainwashed individuals, all thinking the same things. We are individuals, shaped by our lives and circumstances, on a journey to discover the truth our Lord gives us, then to live it. Jesus’ emotional response to the people of Jerusalem is all-enfolding. Paul’s famous passage written in 1 Corinthians 13, epitomises the love that Jesus showed, that we should show to each other and those we come into contact with. A high calling indeed. But we must rejoice in the truth, our rock. We are called to protect, trust, hope and, despite the setbacks, persevere, always remembering that we alone cannot do this. We need to call upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and for Jesus to make Himself known. Lord, help us to live by Your truth, reveal it to us we pray. Guide our footsteps in Your truth.
17/10 – The final part of Acts 28:17 to the end – finds Paul doing what he seems drawn to do the most, appealing to his fellow Jews, who seem somewhat uninformed as to Paul’s reputation: “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you.” They seemed willing to listen as they ‘came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus.’ Sadly, once again Paul’s teaching and explanations as to who Jesus is only led to division among the Jews who were there. Paul uses the same section of Isaiah (6:9-13) as Jesus did in Matthew 13:15 to highlight their blindness and their loss of God’s love. Having spoken to the Jews, Paul then turns to the Gentiles – “and they will listen!” So the closing words written by Luke about Paul are: ‘He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ — with all boldness and without hindrance!’ Ultimately Paul couldn’t be stopped while he was alive; he lived for Jesus and the love he had compelled him to talk of Jesus.
It would be great if we had that same dedication, that knowledge and understanding, the passion and single-minded purpose to proclaim Jesus as Lord. The reality is that we don’t; Paul was fearless but we are, for the most part, not. Paul is accused by some of hijacking the Christian faith and taking the focus off Jesus, of not quoting the scriptures or referring to stories about Jesus that must have been circulating at the time. But Paul lived as Jesus called him to live. Like Jesus, he approached the Jews first, and only then did he refocus. He teaches us to ‘live in Christ’ as he lived for Christ. His life and writing are a testimony to the Lord he served, he interprets much of what Jesus taught; it should be hard to miss. It is that part of his ministry that we can copy. We don’t need his intellect or knowledge of the Torah. We just need to know Jesus and to let that knowledge shape our lives. We need to be prepared for people to scoff or ridicule, but we also need to hear the trumpet sounds in heaven as people come to know Jesus and turn to Him. Paul must have faced discouragement, but he knew the real prize was to be a faithful servant of the Lord – whatever it took. Let us pray, that in our own way, God will and can use us. That He can make His way, our way. Then we will be followers of ‘The Way’ through Christ our Lord.
16/10 – Acts 28:1-16 sees Paul now in Malta. They had travelled from Crete to Malta, well off course from their intended destination, which was a harbour in Crete, so just sailing round the island. Today the journey of just under 600 miles from Crete to Malta takes 3 days by ferry. Having at last set foot on dry land they had no idea where they were or what reception they would get. But they were welcomed with ‘unusual kindness’; a fire was set because it was cold and wet. It seems Paul, ever busy, had collected firewood and a viper ‘driven out by the heat fastened itself on his hand’; Paul shock it off into the fire. Vipers have extreme fangs that are hinged and rotatable. In the UK the adder is of the viper family. All vipers are venomous. However, they don’t always inject their venom when they bite; this is known as a ‘dry bite’. Paul is in new territory. Does this snake encounter have any significance other than that Paul survived it, when it seemed the expectation was that most people would have died? Was Paul’s survival of the storms a defeat of satan? Those around, having expected Paul to die, then thought he was a god. Further hospitality is offered by Publius, a chief official of the island. Here Paul heals Publius’ father and many others who are brought to him. Paul stays for three days but it seems does not leave Malta for three months, when Publius furnished them with the supplies they needed for the onward journey. Again Paul and his compatriots set off on an Alexandrian ship with the Greco-Roman twin gods Castor and Pollux as figure-heads (known as the constellation of Gemini – the twins.) The journey on to Rome was uneventful, except perhaps for the hospitality they received from some brothers and sisters (in Christ). And also the welcome they received at the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns by those who went out to greet them. ‘At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.’
In this account other gods seem to be around, even to the extent that Paul was mistaken for one. The account doesn’t say that Paul taught about Jesus, but with Paul’s ministry of signs and wonders it would be inconceivable that he would not have done. Being thought of as a god, Paul would have been very quick to give the glory back to Jesus. Paul was soon established in Rome where he was allowed to live on his own (though his letters suggest he had more than a few visitors), but with one soldier as a guard. Hospitality and welcome seem the theme of this section, even from those who had no idea of who he was or, for that matter, any of the other passengers. How do you co-ordinate a welcome for 276 people? What size fire do you build? Perhaps a better question, how many fires? Today there is a real need to build community, or to build on the fragile relationships founded on neighbourliness in the pandemic. As the situation seems to be sliding again toward greater infection rates what can we do to offer support to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who may have lost jobs or who are in danger of financial ruin? How do we offer hospitality as a church in these times. How many warming fires of love do we need to light and keep fed? Our hospitality group has a great opportunity, but realistically, it is a ministry we all must share in together. Lord God, in these difficult times may we light a fire of your love in our community; show us we ask, how best to do that.
15/10 – Acts 27:27-end is the account of the shipwreck on the beach at Malta. The ship breaks up because it hits a sandbar and becomes stuck. The waves smash the stern of the boat to pieces and everyone abandons ship and makes for the shore, however they can. Simple really, but each verse seems to be loaded with tension, foreboding and meaning. Luke’s account again shows that attention to detail that makes what is happening so real, one can almost feel the sea spray. Everyone was afraid, from the seasoned sailors to the soldiers and the prisoners, all 276 people must have been in a desperate condition – except for Paul who, whilst not calming the storm or walking on water, provided that place of calm, assurance and hope. What does Paul do? He ensures that those who can save the boat don’t row away; the centurion casts the rowing boat adrift. They have to do what they are skilled at, saving the people on the boat. Then Paul looks after the physical and spiritual welfare of all onboard. He encourages them to eat, but starts by taking some bread and giving thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. Though many would not have known, he celebrated the last supper in that storm, and they were encouraged. A point of trivia – after Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon in 1969, he and Buzz Aldrin celebrated Holy Communion in the lunar lander. The first bread and wine consumed on the moon’s surface were the elements of Holy Communion. Perhaps in the storms and extraordinary events of life, we don’t draw near to God, as Paul did, in sharing together and remembering Christ’s sacrifice. The sandy shore was seen, but not the sand bar, so they were so near but were caught out. After all they had been through, sailing the Adriatic storms, one more thing was there to make life difficult. But even then all those on board made it safely to shore, even if the boat didn’t. Life is unpredictable, and seldom works out as we would hope. We may achieve our end goal but not always in the way we imagine. Paul could not have foreseen the difficulties he encountered.
Do we know where our walk of faith will lead us? Life is unpredictable, one of the few things we can predict! Whatever comes at us, whatever we encounter, we must hold firm to our faith in Jesus Christ. From this moment on it seems as though Paul is no longer in the company of the Roman centurion or the guards. Where does everyone go? Though all 276 make it to the shore the individual stories diverge, what else would we expect? In our lives we walk with others for varying lengths of time. We witness life’s changing currents, turbulent moments, times of real calm, perhaps becalmed. But through it all, from that moment when God becomes central, when Jesus impacts upon us, we have a rudder and a keel, to guide and to hold us upright. Let us bring Jesus in to the walk, the journey, we have with each other. Let us break bread even in the company of those who, as yet, do not understand, bring Christ into the moment, to provide that place of calm, assurance and hope.
14/10 – So, in Acts 27:1-26 Paul is once again on the move, this time to Rome as a prisoner under the authority of a Centurion called Julius. Julius was a member of the Imperial Guard, probably the Praetorian Guard, an elite regiment. They served in escorting high-ranking officials such as senators and provincial governors. So possibly Julius was a member of Festus’ own bodyguard detail. The journey was fairly straightforward to start with, in fact plain sailing. In Sidon, Julius allowed Paul to visit friends. Perhaps Julius was aware that Paul knew his destiny was to go to Rome so he was very unlikely to want to escape. Also Paul had his own group of travelling companions, as Luke writes in the first person he was there, along with Aristarchus. The time of year was such that sailing became more risky due to the deteriorating weather conditions. Even though Paul, a non-sailor though a man who had done a fair bit of sailing as a passenger, advised against putting to sea, Julius took the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship, and set sail for Phoenix. The boat was caught in a severe storm that threatened to sink it. The crew took all the precautions they could including throwing some cargo overboard to lighten and stabilise the boat. After Paul’s ‘I told you so’ speech, he gives them encouragement because not one of them would be lost; only the ship would be destroyed. Paul says an ‘angel of the God (he) serves’ said to him “God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.’
Many of us run into stormy periods in our lives. The transition can be very quick and quite unexpected. Sometimes, as in the case of Paul, there is always the possibility that ‘our voyage’ can run into difficulty. But what are we to do? Paul rests firmly on his faith in Jesus and also in his God-given destination. In a way it’s a bit like watching a film where the hero is always at grave risk, but we know, as the lead character, they’ll come through all adversity. Our ship may sink or run aground, but that is just the start of something new. In this account the crew throw cargo off the boat to help stabilise it. Again when we hit the storms in life, or when God refocuses us, we have to throw away the baggage that prevents us from journeying on in new ways. That metaphor works individually and as a church. For many church groups the present situation with the Covid pandemic requires a rethink. For some who have lost their jobs, or their lives have been put on hold, maybe it is a time to re-evaluate and see if there are things which are needed to be ’thrown overboard’.Often that takes courage, and it is best done in the company of others, who can support and pray. We should never need to walk alone.Lord God help us, whether in storms or not, always to stand on Your word. Lord, may we not hold onto things so tightly that they stop us serving You as we should. Reveal to us Lord, as a church family and as individuals, how we can journey more effectively for You.
13/10 – Acts 26:24-end : we read of the reaction of both Festus and Agrippa. Festus challenged Paul’s assertion that Jesus had risen from the dead. Luke says: ‘Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”’ Interesting in a way, as Greco-Roman mythology includes stories of re-birth or being brought back to life, sometimes as a deity (Asclepius and the Greek god Achilles as examples.) Why did Festus assume Paul was out of his mind? Was it because he knew the gods he was taught about were only mythical and Paul was presenting a God who was real. Perhaps too much for him to handle! Agrippa, though, had to digest all that Paul presented as a Jew and his interpretation of scripture to show the Messiah had come in the form of Jesus, stories that Agrippa must have heard about ‘because it was not done in a corner’. Agrippa didn’t dismiss it, but in saying “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” he did leave the door open. Paul responds; “Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” ‘The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”’
We do have to ask the question: if Paul hadn’t appealed to Caesar would he have got this far? The story could have been quite different. Whatever the setting in which Paul tells of his conversion, adapting it to those listening, he does not achieve instant conversion in his hearers, so why are we surprised when we don’t see always a positive reaction in our faith-sharing encounters? Conversion is a matter for the Holy Spirit, and though we share the gospel it may not be the right time for the hearer, even with the Holy Spirit present. Perhaps that is why in Matthew 12:31 Jesus says: “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Ignoring the Holy Spirit at the moment the gospel message is heard is turning away from life to death.
Lord God, whenever we share the good news about Your Son Jesus may we lift those before us to the Holy Spirit, that He may open their hearts to You, that they may step in to Your eternal light.
12/10 – Returning to Acts 26:1-23 we have, once again, Paul giving witness to Jesus Christ, the Messiah. This is the third account that Luke writes about in Acts. Paul himself makes brief reference in Galatians 1:11-24, but his account there is more to testify that his teaching comes from God and not the apostles in Jerusalem. Paul in Caesarea, before this esteemed gathering, is giving witness to his calling primarily to Agrippa (and his wife Bernice) as Jews. As a Pharisee Paul lays out his beliefs and, as he says; “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem.” “I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.” Before he tells the account of what happened on the road to Damascus Paul affirmed his belief as a Pharisee that the Messiah would come: “now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?Paul tells of his vision and asked how he could be disobedient to the vision from heaven. He goes on to say “I preached that they (Gentiles) should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.” He winds it up by saying “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen – that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”
So Paul’s appeal to Agrippa, a Jew, was made. An effective rebuttal, giving biblical background and his personal experience, both before and after his Damascus road experience. Before his conversion he lived out his beliefs in one way; after, he could do nothing but re-evalute his beliefs and live them out quite differently.Powerful testimony from one Jew to another, be he a King or not. For us today it is harder, with people’s poor grasp of the bible and limited knowledge of Christianity, which is often wrong. We have to start in a different place. Some say that as people’s knowledge is now so limited, or even non-existent, it is easier to share the gospel. Possibly, but we can follow Paul’s example, start from the base of our listeners’ understanding and lead them from there. Paul says at the start to Agrippa “and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies”. He takes Agrippa on a journey from that base knowledge. Before we start we need to ask questions and find out where we are going to start our journey with them from, and perhaps at what point we are going to stop, ideally stopping with them wanting to know more.Lord God, give us wisdom and insight as we share our story of faith with others. May the Holy Spirit open our ears and guide us, we ask.
11/10 – So much of the emphasis in the way we communicate the gospel of Christ majors on the ‘love of Christ’ but this reading (Luke 13:22-30) reveals another side; in fact the one Jesus emphasised more. We are confronted with the possibility of a ‘shut door’, of being outsiders, of not being known by Jesus. But Jesus is all about love? Yes, He died for us all because ‘God so loved the world’ (John 3:16). He wanted us to be reconciled with Him. Jesus spoke about many topics during His earthly ministry. The need to be aware of our sin, to turn away from self and selfishness, to be willing to suffer persecution for Him. He covered hypocrisy, forgiveness, obedience, anxiety, prayer, commitment, deceivers, and obedience, among other topics. Judgement in one form or another also features in His teaching a fair bit. If we focus only on love we do not understand the gospel message, nor do we share it truthfully with others. Why else does Jesus say “strive to enter through the narrow door”? Because it’s not easy, for He continues “for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able”. Later he says ‘then you will say, “We ate and drank with You, and You taught in our streets.” Then He will say, “I do not know where you come from.” Yes, John 3:16 and John 11:26 affirm that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish. But it’s not just about believing that, then living a lifestyle that discredits all that Jesus taught – how can that happen if we claim to believe in Him? That is why discipleship is so important, why reading and understanding the bible is a fundamental foundation, why working together, supporting each other, growing together, is the basis of fellowship with each other and with Jesus. Remember though, do not be deceived, for ‘for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked’ (Luke 6:36). That doesn’t mean they are forgiven by God, the ultimate judge, though we are called to epitomise forgiveness. “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).Heavenly Father, help us, in our love for Jesus, to follow Him faithfully, knowing our own weakness but seeking Your strength through the Holy Spirit. Lord God, build us in true fellowship with each other, and in Your Son, Jesus our Lord.
10/10 – Acts 25:13-end. Festus is in a dilemma and seeks the help of the visiting King Agrippa. The king suggests he would like to hear Paul for himself. So Festus set up the meeting, but clearly it was a big occasion and Festus and Agrippa made an event of it as they ‘came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city’. After publicly saying that the whole Jewish community seems to be against Paul, Festus says “I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.” Like Felix, Festus finds it hard to find justification for the Jewish communities’ charges against Paul.
It does strike a chord with the situation that occurred with Jesus. There Pilate had the same dilemma; he could not see that Jesus justified the death sentence that the Jewish leadership demanded. However, the need to keep the Jewish people under control necessitated giving in to their demands. Paul, in his appeal to the Emperor had complicated it as it seems that Festus would have released him had Paul not appealed to the ultimate Roman authority.
Agrippa came to Caesarea to pay respects to Festus, and Festus saw the opportunity to have a second opinion on Paul. Perhaps the King of Judea would have a new take on it. (Herod Agrippa was the last of the Herodian dynasty, and was loyal to the Roman occupation. He was himself overthrown by his Jewish subjects and in the uprising that followed (First Jewish-Roman war 66-73AD) took the Roman side, by sending 2,000 men, archers and cavalry to support Vespasian.)
It is also interesting, when thinking back to Pilate and his interaction with King Herod, that Luke writes: “Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies” Luke 23:12. Sometimes natural enemies can become allies and it seems with both Pilate and Festus that happened. Both Pilate and Festus were unconvinced by the charges brought and turned to others with a better understanding of Jewish tradition for guidance. Sometimes in finding a solution it is well to seek the help of those who may have more background knowledge, even if they may not be the first choice. But it means being willing to listen once the connection has been made. It would be good for the world if there was a real heart and coming together to find a solution for all the issues the world faces, both political and environmental. May God bring leaders and experts from different nations together to share the wisdom and understanding they have to help us all find a way forward. Lord God, we pray that in that coming together they may find a path to You, the ultimate authority in Your creation. The ‘Ancient of Days’ in whom “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to Jesus. Matthew 28:18
09/10 – In Acts 24:24-25:12 time really flies! Paul has been sitting in prison, just because Felix wanted to ‘grant a favour to the Jews’. He wasn’t prepared to condemn Paul but he didn’t want to upset the Jews either. Felix did, it seems’, want to learn something of the ‘Way’ but ‘as Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave”‘. Knowing the background to the activities of Felix we shouldn’t be surprised by his reaction; if what Paul said was true Felix was in an eternally bad place. Felix gets recalled to Rome and is replaced by Porcius Festus, around 59AD, but really no change for Paul. It seems the whole process starts again as the new Governor seeks to establish the facts, a long drawn-out process. Again there is a plot to ambush Paul on his way to Jerusalem but Festus refuses the request to move Paul from Caesarea. Again Paul’s accusers had to go to him, and again Paul refuted the claims made against him. When asked if he was prepared to go to Jerusalem Paul appealed to Caesar: “To Caesar you will go!” was Festus’ response. The situation in Jerusalem was deteriorating and in six years’ time there was open Jewish hostility to Rome. Perhaps it was good timing for Paul to leave for Rome.
Paul was proving a difficult case to deal with and his Roman citizenship made it much harder for the Governor; possibly Paul’s appeal to Caesar was an easy way out for Festus, at last the Governor of Caesarea could free himself of the problem.
How often have we all faced protracted problems that just hang around and seem unresolved? Is that part of God’s plan? Or is it simply we have to learn to wait on God’s timing and relax with it? Probably Paul had to be prepared to just wait on the Lord. What must it have been like to be so dramatically called by God, to have such an active and busy ministry, and then to find it has all evaporated. Those that travelled with Paul and supported him, how would they be feeling? And what of the churches he had helped to start? Thankfully we have Paul’s own letters to reveal some of those answers and how he used this time to serve God. If Paul had not been imprisoned would he have written the letters and would Christianity be what it became? Sometimes God wants us to change direction and, to do that, we do need be made to stop what we do to find the space that God has made to fit us. That can be an uncomfortable journey, but one we have to be prepared to take to serve our Lord on His terms not ours. Lord Jesus, may we be prepared to stop our activities and listen for your direction in our lives, even if that means stopping doing the things we find fulfilling in our walk with You. Lord, as everything has slowed down, help us to wait on you. Pour out Your gifts that we and your church may grow. Lord, we need new gifts for the new future before us; help us to wait on You.
08/10 – Acts 24:1-23 is an object lesson in grovelling by the High Priest Ananias and his lawyer Tertullus before the Governor Felix. From what is known of Felix he was corrupt, to say the least. The fact that in verse 26 Luke says ‘he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe’ underlines the point. Paul’s defence seems clear and he refutes the accusations and suggests others who have made accusations should be there as well. Felix has heard enough. He ‘was well acquainted with the Way’, and adjourned the proceedings. The commander of the Roman garrison possibly thought he had seen the end of Paul but he is now summoned to meet with Felix. At least we now learn his name – Claudius Lysias.
We are left on a bit of a cliff edge; we have the information on the trial but not the outcome. Did Felix really want to acquit Paul? After all, ‘he ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs’. What stopped Felix doing that? What political games were being played out?
So often in different situations around the world we are aware of control being exercised on decision-makers in courts. Our independent judiciary is the jewel in the crown of our legal system, even if at times there are questions asked of the judgments, but they are not because of outside influence being brought to bear. Even in the USA we see political manipulation of the Supreme Court being played out in the nominations for the position of be one of the eight Associate Judges in the court. In our Supreme Court we have twelve Justices who are ‘explicitly separate from both Government and Parliament’. Let us pray for our judicial system, those who staff our courts, those who serve as Magistrates and Judges, for solicitors and barristers as they serve in the courts, seeking justice for all.
07/10 – Acts 23:12-end sees the plot against Paul harden. Rather than a rabble trying to lynch Paul, this becomes a well thought out and and planned attack against him, manipulating the Roman commander. However, God placed an ally in the midst of it all: ‘when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.’ You have to feel for this poor commander, the situation just went from bad to worse, as he is told by Paul’s nephew of the plans against Paul. The young man is sent away with the warning that he is to tell no one; the commander then calls ‘two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”’ Why a whole detachment? What did the commander think forty men could do? Perhaps we need to think back to the question the commander asked of Paul earlier: “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?” The “Egyptian” seditionist with whom the military commander at Jerusalem confused Paul is possibly the same one mentioned by Josephus. That insurrection is stated to have taken place during the reign of Nero and the procuratorship of Felix in Judea, circumstances fitting the account in Acts. Josephus called them Sicarii, a well-organised group of freedom-fighters. Was it that group that the commander feared and why he sent such a large contingent to escort Paul to the Governor in Caesarea?
The commander writes to Felix: “I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against Paul that deserved death or imprisonment.” Paul gets safely to Felix who holds him under guard, until Paul’s accusers, who had been told by the commander to go to the Governor, reach him.
All of this time, around AD58, there were growing tensions between Rome and the Jews. Governor Felix may well have contributed to those tensions as he had stirred tensions between the Jews and Syrians of Caesarea, then set about killing and plundering the inhabitants. All this finally led to the first Jewish revolt that in turn led to the sacking of Jerusalem by Vespasian in AD 70.
We always live with some form of political or social tension, and we see them around the world now, perhaps more than ever. Within these power plays innocents will always fall victim to the goals of others. So it is with Christians in countries right now. Instability is a growing trend and we really need to pray for world peace and understanding between nations. Pray for the work of the UN and that it doesn’t become a spent force in preserving world peace like its predecessor, the League of Nations. Lord God, it is through peace that people thrive and learn to live together. May we show that peace through our lives.
06/10 – We meet with the confused commander of the Roman garrison again in Acts 22:23-23:11; the last time he thought Paul was a Greek speaking Egyptian revolutionary. Now, just as the soldiers are about to flog Paul the commander discovers that he is a Roman citizen, and, not like himself who had to buy his citizenship, Paul was a citizen by birth! Again the chains fell off Paul, but this time because of the alarm at what they had done to a citizen of Rome. For the commander this led to further questions, so he ‘ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them’. Was the commander trying to dig himself out of a hole? Or was he seeking justice for Paul? Now Paul is before Ananias, the high priest, who, on hearing what Paul said, orders ‘those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth’. Reflect on John 18:22: ‘When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded’. Paul calls Ananias a ‘whitewashed wall’. Again, think back to Matthew 23:27 when Jesus calls the Pharisees and teachers of the law ‘whitewashed tombs’. The parallels become striking. But, rather than keeping quiet, Paul used his knowledge to create division between the Pharisees and Sadducees, over the resurrection. ‘The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them’. So again the commander had to rescue Paul from the Jewish contingent in fear that the death of a Roman citizen could be blamed on him.
How different from the encounter Jesus had! Even though Pilate could see no justification for the death penalty being brought against Jesus by the Jewish leadership he was powerless to prevent it. With Paul, his Roman citizenship offered protection, and for Jesus a means to spreading the gospel. Only Jesus could die for humanity; Paul needed to spread God’s word: The ‘Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”’
What would the commander of the garrison make of this troublesome Jew, a citizen of Rome, speaking, at the least, Greek and Aramaic? What questions would he be asking himself? What were the Jews so afraid of? Perhaps he also asked himself why Paul kept provoking them with such skill? Is it possible that the commander would watch as over the years Paul was inexorably moved toward Rome? Lord God, we lift before you those who exercise power and control over Christians accused of causing trouble. Lord God, in countries like Pakistan we read about those who suffer at the hands of a justice system because of the unrest they cause. We pray for those sitting as judges in such cases and ask you to change their hearts, Lord God, through those ’saints’ may those in power learn of You and have a hunger to find out more about You, till they meet with you in person.
05/10 – Acts 21:37-22:21 continues the account of Paul’s detention, though at first there is an issue over Paul’s identity. It seems the commander thinks Paul is the leader from Egypt who led a group against Jerusalem (Acts 5:36) and though his band of rebels were eliminated the leader got away. Paul immediately gives his true identity (though not saying he is a Roman citizen). The commander is convinced and allows Paul to speak to the crowd, which Paul does in the local tongue of Aramaic. This helps establish his ‘local’ credentials to the crowd. Luke then reports, perhaps in a shortened form, Paul’s testimony. It seems to go well, the crowd listening in silence until Paul recounts that ‘the Lord said to me, “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” This takes us full circle to the original complaint against Paul, of his ministry to the Gentiles and his perceived teaching that undermined Jewish teaching, tradition and the Mosaic Law.
One of the amazing strengths of Christianity, in the mission field, has been the ability to assimilate festivals and pagan approaches to faith in a way that accommodates them without diluting the core message of the gospel. As long as these adaptations are recognised and understood with a true understanding of discipleship, they become marginalised, as followers understand the core message of Jesus Christ; of repentance and salvation.
As Christians, we have to understand the cultural influences that shape our faith in the west and acknowledge that it will be different from expressions of Christianity in other parts of the world. But always Christ is central. Paul is drawing on his Jewishness, his heritage, to be relatable and communicate the truth about Jesus and his call to discipleship and the God-given mandate for mission he received.
We need to know our stories, our own faith journey, and embrace the journeys of others around the world who, like us, hold Christ as Lord and Saviour. Let us pray for those who throughout this day and coming days discover the power of Jesus in their lives, who meet with him whatever they are doing, wherever they are. May God’s kingdom grow.
04/10 – We’ve been looking at the developing account by Luke in Acts of Paul’s brush with the ‘Jews who were zealous for the law’ and the violent reactions against him. Would Paul have been told of the comments Jesus made in Luke 12:1-12? “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Would that also apply to fellow believers of Jesus but who, unlike Paul, apparently, held the Law of Moses as paramount? How would the words of Jesus here in Luke apply: “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God”? The ‘others’ referred to – is that the people or could it be ‘other’ teaching or gods as well? We read in Acts about when Paul, in Athens speaking in the Areopagus, asserted that Jesus was above all the other gods. Was he then acknowledging Jesus as above all ‘other’ gods to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, the ‘others’? Remember in the preceding chapter of Luke’s gospel Luke quotes Jesus as saying to the experts in the law: “woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” Is that how Paul may have seen the behaviour of those ‘zealous for the Law’? Could Paul have identified with Jesus’ comment “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute”? Paul knew his fate, and it was not the first time he had been persecuted or stoned by fellow Jews, though non-believers in Christ.
When referring to Christians lacking unity there is no sub-text referring to us at Christ Church. However, we have to understand that to be a healthy church we have to hear and accommodate differing views; to be of only one view, without dissension is, quite possibly, unhealthy. But people in our Anglican community, nationally and internationally, understand the bible in different ways. Some are quite hostile to other views that do not match their own. We can’t be blind to the differences between the biblically conservative (not the political party) views and the liberal views of the church. And that has in the past led to exchanges that fall short of expressions of Christian love.
Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, is hitting out at the Pharisees and the teachers of the law for their hypocrisy and the fact they fall short of their calling before God. From what we have read in Acts and the reaction of Jewish Christians, who were ‘zealous for the law’, there seemed to be a gulf of difference in application of the Law of Moses between them and Paul, a difference Paul deals with at length in his letter to the Roman church. The Church needs to be a listening Church. That does not mean it drifts towards the loudest voices; it means we hear what others say and learn to live in harmony, even though we may not agree. However, where teaching strays form the gospel it must be called out, but through dialogue alone and not from a ’soap box’ to be exploited by the media. Lord God, we call for Your healing upon Your Church where there is disagreement and misunderstanding. May we, Lord God, stand firm to Your word and shape ourselves, our church community and the wider church fellowship through it.
03/10 – So in Acts 21:17-36 Paul arrives back in Jerusalem. Paul recounts all that God had been doing among the Gentiles, for which the elders, including James, praised God. Those same people had welcomed Paul and those who travelled with him warmly. However, the tone makes an abrupt change. Suddenly accusations are laid at his feet. The elders were fearful of the Jews who were ‘zealous for the law’ and confronted Paul about the news that had been spread about his teaching. The fact he had taught ‘all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses’ was a major accusation. The plan they laid before Paul was to join with others in ‘purification rites’ and to pay their expenses, and so have their heads shaved. Remember in 18:18 when Luke writes ‘before he sailed (from Corinth to Ephesus), he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. Is this the second time Paul had gone through this ritual of purification? Regarding the Law of Moses, James had said, the last time Paul was in Jerusalem, ‘for the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath’ 15:21. Paul in 13:39 had said to his listeners: Through Him (Jesus) ‘everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses’. We can sense where the problems arose. The planned ‘Purification Rites’ fail to make an impact, for ‘some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him’. It’s very much downhill from there on; the people make false accusations about Paul’s actions, accusing Paul and Trophimus of defiling the temple. It was left to the commander of the Roman troops to rescue Paul as the crowd tried to kill him. The crowd were so violent and agitated that the soldiers had to carry the bound Paul away to the safety of the barracks.
We tend to think fake news and disinformation is a modern feature of life, but even without mass communication it happened and could spread fast. What people hear and see is not always what is said or done; ask any investigating police officer about different accounts from witnesses. People, sadly, even today, including some leaders, will give out false information for their own benefit or to hit out at opponents. You only have to look at news reports from Portland, Oregon regarding the ongoing riots to hear conflicting views, all sincerely held. The Roman commander, in this account, realised he needed to extract Paul and calm the situation in order to get to the truth.
In public life we so often see one quote, out of context, do irreparable damage to someone’s career or reputation. How do we communicate the gospel truth we hold so dear and believe in so firmly without causing issues with those we talk to? What we say may not be what they hear! How do we hold Jesus up and not allow discredit to come to His name? Heavenly Father, we need You to guide our words, guide our steps, that we may talk of Your Son, our Saviour, in confidence and truth. Lord, help us to navigate the times we live in, protect all those who make their faith visible to others, especially celebrities, Lord, and those in the public arena.
02/10 – The statement in the opening sentence of Acts 21:1-16 gives an indication of how emotionally charged this whole account is: “After we had torn ourselves away from them.” The word ’torn’ is a violent word in its rawness, a foretaste of the emotions that are packed into this and the subsequent account of Paul’s journey to Rome. Paul has set his face to Jerusalem, fully aware of what will happen. The ‘prophet named Agabus’ only serves to reinforce the outcome. Is this, in a way, Paul seeking to walk his own path to Jerusalem and his death, as Jesus did? That is even though, as Luke puts it, “we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem”. Fresh in their minds is the fate that Jesus faced at the hands of the Jewish leaders. They were fearful, justifiably so, for the outcome. Paul’s response, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” That probably didn’t help their anxiety, but if that was Paul’s path they would stay with him.
How many families have wept over a family member as they are taken from them by authorities because they are followers of Jesus? People who refuse to renounce Christ and know full well the outcome of the path they take. But it is happening around the world even now. The charity ‘Open Doors’ states that they have 50 countries on its ‘Watch List’ and estimates that 260 million Christians are persecuted for their beliefs. Alarmingly, they suggest that attacks on churches have risen by 500% from 2019! As a result of their independent report to the House of Commons, the government invited the Bishop of Truro to conduct an independent review into the Foreign Office’s support for persecuted Christians worldwide. The report was published at the end of 2019. In January the Government confirmed it had accepted the report’s recommendations in full. We, as Christians, need to hold the Government to fulfilling the recommendations and to write to our MPs, urging that they hold our Government to that pledge. We need to pray for all our brothers and sisters worldwide, and for protection over their children in this worsening situation. Lord God, may we look to our larger church family as we pray. Lord God, stir nations where religious freedom is valued to act against nations where persecution takes place. Lord God, we pray for those who at this moment are standing up for You, whatever the cost.
01/10 – In Acts 20:17-end we read of Paul’s farewell to the leaders of the church in Ephesus, which in the verses before, Paul had decided not to visit ‘to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem’. Now, however, he sends for the church elders to join him in Miletus. Miletus, of which only the ruins exist, is on the Western seaboard of Turkey, south of Ephesus. It is well worth reading this passage taking in both Paul’s emotional plea and how the elders would have received it. The passage covers the threats to Paul and the threats to the church in Ephesus. It is very clear that Paul is not saying the future will be a bed of roses for them or him. He again, as always, testifies to the gospel, to redemption and salvation through Christ: ‘turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus’. Paul’s warning to the church is focuses on the need to ‘keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God.’ The warning Paul gives is clear: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock”, even from their own membership. At the end they prayed together: ‘They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.’ What a powerful, emotionally charged, ending to his work among them. A parting in pain not in joy, but Paul had said “my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
His charge to the elders is not an easy one, but in truth is one that is laid on each member of a church. We must always be on our guard against splits occurring in churches. His warning that “even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” is worth noting; not just men. The church has been spilt too often, unity is a precious gift and one we, all churches, should protect with passion. The questions we should always ask is: does this build unity? Does it build up the church? Will Christ be glorified and God honoured?
We need to pray for unity and fellowship that seek the good of others and not ourselves, whatever gifts we may think we have to offer. God sometimes calls us to find other gifts to build His church. Lord God, help us, guide us, lead us, to be a people who seek to build Your church Your way not ours. Lord help us, like Paul to be aware of the cost, but never to stop preaching the kingdom by word and action.