Bible Reading Devotional Thoughts from Mark Conner The Book of Acts Acts 1 The Book of Luke was all about "Jesus' life and teachings." Before returning to heaven, Jesus gave his chosen disciples further instructions from the Holy Spirit, proved to them in many ways that he was alive, talked to them about the kingdom of God, told them not to leave Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them, told them not to worry about the times and seasons for the nation of Israel but to focus on getting the gospel out to the whole world, and that the coming of the Holy Spirit was to give them power to testify about Jesus' death and resurrection with great effect. We shouldn‟t keep staring at the sky looking for Jesus. He will return just like he left at the right time, but until then we've got a job to do (vs.9-11). Too many people are waiting for Jesus to come while Jesus is waiting for us to go! In fact, Jesus won‟t be coming until the church gets going. Acts 2 - The Coming of the Spirit The Holy Spirit arrived suddenly, accompanied by the sound of a roaring mighty wind, flames or tongues of fire, and an ability to speak in languages they didn't know. Everyone present was filled with the Spirit. People are drawn by the commotion and wonder what is going on. Peter responded by giving them the gospel message and 3000 people responded that day and became part of the new church community. They met regularly for teaching, communion and prayer; a deep sense of awe was on them; the apostles did many miracles; the believers met together regularly and shared everything; they met daily in the temple area and in homes; they shared meals with great joy and gratefulness, praising God; they had the favour of the whole city; and God added to their number daily. This is God‟s plan and design for the church. It can happen again! Acts 3 - A Miraculous Healing Peter and John attended a daily prayer meeting in the temple. They were open to divine appointments and unplanned opportunities to touch people for God. After this amazing healing a crowd gathered and Peter seized the moment by sharing about Jesus. Keep alert for opportunities God may give you today to impact someone with His love. The Book of Acts provides us with a pattern for what God wants and expects from us as His church. It is „normative‟ for all believers in every culture and generation. Let‟s align with the New Testament pattern and not deviate from it. Here are some principles relevant to us today: 1. Purpose (Acts 1:7-8). Life is not about me! We are here to make a difference in our world – not just become more holy or hang on until Jesus comes. We are to be a people of mission because mission is close to God‟s heart. May our church always have an outward focus! We‟re here for people far from God – in communities, cities and nations of the world. Jesus (the Head of the church) has already given us our marching orders – evangelism, mission and church planting. NOT end times mania! Jesus is not coming until the church gets going! We have work to do. 2. Prayer (Acts 1:14). This was a 10 day prayer meeting, but prayer continued to be a priority in the life of the church. Prayer is conversation with God (sharing and listening). It is our life line. We must daily „abide‟ (keep connected to) in Christ. Without Him, we can do nothing of eternal or lasting value. With Him, we can live fruitful lives. This includes personal prayer – time alone with God, daily living in awareness of his presence, leaders (Acts 6) and corporate prayer – church gatherings, prayer meetings, small groups, etc. Prayer is the key to INTIMACY and POWER. 3. Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). The coming of the Holy Spirit and his infilling the disciples‟ lives was the key to their power and effectiveness in fulfilling their purpose. The Holy Spirit is our Helper – the one who comes alongside us when we don‟t know what to do. God always calls us to do things beyond our natural abilities. This forces us to maintain a posture of dependence. Ask for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit each day. “Be (continually) filled with the Spirit …” The first believers were filled many times with continuing power for ministry (supernatural power for the miraculous). 4. Preaching (Acts 2:14-41). Let‟s continue to look for and seize opportunities to tell God‟s story and our story, as we also listen to people‟s story. We are called for proclamation. 5. Participation (Acts 2:42-47). The church is like a „body‟ where every member is needed. Each Christian has been given at least one spiritual gift and the health, effectiveness and growth of the body is dependent on each person‟s contribution. Let‟s mobilise everyone for active participation in the mission God has given us. 6. Persecution (Acts 3-5). Anytime we are advancing, the enemy is provoked. We are in a spiritual battle. Spiritual warfare can strengthen our faith. Expect opposition and develop internal resistance against it. God can turn adversity to our advantage. 7. Prevailing (Acts 6-28). Jesus said that He would build His church and the very gates of hell would not prevail against it. In the book of Acts, we see the church advancing forcefully and impacting every community, city and nation with God‟s amazing love. Despite lack of natural influence and resources, the early church literally shook the Roman Empire. Let‟s believe for a prevailing church in our time – truly influencing every part of society. Persecution (Acts 8:1-4) Widespread persecution now begins. Is this the devil or the Lord? Well we know that the devil is unhappy with the growth of the church but we also know that God will use this to spread the gospel even further. What the enemy intends for evil, God often turns to good. At times, persecution is a sign of success. They were doing something right that was provoking the enemy to anger. As a result, the believers (not just the leaders or apostles) went everywhere preaching the gospel. Are you going through a tough time right now? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern whether you are reaping the consequences of some of your own actions or whether then enemy may be attacking you. Philip in Samaria (Acts 8:5-8) Philip preached about Christ, miracles were done which caused people to listen attentively, many evil spirits were cast out, and as a result there was much joy in the city. Here we see the same ingredients of ministry as that of Jesus and the apostles. May we see the same balanced ministry today through our lives! The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17) These people had become believers and had been baptised in Jesus' name. Now the apostles, Peter and John, come down and immediately pray that they might be filled with the Spirit. They laid their hand on these new Christians, prayed for them and they received the Holy Spirit. Though it does not specifically mention that they spoke in tongues, something visible happened to indicate that they had been filled with the Spirit. Simon saw something spectacular and wanted this power too. Have you been filled with the Spirit since you became a believer? If so, what was the evidence? If not, seek for this today. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) Philip was directed by an angel of the Lord to go to a certain place at a certain time. Philip might have had other plans but he was open and flexible to the leading of the Spirit. There is a lot of spontaneity in the church's leader's lives. They are always ready to respond to various "interruptions". His response resulted in a "diving appointment" with an influential man from Ethiopia. The Holy Spirit directed Philip to go close to the chariot. Philip began with the Scripture the man was reading (where the man was at) and then used many others to tell him about Jesus. The eunuch believed with all his heart that Jesus was the Son of God and was baptised immediately. He then went on his way rejoicing. Here was a responsive heart open to and ready for the gospel. The Holy Spirit directed Philip to be the evangelist and help this man enter the kingdom. It was all God! Philip was miraculously transported to another city (Azotus, which was 19 miles away!), where he continued preaching the gospel. He disappeared in one place and turned up in another! Star Trek in real life! Be open to some divine appointments in your life – today! Paul’s Conversion (Acts 9:1-30) Here is a man with intense anger and hatred toward the church to the point that he wants every Christian arrested. Yet an encounter with Christ radically turns him around and he becomes a key instrument in God‟s hands. No one is beyond the grace of God! Who seems far from God to day in your life. Pray that they will have an encounter with Jesus Christ. Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10) Cornelius was a godly and reverent man along with his entire family. He gave generously to the poor and he prayed to God regularly. God noticed this and gave him a vision with instructions to send for Peter. God sees and God rewards. It may be delayed, but everything we do is an investment that will bring a good return for us. God is no person‟s debtor. He notices what we do. Further Persecution (Acts 12:1-19) Herod arrested and killed James, one of the key church leaders. Peter was also arrested for execution. Why was James killed and not Peter? Was it because they hadn't prayed as earnestly for James as they did for Peter? Or was it the sovereign hand of God? Earnest prayer was going up from the church for Peter's safety. The night before he was to be executed an angel miraculously delivers him from the prison cell. He goes to Mary's house where a prayer meeting is going on. They can't believe he's alive. God often waits until the last minute! Sometimes our prayers are answered beyond our faith! Miracles still happen - nothing is impossible with God! Herod's death (Acts 12:20-23) After a speech, Herod was glorified as a god rather than a man. Instantly an angel struck him with a sickness that killed him. Why? It was because he accepted the people's worship instead of giving glory to God. Pride goes before a fall. God is against the proud to bring them down. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and he will lift you up. However, keep walking humbly before your God. Don't let people's praise or adulation go to your heard. How many proud people are still standing arrogantly today! But their time will come. The Church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) The church at Antioch had prophets and teachers in the leadership team. They spent time worshipping the Lord and fasting, positioning themselves to hear from God. The Holy Spirit spoke to them clearly and then they responded to his direction. Antioch became a centre of mission activity to the surrounding regions, even more than the church at Jerusalem. CityLife Church is called to be an „Antioch Church‟. What does that mean for you? Connecting with the Culture (Acts 17:16-34) When Paul was at Athens he was distressed by the rampart idolatry. He reasoned with people day after day (intellectual style of evangelism). Athenians spent their time talking about and listening to the latest ideas. Paul's sermon had cultural relevance. He connected with where they were, using icons from their culture. He quoted their poets then moved to preaching about God, Jesus and the resurrection. How can you communicate the good news of Jesus in language that the people around you understand? Paul at Corinth with Aquilla and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-17) Jesus spoke to Paul in a vision one night saying, "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you and no one is going to attack or harm you, because I have many people in this city." God is a great encourager. When we are serving him and doing his will, he wants us to know that he is pleased with us. Who can you encourage today? Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19) Paul visited Ephesus and found 12 disciples. He emphasised the importance of the Holy Spirit in the conversion experience and the importance of proper foundations. They were re-baptised into Jesus name. Paul laid his hands on them and they spoke in other languages and prophesied. Have you been water baptised since you became a follower of Christ? If not, take the step of obedience right away. Have you been filled with the Spirit and given a spiritual prayer language? If not, pray and ask God to fill you today. Ask other Spirit-filled believers to pray with you too. Paul, the Encourager (Acts 20:1-2) Paul was a terrific encourager who was always seeking ways to build people up and spur them on in their life and ministry (20:1-2). Someone once said that „encouragement is oxygen to the soul‟. We all need a certain amount just to be alive emotionally. Encouragement includes affirming what we see in people. Don‟t just think good thoughts about people. Let them know how you feel. Our words have the power of life and death (Prov.18:21). Use them in a way that creates life (Eph.4:29). I always love the story of the Father bursting out of heaven and affirming His Son as he came up out of the waters of baptism (Mt.3:17). Jesus hadn‟t preached a sermon, hadn‟t healed a sick person, hadn‟t cast out a demon and hadn‟t even yet fulfilled his purpose for coming … yet the Father affirms Him simply because He is His Son. What a beautiful example for us. Encouragement also includes seeing a person‟s potential and speaking into that. We tend to see people the way they are now (the present) and the way they used to be (the past). God sees people the way they are now (the present) and what they can become (the future). He saw Gideon and called him a „might warrior‟ even when he was in hiding (Jud.6:12). He saw Simon, who as an unstable person, and saw him as a Rocky, who he could build something strong on (Jn.1:42). What do you see when you look at the people around you? See their potential – their future possibilities – and speak by faith into it. People tend to become what the most important people in their life believe they can become. Paul, the Team Builder (Acts 20:4-6) Paul was not a solo operator, in life or in ministry. He valued community. Here we see at least seven people travelling with him – as partners in ministry. God doesn‟t want us to do life „alone‟. He created us to be ion relationship with other people – at home, at church, and through life. Relationships don‟t just happen. They require work, time and attention. However, the rewards are great. Think about the people God has placed in your life. How can you enhance the relationship you have with them today? Who else can you reach out to? Be a team player and a team builder. Value other people. Appreciate diversity. After all, two are better than one and a threefold cord is not easily broken (Ecc.4:9-12). That‟s the power of team. Paul, the Leader (Acts 20:13-38) Paul spent a number of years at Ephesus. The church there had an incredible revival that impacted the city and the surrounding region. Paul is about to leave, so he gathers the key leaders together. We don‟t have this meeting on video but thankfully, someone took notes! Read his speech, hear his heart and discern some of his principles of life and leadership. Among other things, you‟ll see great humility, a desire to preach whatever would be helpful, a life that is Spirit-led, a spirit of perseverance to finish the race, alertness to danger(s), refusal to be driven by a love for money, a commitment to hard work, generosity, and close relationships. What to do with Prophetic Words (Acts 21:1-16) Paul had disciples at Tyre tell him not to go to Jerusalem. Even Agabus, a prophet, did the same. Yet Paul knew that going to Jerusalem was the right thing to do. Paul let nothing deter his resolve. Paul was resolutely focused on fulfilling his purpose regardless of the opposition. He would not be deterred even by well-meaning believers. This does not mean we should not be open to advice or counsel. However, even prophecy is to be „confirmation‟ of other things God is already saying to us. Tell Your Story (Acts 21:40-22:21; 23-26) Paul was always prepared to tell his story – to anyone, including influential people. How they responded was up to them, but he was always a willing and faithful witness for Jesus Christ. We too need to be able to tell our story of what God has done in our life. Think about your life before Christ, how you met Christ, and what‟s been different since. Pray for opportunities to share – this is one prayer God usually answers pretty quickly! The Storms of Life (Acts 27) God miraculously preserved Paul and his companions, even after they failed to heed his warnings about the dangers of the weather. During the night, Jesus comforted Paul personally and assured him of survival. Sometimes in life, we encounter various storms. Storms can come from God (e.g. Jonah), the devil (e.g. Jesus crossing the lake), or human decisions (e.g. Paul in this story), including our own. God has his way in each storm. The key is for us to pray and discern the cause of the storm and then respond accordingly. Are you experiencing a storm? What could God be saying? What response should you make? A Detour (Acts 28:1-9) God used Paul on the island of Malta. Sometimes detours in our journey can have a purpose. We are to plan our ways but trust God for the outcome. Be prepared for the unexpected today – even divine interruptions! Paul in Rome (Acts 28:10-31) Paul was allowed to have people visit him in his own private quarters while he was waiting trial in Rome (for two years). Paul loved his people, the Jews, and spent time with their religious leaders urging them to see Jesus as their long awaited Messiah. He saw himself as „for‟ Israel not against her. He also spoke much about the „kingdom of God‟. May we have the same passion to reach out to people around about us with God‟s love!