cccdailybiblereading

A daily encouragement to read the Bible with others from Christ Community Church, Conway.

Month: June, 2013

Bible Reading Day 181

Day 181: June 30 (Acts 9:1-22)

Good morning!

After seeing how God uses Philip during the persecution and scattering, we now turn to focus on the man at the center of that persecution: Saul. Remember, he was the one who looked after the coats of the men who stoned Stephen to death, sparking the persecution. He approved of such drastic reactions in opposition to the demonstrated plan and power of God. In other words Saul is a tough cookie and no friend of believers! The first verse of today’s reading tells us that Saul was uttering threats with every breath!

So Saul gets letters authorizing him to go to Damascus to persecute the Christians there. Notice how far the gospel has spread – Damascus is in Syria, well outside the circles recorded so far. Previously the furthest spread was Samaria and the road to Gaza!

As Saul reaches Damascus, Jesus steps in! A blinding light knocks him off his horse, and a voice says “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Only Saul experiences all of this; his companions hear the voice but don’t experience the powerful ‘lightning bolt’ intervention. Being blind, Saul is led into Damascus, and does not eat or drink for three days. This man has truly been impacted by God!

Meanwhile a believer called Ananias is having a supernatural vision. God tells him to go and pray for a man called Saul, from Tarsus, because he is praying to God. This is rather similar to asking a mouse to go pray for a cat! Saul is renowned among the believers, and it is not a good reputation! God explains that Saul is going to be different from now on, and will suffer for the sake of God’s name.

Ananias is a brave and faithful man – he goes to the house, calls Saul his brother, and prays for him. Scales fall from Saul’s eyes and he can see again. So he is baptized and then has some food, regaining some strength. As soon as he is able, Saul goes to the synagogue. That was his destination all along, but instead of the message of hate and retribution, he now brings a message of conviction and conversion. In fact, with his extensive rabbinical training and fervent conviction, Saul is a formidable preacher and no-one could counter his arguments proving that Jesus is the Messiah!

How about you?: have you ever been asked by God to do something outside your comfort zone? You have to be sure of your relationship with God to say “yes” as Ananias did. Or maybe you have known a time in your life when you were opposed to God and His people. What did it take to turn you around? I hope it was easier to turn you than it was to turn Saul!

Have a great day!

Mark.

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Bible Reading Day 180

Day 180: June 29 (Acts 8:26-40)

Good morning!

Yesterday the persecution scattered Philip to Samaria. Today we find him on the road south of Jerusalem toward Gaza. This was the route from Africa to Jerusalem, and Philip meets a high ranking government official from Ethiopia. The man is returning from worshipping in Jerusalem (showing he was a Jew) and is reading the scroll of Isaiah about the suffering servant – the one slaughtered like a sacrificial lamb.

When Philip asked if the eunuch understood what he was reading, he replied with a question: “was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” So Philip starts with that scripture and explains the good news about Jesus.

Clearly the official believes, because he immediately asks to be baptized! And as soon as he is baptized the Holy Spirit takes Philip away to the north, to Azotus (modern Ashdod). Unfazed by this sudden change, Philip goes on preaching along the coast until he reaches Caesarea. The Ethiopian, meanwhile, continues home rejoicing. History records that Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations to embrace Christianity.

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 179

Day 179: June 28 (Acts 8:1-25)

Good morning!

After Stephen is martyred, persecution is unleashed against the church, with Saul at the heart of it, and the believers are scattered.

Far from being a setback, we will see that this is a breakthrough. All the apostles are now dispersed from Jerusalem and the power of God spreads widely! Now the limits are off, and the battle with religion goes to a new level.

Philip goes to the previously off-limits area of Samaria (the people who compromised on religion and became outcasts). Of course, Jesus had said they would be His witnesses in Judea and Samaria, so this would be no surprise to Jesus! But it seems it was no surprise to Philip either, because there were many miracles, healings, deliverances, and salvations. Simon, who was a sorceror, gets saved, and there is much joy! I wonder how many of the converts were among those who were drawn to the Messiah by the woman at the well telling them “come see the man who told me everything I ever did”?

In response the apostles send Peter and John to check what is happening, and they immediately pray for the new believers to receive the Holy Spirit, because they had only been baptized in the name of Jesus (although Luke does not tell us why). When Simon sees the power released by the prayer to receive the Holy Spirit, he offers the apostles money for such a gift. Peter has dealt with such sin and greed before (recall Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 6?) and tells Simon to repent, because his heart is not right with God. And Simon does repent – asking Peter to pray for him. So Peter and John return to Jerusalem after this remarkable breakthrough toward the gospel going to the whole world.

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 178

Day 178: June 27 (Acts 6:44-60)

Good morning!

Today Stephen concludes his defense, describing God’s plan through human history and explaining how God is at work.

Stephen’s argument is plain and simple, yet irrefutable, and his description of God’s plan clearly accuses the religious leaders of rebellion against God and failure to lead the people to the Messiah.

Naturally this infuriates the Council who drag him out of the city and stone him to death (breaking the Roman law in the process). The killers lay their coats at the feet of a young man called Saul (who will figure prominently in the life of the early church!). So Saul is a witness of the first martyrdom. And Stephen is overjoyed to not only see Jesus, but also join Him in heaven. And in the process he prays for God to forgive his killers. Such love can only come from the source of love – God Himself!

How does God want to show you His love today?

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 177

Day 177: June 26 (Acts 7:20-43)

Good morning!

Stephen continues his amazing summary of God’s plan unfolding. What a testimony to Stephen’s relationship with God, that he not only knows his history but sees the significance of God’s love throughout the events it records.

God is so patient with mankind; even when we turn away He pursues us with love. I wonder how the religious leaders felt, hearing their history put into focus with God’s love at the center, rather than human effort and religious laws?

And as you read today, why not let God remind you of His plan unfolding in your life? The good and the bad, the victories and the failures?

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 176

Day 176: June 25 (Acts 7:1-19)

Good morning!

Yesterday we saw Stephen arrested, yet his face shone brightly, like an angel. Today we begin the account of his trial. As with Jesus’ trial, there is no hint of justice here!

But Stephen explains his powerful ministry by setting it in the context of God’s dealings with humanity. God has a plan, and we are part of it!

As you read today, allow yourself to imagine God’s heart as His plan unfolds. Even in this short summary there are many ups and downs, but God’s plan is fulfilled through it all. The same is true today for you and me!

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 175

Day 175: June 25 (Acts 6)

Good morning!

As we read it is easy to forget how revolutionary the early church was; sharing everything, declaring the truth fearlessly and with great love, held in esteem and fear by non-believers, and focused entirely on obeying God. The early church grew by leaps and bounds, and quickly ran into problems.

The Greek speaking community complained against the Hebrew speaking community that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

Now pause a moment and consider what this means: the church is providing for those in need. There is no record of when they began this, but clearly there was a need and they met it. Secondly, there are enough needy people that there are inconsistencies in the way they are served. Thirdly, the apostles don’t commission an investigation into the accusations; they simply invite the assembled believers to select a group of others to solve the problem.

And this is no committee of those who would rather serve food than do miracles. The seven selected are all described as full of the Spirit and wisdom. The result of their serving is that “God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.”

One of the seven is Stephen who performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. This is clearly a man gifted by God for his role in the growing leadership of the church. And, in common with the apostles and the Lord Jesus, his reward is accusation from the religious leaders and lying testimony to fabricate a reason to eliminate him.

Yet notice what happens to Stephen as he is being accused: his faces shines brightly like an angel’s. This has been known as one evidence of meeting with God since the days of Moses.

So how can your practical giftings be a doorway to serving in great power, winning others to Christ, and demonstrating God’s love in supernatural ways?

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 174

Day 174: June 23 (Acts 5:17-42)

Good morning!

Today’s reading has so many factors in common with what we have seen already in the book of Acts; the same factors seen throughout Jesus’ ministry.

God is moving powerfully, with a desire that everyone find salvation in Him. His servants are humbly obeying God’s instructions, qualifying them to see God’s power at work through them. Their obedience is rewarded with fierce opposition from those who are supposed to be the servants of God – the religious leaders and their power base. In every conflict between the true servants of God and the religious powerful, there are similiar traits: truth and obedience are met with fury and threats.

Here is an example from today’s reading, starting from verse 29: “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. 31Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him. 33When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them.”

When there is a conflict like this, it is important to remember that God does not lose. The question is only whether we will choose God’s side or not. As Rabbi Gamaliel points out later in the chapter: “If this is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” So, although our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), we must be prepared to obey God in the face of opposition by those who claim to know God, as well as from those who claim to oppose Him. The key is to iisten to God and obey!

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 173

Good morning!

After all the dramatic successes and powerful breakthroughs of the past four chapters, the early church is renowned in Jerusalem. Now with renown comes a challenge. The first religious infiltration of this new community occurs when Ananias and Sapphira try to work the system for the sake of their reputation (appearing to be part of this new movement) as well as their own gain (retaining control of their money and thus their lives). This is deception, a sin which is as old as humanity (as we see in Genesis 3). The strategy of satan is to get us to think in his ways, which are the opposite of God’s.

Peter clearly has a close relationship with the Holy Spirit, the one who Ananias and Sapphira are trying to deceive. The only way he could know what was happening when Ananias brought the money was by revelation from God. And Peter’s reaction is a reflection of the sadness in God’s heart when we try to come to Him on our own terms. Lying to God is a very serious matter, and Ananias falls down dead when his sin is confronted. That is enough to frighten everyone who knows about it! Imagine what would happen today if everyone who lied in church instantly fell down dead!

When Sapphira comes in later, she is unaware of the discovery of the lie, so she perpetuates it, with similar final consequences, and so the church increases in the fear of God – healthy respect for God’s power and authority. Interestingly this seems to increase the moving of the Holy Spirit in their midst – more miracles, more conversions, and more hesitation for unbelievers to join them until they became believers. This event purified the church and increased the power of the Spirit working through them. Even Peter’s shadow brought healing now!

What would our lives look like if God were at work in such power today?

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 172

Good morning!

Yesterday Peter and John were arrested for refusing to submit to human authority when it tried to suppress God’s activity. Today they return to the other disciples, and report what the religious leaders said.

Their first response is prayer; bold prayer asking for more boldness! They have reviewed the scriptures and they know that this raging of human rulers is part of the response that validates these events as God’s plan. So they ask God for more! Boldness in preaching, miraculous acts of God, more of the Kingdom of God here on earth. And God clearly answers that prayer affirmatively because the place where they are praying is shaken, they are all filled with the Holy Spirit (showing that this filling is to be continual and regular rather than a one-time event), and they become the answer to their prayers – preaching the Word of God with boldness.

Luke concludes this chapter with a second description of the lifestyle of the early church. How different from what we call church today! While some of their enthusiasm can be explained by the anticipation that Jesus would return at any moment, their lifestyle is still challenging and insipirational to us who follow Jesus two centuries later. What would happen if we began to love one another and love the outsiders the way these believers did?

Have a great day!

Mark.