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Daily Bible thoughts 1419: Thursday 25th May 2017: Acts 20: 7-12: On the first day of the week…

Acts 20: 7-12: On the first day of the week…

“On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third storey and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms round him. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘He’s alive!’ 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.”NIV UK

From early on in the life of the church, Christians began to worship on ‘’the first day of the week’’ (7), the day Jesus rose from the dead. This is the first mention in the New Testament of God’s people holding services on a Sunday (rather than a Saturday, the Jewish sacred day). This short story, resonant with eye-witness detail, gives a vivid insight into one such gathering of believers at Troas. I don’t imagine that every ‘primitive’ congregation was identical. There would no doubt be differences of style and culture from region to region, and from place to place. However, I do believe that the foundational characteristics recorded in (2:42-47) would be found everywhere. Here at Troas there was a major emphasis on the spoken word, and the breaking of bread (7, 11). They were not in a hurry. They gave leisurely time to the sharing of a fellowship meal, which embraced what we might call communion. David Pawson was surely correct when he observed that in the church now we have ‘too many meetings and not enough meeting.’

In this short story it appears that the Christians were meeting during the evening. Sunday would be a normal working day in the Roman Empire, and so God’s people would have to come together early (before work), or late (afterwards), and perhaps both. Here an evening meeting is described, and in this particular instance it stretched on through the night. There is also the indicator that young people were present in this lengthy gathering

No mention is made of music. Of course, there are indicators in other parts of the New Testament that hymn singing was part of the early worship of the church (e.g.1 Corinthians 14:26), but perhaps it didn’t figure as much as it does now. Speaking personally, I love music and I like to sing. But in the Western church we are in serious danger of worshipping ‘worship’ (i.e. What we call ‘worship’) and magnifying music and musicians out of all proportion. It seems to be generally agreed today that in order to be successful you need to have a band with a contemporary sound. That may indeed be one way to gather a crowd, but filling a hall is not the same thing as building up a church. Have we lost our confidence in the Word of God, simply and clearly preached in the power of the Spirit, to do its mighty work? Proportionally, music seems to play a much bigger part in today’s church than in the early church, and maybe we should question this trend?

It was a miracle that Eutychus lived following his fall. I love the understatement in (12): ‘’And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.’’

Preacher, take heart. Even the apostle Paul had someone nod off in a sermon!

PRAYER: Lord God, help us not to lose sight of the essentials of church life, and may we never feel that we have to entertain in order to draw people.

Daily Bible thoughts 1418: Wednesday 24th May 2017: Acts 20:1-6: Be an encourager.

Acts 20:1-6: Be an encourager.

“When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. He travelled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months. Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.” NIV UK

Do you know what strikes me about these verses? It’s the thought that, after all he had been through, you would imagine that Paul himself needed encouragement. Yet he just got on with encouraging others. He lived an unselfish life of exemplary Christian service. He didn’t look to get, but always to give. He was a true leader; a great man. As a ‘branch’ rooted in Christ, the ‘Vine’, the ‘fruit’ he grew was a tasty Christ-likeness. Paul could be other-person focussed because he was in Jesus, and Jesus was in him.

Here’s a thought: if you want to be encouraged, be an encourager. Paul didn’t encourage out of self-centred motives, and neither should we. Nevertheless it is true, that as you seek to lift up others, you yourself will be lifted up. Don’t ask me how it works, but it clearly does. If you endeavour to be an encourager, you yourself will be encouraged.

‘Oh, master grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love with all my soul’ (From ‘Make me a channel of your peace’ by Jon Cohen).

It is also true that there can be great encouragement in being part of a team. No doubt Paul found encouragement from those who ‘’accompanied’’ him (4, 5), even as he gave out to others.

PRAYER: Help me Lord to live an outward-looking life, always seeking out someone to encourage for your Name’s sake; never failing to see that you are my

Daily Bible thoughts 1417: Tuesday 23rd May 2017: Acts 19:23-41: I predict a riot.

Acts 19:23-41: I predict a riot.

“23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. 32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.”NIV UK

We have noted previously that Christians will feel the heat when vested financial interests are hit by the preaching of the gospel (24, 25). Touch drug dealers and sex traders in the pocket and, well, I predict a riot. If they are paying, they’ll want to make you pay. Someone once observed that when you throw a stone at a pack of dogs you can tell which one you’ve hit. It’s the one that yelps. It’s not all that difficult to incite a mob, and in any such crowd there will be people who have no idea why they are there (32). Nevertheless, most will be delighted to be in the thick of the action, and will relish the prospect of aggro.

Demetrius seemed to be totally oblivious regarding the folly of his words: ‘’He says that man-made gods are no gods at all’’ (26b). I mean, is it not laugh out loud funny?! It is ludicrous that the crowd wanted to defend the honour of their ‘man-made’ goddess. However, Demetrius had swayed them: ‘’And there is danger…that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship’’ (27b). I recall vivid Old Testament passages which poke fun at idolatry and idolaters. Demetrius was poking fun at himself – unwittingly of course.
F.B.Meyer makes an important point about Paul’s evident courage (30,31):
‘He probably refers to this incident when he says that he fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, 1 Cor.15:32. But he could have done no good in the face of such a turmoil. Be valorous, Christian soldiers, but be discreet! Do not throw yourself from the mountain brow unless God clearly calls for it. It is well to bear this scene in mind when the apostle tells of a ‘’peace that passeth understanding’’ which stands sentry over heart and mind. His was not the sequestered life of a religious recluse; he was continually battling his way through a stormy sea. But it is in the floods of great waters that we learn what our Lord can be.’ ‘Devotional Commentary’,p.496.

Daily Bible thoughts 1416: Monday 22nd May 2017: Acts 19:11-22: No other name.

Acts 19:11-22 no other name

“11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. 13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. 17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.[a] 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. 21 After all this had happened, Paul decided[b] to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” 22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer”. NIV

It is a fact that when God is powerfully at work, you can expect the devil to turn up in the same neighbourhood, causing mischief. ‘Revivals’ have often been accompanied by works of the flesh and manifestations of the demonic. At such a time, great discernment is needed. Counterfeits may be expected.The enemy loves to ‘piggy-back’ onto a move of God. ‘The devil is a great imitator, but in this case, his attempt was a humiliating failure.’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.721.
Christianity is not about nice, neat, polite church services. It involves frighteningly great power at work: ‘’God did extraordinary miracles through Paul…’ (11). However, in the wake of this, there were problems to be faced (13-15). The demons turned up to the party, uninvited.
Nevertheless, what the devil meant for harm, God used for good (17-20). Someone once observed that fighting God (or attempting to) is like playing chess against a grand master. He will even use your moves against Him to defeat you.
(By the way, ‘’Fifty thousand drachmas’’ was a huge amount, and shows how deeply enmeshed in occult practices the Ephesians were. The drachma was a silver coin representing the average wage for a day. As someone pointed out, this represents over 135 years’ wages.)
I find the words attributed to an ‘’evil spirit’’ (15) to be quite remarkable: ‘’Jesus I know…’’ He could also say that he knew ‘’about’’ Paul, but Jesus he knew.
‘Jesus the Name high over all, in hell or earth or sky;
Angels and men before it fall, and devils fear and fly.’
‘’You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder’’ (James 2:19).
There is a major emphasis in this passage on the Name of Jesus and its superiority over every other name; its power over every other authority.
‘’…there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’’ (4:12b).
PRAYER: Lord, I pray that your Name will be ‘held in high honour’ in my community.

Daily Bible thoughts 1415: Friday 19th May 2017: Acts 19:1-12: God’s timing.

Acts 19:1-12: God’s timing.

“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’         They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’  So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’  ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied.  Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues[b] and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.  Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.  11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to those who were ill, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” NIV UK


Previously, Paul and his companions had found the door into Asia ‘closed’. Now it was wide open (10), and the apostle had the most remarkable success there, as he based himself in the strategic city of Ephesus.

However, success in God’s work is not divorced from hard work. The only place where laziness comes before success is in the dictionary! It is likely that Tyrannus taught only in the mornings, since the custom in Ephesus was to have a siesta during the hot afternoons. Paul probably made tents in the mornings, to earn his living, and taught in the afternoons, rather than sleeping. During this time the churches in Colossae and Laodicea were also founded (Colossians 2:1; 4:13). It’s been suggested that all seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation may have been founded at this time.

‘It was wise on Paul’s part to remove the disciples and his work to their own premises, which soon became famous throughout the city and indeed throughout the adjacent country. People who had come in to worship at the shrine of Diana gave themselves to Christ, and the Christian faith became disseminated through the province, Ephesus itself being mightily moved.’ F.B. Meyer: ‘Devotional Commentary’, pp.495/496.

It’s possible to feel frustrated and perplexed when certain things don’t work out – I mean those times when you strongly sense that God wants you to do something, but you find your road mysteriously blocked. Recognise that God’s delays are not necessarily His denials, and if you want to walk in His will, you must also be prepared to move in His timing. You will not be disappointed, and hindsight will likely show you how right it was to wait.

PRAYER: Lord you know I’m keen to serve you. There is so much I want to do. Please grant me the patience that waits for you. I acknowledge that your will is best; your timing is perfect.

Daily Bible thoughts 1414: Thursday 18th May 2017: Acts 18:23-28: The influence of mentors.

Acts 18:23-28: The influence of mentors.

“23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and travelled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. 24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.  27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.” NIV UK

Rob Parsons told a story about a man he knew when he was growing up. This man was part of the same church as Rob. As I recall, he wasn’t someone in the ‘spotlight’; was not a preacher. Yet every week he had Rob round to his house; they played table tennis, ate fish and chips out of newspaper, and he taught Rob the Bible as best he could. In later years, Rob could say to him, ‘Today. I am speaking regularly in large venues, and in the main, it’s down to you!’

This also triggers a memory of a couple I knew at ‘Bridge Street’ church in Leeds. They had no children of their own. John did not have a high profile role in the church. Yet week by week they invited a group of young men back to their small flat, overlooking the Leeds ring road. Hilda plied them with food, and John led them in Bible Study. Both of them showered these boys with loving-kindness. I feel moved as I remember them this morning and think about the Kingdom work they did in their home. God used them to produce a crop of leaders and preachers. They were highly influential, and what a reward must be their’s in heaven. John and Hilda Topham: you were not well-known on earth, but you left behind an enviable legacy, and I, for one,honour your memory!

Memories of Rob’s story, and the mentoring ministry of John and Hilda, surfaced this morning as I read about what Apollos went on to do after Priscilla and Aquila got their hands on him (27, 28). When they saw the giftedness of Apollos, but realised he was not yet the finished article, they didn’t criticise him publicly, or talk about him behind his back. They took him home and helped him there (24-26). Because of their private influence he went on to become a public force.

Many years ago I wrote a magazine article. I was young and a bit naïve at the time. I wanted to be creative, but it wasn’t my finest hour with the pen!!! I realise now that I wrote unwisely (although the editor of the then ‘Elim Evangel’ published it.) A lady from the church where I was a pastor – a godly woman for whom I had the utmost respect – seeing this piece, thought to herself initially, ‘We have a modernist in our pulpit.’ Yet she didn’t really believe it. So she decided, after much prayer I’m sure, to invite her young pastor for breakfast. She gave him one of the very best breakfasts he can remember, and talked to him kindly about her concerns. That lady had style! That’s the way to do it. She acted in the spirit of Priscilla and Aquila to help someone who was in danger of becoming skewed – all with the best of intentions. However, he probably did need a slight nudge to realign his course; a minor re-adjustment. That dear lady delivered it with deftness of touch

How might you use your home, and who can you serve?

Daily Bible thoughts 1413: Wednesday 17th May 2017: Acts 18: 19-22: If it is God’s will.

Acts 18: 19-22: If it is God’s will.

“19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, ‘I will come back if it is God’s will.’ Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.” NIV UK

I heard someone say recently, on a TV documentary type programme, that if an opportunity comes your way, then ‘carpe diem’ – ‘seize the day’. I admit there does seem to be a logic and a certain homespun wisdom about that remark. However, today’s passage raises questions about it.

A few years ago, a major opportunity came my way. At least, that’s how it appeared. Whereas I had resisted all invitations to move from what I was doing up to that point, this one felt different. I had a sense that it might be the will of God, and there seemed to be important pointers in that direction. However, after weeks of prayer (and fasting) I recognised that this was not for me. Subsequent events in my life tended to confirm this.

‘’I will come back if it is God’s will’’ (21).

A big opportunity is not necessarily your opportunity. So seek to always know and do the will of God.

Daily Bible thoughts 1412: Tuesday 16th May 2017: Acts 18:19a: Bless this house.

Acts 18:19a: Bless this house.

“19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” NIV UK

This is a short reading, I know, and it may appear to contain a tiny detail. However, if you look at 1 Corinthians 16:19, you will discover that not only did Priscilla and Aquila stay in Ephesus, but also the church met in their home. Maybe they were successful in business and had a home large enough for a group to gather in. As we consider the importance of church planting in our day – and it is a bit of a hot topic at the moment – let’s not too easily dismiss the possibility of using our homes. What made the early Christians successful was not where they met, but Who was animating them; Who lived within and among them and was driving them forward in strategic mission. Later on, this couple returned to Rome (Romans 16:3-5), and just like in Ephesus, the church met in their house.

‘’Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work…A cord of three strands is not quickly broken’’ Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

God ordained the marriage between a man and a woman. He blessed it. It is good. Where two live together in a Christ-centred marriage, there you have a ‘’cord of three strands’’ and it will not be ‘’quickly broken.’’ Priscilla and Aquila were a team, and what they had was devoted to the Lord and His service. The fact that the church met in their home (and possibly every day if the early pattern continued: Acts 2:46) tells you plenty about their level of commitment.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord for a roof over my head. I recognise that many people in the world don’t have decent shelter, and I’m so grateful for my blessings. Help me not to just use it, though, for my own comfort and pleasure. It isn’t mine; it is yours. So please show me how I can devote this lovely home to your service

Daily Bible thoughts 1411: Monday 15th May 2017: Acts 18:18: The real deal.

 Acts 18:18: The real deal.

“18 Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken.”NIV UK

A Christian girl and boy were on a first date. They talked much and listened much. There was so much to say. At some point, over the meal, he must have made a self-deprecating remark. She shot back, ‘But you’re for real.’ He says he treasures that simple statement even today. He remembers the moment and it goes on blessing him. He knew she wasn’t saying, ‘You’re perfect.’ Yet she sensed something genuine about him, and it meant a lot.

How serious are you about your Christianity? Are you for real? Or do you hang up your faith with your clothes after Sunday morning church? Reading about Paul’s ‘’vow’’ brought me to the thought that Paul was a man with a serious commitment to God. This vow may have been to thank God for His goodness to Paul during his long stay in Corinth. It probably involved growing his hair for the duration of the vow period. Then at the end of that time, his hair would be cut off and offered to God (see Numbers 6). This may seem strange to us, but don’t miss the core detail. God was real to Paul and his commitment to Him was a serious matter. He was authentic.

Does anyone reading these words need to stop playing games?

Get real!

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