Acts 14:8-18 Video Devotional

“Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.” (Acts 14:8-18)

I always found this story hilarious and yet sad. An entire town go so crazy after a miracle that they start worshiping Paul and Barnabas there on the spot! It seems like such an absurd premise and that anyone with a clear head should have figured out that there was something bigger at work. And yet, if God or His goodness working in the world is a totally unknown or foreign concept, then what else is there to think?

What we have in the Holy Spirit is so different than anything anyone ever has experienced outside of God. While we can easily take that for granted, the blessings that we have been blessed with in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 1) are so amazing that it is all beyond what we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3). That is some seriously amazing stuff!

Friends, it is good to be in the family of God and to experience His blessings. Knowing that He is working all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8) and then getting to experience that goodness and joy over giving us such good things; well, I hope that you see this as a reason to shout from the rooftops and live out loud in the joy you have as a believer in Jesus!

How have you seen God’s amazing power at work lately? I would love to hear from you!

Acts 13:42-49 Video Devotional

“As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” (Acts 13:42-49)

Paul and Barnabas, here towards the beginning of their missionary careers, developed their plan. Basically, as they come into each new city, they would first go to the synagogue and preach to the Jews, then after to preach to the Gentiles. Here in the city of Pisidian Antioch, however, the disciples saw quickly that though there was fertile soil to work with, the Jewish community as a whole was infuriated and would stop at nothing to destroy the work of these men.

At that reception, Paul turns his attention towards the Gentiles and sees immediate fruit. And even though they faced persecution, Paul and Barnabas were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit as they headed on towards the next town.

Paul knew he had a job to do – reach the Gentiles. Though his love for the Jewish community meant that he would keep trying to reach as many of them as he could, it was clear there would be fertile soil with the Gentiles. He obeyed the Spirit’s leading and saw many local churches start with many saved believers. In the face of persecution and attacks, these missionaries were filled with joy – they knew what they were doing and who they were serving. And they were glad.

Are you glad? There are a lot of things going on in our world that are causing suffering, heartache and frustrations. Are you glad to face those for the sake of Christ? I hope so, because that is our calling and the people who need us most. Tell me your story in the comments!

Acts 13:1-3 Video Devotional

“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1-3)

In Matthew 16, Jesus tells Peter that “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Though, since then, Christianity has faced the murder (and subsequent resurrection) of its founder, multiple martyrdoms and widespread persecution, it grew at an amazing and unstoppable rate. With His last words, Jesus tells the disciples that they will be His “witnesses in Judea, Jerusalem, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), and so far, despite everything it has faced, the church has grown tremendously. 

Though the church had already started spreading outside of Jerusalem (and the surrounding regions), it was time for the church to get intentional about its mission. It needs to start working towards the ends of the earth, and the Holy Spirit said, in chapter 13 that it was time to go. And thus begins Paul’s missionary journeys. Paul’s ultimate destination is Rome (where he is located at the end of Acts), but the missionary journeys themselves build pockets of Christianity all around the Roman world. By the time he reached Rome itself, Paul was a famous father of the faith and sought after leader of the Christian movement. That was because of the time he invested in so many people during the missionary journeys.

Paul was all things to all people, so that by all means, some of them would come to Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:22). He couldn’t do that if he hadn’t built countless intentional and deeply personal relationships with individuals across the landscape. Paul went and shared the love and grace of Jesus one by one. He spoke to many large groups, of course, but he knew and loved passionately each of the people he served with the gospel. 

We know Paul’s story is building up to be this huge catalyst in Rome. But while he certainly wanted to go there, I doubt he saw it the way we do now. He was just sharing Christ’s love to whomever would listen. He wasn’t focused on the fame or the influence. He was focused on the mission. I’m pretty sure he thought of little else. 

How much do you think about the mission? Where does your focus stick? Are you willing to be all things to all people (a particularly important question today)? Let’s pray together that we, as the church, would make sure this is our top priority. God bless you in your efforts to share His gospel!  

Acts 12:6-11 Video Devotional

“Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” (Acts 12:6-11)

By now, Herod was getting tired of these newly formed Christians making such a noise. It was an annoyance to him, and he was no friend of God. Thus, Herod decided to turn up the heat on those agitators. After killing James, the brother of John, Herod got approval from the Jews and began his pursuit of Peter, arresting him.

This side of heaven, we will never know why people like James was allowed to be martyred and others like Peter were rescued, so all we can do is trust in God’s plan. But, regardless, it is clear here (again) that the Holy Spirit is working full force for the glory of Christ and the building of His church. Peter was in prison and completely helpless. And throughout the course of his rescue, he thought he was dreaming! God was running the show and putting people exactly where He wanted them. Again, we aren’t able to understand why some live and some don’t, but we do know that God is good all the time and that all the time, God is good. Therefore, he choice to rescue Peter (but not James) is the right choice for the best of everyone.

Peter is rescued, purely by the power of the Holy Spirit and winds up on the street, safe and sound. He then went to Mary’s house where they thought they were seeing Peter as an angel. There was significant cause for concern in regards to Herod’s persecution, and while they trusted in God, the early disciples were right to be wary of Herod’s efforts to eradicate the faith. Yet God still has His plan, and Herod, shortly thereafter, was struck down by an angel of the Lord.

God is moving the pieces around an opening up an opportunity for Paul to meet Agrippa (Herod’s successor) and share Jesus with him. Though we don’t tend to understand all of what God is doing and allowing, His plan is complete and perfect and good. And we can trust in that.

Acts 11:19-26 Video Devotional

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11:19-26)

We are seeing that God is making clear His plan to reach the WHOLE world – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or nationality. For those who want to skip ahead of the end of the book can see in Revelation 7:9 that people of every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages were standing before the throne in worship of Him. That means heaven will be colorful, vibrant, and incredible! God loves diversity!

As the gospel moves out from Jerusalem, we are introduced to churches in other cities – today’s passage focuses on the church in Antioch, which is an amazing example for us today of true multiculturalism in the family of God. With Peter’s dream establishing previously that all people are welcome to join God’s family, we meet some guys from Cyprus and Cyrene that together have the novel idea of talking to people that aren’t exactly like themselves. Huh? Can we invite people that aren’t like us to church? Absolutely!

The hand of the Lord was with them, and their conversation with the Greek influenced Jews (Hellenists) led to a fruitful harvest of souls. This multicultural acceptance of each other in Antioch also opened a door for Paul to begin his fruitful career in ministry. And now we have the term Christian – developed and first used in Antioch to describe the family of God without using culturally or nationally specific language. Every time we use that word – Christian – we should be reminded that its inception was because anyone can be a Christian – Asians, Africans, men, women, Jews, Greeks – the word has room for all people; the only requirement is that we trust in Jesus.

Blessings to you – and to our wonderful, beautiful, multicultural family!

Acts 10:34-44 Video Devotional

“So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.” (Acts 10:34-44)

There is a heretical book called the Gospel of Thomas that makes a claim that Jesus said no one can come to him unless they first become a male. Absurdity! It is a laughable claim, but it seems that the church lives by a similar assumption. Jesus did tell us in Matthew 28 to make disciples of all nations. All nations means all people – different races, ethnicity, languages, etc… but so often we like to clique-up into and create groups of people like ourselves. Case in point – the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) and the NBEA (National Black Evangelical Association). There are some really sad stories around the creation of the “black” church in America.

The truth of the matter is that God always intended and desired to have a multicultural church. it was designed to be a unified body full of different and beautiful individuals, all saved by grace, through faith. This issue is brought to a head in Acts 10 with Peter’s dream and later witness saying that God knows no partiality, but will accept people from every nation. The ensuing conflicts in the early church were precisely that not all people wanted to accept everyone – or at least would only accept them if they changed things first (think of the Judaizers from Galatians).

Remember, the Holy Spirit falls on all those who believe – regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality. God’s expectation for all people is that they love Him and obey His commands. With that, He will welcome anyone. Can you honestly say that about yourself? Let me hear your stories of inclusion and reconciliation in the comments!

Acts 9:36-43 Video Devotional

“Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.” (Acts 9:36-43)

Again, the Spirit was working. Here again is Peter – the one who so many of us know as the ultimate screw-up – being the hero. Fresh off of healing a paralyzed man in a neighboring town, we find him in Joppa bringing a deal woman back to life. Let me ask you – is this Peter’s power? Of course not! Acts is about the power and plan of the Holy Spirit. That plan being taking the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth and it was on the move. With the Dispersion scattering everyone around and the apostles tending to the new believers around Jerusalem, here we see Peter living in faith and praying for this woman to come back to life.

There are two observations to make about this story. First, the person he healed was a woman. It is worth pointing out that in the male-dominated culture of the time, this woman was of such renown that the city sent for Peter to try and bring this woman back! Women (Tabitha, in this instance) hold immense value to God and His plan, so much so that she was given her earthly life back. We can infer through the story that her ministry was of serving and making garments, and she was of such worth that God brought her back from the dead. Women hold incredible value in ministry and should have the opportunity to use the gifts given them by God for the calling He calls them to. It is an honorable service to be called to be a witness for Jesus (whatever the specifics of the job entail), one that comes to any believer, regardless of gender.

Gender equality, however, is not the only statement God is making by raising Tabitha from the dead. This also puts Peter in touch with a man named Simon the Tanner, whose house Peter has while having a very vivid and important dream. God is setting Peter up to make a very important cultural statement as well. Tune in for the next devotional to find out about the dream.

Are there any women you know that have made a significant different in your walk with Christ? This would be a great place to be thankful for our ladies in ministry who have led us to a closer walk with God. Highlight them in the comments!

Acts 9:26-31 Video Devotional

“And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:26-31)

In our last devotional, we discussed Ananias and his (speculative) persepctive on what God asked him to do. For today, let’s bring the attention back to Paul. Now converted and growing in to the “tour de force” we know him to have been, his entrance into the world of Christianity was not easy. Mistrust, fear, anger and resentment were common emotions he faced in others as he tried to preach the gospel. People didn’t like him, and that’s fair enough – what he did was wrong, hurtful, evil, etc… Wisdom would have told anyone to be wary about Paul, especially in his newer days, but if it wasn’t for Barnabas, what would have happened?

We are all judgmental people. We are taught to look for signs and clues so that we can step forward in our lives with confidence and surety. This isn’t bad – in fact, it is an important and useful skill that can aid in a profitable life. However, as is normal in humanity, we take it too far and allow those judgments to determine how we treat people.

For example, how would you react (be honest with yourself) if your pastor got up to preach in rags? Or was unkempt and smelly? How about if they were covered in tattoos? Or worse yet, preached barefoot (those who have been with us for a while should get an extra chuckle out of that)? What if your pastor had a different skin color than you? Or was of a significantly different age? The reality of the situation is that we are quick to judge based on what we see on the outside. And God confirmed this in 1 Samuel 16 – we look on the outside, but God looks on the heart.

We need to realize that and use it as a check and balance every time a judgmental thought pops into our head about anyone. That should remind us to slow down and listen – truly listen to what that person is saying and prayerfully consider what God is telling us. Is our judgment correct? Or is this an opportunity to learn and be challenged?

God used Paul to shatter a lot of people’s perception of those whom God picks for His work. God chose Paul to be the catalyst that would spark the movement in history and turn it into a world-wide mission. Most people in that time would have picked him for death. How tightly do you hold onto your own judgments? Are you willing to let God speak to you in those moments and live with a teachable spirit? I hope so.

How has God opened your eyes during one of those times you were too quick to judge? I would love to hear some stories of how God helped you see those who are different from a holier perspective.

Acts 9:10-19 Video Devotional

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.” (Acts 9:10-19)

Have you ever put yourself in the place of Ananias? Can you imagine what it must have been like to walk up to a man who had persecuted and killed countless numbers of people just like you? Some of them your friends and family members? What would you do if you were Ananias? Would you be able to obey God’s instructions?

Again, this is very applicable to the turmoil in our world today. Hatred is growing, fear is increasing and explosion seems likely. There is one, single way to diffuse the time bomb in our society. Forgiveness. “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Imagine where we would be as a faith if Ananias had refused God’s call and either ignored or even attacked Saul. The evils of what could have been are unfathomable.

Forgiveness is our only hope for reconciliation. We have to be able to let go of the fear, hate, and enmity in order to have a change to come together. Reparations will never be enough. Each person, on an individual level, has to choose love over hate; peace over violence; grace over payback.

I am keeping this vague (as in who needs to forgive whom), as this is required on ALL SIDES: Republicans vs Democrats, blacks vs whites, everyone. And know what forgiveness means! “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) Can you do that? Can you look your adversary in the eye and remove all antagonism and see them as beloved children of their Creator? Can you look across the aisle with love?

Let me tell you this: if you can’t (or don’t), the consequences are clear – war. In your heart or on your land; and the victims will continue to pile up. Know which way you are walking – either towards war or peace. Pick today the end goal you want and then make the choices that lead you to that end. I hope and pray that peace is your goal.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)

Acts 8:27-40 Video Devotional

“And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:27-40)

In times like this I hear a lot from people looking for justice, and they don’t always like when I respond with the idea that such an evil will work out for good. It can feel trite to say something like that and come across almost like it was good that what happened happened. I have this attitude because I believe and trust in our Savior who is turning all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). That means I know that whatever happens, it is an act of mercy and grace, working to draw the many to Himself. The questions to Christians is: how can we look at injustice with this kind of positive attitude?

As Philip quoted the passage in Isaiah and preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, we see clearly that our Savior suffered the greatest injustice of all. As the completely perfect, sinless God-man, Jesus could not be convicted of any wrong doing. He is the only one in history completely and truly innocent. Yet He suffered greatly for our sins that were cast upon Him. And Jesus did it with a quiet grace and deep love for us. Three days later, the worst injustice in history was turned into the greatest victory by Him rising from the dead and giving those who believe eternal life. Injustice can be turned around and used for good.

That injustice brought salvation to the Ethiopian eunuch. That injustice led to millions across the world and across time being given eternity in Heaven. It led to an evil murderer putting down his hatred and picking up love. It even led to teleportation! (ok, so this is a bit of fun, but try to wrap your head around what happens to Philip in v39-40 – that was about a 30 mile trek to Azotus!) God is a brilliant “turn-around” artist. He is able to take the evil things and turn them around. Joseph realized this when he met his brothers after becoming the second in command in Egypt. Philip realized this when he, on the road because of the great persecution and Dispersion, got the opportunity to bring salvation to another.

Evil’s power is destroyed at the hands of God and turned into good. I pray that you let Him use the evils and injustices in our world to change you for good and use you as an instrument of love towards others.

Acts 7:54-60 Video Devotional

“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:54-60)

Things got serious. The Jewish Council had been wringing their hands with Peter and John and the other apostles, but with Stephen they took their chance to ratchet up their response. His boldness and courage to be blatant and direct to the council was powerful and life-changing for many. Unfortunately, some of those lives were changed for the worse as they turned into murderers. This situation not only killed a hero of the faith (and our first recorded martyr of the New Testament), it also instituted a wave of persecution that led to an event called the Great Dispersion. It’s also worth noting here that one of the leaders of this persecution (at least, initially) was Saul; one who would become a hero of our faith.

The Great Dispersion is the third of three major “scatterings” recorded in the Bible. First was the Tower of Babel, then the exile from the promised land, and now this. Flowing from Jesus’ last command, however, it got the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome and out to the ends of the earth. It was a horrific event, but beneficial in a few ways: 1) it led to internal spiritual change in many people once they lost the comforts of home and were forced to fully rely on God, and 2) it pushed the gospel out of Jerusalem.

Major crisis such as this are things that no one wishes to experience, but often are remembered as important points to their individual story. This is because it pushes people deeper. You can’t experience a tragedy like this or a horrifying encounter of persecution and not be changed. Our hope is that when those happen (which unfortunately they do) you are drawn closer to the God of justice and goodness that is working this out for the good of those who love Him.

Acts 6:1-7 Video Devotional

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:1-7)

Welcome to the world of church growth. Whenever people are faithful to the purposes and passions of God, He tends to bless their efforts. This is no exception. That blessing, however, always comes with challenges. When there are more people to take of, more people are needed to minister. The ministry had grown beyond what these 12 men could handle (remember that delegation is a good idea, going all the way back to Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro) and it was time to bring in others who could handle the work.

The first thing many people notice in this passage is the seeming simplicity of the request. After all, we are talking about food distribution. It’s not exactly leading a prayer service. So why put so much care into the appointment of the leaders? Because, to the apostles, the “simple” tasks held the same level of importance as anything else. Ministry is ministry, whether you are preaching, leading prayer or handing out food.

Let this be a lesson to us all – practical ministry like dealing with widows, orphans, the poor, etc… is just as important as the sermons we preach or the bible studies we hold! In fact, James makes it clear – if we are not doing the former, the latter has no meat to it (James 2:17). I think these times we are facing now are providing plenty of evidence that taking care of our fellow humans is a solemn and vital responsibility that deserves extra attention.

At the same time, all of these ministries are important and should not be left to just anyone. This is a good principle that participation in ministry is an honor that should be rewarded to those whom live it out on their own – not just plugging people into spots because those spots “need” filled. “Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). If ministry (in any capacity) is done from your own strength and for your glory, it will fail.

Work as unto the Lord and enjoy your reward!

P.S. An interesting side note to this is though many people don’t see the Greeks (non-Jews) as part of the church until Paul arrives on the scene, but this passage shows that they were an important part of the church already by this point. God’s mission was always to everyone, not just the Jews (even before Paul).