Readings

  • Acts 13
  • Matthew 28:18-20
  • Acts 1:8

Prayer

Pray… that you will let God use you to share His message.

Day 334 – Paul – Journey #1 (Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch)

The church at Antioch sends missionaries

 

  • Today we read about the beginning of Paul’s first of his four missionary journeys. It might help to get some context to the dates. Assuming Jesus’ resurrection was in 32 AD, Paul’s conversion would likely have been anywhere between 33 to 37 AD, and this first missionary journey probably started around 46 AD and ended in 48 AD. Therefore, roughly 14 years has now passed since Jesus returned to heaven.
  • Find a map of this first journey, either in your bible or on Google. Track the path they took, both on the map and in your text. Remember, Paul didn’t have a car! This first journey was short compared to his others, but look how far he went! How do you think he kept up his spirits and health when travelling so far?
  • How did the church of Antioch decide that Paul and Barnabas needed to do this trip?
  • Do you pray before making big decisions? If not, why? Is this something you can be more intentional about in the future?
  • Paul and Barnabas sailed first to Cyprus. Describe Paul’s meeting and conversation with the sorcerer in the town of Paphos. What happened?
  • After another boat journey (and a long walk), Paul arrived in Psidian Antioch in Acts 13:14. This is a different place to Antioch, where they started their journey. Who did Paul and Barnabas go to speak with first when they arrived there? What good reasons do you think Paul had for preaching and teaching to Jews in the temple initially? Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel was “first for the Jew, and then for the gentile”.
  • Who did Paul speak to after giving his message in the temple?
  • What were the different reactions to his message, especially in Acts 13:44-48, as Paul spoke to the large crowd?
  • Verse 48 reminds us that whatever we do, it’s God’s grace that causes people to believe. How do you think that might have comforted Paul and Barnabas? What did Paul and Barnabas do when persecution came?
  • How was Paul living out the command in Matthew 28:18-20? You’re not Paul, of course, but how are you doing at living out this command? Where is your metaphorical “Jerusalem” or “Samaria”, do you think?
  • What does Acts 1:8 – a great summary of the book of Acts – tell us about where our power to share the Good News comes from?

 

As we read about the astonishing efforts of Paul and Barnabas to share the gospel far and wide – and we’ll see plenty of this over the next week or so – I hope you’ll be repeatedly challenged by what you are doing to share the gospel too. None of us are Paul (God really used him in a very special way), but we are all disciples of Jesus, so the words of the Great Commission in Matthew 29:18-20 are just as relevant for us as they were for him. Some of us will be called into active ministry around the world, but most of us won’t. We’ll be at school, or at an office desk, or on a builder’s yard, or in a university.

 

Whatever your “front line” is, wherever you meet people on a day-to-day basis… what are you doing to be fruitful for Jesus?

 Readings

  • None… unless you need to catch up!

Prayer

Pray… for something that is on your mind today.

Day 333 – Day Off

 

 

Afternoon everyone. This weekend last year I was sat in a flat in London, having a quiet morning sharing breakfast with some old university friends. The evening before we went out visiting some sights in the city and had a curry together. I hope when you go to university you make good friends and enjoy having similar reunions… once covid-19 is a distant memory!

 

It got me thinking about Paul’s journeys that we’ll be thinking about over the next few weeks. I often meander down to London for 36 hours, something that would have seemed mad 100 years ago. What about 2,000 years ago? Paul’s journeys really are mind boggling. His passion for the gospel led him to walking to Europe and back several times, knowing that he would face persecution at every step, not curry and breakfast!

 

If you’re at the stage where One Story is just feeling like a weight of pressure upon you (and it shouldn’t), do consider the way that Paul lived out what he knew about the Truth of the bible. It wasn’t a bit of his life on a wet Sunday afternoon – it *was* his life.

Readings

  • Acts 11:19-30
  • Acts 12:25
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11

Prayer

Pray… for ways you can support someone else this week, such as financially or with your time.

Day 332 – Paul – Antioch

A new church plant, sending relief to Jerusalem, & being Good Stewards

 

  • It’s a light day of reading today, with some encouraging stories about the actions of the early church. If you had to sum up today’s verses before reading my notes, what might you say?
  • Find a map of the Old Testament times and locate Antioch (and Cyprus, if you don’t know where it is). Can you see how the gospel was spreading? Remember that everything we are reading at the moment was about the real history of how the good news of Jesus was shared by the earliest churches.
  • Antioch was a huge city, under Roman rule. Who initially preached the good news of Jesus there? Who was later sent from Jerusalem to discover for himself how people were coming to Christ?
  • We read about Barnabas today. Barnabas is an important figure in the early church. He was faithful in encouraging the new converts to stay true to the gospel teachings, and would later accompany Paul on some of his mission trips.
  • Acts 11:26 is the first use of the word “Christian”. It was probably a label that unbelievers in Antioch used to describe the rapidly growing group of disciples (I wonder whether it was meant in an unfavourable way!).
  • When the Christian community heard of problems affecting their Christian brothers and sisters back in Judea, what did they do (Acts 11:27-30)? Who did they send? Do you think they gave their money (and their spiritual leaders!) gladly?
  • How does 1 Peter build on this generous sharing of gifts? What is the basis for having this attitude?
  • Do you think it important for churches to give to mission work and to support people locally and abroad? Do you know all the things your church gives money and support to? If you don’t, spend a moment looking on their website and praying for the different people, churches and societies that they are involved with.

 

We are part of a global church with believers coming to Christ in every country in every corner of the globe. In the early church, the centre of Christianity was Jerusalem and surrounding areas, quickly spreading to nearby countries. It was getting more and more global by the year. The early Christians – as they were now known – knew that they could consider themselves part of a greater family, as well as having their own physical family. The people in the church were their brothers and sisters, and they worked together to help each other in each person’s hour of need.

 

This, of course, hasn’t changed, although some Christians may be more aware of it than others. Do you consider the persecuted Christians around the world as your brothers and sisters? Are you willing to get involved by supporting groups like Open Doors which help the persecuted church around the world? There are lots of ways to make a difference and, as the book of James says, love means action!

Readings

  • Acts 8:1-3
  • Acts 9:1-31
  • Galatians 1:10-24

Prayer

Pray… for someone you know who publicly attacks the Christian faith, that they will come to know Jesus as their Lord and saviour.

Day 331 – Paul – Salvation

Saul (later known as “Paul”) persecutes the church & meets Jesus

 

  • There is, arguably, no greater influence to the Christian faith and teaching, apart from Jesus of course, than that of Paul of Tarsus. We’ll be spending several weeks reading about his missionary journeys and the letters he wrote, many of which make up the latter half of the New Testament. Today we have read about his remarkable conversion to faith.
  • Paul was previously named Saul. I’ll refer to him throughout these notes as Paul. We briefly met him a few days ago at the stoning of Stephen, which Paul oversaw. Who was Paul? Was he a Jew or a Roman?
  • What was Paul planning on doing in Damascus? Who appeared to him as he was travelling along the road to get there?
  • Imagine the scene! What might you be thinking if you were Paul? Do you think he enjoyed hearing Jesus’ answer in Acts 9:5? Why do you think Paul’s experience of the events was different to that of his companions?
  • What what Ananias, a believer in God, asked to do? Would you have wanted to go and speak to Paul, if you were him, and knew about how Paul murdered Christians?
  • What do you think might be the meaning of the scales on Paul’s eyes, and his temporary blindness? What happened to Paul when the scales fell from his eyes?
  • Imagine how things must have been in the days after Paul’s conversion. What do you think the conversations must have been like between the chief priests, formally close allies of Paul? What about between the various disciples?
  • Imagine Richard Dawkins, or some other well known atheist, or perhaps even a friend of yours who is outspoken against the Christian faith, suddenly became a Christian. How would it encourage you, and perhaps the church? Do you ever pray for people who go out of their way to attack the gospel?
  • What does Paul argue in his words in the letter he wrote to the Galatians? Had his previous “zeal” for the older traditions helped him? Was it his own wisdom or teaching that had helped him see Jesus? Or was it just a wonderful, undeserved, call of grace? In that regard, was Paul any different from us?

 

Jesus changed Paul’s life. How has Jesus changed yours?

Readings

  • Acts 12:1-24
  • Luke 18:1-8
  • James 1:2-8

Prayer

Pray… that you would have sure confidence in the power of prayer as you pray.

Day 330 – Peter – Jerusalem Persecution

Do not give up on prayer nor doubt that God answers prayer

 

  • As the church continued to grow, so did the persecution against it. James (not the brother of Jesus, but the disciple) died in Acts 12:2 at the hands of Herod, and Peter was arrested. What did his church family do whilst Peter was locked up?
  • What happened to Peter as he was sleeping in the cell?
  • The story of his escape was fun, I thought. What was the reaction when Peter returned to the house of Mary? What was the reaction of Herod when he heard the news?
  • The guards who were on duty when Peter escaped were put to death, as was the custom for soldiers who lost prisoners. I feel rather sorry for them! How does that highlight that Peter escaped through God’s miraculous intervention (rather than because the guards fell asleep, or were bribed, or something)?
  • So, did the prayer work? What is the message about prayer given in today’s passage in Luke? It might sound like a familiar story.
  • The parable that Jesus shared in Luke 18 talks of a persistent widow whose continual requests to a bad judge encouraged him to give her the justice she desired against her adversary. This might seem rather odd to you. After all, when were you last told to keep on asking someone for something even when you weren’t getting any positive response? Jesus used this parable, however, to consider God’s response to prayer. His point is that if even a bad judge will respond to persistent, good requests, how much more would a perfect God desire to respond to the persistent prayers of His children? So… are you “persistent” in prayer? I know I could be a lot more dedicated in bringing prayer requests to God. When you’re not persistent, why do you think this is? Do you doubt God’s ability to work, or the power of prayer to do anything? Or is it just a habit thing?
  • James (Jesus’ brother, who’s still alive!) picked up this theme in his letter, which we read as our third reading today. How does verse 6 say that we should pray? What do verses 7-8 guard us against?

 

There were gifts that were given to the early church to help demonstrate God’s power and to quicken the spread of the gospel, gifts such as healing and speaking in tongues. As you may know, debate continues about whether these gifts exist beyond those of the apostles.

 

One thing is sure though – prayer worked then and it works now. Be confident and regular in your prayer time, and bring your prayers to God trusting that He will act.

Readings

  • Acts 10
  • Acts 11:1-18
  • Ephesians 2:11-22

Prayer

Pray… a prayer of thankfulness that the gospel extends to everyone, regardless of age, colour, ethnicity or past sin.

Day 329 – Peter – Cornelius Conversion

God brings gentiles (non-Jews) into God’s household

 

  • What great readings we have today. I hope they encouraged you!
  • As we read these sort of passages, think how things were moving from the Jewish rituals of the Old Testament to the “church age” we know now. Things should start to look more and more familiar. Today’s main passage in Acts 10 brings about some big changes from the old covenant with Israel to the new covenant in Jesus. Did you spot them?
  • Describe Cornelius and what happened to him in the opening verses. Was he a Jew?
  • About the same time that he was having the visit from the angel, what vision did Peter have? How many times did he have it? What was Peter’s initial reaction to the vision?
  • The vision would have included “unclean” animals, perhaps pigs. This is why we can eat what we wish – including pigs (I’m happy to say – I rather enjoyed my bacon sandwich this morning!). This is one of the clearest passages on why that is. Think about how this message might have been hard to accept by the people hearing it who knew that God was changing rules from thousands of years before.
  • Do you think it would have been a big deal for Peter to go to Cornelius’ house? Up to now, how many times have we read about the gospel being shared or proclaimed to gentiles?
  • When Peter shared the good news of Jesus with Cornelius in verses 34-43, he didn’t quote the Old Testament (like he did with others). Do you think it’s important to be able to explain the gospel in different ways, depending on who we’re speaking to?
  • The Holy Spirit’s work in Acts 10:44-48 show that God is at work, indicating that these events are part of His plan. Peter acknowledges this in Acts 11:17.
  • What great news is there in Acts 11:18 for us?
  • The passage in Ephesians isn’t super easy to understand, perhaps, but give it a go. It’s an amazing passage because it says so much about what God has done for us (in very few verses!). What’s the main message?

 

Some gentiles have been given salvation in the past, like Ruth and Rahab, but today’s passages indicate that through Jesus, everyone can be welcomed into God’s family. Just as previously “unclean” foods are now acceptable in God’s sight, so to are previously “unclean” people. That’s us. Not only are we not Jewish by birth, but we are unclean through our repeated sin. Despite that, God’s mercy and grace extends even to us.

 

God sees us as pure in Christ because, as the passage in Ephesians gloriously reminds us, in Christ Jesus we (who were once far off) have been brought near by His blood, breaking down the dividing wall of hostility (our separation from God), and reconciling us once again to the Father. We are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens and heirs in the household of God.

 

Told you the readings were great, didn’t I?

Readings

  • Acts 8:4-40
  • Isaiah 53
  • Acts 9:32-43

Prayer

Pray… that you would be able to share the gospel confidently.

Day 328 – Peter – Ethiopian eunuch

Discussing Isaiah 53, a 700-year old prophecy about Jesus

 

  • The attention shifts to Philip today, hearing about he shared the gospel with people. Some time will have passed by now – maybe many years – since Jesus ascended into heaven, and the job of sharing the good news about Jesus continued day by day. It was now spreading outside of Jerusalem and far into the wider country (and indeed, beyond).
  • Where did Philip go first? Was the message of the gospel accepted there? What do you remember about Samaria?
  • The story of Simon the Magician (or Sorcerer) is interesting. Here was a man who practised ungodly practices. Are you surprised the gospel convicted him in Acts 8:13?
  • What, however, did Simon want? What did he offer Peter? What was Peter’s angry response?
  • We don’t know if Simon truly believed, or if he was truly repentant in verse 25. That’s not for us to guess. What does it challenge us to think about though?
  • Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch. A eunuch is someone who has been castrated early in life. He would probably have been a man who deeply thought about, and possibly honoured, God, but wasn’t a Jew himself. What verses did Philip overhear the eunuch read?
  • The verses were some of the clearest in the Old Testament about Jesus, taken from the familiar words of Isaiah 53. Philip used this opportunity to “tell him the good news about Jesus”. As a non-Jew, how exciting do you think the news about Jesus would have been for this man?
  • The Holy Spirit is at work in these passages. The word the eunuch was reading led to the opportunity for Philip. They just so happened to be passing by some water too; a very rare thing in that desert region. You won’t have been able to miss the Spirit taking Philip away at the end, either!
  • Did you enjoy reading Isaiah 53 again? As you consider the words in it, think about how you would use these verses to share the news of Jesus to someone today. If you wouldn’t use this passage, which passage might you chose?

 

Philip took an opportunity to share the gospel in a way that the Ethiopian eunuch would have been able to understand. We can see how the gospel message is something that is available to all: here we see a man from a far off country, who wasn’t a Jew, and was a eunuch too. We’ll build on that more tomorrow.

 

Philip was ready to answer his questions. You’ll have had questions from your friends about what you believe in. How ready – and able – are you to answer those questions?

Readings

  • Acts 7
  • Hebrews 12:1-3
  • Luke 23:32-34

Prayer

Pray… a prayer where you forgive something that someone has done to you think week.

Day 327 – Peter – Stephen’s message & martyrdom

Looking to Jesus & forgiving wrongdoers

 

  • You may have looked at the length of Acts 7 and been tempted to skim read it. If you did, go back. You should have found it an chapter that was easy to read, full of encouragements and memories of this year’s readings.
  • Could you recall all the events Stephen spoke of as you read through? How much are you encouraged by your understanding of Stephen’s teachings, compared to what you might have known last year?
  • Stephen gave the priests a history lesson, although they knew the words of the Old Testament, of course. So, think about what Stephen’s aim for retelling them this history. Throughout this overview of God’s story, what is Stephen’s focus? What’s his basic message?
  • If you’re unsure, consider this. When Stephen talked about the major prophets – Abraham, Joseph, Moses and David – he pointed out that they have been mistreated by their own people. What does Stephen connect this with?
  • One of Stephen’s points was try to and emphasize that Jesus’ coming was a continuation of God’s salvation plan throughout the Old Testament, rather than something new. Think about some examples (you may think about the sacrificial system, or God’s concern for justice, or God’s forgiveness and love, all of which are found in the Old Testament).
  • What made the priests so angry? What did they do?
  • How did Stephen react as they dragged him out and started to stone him?
  • Stephen died in Acts 7:60. How did his death, and his actions as he died, model the death of Jesus? The passage in Luke hints at one similarity.
  • Do you think this martyrdom of Stephen ultimately encouraged or discouraged the other members of the early church?
  • Acts 7:58 mentions a name we’ll be reading about a lot. Cast your eyes over chapter 8:1 and you’ll see that Saul is there, gleefully approving of this murder. We’ll hear plenty more about this man over the coming weeks.

 

How could Stephen stand there as he was stoned to death and pray for his enemies to be forgiven? How was (and is) that possible?

 

Perhaps it was motivated by the gospel. Stephen was a sinner too, and yet had received undeserved grace from God. Stephen’s actions were merely reflecting that same grace to his attackers, strengthened by his confidence in his faith, even in the face of death. What do you take away from this poignant act, found amidst one of the worst incidents of persecution in the whole of the book of Acts?

 

I wonder what Saul made of it all as he watched on. Saul, as you may know, spent his early career trying to rid the land of Christians before God transformed his life, and his name, to one which saw “Paul” share and teach the gospel with astonishing power. We’ll read more about him next week.

 Readings

  • None… unless you need to catch up!

Prayer

Pray… for something that is on your mind today.

Day 326 – Day Off

 

 

A few years ago, I went to a murder mystery evening. It was great fun dressing up as “Cashanova” and flirting my way through the night as a gambling, womanising cad.

 

On that night I wore a metaphorical mask. I pretended to be someone I wasn’t (well, mostly!).

 

How much of a mask do we all really wear in our own lives? How much of what we show other people is the real us, and how much is hiding our real thoughts and struggles?

 

It might seem odd to say so, in today’s anti-Christian age, but one of the easiest masks to wear is our “Christian at church” mask. The model Christian, the helper at events, the regular attender, the pray-out-louder.

 

I hope as we continue to read Acts you’ll be convicted of the brutal clarity of the faith of the early apostles. No fakery here. When they sang, they meant the words they were praising with. When they said they wanted to share the Word with the Gentiles, they did up their shoe buckles and went out. When they say they lived for God, their lives backed it up.

 

Can I encourage you, as we plough on through the latter half of the New Testament, to be honest with yourself, and with me, about how you’re doing about living out the teaching we’ve had over the last 10 1/2 months? I don’t mean confessing your sin to me, or anything like that. I’m challenging your hearts and your convictions. What’s changed in your life because of One Story? Are you looking forward to whatever you do next year to continue building up your relationship with Christ? Does your mind marvel at the depth of the gospel message and yearn to know more? Or are you counting down the days until you can put your bible back on your shelf?

 

My greatest prayer for you, lovely people, is that this isn’t all just smoke, mirrors, nodding heads and answering questions. Don’t just wear the Christianity suit. Don’t be doing this just for the bragging rights.

 

Do it for Jesus. Live for him. Put him first. When you read the words on the pages of your Bible, remember that you are reading the words of the Creator Eternal. Marvel at that. Wonder at His grace.

 

Be transformed.

Readings

  • Acts 6
  • 1 Timothy 5:17-18
  • 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Prayer

Pray… for the different people and the roles they do at St Johns.

Day 325 – Peter – The first Deacons

The Deacon’s ministry frees up Elders to focus on the Word

 

  • Today’s short readings focus on the way that the early Christian church evolved to set up basic organisation structures to help with the smooth running of the local churches.
  • What was the problem identified in Acts 6? What were the disciples worried about?
  • What were the new people appointed to do, and what did that leave the disciples free to do?
  • Today’s title refers to deacons. Acts 6 doesn’t specifically mention this word, but the role described does fit part of the job of a deacon. What else do you think a deacon does? Check out how this job is understood amongst different denominations on Wikipedia.
  • Church leaders have more to do than just preach. What things do you think they have to do? Is it important that jobs are shared out? What jobs do you and your parents do to help in the smooth running of the church?
  • What different roles can you see at church, apart from the ones you see at the front on a Sunday morning?
  • Acts 6:7 is very encouraging. What were some priests – who previously challenged Jesus – now doing?
  • Despite that, what happened to Stephen? We’ll see what he had to say – and how things ended up for him – soon.
  • 1 Timothy 3 gives guidance for attributes and qualities of a deacon. As you read them, think about whether the things mentioned should be apply to anyone in public service in a church. Why is it important to be dignified, blameless, sober and in good standing, etc, when you’re doing work in the name of Jesus?

 

Have you ever thought about working in a church or doing wider ministry? You might not have thought much about work yet! But do you enjoy sharing God’s Word? Do you find understanding or explaining passages from a Bible something that you’re good at? Have you ever given a talk on a passage – perhaps at a youth event for younger children?

 

You might not have any particular expectations to go into full time ministry, but don’t dismiss it either. I know several people who have followed God’s calling to go into this area of work, and taking big pay cuts at the same time. It’s sacrificial work in many regards, but it’s also a wonderful privilege to lead somebody to faith.

 

Work in the ministry doesn’t always involve just becoming a vicar of course. Youth and children’s work, camp organisers, church organisational roles, charity and humanitarian work, missionary opportunities… you name it! Why not investigate whether you have the skills, and the gentle nudges from God, to think about these things?