Have you noticed more lights on these days? We light candles and put up lights as reminders: Jesus is the light of the world. The world is filled with darkness: ignorance of God, sinful habits, and the resulting ease with which we end up consumed with ourselves. Jesus comes and turns on a light so we can see our sin, confess it, receive forgiveness from him, and turn away from it. That's peace. This weekend, we learn from an upright man named Zechariah. He showed faithfulness, unfaithfulness and, because of God's grace, faithfulness. Come, all you unfaithful, [all of us] and find light and peace.
An interviewer asked a British philosopher, "What’s wrong with the world?" He replied, “I am.” He got it right. It’s been that way since the fall. But Jesus came to the fallen and made us right. And when he returns, he’ll make the broken world whole again. As you worship with other broken believers, cling to God's promise this Advent season—Christ is born for you.
What does it take to finish well? The answer to that question depends on who you are and what you're finishing: an athlete finishing a competition, a student finishing a degree, or a musician finishing a piece. Think bigger. What about your life? It's a long life. What are you going to do to finish well? The book of Acts ends with little attention to how the apostle Paul finished his life. Paul's life isn't the point of Acts. Jesus' life is. Yet, we know from letters of Paul how he finished. Today we’ll gather around God’s Word to us in 2 Timothy 4 and learn how to finish well.
If the book you're reading has drawn you in and made you feel like a part of the story, "The End" makes your heart sink. What? No! You knew it was coming. You felt the pages in your right hand getting thinner. And you vow to read the sequel or watch the next season as soon as it's available. You've held the Acts of the Apostles study book in your hands for two years. You've felt it getting heavier on the left side and lighter on the right side. Now here we are: "The End." Gather with your fellow Acts sojourners today to thank God for the gifts he's given us in this book and to find ourselves in its ending.
Whoever said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me," was either lying or just not very bright. God doesn't lie, he's very bright, and he has said, "The tongue has the power of life and death" (Proverbs 18:21). When the apostle Paul finally made it to Italy, brothers and sisters in Christ met him and encouraged him. What do you suppose they said? We don't know, but more important is what WE say. What words do you speak that encourage others? Today, the Spirit teaches us how to encourage others that we might his "power of life." Welcome to church!
The Reformation is often summarized by the five Solas—Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. Each one is a bold confession, each one is a battlefield, and each one finds expression in John 8. Nevertheless, as Jesus teaches these eternal truths restored in the Reformation, the five are reduced to one: In Christ alone, the Word of God comes creating faith and granting grace. This is God glorifying Christ, and in him God alone is glorified. All who believe this truth are freed from sin, death, and the devil. They will walk in the light of life forever. Thank you for joining us for Reformation worship to receive and celebrate the freedom we have in the Son of God.
Throughout our study of Acts, we have witnessed the Lord's power in dangerous circumstances. Life is a voyage. We encounter winds, angry seas, and crises we can't anticipate. The Lord answers our petition to "deliver us from evil"—at times by preventing the storm but at other times by bringing us through the storm. This faith lets us be as calm as Paul was in the storm, during the shipwreck, and on the beach. God doesn't panic. Why should we? He knows the outcome and the destination. So do we. For Paul it was Rome. For us, it's the glory Jesus has prepared for us. You're not alone in this faith. Welcome to church: a gathering to receive God's grace in Word and sacrament, praise him for it, and encourage one another with it.
In the storm, Paul referred to "the God whose I am." In other words, "I'm his." You don't say "My Jennifer" or "My Owen," unless he or she is your son, daughter, or spouse. You don't use that term unless you're close, unless your relationship is intimate. Paul says what you can say in the storm, "I know I'm his. I belong to him. He's mine and I'm his. He loves me. He's committed to me." How can you say that in a storm? Today we seek to understand why it’s true and to grow in our conviction of it. We call this—church.
This week we press pause on “The Storm," our 3-week series from Acts 27, and pick up the gospel of Luke. In Luke 17:11-19 Jesus cleanses ten men from horrific disease but the miraculous healing fades quickly to the background as Jesus draws the attention of all to one thing: a Samaritan man worshiping at his feet. The image is dense and allusive, controversial and challenging, full of mercy and judgement, revelation and prophecy. Jesus tips the world and all its spirituality upside down. He never leaves a place the way he found it. That is why we gather in his presence, hear his Word, and partake in his sacraments. We come to worship him because he has changed us forever; because we never leave the same as we came. Praise be to Christ!
When the missionary Apostle Paul and his companions were caught at sea in a hurricane, "All hope that we would be saved was disappearing." (Acts 27:20) Hope is a combination of trust that the Lord will keep his promises and the Lord perfectly times his invasion into our affairs. It's hard to live without hope. . . whether you’re in a hurricane in the Mediterranean 2,000 years ago, or the one that hit Florida this week, or the one that’s hitting your life with enough force to knock the wind out of you right now. Why does God do that? While there are no pat answers, God does reveal some answers to us. We’re glad you’re here to search for them and worship God for them.
Is your life a pre-planned course of events, already rigged, so the speak? Then what you do or don't do doesn't really matter. Is your life all up to you? Then what you do or don't do determines everything. Which is it? One view leads to complacency, the other to panic. This weekend we begin a three-week series on Acts 27—the storms in our lives. We all have had them, are having them, and will have them. We’re glad you’re with us to learn from how Paul dealt with a literal storm and to seek God’s wisdom for weathering the storms in our lives.
Ever since Aristotle, authors have offered their advice on how to persuade others. Most tell you to us fact, feelings, show humility, care for the other, etc. Persuasion is a complicated effort. If you say only empirical evidence proves anything, how do you prove that statement? If you say all we need are feelings, you've just created chaos. Paul stands before world powers, and his life is on the line. He lays out facts. He bares his heart. But he includes a third element in his attempt to persuade King Agrippa to believe in Christ that Aristotle and best-selling authors miss. Today, gathered in God’s very presence, we receive it. Glad you’re with us.
Welcome to St. Andrew. Today we continue our study of Acts with the meeting of Festus and King Agrippa II. We have very little in common with these ancient men of influence, but we do share one thing. In fact, we meet for the very same reason that Festus met with King Agrippa II. It’s the reason we live, love, hope, and sing. The reason? A certain Jesus was dead and now lives. In his name we teach and preach the gospel of the Living God. Thanks for joining us to worship him. May God bless our time together.
Sometimes, just a few words define a person. Here I stand. I have a dream. Give me liberty or give me death. Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country. See how it works? Big moments in life often provide the opportunity for such big words. In the last few chapters of Acts, the apostle Paul finds himself in one big moment after another. This week, in Acts 25:1-12, he's facing another threat and speaks defining words, "I appeal to Caesar." The funny thing about those defining moments and big words is that you don't usually see them coming: a child asks a question, a coworker expresses an openness to Jesus, etc. Jesus says to you, his child, "Don't worry about what you will say. I'll supply the words. You just stay faithful to me." We’re glad you’re a part of the fellowship of saints here today and pray that the Spirit uses the gospel to keep you faithful to him.
A “knowing smile” is one that implies that the person smiling is aware of circumstances that put him or her at an advantage in a situation. Watch the opening credits of the old Perry Mason series and you’ll see a great example. The judge hands Mason a manila folder, Mason looks at the contents, turns to the camera, and he smiles. The Bible doesn't come with pictures or video, but you might expect the apostle Paul flashed the same "knowing smile" in the episode before us this weekend, Acts 24. We’re glad you are part of the gathering today. May the Spirit bless you, maybe even with a knowing smile.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his powerful "We Shall Overcome" speech on March 16, 1966. It took two and half minutes. The refrain, "we shall overcome," didn't sugar-coat the suffering that might be necessary for some but expressed the hope that finally God's grace will lift us out of suffering and into glory. First suffering, then glory. First cross, then crown. It's been a refrain of God's children since the fall into sin. Is it your song? If not, praise God. Don't seek suffering. If it is, praise God. Children of God have this confidence: we shall overcome. We've reached the point in our study of the Book of Acts where the Apostle Paul is a prisoner. He'll never be free again. But in his suffering, he proclaims freedom from sin, death, and suffering through Christ. We’re glad you’re with us today to celebrate that, because of Christ, we shall overcome.
Audio used with permission, crossway.org
At one time or another, all of us have felt burnt out in some way. There are so many things happening to us and around us and around us that cause us to feel stressed and hurt and burdened. When we feel the weight of life and its burdens pressing down on s, we naturally look for something to give us rest and release, at least for a little bit. What is it for me? My career? My relationship? Friends? An addiction? It will look different for each of us, but the truth is, those sources of rest can't last forever. We need something better. And we have it. Hear Jesus' invitation of lasting rest, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are . . .
New? Inexperienced? Different? Short? Tall? How did you complete that sentence? The apostle Paul concluded that sentence this way when the Spirit inspired him to write to Timothy: "young." Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young. He wasn't feeding the young man's ego; he was pointing out how God gives gifts to young and old, and both can use them to fulfill his plan. While Paul was a prisoner in Jerusalem, his young nephew took bold steps to thwart a plot to kill him. You don't forget things like that, and Paul may well have had his nephew's example in mind when he wrote to a young Timothy. Young or old, we’re glad you’re here to give thanks for and value the gifts God gives his young followers.
"And always let your conscience be your guide . . ." Really? Take advice from Jiminy Cricket, bit character in the original Pinocchio? The author of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi of Florence, Italy, made Jiminy Cricket a minor character killed off in the tragic children's tale. Disney turned him into a whimsical sidekick who becomes Pinocchio's conscience. The problem is he isn't a very good conscience. He's inexperienced, not open to change, and frequently mistaken. We want a better conscience. In Acts 23:1-11, Paul shows us how to get it.
U.S. Embassies are positioned in most countries around the world. One of their functions is to support and assist U.S. travelers. If you lose your passport, get injured, or are wrongfully accused, you get to pull a "But I'm a US citizen" cad. It doesn't make the problem go away, but it does afford you a level of assistance not available to everyone. If you're in need, you'd certainly use it. In Acts 22:22-29, the apostle Paul was in need, and his Roman citizenship came to the rescue. Paul did what he could, where he was, with what he had . . . even his citizenship. We'll end up asking God to show us how to do the same, but only after he shows us how Jesus used what he had, where he was, to do what he, and he alone, could do. Welcome to worship.
Savvy tech operators track your online moves and suggest sites for you. They know your "click words." That's not so bad and might even be helpful. But most of us also have click words that close our minds. We hear them and close our minds. It's a kind of prejudice, really. The apostle Paul knew his audience, so in his great defense to the people of Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-22) he used a click word. It closed their minds, but it's exactly what Paul needed to tell them. Their click word was "Gentile." We barely yawn over it. But mention another word, another subject, and it gets a rise—a rise in pulse, breathing, and blood pressure. What's your click word? Maybe the Lord intends to speak to you about it this weekend. And you will need courage to face it. You are in the company of fellow courage-seekers. Together we look to the hope we have in Christ and find courage.
What's causing stress in your life right now? However you answer that question is also the answer to the question, "For what do you need courage right now?" Try it. Answer the first sentence in this paragraph. Does it also answer the second question in this paragraph? Heady stuff, to be sure, but you can handle it. Paul did. Today we’ll benefit from learning how he did it in Acts 21:27-40. Welcome to a fellowship of stressed-over-something brothers and sisters. We’re here to encourage one another, discover the same courage the Lord gave the apostle Paul and let his courage be ours. And, by the way, if you want to have an effect on others, few things are more contagious than courage.
Get a haircut, even if you don’t need it. Yes, that's in the Bible. Of course, there's more to it: respect for the weak, love for your neighbor, sacrifice for others, giving up your rights for the good of others, etc. In a haircut? Today we encounter the Spirit at work in the church in Acts 21:17-26. Yes, his work involved a haircut! Strange, but true. We’re so glad you’re with us to begin here what we will continue together in heaven: worship. Where we won’t need haircuts. Or will we?
Welcome to our study of Acts. Paul was within a few days of completing a mission trip and getting to Jerusalem. But old friends, new friends, and trusted brothers and sisters in Christ warned him not to continue: “Something bad will happen to you.” They broke Paul’s heart. But he went anyway. They all relented, “May the Lord’s will be done.” Could God’s will be unpleasant for you? Who prays for that? You do, every time you pray, “Your will be done.” We pray the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer so often, it might become trite. Far from trite, this little request is at times upsetting, at other times hard, but at all times how you get in touch with God. We’re glad you’re with us today to pray for yourself and for each other, “Your will be done.”
Blest be the ties that bind - so goes the old hymn. The author may have been recalling the ties the apostle Paul enjoyed with people everywhere he went. From our study of Acts, we know people opposed Paul wherever he went. But others wept to see him leave. The reason? The Word of grace not only unites us with God but also with each other. We’re glad you’re with us today to learn from Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians in Acts 20:13-38 and get a sense of the joy of “the ties that bind.”