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.”
The Bible is a funny book. Of course, no book is more serious than the Bible, but read it and you'll find humor. You won’t find knock-knock jokes, but you’ll find plenty to make you smile. When Luke described a night the Apostle Paul preached in Troas, he included a touch of physician's humor. Falling asleep in church isn’t as perilous in our day as it was for Eutychus. We’re less concerned with falling out of windows and more concerned with staying in the fellowship of believers. To that end, may the Holy Spirit bless you through the gospel today. And maybe keep you awake, too.
On one astounding day, God led 3,000 people to be baptized. What happened next, though, was more than astounding. It was preposterous and scandalous. It was generous and beautiful. It is, to our ears, almost incomprehensible. Most of all? It was Christian. Let’s take a look at the godly decision to have “everything in common.”
Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven. However, he left things behind. We're glad you're joining us for worship to hear about the power and the promise Jesus left just for you.
Encouragement. The word probably makes you smile. We can never get enough of it, really. Oh, some value the encouragement of a friend more than others, but everyone needs it. The apostle Paul was many things: convert, world traveler, missionary, martyr, but he was also an encourager. Welcome to our study of Acts. In today’s verses, we learn about the entourage accompanying him on his journey from Greece back to Turkey, but notice what he's doing—"speaking many words of encouragement." What would words like that sound like coming from your lips? We’re glad you’re with us today to be encouraged by the gospel of Jesus and pray that what you receive from him moves you to speak words of encouragement to others. We call that, church.
“I like to keep my options open. Something better might come along.” Some people are drawn to new and exciting experiences and relationships, and are reluctant to limit their options. It sounds appealing, but it usually leads to shallow or ruined relationships and careers. Embracing Christianity means limiting options for the sake of following Christ, but it only leads to deeper and more satisfying experiences. Paul taught that to the people of Ephesus. Some could not limit their spiritual pursuit to one god. We call that idolatry. It's an easy trap for pagans and even for Christians. Learn from a mob in a theater in Ephesus about limiting your options to embrace Christ more fully. We’re glad you’re here and pray for the Spirit to bless your worship.
The last thing any of us wants to be is an expert on demons and spirits. It's possible to have an unhealthy interest in such realities. On the other hand, none of us wants to be unaware of such things. The apostle Paul frequently refers to demonic spiritual “powers” which inspire false religions and oppose and undermine God’s work and God’s people. We live in the same world. The same demonic spiritual powers are at work today. But the same God who overcame them in Ephesus overcomes them in our day. And he does it through the same means he used in Paul’s day: the message of Jesus. Paul’s time recorded in Acts 19 is testimony for you today: the risen Jesus, your Good Shepherd, will protect you, his sheep, from every evil spirit.
What helps you to be patient? How about Easter? There's something about the risen Christ that can make us the most patient people in the world. Christ is alive, he’s ruling, and he’s for us. That kind of confidence can make us unhurried, patient, and humble people. Two thousand years ago, God changed the world through two followers of Christ, Aquila and Priscilla, who demonstrated patient confidence. We’re glad you’re with us today to hear how Christ’s resurrection changed their lives. It’s still God's plan to change us…and the world.
Throughout Scripture we see God giving and God taking. In the Garden of Eden, God gave the promise of the Savior to Adam and Eve, and he took away their guilt that they brought on themselves. Or consider David. On the one hand, God gave him the role as the king of the Israelites. On the other hand, after the prophet Nathan rebuked him for his sin with Bathsheba, Nathan said, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Samuel 12:13). There is also a divine giving and taking after the resurrection. Today, the apostle John helps us see that Jesus’ triumph over sin, death, and the devil takes away our fear and gives us confidence.
Celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection with us from the points of view of those who were there.