Acts Chapter 24

Acts 24:5-6
The plot against Paul continues in Acts 24, where he is charged by the high priest Anais and Tertullus, an attorney, of the following: 24.5 “We have in fact found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 24. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, and so we seized him.”

Paul eloquently defends himself to Felix, the governor, by saying that “they did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd” and they cannot prove the charges. Paul affirms that he worships the God of the ancestors, that he has a hope in God, and strives his best for a clear conscience toward God and ALL people. Paul states he was in the temple to bring alms, offer sacrifices and to complete the rite of purification, without any disturbance.

Felix makes no decision, holding Paul in custody for two years (hoping for a bribe!). Paul’s friends are allowed to take care of his needs, and Felix frequently sends for him for conversation.

What else did Paul do in the two years in custody in Caesarea? While it is widely held by scholars that the four Prison Epistles (Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians) were written during Paul’s later imprisonment in Rome, there is some scholarly dissent that one or more of them may his been during his time in Caesarea.

Thinking on this as we live through our current “imprisonment” and knowing that great hope can be found in Scripture, I again read the Prison Epistles, and found comfort in them. Philippians especially touched me – a joyful letter, extolling faith in Christ, hope, and faithful service in spite of trials and anxiety. 

One of my favorite New Testament passages is from Philippians:“8. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”I pray this passage brings comfort at this time. May God’s grace, peace, love and blessings be with you.         
                                                                                            Adele Sadiq, EfM, Year 4

Acts Chapter 1

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2)

Here we are, friends, Christ Church Parish, and indeed everyone on the planet has entered a new era. Not that pandemics are new to the planet; human history records many plagues and famines and natural disasters that altered life for us. Yet today in a profoundly interconnected world where our food, clothing and even our work comes from faraway places. I believe that the church in the next decade will become more localized, our worship more person-centered, and our dependence on the insights of the first Christians more crucial than ever.

I have asked those who meet together in Education for Ministry to reflect on the Acts of the Apostles. In St. Luke’s account of beginnings of the Early Church, I see patterns of life, faith, and care for others that we would do well to emulate. The first believers had no buildings, no clergy, and only the most basic understanding of the sacraments that we treasure. Their reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide their decisions and embolden their witness enabled them to transform from a few dozen Galilean followers of the Rabbi Jesus to an interconnected body of believers that stretched from Italy to Egypt, and embraced Roman, Greek, Syrian, Egyptian and Ethiopian cultures and ways.

During the two weeks from April 20 to May 2 you will receive a reflection from a member of the CCPKI family. They have been given a chapter to read, but I have asked them to find one moment in the chapter to reflect on. This is less about investigating everything in Acts and more about finding a single gem to treasure.

I am deeply grateful to the leaders and students of EfM. I know that their program is strenuous and the times we face are stressful. At the same time, I have heard about their gratitude for what they have learned and their desire to give back.

Please join me and the Christ Church Parish EfM group as we reflect on what God was, and is, and will be doing for our members and for the whole world.

Mark +

Acts Chapter 17

Acts 17: 23, 24, 29
23 “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship — and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 29 Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill.”

When Paul came to Areopagus to preach the good news about Jesus and his resurrection, he decided to walk around and view the area. He saw objects of worship and an altar with an inscription that appalled him. As he preached to the Jewish and Gentiles, he emphasized that God is the absolute Creator and Lord of Heaven and earth and does not live in man-made temples. Paul continued preaching and explained that God cannot be “an image” or an idol comprised of “gold or silver or stone” because they are of earthly materials from which idols are made”. (Powell) Have we become too attached to non-spiritual priorities in our life? Possibly.   Are we repeating biblical history in this century?

For me, maybe we need to listen more intently to scripture and to each other. Paul was an outstanding missionary who had the gift of preaching to the masses. Although it can be difficult to listen at times, all we can do is try each day.  Also, perhaps many of us are depriving ourselves of a loving relationship with God. During this pandemic and “staying in place,” let us consider reflecting on our faith and pray for spiritual guidance in our lives and for our church community.             
                                                             Juanita Dombkowski, EFM, Year 4

Acts Chapter 16

Acts 16: 31 “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

Paul traveled to Lystra where he met a young disciple by the name of Timothy, and he recruited him to present the guidelines that the Jerusalem apostles and leaders came up with.  As they traveled to Phrygia and then on through the region of Galatia, the Spirit had redirected their journey through Macedonia.  As their mission was redirected they knew for sure that God had called them to preach the good news to the Europeans.   Along their journey they attended a prayer meeting where they met Lydia, a believer in Christ. They also met a slave girl who was a psychic.  As a psychic she claimed that the men were working for the most high God and they were laying out the road of salvation for the people.  Paul was annoyed by her continued claims and commanded the spirit that possessed her to leave her body in the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, the owners of the slave girl were no longer making money on her predictions. So they roughed up the men and drug them into the market Square where they were beaten, arrested, jailed and judged by the crowd.  While in jail, Paul and Silas were in prayer and singing hymns to God. Then a mighty earthquake shook the earth and all the cell doors opened. The jailer thought all the prisoners had escaped and was going to take his own life, but Paul was there and saved the jailer’s life by letting him know that no one had escaped. The jailer was badly shaken and ran inside the jail by torchlight and collapsed in front of Paul and Silas’ cell.  He wanted to know how to be saved and to truly live.  They advised him to put his entire trust in Jesus and then he will live as he was meant to live, including everyone in his family.  In the morning, Paul and Silas were released from prison.       

                                                                                  Marlene Stutzman, EfM, Year 3

Acts Chapter 15

Acts 15: 28
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.”

In Acts, we follow the early beginnings of a Christian community. There were Jews like Jesus. There were Christian Jews.  Acts 15 is all about a third category: the gentiles. The controversy is over requiring gentiles to subscribe to Jewish ritual and law. Hebrew Christians held the Pharisaic view that converts must obey the dietary laws and undergo circumcision. The Bible says that some men came down from Judea to Antioch and started teaching the brethren that unless they were circumcised according to the custom of Moses, they could not be saved. Paul and Barnabas try and dispute this position but agree to go to Jerusalem to visit with the Apostles and the elders to sort out this problem. When they get to Jerusalem, some Pharisees again said the gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.

When the Apostles and elders were gathered together, Peter speaks: “Brethren, you know that in the early days, God made choice among you, that by mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.” Acts 15: 7-9. Paul and Barnabas talk about all the wonderful things that God had done through them among the Gentiles. So in the end, a delegation is sent to Antioch with a letter. It’s a compromise position: no circumcision, but in order to avoid giving offense to the Jews in the community, don’t do certain things. Stay away from idols, abstain from fornication, and don’t eat meat with blood in it.

For me, this time of life feels a lot like the early church. On some level, due to the corona virus, things have gotten very simple. We feel much more connected to our neighbors through the commonality of a shared experience.  Only the necessary things matter. We have done without our church building. We have been unable to convene. Hurdles, much like the early church faced and found a way through. In spite of today’s hurdles, our faith is always seeking ways to express itself. Like Paul and Barnabas, we feel a need to get the Word out. Now the Holy Spirit is moving our church to reach out in new ways: ZOOM meetings, services posted on Facebook, eblasts via email and the like. What is God telling us about our church in the year 2020? It is still all about faith.               
                                                                                  Bluette Blinoff, EfM, year 3

Acts Chapter 14

Acts 14: 8-10 “In Lystra there was a crippled man who had been lame since birth and had never been able to walk. He sat there and listened to Paul’s word. Paul saw that he believed and could be healed, so he looked straight at him and said in a loud voice,”Stand up straight on your feet !” The man jumped up and started walking around.”

In about 47 AD in Iconium (present day Turkey) Paul and Barnabas were preaching for several months mostly in the Jewish synagogues. When some Jews and gentiles decided to stone them, they left and went to the city of Lystra (also in Turkey).

As a Nurse, my first reaction to the verses quoted above was unbelief. How could a man who hadn’t ever walked since birth suddenly stand up and start walking ? Clinically it sounds impossible! His legs would be too weak for him to walk; his leg muscles would be atrophied and probably contracted from lack of use. But there it is –“The man jumped up and started walking around”!

Why do I find this so hard to believe? Can’t God do anything? Doesn’t He/She in fact do miraculous things every day? I plant what look like dried dead seeds, and God brings out a beautiful green plant or a gorgeous colorful flower. Is that not a miracle?

Babies are born every day. They develop into unique human beings unlike any other person in the entire world. Is that not also a miracle? Why do I have so much trouble believing that God can do what seems impossible to my logical mind? 
“I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)  
                                                      Ann Sieracki, EfM Graduate & Mentor