Acts 23:12-35

by Crystal Townsend

Just the night before, Jesus stood with Paul and encouraged him to testify and share the good news of the gospel, going so far as to tell Paul that he would be going on to testify in Rome. The next morning, he listened as his nephew reported to him of the plot the Jews had formed to have him killed. His own people despised him so much so that they were willing to starve themselves of food and drink until they achieved their goal…ending Paul’s life. Paul sent his nephew to the commander to pass word of the threat, resulting in a covert nighttime transfer to save Paul from the uprising and get him to Governor Felix to stand trial. Paul was successfully moved and then kept under guard as he waited for the next chapter in his story to unfold. 

The entirety of this ordeal that Paul was undergoing must have been exhausting and frustrating to say the least. If Paul were anything like me, he’d have been racking his brain for logical solutions and ways to use diplomacy to his advantage, all while being rather put out that his own people hated him. However, we don’t read of any diplomatic pleas or arguments given by Paul. We don’t read of moping and quiet rants. We are only privy to one reaction that Paul has, he simply sends his nephew on to report to the commander. I can only imagine the comfort his encounter with Jesus the night before brought to him and the impact it made on his reactions. Yes, this was a ludicrous situation and he was in the hands of the Romans, but Jesus had told him to take courage. Jesus had told him he’d need to testify in Rome. So he waited as the story unfolded, ready and willing to testify in obedience to his Savior whatever the cost may be. This leads me to ask myself a few questions. Am I willing to trust Him with my next chapter? To follow Him in obedience no matter the cost? To boldly testify at every opportunity He provides? These are questions we should ask daily amidst the unpredictable and sometimes confusing landscape of our lives as we take comfort and courage in the power of our God.

Acts 19:1-41

by Crystal Townsend

As Paul persevered in his teaching and investment in the new believers of Ephesus, God continued to do great miracles through Paul, people confessed their sins and turned from their evil ways, and the number of believers grew! Just as Paul was about to move on from Ephesus, a riot broke out as some of the tradesmen became angry over the people’s conversion and feared they would lose business in their work on the temples of the false gods. The entire city became involved, and there was mass chaos with people screaming their arguments from both sides. “The assembly was in confusion: some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32). This hysteria went on for hours before the city clerk was finally able to silence the crowd, remind them that the disciples had committed no crime, and warn them of the charge they may be facing for rioting with no reason. 

Imagine Paul’s desire to get involved and fight for the truth. Paul’s traveling companions were drug into the theater, but the disciples wouldn’t let him follow, while his friends begged him to stay out. We don’t know what would have happened had Paul entered and tried to end the riot, but we do know that he stayed out of it. This was not an argument based on truth. Remember most of the people involved didn’t even know what it was about. It was confusion and chaos caused by a prideful man wanting to continue gaining wealth through his work for the false gods. How often do we see arguments and rants going on all around us over one hot topic or another? Arguments where people’s emotions are ruling and words are senselessly flying? We are naturally drawn in to read or listen to them, and sometimes we even insert ourselves to be sure we have a say and our opinion is heard. I encourage you today to steer clear of the chaos. Draw close to Christ and focus on the truth of God’s Word. Remember, it is not always necessary to enter the riots, but rather, invest in those around you by teaching them and guiding them closer to Jesus. I pray we will choose wisely how we will spend our time and energy, that we will glorify God through our words and actions.

Acts 14:1-28

by Crystal Townsend

Perspective. Do you ever look around and worry about life or get aggravated by the way things are unfolding? Possibly stressing about something small that feels ginormous? Deciding that your situation is simply “the worst”? If you are anything like me, you have been guilty of one or more of these mindsets on occasion. Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to have feelings of frustration or concern, but our perspective helps determine what we do with those feelings. Do we have an inward focused perspective that causes us to live in self-pity, lash out in anger, and live selfishly? Or do we have an outward focused perspective realizing the fact that we live in a fallen world but are recipients of God’s grace and mercy? The latter generally leads to behavior that is glorifying to God and builds up our brothers and sisters.  

As we study Acts, we follow Paul and Barnabas on their early missionary journeys, reading of the persecution, hardships, growth, and joy. Chapter 14 gives a clear picture of these aspects of their ministry, from speaking boldly through the conflict at Iconium to dealing with a crowd bowing down to them as gods, only then for Paul to be dragged away and stoned as they redirected the people to the only One worthy of praise. The apostles’ perspective leads them to spend extra time dealing with conflict, to lead the crowds to the truth, and then finally to go back to the church rejoicing. Luke tells us “…they gathered the church together and reported on all that God had done through them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” (Acts 14:27). They didn’t gather the church together and complain about their hardships. They spoke of what God had done. This is a beautiful picture of Paul and Barnabas’ perspective. They were truly striving to live and serve for the glory of God. So maybe, just maybe, as we experience frustrations and hardships, we can remember to check our perspective and focus our hearts on the truth of God’s promises and rejoice, for He is always worthy of our praise. 

Acts 5:12-42

by Crystal Townsend

Reading about the early church, I wonder what people were thinking. There was excitement as the apostles continued to serve God and do miracles in His name. There was also fear and uncertainty as the apostles were persecuted and the religious leaders attempted to stifle the spread of the gospel. What I find most intriguing and convicting is the obedience that Peter and the other apostles demonstrated. Things were not comfortable, their situation was changing daily, and they were under immense pressure. However, they continued in their kingdom work. They continued to be obedient as they were being arrested and flogged. They understood the cost of following Christ and they knew that it was not going to be an easy life or one filled with fame and glory. Yet, they were still willing to follow. 

The apostles reacted to these trials with grace and joy. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I struggle with grace and joy…especially in the midst of uncertainty. My first inclination when I’m hitting roadblocks to “my plan” is not to rejoice, but to be annoyed. I will rejoice eventually, but it takes intentional prayer and sometimes being completely humbled. In this passage, the apostles rejoiced as they walked away from their latest beating. They followed Christ’s example and chose to be obedient to the Father’s plan. They chose not to give in to fear but to give up their own comforts as they spread the good news. I pray as we continue in obedience that we will have a heart filled with joy and grace, focused on glorifying God and spreading the good news! God is still at work and doing great things! Don’t be so distracted by our current circumstances that you fail to see what He is doing!

Luke 23:26-43

by Crystal Townsend

Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion elicits both disgust and admiration, sorrow and joy, rage and peace. How could something so brutal be equally beautiful?! Jesus, who had just endured a trial resulting in the freedom of a murderer and His own condemnation to death, peacefully treads toward the hill of Golgotha as the crowds are in chaos. His heart is turned to the Father as He chooses to plead, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The crowds observe. Lots are cast for His clothes. Jesus is tormented and humiliated. A conversation begins . . . one that cuts to the heart of the situation. 

The first criminal chooses to torment Jesus as he hangs beside Him. He questions Jesus’ authority and power while mocking Him. The second criminal hanging beside Jesus cannot stay silent. He grasps the fact that he is a sinner, being justly punished, and he knows Jesus has done nothing wrong. After rebuking the mocker, he humbly asks Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

The grace, peace, and forgiveness the sinner received was given freely by a Savior who chose to take the punishment for our sin. Who endured a torturous crucifixion for the purpose of redeeming the very people who sin against Him. Who chose obedience even to the point of death in order to glorify God the Father. Who walked peacefully, as a lamb to the slaughter. This portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion is brutal as we realize our own filth and required punishment, but it is beautiful as we realize Jesus’ willing sacrifice for our redemption.

Luke 22:1-23

by Crystal Townsend

When I was little, the neighbor kids and I played together daily. I was the oldest and had a strong sense of right and wrong. I was happy if everyone was following the rules of the neighborhood, otherwise I would call attention to the rule breaker. I clearly remember a day I refused to eat with a friend because she broke my neatness rule and left crumbs in my tent! I’ll never forget the feeling of anger at the ease of her disregard for MY tent rules. The speech I gave in my fury ended with me sending her home. Needless to say, the reconciliation was humbling. I was reminded of my sinful nature and my pride. I was broken at the realization that I so easily chose actions of anger over love. 

Here in Luke 22, as Judas begins to be used by Satan for the betrayal of Jesus, I’m struck by Jesus’ actions. He’s not distracted by His anger or emotions. He simply continues in the Passover preparations. He provides for his disciples and leads them through the last supper. All the while, Judas is sitting and eating among them, but Jesus doesn’t send him home. He calmly explains the importance of the bread and wine and the symbolism of his body and blood. Finally, He points out that His betrayer is at the table and that the consequences shall come. Today we struggle with a myriad of different emotions as people let us down or our plans fail, but be reminded of the example Jesus set as Judas’ betrayal unfolded. Choose to take your frustrations to Jesus and not act in anger or haste. Remember the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made out of His great love for us. What a great reminder of the life Jesus has called us to live! A life of love, joy, peace, and patience. What a great reminder of the sacrifice He has made to bring us into the family of God. And just know, I’ve gotten a little better at dealing with injustice lovingly…I’ll hold friends accountable, but I now refrain from reaming them out and sending them home over crumbs!