Acts 25:1-26:32

by Doug Bratcher

I am envious of students today and the ability to do many, if not all, of their classes online. Don’t get me wrong, I think sitting in a lecture hall and listening to a professor in college is still an immensely valuable experience. At seminary, however, there was one thing I tried to avoid at all cost…the other students. Seminary is like every other institution, it trends to breed and draw in a particular type of student, and I didn’t fit in.  

I would sit for hours as the bow tied students waxed poetic about semantics and minute theological debates. To hear the audacity in their voice when they thought someone had an opinion that differed from their own still gets me fired up to this day. They loved to debate and quote and write papers. I’ll never forget in one of my classes, one I didn’t particularly like, the professor would always ask, “Who taught/preached this week and what was it over?” In a class of 40+, only 5-8 would raise their hands. I would be shocked every time.

I started taking classes in the Church Ministry department. They had their own building at the edge of campus and when you walked in the words “WHERE MINISTRY HAPPENS” was plastered prominently on the walls. I liked to convince myself it was a dig at all the “theologians” that were debating and not sharing, but I know deep down it wasn’t.  

I was in hours and hours of theological, ministry, history, spiritual disciplines, and educational classes, but the most powerful tool for sharing the good news came early in my time as a believer when I was told “no one will argue your story of what Jesus did in your life.” I think that is one of the reasons I would get so angry in those classes. I saw all these people, with all that knowledge, doing (what I felt) was not enough (yes I was too judgy).

Reading the story of Paul going through the judicial ringer reminds me of the advice I was given long ago. Paul lets us know throughout about his credentials as a Jew and a scholar, yet when he is asked to speak in his defense he doesn’t get into a theological debate, argue semantics, or try to disprove the opposition. He simply tells his story of how a risen Jesus changed his life to the point that he could do nothing else besides tell the world.

Over the last few years, it seems as though the art of debate has devolved from two sword masters trading parries to people slamming each other over the head with clubs (I’m looking at you social media). Today there is no “winning” an argument. My recommendation to you is to follow Paul’s example. Tell people how Jesus changed your life for the better. Tell them about the peace you have that passes all understanding, the patience you are cultivating, and how you can forgive and love others because Jesus forgave and loved you first.

Acts 15:36-16:15

by Doug Bratcher

Things change. In fact, it is one of the few things in this world that you can count on even before COVID-19. My best friend from kindergarten through 8th grade was not my best friend in high school. We did not have a fall out, a fight, or anything of the sort. We simply grew apart. There was some tension about it from time to time, but for the most part it just became a normal part of the day to day. My freshman year of high school I met the man who would be the best man in my wedding (and I in his). While we live hours apart I would be there for him in a second to this day and I do not doubt that he would do the same. It is a relationship I cherish and one that grew from the diminishing of the previous friendship.

Paul and Barnabas’ situation was similar, but with one small exception. They disagreed on something. Paul and Barnabas want to go check on some churches they had established. Barnabas wants to take John Mark. John Mark traveled with them in the past but during one of these trips he left them in the middle of it. While we do not know why he left we do know that Paul must not have agreed with the decision because he does NOT want John Mark to go with them now.  

Barnabas is in a tough spot. He has two friends whom he wants to travel with, yet they are not getting along. If you have ever had to deal with two people, who were both your friends, not getting along then you know how stressful it can be. Unfortunately, so it would seem at the time, they could not come to an understanding and decided not to travel together. Barnabas left and took Mark with him while Paul decided to travel with Silas.  

On the trip with Silas, Paul discovers a disciple named Timothy in Lystra. The same Timothy that Paul is going to pour into and eventually write 1&2 Timothy to encourage him. Drawing conclusions can often be dangerous, but I wonder if Paul has time to invest in Timothy and a desire to take him on the journey with him if Barnabas and John Mark are part of the traveling party?  

When we take single moments of our lives they can seem to be wholly good, bad, sad, happy, etc… Our journey through this world is a long and complicated one. Sometimes we can have a happy/feel good moment that spirals us down the wrong path while other times we can go through something hard or traumatic that creates in us an opportunity to be and do better.

Me and my friend from kindergarten ended up reconnecting after college and we even coached varsity football together. His life was different and he was so happy with this wife and children and the people he had surrounded himself with. I cannot help but wonder what types of things the Lord is working out for me and you during this time in our lives. It would be easy, and wrong, to assume this is all just a set back and something to wipe from our memories as quickly as we could. I, however, trust in the one that has numbered my days and has worked them out for my good. 

Acts 7:1-53

by Doug Bratcher

I punished one of my children the other day. The act of shoving a sibling might not seem very extreme, but it was really the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” for this child that week. Earlier, Kasey and I had conversations about how this child’s behaviors were getting out of hand and that they were on the precipice of disaster. This literally pushed us over the edge and the resulting punishment made them apoplectic, sad, frustrated, and unconsolable.  

When they finally found the courage to insinuate that the punishment didn’t fit the crime I was ready to pounce. Luckly, for the child, Kasey intervened by laying out all that had happened over the last few days and how this punishment wasn’t just for the one small mistake, but for the pattern that was developing. The child was on a course that needed to be corrected and the winds had just changed!

As we look at our scripture, we see Stephen addressing the Sanhedren. In boldness he, like Kasey to our child, pointed them back through the Old Testament – things they already knew very well, but did not understand the consequences of. From Abraham to the coming of the Messiah Stephen points to a history where the people, Sanhedren included, “always resist the Holy Spirit!”  

Unfortunately, I see myself in the position of my child and the Sanhedren all too often. I ignore all the signs and truths that the Holy Spirit has laid before me and wallow in things like self pity, guilt, and anger. Often I have to be at the bottom before I can trace back and see what has happened to lead me to where I am and that I need to be corrected so drastically. Stephen and the Sanhedren had the same truths in front of them. Stephen’s course helped change the world. When faced with the truth of their failure the Sanhedren doubled down and killed a righteous man. In all our lives we must look at where we are now, how we arrived there, and consider if we are in need of turning back to the truth. The good news is that when we turn back to the truth it sets us free (John 8:31-32).

Acts 4:1-22

by Doug Bratcher

The truth is a slippery thing to grab hold of these days. If you were from Cub Run, you might say it is as hard to get a hold of as a greased pig. This is especially true when it comes to the facts about our current situation, quarantine from COVID-19. Social media has allowed for people to take some of the poor reporting and spread it as truth. When you see some good person you know posting from a “news” source, you can fall into the trap of assuming it is true without doing your own research. All of this and we haven’t even gotten into the slants the actual news puts on each story. Like I said, the truth is a slippery thing to grab hold of these days.

In our house, I know I’m not getting the full truth from one of our kids when I get a specific answer from them. I’ll ask, “Did you finish your homework?” If they respond with a drawn out “yeahhhhhhhh” while looking down at the ground or off in the distance, then I know I’m not getting the truth!  

The truth is a powerful thing. Not a guess of what the truth might be… not a very close approximation of the truth… not good information based off of what we think might be the truth, but the actual truth. The truth provides boldness. The truth provides an easy pillow to sleep on at night. The truth dissolves the pit in your stomach. The truth might come with consequences but gives you the strength to face them head on. It is no surprise that in John 14:6 Jesus says He is the truth.

In these verses, we see Peter and John in a tough situation. They are taken by guards, placed in jail in the evening so they would have to wait until morning to be heard, and then questioned by the authorities. They only had one thing to stand on in that moment… THE TRUTH. The truth was not what the authorities wanted to hear. The truth was not what the authorities believed. The truth could cost them everything at this moment. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they spoke the truth. The truth was more powerful than the obvious fact that they were not educated. The truth could not be disproven, carried them through threats, and saw them to freedom.  

We may not have every truth we want on every topic right now, but we have the one truth that matters, the truth of Jesus. Let me assure you, no matter the situation, that truth is enough. Even in our current situation! I’ll leave you with Jesus’ words from John 8:31-32: “…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

Luke 22:24-38

by Doug Bratcher

Growing up as an only child I never had to stress over things like “who gets the last slice of pizza.” Sometimes when my cousins would come over they would do barbaric things like lick their fingers and touch the last slice so no one else would take it or stuff their face so fast that they were done first, thus laying claim to the last slice. These were not the rules of engagement I was used to, and frankly, it stressed me out! I would love to say that I was above the fray and did not partake of such actions, but when push came to shove I was just like the rest. I’m still not used to them as an adult even with multiple children who constantly want the best, most, last of all things in the house and will feel slighted and pout for hours when things don’t go their way.  

I wonder if that is how Jesus felt dealing with the disciples sometimes. I wouldn’t put it past Peter to lick his finger and rub it on the last piece of bread to make sure he got it and no one else did. Right after Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him, the question of which of the disciples is the “greatest” is brought up. Jesus’ reply is simple, profound, and game changing. The one who serves is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, not the one who reclines at the table and is waited on. The greatest is the one who forgoes his last slice of pizza so another can be full. We are in a time right now where it is easy to be selfish. Those are our basic, sinful tendencies. Jesus even turns to Peter after they have asked about who would be considered the greatest (and I would bet Peter assumed it would be him) and tells him that Peter will deny him when the moment comes.  

I caught myself saying things that sounded very similar to this just the other day. I said something that sounded like “right now we have to worry about team Bratcher,” and in retrospect, all I was saying was “I want that last slice of pizza” or “will I be considered the greatest”. Now is NOT that time for those kinds of thoughts. The world needs us to stand and be the servants, the givers, and helpers to a hurting world during a dark time.