Our Unique Experiences

6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

“‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’ Acts 22:6-16

Paul recounted the “meat” of his conversion experience. This is the part that is personal to each of us. Not everyone has such an experience as Paul did. In fact, each of our experiences are quite different. No one can refute this experience. They can question what we believe but not the experience.

Similarly, all of our life experiences are unique to us. How God works and moves in your life is unique to you. People may call what happens coincidences or “just the way life works sometimes,” while you may see the hand of God. Not everyone will understand that, and that’s okay.

Sometimes, God does things so that you and I may just stop and say, “What a wonderful, almighty God we serve.”

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The Back Story

Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. Acts 22:3-5

In just a few words, Paul laid it out for his newest “congregation.” He was one of them. He was actually more than one of them; he went further and persecuted them. He’s actually setting them up because what they will hear next will either infuriate them or draw them into what he is saying.

We all have back stories. We call them testimonies. But Paul when Paul wrote this, he was still fairly fresh from his conversion so his conversion experience was as real as it ever would be.

Most reading this devotional have been Christians for many years. That initial light you saw way back when has dimmed. It doesn’t mean your faith has dimmed, but what you remember about that experience (if anything memorable occurred) has faded.

Instead, what’s more important today for us is what is Christ doing in our life today, right now? What did He do last week? What do we hope He’ll do tomorrow?

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Language of the People

“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”

2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Acts 22:1-2

It’s obvious that Paul was fluent in several languages. He knew when to use each language. He knew the power of using the mother tongue of those he was speaking with.

One of the daunting things for many new missionaries is learning a new language. There is a ton of memorization involved and it’s just a slow process. You have to worry about accents, dialects, speech patterns, nuances, idioms, proverbs, and colloquialisms, to name a few. Then you have to find people who are patient enough with you to help you practice. Many locals love that you’re learning their language and will do what they can to help you along. But it’s still a slow process.

When I learned Russian many years ago I studied constantly, 6 hours a day and another 6-7 hours at night minimum. But I got to a point that the six hours at night was less than one. I wasn’t the first to notice it; someone else remarked that my study time was greatly reduced because I had put in the long hours early on.

Perhaps you’re aware of a new couple on the mission field. You should pray for them not to be discouraged about language. It’s a process that just takes time and a lot of effort. In the end, though, they are able to communicate in the language of the people they came to serve.

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A Platform

30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”

37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”

“Do you speak Greek?” he replied. 38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”

39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: Acts 21:30-40

The soldiers were taking Paul away but he asked to be heard. Others may have been causing the uproar because of him, but Paul saw an opportunity that wasn’t available 30 minutes prior to that. Now he had a platform. Before he’s finished he will upset a few more people with his words, but for now, he gets to be heard.

For Paul it always seemed to be about looking for an opportunity and seizing it.

Those opportunities come along for us, though probably not as violent or obvious. And the opportunities come in many sizes too: lending a hand when no one else does, saying a kind word to someone who is having a terrible day, or any number of things we can imagine. Opportunities to help otherx get closer to the truth are there if we are training ourselves to look for them.

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Lies Lies and More Lies

27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.) Acts 21:27-29

What do you do when someone begins to spread lies about you? You can ignore the lies or you can confront the lies. Sometimes you can do both. People make that decision every day.

Sometimes, though, the lies confront you. This is what was happening with Paul. People became afraid of this monster named Paul!

Most of us, however, are better off just ignoring what’s being said. Often the lies being spread reveal the true nature of the gossip. People see through the person.

Ignoring lies that people spread is never easy. Sometimes it’s the best and most difficult course of action.

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For the Sake of Unity

20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”

26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. Acts 21:20-26

The last thing Paul wanted among the Believers was disunity. People were taking a portion of truth and mixing with a larger portion of lies in order to accuse Paul of something that was completely false. Paul could have ignored it and went about his business but he went out of his way to make things right.

We are often faced with “smoothing ruffled feathers” to promote peace and harmony. Often it can come at great expense to us, much as it did for Paul.

The right thing to do is always the right thing to do.

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Reconnecting

15 After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.

17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. Acts 21:15-17

Do you know people you haven’t seen in years but immediately begin talking to each other as if you haven’t been apart at all? Paul seemed to do this in Jerusalem with his fellow Believers. When you a members of a group, there’s a camaraderie that those outside the group do not know. This was another reason Paul was anxious to get back to Jerusalem.

There’s probably somebody you’re thinking about right now who fits into that category for you.

Pick up the phone and call. Forget email and texting. Just call. Reconnect. Talk about family. Or work. Or nothing at all. You’ll be glad you made the call.

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Make That Decision Now

10 After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'”

12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” Acts 21:10-14

Where does our will end and the Lord’s will begin? There were many God-fearing people pleading with Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

From this text, Agabus merely said that Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles in Jerusalem. He didn’t try to stop him from going. Paul knew it was the right thing to do even when the people he loved and trusted didn’t think it was a good idea.

We all have people we know, love, and trust who give Godly counsel, but it’s still up to us to make those tough decisions. We have to live with those decisions.

We all know people right now who have tough decisions to make. You’ve given them counsel. It’s up to them to decide what to do next. Or perhaps it’s you that has to make the difficult decision. You’ve gotten the counsel you need, but you need to just make the right decision. After you’ve weighed all your options, prayed for the wisdom to make the right decision, and sought Godly counsel, make the decision.

What one or two pieces of information do you need (but don’t have now) to make that decision?

Just make it. If it’s the wrong decision, you’ll probably know quickly and you can reverse course. If it’s the right one, you wonder why you waited so long to make it.

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And They Prophesied

7 We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. 8 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. Acts 21:7-9

Throughout Scripture we read certain details that sometimes baffle us. Take verse seven for example. The deacon Philip had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. What are we to do with that? Because we’re 2000 years removed we’re not able to find husbands for them. They prophesied.

We know that they were Godly women who set themselves apart for the men they would marry. More to the point, they also set themselves apart for God and His ministry. We know nothing about Philip’s wife except that she was also a Godly woman who raised her daughters in the fear of the Lord.

What does it all mean to us? Well, I see a lot of Believers discouraged about their children. They’ve brought them up to obey the Lord, but the children go astray. The parents blame themselves and revisit every wrong they’ve ever said or done in the presence of their children.

Hang in there. God is still at work in you and your children. If you’ve done everything humanly possible to bring your child back to the faith, it’s in God’s hands now. Letting Him take control of the situation may be the hardest thing in life to do.

Keep praying. Keep the faith that God is still in control.

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