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Well, my deepest apologies for being a couple of months late in starting this new series. Once 2018 hit, we had things going on left and right; also, I’ve been trying to concentrate on Scripture memorization after a message delivered at our church by author Robert J. Morgan inspired me to do so. However, I need to get back to it, so let me begin with a “why” of this particular subject, Jesus: I am the (fill-in-the-blank). This particular study may, at times, be more intermittent than the usual walkthrough of a book of the Bible, but I’m looking forward to it.

After wrapping up Acts, I remembered a devotional thought I was going to use regarding everyday items that we see, that Jesus used to describe Himself. I was also inspired by a late 2017 series our pastor did on some of the “I am the (fill-in-the-blank)” from the book of John. I then felt sort of sheepish, thinking that I didn’t want anyone to think I was just copying our pastor. However, after talking with him, he encouraged me to go ahead with the plan; he had only used the several items from John, and there were many more things in the Testaments that Jesus used to describe Himself to the disciples.

In fact, when I began some background preparation, I used the Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Holy Bible to look up all the “Names, Appellations, and Titles” used to describe Jesus. I found that there were roughly 232 titles and descriptions used to describe our Lord! Now, let me assure you, I’m not going to be covering all of those! However, I’m going to pray and select roughly a dozen to focus on, as the Lord leads me.

I’ve always liked analogies; if you’ve followed these devotions, you can see that. I guess my favorite story, which you’ve heard, is when I lived briefly with my grandmother while attending college and into my first post-graduate occupation. I came home from work as a programmer at a textile corporation, and she asked me how my day was. “Fine.” I replied. “Well, tell me, what did you do?” she asked. Now, my grandmother was not very technical; she couldn’t set the clock on her VCR (and I’m not being mean here…really, she couldn’t!). So how in the world was I going to talk about working with programs, JCL, COBOL, and procs on a mainframe computer? Simple: by phrasing it in a way she’d understand. I described my day like it was a recipe in her cookbook (and my grandmother DID know how to cook!) That way, I could convey what I did in a way she could comprehend.

I guess that’s what drew me to all the names used to describe Jesus. When you think about it, how would God convey Who He was to human beings? The comprehension of that would stagger the most intelligent mind (and still does today!) So, Jesus took the items His disciples were familiar with: fishermen, bread, water, stars, etc., and revealed His glory through those. Sometimes, they still didn’t get it, but eventually they did…and eventually, we will to.

So next time, we’ll begin with Jesus: I am the Bread of Life.

May God bless this study and show you and me something through it.

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Acts 28: 1-31

Verse 24: “And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.”

Here we are, at the end of 2017. Tomorrow is January 1, 2018. Like most folks, I look back on this year reflectively. There are good memories and accomplishments; there are also some memories and incidents that I’d rather forget (and hope are not repeated in the new year!) Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French critic, journalist, and novelist, once stated that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” (this is a loose translation; I referenced this from the Wikipedia entry on Karr: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Baptiste_Alphonse_Karr). Sometimes you think things will be different, only to see that they still turn out the same way.

Paul must have felt some sense of this. After ministering on the isle of Malta, he finally makes it Rome. Granted some freedom to stay in a house while awaiting trial, he calls the local Jewish leaders to him and updates them on recent events as well as telling them the Good News. If you or I were Paul, we might be tempted to think, “well, this time will be different. This isn’t the local mob of Jews I’ve had to deal with. I’m in Rome now; the outcome will be much better.”

But what happened? The same result as before: some were persuaded and believed, but some disbelieved. It can be disheartening to keep trying over and over and yet feel rejected, but this didn’t stop Paul. He kept preaching the Gospel wherever he was and with whoever he was with. We should have this same attitude as well. God didn’t call us to save people to Him; only Jesus Christ can save people’s souls. God commands us, as Christians, to tell the Good News to as many as we can. We’re just messengers; we can’t make people accept Christ…but God takes the seeds that are sown in His name, and takes it from there.

So as we conclude this study of Acts, remember to be faithful messengers in Jesus’s name…telling the Good News of Jesus Christ. We’ll resume the studying in a few weeks with a series called “Jesus: I Am the (fill-in-the-blank)” It’s a study of some of the analogies that Jesus taught His disciples to better explain Who He is. These analogies are just as important to us years later, as well.

May God bless you this coming new year!

Acts 27: 1-44

Verses 23-24: “For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.'”

Whenever I do not drive myself on Carpenters for Christ mission trips, most of the other times I travel with my father in his truck. Since he is driving, I’ll chart our progress on a map to see how close we are to state lines and such (in most cases to take some snapshots). There have been times he has asked me where we are on the map and how close we are to certain landmarks or towns. He has even asked before how many miles we are to a certain area (good thing I took land navigation in high school!) I thought of this when reading all the detail that Luke put into the account of Paul travelling to Rome aboard the ship and his trials during the storm. Most of the account is filled with this navigational detail, but there were three things that drew my attention while reading this account.

In verse 3, Luke writes that Julius (the centurion in charge of the prisoners) treated Paul kindly. I’m reminded that God “clears the way” when we need His help, and sometimes that help comes in unexpected people that He sends our way.

The second item is in verses 23-24: that God reminded Paul that he was to make it to Rome alive to be brought before Caesar. Worry is one of the devil’s favorite weapons…with that weapon, he can rob us of the energy and focus that we need in ministering for God. Paul was probably emboldened and strengthened to be reminded of this by God’s angel. The weight of concern about their survival was lifted from him with this reminder, allowing him to focus on the task at hand.

The third item is in verse 36; Paul encouraged the men, who hadn’t eaten anything in the last 14 days, to take nourishment for their survival. The angel had told Paul that they would survive, but the ship would be run aground, so they would need strength to make it shore (go without food for 2 weeks, and see how strong you are!) This verse is a reminder that God gave us physical bodies that we need to take care of in order to better serve Him. That means making sure we take the nourishment we need to keep our bodies running as they should.

Sounds like common sense, right? But as I’m often reminded in this old world, common sense ain’t as common as it used to be. It’s better to let God do the driving and we “ride shotgun” with Him!

Something to think about.

Acts 26: 30-32

Verses 31-32: “and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.” Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.””

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” – Sherlock Holmes, Chapter 6, p.111, The Sign of the Four (got this from https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Sherlock_Holmes).

As Sherlock Holmes so wryly explained, when you take off all other factors of something (prejudices, societal designations, stigmas, labels, opinions, etc.), the only thing left is the truth. That is just what Agrippa and Festus conclude once they bring Paul’s presentation to an end by standing up and leaving the room. After some side discussion with Festus, Agrippa gives Festus his opinion (which Festus had asked for). The verdict: not guilty. No other decision could be reached; they said it plainly: “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.” Agrippa further states ironically, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Remember, Paul had his travel plans arranged already…not by Festus, who you might say was the conductor in this case…but by the Lord, the One who is taking Paul on the Holy Express to witness in Rome. As the narrator of the animated cartoon The Hobbit once sang, “The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.”

More to come!

Acts 26: 24-29

Verse 28: “Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian”.”

Have you seen the Snickers commercial where the stadium technician is painstakingly painting the end-zone with the logo of the team, while the team is practicing? He is drawing each letter with precision detail with spray nozzle, paintbrush, and powder cart; he finally stands up to admire his handiwork after several hours. A football player walks by and says “Hey, that’s great…the Chefs!” Then the realization dawns on him that the team is called the Chiefs. In that awkward moment that he realizes he has to tear down and re-do what took hours to do in the first place, you hear the narrator state, “Not going anywhere for a while? Grab a Snickers!”

King Agrippa is not going anywhere at the moment; he must give a reply. Paul continues his argument with the rhetorical question, “do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.” King Agrippa is a good Jew, but he is also a wise politician. I read several Holman sources (Bible and concordance) for background on this. When I was a child, I first read the above verse thinking Agrippa had accepted Paul’s witness and became a Christian. The background research seems to suggest that Agrippa was in a bind; he couldn’t disagree with Paul’s references to Jewish history and the prophets, but yet he didn’t want to appear that he was siding with Paul and possibly lose some political credibility. Thus, he answered in the non-committal reply in verse 28.

Paul continues that he wishes Agrippa and all others in earshot would become like him in this aspect: a follower of Christ…to become just like him, except for the chains.

Always be on the lookout for open door opportunities to witness for our Savior, fellow Christian, no matter how great or how small.

Something to think about.

Acts 26: 9-23

Verses 22-23: “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come–that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

Want to get someone’s attention? State that you are saying something or doing something by the authority of a very respected historical figure (now, don’t do this flippantly!) In most cases, it’ll give the audience pause and consideration of you, especially if your audience respects the figure by whose authority you have referenced. Preachers and judges alike often use the phrase “by the power invested in my by…” when referencing their validation of their authority.

Paul here is continuing his defense before Agrippa by telling his own biography of how he used to persecute Christians. He continues with the details of his conversion by Jesus Christ on the Damascus road; he sums up the narrative of his history by telling Agrippa that he was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision”, but went on to proclaim the Good News everywhere. He declared it those locally around them, then hit the road to witness abroad. Again, he justifies what he is doing; he presents that the Jews have tried to kill him over this. And what he does is “saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come”. In effect, you could say Paul is saying that “they want to kill me over the very things Moses and the prophets said…so what have I done wrong?” No good Jew would go against the teaching of Moses and the Old Testament prophets.

So, Paul has set up his foundation for his defense; now he has built up the walls to fortify his argument. Get ready as he puts the roof on next!

More to come.

Acts 26: 1-8

Verse 8: “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?”

Way back when DC Comics had published the storyline “The Death of Superman”, in which Superman seemingly perished defending Metropolis from the alien monster known as Doomsday, the eventual return of Superman to life was depicted in the storyline “Reign of the Supermen”. As an epilogue to that story, Superman and Lois Lane were shown by the supernatural detective, Dr. Occult, just how Superman “came back from the dead”. Long story short, it was a series of factors and events that only occurred in a once-in-a-lifetime configuration; Superman was as close to death as he could be (for a Kryptonian). This fact was lost on a gathering of people who began to worship Superman, as he had “come back from the dead” in their eyes. Kal-El was horrified to see that these people flocked to him like he was a god, and he had to vocally reprimand them that, telling them that he was mortal (although he has “power and abilities far beyond mortal men”, to quote the old Adventures of Superman TV show). He could no more raise people from the dead or cure the sick supernaturally than they could. Thankfully, his words snapped them back to reality.

Paul begins his defense before King Agrippa by harkening back to his defense before the Sanhedrin: that he believes in the resurrection of the dead. He evens parlays it into the rhetorical question he puts before Agrippa: “Why should it be though incredible by you that God raises the dead?” If God is truly all-powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent, then why wouldn’t He be able to raise the dead? Paul is laying the foundational basis for his later arguments regarding Jesus.

I am reminded of the times when we have to be reminded of God’s power. Take Matthew 8: 23-27 and Matthew 14: 22-33. Both times, when out on the water, Jesus performs miracles over the power of the storm and of the sea in the face of his disciples’ fears. He then reminds them, “why did you doubt, o ye of little faith”. The disciples’ replies that marvel at His power are perfectly summed up in Matthew 14:33: “Truly You are the Son of God”.

Why should we think it incredible that God can’t do the impossible? He’s God!

More to come.