28 Weeks Acts Devotion Week 21
WEEK 21 - ACTS 21 - December 31, 2018
Written by Rev. Dr. Sam Powers, senior pastor, First UMC, Edmond; General Conference Delegate
It’s hard to believe that another year is ending. At some point, I stopped being “young” clergy. I remember one year being one of the sixteen under the age of 35 in the Oklahoma Conference. I dubbed us the “sweet sixteen.” Now I’m fifty and well into middle age. I still do some youthful things. I lead small group in church camp each year. I take groups on hikes through the back of Canyon and they are affectionately referred to as “death hikes” since they are a little more strenuous than the path to the cross.
I still try to relate to younger people in a variety of ways.
But as I have several millennials on my church staff, I have come to the conclusion that they are just different. I recognize that I don’t relate to the younger people in the same way as our younger staff members. I don’t abdicate my responsibility to continue to be in relationship but I do see that if I can influence younger leadership, my reach will be farther. And so, this fall I turned the preaching duties of our contemporary worship service over to our young associate, Trey Witzel. The service hasn’t missed a beat and continues to grow. And while I sometimes lament the loss of my immediate relationship with that portion of the church (this is the service my two children attend), I also know that it was unhealthy for me to continue to preach four services in one morning.
I had to give up a part of myself in order to see the whole flourish. It is difficult to die to the self. And yet, if we can allow it, we do find resurrection comes in surprising ways!
As we continue to follow Paul through the book of Acts, we see in this week’s reading, his return to Jerusalem. But before he goes, he is warned against it.
Paul goes anyway.
He knows that he may die if he goes to Jerusalem.
Paul goes anyway.
He is determined to communicate with the Jerusalem leadership of the church and to try to set things right. I admire his resolution because he has put the good of the whole over himself in ways that are costlier than simple pride or ego.
One of the main sources of conflict within the early church was the determination of how we would minister to Gentiles who have become believers. Christianity starts among Jews who practice their faith with all of the traditions and rituals prescribed by scripture (there was no “new” testament yet – they were living it). The Way, as it was known, continued to flourish in Jewish communities around the Mediterranean world. And as Jews were minorities in these other places, Christianity began to spread among those who did not grow up observing all of the Law. Paul felt that God was leading him to disallow certain practices that were biblical and foundational to what it meant to be Jewish. This is no small thing for him. He states to the Philippians in 3:5-6 that his own qualifications of “Jewishness” would place him on the top rung of the ladder. Yet he also ready to cast all of it away – dying to the accomplishments of the self – for what it means to be in Christ.
Luke, as the author of Acts, relates that the Jerusalem leadership pronounces the following judgment on the Gentiles in verse 25: “they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols… and from fornication.” Paul may have mixed feelings about this. Chapter 8 of his first letter to the Corinthians expressly allows for eating meat that has been offered to idols unless it disrupts the relationships in the community. Paul also stands in chapter 7 of the same letter against fornication. He advises toward self-control with regards to one’s sexuality and if people cannot master their domain in this area, then they are to keep their sexual expressions contained within their marriage.
As we seek to find A Way Forward in our denomination, we find that marriage is a big sticking point. Some Christians feel that same gender marriages should be allowed within our church law. Others feel that this is breaking what God desires for us as human beings. It seems that we are being called to the crossroads to figure it out. Many on both sides seem to be tired of the debating.
As this week’s chapter in Acts speaks to me regarding this issue, I continue to come back to Paul’s determination to go to Jerusalem. He could have easily started something new and done his own thing. Yet, his desire for relationship with one another reminds us of what it means to be in Christ together. We strive to stay connected. It often takes work – the work of the Holy Spirit. We seek to connect the good news of Jesus Christ with those who have not heard. We want to tell it in ways where people today can hear.
I pray for our church. I pray that in this new year, God will surprise us once more with resurrection. I pray that all of us as the church will be able to die to ourselves so that we can see it happen.
Suggested reading schedule
• Monday - Acts 21
• Tuesday - Acts 21:1-6
• Wednesday - Acts 21:7-16
• Thursday - Acts 21:17-26
• Friday - Acts 21:27-36
• Saturday - Acts 21:37-40
• Sunday - Acts 21
- Where do you need to die to the self so that resurrection can happen in your life?
- Just as the crowd was stirred up to violence against Paul, we may find ourselves getting stirred up surrounding the special General Conference. Where do you find yourself particularly troubled?
- What relationships do you have in your life that take work? How are you being resolute to keep them?
- What are your brightest hopes for your local church in the coming year?
Prayer focus: United Methodists that think differently from me.
If you wish to contact the delegation via email the address is firstname.lastname@example.org