Silver Lining

Acts 8:1-8 (NLT)

Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.

A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.


By Chuck Griffin

No one would ever look forward to persecution, but it’s amazing how resilient Christians can be in the face of such abuse. This particular outbreak of systematic oppression seems to have been led at least in part by Saul, more often called Paul after his later skull-rattling conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus.

Let’s focus, however, on the response of these Christians in the midst of this storm of hate. They prudently scattered, but as a group they did not abandon their mission. In fact, scattering them may have been the worst mistake their enemies could make.

They scattered not like frightened rabbits, but like seeds, blooming wherever they landed. Rather than being destroyed, the church grew, spreading beyond its Jewish base further into the world beyond.

When we think of miracle-workers in Acts, we tend to think of Peter and Paul. But here we learn about Philip the Evangelist’s work. The Spirit clearly was upon him, manifested in both miraculous signs and powerful teaching and preaching.

Those of you attending Weber City, Va.’s Holston View UMC or viewing worship online this Sunday will hear more about Philip and his work, God willing. To me, Philip seems like a quiet servant of God, humble but having a great effect on the world.

I realize some of you read these devotions in places where you perhaps face hostility and danger because of your faith. We who are in the United States face nothing like real persecution—our challenges rise only to the level of extreme nuisances, and those often are inflicted on us by other members of our denomination.

If you are in one of those dangerous places, know we are praying for you. We are conscious that martyrs are being made every day.

Thank you for standing strong and sowing seeds for the kingdom.

Lord, bless all who find their freedom and their lives jeopardized for believing in you. Please continue to astonish us with the ways you work in the midst of vicious non-belief. Amen.

Our Time of Testing

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Acts 11:19-26 (NLT)

Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord.

When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)


There are a lot of memes on social media saying things like, “May there never be another year like 2020.” I get it. This year has been a relatively miserable experience, particularly for those who have lost loved ones.

Our current situation makes me appreciate the story of the early Christians who fled persecution, but then continued to preach the truth that got them persecuted in the first place. The resilience of this first generation of Christians, and some generations that have followed, is amazing.

The early Christians who went to Antioch are especially worth remembering. They transported the Christian message into a new culture, the first step in making our faith a global religion. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!

Christians of 2020, we are in a time of testing. Will we be numbered among the resilient generations, or will we fold?

The answer lies in our commitment to the same principle that drove Generation One. As we exit this year and pass through the next couple of years, time will tell whether we grew as disciples and made disciples of others.

Did we cut through the fear and political chatter and get to the main point: In good times or bad, Jesus Christ is Lord! Were people so taken by the message that they were baptized and absorbed into the life of Christ’s holy, universal church?

Christ’s message of love and forgiveness gives us hope in this life, and hope is what we most need when we feel times are tough. In many ways, nonbelievers should be more ready to hear this powerful message now than ever.

Enough of us have to be ready to deliver it, though. We know that within Generation One there were several who fell away because of hardship and discomfort, ending their commitments to the fledgling movement. Enough stood strong to change the world, though.

Will we change the world once again?

Lord, even if we as your church prove to be a remnant, may we be filled with your Holy Spirit, a seed that will sprout in mighty ways for your kingdom. Amen.

Seven Churches: Ephesus and Smyrna

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 1:19-20 (NLT): “Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen. This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”


The Book of Revelation, with its strange imagery and wide variety of interpretations, makes readers feel anywhere from frightened to joyful. A truly valuable section of this book records letters to seven churches.

One study Bible has this very on-point entry:

It is common for interpreters to separate the seven letters into seven distinct messages and to make them symbolic of seven types of people or seven distinct periods of time. The seven letters, however, actually form a single unified message for the church in all times and places, taking into account all its spots and wrinkles.

NLT Study Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, 2007

Let’s spend the rest of this week exploring what these churches heard in their letters, all messages from the risen Christ. In doing so, I invite you to meditate on our own spots and wrinkles. Something critically important to note: In the eyes of Christ, five of the seven churches are found to be dangerously flawed.

The first letter is to the Christians in Ephesus. There was much to be commended in this church. The people worked hard for Christ’s kingdom. They also had deep discernment. They were credited with rooting out false apostles, liars who probably wanted to use the church for their own benefit.

Such discernment is very important for the health of any church. I have had previous appointments where it became clear a person or people had entered the church in order to fulfill their own selfish desires for money and power, seeing the sheep as a flock to be fleeced. I am eternally grateful for discerning leaders who identified the problem and stood by me as we dealt with it.

Christ also sounded an alarm in this first letter—instead of growing in love for their savior or for each other, the Ephesians’ love had weakened.

Strange as it sounds, I suspect their strength may have fostered a weakness. Did they become so technically proficient in their church operations that they forgot to worship, pray and rest in the Holy Spirit, letting God flow freely among them in heartfelt ways?

If I’m correct, they had taken the first step down the slippery slope where other churches fell and continue to fall today.

The second church to receive a letter, Smyrna, is one of two churches where Christ offered no criticisms. We probably all think we would like to be a part of such a church, until we understand what these people experienced.

In short, poverty and persecution haunted them. Christ even warned that some of them would be imprisoned, suffering to the point of death. (One of the early church fathers, Polycarp, became a martyr in Smyrna in the middle of the second century.) For those who persevered, eternal life would clearly be theirs, the letter said.

When you recall Jesus saying “blessed are the poor” and “the meek shall inherit the earth,” think of the Christians in Smyrna.

Tomorrow, we will consider the letters to Pergamum and Thyatira, places with unfamiliar names but easily recognized situations.

Lord, as we grow in our understanding of these letters, may we see our own strengths and weaknesses as individual Christians, and as churches. Amen.