Memorial Day 2010 Musing

Today was Memorial Day, which is a day to Honor those have died in battle serving the country and serve in the armed forces. It is understandable and respectful to honor and pray for those serving in the military. Yet for Christians the fact is we really do not belong to any country but the Kingdom of God and sometimes we can lose that perspective. Personally, it is a good time to reflect on those who have served the Kingdom of God well. Last year on Memorial Day some specific Martyrs were honored in this thread: https://peacebringer7.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/in-memoriam-christian-martyrs/. This year want to emphasize all those that have gone before us. It is a good time to remember the past and the great crowd of witnesses and use it to inform are present and let us prepare for what is ahead.

The list of those that have gone before us is long and great going back to Abel and way through various people. Many who are well known, many more who are not known. What do they all have in common, the stood firm, they abide in faith, and they serve God’s kingdom well. Take a read of Hebrews 11.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated– of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

 

The long list here in Hebrews 11 is just a small portion of the great crowd of witnesses, those who have gone first and stood firm in faith. They are all regarded to be people who walked by faith. They all believed that God exists and rewards. In other words believed God is who He says He is. Now it is important to note that in the list of these people of faith they had not received yet that what was promised. They stood pain, suffering, and torture. Sometimes delivered, sometimes they did not. Ultimately the focus of the faith is not on what they measured or felt but on the surety of God. It was not about what happened in the here and now on this tangible earth. It was not even about nations or places. It was about God. Learn from the great crowd of witnesses, for while they may have stumbled and faltered at times in their lives, they stayed the course.

Examining the great crowd of the faithful, we find encouragement to stand firm. We find direction that informs us of what it takes to stand firm in the faith, to persevere. In this day and age it is easy to get upset over God failing to meet some personal desire in a way or time of your pleasing. We can easily focus on things of self. The focus though needs to be on God and God alone. God does reward; God does provide; God loves us deeply. What helps us to stand firm, today is not losing focus that it is not about us, but about God. It is not about our own ideas, but God’s Kingdom. It will get difficult and hard times are coming. Any one of us is called and marked with a life as a Martyr, and even if not, we will all face pain and suffering. Difficulties are certain. But God’s faithfulness is more certain, for He will turn all things together for the good even if you do not see it.

So upon looking at the great crowd of witnesses and letting it inform our choices, when we look ahead we know that difficulty is coming. The great crowd of witness suffered much we will not be different. So right now it is a time of preparation. It is time to grow in faith and knowledge of God, for there is a time come soon of testing and trial. Deception will be at every turn. Darkness will grow and reign. Good will be called evil, and evil good. Yet, we are to stand firm. We are to be sober minded, alert, and clear. This comes from growing in God and growing faith. You grow in faith through growing in relationship with God. There are many obstacles that come, many traps set, and falling asleep is easy. But God’s call is for us to endure. Perhaps, before the time of trial and the seventh week some who are faithful will be removed and spared further trial, but do not focus on this hope. Prepare to endure till the end. Make your faith and calling sure. Test yourself and continue to root out and discard all that is untrue. Continue to let the Holy Spirit cleanse you and draw you more clearly aware of the ways you fall short in loving God and others in a pure and whole way.

So in summary, in the Kingdom of God learn from those who have gone before, the great crowd of witnesses. Let them shape your step and path today with a call to draw nearer to God and prepare for what is to come. God is in control but victory is already won. God is faithful and His reward is sure. It will be a privilege to receive His reward and then lay it back down at His feet (see a vision reported on this blog.) We serve in surrender to the Greatest commander: the God of Love. And if by chance you do not, now is the time, surrender to the King of Kings.

Musings on Pentecost Sunday (Shavu’ot)

Sunday May 23rd, 2010 is the day of the Anniversary of Pentecost. It is also the day of the Biblical Festival know as Shavu’ot which means Festival of Weeks. It is also known as Hag ha-Bikkurim: Festival of First Fruits and Hag Matan Torateinu: the Festival of the Giving of Torah. So this day is a day that God has chosen as a day of significance and He gave two significant gifts on this day. This day paints a picture of God’s initiation and our response. God’s initiation involved two things.

The first gift from God was of the Torah, the Law, which provided the way and directions to be free from idolatry and immorality and pointed the way to Jesus. It is a day where focus in on what God has established and the importance of surrendering to Him, to walk in His way. One of the practices on this day in Jewish households is the reading of the book of Ruth, which really emphasizes the total surrender to God, of following His way not our way. It also points to the redeeming work of God, through Jesus the Messiah, to establish the way for all that may follow. Now here is an important fact. The Torah serves to lead us to the need of repentance; a written standard exposed the sinfulness and deceitfulness of the heart. The Torah exposes the need for repentance and surrender pointing to the eternal answer. The Torah serves as the lamp showing the way, the way being Jesus.

The other gift from God given on this day, was the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He is the means by which God’s ways and laws our written on our hearts. The Holy Spirit empowers and brings us to repentance and surrender. On this day, the Holy Spirit came to all who believed. No longer was the Holy Spirit limited to a select few God chose to anoint. Rather, the Holy Spirit indwells all who surrender to God and enter into His Kingdom found through Jesus and what He did at the cross. Being made clean and whole enable the Holy Spirit to reside within, guiding us day by day moment by moment. The being indwelt with the Holy Spirit enables worship in spirit and truth, for without that ongoing presence we all falter.

Ultimately through God’s gifts, He simply gave fully of Himself to give us what we need, to set us free. God’s gifts need a response, an act of worship. Worship exhibited by bringing the first of everything produced during the early Harvest. It is the starting point of all that comes ahead, but it is when the initial rewards are returned back to God as an act of submission. It is a representation of giving fully of self, of surrendering to God fully. God’s precious gifts should bring about a response of total surrender and as we surrender, we receive more from God. When we surrender to the Holy Spirit he is able to move in sanctifying, empowering, and healing. The surrender results in more fruit and a greater Harvest. A genuine response to God of giving back results in God being free to do more. Any such response is one based not on compulsion but on true joy over what God has already given.

What God has given us is precious; freedom from idolatry, darkness, immorality, and selfishness. He has given us Salvation. He has given us life. He has given us His words to direct and the Holy Spirit to lead and empower. It is a wondrous day. How then do you respond to day and the days to come? Do you surrender fully? Do you find ways to respond in love? Do you seek to please God or satisfy self? Check yourself and see what is your response, and if it falters, then wake up and recognize what God has given and done. Reflect on where you were and how He has changed you. Give of yourself as He requests with all you are from the first to the last and ever moment in-between.

I-Phone Application Review: The Wave Study Bible

Recently I had an acquaintance from an online Christian forum make me aware of a new I-Phone application. The application is a study Bible application that is being called “The Wave Study Bible.” The name appears to stem from a word picture used by Dr. Noel and Dr. Denise Enete in their book “How to Read the Bible So God Speaks to You.” Reading the Bible is compared to learning to surf a wave through proper use of skills. The Wave Study Bible is promoted as a tool that can help you get the most out of reading the Bible. The Study Bible does include experts from the book authored by the Enetes that encourages a four step approach to reading the Bible: looking at facts, finding lessons, personally being challenged by the lesson, and responding to the challenge. Providing this information along with the study Bible certainly helps promote reading the Bible in such a way to grow in relationship with God. Now let us look at how it is set up as a study bible application.

The Wave Study Bible can be downloaded free of charge. It comes with the original Greek, King James Translation, NET version, and God’s Word Translation for no cost. It has an array of other translations that can be purchased for $14.99. Currently available for purchase are New American Standard Version, New King James Version, New International Version, New International Reader’s Version, and The Message. A feature of the original language version of Greek is that you can select a word in the Greek and learn the definition of the word in English and the function and tense of the word in the Greek. Using the search feature it is very easy to find other occurrences of the word. The Wave Study Bible also allows you to engage in parallel study and are able to compare translations side by side using the landscape mode on the I-Phone. The Wave Study Bible does not come with any commentaries as their goal is promoting independent study of the Bible. The Wave Study Bible does include a share option which basically involves emailing a passage or one of the Bible tutor selections which are experts from the Enete’s book.

In terms of overall functioning of the application, generally it is rather intuitive. It does include some small pictorial tutorials to explain tips and tricks that might be missed or confusing. Personally, I found the original language feature to be outstanding and of most benefit. It saves from having to do an online search of the Greek and makes it quite easy to examine additional uses of the word. The search features are intuitive and easy to use and you should be able to easily navigate your way to any passage or book of the Bible. Obtaining other translations is also easy to do. The Wave Study Bible definitely is an easy to use tool that can help a person effectively study God’s word independently. The bookmark and history features can be helpful to quick returning to a particular passage.

The only real critique I have of the Wave Study Bible is that it relies heavily on color backgrounds to differentiate one translation from another. Now for most people the color backgrounds would provide no difficulty but for any potential user that has vision problems would likely be unable to use the application in the current form. Other current downsides are the limited number of available translations and the lack of the original Hebrew. Additional offerings and the addition of the original Hebrew are projects that are to be included. It is not clear if the application will be available to other smart form platforms. If the application is not ported to the other platforms it would be a loss.

Prior to the development of this Application the YouVersion I-phone application was the most comprehensive. There are distinct differences in the two applications and personally found The Wave Study Bible to be easier to navigate and move from passage to passage. The YouVersion application involved a few more steps to navigate to passages or even download translations. The YouVersion application though has significantly higher number of applications available including some in languages other than English. In addition, the YouVersion application allows for online use of multiple translations without needing to purchase them. In terms of choosing between the two applications, currently the Wave Study Bible is being used more as it handles more smoothly and offer features not found in the competing application. Overall, it is worthwhile to download and use The Wave Study Bible as it will enrich your study of God’s word. If you have another application you will decide for yourself which you will use more but I anticipate that the Wave Study Bible would be utilized more frequently. I-Pad users in particular would find a lot of benefit to using this application as the features would be highlighted on the larger screen (with the exception of the low-vision issues.)

Musing on the Ascension and waiting

Yesterday was the anniversary day of the Ascension. The day Jesus returned to Heaven.  He spent forty days on earth after the Resurrection teaching and explaining things to the disciples.  There are a few interactions recorded in scripture of some of the time He spent but most of it was not. Basically, the forty days were spent with Jesus really explaining the meaning of scripture to the disciples in relation to what just happened. He made sure they were on a sure ground of understanding. In the Gospel of Luke he is described as opening their minds to understand scripture. In the book of Acts he is described as teaching them about the Kingdom of God.   Jesus took time to make sure they fully understood and had full knowledge before he returned to heaven. He also gave them instruction to wait.  They were waiting for the power, the Comforter that was promised.  They waited because the knowledge itself was not enough; the power of the Holy Spirit was needed.  So the disciples waited. 

The ascension was definitely a strange day for the disciples. They had to be awe struck as they saw Jesus leave. Acts describes them as just standing there staring. They needed a message from angels to get them moving again and they followed direction.  The emotions had to be raw. There had to be pain of separation. They had forty days of joy and learning and wondering what would happen next.  The learned new insights and really began to fully understand and then Jesus left with instructions to wait.   Since they were all gathered together on Pentecost, I believe they were told how long they had to wait and the importance of the day to come. No it is possible Jesus did not spell it out and they all were together to celebrate the feast. God does often leaves waiting without the details, but I believe Jesus told them enough to know that the coming Feast something important would happen.  So they waited and prayed. Excitement and anxiety building each day for what would come. 

Waiting is difficult.  When waiting on God to act and move in His time is challenges faith. There is the mix of anxiety and excitement.  There are often encroaching doubts and questions.  Especially in relations to be sure of understanding fully what God has shown us.  The time is best spent seeking God, taking time to understand what has gone on, make preparations for what is ahead, but still it is waiting.  Often God works as he did here.  He gives us times of knowledge, learning, and growth. He then has us enter a time of waiting and preparation.  The waiting period serves to let us more deeply grasp what we learned and let it reach a level beyond just knowledge.  Sometimes the waiting is tough, particularly if we are not given specifics of when.  However, knowing the specifics does not make it any easier.  There is always a temptation not to wait, to take matters into own hands and bring about what God promises on our own.  Scripture is filled with examples of such choices.  In the days following the Ascension though we have a picture of faithful waiting. 

Ultimately we are all in an ongoing process of waiting that is undefined. Jesus has left and his return is soon. We have the Holy Spirit to direct and comfort us, to leads us in to the right paths and to build us up and cleanse us.  We have the ongoing work of salvation and sanctification going on in our lives.  Yet, the waiting gets tough.  We live in a world filled with darkness filled with pain and suffering. Each of our lives is touched with pain and sorrow.   We lose focus. The pains, doubts, and anxiety overwhelm us. God’s love and plan is questioned. We easily get distracted and lose focus.  Yet, Jesus is coming soon.   Yet, while he is in Heaven making all preparations, he is still active and he is here.  We have access through the Holy Spirit and He is here. 

So we wait and we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  We are to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  We can rest simply on our knowledge and what is written in God’s word. Yet, the disciples were told to wait for more. We cannot diminish or separate the importance of the Holy Spirit and His empowerment.  For if we are acting simply of our own knowledge are efforts are of self and weak. When we are following the lead of the Holy Spirit and acting at His direction, God moves in powerful ways. Sometimes we are aware and see the result, often it is unseen for we are at the time where each day is a day to grow in faith.  Waiting is really about time to grow and build faith.  In waiting we learn the limits of our faith. In waiting God causes what he has done to grow and take root.  Waiting is a really a Holy time we really struggle to grasp. The ten days that the disciples waited before being empowered by the Holy Spirit were a special, God ordained time.   The time is painful, difficult, and intense but God has a purpose.  When waiting follow the disciples lead and review, worship, pray, and prepare.  Do not retreat into fear and anxiety but look ahead and behind for the time that is coming, what God has in store is glorious.  When Jesus returns there will be no greater day. When God acts in our life in the now, it reflects that greater glory as he moves in deeper maturity and dependency on Him.

Mother’s day Musing

Today is a day our culture sets aside to honor Mother’s.  It is a day that we lift them up and express gratitude for how they have nurtured our lives.  It is also the day that we lift up the women in our life who are mothers or will be mothers some day.  So today I first want to thank and honor God for my mother, my mother-in-law, step mother, and wife.  These women are all a blessing in one way or another to me. 

My mother:  She is someone who displayed in my life God’s love and nurturing.  She always did what she could to build me and my brother up in the faith.  She stood in the gap in prayer for both of us many a time. She prayed for the women we would some day marry continually starting from birth.  She dedicated me to God before I was born.  My mother was the first to suggest I consider the field of psychology based on my ability to listen to others.   The man I am today, I am in large part because of the nurturing and love she shared. 

My mother-in-law:  This woman is a gift from God.  Her passion for God is clear.  Her coming into my life through my life was a true blessing that not many men experience.  She is there constantly for my wife, even when she is thousands of miles away.  She displays everyday what it is to walk with God.  It is a true blessing.

Step-mother: My dad’s wife Janie has been a woman who has uplifted both me and my wife. She has shown perseverance in trial. She has been an encouragement when times were tough.  She is someone who has become a clear blessing. She means a lot to me and my wife.  She is a true witness that God works all things together for the good. 

My wife:  She is a true blessing. Some day she will make a wonderful mother and will display God’s love and nurture. In the meantime we grow and struggle and love each other. We continue to grow and prepare for what God has ahead. She is a woman of great depth of passion and cares deeply to the point where others pain and struggles impact  her. 

So I thank God for these examples of his intent when he created women.  Wifes and mothers teach aspects of God’s nature and love and it is true for these women in my life. So today I hold them up in high honor and express thanks to the author of love and pray that God builds them up and works through them even more to reflect that love.

Personal reflections: My responses when difficulties build- giving voice to burdens

This past week have been way to silent on the blog and falter in intentionality.  It seems likely to stem from the pattern that exists of pulling back when things get too tough emotionally. There are a number of things going on and certainly could use prayer for.

1. The ongoing difficulties of wife. The issues with her having wifes that really do not let up continue, then to top it off she picks up some bug.  It pains me to see her suffering. It pains me to see  her suffering reach the point of bringing into question God’s love for her and His willingness to listen.  She is reaching a breaking point and it bothers me to see it and there is nothing I can say or do that can help. 

2.  The week resulted in exposing how to assured of things that I should not be assured.  This involves having important documents stored on a flash drive with already prior experience of the fragility of a flash drive. I had ignored the wisdom of needing to back up and have paid for it. This in spite of already knowing difficulties others have had. So this put me into a real personal funk  with anxiety, uncertainty, and other things.  Now I have found a place that looks like they are capable of restoring data but the anxiety builds none-the-less.

3. Personally have growing frustration over the communication difficulties and hard feelings when theologically disagree with brother and sisters over issues that have no bearing on matters of faith.  Personally have been hurt about things others have said and likely responded in ways that reflect that without really intending to do so. My intent is always to communicate in love, but sometimes things happen or are said that brings out ways of communicating that are hurtful, even to the point of possible severing of relationship, all related to theological perspectives. 

4. Also am aware of lack of steps taken further to move into private practice.  Are there fears or other elements of self getting in the way?  Am I holding back out of lack of faith, protection of self, and fears?  Is it the same dynamics that resulted in my putting off starting the blog for over a year? Fears of putting myself out there as needed in order to network?  Am I waiting, or simply failing to engage?  If holding back from failing to engage why do I do that?

So these difficulties mount and the frustration grows, and so in turn my human natural response is a bit of withdrawal.  It is not looking to God for defense or strength, it is engaging in the human natural.  Personally have a long way to go in my own life in regards to the principles for transcending suffering.  For me resting in God and letting Him work things out in his time is tough. It takes a lot of faith and can see how limited my faith is in all these circumstances.  Now I know in my head that all this leads to greater faith and leads to growing and maturing at a greater level. All I know is right now personally, am tired, hurt, and know the extent of my own limitations and weaknesses.  All I can say and ask here is to pray.  This blog post in away is sharing some burdens that I personally feel and am going through.

Living in Surrender to the Holy Spirit: The example of Francis Chan

Back on April 18, 2010 Francis Chan announced to the congregation of Cornerstone Church where he served as a teaching Pastor that he was resigning to follow God in ways and places not yet known.  Francis Chan has authored two books, Crazy Love and Unforgotten God that really give a sound exploration of worshiping in spirit and truth.  Here with his choice and action He shows he is willing to follow God.  He is engaged in what Mark Batterson has referred to as the Wild Goose Chase, the adventure of walking in the Holy Spirit and surrendering fully to God. Francis could have easily continued what he was doing. He has become a very successful teaching Pastor and has spoken words that have challenged others. This blog  even has some of his video clips posted, one being recent.  But it is worthwhile to see a man following God’s call and answering it.  God tells him to move, and in faith he does.  He could easily have stayed, tried to put his own effort into maintaining what had already been built. Instead, he chose to follow God.   It serves as a challenge to each of us to even daily move in following God’s lead even if we do not understand.  God will always see us through to His promises, for He is faithful. God has things ahead for Francis Chan. But guess what God has things ahead for you and me.  We need to start by simply following God’s lead and walking in obedience.

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Here is the letter he sent Cornerstone Church:

Dear Friends,

For those who have not heard, this past Sunday I announced to Cornerstone Church that I will be transitioning out of my ministry in Simi Valley. It was a rough Sunday as there were many different emotions floating around the room. In short, Lisa and I believe God is calling us to take a step of faith. We believe we are supposed to move into a major city such as LA, San Francisco, or New York. Every time I fly into a large city, I am struck by the sheer numbers and feel pulled to try ministering in that environment. I encourage you to listen to the podcast from this past weekend to hear more details. If for no other reason, my wife spoke some very powerful words that every believer needs to hear.

It has been an amazing 16 years as pastor of Cornerstone Church. When we started gathering, I doubt that any of us dared to dream that God would use this church to have such an impact on Simi Valley and the rest of the world. I think most of us were just hoping it would survive. God had bigger plans than we did. The Lord has truly shown us His grace, that we could be used as His instruments to bring glory to the name of Jesus.

The plan is that I would teach at Cornerstone through the end of May. During this time, I will be sharing the lessons most important to me. I have taught thousands of times over these years, and now I hope to re-emphasize what I see as most important. I will also be at our prayer meetings to beg our God to do even greater things in Simi after I leave. For those who have questions or just want to talk, you can catch me at the prayer meetings.

I’ll continue to write and give you more information as the Lord continues to guide the elders and me. Like I said at our services, I’m still not completely sure of everything, but it feels great to be living by faith.

Once again, here is my family’s rough plan for our future

April/May = speaking at Cornerstone
June/July = speaking around the U.S.
August/Sept = Praying and walking large cities to seek God’s leading.
Oct-Dec = Serving in a third world country
Jan 2011 = launch a new ministry as an extension of Cornerstone

Thanks to everyone who was a part of this amazing journey in Simi. Thanks for all the love and encouragement my family and I have received over the years.

Francis

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24