Key verse: 1 Samuel 5:4
Big idea: God rules over all other powers.
Because of the wickedness of Eli's sons, God allowed the ark of the covenant - the symbol of his powerful presence in Israel - to be temporarily taken. But the Philistines would not see this as God judging his own people, but as a sign that their god Dagon had defeated the god of the Israelites. That was not an impression that God would allow to stand. So when the ark was taken into the Temple, the idol that they worshipped as their God fell flat on its face before God, as if in worship. They propped the statue back up (what kind of god needs to be picked up by his worshippers?) and the next day, he had fallen down prostrate again and his hands and neck were broken off. The Philistines had defeated and shamed Israel in battle, but Israel's God was the conqueror of all others.
Sometimes, people imagine that God and Satan are locked in combat, two equals struggling for supremacy. But this is not so. God is the Maker and Sustainer of all that exists, from the highest angel to the lowest insect. Nothing in heaven or earth can oppose him, and more than the statue of Dagon could stand before the ark. For a season, Satan is allowed to oppose the people of God, but his defeat is certain and his power goes no farther than God permits. In your life, God may allow you to go through difficult times, but take heart! They can go no further than His wise and loving hand allows.
Discussion idea: Why did God allow the ark to be captured? How does the idea of warring gods leak into our culture today?
Prayer focus: Lord, You are Lord of Lords. all of the other powers and principalities in the universe are under your hand. Set my heart on you alone, and my faith in you alone.
Key Verse: Acts 22:18
Big Idea: The churches of Jesus are made up of people who have been changed.
In Acts 22, we come to the second account of Paul's conversion. There will be one more before the book ends so that the same story is told thrice (with increasing detail) in a book of only 28 chapters. In Paul's letters, he gives the account personally twice more (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and Galatians 1:11-16). Of all the events in the New Testament, the only one I can think of which is described in more places is the Resurrection (the Great Commission is a tie). Obviously, it was important to Paul, but why did the Holy Spirit place such an emphasis on his conversion in the Bible? I think perhaps it is because his salvation is a model for all of us. We begin as enemies of Jesus, opposing Him by opposing His work, and yet He still pursues us. When He catches us, it is not to destroy us but to rescue us. Paul's conversion seems dramatic because his sin was so overt, but our own is no less of a transition from death to life and darkness to light.
When Jesus assembles local churches as His temple and His body, He does not begin with materials that are perfect. Instead, He takes radically sinful people and transforms them from the inside out. This is both encouraging - we are so precious to Him that He does not cast us aside - and humbling - we need such radical transformation to be fit for His use. Paul's account of his own salvation is that he had been as zealous in opposing Christ as anyone, but that when Jesus reached him, he had to recognize he had been going in the wrong direction. God does not use us because of who we have been, but because of who He will make us.
Discussion Idea: Could God have simply used sinless angels instead of sinful people. Why did He choose to use us, despite the difficulty? Does repetition of the same story of God using Paul, even with his past, encourage you to trust that He can use you too?
Prayer Focus: Praise God for the radical change He has made in your life, either before or after conversion, with specific examples.