Even Priests Became Obedient

Today’s reading is Acts 6.

Wow! Even priests were becoming obedient to the faith. There are multiple things I can’t help but notice in this simple statement. First, notice a reversal in the chapter. In earlier chapters it was priests (Acts 4:1) who were disagreeing with the Christians and arresting the apostles. However, they wouldn’t do great harm to the apostles because they feared the people (Acts 4:21). However, in this chapter, there are priests being converted and the people from among the synagogues turning on the apostles and Christians. Second, just be amazed that the gospel was powerful enough to impact priests. As we have noted before, the priests were often connected with and among the Sadducees who didn’t believe in resurrection. But now many of them are becoming obedient to the faith. Think back to the priests who were arresting the apostles. In that moment, the apostles might think they didn’t have a chance of converting priests. But give it more time and the gospel impacted many of the priests as well. Finally, I simply want to notice that issue of obeying the faith. That isn’t a very common way to refer to the faith these days. In modern times, it is almost like we think faith and obedience are opposites. They don’t go together and in fact contradict each other. But here they are. The faith is something to be obeyed. The priests became obedient to it. May we always obey the faith. And may we always pass the faith along because we never know who it will impact or how long it will take to do so. Praise the Lord!

Next week’s reading is Acts 7.

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Pleasing the Whole Gathering

Today’s reading is Acts 6.

In my opinion, Acts 6 contains one of the most shocking statements in the entire Bible. I am shocked when the text says, “And what they said pleased the whole gathering.” Think for a moment about what the apostles had said. The apostles had been told some of the widows were being overlooked. They responded by saying, “You know what? We don’t have time to deal with that. In fact, we don’t have time to care for any of the widows. Find some other men in the congregation to take care of that. We’re going to preach and pray.” I just want you to imagine what would happen in your congregation if your elders responded that way to a similar complaint. Would it please the whole gathering? Or would there be a church split brewing? But this pleased the whole congregation–native Hebrews, Hellenists, apostles, widows, everyone. It takes some special conditions for this kind of statement to be fully pleasing to the whole group. First, it took the apostles not getting defensive. Rather than staking their territory and defending their honor, they recognized there was a problem that needed a solution, and they couldn’t provide it. They had to be more focused on a solution than on defending or proving themselves. Second, it took the Hellenists not holding a grudge. Sadly, with this kind of problem, some people aren’t looking for a solution, but for a pound of flesh. Some won’t be happy until the ones who messed up are adequately punished, grovel for forgiveness, and are humiliated or hurt themselves. The Hellenists had to be more focused on solving the problem than casting blame and punishing perpetrators. Third, it took a congregation that was more concerned about solving a problem than maintaining their traditions and methods. The Jerusalem congregation was more concerned about making sure all of the widows were cared for than making sure the apostles had control of the finances. That is perhaps the most shocking reality of all. I hope we can always be as good at facing, solving, and conquering problems as the Jerusalem congregation was in this instance.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 6.

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Teamwork

Today’s reading is Acts 6.

Imagine a one man football team. How would that work? Could the man hike the ball to himself, block for himself, then hand off to himself or pass to himself, and then run for a touchdown? Of course not. Or what if everyone on the team was a quarterback? Folks like me, who don’t really keep up with sports or know much about it, tend to think a guy like the quarterback is the most important person on the field, so it might be good if the whole team were like him. However, would 11 QBs actually make a good team? No way. Sure, they may be passable at blocking and receiving and running, but in the end they will always get beat out by the well-rounded team with men who know how to fill their own particular roles. Or what about this? What about a team that has 11 players who are trying to play every position on the field all at the same time? Do you know what we call a team like that? PeeWee League. Okay, I know what you are asking, what does this have to do with Acts 6? We saw on Monday that the Jerusalem church had a problem. The Hellenistic widows were being overlooked. But why? Because the apostles were basically doing all the work. They were ministering the Word, they were praying, they were counselling, they were directing, they were leading, they were confronting, they were correcting, and they were handling the money, accounting for it, and distributing it as any had need. It isn’t surprising that as they were spinning all those plates, some of them started to fall. What was the solution? Teamwork. Specialization. Delegation. The apostles were going to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word. They would select seven other men to handle the collection and the distribution. This simple, yet seismic, shift in how the Jerusalem church related to one another and accomplished its work is a beacon for us. The Jerusalem Christians had to learn that no one can do everything. If the congregation is going to grow or handle the growth it has, the members have to figure out what part they play. No one does everything. Not even the apostles could do everything. It takes Teamwork. What is your role on the team? What is your part in your congregation?

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 6.

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Persecutions Without

Today’s reading is Acts 6.

Yesterday, we saw problems within the congregation, today we recognize the ongoing persecutions from without the congregation. Up to this point, the leaders of the Jews had persecuted and threatened the Christians, but they had been afraid to act too decisively because of the people. But now there is a shift. While Stephen was performing wonders and signs among the people, folks from the synagogue of the Freedmen started disputing. This wasn’t the Council. These aren’t leaders from the Pharisees or Sadducees, these are members of one of the synagogues. This is the people. Being unable to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit of Stephen, however, they decide to repeat history. Just as the Jews drummed up false charges against Jesus, these guys drum up false charges against Stephen. If you’ve read Acts 6-8 before, you know how this ends. Stephen is stoned. A great persecution begins. The church of Jerusalem is scattered. However, that isn’t the end of the story, is it? Actually, the story goes on from there. The scattered Christians go out teaching in other places. Many other congregations are started. Many other people are converted. Additionally, the apostles stay in Jerusalem and the church there grows to many thousands again. Certainly, we hate to witness the stoning of Stephen, but let’s make sure to see the whole picture. Just like with the problems we saw yesterday. At first, it seems like a terrible defeat, a struggle, a problem. However, in the end, it becomes a magnificent opportunity. We don’t beg for persecution any more than we beg for problems. However, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, keep obeying His will, and then be shocked to discover that though we thought persecution would kill the church, it actually causes it to explode with growth. Things look different when you are on Jesus’s side. Never forget that.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 6.

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Problems Within

Today’s reading is Acts 6.

Sadly, there seem to be some Christians who do not want their congregation to grow. Why? Because of the Acts 6 principle. You know, the larger the congregation, the bigger the problems. But perhaps that is the wrong way to look at it. In Jerusalem, the congregation grew and so did their problems. Specifically, an ethnicity problem. I am sure the apostles were not purposefully ignoring the Hellenistic widows, but they had a lot on their plate. In fact, they had everything on their plate. Some of it was toppling off. If we are not careful, we will read right through this chapter and miss how revolutionary the solution was. They had to completely change their structure for accomplishing work within the congregation. Perhaps they were able to do this because they hadn’t been doing it for so long that people were married to their methods. Up until this point, the money collected had been laid at the apostles’ feet to distribute as they saw fit. But now, it was going to be laid at someone else’s feet. Someone else was going to be in charge of distributing the funds collected to those who were in need. Seven men were selected to do this work of ministering, literally deaconing. And it worked. The church had been threatening to divide, but instead it multiplied. What had seemed a humongous problem turned into a terrific opportunity. Yes, as congregations grow numerically problems increase. However, they aren’t really problems. They are opportunities. Opportunities to grow spiritually, opportunities to grow maturity, opportunities to relationally. True spiritual growth doesn’t come from ignoring potential obstacles, but from facing them head on and overcoming them. Don’t be afraid of the potential problems coming in your congregation. Attack them, solve them, conquer them, and grow because of it.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 6.

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Rejoicing to Suffer

Today’s reading is Acts 5.

Certainly, we know we are supposed to count it all joy when we face various trials. But, the apostles didn’t just face various trials. They faced persecution. They weren’t just facing the general ups and downs of life. They weren’t just doing the best they could but got sick, got fired, got hurt. They were serving the Lord faithfully and were targeted for that exact faithful service. A more natural, flesh-based response might be something like: “Lord, what’s up? I thought you were King of the world. I thought you had conquered these jokers. I thought you had seated us above all the principalities and powers on earth and in the heavenly places. Why are you letting this happen?” But that isn’t the apostles’ response. They are excited to suffer for Jesus. They are excited to sacrifice for Jesus. They rejoice to be prisoners for and of Jesus. This is so topsy-turvy. Most people rejoice when their King promotes them, gives them land, servants, money. Jesus’s ambassadors rejoice because they get to suffer for Him. In a day when Christianity is touted as the way to have your best life now, this look back at what serving Christ looked like in the beginning makes me stop and do some real self-examination. I have a lot of growing to do.

Next week’s reading is Acts 6.

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Obey God Rather than Man

Today’s reading is Acts 5.

It’s just that simple. Obey God rather than man. “Man” refers here to members of humankind, not to males. Of course, there are numerous reasons to obey man instead. I can see man. I can hear man. I can get ganged up on by men. Man can mock me. Man can threaten me. Man can bully me. Man can hurt me. Man can kill me. Worse, man can make me feel stupid. Yes, it may be shocking, but I would rather die than feel stupid. But, God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him. You know what? I think I can handle feeling stupid if it means receiving the very presence of God via the Holy Spirit. God raised Jesus up from the dead. He exalted Jesus to His right hand and made Him Leader and Savior. I need both. I need a Savior and I need a Leader. Man can’t save me. Why would I let him lead me? Nope. Jesus is the Savior. I think I’ll let Him be my Leader too.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 5.

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