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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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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The Shocking God

Today’s reading is Acts 5.

Is anyone else completely shocked by Acts 5:5 or Acts 5:10? This doesn’t sound like the God of the New Testament at all. I mean, maybe the God of the Old Testament. But didn’t He become a Christian during those 400 years of silence? What are we supposed to make of this? First of all, we recognize God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There are not different gods over the Old and New Testaments. There is the same God. What is happening here is a reach back to the Old Testament account of Achan who also held something back in Joshua 7. Ananias and Sapphira hadn’t stolen like Achan, but they did lie like him (Joshua 7:11). Second, this is a demonstration that the grace of Jesus Christ is not permission to sin, flouting God, dishonoring Him. God’s wrath breaks into the world as it has done on very few occasions and strikes down Ananias and Sapphira. No, we are not to expect this every time a Christian lies anymore than it happened in the Old Testament every time someone sinned. Third, it reminds me I can’t put God in a box. I admit it. This shocks me. God does something I do not expect. Why would He do this? Perhaps as a reminder at the beginning of the New Covenant that sin is really just that bad. We might think God forgives us in Jesus because, really, the little sins we commit, you know, like telling little white lies, don’t really matter all that much. No. They matter. God doesn’t forgive us because they don’t matter. In fact, they matter so much the cost was for God’s wrath to be poured out on Jesus in the cross. The death of Ananias and Sapphira is shocking, but I need to be reminded how bad sin is. Additionally, I need to be reminded, if the God I believe only ever does exactly what I expect, He is probably a God I made up.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 5.

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Christianity is NOT Socialism

Today’s reading is Acts 5.

In America, it’s a political season. Unfortunately, people on all sides co-opt as much of the Bible as possible to act like they have the rubber stamp of Jesus. The problem is the New Testament isn’t a political book. Neither is it an economic primer. The New Testament wasn’t written to get us to vote a certain way. Neither was it written to explain the best economic system for a country. In all of this, there is one major error though that I hear repeated again and again. That is, the early church was a socialist community. Folks read about how the early Christians and members of the first congregation sold their goods, laid it at the apostles feet, and then let them distribute to all who had need. “Aha! See! Socialism!” But then we get to Acts 5:4. When Ananias and Sapphira lie to the church, the apostles, and to God Himself about how much the land they sold brought in, Peter says, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” Peter patently supports private ownership of property. The property did not belong to the community. Entrance into the community did not demand turning over all private possessions into the public till. By the way, this demonstrates that not only was Christianity not Socialism, it wasn’t a cult. What we see in the early church is not Socialism; it is Fellowship. It isn’t Communism; it is Generosity. Frankly, I don’t have a spiritual dog in the political and economic fights of our present earthly kingdoms. What I am concerned about is accurately representing Scripture and refusing to twist things for my own or anyone’s political gains. The early Christians were generous, hospitable, and full of fellowship with one another. They weren’t entering a commune or abandoning principles of private property ownership. If you want to be a Socialist, that’s your business. Please, don’t use the early church as your reason for doing so. Instead, use the early church as your example for being generous and hospitable whatever your country’s economic policies.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 5.

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Many Proofs

Today’s reading is Acts 1.

Sometimes what amazes me most about the Bible is not what it does say, but what it does not say. There are bits and pieces left out that to me seem really important. For instance, according to Luke, over 40 days Jesus presented Himself alive to the apostles “by many proofs.” Why didn’t Luke share more of that? Certainly, a couple of those events are recorded in the gospels, but if there were many, why not show more? If I were a skeptic, I’d jump on that with a fervor saying they didn’t have many proofs. I’d say Luke was just making it all up. In fact, even as a believer, I’m a little drawn to that and start to have my doubts. However, something pulls me up short from running headlong down that trail. I ask myself, if I were making up this story of Jesus out of whole cloth, what would I do? Like Luke, I would want there to be many convincing proofs. Like Luke, I would think there needed to be many convincing proofs. Not just a couple, but many. Not just a handful, but many. If I were making up this story, I would make up many “proofs.” I’d start developing so many stories of Jesus appearing to the apostles and to others that the reader would have to cave under the pressure of all the proof. But oddly, Luke is satisfied with simply saying, “Oh yeah, there were many convincing proofs. I don’t have room to share them. But they were there.” Then he moves on with the story. Why? Because Luke isn’t making up the story. Since he isn’t, he doesn’t have that overwhelming psychological and emotional need to multiply proofs. As far as he’s concerned, the few he shared in the first volume is enough. As far as he’s concerned, telling the stories of Jesus’s impact on the disciples in the coming chapters is enough. That is a mark of people telling the truth. They don’t feel the need to multiply supposed proofs. And all of this reminds me that what Jesus is striving to produce in us is faith. As shocking as it is to us, when faith is the premium, there will always be room for doubt. But I ask you, does Luke write like an author who knows he is lying, making up stories, fabricating events to convince us to follow him as a religious leader? Or does he write like a man who believes, who knows he is simply telling the truth? I know what I see here. What about you?

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 1.

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Theophilus

Today’s reading is Acts 1.

What’s in a name? I know the name “Theophilus” sounds odd to us today. Maybe we could shorten it to Theo and feel good about it, but the full name probably isn’t going to make the rounds in modern times. However, it is really a cool name. It literally means “lover of God” or “friend of God.” Who knows if Theophilus was the man’s original name or the name he changed to when he became a disciple of Jesus Christ? In fact, some suggest this may merely be a rhetorical device as Luke is writing to anyone who wants to be considered a friend of God. It’s much more historically likely that Theophilus was a patron who supported Luke to do his work, supporting him on his travels with Paul, supporting him on his journeys to research these books. What it tells us is that people who loved God even in the very beginning of the church were interested in Jesus, in what He did, what He taught, and what He continued to do through His apostles and church. They wanted to know for certain what was true (Luke 1:4). The same is true today. Those who love God want to know Jesus. That’s why we keep reading. I’m glad you are still reading with us.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 1.

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When Prayer is Working

Today’s reading is Luke 22.

I once read the report from a “scientific” study that claimed it had proven prayer doesn’t work. The study followed heart surgery patients divided into certain groups based on being prayed for or not and the patients’ knowledge of being prayed for or not. Negative heart and health events following surgery were tracked. There was practically no statistical difference in the number of negative events post-surgery between those who had been prayed for and those who hadn’t, whether they knew they were being prayed for or not. “Aha!” the scientists cried. “Prayer doesn’t work!” I could write multiple posts on how unscientific the study actually was, but that is really beside the point. The fundamental problem was the people conducting this study did not truly understand the purpose of prayer, and, therefore, didn’t know how to judge if it was working. The people conducting this study thought prayer was working when people got what they asked for. That is not the case, and Jesus’s prayer on the Mount of Olives demonstrates this. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done,” He prayed. Jesus actually demonstrates the primary purpose of prayer is not to get what we ask for, but to bend us to God’s will. Prayers is not working when we get what we ask for. Prayer is working when we become more like God through our praying, when our will aligns more perfectly with His because of our praying. God did not take the cup from Jesus. Did that mean His prayer didn’t work? Of course not. His prayer worked because when it came time to drink the cup, Jesus surrendered to the will of His Father. His prayer strengthened Him to fight the temptation and aligned Him even more perfectly with the will of the Father. His praying worked. As shocking as it may be, prayer isn’t about conforming God to our will, it’s about us conforming to His. Let’s keep praying; let’s keep conforming.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 22.

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