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.

Continue reading “Persecutions Without”

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.

Continue reading “Rejoicing to Suffer”

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.

Continue reading “Obey God Rather than Man”

Speak!

Today’s reading is Acts 4.

They had been arrested. They were being threatened by the Council. If there was ever a time to say, “Surely the Lord wouldn’t expect us to deal with this,” this was it. If there was ever a time to say, “We’ll just go along to get along for now, but just try not to get caught again later,” this was it. But they didn’t. What did they say, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” We must speak. The Council was charging them to be quiet. They could have said, “Yes, sirs,” but then gone and done what they wanted. But they wouldn’t even do that. They let the Council know right up front. “Nope, we’re going to keep on speaking.” Then it was up to the Council what to do with them. If we speak, our friends might not like us. If we speak, our family may disown us. If we speak, we may become unpopular. If we speak, even brethren might get mad at us. I know I’m tempted to say, “God wouldn’t want me to deal with all this negative press.” But Peter and John are staring me in the face. What an example! What Jesus has done is awesome. What Jesus has taught is life. Let’s Speak no matter the response.

Today’s reading is Acts 4.

Continue reading “Speak!”

You Crucified; God Delivered

Today’s reading is Acts 2.

Peter demonstrates the intersection of God’s foreknowledge and man’s action. Jesus’s crucifixion was not a shock to God. He had known it was going to happen. Not only that, He had planned for it to happen. Yet, Peter tells the Jews, “God delivered Jesus up, but you crucified Him.” When folks try to walk through the issues of foreknowledge philosophically, they get wrapped around the axle. Were the Jews bound to crucify Jesus? Of course not. If they hadn’t crucified Him, God would have foreknown something else. However, before our minds explode trying to keep all of this straight, can we simply notice what Peter, by inspiration of the Spirit, explains? Even though God foreknew this was going to happen, these Jews were still responsible for their actions. They chose their actions. They were not bound to those actions. They were not manipulated by God to accomplish those actions. They were not forced by God. In like manner, whatever God knows about us and our future, when we choose to do it, we are responsible for it. However, let us never think we are going to outsmart God. These folks crucified the Son of God, but they did nothing but accomplish what God wanted. We can fight all we want against God, He will be glorified in the end. He will either be glorified by our defeat as we try to fight against Him and fail, or He will be glorified by our surrender, as we give our lives up in service to Him and He saves us. No matter what, God is glorified. We might as well pursue the side that allows us salvation. Praise the Lord He has offered that option to us.

Today’s reading is Acts 2.

Continue reading “You Crucified; God Delivered”

And So It Begins

Today’s reading is Luke 22.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read the story or heard the story proclaimed. I know the victory with which the story will end. But there is always a part of me when we get to this part of Jesus’s story that wants it to take a different turn. Surely, this time all the people involved will realize how things ought to be. Judas will have learned his lesson and decide not to betray Jesus. Peter will have learned his lesson and decide not to deny Jesus. The Pharisees, scribes, chief Priests, and rulers of the Jews will have learned their lesson and decide not to crucify the Son of Man. Sometimes, I even want Jesus to teach them all a lesson, show them all who’s boss, and drop the bomb on them all. Yet, here I am reading for the thousandth time, and every one of these make the same mistakes over and over again. Well, Jesus wasn’t making a mistake. And, of course, that is the key. In this whole sordid mess, Jesus was the only one who knew what He was doing. And He was doing it for me. Because, as painful as it is for me to watch for the thousandth time, I am just like Judas, Peter, the Jewish leaders. You would think I had learned my lesson. But I have made the same mistakes over and over again. As a friend of mine reminds me, let’s not soften the blow. They weren’t mistakes, they were sins. I am a sinner, and I need what Jesus is giving. As much as I find it hard to read what Jesus is going to go through, it is the only thing that can save me. I need Him to keep making that choice. And so it begins. Judas is betraying Him. Peter is denying Him. The apostles are fleeing Him. The Jews are condemning Him. And it is all because I rebelled against Him, but He loves me anyway. Praise the Lord!

Monday’s reading is Luke 23.

Continue reading “And So It Begins”

Surely Not!

Today’s reading is Luke 20.

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants is a bit of an outlier among the parables. Unlike most of the parables, the people hearing this one seemed to know exactly what Jesus meant by it. Well, perhaps not exactly. They didn’t know that “my beloved son” meant Jesus was in fact God’s Son. But they did know Jesus was claiming the Jews were going to be judged, destroyed, and the vineyard would be given to others. Of course, the only others were the Gentiles. The Jews simply couldn’t fathom this. It didn’t fit within their worldview that God would behave like this. After all, this is the God who loves and chose the Jewish nation to be His own special people. This is the God who lovingly cleared the vineyard, planted the vineyard, watered the vineyard of His special people (see Isaiah 27:2-11). How could this loving vineyard owner judge his vineyard and the tenants so harshly? “Surely not!” the Jews cry. If this were a modern movie, Jesus would have responded, “Yes, and don’t call me Surely.” Please, understand. There is a modern parallel to this. More and more people who even claim to be Christian just can’t wrap their mind around a loving God who will give people up to their rejection of Him. To these it is anathema and unfathomable that God would judge anyone permanently and irreversibly, casting them out of His presence into the outer darkness, away from Him, which is the torturous existence we call hell. “Surely not!” we cry. But please be aware, if we reject God’s attempts to draw us close to Him, He will give us up to our rejection. And we will discover that living in our rejection of God is more horrific than we can possibly imagine.

Tomorrow’s reading is Luke 20.

Continue reading “Surely Not!”