Acts 6:8-15

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This is a case of jealousy that leads to rage (that leads to murder). We should be appalled that civilized people would go so far…but frankly, it is all too commonplace. So instead of being shocked at the actions of some, I find myself forewarned of my own potential to be them.

Part 1:

Stephen is one of the seven Greek speaking Jewish believers ordained by the apostles to serve in the ministry to widows. The problem of Greek speaking widows not being served equally with the Hebrew widows has been resolved by the full congregation having chosen seven Greek speaking believers to be the administrators. (I am amazed at the wisdom and faith the new church exercised – such a brilliant and simple solution can only come from knowing God can be trusted to lead His church!)

Stephen is a man full of grace and power, openly exercising these gifts via signs and wonders, to bring the message of Jesus to his peers…very likely the Greek speaking Jewish community. It seems they eagerly entered debates with him – I’m thinking like the discourse that takes place in any synagogue.

The problem arises when the hearers could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. They are threatened, frustrated, ticked off and in my mind, jealous. (Let me stop to acknowledge to myself the temptation to go there! I want what the other guy has but on my own terms. I’ve stopped any open listening in order to win at any cost. It’s a slippery slope that can lead to no place good.)

Unchecked, their jealousy escalates as they secretly instigate lies and false witnesses to twist Stephen’s words. They seize him and bring him before the Council. (I guess they had “citizen’s arrest” privileges.)

“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.”

Here is the charge against Stephen. (And oh, how great would it be if someone charged me with never ceasing to speak about Jesus of Nazareth!)

Confronted with an unjust arrest, a terrifying crowd, angry lies and the looming power of an unfriendly Council, Stephen should be panic-stricken, right? But no…gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. I can only conclude this means he was perfectly at peace.

The Holy Spirit brings to mind this verse: You [God] will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. (Is. 26:3).  Stephen was not focused on fear, or winning, or even himself – his attention was fully focused on God.

Part 2 – Murder – stay tuned.

About God?
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. Ps. 2:12

About Me?
Jealously is a smoke alarm. Get out fast.

About the World?
Observing peace when the normal response would be panic – now that’s worth investigating.

Acts 6:1-7

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Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number… that’s a good thing. We know from just the event at Pentecost 3,000 were added to rolls of Jesus followers and every chapter of Acts after that records more and more – even multitudes! So it’s no big surprise that the day to day operations are starting to get complicated.

One of the most positive attributes of the new church has been their generosity toward any among them who were in need. Seems they had a system going but it is having some issues in serving the widow population.

The murmuring is coming from the Hellenists and is directed at the Hebrews. Hellenists were likely Jews who lived among the Greeks, who spoke Greek and studied the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) in their synagogues. The Hebrews were the Jews of Palestine. They spoke and studied the original language and were close to the temple – in other words, the homeboys. Whether or not there was genuine discrimination going on it is easy to imagine these two groups might have differing viewpoints and some scratchy areas between them.

To resolve the problem the apostles call a meeting of the full number of the disciples. We just considered what that number might be – a lot. So you might say it was a church –wide meeting and the apostles are there to lay out the correction plan. (What I truly love about their approach is they provide some leadership direction but charge the others with the application of it. The weight of the work falls to the body.) And glory be – everybody liked their idea!

A couple of points of interest:

“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables”, so said the apostles. This does not mean serving tables was beneath them. It means they have already been given a clear calling by God and the place they are to use their gifts. It would dilute the vitality of the church to have them try to do it all.

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. Brothers – equalsyou pick those who are gifted and willing and qualified to serve in this ministry. Take a look at the qualifications the men they chose had: good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom, full of faith. I mean, even, Ruth Chris doesn’t have standards like this for its waiters. (God has given each member of the body gifts to be used. How can I encourage people to try their wings?)

These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. The job before these men was a great responsibility. No one took it lightly nor did they find this task somehow “unspiritual”. It was, in fact, spiritual work. (Do I see every task and every job as a ministry unto the Lord? Do I honor those who have taken them on with that appreciation and affirm them in their calling/service?)

Problem solved. (There will indeed be problems that threaten the unity of the body of Christ but through God’s wisdom they can be resolved. Part of that resolution is the willingness of each of us to use our gifts to serve one another.)

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

About God?
He has structured the church to work like a body…everyone having a vital part to play.

About Me?
All work is spiritual work.

About the World?
The power of heaven is visible when unlikely forces come to unity.

Acts 5:33-42

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The apostles have just repeated their message with full force and when they (The council) heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. Have to say this is about what I expected – remember they were already “boiling”.

Out of this comes a genuine voice of wisdom – Mr. Gamaliel. He is a Pharisee, the minority in a sea of Sadducees, but a man respected on both sides of the aisle and honored by all the people. (Can’t help but think, this man has been being prepared for this moment by the life he has lived and God is just about to use him in a powerful way.)

After siting a couple of examples to prove his point Gamaliel speaks some very profound words:

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

(It is a pointless place to be – opposing God – we would all agree. But it is not always so clear how one might come to this place. You may just be going along caught up in following your regular, dependable line of thinking. Sometimes cruising, sometimes having to tough through and you hit resistance. You push a little harder but it doesn’t move. You try a different angle, you explain, you think maybe you are supposed to keep trying – nothing changes. This is the crisis – the crossroad – the point of choosing: persevere or let it go?

Whether your direction is right or not, there is a snare in continuing – Gamaliel’s wisdom says “let it go.”

First, God will not be thwarted and He is perfectly able to care for whatever outcome He wishes. Put your focus on His sovereignty and off your responsibility.

Secondly, and probably most importantly, embracing a position of humility will prevent or rescue you from the untenable position of opposing God. If you have already pushed too far – sadly a place I can find myself too often – God has provided His grace – not condemnation. (James 4:6) There is a lot to be said about grace – unmerited favor. Unmerited for sure but His favor – His companionship, His approval and even His delight. One can only find comfort when embraced by grace.)

As God had planned the council took Gamaliel’s advice. Of course they had to get in a few punches for good measure and a little bullying – so I’m not so sure their hearts were really softened. But they did let the apostles go.

The apostles went away rejoicing! They were happy to be found worthy to suffer for Jesus. (There is a kind of empowering affirmation knowing it is Jesus that has brought you through a tough situation.) Next day they were right back at their job and they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

About God?
He has it all under control.

About Me?
When uncertain, step away. His purposes will become evident.

About the World?
Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! (Prov. 4:7)

Acts 5:21-32

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I love these stories – about how angels come and break people out of prison – but the best parts are always when the “bad guys” discover they are gone! I just want to be there to see their faces, you know?

So, next day, the high priest calls the council together and all the senate for this big event…the auditorium is packed. There is a low rumble of voices as the high priest – all large and in charge – sends for the prisons. Wait for it, wait for it…when the officers return…

“We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.”

Bazinga! 🙂

The chief priests and company were perplexed? Really – perplexed? Quizzically scratching their heads? Actually “thoroughly having no way out – at a loss”. And wondering – what now? Enter the messenger to report the lost prisoners have been found standing in the temple and teaching the people!

Now they send for them politely for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. To say the leaders were feeling a little unpopular might be an understatement. Stoned is pretty extreme.

The questioning begins: “Didn’t we tell you not to teach about Jesus? And more over you are blaming us for his death?”

Peter and the apostles were fearless in their response:
“We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

That pretty much covers it…

I am awed by the apostles’ confidence. They did have a clear message and they were on the rebound of just being busted out of jail so they could go give it but still. It did seem like a suicide mission and now they are busted again. But they do not cave – not an inch – don’t even tone down the message! They are facing the same guys that did in fact have Jesus crucified and it could happen to them as well. They didn’t budge. This has to be the power of the Holy Spirit in them. (How willing or able am I to stand firm even if it only means being rejected or made fun of or pitied much less martyred?)

About God?
God exalted Jesus as Leader and Savior, to give forgiveness of sins.

About Me?
Seek God’s approval rather than man’s and the power of the Holy Spirit will sustain you.

About the World?
Everywhere we go there is somebody who wants to know.

Acts 5:17-21

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But…Acts is reading a lot like that children’s book called “Fortunately”.

Fortunately…

The disciples are doing signs and wonders, people are getting healed and the church is growing by leaps and bounds.

I had been wondering how the Jewish leaders were feeling about sick people lining the streets and multitudes being added to the list of believers and those troublesome disciples? Here’s where the shoe drops.

Unfortunately…

The high priest rises up with all his Sadducee buddies because they are boiling over it. I know it says full of jealousy but when you look up zelos it means boiling over from heat. The positive use of the word is “zeal” and the negative use is “jealousy” depending on the context. Here you figure it’s negative because they arrest all the apostles and put them in the public prison.

(I pretty much should know that when I’m  trying to follow Jesus it won’t be long before the enemy takes a swing at me. It might be through another person’s words or actions. Sometimes it takes me a bit to figure out who is really behind the punch. I might stagger. My confidence wobbles. And the ringing in my ears sounds a lot like mocking – “Boy, are you clueless.” Soon discouragement locks the door and I don’t want to risk again.)

But Fortunately …

In the middle of the night the Lord sends an angel to lead a jailbreak…well, he opens the doors and shows them the way out. (It was dark and I’m guessing no pathway lights out of the dungeon area.) Lest there be any confusion, the angel has come with a direct message from God:Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

(I just don’t think Jesus wants us sitting around in the dark and discouragement is not from Him. His voice does not mock. Instead He calls forth the best – maybe he redirects but when He speaks the directions are clear “Go, Stand, Speak…I’ve got you covered. You’re not working for them. You’re working for me.” Oh, and as for Satan…he’s a liar.”)

And don’t you know, when the Jesus guys heard this they entered the Temple at daybreak and began to teach. I’d call that bold and zealous!

About God?
He calls, He equips, He sends.

About Me?
When it comes to God’s directives – Be bold, Be zealous.

About the World?
Yes, Virginia, there are angels.

Acts 5:12-16

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The apostles were going about the business of regularly performing signs and wonders. They were all together in Solomon’s Porch. All together here really means “in one accord” or “with like passion” not that they were just standing around together. ♥

Solomon’s Porch was the east section of the Temple porticos. It was a large open area where anyone could approach but it says others dared not join them. I’m guessing here at the Temple there was still a great fear of the Jewish leaders. In spite of the fear factor, the people held them (the apostles) in high esteem. 

Every day more and more people came to know the Lord – multitudes, both men and women. If fact, Peter and the disciples became so well known the people brought the sick out into the streets hoping Peter’s shadow would heal them. (For real? Wonder how the Jewish leaders were taking it? I mean they had to walk along the same streets.)

The news spread to towns nearby and those people brought their sick and afflicted to Jerusalem for healing and they were all healed. (I just can’t fathom the atmosphere in Jerusalem – must have been unbelievable!)

What a changed bunch of men! No more doubting Thomas’ or boasting Peter or jockeying Sons of Thunder – now they moved as one in the power of the Spirit. They were probably as amazed and marveling at what was taking place as those who watched! (I remember a time when it was obvious to me my mouth was moving but God was speaking. I listened with rapt attention like I was one of the hearers! On that occasion God worked a kind of miracle and over the next month He brought about what I would have never believed possible. It was a humbling experience and whenever I recalled it, it makes me marvel!)

I’m inclined to think God is in the miracle business and He has given each of us the ability to regularly perform signs and wonders that will draw people to Him. They may or may not be physical healing. We may know when we are used by Him and we may not. It might be a big, loud, flashy thing or a little, gentle, quite thing – but whenever and however God might chose, I just want to be ready – just like Isaiah – “Here I am! Send me.”

About God?
God is in the miracle business.

About Me?
I work for the Miracle Maker.

About the World?
Take a close look at a life that has really been changed.

Acts 5:1-11

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But a man named Ananias… Before I can begin I’ll have to look back to see what’s on the other side of the “but”. That would be the story of Joseph aka Barnabas who sold his property and gave the proceeds to the Disciples’ Sharing Fund.

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property…and they also brought the proceeds to the disciples. But A & S lied about how much they got for the property and tried to say they were giving it all to God’s work when they had skimmed some off the top. The actions were the same but the condition of their hearts were polar opposites.

Peter knew right away about the deceit. (Did the Holy Spirit tell him?). (It reminds me of the snake in the Garden of Eden – paradise one minute and fig leaves the next.)

Peter had no problem identifying the entryway to sin – Ananias was tempted by Satan and then colluded with the enemy in his heart. James could not have been anymore on target when he wrote:

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:14-15

Peter’s pronouncement was straight forward and God’s consequence immediate – You have not lied to man but to God. When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. Three hours later Peter questions the wife – she continues the lie – the results are the same.

Hypocrisy, self-seeking and deceit have entered the building. The damage to the fledgling church is so potentially perilous that God deals swiftly and precisely. Great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. The message is clear – God is not to be trifled with.

(It is easy to stand in judgment of the foolish arrogance of A & S. I mean how could they have thought they would get away with it? Why the need to rip off their friends? – Truthfully the only answer that works for me is they never got it in the first place. They had joined the crowd but had never joined their hearts to Jesus.)

On a personal note I am intimately acquainted with the power of temptation and wily ways of rationalization. The Enemy is constantly on the prowl for the slightest opening. We do not fight this battle again flesh and blood, Paul reminds me. I do well to remember to be clad in the whole armor of God, wielding the Spirit’s sword and praying at all times.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (Proverbs 4:23 NLT)

About God?
He is not to be trifled with.

About Me?
The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.

About the World?
The enemy is prowling around, seeking someone to devour. Don’t be lunch!

Acts 4:32-37

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Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soulthe full number – that is quite a statement of unity. The full number – all of those who believed – were of one heart and soul. This is exactly what Jesus had prayed for the BOB (Bunch of Believers) who made up the church – that they may all be one (John 17:20).

This “one heart and soul” was demonstrated by generosity. They did not hold tightly to their possessions and they freely disposed of things in order to meet another’s need. They traded in the need to cling to earthly belongings in exchange for spiritual power and great grace. In fact generosity is listed as a gift of grace in Romans 12.

Some read this passage and think of Communism but that is not what I see.

I don’t see people just divesting themselves of their stuff so that no one owned anything. I do see the idea of making their stuff available to everyone.

I don’t see everyone who had a house or property selling it so they all lived together in equal little apartments. I do see individuals seeing a house or property as something they could use to raise some cash to give to the Disciples Sharing Fund.

One example of the latter was Barnabas. I think this is likely the same Barnabas we’ll read about later in Acts. I would expect a man “called the son of encouragement” might do something like this. (The people I know who have the gift of encouragement are often the first to give because of the inspiration it might offer others.)

Generosity like this does not come naturally. (I’d say that was a keen grasp of the obvious!) We typically lean more toward a mindset of scarcity*….there may not be enough to go around so you better hold on to what you have. A scarcity mentality is based in fear and, in terms of spiritual things, it is rooted in faithlessness.

The flipside of scarcity is abundance. Jesus said I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 1-:10) And there are a zillion other verses that tell me God is ready, willing and able to meet whatever need I may have. This brand new church was living out their faith and expecting God would provide for them. It resulted in unclenched fists and open hearts. (I believe, to the extent I practice the mindset of abundance*, this first century kind of generosity will grow in my life.)

(*I first heard this concept of abundance vs scarcity in Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. While the book is not intentionally spiritual I believe Covey was an exceedingly principled man who sought God’s truth and then applied it to his own life and life’s work.)

About God?
The Spirit of God makes super-heroes out of all who trust Him.

About Me?
Generosity is a super-natural act.

About the World?
“Out of this world” generosity is always noticed.

Acts 4:23-31

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Boy did I need to read this today.

When Peter and John are released from the Sanhedrin they go straight back to the church to report what’s happened. I feel the buzzing nervous energy swirling in the pit of their stomachs! They probably couldn’t believe these words came so boldly from their own lips much less that they had pulled it off and been let go. So this is how it is to work in the power of the Holy Spirit…amazing!

I love the atmosphere of the de-briefing – we said this and they said that and then they told us we couldn’t talk about Jesus to anyone but can you believe we just said “sorry”…and here we are… It was so obvious to all of them what to do next. They just walked right up to the throne of grace and told God all about it!

Part of their prayer is a quote from Psalm 2:1-2. This is such a picture to me of the Hold Spirit at work, bringing to mind the truth of the Scriptures. These Jesus people had been reared with the Word of God all around them but there is no reason they would have necessarily made the link between a Psalm and the events of the moment. Jesus told them it would be part of the Comforter’s job description. (I’ve had moments when the HS has made a verse so clear to me it’s like He was standing there speaking. The confidence and assurance and comfort of that moment were everything I needed to keep moving. Sort of like reading today’s passage for the today ahead of me right now.)

This Bunch of Believers (BOB) were given an aerial view of God’s plan through time – from creation to David to Herod to the persecution of Jesus to the complicity of the Gentiles and People of Israel and they saw God doing whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (What a difference when one sees everything from His angle.)

Moreover this BOB saw themselves right in the middle of God’s plans –And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

And when they had prayed they knew that they knew that they knew – they were filled and fortified and moving forward. (That is the gift of prayer – it’s like I’m taking the train but one leg is dragging out the door trying to push and there’s my arm out the window trying to manage. When I ask why I am so frazzled the Holy Spirit gently puts my leg and arm inside the safe coach. Then He shows me how smoothly everything works by His power and gives me a glimpse of how things are proceeding so I know I’m on the right train. I’m feeling better all ready.)

About God?
God has a plan and He will carry it out – it’s a wonder to behold.

About Me?
Remember: I’m part of the master plan. Keep checking in.

About the World?
From creation to now – God is at work.

Acts 4:13-22

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There is an overlap in the reading from Day 10 to Day 11 and verse 13 has actually been included in both days. Matters not to me since verse 13 is worth reading twice.

Now when they (the men on the Jewish council) saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. You need to read this bit to see the contrast of the next verse. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.

They were dead set on opposing Jesus and everything about Him but just when they thought He was out of the way they are confronted with a rather “inconvenient truth”. A miracle. The man has undeniably been healed and everyone and his brother have seen it. They might have wondered if maybe, it would be better if they just had not said anything – but oh no, they have arrested these guys and they are likely to look like idiots no matter what they do. Plus they can’t just let them keep talking about Jesus – that’s too threatening – in for a penny, in for a pound now.

“What shall we do with these men? They decided to warn, order, bully and threaten. So they called them (Peter and John) and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. (This makes me wonder how I handle “inconvenient truths”. If I’m found to be wrong – do I go for the cover up? Do I bully and push others around? Or do I quickly submit to the obvious truth – however inconvenient it may be?)

The Jewish leaders give it their best shot but Peter and John are not the least concerned. Rather, they simply decline. “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.” (Frankly I never hope to be in the place where I find myself choosing man’s commands over God’s calling. Sometimes the Enemy’s traps are subtle and only relying on the Holy Spirit can point them out.)

While the Jews were busy trying to divert attention from the miracle with empty threats,  the people took the path of believing and rejoicing. (It’s pretty obvious which direction was the most rewarding. I really want to cultivate eyes open to see God at work.)

About God?
Hanging out with Jesus rubs off on you.

About Me?
It’s a lot easier to acknowledge God at work than to deny it.

About the World?
Don’t be bullied into believing a lie.