Monthly Archives: May 2012

Acts 12 – God’s Not Fair

God’s Not Fair…By Our Standards

Earlier in the book there were two perfectly qualified men vying to fill the newly vacant role as twelfth Apostle.  They cast lots.  One was in and the other…well we don’t really know.  Can you imagine being that close to becoming one of the twelve only to lose on the toss of a dice?  To our Twenty-first Century sense of fairness, well this simply isn’t fair.  But it doesn’t seem to bother anybody in the First Century.

This comes up again here in Acts 12 where James is imprisoned and executed by Herod while Peter is simply led out of jail by an angel.  It’s so effortless he thinks he is dreaming.  If God could rescue Peter, then why not James too?  The short answer is that we don’t know, but to our democratic, all men created equal mindset this can often be troubling.  But it didn’t seem to be a problem in the first church.

It seems that this dynamic is created by the overlap of the current age with it’s griefs and sorrows and the age to come with its new life and energy.  The first Christians were comfortable accepting that God was in control of transforming the old world into the new world but that it would be a process that would rarely be smooth and as expected.  Sometimes an Apostle is executed by a cruel king looking to score a few political points.  Other times the Apostle walks out untouched and the guards are executed instead.

All we need to know is that when we pray and trust him that God will ultimately do more than we could ever imagine.  Although that might happen in ways and at times that are not of our choosing or understanding, God is doing something big and He invites us to join him in it.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Uncategorized


Acts 11 – Barnabas


Kent pointed out yesterday that Peter had to be bonked on the head three times before he really got the message that God loves the Gentiles too. On a side note…this seems to be a theme throughout the Old Testament that the Jews continually missed. Chapter 11 begins with Peter sharing his vision. God loves the Gentiles too is a message that needs to be circulated quickly! “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

The Christians that were scattered at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom only took the Good News to the Jews. Men from Cyprus and Cyrene however went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also. This is the first effort focused on the Gentiles. Barnabas, a good man who was filled with the Holy Spirit and faith, becomes what seems to be the first liaison to the Gentiles.

Having gone to find Saul, he brought him back to Antioch to meet with the church there, teaching them for a year. I’ve heard that “Christian” was originally a derogatory term but I haven’t done any research to find out if there was any validity to that claim. My observation from the text is that followers of Jesus up to this point were simply Jews who believed the Messiah had come. They called themselves followers of “The Way” but these Greeks who have just been converted seem to be a group all to themselves with Barnabas and Saul tending to them and guiding them. Based on what we see in the early Church, the Christians stood out in their societies because of the way they lived. Naturally, people started formulating who this group was and their natural conclusion was that they are followers of the one called Christ.

My Christianity was handed to me by my parents and the Church. Christian value and Christian living were engrained in me from birth. It is hard for me to imagine what it would be like to hear the Story of Christ for the first time and then making drastic changes to become like Him. This is what the Gentiles did. They did it in a way that the society around them had to stop and ask why they lived in such a way. Their response…let me tell you about Christ. Are we worthy of being called Christ-ians because of the way we live, where it is obvious we are His followers? Or, are we Christians because that is who we have always been? Lord, let us be transformed by your Gospel.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog


Tags: , ,

Acts 10 – Five Observations about Cornelius

This picture took animals from Noah’s Ark and put them in Peter’s Blanket. The pig and the condor are the only two that make sense. Maybe the raccoon if Peter lived in Kentucky.

This is one of my favorite chapters in Acts.  Through the first nine chapters the book is all about Jews becoming Christians and Jews bring mean to Christians.  In Acts 10, Gentiles officially come on to the scene and they do it in a big way.  The chapter is almost comical, however, as Peter has to get hit in the head three times by unclean animals before even going to Cornelius and even then doesn’t haven any plan to actually offer an invitation until God’s Spirit enters Cornelius.  Finally Peter gets it and then has to go back to Jerusalem to explain his reasons for baptizing Gentiles.  Come on early Christians…catch up with God’s great vision for the entire world.  Anyhow, five observations about Acts 10:

1.  Cornelius is chosen because of his generosity to others.  This doesn’t mean he is saved by his generosity, but out of all the Gentiles who believed and prayed to God, Peter was sent to a Roman soldier.  The reason was his attention to the poor.  And we aren’t just talking about giving them money, but knowing and caring for the poor enough to pray for them.  This guy will fit in great with the early Christians.

2.  Peter is at Simon the Tanner’s house.  Tanners are the people who take the dead animals, skin them, and turn their skin into leather goods.  This was an “unclean” job.  Jews weren’t to touch dead things or touch people who touch dead things.  That’s all tanners did.  Peter is overlooking that prejudice to stay at Simon’s house.  He will associate with tanners but needs three visions to get him to visit a Roman Centurion.

3.  Peter doesn’t offer an invitation.  It appears that God jumps into the story at the moment Peter is about to conclude his sermon.  The Spirit enters the household of Cornelius before they are baptized.  I think Peter had no intention to offer baptism or admission to God’s Kingdom to this family so God had to preempt his conclusion.  When God does, all of the Jews with Peter are stunned.  “They can be Christians too?!”

4.  Peter’s response, “Surely nobody can stand in the way of their being baptized with water.  They have received the Holy Spirit just like we have.”  This statement seems far from a bold proclamation.  It’s part observation, part question, part proclamation.”  I almost picture him looking at those with him while shrugging his shoulders.  They must have all agreed and Cornelius’ family is baptized.  Clearly God’s vision for His Kingdom continues to be bigger than any of his followers had ever imagined.

5.  This is one of the few circumstances in the New Testament where somebody receives the Holy Spirit before they are baptized.  This appears to be the exception and not the rule (as evidenced by everybody’s response).  It is this very surprise that finally makes clear to all the Apostles that God’s Kingdom is for all people.  God’s surprising action is irrefutable, but it’s also important to know that it is surprising.  The fact that the Spirit arriving before baptism was so unusual is a powerful indicator that they all were accustomed to the spirit arriving AT baptism.

(Bonus observation: This is an unofficial opinion observation.  There doesn’t seem to be any call for Cornelius to quit his job.  Apparently being a Roman Centurion is something you can do and still be a Christian.  This might come as a surprise to pacifists and people who protest at soldiers funerals that God would choose a high ranking roman soldier to be the first Gentile convert.  This might be our Hot Topic on Friday this week.)

These were Jesus’ Apostles and they were still surprised by just how great and how vast God’s Kingdom was.  They couldn’t fathom just how big of a vision God was casting for them and all his followers to come.  In so many ways, I think we continue struggling to catch hold of God’s world-changing vision.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Acts 9 – Ananias and Saul

We often think of the Pharisees as being leaders with some kind of authority (at least I did for years). They were really just a popular group within society who held themselves to a certain level of beliefs and practices within Judaism. Saul, we will find out later, was/is a Pharisee. He had to receive permission to go and discipline this unruly group of Jews (that we know of as Christians).

Let’s think about Saul for minute. Here we have an up and coming Pharisee. He was apparently becoming quite the big deal amongst his peers. He was a really good Jew. Obviously passionate. Nationalistic. I would say he cared deeply for God’s Word. I’m currently working on a Masters in Divinity, primarily focusing on Theology, and it consumes most of my thoughts. If I’m on a long drive, I’m usually listening to a lecture or just thinking through different areas of Scripture (I’m revealing my nerdiness a bit). I imagine Saul; on his long journey down the Damascus road was doing much of the same. He has obviously heard of this Jesus movement and it seems to really be taking over his passion. While he is traveling down the road, I imagine him thinking through the prophesies of the coming Messiah and how Jesus did not fit the mold. He knows his stance on the subject and he’s well prepared to go and shut this movement down. Then everything changed…

Saul’s encounter with the risen Jesus changed everything. What he thought he knew about the prophets, he now has to rethink because of the risen Jesus. What he knew about God and His People, has now changed because of his encounter with the risen Savior. The people he has been persecuting because they were out of line are now to be viewed as Brothers and Sisters because of his encounter with the risen Lord. The blinded Saul now spends the next few days thinking through all of this.

I’m sure rumors were spreading all over Damascus that Saul was on his way. Hearing what has gone on in other areas I’m sure that a lot of these Jesus followers left town. For whatever reason, Ananias stayed home and gets his name in the history books. God gives him the task of receiving Saul and restoring his sight. This has to be humbling for both Ananias and Saul. Ananias has the power (to some extent) to let Saul remain blind as punishment for all that he has done to The Way. Saul has to place himself within the care of one of the people he came to throw in jail. We never hear of Ananias again but he is an example to us, that we are called to love the worst of sinners whom God has called to be our Brother.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog


Tags: , , , , ,

How Do You Read Your Bible?

I’ve studied a few textbooks in my day. I have dug deep into their information to understand what I need to know for tests. I have forgotten much of that information that I learned in Grade School. I remember that there are different layers of rocks but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they are even though I do find it fascinating.

I’ve soaked up a number of books by different authors. I could probably write out most of the thoughts of Mere Christianity or give you a detailed explanation of what N.T. Wright says about the world in his book, Evil and the Justice of God. I like to read these books so the information sticks with me as I pour over their pages.

While in school I was forced to read a lot of books that I remember a small bit about. I always enjoy a good “Big Brother” joke from George Orwell’s1984, or a quote from Of Mice and Men. I hated having to read these books at the time but I am glad I did. I used to read a small section during commercials on T.V. or I would cram it all in right before the test and just skim over it and try to pick up the story line.

How do you read your Bible? Is it a textbook? A good book someone recommended and you like the thoughts in it? A novel that makes you feel good? Or a book you know you’re supposed to read so you do so out of obligation? Should the Bible be read in any of these ways? Take a look at the first Psalm:

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man

who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way of sinners

or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

There are a number of different approaches that one can take to reading the Bible that help you come into a deeper relationship with God. If you want to know some different ways please let me know and I’ll talk to you about them. I used to try and read God’s Word because I felt obligated. I never got much out of it. We were always told to read our Bibles growing up with the reason that when we need to know answers we would find them in the Scriptures. I think starting with obligation is an ok place to start but we need to get past that.

We’ve been called to a life transforming relationship with our Father. When we meditate on His Words we allow them to transform our lives. We have to listen to what He is saying to us each day through His Scripture. I’ve stopped reading my Bible for the big test at the end. I want to be transformed daily by the Words that God writes on my heart through His Holy Scripture. I want to be like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit each season, never withering.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


Acts 8 – Bad News and Good News

Bad News First

So in Acts 2 and 4 we are told about how great things are going in the church. The believers met for fellowship, prayer and the breaking of bread daily. They spent time together in homes and in the synagogues. They sold their property and had everything in common. None among them had any need. And that lasted for about one chapter before we are reading about Annanias and Sapphira’s posing as generous for the benefit of their reputation. Then we have problems because there are widows who aren’t getting food because they don’t act Jewish enough. We often idealize the first church and they certainly set high standards and took care of each other, but they also had significant struggles (like we do today) from the onset.

In Acts 8, the Gospel is proclaimed in Samaria and many respond. We have a sorcerer who makes a living doing cheap tricks who is known as “The Great Power of God.” It’s quite a nickname, but when the real great power of God shows up in the form of the Holy Spirit you are going to be out of a job. Simon the Sorcerer is truly impressed by the power the Apostles demonstrate to the people and gets baptized alongside many others. But when he later asks if he can “buy his own Holy Spirit power” it becomes clear he is in this for the wrong reasons. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to proclaim the Gospel and all the power and blessings that go with it, only for some guy to want to be able to use it to perform in front of others? I have always thought it interesting that even after he asks Peter and John to pray for him, we have no idea whether they do or not.

I think we run into this problem today, when people come to Jesus asking only what they can get out of him. “What’s in it for me?” Certainly there are plenty of blessings to being a follower of Christ, but approaching the Kingdom with a selfish heart seems so different from the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.

Good News

The Gospel is preached and received in Samaria. You remember that Samaritans were viewed as the worst possible combination of Gentiles and something like Jews. They were despised by any Jew. And yet this is where Philip finds himself preaching the Gospel and they people respond. Now, this isn’t exactly preaching to Gentiles. Many Samaritans have been worshiping God in some form for many years, much the chagrin of the Jews. But it does show us that the Kingdom is extending its reach beyond what anybody expected.

Then, just when you thought Samaria was a radical place to find a convert, Philip goes and converts an Ethiopian eunuch. This eunuch was travelling home from the Temple where he had gone to worship Yahweh. One can only imagine his heartache that he was only allowed peripheral access to the Temple because of his “disfigurement” as a eunuch. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that he was reading the Prophet who declares that God will someday have a place INSIDE his walls for eunuchs. When Philip explains that this refers to the Messiah welcoming all into God’s Kingdom, the Ethiopian can’t wait to get into the water. Finally, he will be fully accepted. Yesterday he couldn’t get close to where God was.

Today God will live inside of That’s powerful stuff. From the beginning, the Kingdom was stretching and growing the boundaries of the people inside the movement and the people outside of the movement. And whenever you challenge the status quo there are going to be problems. And whenever you let people into your church it’s going to have flaws. But the Holy Spirit continues to move like fire in the hearts and words of the Apostles and the church is growing and overcoming the obstacles (mostly that it provides for itself) to see that God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog


Tags: , , , , ,

Acts 7 – Story

To some extent or another, we all love a good story. From the times of Homer, to tribes gathered around a fire in Africa, to our modern movies every culture has had some form of storytelling aspect in it. Stories move us. Inspire us. Motivate us. And remind us where we have come from. We like to keep our histories nice and clean for the most part. When people begin to mess with how we see our history we can become quite upset.

I’ve heard it said before that we should not dwell on the past but understanding our past helps us understand who we are today. If we look realistically at who we were, where we came from, the mistakes that were made, and how we keep from making the same mistakes we will make it far in life.

Stephen, where we pick up today in Acts 7 takes on the role as storyteller. He reminds his brothers and fathers of who they are as the people of God. As he tells the story, he points out who they are in their history and reminds them of the skeletons in their closet. Just in case they haven’t gotten it up to this point, Stephen decides to put it simply. Not only has their fathers killed the prophets of old but they have now killed the one in which the prophets spoke!

What is the main emphasis here at the end? They have resisted and have always resisted the Holy Spirit. When they start to stone him, Luke points out that he was full of the Holy Spirit, and presents Stephen as a person of impeccable faith and boldness. This boldness comes from the presence and peace of the Holy Spirit. Lord, help us to experience your presence in our lives in ways that your peace radiates brightly from us.

Stage left, enter Saul…

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 23, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog


Tags: , , ,

Myth-busting Acts 6

Myth?  The Deacons were appointed the most important task, feeding the widows.

Point: The Apostles desired to focus on the ministry of the word, preaching and teaching the Gospel (and eventually writing it down for us to read) so they didn’t want to get caught up “waiting on tables.”  It appears the feeding of widows was to the Apostles a slightly lower priority to the ministry of the word.

Counterpoint:  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)  In Acts 6, the ministry to the widows was so important that to not have it would nullify the claim of the early church to be God’s people.  It required spiritual and upright men to lead this ministry.

Conclusion: Clearly the ministry to the widows was extremely important, but the Apostles recognize that the ministry of the word is where they needed their focus to be.  The answer is that they realized that both were important and neither could exist without the other.  Do we still recognize this today?

Myth?  The Church is already having problems with prejudice between Jews and Gentiles in Acts 6.

Point: All the widows are Jews.  Some speak/act like Hebrews and some speak/act like Greeks.  In most minority groups, there is disdain for members who behave like the majority.  When your race is also your religion, you can magnify that dynamic times ten.  When Christianity binds these groups together, they still have to overcome this.  But they aren’t Gentiles.  Peter won’t be surprised by the inclusion of Gentiles in Christianity for another six more chapters.  This benevolence is only for Jewish Christian widows.

Counterpoint: Racism is clearly at the heart of what’s going on here with the widows.  The prejudice between Jews and Gentiles is so extreme that if you even speak or act like a Gentile you might not get fed.  This doesn’t bode well for the unity Christ calls for later in the book.

Conclusion: Playing favorites in God’s Kingdom is always bad.  It doesn’t really matter what measure you use to dislike some people.

Myth? The primary role of deacons is to care for widows.

Point: The task that is being assigned to these seven spiritual men is to “wait on tables” and make sure that all the Christian Jewish widows get fed.  The feeding of widows is the only scripturally assigned task deacons have.

Counterpoint: This is more about fairness, conflict resolution and halting prejudice than it is about feeding anybody.  In fact, if the fair feeding of the widows wasn’t becoming a conflict-filled distraction to the Apostles they probably wouldn’t have put these men in charge of it.  By this measure, the deacons responsibility was managing any matters of ministry that weren’t the ministry of the word.

Conclusion: Uh….?

I’m saving all the Stephen stuff for tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Cool Fact…this is the 400th post on the blog and somebody today will become our 17,000th view.  That’s pretty encouraging.  Thanks for being a part of this.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog


Tags: , , , , , ,

Acts 5 – Suffering Like Christ

Luke spends the first 26 verses setting up the kind of work the Holy Spirit was doing through the Apostles. They were able to tell when Satan had filled someone’s heart and caused them to be deceptive. Their ability to heal brought them the kind of fame that led people to simply lay the sick out in hopes of Peter’s shadow might fall on them. God is also with them when they are thrown in prison, providing them with a way out and giving them the kind of courage to go right back into the Temple courts only to get arrested again and flogged.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira has always bothered me a bit but I think I get it for the most part. Luke is communicating how serious the community of the early church was. Ananias and Sapphira weren’t just lying about how much money they got for the land, they were calling themselves part of the Kingdom of God but being deceitful about how committed they were. They wanted to be part of the community without fully investing in it. When they saw other Christians fully investing, they wanted to be part of that but without making the same sacrifice.

I spent this last week in a class on “Spiritual Formations” and we had to look at the history of the Church and how they developed spirituality in people. The first few centuries inevitably focused on martyrdom. I was moved and humbled by this chapter not only when reading about those who died for their faith but also and even more so humbled by the turn of the page to read stories of modern day martyrs. As I look at these martyrs and the early Church and what all they had to sacrifice in being part of the body of Christ I found myself associating more and more with Ananias and Sapphira. They weren’t killed because they didn’t make a full sacrifice. They were killed because they made a sacrifice and claimed that it was bigger. Bottom line, a little bit of humility would have gone a long way. There are days I feel like I’ve made some big sacrifices for the Kingdom but I’m still alive and haven’t been flogged in a while.

The Apostles were able to heal people, which led to a number of people converting that Jesus is the Messiah. This apparently bothered the Jewish officials. After being thrown in jail and set free, they don’t really bother to change their evangelism strategy. They go right back into the courts to proclaim the New Life that Jesus has brought. They are arrested again and proclaim boldly that they must keep preaching. Gamaliel then take a new approach to confronting this “Christian problem”. He reminds them of the different “would be messiahs” of the past. When they died, their disciples seemed to lose interest and disband. There is no need to worry about these guys proclaiming Jesus; if it is legit then you’re fighting against God. If it is not legit; then it’ll sort itself out. Luke provides this information for us because at the time it was written Christianity was on the rise. This story has a lot to say about Christianity today being sanctioned by God.

When they were flogged and let go, they rejoiced that they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace. This is an attitude that is seen throughout the early church. Persecution of Christians all but stopped when Constantine institutionalized Christianity. Because of the newfound wide popularity of Christianity there was no longer persecution. A group then developed who were called “bloodless martyrs” who felt the Christian call was to join Christ in his suffering and becoming like him in his death. They did everything they could to continue the passion of the early church who underwent suffering for the sake of Christ by sacrificing their comforts in hopes of joining Christ in his example. Paul echoes this idea in Philippians 3:10-11, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

How do we develop this kind of passion today? When persecution comes, will we complain about it or will we rejoice because we have then joined more deeply with Christ?



Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog


Tags: , , , ,

Good Grace

We’ve all heard the invitation offered after the sermon, “If you haven’t given your life to Jesus Christ and accepted  him as your Lord and Savior, the Bible tells us that all you have to do is believe and be baptized to be saved.”  And at some point in our lives many of us made that decision.  (If you haven’t, please come forward as we stand and sing.)  But then what?  Our sins are gone and now we know that someday we can live with God in Heaven. But surely Christianity requires something between our conversion and death?  Of course, Christians are supposed to go to church, tithe, and abstain from sins.  Is that it?

Unfortunately, when many people think of Christianity they think of it as a sin-management program.  Just like Weight Watchers might help you manage your weight to become skinny, or Dave Ramsey might help you manage your finances to make you wealthy, people think Christianity can help you manage your sin to become righteous.  And if grace is God’s free gift to help us accomplish this, we simply think of grace being God’s forgiveness.  Because of grace, God gets rid of our sin, even when we don’t deserve it.  And yet, these views of Christianity and grace are both very narrow.

Dallas Willard offers a different view of grace, that it is when God helps us to do something that we could not do on our own.  This definition includes the traditional view, that grace delivers us from sin and helps us avoid sinful living.  But it also adds the idea that grace helps us to actively do the good things that we couldn’t do by ourselves.  When the Apostles were killed because of their faithful testimony they were able to do so because of grace.  When somebody gives sacrificially to feed the hungry or clothe the poor, grace enables them to do this.  Grace is not passive.  It is active in helping every believer to live out God’s Kingdom in their own life and in the lives of those around them.  Willard put it another way, “Saints burn up more grace than sinners ever could.”  In Titus 2:11-14 we see Paul talk about how grace calls us to goodness and doing good as much as to purity and righteousness.

It’s when we allow God’s Spirit and God’s grace to work in our lives to produce fruit for the Kingdom that we begin to experience the transformation that the Bible so often talks about.  Through obedience and practice we become transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, living as salt and light in this world.  But we can’t do those difficult things without God’s Spirit working graciously through us.  This helps us to develop Christian character, to see people around us through God’s eyes and not our own, to bring about God’s Kingdom and influence into a world that so badly needs it.  And all of that is just a glimpse into what Christianity can and should be.  It’s not sin-management, but a powerful invitation to join God in what He’s already doing in the world.

How do you see Christians partnering with God to transform this world?

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 18, 2012 in Bible Blog, Hot Topics


Tags: , , , , ,