Monday, July 18, 2011

Acts 5-8

Hope you enjoyed the update on the garden last week :) I got a little behind updating the blog on Acts so I'm posting 4 chapters this time around. Going to be out of town for a wedding this weekend so I might try to get another post up before we leave later this week. For now, enjoy!

Soli Deo Gloria,

Acts 5
Right at the end of Chapter 4, we saw the Levite Joseph/Barnabas sell a piece of property and bring the whole amount of money to the apostles. Now, we see another example of selling land and giving with Ananias and Sapphira, but they conspired to lie in order to make themselves appear better in the eyes of others. I don't think anything was wrong with them giving only a portion of the profit but most definitely in claiming that it was the whole amount and trying to deceive the others into thinking they were being pious when they were simply being greedy but wanted to hide behind a facade of self-righteousness.

"Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” I love this recommendation from Gamaliel when the Sanhedrin were trying to stop the apostles from preaching. He breathes some much needed sense into the conversation. I also think it applies in our lives today too. Like the elders, I can become jealous of what others are doing for God but I need to learn how he wants me to use my own talents and gifts to serve Him. I can't compare how he's working in someone else's life since we do not possess the same gifts. I do not want to be fighting against God and what he wants to accomplish in my own life.

Acts 6
I think this is a great illustration of the need for many to be serving in the church and not placing a burden on the few. With numbers growing to over 5,000 men (not to mention women and children), it is inconceivable that the 12 apostles could serve these new believers all by themselves. It required godly help in the form of fellow devout believers who were gifted (full of the Spirit and wise) to do so. I need to remember that I should not look for what I can get from the Body of Christ but what I can give. Yes, there will be instruction and wisdom I can glean and people I should be discipled by but I also need to be actively looking for the opportunities where my gifts can be exercised and my talents used to the glory of God. Here, 7 men were called to service and because of their willingness to serve and follow God's will "the word of God spread" and the "number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly".

Part of me felt like I was left hanging at the end of Chapter 6 and wanted to keep reading to 7! We see the synagogue leadership using the same false witness ploy that they used to convict Jesus as well. These men were not happy that they lost when arguing against Stephen and the wisdom of the Spirit so they found some way to get rid of him. Just because others are not going to tolerate or accept what the truth of God is doesn't mean I should cease speaking the truth. Peter and John didn't in the previous chapters, despite floggings and jail and now Stephen is preaching when others would silence him. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before and faced the same difficulties. I should take heart when reading their stories and continue to proclaim God's good news!

Acts 7
Stephen directly addresses the accusations that he spoke blasphemy against Moses by recounting the Israelites history, demonstrating his knowledge and belief. I wonder if most of the Sanhedrin were caught off guard by the end of Stephen's speech. I can see how they would agree with all the history he was quoting and were probably thinking they would have a hard time convicting him at that point. But then he wraps the entire message up by pointing them to the culmination of those prophecies, Jesus, and they're part in his death. When he pronounces his vision of Christ at God's right hand, they physically cover their ears and I can't help but think about all the times Jesus said they had ears but did not hear or understand. They refused to listen anymore and didn't just close of their minds or ears, they yelled, attempting to drown out anything else Stephen might have had to say. But he still had a message and it was one of surrender and forgiveness, echoing the Savior's words on the cross. It's amazing to see such an example of Christ-likeness. It's easy to attribute that to the fact that this was the early church and that they had seen and walked with Jesus, but if I were to be honest I would have to admit that the same attitude is available to me. I need to follow Christ just as closely because he is with me always. If Christ is truly my first priority, it will begin to show in my attitude and actions towards others, just as it did in the life of Stephen.

Acts 8
It makes sense to me that, the day the first martyr is killed, persecution would begin to spread. The Sanhedrin allowing Stephen to be stoned was all the permission others would need to attack the early church. However, it had unintended consequences: the Word of God was spread even further. In fact, the wording at the end of verse 1 echoes the Great Commission: "throughout Judea and Samaria". What began in Jerusalem was intended to spread throughout the whole Earth and persecution was the impetus for the beginning of the dispersion. Philip ends up in Samaria where we see a man named Simon believe and be baptized. However, Simon had trouble letting go of his former thoughts and ways of thinking from his life as a sorcerer. He thinks that he needs to buy God's blessing from the disciples. Sometimes, I need to be called out for the negative way of thinking otherwise I will become captive to it. Here, Peter rightly discerns that Simon needs to be corrected so that his heart will be right before God and he can grow as a Christian. In effect, Peter acted as a mentor would, pointing out that which needed to be changed. I think it's important for us to be in community with more mature believers so that we can learn from them and be taught by them. We are not built to do life alone, but rather as a community.

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