Archive for » July, 2014 «

Purposeful Persecution – Acts 8

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gymWhy is it that the right thing is always so painful? Why do you have to work so hard to work out? Why is it better to save than to spend? Why is it better to think of others instead of ourselves? Why is it better to eat asparagus instead of a dozen snickerdoodles? One would think that God would make all the stuff that’s good for us also the easiest, wouldn’t one?

Well, today we get a little insight into God’s perspective on the whole pain thing. Let’s jump back just a bit to set the stage: in Acts 1, Jesus tells his disciples “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Sounds pretty good; a little talking, a little traveling, and it’s all good. But as Acts progresses, the disciples seem to be a little slow-going. We read how “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts…and all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.” The new believers enjoyed their new-found fellowship and joy, but they weren’t really doing what Jesus commanded.


So, now we come to Acts 8, and Saul (soon to be Paul) gets his Pharisee Posse together to round up them nasty believers. He goes from house to house and puts anyone he finds into prison. Thus “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Sound familiar? The disciples had been reluctant to leave the comfort of Jerusalem and the home church and carry the Good News to the rest of the world; so God either sent or allowed persecution to come against them, in order to encourage them.  A little divine swat on the tushy, if you will.

Notice how many of the great stories of Acts come after this point. It was the persecution that laid the groundwork for the great things that God did in the future. Though it’s unlikely that the disciples appreciated the persecution at the time, there’s little doubt that the miracles and wonders came as a result of the disciples being “forced” to obey Jesus’ command to spread out. God used the pain of persecution to get the believers back into his will and to show them a fuller glory.


This is not to say that all pain in our lives is sent by God (after all, this world is not how God intended it thanks to Adam and the Evester), but Romans tells us that God works all things together for our good. Whether or not God is actually sending the pain is a matter of debate for the tweed-suit crowd, but we can trust that God is using that pain to advance his kingdom and bring us closer to himself. That means we should not necessarily be asking God to deliver us from pain or ask “Why are you doing this?” but rather we should be asking “How are you using this?” It’s not easy to change our perspective (actually, i’d rather have my toenails pulled out) but it’s important to understand that God’s desire is not necessarily for us to have an easy life, but rather a fulfilled life.

Now I have a choice to make: here sits my yogurt and my Hershey Kisses. Decisions are painful.

The Unfair Savior – Matthew 25

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fairWe are obsessed with the idea of “fair” in our culture. Equal opportunities, equal pay, equal education, equal reward, equal everything. And yet you will not find the idea of “fair” in our modern sense in the Bible, unless you count Ecclesiastes, where everything stinks for everybody. I guess that’s kind of fair.

God chooses Jacob over Esau, he chooses Israel over the other nations, Jesus chooses the Twelve disciples over other people, and chooses three of those to be his special friends. Some people suffer more than others, some have a relatively easy life, some are chosen by God to be great, some toil in obscurity.


Look at the parable of talents in Matthew 25. To start, the master has eight talents to give out (fun fact: a talent of gold is worth about $660,000 in today’s money), but he doesn’t spread it out equally among his three servants (or as equally as possible – 3,3,2 or something). Instead, he gives five to the first servant, two to the second, and one to the third. So already we see that God isn’t all that concerned with things being fair.

The master then goes away for a while, comes back, and gets his financial report. The first servant has doubled the investment (which means he made his boss 3.3 million dollars); nice work, Servant One. Servant Two has also doubled the master’s money (1.3 million); pretty decent, Servant Two. Servant three, afraid that he might lose the six hundred grand and get whupped, hides it, and gives it back when the master returns.

Now here’s the thing; that should not have been that big of a deal. The master didn’t lose any money, after all. At most, he lost a little time, perhaps an opportunity here and there. But certainly he was no worse off than before. And yet Jesus refers to this servant as not only lazy (hard to argue with that one), but “wicked.” It was not only a bad decision to hide the money, it was downright sinful. That’s pretty harsh.

Then it gets even more unfairish. The master takes the money from Servant Three, and gives it to Servant One. Notice: not to Servant Two. Servant One already had six and a half million dollars, while Servant Two had just north of two and a half. It seems to our mind that the “fair” thing to do would be to give that money to Servant Two, and possibly even take some of that ridiculous wealth from Servant One and spread it out a little. But that’s not what the master does. He takes the excess, and gives it to the person who has already shown to be trustworthy with what he had.


Here’s the fact: some people are more talented than you. Not “have different talents”; not “special in a different way”; not “more obvious talent.” Plain ole more talented, more gifted than you. They might be stronger, faster, smarter, better looking, more musical, more popular, better family, better singer, better experiences, better everything. They might even have multiples upon multiples of talent more than you.

And you know what Jesus says about that? Nothing. That’s the way it is. Accept it. And do what you can with what you have. Servant Three was not responsible to make 6 million dollars; only to do what he could do with what he had. He was expected to put forth all his effort into developing his six hundred thousand as best as he could. Instead, he hid away in fear. Maybe he was envious of the guy with more, maybe he felt inadequate, maybe he just wanted to do barely enough to get by. Regardless, Jesus says what he did was wrong.

You are not responsible to be the best; you are responsilble to do the best you can with what God has given you. If you are fast enough to take third, and you take fourth because you don’t give your best effort, then that for you is sin. You don’t have to give a million dollars to the church; but if God has given you the ability to give twenty dollars, and you give ten, then that for you is sin. If you have the ability to be the best businessman in the world for God, and you are the second best, for you that is sin. We are responsble for what God has given us, not what he has given others, regardless of how much or how little talent we have.

After all, that’s only fair.

July 14, 2014 – Joshua 20-21

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refugeLet’s admit it; sometimes reading the Old Testament is more tedious than uplifting. It’s hard to get too inspired by the various types of mold the Israelites had to clean, the number of tassels each robe should have, and the seemingly endless list of begats throughout the Old Testament. However, sometimes these longs lists can bring something to light that we may miss, so perhaps we can grin and bear it on occasion and try to hear what God is saying.

Joshua 20-21 is one of these passages – just this ridiculously long list of cities (and their pastureland – apparently a huge deal). So let’s look at what’s really going on.


Joshua 20 sets up what are called “cities of refuge.” In most ancient cultures – and frankly, a lot of modern ones – if someone murdered or hurt one of your relatives, you were legally allowed and obligated to seek vengeance. In some ways, the Bible allows this within certain limits (such as the community doles out punishment, not the aggrieved person). However, the cities of refuge were setup as a way to prevent this sort of retaliation for accidental manslaughter. If you killed someone while speeding on your donkey, you could flee to one of these cities and (if the city council accepted your request) you were protected there.

This is an interesting aspect to our view of Israelite society, because it adds a dimension of mercy to the conception of brutality that a lot of people have about the Old Testament. Were punishments severe? Certainly from our modern point of view, but remember this is before prisons; what was to be done to discourage crime? Yet even within this brutality, there was understanding for accidents, and a place for the truly innocent to seek protection.


Chapter 21 deals with towns for the Levites. Unlike the other tribes of Israel, the tribe of Levi did not get its own land. Tribes like Judah and Manessah got sizable pieces of land, almost nations unto themselves. Why not Levi? All they got were some cities here and there.

The answer has to do with Levi’s unique place in Israel’s religious life. The Levites were the priests; a hereditary family that was responsible to God for the piety of the entire nation. So rather than concentrating all of that in one place, God chose to spread them out among the people. All the Israelites were relatively close to a religious center at all times; they had someone to remind them what the Law of God said, what sacrifices they needed to perform, and how much God loved them as a people.

These lists of cities may seem kind of pointless to us today, but they actually show an aspect of God that might otherwise be missing from our experience. God demands justice, but also provides for mercy. God provides for his people, and yet He wants to be close to them. In a few short chapters, we see a more complete picture of who God is.

That’s probably worth a little tediousness, don’t you think?