Thursday, April 30, 2009
Stephen was chosen, by the people, to be one of 7 who were responsible for maintaining fariness in the passing out of food and supplies.
Stephen was also given the power, from God, to perform miracles. And that always seems to tick someone off. So a group of men start hating him. And start telling lies about what he is preaching (claiming he's bashing Moses, for example).
Stephen is arrested and questioned.
Stephen then has a long speech where he basically summarizes or reviews the Old Testament. It's a good history lesson and if you aren't familiar with the Old Testament, this could be a nice little Cliff Notes version.
At the end, Stephen has a vision of Jesus at the right hand of God.
He is then taken out and stoned to death.
Saul is also named as part of this story as the men who had accused Stephen lay their coats at Saul's feet.
I went and did a little searching on this story so I could get more from it. I learned that Stephen as seen as the first martyr for Jesus after the ascension. I learned that there are lots of holes and questions in the story (I knew that from reading it). I found a good read on the story here.
I'm not sure what to think at this moment. I'm not having a strong reaction to Stephen's story. I think it's going to be more important going foward. I think it's an example of faith and belief and sacrifice.
Tomorrow- Acts 8
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I'd read ahead a little bit, I must admit. And Acts 5... well, I get the intent but it really feels like... manipulation and bullying at first glance. I'll work through it here!
Ananias and Sapphira
1Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
3Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."
5When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?" "Yes," she said, "that is the price."
9Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."
10At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Now, I get that the point of the story is that you don't lie to God. Lying is bad. Deadly, apparently. But when I read this as some sort of historical story... it really seems like Peter was using fear tactics to keep people in line... and to keep people giving ALL of their money. Bad to lie and say that it was all the money when it really wasn't. Bad to lie and cover for your husband. Got it. But the dropped dead thing? Really?
I'm having a hard time with this one. Because the dropping dead thing... while I suppose God could have struck them down as an example, I get the feeling that Peter might have had a hand in it. There is so much that has to be read between the lines when you read the Bible, isn't there?
So are these people all still CHOOSING to give? Or are they now in a position where they fear death if they don't give all they have? Which is not socialism, either!
Peter and the apostles go about, healing the sick and crazy.
Next, the Apostles are arrested for continuing to teach in Jesus' name. They are jailed but an angel comes and frees them and they go to the temple and continue teaching and preaching. They are arrested again and brought before the priests and questioned. They defend what they are doing. Gamaliel, a Pharasee and well honored teacher of the law, spoke on their behalf. Basically saying that if what they are doing is man-driven, they will fail. And that if they are God-driven, there is nothing man can do to stop them. The priests have the Apostles flogged and released.
41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
I feel like verse 42 is an important one. The Contemporary English Version of the Bible verse reads "41The apostles left the council and were happy, because God had considered them worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus." Worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus. That sounds so very powerful, doesn't it? I'm going to introspect on that a lot today, I think.
Tomorrow... Acts 6-7
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
This chapter starts out with a miracle. Peter and John going to the temple and healing the crippled man at the gates. From how it reads, it seems this crippled man was a beggar (I assume he had no other options). He was carried on a mat to this spot to beg each day. So he was well known for being there, for his condition.
When people witness that this man has been healed completely, they are in awe. Peter speaks to their surprise, saying that they shouldn't be. Because it wasn't Peter who performed the miracle but God through him. He also again gives the message about Jesus- that the people crucified him and God raised him from the dead.
16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
He then speaks again to the prophesies of the Old Testament. He encourages the crowd to repent and turn to God.
While Peter and John are addressing the crowd, the priests and leaders approach and are disturbed by what they are hearing. They have Peter and John thrown in jail. They are questioned by names familiar to the Crucifixion story- Caiaphus, Annas. The leaders and priests want to know what right Peter and John have to preach the way they are.
Peter responds that the miracle they performed was done so by the power of God and Jesus Christ.
The priests and leaders are surprised because Peter and John are "ordinary men" who are unschooled but had spent time with Jesus. And they can also see in front of them the cripple who was healed. So they have proof of the miracle. What has happened with this crippled man cannot be denied. They ask Peter and John to stop preaching about Jesus. Of course, Peter and John reply that they can't make that promise because they are driven by the Holy Spirit.
And now we come to the part I want to talk about!!
32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.
It's socialism! It's communism! It's some kind of -ism!
I'm a pretty darn liberal Democrat. My heart bleeds all over the place, creating quite a mess.
I got really tired of being constantly accused of being a socialist during the last election. Of hearing that President Obama would inflict socialism on our country. And the thing that pissed me off about those statements? They were mostly being made by hard core conservative Christians!! People I know who looooove to throw the "WWJD" thing and throw the Bible verses thing!
And yet... here we have... in the BIBLE... Socialism! Pooling resources and making sure all needs are met. Equal distribution of goods. Not even necessarily "equal" but specifically need based. They were never hungry, they were never without shelter. Believers sold their property and brought the profits to them. And any time the money started to run out, another farm got sold, more money was given.
OK, fine. It was really more like communal living. But still... the idea of sharing resources and meeting all needs... Do I think it would apply today? Not really. Not the way things are set up now.
I just find it ironic when folks choose to use the Bible to support some arguments but disregard it for others.
Tomorrow- Acts 5
Monday, April 27, 2009
We've got Pentecost, speaking in tongues, and Peter preaching.
He's kind of like a news reporter. These events have just happened. These people don't have the benefit of being raised knowing these stories or reading really old documents that tell them this Truth. This is breaking news, it is eye-opening and surprising.
36"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
38Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."
And forgive me for jumping around... but doesn't this really make the last days sound terrifying?
17" 'In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.'[c]
I suppose it should only be terrifying for those who haven't already chosen to live their lives in God's love, right? But even as a believer, even as someone strong in my faith and in my eternal life to come... this scares me! I would far prefer to imagine the return of the Lord being surrounded with rainbows, flowers, unicorns, fairies. Where an incomprehensible peace fills the land. All wars are ended and all problems are lifted. Where the life we all are striving for is. When he returns, at that moment, there will be no physical or spiritual hunger. There will be no disease or pain or mental illness. There will be whole people, complete souls, absolute love and peace. I imagine heaven on earth. And I imagine that those who refuse it still, those who don't accept the Lord and choose to love Him... then those will be the ones who do not choose to live in heaven. That choose to turn away. But I really don't imagine the fire and brimstone kind of return. Because who'd want to go with God after all that? But sunshine, rainbows and unicorns? I am so there.
It's the last paragraph that I find most interesting.
42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.Can you imagine how powerful it would have been to be in that presence, to be part of that group? Witnessing miracles and surrounded by fellow believers?
But that's the exact kind of thinking that people in our lifetimes have used, abused, taken advantage of. Took it to an ugly, selfish place. Jim Jones and Jonesville is what first comes to mind. And those are the experiences that turn people away from the Bible and Christianity. When they see the very public examples of it being wrong, of it being twisted and deformed into something full of hate and ugliness.
So Jesus came, Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus ascended, and the apostles continued preaching and bringing believers into the fold.
Until tomorrow... Acts 3
Sunday, April 26, 2009
And I'm ready to make a commitment to reading from the Bible daily. And I will be blogging as I go!
To start, I looked at a variety of website that give you a plan to read the Bible in a year... or the New Testament in a year... or the book of whatever in a month.
But I'm feeling a need to start where I am called to start. That's how I've used my Bible for the past decade or more. I seek when I feel the call and I usually find something that speaks to me.
So I'm going to start with Acts. And for my first day's reading, I'm going to read Acts 1. If you'd like to read it but don't have a Bible... you can read it here.
Here's my summary. Jesus ascends into Heaven. The apostles gather together. Judas has to be replaced. They have 2 candidates, pray about it, cast votes, and Matthias becomes the new apostle.
Sounds like a reality show!
What I'm taking from it... that the apostles witnessed the ascension into heaven and were then told that Jesus would return the same way. That's an important message- that Jesus will return.
10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."
There are also some references to the Old Testament and predictions given there about what will happen- what they are seeing happen.
Mention is made of Judas' death. That he used his money to buy a field and that is where he took his life.
18(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
Until tomorrow... Peace,