Saturday, November 13, 2010

Acts 8

 I am amazed that part of the method God used in the propagation of the Gospel was the scattering of the believers. Acts 8: 4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.  Remember what the Jews were really good at?  Being scattered and still being Jews. Exiled and still Jewish.  Diaspora and still Jewish.  They were generationally trained to keep their identity and beliefs in apathetic, unfamiliar and dangerous places.   They were so qualified for this portion of the assignment.  I so appreciate that He let this part of their history be redeemed in HIS-story.

Acts 8 causes me to consider the specific view and the wide-angle view.  I am struck by one man, Saul,  who has watched the coats of the witnesses of  the elite priesthood's freak-out and brutal killing of a man from their "court".  Saul  is now noticed to be agreeing heartily with Stephen's murder and  then begins to ravage the church and believers in his house-to-house assault.  The wide-spread persecution which breaks out and the scattering of the believers throughout the different regions occur in conjunction with these moments from the life of Saul.  And all of this takes place or begins on that one day.  This seems like such a chaotic scenario and to focus on one person makes me curious about that one person's place in this day.  I wonder what happened with Saul in that day of Stephen's stoning, what decisions did he make, what response did he offer in the face of the crazy, hateful murdering.  Was he undecided about Jesus before that day and this was the day he made his choice?  Was there something about this day that ushered him into the early role he played on the stage of Jesus' gospel. 

We focus again on the crowds being wowed with Philip's ministry in one of the most undesirable places a good Jewish man would go, Samaria.  Crowds....Philip.  The needs were huge and Philip was only one person.  Then Philip was sent to meet the traveling man.  Philip, (whose name means "horse lover") gets to "go and join" the chariot (most likely drawn by horses, God is so fun). He climbs up alongside the man then explains the scripture, preaches Jesus and answers his questions.  Philip must have told him about baptism for the man asks to be baptized in the water they just happen to come across on this desert road.  Then Philip is gone.  I wonder what the traveler's stories were about his trip. [If I may take a tangent for a second, Philip's role reminds me of a picture of the Holy Spirit...going to heal and comfort the hated and afflicted masses, then coming alongside one who is being drawn to God's Word, offering illumination of His Majesty and baptism, equipping the man for his journey...  That's how God uses us, too.  Because we are the "skin" (like the skin on your i-pod) on the Holy Spirit.  His work, our obedience, His glory, our life.]

Finally, Simon, a wizard in Samaria, who just wanted to be someone great.  He works to be considered someone great and does amazing things to convince the people he is worthy of being considered someone great. However, we see Simon amazed when he witnesses God through Philip at work.  He knew the tricks as he was a master of the tricks; but he probably hadn't been amazed in a long time.

So, in the crowds three have been singled out.   Three that have work they are passionate about performing and seem to be very diligent and hardworking.  What has struck me is that each of these made a decision to devote themselves to their work.  And it appears to me that the decisions were ones had not necessarily expected to make.

Saul was passionate for God and the law.  His training would have had him close to the religiosity.  Life in front of him became very wild; but he was not a part of that particular event. 
So Saul was witness to the stoning and he chose to give his approval.  And later in the day he began his destructive period. 

Simon also was trying so hard to be great.  One day, he meets Philip who has The Great and Amazing Spirit of God living within him.  Simon seems to have chosen the works of greatness over the Great God.  Just a choice on a regular day.

Philip chose to go to Samaria, probably not his preferred choice.  They were scattering and I considered that to be like our hurricane evacuation.  When we have had to "scatter" we have always gone to familiar territory, or even to friends or family.  I have yet to scatter to an undesirable place where I would not likely be welcomed.  To make a comparable,
emergency-evac choice, I would have to choose to go to the heart of a Muslim-only area.  And, that would not be my own choice.  Next, in the midst of some good work and excellent results, he chooses to go to “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza” and join himself to a chariot of a stranger. Okay, he was safe in the north country with some blessed ministry going on.  Now, he has to go back down south on the desert road (not too safe...reference the Good Samaritan story) which connects the northern city of Jerusalem (umm, the place he left in a hurry) to the more southern Gaza and hook up with some chariot.  He chose to go.  He didn't ask "which chariot, which stranger?", "will You keep me safe?", or "can You confirm this for me?".  He choose to go.  Just a simple decision to obey God and not common sense or even man's ministry-economics.

So all of this, (sorry for the length), I see that each one decides or reacts based on the course their life was taking.  They were not placed in those events by accident; God's sovereign hand had them  present where they were and when they were for those opportunities.  Each had set their hearts on what was important to them.  Each acted based on their hearts' settings.  Saul for the religious law, Simon to be someone great (or maybe just to be "someone"), Philip to obey despite the situation.  Each saw the opportunity of something.  Only Philip had his defined by God.  Saul thought his was; but he didn't check. Simon seemed to want to be a god.

 And for me, I need to recognize that:

1.  Anything in my day or night may be a defining moment of decision because God has placed me in this place at this time with these people and opportunities (sometimes disguised as oppression or opposition) for His reason and His glory.  My choices must begin with what brings Him glory, what obeys His leading.

2.  My heart's setting needs to be daily tuned to God's frequency and not my loud and garish self or to what the world defines as valid and smart.  God's setting is dynamic and not digital.  I can't just set it and forget about it.  I must daily (at least) choose to seek and  select His signal over any other.

3.  I must operate not from the inspiration of the law nor from the desire to be made much of ; but from a place which desires to yield to the Sovereign Lord of the Universe and my life.  He must be my inspiration, His Name must be my motto, His fame must be my goal.

4.  To reiterate a theme that resonates with me in these readings, I can see opportunity or opposition or oppression...but what if today is the bravest, most courageous, most obedient thing God has for me in my life?  All I have to do is today.

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