Wanted: Table servers. Must have good reputation, be full of the Spirit & full of wisdom…

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples & said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit & of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer & to the ministry of the word.”… & Stephen, full of grace & power, was doing great wonders & signs among the people. Acts 6:1-4,8

What are the characteristics you’d look for in a person to serve tables? Good personality. Responsible. Able to multi-task.

The disciples had a different list: Good reputation. Full of the Holy Spirit. Full of wisdom.

To serve tables. Isn’t that a little much?

I don’t think so. The disciples weren’t just trying to find a warm body to help pass out food; they needed several someones that fit their description exactly to help heal a potentially volatile situation that had arisen in the church.

“…anyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD will be saved,” meant that people who had had little to nothing to do with each other in the past, were now worshiping Christ together. Former points of division were tentatively, but surely being overcome.

It was precisely at those points of racial and cultural division that our enemy, the devil, attempted to strike by stirring up offense & bitterness, trying to get the Greeks to lash out & retaliate against the Jews, subtly whispering to them that this ‘salvation in Christ’ was just a sham, & that the Greeks were still second class citizens.

The Apostles brought the Church together – the whole church – & asked them to pick 7 men, of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit & wisdom. And they did – if you read Acts 6:5, you will see that all the men chosen had Greek names.

This seemingly menial assignment was actually one of great significance, & the discernment, grace, & faithfulness of Stephen & the rest help diffuse the antagonism & bring unity to the Church.

Every single one of us who belongs to Christ serves in a vital place in the body. Our job title may not be prestigious according to the wisdom & values of our culture, but in the eyes of the One who made a way for us to serve in that role, it’s perfect. Because our world needs us, men & women of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, & full of wisdom to bring glory to God by the way we live & serve.

And real significance comes from hearing God say, “Well done, good & faithful servant.”

the day at church no one ever forgot, & other musings…

I’ve been a part of the Church for the majority of my life, & I have experienced many incredible, wonderful things; interactions with brothers & sisters in Christ, & time spent in the presence of God in the context of our whole church family.

Some of the most powerful memories I have, however, are when something bad happened.

One Sunday that will live in infamy, I was a 19 year old kid working the sound board. At the beginning of the pastor’s message, a woman walked up to the front of the church & tried to grab a microphone. The pastor told her, “I’m not going to let you share.” She insisted that she had no choice, & that she was being compelled by the spirit to do so. The pastor was resolute, (thankfully) & told her that under no circumstance would she be allowed to bring her message.

The room was deadly quiet. The pastor explained that the woman had come to his office earlier in the week, & had told him that she had a message from God. After hearing what her message was, the pastor told her (& relayed to us) that he didn’t believe it was from the LORD because of the severe tone of condemnation, accusation, and belittling. He told her at that time, (& relayed to us,) that our Father God doesn’t speak to us that way; His heart is for repentance & restoration; further, spiritual gifts (including prophetic words,) were to be encouraging, edifying, and exhorting to the Church. This woman’s message was none of those.

So what happened? She laid down. In the front row of the church. And the pastor went back into his message. And no one in that room EVER forgot what had happened, nor the lesson that we learned about how God speaks to His people.

I’ve wondered how he finished the message… especially when I’m distracted by something as benign as a louder-than-it-needs-to-be conversation that happens during the speech. Hmm.


Acts 5 –
What was happening in the early church was a beautiful thing. The believers were putting into action Christ’s command to “love one another” in a most tangible way; they were using their finances and other resources to care for each others real, felt needs. No one was left out; all were provided for. This spirit of benevolence was so pervasive that people were even selling properties in order to make sure that there would be money available to help others, just in case.

It was truly incredible.

At the very same time, a sobering event shook the church to its core. A married couple, Ananias & Sapphira, sold their own piece of land with the intent of giving the proceeds to the church. At some point however, they decided that they would keep some of the money for themselves; they’d still give some to the church, but not all of it.

The fact that they kept some of the money wasn’t the problem. In no way was there any requirement for them to give it all. However, together they plotted to tell the apostles (& the rest of the church) that the amount they were giving was the entire purchase price, thinking that no one would be the wiser.

They chose willfully & intentionally to lie. To God. It was a big deal to Him. It cost them their lives.

I’ve read this passage (Acts 5:1-11) many times, & I’ve wondered about & guessed at the motivation for Ananias & Sapphira’s lie.

    -Was it people-pleasing mixed with greed? Others in the church were getting attention for their selfless acts; did they just wanted in on that attention?

    -Was the love of money? Did they start out with a good intention & get sidetracked, tripped up by temptation?

    -Were they trying to buy favor, influence, &/or position in the church?

I don’t know. And I also don’t know the WHY behind their deaths. I do know that ultimately, God chose to address their choices and behaviors in a strong way, & that as a result, a great fear came upon the church & all who heard about it. That church didn’t see sin the same way ever again; & they most definitely didn’t think that God was Someone to try to pull one over on.

Both Ananias & Sapphira had the choice to repent, to acknowledge their lie, & given that choice, they stuck to their story. Ouch.

I look at my own life & see many times where, if God wanted to step in & say, “Not in my house!” I would have been dead to rights, & worthy of whatever punishment He chose to give.

It makes me thankful for repentance – the opportunity God gives us to turn FROM sin, & to turn TO God, & to know that if I confess my sin, & turn from it, that Christ is faithful & just to forgive & to purify from all unrighteousness (1John 1:7-10)

what really matters is being with Jesus…

Now when they (the Council) saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

How our world & culture measure value, potential, and ‘specialness’ in people is largely based on brains, brawn, looks, & special abilities. This type of thinking & evaluating can find its way into the church as well – it can sound a little like:

“That person is so gifted & talented! If they became a Christian, God could really do big things through them.”

Sound familiar?

By the time Jesus had chosen the disciples, they each had most likely been passed over as “not good enough” by local rabbis seeking out promising young disciples. Sure, they’d all been taught the Torah, God’s Law & the Prophets as kids, but as they grew up, each one took a job, learned a trade, or joined the family business.

And then Jesus called them to “come & follow Me.”

The disciples were chosen not because of their greatness or special abilities – Jesus chose them because they were normal. They were common, regular people, with nothing really remarkable about them.

God sees value & potential in people, not because of their natural giftings, abilities or competencies, but because He sees what we can be when we’re called by His Name, filled with the Holy Spirit “…Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

It’s important to keep this in mind when we ‘evaluate’ our (& others) fitness & ability to be used by the LORD. Too often, we disqualify ourselves for God’s use based upon our shortcomings, weaknesses, struggles, & inadequacies, as though God didn’t know these things about us when He called & filled us.

It’s vital for us to remember that what really matters is being with Jesus. It is impossible to be with Him & not be forever changed. May the same things that were said of Peter & John, be said about us – “they seem normal enough, & there’s really nothing special about them… it must be Jesus.”

Great book resource: Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus – by Spangler & Tverberg

on the way to prayer…

Every big city has beggars. The sheer numbers of people making their way to and through the city center provide a steady opportunity for the sick, lame, & down on their luck, to eke out a living begging, albeit always dependent on the benevolence of others.

Jerusalem was no exception. Acts 3 tells the story of one man, lame from birth, that every day was carried to the “Beautiful Gate” of the Temple in the early afternoon in order to catch the crowds coming & going from the Temple at the hour of prayer (3 p.m.). He’d been there every day of his life, which means that he was ‘known’ and recognized; not by name most likely, but as “the lame guy at the Beautiful Gate.”

Unnamed in Acts, the lame man was anonymous; most likely, passerby didn’t stop to talk & interact to see how he was. If his situation was like that of the beggars I have seen & observed, people rushed by him, avoided eye contact, hoped to miss all interaction with him & to just sneak by without having to give alms.

And somewhere along the way, the lame man had learned to just look out at the world, at everything & nothing, to avoid even a little of the dehumanizing experience his helpless begging had reduced him to.

Until Peter & John came by… & stopped. Peter said, “Look at us.” He made eye contact. He addressed him directily. He wasn’t speaking to a beggar; he was addressing a man, a fellow Israelite, an equal. And he healed him in Jesus’ Name.

I love the picture of this guy being so excited at being able to walk that he is literally JUMPING for joy, praising God at the top of his lungs because he has experienced a touch from God that changed his life forever.

And he experienced a connection with another person, who tangibly showed the love of God by taking the time to listen to the Holy Spirit, & to respond to what the Spirit said.

what a difference a day makes, a new future, & other musings…

Jerusalem was jam-packed with Jews from all over the world; they’d gathered to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. This was the context God chose for the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples & gathered believers.

The city was buzzing – hearing these ‘common,’ unschooled men & women speaking the praises of God in the tongues of far-off peoples generated all sorts of intrigue & questions. Some said the disciples had just drunk too much wine, but others knew that wasn’t it, & were desperate to know, “What is going on here?”

Peter answers.

Peter. The one who, days before, had denied even knowing Christ three times. The one who had trembled in fear & wasn’t able to acknowledge his relationship with Christ to a servant girl.

Peter addressed the crowd of thousands & explained what was happening:

…Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice & addressed them: “Men of Judea & all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, & give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘& in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…”

Peter is an example of one who has been filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to live for Christ, & to give witness to what God has done & is doing in, through, & around us. His fear & timidity have been replaced with boldness. His past failures, fears, denials & inadequacies did NOT dictate his present & future, in Christ.

I believe that there was a moment as Peter gathered himself to speak to the crowd that he was bombarded with thoughts of fear & memories of his denials of Christ. It’s what our enemy does; he accuses us before God, & he reminds us of our past sins, failures, & the like. And then there’s the accusation, the lie that sounds a lot like this– “if you try to talk you will fail. You’ll look stupid. You’ll be a failure. Again.”

This accusation is one that is directed at & against the character of God – because the LORD has promised to fill our mouths, & tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach us at that very moment what to say.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit’s boldness means being willing & able to reject the accusations & reminders of the enemy, & being willing & able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings for the situation at hand.

Peter did it. So can we.

waiting for change, my plans, & other musings…

…Jesus ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, & you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem & in all Judea & Samaria, & to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:4-8

Jesus was the Christ, this much the disciples knew. His resurrection from the dead had sealed that fact for them. And because He was the Christ, God’s Anointed One, the Son of David, Jesus’ next move should have been to follow in the David’s footsteps & lead Israel to military victory, evicting the Romans once & for all.

After 3 years, the disciples were still thinking in terms of “us vs. them.” They were still caught in the the temporary, the here & now. They still thought that their biggest problem was Rome, a problem that the Risen King could take care of quite well. Boom!

Maybe that’s why Jesus told them, strongly, to stay put in Jerusalem, to wait for the promised Holy Spirit. It’s like He said, “Guys, I don’t want you to go anywhere or do anything in your own strength. Wait for Mine. The kind of change that you & this world needs, My Kingdome coming, My will being done, isn’t brought about by human effort, but by the work of the Holy Spirit. So wait for Him. Then act.”

I get the disciples, especially how they were so quick to believe that God’s purposes actually mirrored their own. They needed to lift their eyes up from their myopic view of selves & get divine perspective.

This happens when the Holy Spirit gently confronts. Challenges. Convicts. Changes. Reveals. Fills. Empowers.

And suddenly, my agenda, my purposes seem small. Insignificant. Perhaps even irrelevant.

And there is a joy, a relief even, in the revelation of God’s purposes. Cause I FIT in them. And so do others.

fellowship, encouragement, new discoveries, & other musings…

…and so we came to Rome. And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius & Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God, & took courage… Acts 28:14-17

Paul was in Rome.

And the first thing he experienced there was an in person meeting and greeting with fellow Christians who had traveled 50-60 miles to visit him (from the Forum of Appius.)

Put yourself in Paul’s shoes – in the previous years, he had experienced abandonment, rejection, constant persecution, wrongful accusations. He was treated like a criminal, had survived several assassination attempts, and even recovered from a stoning. He’d been imprisoned in Jewish & Roman strongholds, had weathered the temperamental whims of Caesarean governor & had even lived through a shipwreck.

Then, upon arriving in Rome, he encounters brothers & sisters in Christ, a vivid reminder that he isn’t (& won’t be!) alone in this place; they are a flesh & blood fulfillment of God’s promises & goodness to Paul; their very presence caused him to give thanks to God, & also to be encouraged. He was filled to overflowing, & his time in Rome was characterized by his “proclaiming the kingdom of God & teaching about the LORD Jesus Christ with all boldness, & without hindrance.”

This is fellowship. Mutual encouragement. Being strengthened, & strengthening others in return. Based fully on the commonality of having been brought from death to life, darkness to light, by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Years ago, I traveled to Birmingham, Englad with a couple of friends in preparation for a mission trip; we didn’t know a soul there, but had heard that there was a Christian church that we could visit. We made our way there, & found a small group of brothers & sisters meeting together for a meal & worship.

Though they’d never met us, they welcomed us to their table & into their midst with open arms. There was a tangible feeling that we were among family, & that we had something in common that bound us together in a way that only happens with the fellowship with other believers.

We talked, laughed, sang, & prayed. They prayed for us, speaking words of knowledge, encouragement, hope & faith that touched our hearts to the very core. I can remember looking across the room through the candlelight at this gathering of believers, knowing that we were bound together, in Christ, & that I knew I loved them & what’s more, that they loved me.

A few days later, when we parted, I had the distinct sense that I wouldn’t ever see many (most? All?) of these people again. But I also knew that when I did, here & in Heaven, that we’d run to embrace each other, & to celebrate the goodness & grace of our LORD Jesus Christ that sustains us from day to day.

living downstream from faith…

Paul & 275 others were in trouble. Their tiny ship was sailing towards Italy, & had been caught in a winter storm that raged without stopping for more than two weeks. It was so severe that the most experienced sailors had given up all hope of surviving (27:20.)

But not Paul – he knew that God had told him he would witness on His behalf before Caesar in Rome (Acts 23). And since God had told him, he believed it with all of his heart.

…last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as He said…

I’m struck by how Paul’s faith in God’s ability to keep His promises, even in the face of a deadly storm, not only saved Paul, but also everyone else on the boat.

When we exercise faith, we may not always know just how many other lives will be touched & influenced by it; faith is contagious, & the LORD looks for those who will take Him at His Word, & strengthens them. And then, like with Abraham, He blesses others through His faithful ones.

The eyes of the LORD run to & from throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him… 2Chronicles 16:9

a life changed in a moment; a picture of repentance

How did a Jew from the strictest sect in Judaism, the Pharisees, become a Christian himself? And how did this person, who not only zealously persecuted, imprisoned, and condemned to death followers of the Way in his own region, but also travelled more than 190 miles by donkey for the opportunity to persecute, imprison, and condemn to death MORE followers of the Way in ANOTHER region, become so radically transformed that he became not only an avid follower of Christ, but the leading apostle, evangelist, and ‘discipler’ in the early Church?

Repentance.

I love the conversion story that Paul relays to King Agrippa. It involves the dramatic turn his life took in response to a mostly one-sided conversation he had with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.

Christ basically told him, “Why are you persecuting Me, Paul? You’re fighting my plan for you. Stop it. Get it, go to Damascus & I’ll give you what you need for your real mission: bringing My Good News to Jews & Gentiles so they can TURN from darkness to light & from the power of Satan to God. They will receive forgiveness of sins & a place in My family.”

Repentance.

Paul’s conversion experience doesn’t involve sinner’s prayer, a lot of emotion, or even teaching from the Scriptures so he would know that Jesus was the Christ.

He was converted in response to his encounter with Christ – confronted by his sin & the error of his misguided persecutions, he turned from his wrong path, & turned towards obedience… to put into practice what he had heard from Christ.

Repentance. Is it really that simple?

Within a short time of his arrival in Damascus, Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, & immediately began to share the gospel with the same zeal, fervor, & urgency with which he had previously persecuted the church.

Paul was a changed man; he’d been redirected to his true purpose, calling, & life-mission.

Repentance.

what lies beneath, & other musings…

Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Acts 25:1-3


I was re-reading the last few chapters in Acts, and couldn’t help but notice the determination and single-mindedness of the Jewish religious leaders in their pursuit of Paul. And here in chapter 25, once again they’re plotting to kill him. Suddenly, it hit me: they think they are on a mission from God.

It might sound silly to say that, but I think we have to take a second and remind ourselves just who these people were: the chief priests, and the principal men of the Jews. The leadership.

These were the people responsible for leading other Jews in their pursuit of relationship with God.

These were men of (presumed) good reputation, character, and integrity who’d come into their priestly and leadership roles not by wile-and-guile, but rather based on recognition of their gifts and callings.

They are the ones leading the charge to kill Paul.

Somewhere along the line their zeal for the LORD had been contaminated with sin and marred by fleshly, even demonic motivation. And they didn’t know it.

They thought they were on a mission from God.

I can’t merely look at the religious leaders & wonder how they got so messed up that they actively & murderously opposed the work (& people) of the LORD, & let that be the end of it.

I also have to consider what lies in the depths of my own heart, because the kind of terrible wickedness we see repeatedly from the religious leaders is something that can lurk in each of us.

Unaddressed sin. Bitterness. Unforgiveness. Jealousy. Unchecked ambition. Pride. Judgment. All provide fertile ground that could allow seeds of sin to grow that would ultimately lead to the manipulation & poisoning of my heart & mind to the point that I could be used to oppose God’s work and stand against His people.

All while thinking I’m on a mission from God.

It’s sobering.

Search me, oh God, & know my heart. Try me, & know my thoughts! If there be any wicked way in me, lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23,24