Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God Made it Worse

Stephen was "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit," well respected in the first church (Acts 6:5). He was one of seven men chosen by the church and charged with ministering to the believing Greek widows. But Stephen did more than simply distribute food. He performed miracles and spoke with wisdom (Acts 6:8-10). It wasn't long before he was opposed by a faction of the Jews. When this faction could not refute God's wisdom that Stephen taught, they resorted to a familiar tactic. They trumped up false charges against him and brought him before the Sanhedrin just as they had done to Jesus (compare Acts 6:8-14 to Matt. 26:59-61). When Stephen rebuked the religious leaders for killing Jesus, tempers in the Sanhedrin began to boil over. Then God did something interesting...He made it worse.
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
Acts 7:54-58a

God not only allowed Stephen to die, He practically caused it. Why would He do that? One of His followers was in trouble, and far from coming to the rescue God made it worse. And how do we reconcile God's actions in this passage with Romans 8:28? "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." The Christian calling is in line with God's purpose for the world and our individual good. Often this means suffering for the faith. From the early church up to today this has been a reality of the Christian life. The Bible itself does not hide this. Jesus is Christianity's first martyr. Stephen is martyred shortly thereafter. Paul and others of the apostles are imprisoned, beaten and whipped. Though the Bible does not record it church history tells us that many of the apostles and other early believers suffered and died for their faith. The simple truth is that God's best for His children has always been in heaven. He blesses us here on earth as well, but our greatest blessings were always going to come in heaven.

So how did this work out for Stephen's good? The good that it worked for Stephen wasn't in this life. Stephen's reward is in heaven. The Bible assures us that all those who suffer faithfully will receive their reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12 & Mark 10:28-30). God's vision gave Stephen the strength and wisdom to stand strong until the end, to die a good death in defense of the gospel. He enabled Stephen to endure his stoning with peace and forgiveness in His heart. He accomplished the purpose for which God called him and for that Stephen will be blessed.  

Still why would God allow Stephen to die? How does it further His purposes to see one of His followers die? Acts 8:1-4 is instructive.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Because of the persecution that broke out against Stephen and the church as a whole, the gospel was taken out of Jerusalem and preached in many surrounding areas. Christianity spread and began to grow as a direct result. The early church father Tertullian has been quoted as saying that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." It certainly seems that in the case of Stephen, he was right. Had Stephen not suffered the church might have remained primarily restricted to Jerusalem. So in the end we can see that God can work even the suffering of His saints for their good and for the furthering of His kingdom in the world.

Is the Lord allowing a trial in your life right now? I wish that I could tell you that believers always beat cancer or they never go bankrupt, but I can't. What I can tell you is that God is with you in your trial, just like He was with Stephen. God has promised that all things work together for the believer's good either in this life or in the next. And God always keeps His promises. Persevere under your hardship! Resist the urge to strike out at God and blame Him. Instead, consider how it might be used by God to further His purposes in the world. Bear up under it with peace and joy looking forward to your reward in heaven. God is aware of your suffering, and you can rest assured that He has not allowed it to happen for no reason. 

(*I praise the Lord for our 200th blog post! And I thank my wife, Stacy, for tirelessly editing these posts over the past three years and ten months. She is a great blessing to me and to every reader of this blog.)

For further reading...
  • Acts 7- In this passage Stephen responds to the charges brought against him with a masterful summary of the Old Testament from Abram's call (Genesis 12) to Solomon's building of the temple (I Kings 6 & II Chronicles 5:1).
  • Matthew 5:11-12 & Mark 10:28-30- Rewards for those who suffer in the name of Jesus.
  • A Share in His Sufferings- Read another WoW blog post on suffering. 
  • Entitled- Do you have an entitled attitude before the Lord? Read this WoW blog post to find out. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Circumcise Your Life

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Colossians 2:11-12

Though circumcision is a graphic analogy, it's one with which the Colossian believers would have been familiar. It is the cutting away of flesh. And in Jewish terms, it is the cutting away of uncleanness. This passage tells us that Christians have undergone a circumcision of our own. Though it is not physical, it is just as real. It is a cutting away of the sinful flesh, the unclean way of life by which we used to live. 

The Bible describes this circumcision in terms of Christian baptism which is a picture of the salvation God works in the heart of every believer. In baptism we are fully submerged beneath the water, symbolic of our participation in the death of Christ. He died on the cross; we die to our old, sinful way of living. Then we are raised out of the water, symbolic of our participation in the resurrection of Christ. Just as He was raised from the dead to live a new kind of life, we are also raised to live a new life. 

God gives us all we need to live this new life out. He has broken the power that sin once had over us by His death and resurrection. We are no longer powerless before our sins and addictions! And He has placed His own powerful Spirit within us to guide and strengthen us. But, it is left up to us to apply this spiritual circumcision to our everyday lives by cutting the old, fleshly ways of living out of our lives. By reading His Word and applying the wisdom and power of His Spirit within us, we determine what is sinful and therefore what needs to be cut out of our lives. And day-by-day as we remove ourselves from sin, we are conformed more and more into the image of Christ. 

What sinful ways of living do you need to cut out of your life? What about your language? Is it pure, focusing only on what is good? How about your media consumption? Would Jesus bother watching the TV shows and movies you watch? What about the music you listen to? You may kid yourself into thinking these things don't matter. But they are like the air you breathe. When you surround yourself with polluted, sinful media, you corrupt your own soul little by little. What about that toxic friend who drags you into sin and ensnares you over and over again? If you aren't strong enough yet to resist the temptation he brings with him, then you need to cut him out of our life. 

Christ paid a high price to remove your sin from you. What are you willing to do to live that circumcision out day by day?

For further reading...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Top 5 Reasons to Read the Bible

Top 5 Reasons to Read the Bible

1. His Word is Powerful!- God's words are so powerful that He created everything that exists simply by speaking. Imagine what powerful change His words can bring about in your life.
Now the earth was formless and empty... And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.(Psalm 33:6)

God's Word is True- We are surrounded by lying voices. All day long they tickle our eyes trying to sell us their product. Are you tired of being lied to? Do you want to know the truth about the world, yourself, and God? Got to the Bible! It speaks only the truth.
Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Proverbs 30:5)
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times. (Psalm 12:6)
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

3. The Bible Brings Salvation- Talk about the power to change a life! Every person who ever went from being a sinner to being a saint did so because of God's Word. Apart from the Word we could know almost nothing about God. It's through the Bible that we learn about His plan of salvation and are called upon to believe. 
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18)

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)
4. Scripture Grows Us and Guides Us- We all want to improve ourselves. We all wish we had a little more self-discipline or a little more understanding of who God is or even a plan for our lives. If you want to grow yourself up in the Lord, if you want to become the best version of you that you can become, if you want to feel like your life has some guidance, then the Bible is exactly what you need.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130)
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation... (1 Peter 2:2)
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

5. God's Word Defeats the Enemy- Have you ever noticed how Jesus chose to combat temptation when the Devil came to meet Him in the desert? He fought the Devil with the Word of God. The Bible is a powerful weapon against temptation and the lies and confusion of the enemy. In fact, Revelation tells us that in the end all the enemies of God will be defeated by His words.
“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29)

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (
Ephesians 6:17)

He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (
Revelation 19:13-15)

For further reading...
  • Read anything in the Bible! But if you don't know where to start or if you haven't read the Bible much before here are some good books of the Bible you can begin with: Mark, Luke, or Genesis.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Safe in Daddy's Arms

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:4-7
My nine month old daughter is afraid of dogs. I'm not sure exactly why. She's never been bitten. I think maybe the loud barking scares her. As her dad I have the distinct privilege of serving as her protector; so anytime a dog is around I make sure to hold her tight and high above where the dog can reach her. I even whisper in her ear sometimes to make sure she knows I am there with her. "Daddy's here, Hallie. You're okay. I'm not going to let that dog get you." She is learning more and more to lean into me in these times and to trust me to keep her safe.
There is something about a father's presence. We feel less scared when Daddy is around. This is a helpful parallel for God's presence in our lives. Psalm 46 urges God's people to take comfort in His nearness even as their enemies rage outside the city walls warring against them. These enemies are described as shaking the whole earth in verses two and three and as being in an uproar in verse six above. But the psalmist assures us that their bark is worse than their bite for God dwells among His people. God is within the city walls of Jerusalem; it cannot fall unless God Himself were to fall! And in verse six we find that God defeats Israel's enemies with a word.
The believer can take comfort in this for God lives among us as well. His very Spirit lives inside us. No matter the problem you face, no matter how big and powerful your enemy, no matter how scared you are or how out of your depth you might be- God is with His people. He is a stream providing for your every need within the sanctuary of His protection. You cannot be beaten, because He stands with you. As Romans 8:31 says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" No one! He fights for you. God is your fortress.
Interestingly the word for fortress means a high place, a refuge that is at a secure height. It is not at all unlike being held in your daddy's arms high above and out of reach of a dog. Eventually there will come a time when I lower Hallie and let her closer to her fears... closer to a dog. I will of course make sure to choose a nice dog and ensure that she is safe the whole time. Hopefully by the time I do this Hallie will have learned to trust me enough to know that what seems terrifying to her in that instant is for her own good.
God doesn't always hold us high above our problems. Sometimes he allows them to get much closer to us than we would like. But He never abandons us. He is always "an ever-present help in trouble" (verse 1). We must learn that His presence is enough. We must learn to lean into Him and trust Him to keep us safe even in times of trouble.
For further reading...
  • Zechariah 2:5- God promises to be a wall of fire around the city of Jerusalem and to protect it.
  • Isaiah 54:17- No weapon formed against us shall prevail.
  • Psalm 2- Why do the nations rage?
  • II Chronicles 20- An excellent example of God fighting for His people.
* Certain insights in this post I owe to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David on Psalm 46.