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Acts 2: Finding Favor

In Acts chapter 2, Christianity began to take off after Peter preached his first sermon. 3000 people were converted in the first day, and it is interesting to see what Luke mentions about the community of believers in the early days.

Act 2:42  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Act 2:43  And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.

Act 2:44  And all that believed were together, and had all things common;

Act 2:45  And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

Act 2:46  And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

Act 2:47  Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

There are many things worth talking about here, but verse 47 seems particularly telling. The Christians had favor with all the people. They were a group of people that people wanted to be around. I think that is something that we surrender far too easily when talking about Christianity today.

People who are not Christians might argue that they don’t want to follow a list of rules. They might have a very negative view of Christianity, and I feel like what we need to be doing is demonstrating that this lifestyle is actually a positive thing. Living a life dedicated to following the teaching and example of Jesus Christ necessarily will produce the fruit of the spirit, and a community that is full of those traits is going to be a great place to live because there will be peace, joy and all the rest. It is not that Christians or Christian communities are perfect, but there is something to the fact that the early church was something that people actually liked. They had favor with all the people.

I understand that Christians are countercultural, and I understand that there is necessarily going to be persecution on some level for following Jesus Christ. At the same time, we look at the early church, and it seems to be the case that it is possible to follow Christ and be a group of people that finds favor with others. Perhaps they are drawn in by the love, the charity, the peace, the joy or who knows what else, but I don’t know if we work on that enough as a global church today. We don’t change our doctrine to be popular whatsoever, but we follow Christ, and the byproduct of that is a healthy community that people want to be a part of.

Matthew 23: Hypocrites

I don’t know how many times I have heard or read about someone who left the church because of hypocrisy. Christians do not always practice what they preach. However, at the beginning of Matthew 23, I think that there is an important distinction that we need to make.

Mat 23:2  Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:

Mat 23:3  All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

The rest of the chapter goes on to talk about the hypocritical actions of the Pharisees and scribes. I call out this distinction because Jesus advises that the people should not give up on the Scripture that was being taught. The people were still supposed to follow the things of God, but they were not supposed to follow the works of those people who were being hypocritical.

I think this is a wise approach for us today. Christianity certainly teaches that all people will make mistakes. If we are preaching that becoming a Christian makes you a perfect person immediately, that is not true. We can be forgiven of all of our sins, but Christians do not become perfect here on earth.

Therefore, when there are times when Christians make bad decisions, we do not follow the works. If we see someone who is struggling with pride, we don’t want to follow him or her down that road. However, that does not mean that all Christianity needs to be tossed out. It is a combination of the perfect teaching of God and the imperfect messengers that you and I are as we try to advance the cause of Christ around the world.

It has been said that you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. In this case, it is certainly not wise to throw out God because of flawed people. The truth of Christianity does not depend on having perfect followers. It depends on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Zechariah 9: Worldwide Kingdom

There is a Messianic prophecy alert in Zechariah 9.

Zec 9:9  Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Zec 9:10  And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.

This entire chapter is a futuristic vision, it is pretty clear how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in verse nine. He rode into Jerusalem on a colt on Palm Sunday. However, verse 10 is also significant. He will speak peace to the heathen, and His kingdom will extend across the world.

It is interesting because I would argue that Christianity was the first global religion. I am obviously not a professional historian, but when I think about the religions of the world that existed prior to Jesus Christ, most of them were for particular countries or areas. Judaism was not necessarily evangelistic. When I reflect on Native American religions, they were largely tribal although there were similarities between tribes. In Egypt, they certainly had a pantheon of deities, but it wasn’t as if that worship extended much beyond the Egyptian borders. Maybe there is some instance out there that I’m not thinking of, but it seems to me that prior to Christianity, the statement would have been particularly shocking.

No religion extended that far. No one had the means to spread a religion on that scale. Here is a prophecy then that is something different. It must have been controversial at the time. Who would be able to have that kind of kingdom?

Today, there are Christians all over the world. We live in a time where, after I post this article today, it is possible for someone in South Africa, Russia, or Australia to read this simultaneously. Having this type of global reach is routine for us today, but thinking back to the time of Zechariah, I bet that this was controversial and somewhat questionable. It was arguing that something would happen that seemed virtually impossible. It happened though.

Jeremiah 1: Contrary to Culture

We have made it to Jeremiah! If you are keeping score at home, this is the 24th book of the Bible that we will be going through together. I hope you are enjoying the ride.

I have seen missionaries be commissioned before, and it is generally a very happy time. There is a lot of talk about fulfilling the Great Commission and how exciting it is that people are willing to take the Gospel all the way around the world.

Jeremiah received a commission of sorts from God in Jeremiah 1, but I think that if we sent our missionaries off with this passage today, it might not be such a positive event.

Jer 1:17  Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.

Jer 1:18  For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.

Jer 1:19  And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee.

Earlier in the chapter, God came to Jeremiah and told him that he was going to be a prophet. He was chosen from the beginning to the fill this role, so maybe Jeremiah was feeling pretty good. After all, I think that we all would love to be told exactly what God had planned for us. However, then we come to this passage.

God had created Jeremiah for war. He had provided him with defenses against the leaders of his own country. He is told that they will actively fight against him, but Jeremiah shouldn’t worry because God promised to be with him.

I don’t know about you, but this would not get me very excited. After all, at this time in history, political enemies were often demolished violently. Jeremiah must have recognized that basically calling out the leaders of his country would be dangerous.

The only thing he had to go on was the fact that God would be with him. I think that this demonstrates two things. First, we see the faith and trust of Jeremiah. He understood that if God said He would be with him, then God would fulfill His word. Second, we see the power of God. Again, the leadership of any country is a pretty powerful bunch, and God promised Jeremiah that even if he was essentially at war with them, He would deliver him.

I think that we occasionally enter situations like Jeremiah. We might have to take a moral stand on any issue where our beliefs come in conflict with popular culture. As these areas become more and more prevalent, I think that as we progress through Jeremiah, we will see what it really is like to be a countercultural Christian. That will happen in America.

Isaiah 40: Because It’s True

Isaiah 40 is a great chapter to say the least. We began with imagery of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus Christ, and we end with an image of the greatness of God and God asking what you could possibly compare to Him. I think both of those would be great topics, but right in the middle, I found a little passage that is certainly related and fits in the chapter but goes in a little different direction.

Isa 40:6  The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:

Isa 40:7  The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.

Isa 40:8  The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

Isa 40:9  O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

What really stood out to me is the contrast between the steadily-dying things of earth and the immortality of the word of God. I think about that in terms of culture quite a bit.

There are things that are popular on earth. Think about disco for example. It certainly had a time where it was popular, but it gradually lost the hold that it had on the interests of people. It became virtually irrelevant as culture changed. I don’t mean this in the necessarily pejorative sense (even though I am not the biggest fan of that kind of music), but this was something of earth. It was an expression of culture, but people have tastes that change, and things like that will fade in and out.

Contrast that to the word of God. The word of God will stand forever. There have been many people throughout history who had tried to force the Bible out. Think about Nero (I realize the Bible wasn’t canonized yet, but he did tried to strangle Christianity), Joseph Stalin or even revolutionary France and the Temples of Reason. For some reason, even with this active resistance, Christianity did not die in any of these places.

There is something about Christianity that makes it different than just a piece of culture like disco was. It is more than just a taste that people might have for a period of time. Maybe rather than a preference, it is actually a truth. Maybe it is actually something that people continually believe is true because it actually is true.

That could make the difference. You don’t hear about many believers in the cult of Isis anymore. Even though it was certainly a competitor with Christianity in the Roman Empire, something allowed Christianity to continue developing and growing until it eventually became the state religion of Rome. Until that time, many Roman emperors were no fans of Christianity, and many of them actively persecuted Christians whereas you never see the same treatment of the cult of Isis. Why would people remain Christian? Maybe because they knew it was true. Maybe they knew they had something that they could not abandon.

The word of God will stand forever because you can hide the truth, and you can make it unpopular, but you can’t destroy the fact that it is true.

Psalms 69: The Cost of Christianity

Psalms 69 has a pretty eye-opening thought packed in the middle of it. Christianity is not lived in a bubble. We not only have brothers and sisters in Christ, but we also have a world out there that is watching was sometimes not so friendly eyes.

Psa 69:5  O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.

Psa 69:6  Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel.

Psa 69:7  Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face.

Psa 69:8  I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children.

God knows that we all make mistakes, and we see that in verse five. However, verse six is just as true. We acknowledge that we sin, but the world expects us as Christians to never really mess up. We are held to a higher standard, and I wish that we always lived up to it. We are still humans though, and I am afraid that we (speaking generally about Christians here) occasionally drive people farther away from Jesus.

If you want even more good news, let me lay it on you here. When you are Christian, people sometimes go to great lengths to try to create shame. For example, yesterday was Sanctity of Life Sunday. Many Christians get accused of hating women because we take a stand for the rights of unborn life. It is certainly not true that Christians hate women, but it is certainly an embarrassing thing to be charged with. Sometimes, all you need is a perception to stick whether it is true or not, and you have created that potential shame. Some people might fade away because, “I don’t want to be associated with that lot that hates women.” Even though it is entirely untrue, people try to make Christians be ashamed for being Christian and for holding certain values.

Before I leave you, let me give you one more piece of good news. Christianity certainly has the potential to isolate us from the world. We are called to be in the world but not of the world. Jesus Himself said that we would be hated by the world because we do not belong to the world anymore. There are definitely some differences between choices we make as Christians. The people you are close to might not understand why you believe what you believe or do what you do. That can be tough.

So, I have painted a pretty happy picture for you. We might still make mistakes and be judged for it, people might try to humiliate or embarrass us for our beliefs and the people who matter the most to us might not understand why we’re different.

I guess you might be wondering why Christianity is even worth it. It seems to have a lot of issues and side effects.

I was listening to a lecture today by Greg Kokul, the author of Tactics (which I reviewed here), and he made a very interesting point. For Christians, everything after our time here on earth is only going to get better whereas for non-Christians, this is the best it is ever going to get. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet a person who has a perfect life. People are very through plenty of difficult things here on earth, and for Christians, we have hope. We have hope in a bright future, and we have hope in an eternity spent with God. No matter what trials may face us here on earth, we know that our future is in the best hands possible.

Psalm 66: The Family of God

Psalms 66 seems to be strangely prophetic. If we start right from the beginning, we see something that might have seemed strange to the Jewish people when this one was being written and read originally.

Psa 66:1  To the chief Musician, A Song or Psalm. Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:

Psa 66:2  Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.

Psa 66:3  Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.

Psa 66:4  All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah.

This entire part is referring to the entire earth praising God. At this time in history, God was largely worshiped by the Jewish people. I am sure that there might have a few people from around the region who acknowledged God as well, but the worship of God was largely a Jewish thing if not exclusively.

The psalmist is saying that the entire world is someday going to worship God. On some level, that is what we are working towards today. There are Christians in almost every area in the world, and the church has become a truly international body. Even in places where the church has to go underground, it hasn’t died out.

Now, we don’t have the entire earth praising God yet. I don’t believe that will happen until the very end of time, but it is interesting to see the perspective from someone talking about this kind of global religion when the worship of God was largely localized. All the earth is much closer to praising God than it ever has been before. Estimates say that approximately 2,000,000,000 of the approximately 7,000,000,000 people on earth identify as Christians according to numbers that I found from the Pew Research Center.

Now, what does that tell us?

I think that it shows us that we aren’t alone. We have brothers and sisters in every corner of the world. God is working even in places where you wouldn’t think He would be. Currently, it is hard to be a Christian in Egypt. It is very hard to be a Christian in North Korea. However, there are people praising God in these countries. It is kind of interesting to view this passage from the future. We can see the evidence of a very large part of the world praising God.

Job 35: Why Should I Follow Jesus?

In Job 35, we hear Elihu continue his monologue, and he is now accusing Job of self-righteousness.

Job 35:2  Thinkest thou this to be right, that thou saidst, My righteousness is more than God’s?

Job 35:3  For thou saidst, What advantage will it be unto thee? and, What profit shall I have, if I be cleansed from my sin?

It is worth mentioning that Job never said this literally, but that was how Elihu understood a lot of what we have been hearing so far. To be fair, I think this is a question that still comes up today. If I become a Christian, how is it going to make my life better?

On the surface, it might not look like Christianity does that for you. For instance, even though we don’t experience this in America, there are still plenty of places in the world where you could be putting your life in jeopardy simply for following Jesus.

So, what then must be our advantage? Why do people bother following? It is not as if just a few crazy people have done it. Millions and perhaps billions of people have made this decision.

To be fair, it is not just one thing. We could talk about the forgiveness of sins, the love of God, the freedom from sin, the promise of eternity in heaven or the joy of having a relationship with Jesus. We could talk about any one of those and honestly have enough content to write a book.

For today, here is what it means for us. Christianity has a lot to offer. However, we also need to keep in mind that there are things that may temporarily seem to be better. While you are living in the world, it is certainly easier to just go with the flow. It is the path of least resistance, and it might be easier.

That is the battle we are up against as Christians. We are engaging people who might be sure that they are in the best possible spot. Although we understand that Christianity is a life-changing thing, other people might not be so ready for their lives to be changed.

That is why understanding these advantages is important. We are called to give something up, but we are being given things that are much greater. If we can show people why Christianity means so much to us and why it is ultimately a better way, we have done our job of sharing. God provides the spark of interest from the person and provides the growth, but it is our job to be willing to share. That is what we were commissioned to do.

Job 9: God Has the Answers

In Job 9, Job now gets the opportunity to respond to his friend Bildad who we heard from yesterday.

As a little bit of background, I am going to Dr. Ravi Zacharias tonight as part of the Veritas Forum at Dartmouth College, so my mind is somewhat on apologetics. Because of that, I found one part of this chapter incredibly interesting.

Job 9:2  I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God?

Job 9:3  If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand.

Job 9:4  He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?

Verse three is what I want to focus on, but the other verses do provide some useful context. Basically, if we tried to debate with God, we would be totally blown out of the water. God has the answers to the questions that we may not even know enough to ask.

I think a lot of that is why Christianity has survived for 2000 years. No one has ever been able to effectively eliminate the Christian God. Sure, if you Dr. Richard Dawkins he would probably say that he has effectively eliminated the need for God, but his arguments have been effectively refuted as well in several debates with people like Dr. John Lennox. Religions have certainly died out or at least become a minority. Many belief system simply don’t hold water, and people realize that. Christianity could have easily died out right at the beginning. It was no more than a few hundred people on the edge of the Roman Empire.

From an ideological perspective, if you read the writings of Paul (1 Corinthians 15:6-8), he made some claims that would have been easily verifiable. He said that there were five hundred people who were still alive and had witnessed the post-resurrection Jesus. If he had been wrong about that, it would have been incredibly easy to debunk. It could have ended right there as well.

It didn’t end there though. Christianity has been growing and is currently the largest religion in the world. The main reason for that is that it is the best answer for many of the large questions that we face as humans.

As Dr. Zacharias would break it down, a good belief system will be able to account for origins, the meaning of life, morality and destiny. Christianity can fulfill those minimum criteria most satisfactorily.

These are questions that we cannot answer, but God has provided answers.

1 Samuel 29: The Dangers of Prejudice

There are many times that prejudices don’t match the reality. Even though your actions would seem to indicate otherwise, people still want to judge you a certain way.

This is what happened to David in 1 Samuel 29. He had been living peacefully beside the people of Achish for some period of time. Now, Achish was going to war with the rest of the Philistines, and David felt that it was his duty to go along. After all, since he had been living with them, there was some type of friendship and loyalty there.

When David and the rest of the Hebrews showed up at the camp with all of the Philistine armies, they were looked down upon immediately.

1Sa 29:3  Then said the princes of the Philistines, What do these Hebrews here? And Achish said unto the princes of the Philistines, Is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, which hath been with me these days, or these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell unto me unto this day?

1Sa 29:4  And the princes of the Philistines were wroth with him; and the princes of the Philistines said unto him, Make this fellow return, that he may go again to his place which thou hast appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he be an adversary to us: for wherewith should he reconcile himself unto his master? should it not be with the heads of these men?

1Sa 29:5  Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands?

They obviously have a point. David had been public enemy number one for a while, and he had killed many Philistines when they invaded Israel.

However, in that situation, the Philistines were clearly the aggressor, so they should not really have been mad about and David and the Israelites wanting to defend their own territory. This is not really the point I was trying to get to today though.

David doesn’t understand why he can’t go to the battle, and unfortunately Achish is not a lot of help.

1Sa 29:6  Then Achish called David, and said unto him, Surely, as the LORD liveth, thou hast been upright, and thy going out and thy coming in with me in the host is good in my sight: for I have not found evil in thee since the day of thy coming unto me unto this day: nevertheless the lords favour thee not.

1Sa 29:7  Wherefore now return, and go in peace, that thou displease not the lords of the Philistines.

1Sa 29:8  And David said unto Achish, But what have I done? and what hast thou found in thy servant so long as I have been with thee unto this day, that I may not go fight against the enemies of my lord the king?

1Sa 29:9  And Achish answered and said to David, I know that thou art good in my sight, as an angel of God: notwithstanding the princes of the Philistines have said, He shall not go up with us to the battle.

1Sa 29:10  Wherefore now rise up early in the morning with thy master’s servants that are come with thee: and as soon as ye be up early in the morning, and have light, depart.

1Sa 29:11  So David and his men rose up early to depart in the morning, to return into the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel.

I think that the main point today is that people might judge unfairly. I think this is particularly true of Christians since we are not perfect in the world that thinks that we ought to be perfect. Certainly, Christianity is a journey towards being more like Jesus, but at the same time, we all fully recognize that we are not perfect and we need to be forgiven just like everyone else.