The Apostles Listened and Didn’t Dismiss

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.
(Acts 6:1)

The horrible killing of George Floyd is just another reminder that hatred and racism is real in this country.

There was racial / ethic tension in the early church. It was real. Here is just one example.

Some widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. The Hebrew widows were doing just fine. They never missed a meal, and the Hebrews made sure their widows were well cared for. It was the Greek (Hellenist) Jews, whose widows were being overlooked.

The neglect, the favoritism, and the divide came to a head. The Hellenists cried out against the Hebrews because of the unfair treatment. “This isn’t right,” they said.

What did the apostles do? Did they dismiss the problem? Nope. Did they accuse the Hellenists of bad motives, of not being thankful, of creating a problem that doesn’t exist? Nope. Did they come back with “All Widows Matter.” Nope. Did they threaten and intimidate the Hellenists for speaking up? Nope.

What the apostles did first of all was listen. The leadership listened. They heard the cries of those who were being neglected and mistreated.

Secondly, they accepted that the problem was real and needed a godly solution. It was time to act.

Third they empowered the church, including those who were being mistreated to be part of the solution (Acts 6:3-6). Those who are in leadership and are reading this article, please, please, please see that it was the church, not the leadership, who selected the 7 men who would oversee the care of the widows. The apostles demonstrated confidence in the church to select who would take care of this issue. Notice that all 7 men had Greek names, not Hebrew ones (Acts 6:5). The group chose Greek (Hellenist) men to address the problem. Can you imagine us choosing an all-white panel to address racism in America?

These three basic things must be done today by our leaders, in churches, in business, and in America. Leaders have to listen, especially right now. Leaders cannot dismiss a problem that many people are consistently bringing up. Leaders have to empower people to be part of the solution.

Don’t get caught up in the reactions of some who are doing wrong and miss the hurt and pain of so many who are living what many of us have dismissed and don’t have to deal with on a daily basis.

Listen.

Don’t dismiss. Be part of the solution.

Empower others to be part of the solution.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post articles and videos from our sisters in Christ who are African American. Listen to them. Hear their pain and what they experience.

It was because of envy

Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?(Proverbs 27:4)

Who can stand before jealousy? Great question. Here are several examples of great strife and pain caused by jealousy and envy.

  • The Roman governor Pilate knew that the Jewish leaders were envious of Jesus and that is why they delivered Jesus up (Matthew 27:18).
  • Joseph’s brothers were jealous of Joseph and sold him into slavery (Acts 7:9).
  • It was because of jealousy that the Jews in Galatia opposed and contradicted everything Paul and Barnabas tried to preach (Acts 13:45).
  • Jealousy led the Jews in Thessalonica to take wicked men and stir up the crowd against Paul and his companions (Acts 17:5).

James wrote in his letter that if we see disorder and every vile practice, we will find jealousy behind it.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
(James 3:14-16)

Family problems? Jealousy is somewhere close. Church problems? Look for jealousy. Problems at work. Envy is at work.

What is jealousy anyway? What is envy? Let’s look that tomorrow. If jealousy is such a source of strife, we ought to find out what it is, and how we can replace it in our hearts with godly qualities.

God Granted Paul 276 Men

I encourage you to read Acts 27 in which Luke describes in amazing and accurate firsthand detail the dangerous journey they took by sea. Not only is the firsthand knowledge of Luke’s account an incredible witness to the accuracy of the Bible, this is just a breathtaking and emotional journey as you read what those men went through on that ship in the Mediterranean Sea. So many faith and leadership lessons can be taught here.

What I want to focus on for just a moment this morning is how Paul’s relationship with God and his leadership brought all those people safely to shore.

Notice this: When Paul is speaking to the men on the ship, he tells them about what God told him.

and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’
(Acts 27:24)

God has “granted you all those who sail with you.” What is implied here? Doesn’t it sound like Paul had specifically made a request to God for all of these men on the ship? God seems to be saying, I am giving you what you requested. These men will all safely come to shore, even if they do so swimming or floating on broken pieces of the ship.

and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
(Acts 27:44)

276 men were on that ship (Acts 27:37). 276 men made it safely to shore, even if it was scary and ugly. And they all can be thankful for Paul’s dedication, prayers, and concern. Paul showed who he was down to his core – he deeply loved and cared for everyone on that ship. And Paul showed them the loving and mighty God he serves. When those men swam ashore and stood on the ground, they could rest assured that God keeps His promises, and God answers the prayers of the faithful.

As we go into Memorial Day weekend, let us also remember that we have made it safely through a lot of storms in our country. God is to be praised and thanked for that first and foremost. But do not forget those who sacrificed of themselves and poured our their blood because they wanted all of us to make it safely to the shores of freedom. We stand in freedom because others laid down their lives.

Introduce Me to Jesus

If I didn’t know anything about Jesus, and you came to me, what would you tell me? If you only had a few moments to talk to me about the most important things about Jesus what would you share?

A lot of us have made teaching the gospel too complicated. And sometimes our focus may be too much on the response to the gospel (believe, repent, baptism) instead of first focusing on the “why”? What is the good news of salvation that Jesus brings? What is so special about Jesus? What would you say?

Feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts. I’d love to see them. Below are several passages in Acts where it is stated in various ways that the people reasoned and preached Jesus. Do your own searching and study, too.

Acts 5:42 – And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
Acts 8:5 – Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.
Acts 8:35 – Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
Acts 9:20 – And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Acts 9:22 – But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
Acts 11:20 – But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.
Acts 17:2-3 – And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”
Acts 18:28 – for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Acts 26:22-29 – To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am–except for these chains.”

Has the Church Building Become Our Basket

Has the church building become our basket under which we have hidden our lights? I heard this idea posed in a sermon years ago by Jason Hardin. It is a great question. Read this passage about what Jesus wants us to be today in the world.

Matthew 5:13-16 – “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

We are salt, but if the salt doesn’t fill out it’s purpose, it’s taste, then it becomes only good for throwing down on the road for people to walk on. We are light, but what happens when we cover that light with a basket? That light is not filling out its purpose. People can’t benefit from the salt and light if the salt doesn’t taste like salt and the light doesn’t shine because it is hidden under a basket.

Have our church buildings become that basket under which we shine our light? It is really easy to shine the light at the church building. But what about at home? What about at work? What about showing that light with our neighbors and friends? Do we cover that light the rest of the week?

If we are going to work during this pandemic, either remotely or physically, are we shining that light?

Now many are confined to homes. Most folks aren’t “going to church” now. It is a sad time, but it is also a time for reflection. It’s a time to look into the mirror. God doesn’t dwell in buildings made with hands (Acts 17:24), He dwells within the Christian. People call the area in the church building where we worship the “sanctuary.” God’s throne and God’s holy presence is the “sanctuary.” And our hearts are supposed to be that “sanctuary.” Our gatherings as Christians, no matter where they may happen, are that “sanctuary.” The holy temple of God is not at a church building, it is within the human hearts of those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.

John 4:21 – Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

It is a time to rethink that far too many have put way too much focus on a physical location. Jesus reminded the woman at the well of this fact, God’s people can worship God in any location. God’s people are to shine his light in every location. God’s people are to be that salt in every location. Let’s make sure that all of us are being that salt and light in every circumstance, not just at a church building.

Those Who Were Scattered

Acts 8:3-4
But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word

In the days of Acts 2-7, the church at Jerusalem was huge. They were growing by the thousands. But then persecution arose, led by Saul of Tarsus (whom we know as Paul). The church was scattered everywhere. They could not all meet together as they were used to. Things had changed. Significantly. Times were dark and scary. But what did the church do?

They went everywhere preaching the word!

We are at a time where we cannot meet as we did before. Things have changed, even if for a short time. Times for many are dark and scary. But what is the call for the church today? Reach out to help others. Reach out to encourage others. Reach out to teach others. These are life changing events for many. Here is an opportunity for us to share the good news with others.

Use those phones and tablets. Take advantage of the time you have right now to say words of encouragement to others who need it. Find someone you know around you who could use words of God to help them today, and share those good words with him or her.

2 Corinthians 5:20-21
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 6:1-2
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Hebrews 3:13
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Even When We Struggle to Believe

Acts 12:5
Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

Herod had just killed James the brother of John. The Jews apparently loved the move, so Herod decided to go for another one of the apostles. This time it was Peter. He was going to make a show of Peter before the crowds on Passover.

The church came together at Mary’s house and prayed constantly for Peter. That’s what God’s people do in times like this. But what strikes me in Acts 12 is that God had already answered their prayers, delivered Peter to their door, and they were blown away not at first believing it was him.

Acts 12:12-16
So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.” Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

I love this because it shows that even when we struggle to believe God will still answer our prayers. Jesus said even a mustard grain sized faith in God can move mountains! Sometimes I have thought I had to be just rock solid in conviction before I pray. Maybe you have been the same way, thinking that if you are not as confident as Joshua asking the sun to stand still (Joshua 10), then God won’t even consider your prayer.

That certainly didn’t happen here in Acts 12. It was a pretty dire situation for Peter, and the church knew it. They just lost James, and it looked certain they would lose Peter too. So when they heard Peter was knocking at their door while they were praying for him to be released, they struggled at first to accept it. That’s human…and God knows it. He was merciful to them in their struggle to believe and He is the same for us.

We can pray like the father of the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9.

Mark 9:23-24
Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! God will answer you.

Acts 6 – The Effect on Evangelism

We continue our in-depth look into Acts 6:1-7.

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 and 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 and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
(Acts 6:1-7)

The Effect on Evangelism

Here are two observations for today about getting everyone’s input.

The effect on reaching the lost. Verse 7 happened AFTER verses 1-6. It’s really hard to be effective reaching the lost when you have a dysfunctional local church. It often happens that we talk about how we need to evangelize the lost more. We’ve got to get out there and talk to the lost. Yes, that is absolutely right, but, did you see that there was a problem here in Jerusalem that had to be dealt with first? What happens in the Jerusalem church if these neglected widows continue to be neglected? What impact will that have on the community when they hear how the Jerusalem congregation is dealing with its own? You can see why verse 7 comes after verses 1-6. Sometimes we have to make some corrections/adjustments within so that we can be effective in reaching the community.

This was not a lifetime appointment. These seven men went on later to other responsibilities. Stephen and Philip both went on to preach. Philip went to Samaria later as a missionary and preached the word there. He then went on to Caesarea, where it seems he lived for quite a long time. They were appointed to oversee a need in the congregation, but later at least two of them went on to other responsibilities, specifically preaching the word.

When we appoint a man to a position in the congregation (preacher, elder, deacon) we should not assume this is a lifetime appointment. Maybe a man can only effectively serve as a shepherd for a few years, and for a few years he takes some time to do other things for God. It might be that we appoint a deacon to take on a certain task for which he is perfectly suited, but then later he will not have to serve in that role. That should be OK in our thinking.

Acts 6 – Getting Everyone’s Input

We continue our in-depth look into Acts 6:1-7.

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 and 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 and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
(Acts 6:1-7)

Getting Everyone’s Input

Here are two observations for today about getting everyone’s input.

“Assembled the full number of the disciples.” Do you see that? They brought the whole church together to discuss this matter and get ideas. The apostles saw this was a congregational issue, so they gathered the entire congregation. What is accomplished here? The problem is clearly validated and brought out into the open. The members of this local congregation are given value by being able to be part of both this discussion and the solution.

Who chose the seven? Did the apostles here in this church choose the seven men? Did you see the apostles say, “We have picked Stephen, Philip, etc. and we are appointing them over this business.” No, they gave the amount of men for the task (seven), and through the Holy Spirit laid out the kind of character these men should have. That’s it. Then the congregation was entrusted to understand God’s expectations and to know what men among them possessed those qualities. Acts 15:22 is another example of how the “whole church” was involved in the selecting of certain men for a task.

There are times as leaders (in homes, churches, etc.) that we need to gather everyone together to get their input on things. It doesn’t mean that every decision has to be ratified and approved by the entire group. That doesn’t work in churches, teams, homes, nations….well pretty much anywhere. But when leaders make themselves transparent and put trust in the people they are leading to give input, it makes others feel like they are actually part of the team. The apostles did that very thing, they made sure that the whole congregation was part of coming up with the solution.

Acts 6 – Seeing Our Roles and the Roles of Others

We continue our in-depth look into Acts 6:1-7.

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 and 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 and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
(Acts 6:1-7)

Seeing Our Roles and the Roles of Others

Here are two observations for today:

The apostles did not dive in directly either to “DO” or “OVERSEE” this work. This is a trap that many church leaders, especially elders and preachers, fall into. When a preacher could delegate certain administrative/secretarial duties, but does them himself, he takes away time he could be studying, preparing material and leading studies (done this myself way too many times). When an elder is at the church building fixing toilets and working on the church building, he is taking away valuable time that he should be spending visiting, counseling and “shepherding.” By the way, if you take away the church building, what would deacons and elders be doing? What did they do in the first century?

The apostles were given a clear mission statement by the Lord. “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God…But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” If the apostles jumped in to do this work for the widows, then their job to which God had specifically called them would be left undone. AND…please hear this…if they jumped in to MANAGE and OVERSEE the situation, they would also be pulled away from their focus.

Please notice the text, the apostles would appoint men to “oversee” this work. The apostles neither did this work, nor did they oversee it. They appointed men to do this.  I believe this is critical. I may not actually be doing the work, but is my mental energy focused on managing and making decisions for men who should be trusted to do that for themselves? The apostles completely gave this task over to qualified men.

Leaving the word of God to serve tables – The apostles were not minimizing the care of widows by what they said. God is pretty consistent about His heart for caring for widows. The Bible is plain on that one. It was a very important job that needed to be overseen, but the apostles already had their own important task to which God had called them.  Both jobs were vital and both jobs needed oversight and attention. It’s not like the apostles were saying that caring for widows was beneath them. We know the apostles had a heart for caring for the poor (Galatians 2:10).

In a local congregation, it is to be like a body. Every member has value, talents and functions. No one is more needed and important than the other.  I do not mean in this article to say that church leaders never do things at the church building like mow or clean the building. It’s just intended to be a reminder that we as a body need to make sure the responsibilities are  spread around to the body as it ought to be.

More to come tomorrow, Lord willing.