Friday, July 19, 2013

Getting things done, one way or another

I've been thinking a lot lately about something subtle in the book of Acts.

Actually it's not very subtle, it's just not the kind of thing we like to think about.

Here's the deal.  In Acts 1:4, Jesus tells his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they're clothed with power from on high -- until they receive what the Father has promised.  He's obviously referring to the Holy Spirit.  In 1:8 he elaborates a bit about what will happen when the Holy Spirit comes -- his followers will be empowered to be witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

So in Acts chapter 1, the disciples faithfully wait in the city.  They pray, read scripture, deal with some leadership issues, all in obedience to Jesus.

In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit shows up in great power.  Tongues of fire, different languages, thousands of people converted, new community created.  It's pretty amazing.

In Acts chapter 3, the disciples remain in Jerusalem.

In Acts chapter 4, the disciples remain in Jerusalem.

In Acts chapter 5, the disciples remain in Jerusalem.

In Acts chapter 6, the disciples remain in Jerusalem.

In Acts chapter 7, the disciples remain in Jerusalem.

See a problem here?  Jesus told them to remain until the Holy Spirit came, then to be witnesses in an ever-increasing area.  But they've received the Holy Spirit and stayed parked in Jerusalem.

In Acts 8, a persecution breaks out against the church and everyone except the Twelve are scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  They preach about Jesus as they go.  In other words, when the disciples were not obedient, God was able to back them into obedience through indirect means.  I think it's safe to say that from the disciples' perspective, this persecution was a great tragedy, even a great evil.  But it's so clear in the text that Jesus laid out the agenda in Acts 1:8 and God is getting it accomplished through this persecution in 8:1.

(By the way, read through Acts 7 and notice how prominent in Stephen's speech is the idea of "place." To Jews who believed God favored Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and Israel above all others, Stephen's speech must have been infuriating.  Stephen points out over and over how God has worked his best work in places other than Jerusalem.  Maddening.)

So here's the question.  When you experience things that, from your perspective, look like a great evil, is it possible -- just possible -- that sometimes what God is doing is calling you back to a command he gave you earlier, but that you failed to obey?

God doesn't bring tragedies into our lives to punish us or to beat us down.  Every action he takes toward us is loving, absolutely loving, for our good.  And sometimes we suffer at the hands of others who are responsible for the evil they create.  But in the midst of tragedy, of great evil, God will still work to bring about greater good.  It's worth doing a little self-examination and checking to see if there's something in the past God called us to do that we have failed to follow through on.

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