When Life Gets Tough, God is Good – July 28, 2019
July 28, 2019
If you were in or around VBS this year, you know where the title of this message comes from. And I’m happy for that theme. As you know, I hear way too often, people who would say, “When life gets tough, it’s because God is making it that way so you learn something.”
As you probably also know by now, I do not believe that all the hardships of life are given by God for some purpose. And notice I said, “all hardships.” God is perfectly capable of giving us difficulties. And sometimes – and I mean sometimes – he does! But that is not to say that every hardship is God trying to teach us something. Yes, God “works for good in all things” – even bad things. But that does not mean God causes all things! I hope you see that distinction!
Now, I know you’ve heard me say this before. But I don’t think we can say it too much. The tough fact of life is that sometimes life is tough! Let me say that again! The tough fact of life is that sometimes life is tough! But I do believe, that God is with us in those times! That’s the good news! I believe with all my heart, that “When life gets tough, God is good!”
We’ve now gotten to this part of Acts where life started getting tough for the disciples. We’re told here that “A persecution arose.” And in keeping with what I just said, they did not believe that persecution was brought on them by God! There is no hint of that here. And since they didn’t believe it, we shouldn’t either! But, what they did know is that God was with them! Life was getting tough, but God was good!
I also want you to keep in mind here that they didn’t know what was going to happen to them – not like we know as we’re reading the story. This was a fearful time! The church could have been stamped out. It certainly had enough people trying to do so. A little later in Acts we will see that the Romans started doing the persecuting. And they were much better at it than the Jewish people!!
This story for today is actually the end of the story of the stoning of Stephen. You can read that whole story on your own if you’d like to. Stephen was brought before the council, and he gave them the whole story of Jesus. And the council was enraged, to the point that they wanted to kill him. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s what the council wanted to do with Peter and John in our story from last week!
Well, this time they did it! And we read that part. And since that day, Stephen is considered to be the first Christian Martyr – the first person to die for the Christian faith. And it is a story of great courage and faith! But beyond that, this story also gives us the first the introduction of this “young man named Saul.” As they stoned Stephen, they laid their garments at the feet of Saul. And Saul was consenting to their actions, Then it goes on. And in verse 3 we read, “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” We’re going to hear more about him in the next week or so!
The other thing we read in this story is that this is the beginning of the “dispersion” of the Church. The believers were persecuted in Jerusalem, and so they left and went elsewhere. The persecution and the dispersion were bad things. But there was good effect. And the good effect was that the faith spread with them! Again, God did not cause the persecution, but he used it for good, to spread the faith in the early days of the Church!
That was good! But I want you to notice where the faith first spread. It says here that one of the first places the faith spread to was Samaria. And you know what the Jews felt about the Samaritans! Just imagine the people hearing this story! The Samaritans and the Israelites had been at odds for many years! So in the very first days of the Church, the believers, people who had been Jewish, people who had been very exclusive about their faith, had to come to grips with the words of the angels at Christmas, that this Good News of great joy shall indeed be to all people!
So, teaching and healing in Jesus’ name, and the controversy that sparked, was one that took up the first few chapters of the book – the first few chapters of the story of the Christian faith. Now came the next controversy – one that would take up the next large section of the book of Acts. And that controversy was, “Who’s included?” Who all would be part of this new faith?
As I said, the people of Israel for centuries had been exclusive about their faith. Yes, they were the “Chosen people.” And they wore that hat proudly. But, they were supposed to be the light to the Gentiles. They were called to be the ones to tell all the world about God’s love. But they had failed at that. They had separated themselves from the other peoples of the world, and made their faith exclusive.
Now that was all changing! We cannot miss what a big deal this was for the early church! Right after this, Philip would speak to and baptize one of the important leaders from Ethiopia. And next would be the Gentiles! And from those early beginnings, the Apostles would traveled throughout the known world telling about Jesus. We only have record in the book of Acts of Paul’s “missionary journeys.” But church tradition tells us that the other Apostles went out into the world, too. They went north, south, east, and west. And everywhere they went, they told people that God himself had come to earth.
Put all of that in the picture – the context – of the early Church. And then remember the third part of the story I mentioned earlier. It was first the teaching about Jesus. That was the first controversy. Then it was the question of who was going to be included in this new faith. Then there’s the third part of the picture, the persecution of the Church. Those people came to know that, when life gets tough, God is good.
Now, bringing it forward some two thousand years, we come to us. And no, we’re not persecuted for our faith. Not like they were. But our faith is taking a beating. Its being criticized from all sides. It’s being marginalized in our modern world. But usually we aren’t persecuted personally. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have difficulties in our lives. But we can know, like these people in the early days knew, that “When life gets tough, God is good!” That’s a nice statement we can say to ourselves – often! Maybe it’s something we can put up on our refrigerators so we can see it and know it every day!
“When life gets tough, God is good!” Are you with me on that? The church has always faced difficulties. And yet here we are two thousand years later, and we still celebrate that God has come to this earth, and that he is always with us, that he is by our side no matter what, that his spirit is in our hearts.
“When life gets tough, God is good!”
Eternal God, we thank you for your great love for us, and that you have promised to be with us in all things and at all times. Help us to grow closer to you, to seek your presence, to be aware of your abiding Spirit. Help us to learn through your Spirit, to have peace in all circumstances. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.