Misunderstanding God

“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.” (Acts 17:10-15 ESV)

It is really easy to misunderstand someone or be misunderstood by someone, especially in this age of digital communications. While words are central to any kind of communication, they are certainly not the only elements we use in communication. Body language, facial expressions, verbal tone and inflection are just a few of the other ways that we add to our words during communication. Most of these non-written forms of enhancing communication are lost when we write (like this) or when we communicate electronically (via text, FaceBook, Twitter or other methods).

While electronic communications seems to have impacted our basic communication skills (especially in writing and spelling – in my opinion) and our understanding we also have misunderstandings due to presuppositions and closed minds. In fact, one of the most effective communication methods in recent years actually capitalizes on these very factors, fake news.

We are all familiar with the idea and most of us are at least aware of how fake news impacted our last presidential election. However, the most effective use of these “fake news” sites is for income generation. The idea is really simple, but extremely effective… create a fake news headline that capitalizes on some “hot button” topic and then post it to social media and then sit back and watch the mayhem and the money roll in. While I’m not here to give lessons on how to make money with fake news sites and social media posts, just trust me, it works.

How do we defeat these things? How do we keep fake news and social media hype from impacting an election? While Congress is charging social media moguls with finding a way, I’m not sure it is even possible. We want to believe much of the fake news and hype. Why? Why would we want to believe a lie? It affirms our existing opinions and bolsters our belief in our presuppositions. But, I can tell you that the same thing happens when it comes to religious faith and beliefs about God. We often misunderstand or reject the truth and we often embrace and believe the lie for the same reasons, it affirms our existing beliefs and presuppositions.

Believe it or not, this is nothing new. In today’s text, we find Paul and Silas being secretly slipped out of Thessalonica at night and then escorted to Berea. If you remember from last week, some of the Jews were so jealous of Paul and his success at leading some of them to faith in Jesus they incited “the rabble” and caused a riot. We know from Paul’s letters to that church that the believers in Thessalonica continued to face intense persecution (see 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 3:1-5; and 2 Thessalonians 1:6). When Paul and his team arrive in Berea, they immediately seek out the local synagogue.

Luke notes, these Jews were “more noble than those in Thessalonica.” While the word “noble” can refer to the position one holds because of his family of birth, it really refers more to the way that person would be expected to act because of their position or family. For example, when you do something foolish and your mother looks at you and says “I didn’t raise you that way; I taught you better than that!” In other words, these Berean Jews had been taught to read, study and learn from scripture with the recognition and understanding that they didn’t know everything about God and they shouldn’t act like they did. We need to approach scripture the same way, recognizing and understanding that we still have a lot to learn. That might be a new concept to some of you… I know it makes me approach scripture humbly, in prayer, seeking the Lord’s guidance with an open mind and being ready to listen and learn.

Notice Luke says they received the word eagerly, but they also examined the scriptures to see if what Paul was teaching was true. This WASN’T some emotional response to a powerful sermon. This was an eager but thoughtful consideration of the evidence Paul presented and then it was examined for its truthfulness in light of the authority of scripture. In essence Paul says, “don’t take my word for it, go check it out for yourselves.” Let me state very directly here, Christian faith is NOT blind faith like so many skeptics think. I don’t want you to just take my word for what is truth. Like Paul, I want you to examine the evidence, look it up for yourselves, go read the scripture references I cite throughout these articles. In the same way, don’t take what the skeptics claim at face value, either. Their claims require just as much or more “faith” than the religious claims do.

For example, the claim that the origins of life on this planet are the result of chance and the right combination of chemicals and energy requires a huge leap of faith. We know that life is built on the foundation of DNA. One strand of DNA contains as much information as 1,000 encyclopedias. Information doesn’t occur randomly, information has a source or a creator. It doesn’t matter how many times you take the letters that form this paragraph and randomize them, they will NEVER fall into place in just the right sequence to form the thoughts I have just written. You might randomly get words, but not information.

Now, take that idea and apply it to the information in that set of 1,000 encyclopedias. Can chance cause the set of encyclopedias to be formed by an explosion in a print shop? Not likely, right? Now back up just one more step, who built the print shop? See the problem? In the case of life, if DNA could be formed randomly that still doesn’t solve the issue. For life to form and exist, it must contain not just the “words” it must be in the right order and sequence. Now, step back one more step, where did the chemicals and energy come from? By the way, we do understand this intuitively. If we stumbled upon a wrist watch lying in the forest we would assume someone had lost that watch and not that it had spontaneously formed from the materials lying nearby. See, faith…

How “noble” and open minded are you? Are you willing to loosen your grip on the assumptions and presuppositions you cling to so tightly? Maybe you’re saying that your beliefs about God are absolutely correct, but if we are willing to acknowledge that we don’t know everything then our knowledge of Him can grow and develop as our relationship deepens. Don’t misunderstand me, some of your beliefs might be entirely correct and entirely Biblical, but often we have some misconceptions and beliefs based on our culture and background. For example, Americans tend to be extremely independent and driven by “our pursuit of happiness” as stated in our Declaration of Independence.

While I certainly believe that God intended for each of us to have the personal independence and freedom to choose or reject His love, our culture of independence and pursuit of personal happiness must be submitted to the authority, purpose and will of Almighty God. In other words, your personal “rights” must be offered up on the altar of sacrifice as you humbly bow and submit to a Holy God who will then take those personal rights and turn them around and use them as instruments of service in His grand plan of redemption. Let me briefly remind you of the Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11, where the people developed such a sense of personal achievement and self importance that they began to build a “tower to heaven.” In their minds, there was nothing they could not accomplish in and through their own abilities and knowledge. Sounds a lot like us, doesn’t it?

The last thing I want to address in today’s focal passage are the unexpected results of Paul’s ministry. We often believe that when we are obedient to God then the results of our labors will be all sunshine and roses. Paul has been faithfully preaching the Word of God to the people of Macedonia, first Philippi then Thessalonica, and now Berea. In Philippi he was arrested and stuck in prison, but God used that to reach the prisoners and jailer with the Good News about Jesus. Then his message of God’s love and redemption through Jesus is received by some in Thessalonica, but that results in a riot and his host, Jason, is arrested and the brothers have to sneak Paul out and away under the cover of darkness. Now, the people of Berea are more open minded to his message and God’s Spirit is moving, but the Jews from Thessalonica hear about it and come to town and begin stirring up trouble. Trouble is following Paul from one town to the next. Have you ever wanted to just ask God, why? Have you ever wanted to ask Him that same question about your own struggles? Me too.

We want to ask the question, but we don’t often like the answer. If God is sovereign, then why all of the pain, hurt, suffering, and struggles? Why doesn’t God DO something about it? First, let me state that God is SOVEREIGN and has done something about it. We will get to that… but, first remember that we have flatly rejected God’s sovereign rule over our lives. Remember my comment above about our independent attitudes? Yep, that’s all of us. We want and demand to be in control of our own lives and, like Eve in the garden, we have declared our independence by rejecting God’s authority and choosing our own wisdom and will over His. God could “force” our submission and obedience, but that would negate and destroy love. Forced obedience doesn’t result in true love, but true love will result in humble obedience. Let me illustrate…

When we are young, our parents set rules and boundaries for us because of their love for us. When we encountered those boundaries and crossed them, we often questioned their love. In our young minds we equated their love with our desires, if you love me then you’ll give me what I want, and we equated their discipline as their dislike or even hatred of us. As we matured and became adults and parents ourselves, we recognized those rules, boundaries and even the discipline for what they truly are, an expression of our parent’s love for us. What does that have to do with God? Sin is, ultimately, an expression of our child-like selfishness and a rejection of our Father God’s authority, but also a rejection of His divine wisdom and pure love. We think we know what’s best for us… God doesn’t.

If He truly loved me, He’d give me what I want, He’d fulfill all of my selfish desires and let me pursue my own path. That’s not love, and you know it deep down inside. God’s love is expressed in His desire to redeem us from this path of self-destruction through sin. To accomplish this He took upon Himself the limitation of a human body and became a servant (even before He created us – see Ephesians 1)…

“Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 HCSB)

If God made us, then He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what is best for us and what we truly need, deep down in the midst of our being. To become our “best self” is not to express or pursue our own selfish interests or desires, it is to discover and express that person God made us to be, the one that has been covered up and hidden by our sinful beliefs, desires and actions. Like a classic painting, a true masterpiece, that is finally discovered under the gaudy layers of paint slapped on an old canvas by some self-proclaimed modern artistic genius. God will carefully begin to strip away the layers of sin and years of self-fulfillment and reveal the truly loving and caring person that He made you to be… one that was made to be reflect the love and character of Christ, Himself.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29 ESV)

What are you waiting for? Surrender yourself to Him and let Him begin that process of removing those layers/years of selfish experiences and pursuits and reveal the person you were meant to be, a reflection of His Son.

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