For many, many people, the book of Acts is their favorite book of the Bible. It is where everything that was taught was lived out. It is full of some of the Bible’s most exciting stories and completes the stories of some bumbling men we got to know who walked with Jesus. We, as a church, often take the stories in the book of Acts and try to find their place in our church today. We want to see Star Trek-like experiences that Philip experienced. We want to see cities come to know God, key people in those cities turn in repentance. Some youth groups and some churches have even taken the name “Acts 29″ as a way of saying that they are fulfilling the next chapter in that book.
Yet in my recent re-reading of Acts, I found something completely different. Because of the hype surrounding this book, I almost missed it. The Book of Acts is full of people who wanted to give all they can for God and witnessed the very things I mentioned and more–yet made human mistakes in the decisions they had to make.
I have to make spirit-led decisions all the time. Maybe even more so than most because I am in the ministry–more is dependent on the outcome of the decision. It may have eternal effects. I have to make some doozy decisions which I spend a great deal praying and pondering about. A great deal. Yet sometimes I have been wrong. Sometimes? It feels like it is more often than that. Then there is the “foot in mouth” problem. Wrong decisions made and some consequences that are yucky (I know not a formal word but it so fits the situation) to go through.
The Book of Acts records plenty of this stuff. They were men who were excited about Jesus but didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing. They just were going along, praying and pondering, and seeing great stuff happen. Yet not every decision they made was “right on.” The Book of Acts records these too.
The apostles made some very great, very huge right decisions. Peter going to visit with Cornelius was a very good one–and one that Peter struggled with. Philip talking to the Ethiopian was also a very good one. But he had help to know he did the right thing by the amazing speed he acquired once he made the decision. Paul taking along Timothy was a good one, even having Timothy circumcised was a good one. I’m sure Paul wrestled with the law of that decision but came out with the decision that it was really a small thing and it would lead to Timothy being so much better received.
But there were also wrong decisions. The disciples choosing Matthias to replace Judas appears to be wrong. Not just because they drew lots to make the decision. It seems they rushed into a replacement, like twelve was some spiritual number. If they had waited on the decision, it is likely that Paul would have been chosen. But at the time he was Saul and out to kill them. The time needed to happen. Someone should have said no to the dice and agreed to wait. No one knows, not even in all the apocrypha, whatever happened to Matthias. This is his one moment in history–the winner of drawing lots, a shake of a dice, picking a number between 1 and 10.
What about the decision over John Mark. I am sure Paul and Barnabus both spent a great deal of time praying about that one. Yet they couldn’t agree, they even argued. Who made the right decision?
Even Paul appealing his case to Rome might not have been the right decision. It says in Acts 26:32 that “Agrippa told Festus, ‘Paul could have been set free, if he had not asked to be tried by the Roman Emperor.’” Did Paul in his zealousness, and maybe a bit of pride in his Roman citizenship, over do it here?
Lots of very good things did happen because Paul went to Rome including fulfilling a word God gave to Paul. “That night the Lord stood beside Paul and said, ‘Don’t worry! Just as you have told others about me in Jerusalem, you must also tell about Me in Rome.” Acts 23:11. (Does anybody else feel a tinge of jealousy that the Lord stood beside Paul in this dark time and we just get more distant revelations?)
Huge and great things did happen. Even with the split of Paul and Barnabus, good things happened. More people heard the good news of Jesus Christ. But isn’t that just like God. He always makes something good come out of human decisions. You’ve heard the testimony, or even have the testimony, of lots of bad decisions when you were younger but now you are able to be a more effective minister because of what you learned from those bad decisions. A lot of good came out of these decisions made in Acts, but were all of them “from God” or “led by God?” The Bible is filled with so many other human mistakes, it does not surprise me at all to find human mistakes in the Book of Acts. But with the hype of the book, I have missed it all these years.
I have so many decision to make. Not just what to make for supper but decisions that affect the youth I work with, the direction of Wild Frontier, day-to-day confrontations. I do strive to make them right. I do strive to pray and ponder these decisions and rarely do I rush into a quick decision. Hindsight says that I’m not always right. But if there were human decisions made in the Book of Acts, then God can use my human decisions to continue the work of the Kingdom. I desire to make brave decisions.