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The Attempt: Day 8

And Saul approved of their killing him.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

Remember the 400 years of slavery the Israelites endured? Day in, day out; struggling under the whip of slavery for 4 centuries, how many people do you think were thinking about how deliverance was going to come in the end? Most days I’d bet they were just hoping to get delivered through that one day. I’m sure before Moses showed up with Aaron, a staff and 10 plagues of unpleasantness, there was at least one Israelite thinking, “what is the Lord waiting for? Another 400 years?”

There’s a correlation to the Israelites fleeing Egypt and the disciples being dispersed during this persecution. In both instances, God’s people are on the move. And in both instances as a result of their “going”, the Lord’s will is advanced.

I personally think there’s a difference in the Lord ‘causing’ the bad things to happen, and the Lord’s will being accomplished in spite of, or even aided by bad things happening. I picture the devil, throughout history, being in the midst of one of his evil campaigns and thinking that he’s winning, not realizing that the pain and grief he’s stirring up is only going to make some believers more faithful, more persistent, more determined to do God’s will; only going to make some people on the outside see the commitment of God’s people ‘on the inside’, and convict them… possibly inspiring them…  to follow.

As awful and terrifying and bloody as the persecution must have been, the disciples remembered who they were and whose they, and they proclaimed the message everywhere they went. So even though the source of the event could be measured in catastrophic loss of life, the outcome was what always happens to the faithful and Jesus wins in the end.

It’s with this historical fact in mind, the persecution/dispersion that I take some of the liberties that I do to tell our “Upside Down” story. Like any writer of historical,  I economized characters, elaborated on a lot of “what ifs” and “could have beens” in order to dramatize some of the events that we know “certainly were!” I’m making every effort to convey the spirit of what was going on at that time in hopes that we will want to  imitate it now. Hopefully, without straying too far from the original text, I can paint a picture that helps us imagine more clearly what it must have been like for our brothers and sisters 2000 years ago.

For instance, I put Tabitha and Simon the Tanner in the opening of the show. Ok, I do even more than that because I make them a married couple.

They could have been.

Highly unlikely, seems like it would have been mentioned.

But I did it for several reasons, not the least of which is that when we cast Lindsay Patterson as Tabitha, she is so amazing; there was no way I was letting her sing one song in one scene and then disappear!

What a voice!

But I also ‘made a lot stuff up that we don’t know exactly how it happened but if it didn’t happen like I said it did, it had to happen kinda like that’; because I needed to do a few things.

One being, try to not confuse people who are not familiar with the bible but want to see our show anyway.

In our previous shows we’ve had so many characters coming and going that it was hard for someone unfamiliar with the bible to keep up. For the disciples who watch, well; as disciples we can fill in the blanks when the plot line skips from Barnabas to Silas or from Ananias and Sapphira to Priscilla and Aquila.

But when you’re sitting and watching a story being told on a stage or a screen, there’s only so many people you can follow with your eyes and your mind. And if we are going to try and impact the world we need a way to make our story something that’s easy for  anyone to follow and hopefully enjoy. Again, without doing anything that absolutely contradicts what we hold to be true.

Just a sec: truth is, we don’t have to do any of this to impact the world. The word of God is life changing all by itself. I believe the bible when it says that the power is in the word. We don’t have to make musicals or write songs or throw big dinners after church or a zillion other things that we do for the gospel to be preached and lives to be changed; souls to be saved. The gospel has lived longer than all of us and will continue to outlive us long after we’re gone.

But God gave us all gifts to use for his glory, and if it’s His will then we’re going to use our story teller gifts to make the greatest impact possible.

Now, where was I?

Reasons why I chose some of the liberties I took, like Tabitha’s story. Yeah.

Tabitha only appears one time in the book of Acts and is dead for most of that. Not a big part, but she does rise from the dead. That’s catchy.

But I’ve made her a main character. And for one reason, as I’ve said, I needed to create theatrical characters who are easy to follow and move the story.

But the other main reason I married off Tabitha to Simon the tanner and put them in the beginning and almost all the way through to the end of the show is:  to put flesh on the fact that we had brothers and sisters from all over the empire go to Jerusalem for pentecost and get  baptized in Acts 2,  are then dispersed back to their own homes in Acts 8, and were executed for the Lord before their “play” was over.

So with the beginning Acts 8, the persecution has begun in earnest; Saul is going house to house to destroy church same as disciples went house to house to build it, and now the believers are fleeing for their lives and spreading the gospel as they go.

5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

So while I’ve made a big character out of someone who has little mention from Luke, i.e. Tabitha; I’ve really been stoked about Philip for some time. He’s a major character of the book of Acts but, in my opinion, has never really got the mention he deserves.

Ok, sidebar. Again.

Look, we know real disciples don’t do things to ‘get mentioned’. But we are supposed to give honor to whom honor is due and Philip deserves a lot more honor than he usually receives. Consider:

He was one of the first to help the hurting. Feeding the widows.

He was the one who first went to the Samaritans. Racial prejudice between Jews and Samaritans was intense. But imagine Philip, going back into that town where Jesus met a woman at a well and told her ‘everything she’d ever done’. Imagine Philip going there and preaching, “Remember when Jesus came through here, oh, about 8, or 9, years ago? Sat right there with someone.” He points to Jacob’s well. It’s still there today, btw.

That’s another spot where I touched as much of it as I could… because, you know… look at it. It’s so small. Jesus sat there almost on his haunches and the woman couldn’t draw water without nearly knocking into him all the time; an example of strategically placing yourself in someone’s way in order to share your faith.

But Philip says, “Remember Jesus sat right there and a woman came up to draw some water.”

“That was me!” she cries out and laughs, covering her face and the crowd all laughs with her and those near her reach out lovingly and pat her on the back.

Philip continues with, “Do you remember what he said about a day coming when it won’t matter which mountain you worship on?”

The crowd nods and murmurs soft ‘amens’.

Philip, “Well, guess what? That day is here!”

9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Forgive me for skipping over a lot there, but I think I have a little bit of summer flu, and I still want to talk about Philip. Widow feeder, Samaritan saver, and now…
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Since eunuchs were not allowed in the temple, this conversion is one of the most amazing and eye opening stories in the bible.  And once again, we see that it’s Philip who is serving the hurting. He’s reading the passage about our mutilated savior and quite possibly thinking about his own life and what happened to him. But Philip starts with that passage and teaches him about Jesus.

Philip will go on and have 4 daughters, all of whom preached. What an interesting man. He comes onto to the bible scene feeding the widows, goes on to feed the word of God to the Samaritans and a eunuch; and in time fosters the kind of home where his daughters can use their God given gifts for the Lord’s cause.

Our choice for playing Philip is another one of the reasons I can’t wait to share this show with everyone. Felipe Bombonato is an incredible talent. And no, it wasn’t just that we could use the same tag for both character and actor on all of his costumes (it’s the flu folks, come on). Great voice and wonderful actor, but one of the things we looked for in each of our actors was the kind of personality where I could say, “I don’t want you to ‘find’ Philip. I want Philip to find you. I want your character to be you, if you had been there 2000 years ago.” They were all ordinary people just like us before they became the stars of Sunday school books everywhere. They were us,  and we are them.

Felipe is a sweet soul and I certainly feel blessed to have him paint a picture for us of a man who had a great heart and consequently was the person God chose not once, but at least 4 times, to pioneer acts of faith that changed lives, that changed history, and changed the world.

Let’s pray:

Father, as we face incredible challenges trying to make the shows in St. Louis glorious to you, and to share this show all over the world; help us to remember that in good times and bad; no matter what the challenges, your will is going to win out in the end. We pray that it’s your will to bless what we’re trying to do and that brothers and sisters all over the world will take part. That we’ll be sharing a common prayer and reaching out in a common way to our friends and neighbors and family and inviting them to come hear about men and women who were the first believers and see what they did just because they remembered the Lord. Help us to not draw lines, like Samaritans, or eunuchs… to remember in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free. Bless our cast and crew please so that we can glorify you and do our part to turn the world upside down for you son. It’s in His name that we pray…

Steve has been a minister for almost 5 decades; and for more than 40 years married to the wife of his youth and partner, Lisa. Steve has spoken in Madison Square Garden. He's swam the Hudson River to raise money for his favorite charity. He’s the writer, producer and director of an award winning short film. He’s an author, speaker, and father whose messages are hilarious, soulful and life changing. When he's not trying to sell, ride or make friends on a motorcycle, you can find him in Portland, Oregon where he is happily serving with the http://portlandchurch.org

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