Church

Eat the Fish and Spit Out the Bones (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)

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Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 in the NLT Translation)

Paul’s instruction here to the believers is rooted in his desire that they and we too, do not inadvertently stifle the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in church when it is gathered.

The fact that he has to warn them and us means that it is possible to do, so we should take heed of this warning.

Paul goes on to explain HOW we might stifle the work of the Spirit – by ‘scoffing at prophecies’ (vs20), treating them as nothing important.

Prophecy in the NT era is most simply hearing from God for someone else. Someone who brings a prophecy is allowing God to use them to bless, build-up, correct, direct or encourage people as they hear God’s voice through their actions and words.

Prophecy can be corporate or personal in nature and prophecy can take different forms such as a word for someone, a picture or an impression or a Scripture.

For Paul, prophecy was an essential part of biblical church life and community and so was not to be scoffed at, stifled or quenched.

The balance here is that every prophetic utterance is to be ‘tested’ or examined. We need to ask whether what has been shared lines up with Scripture? (vs21) We also need to remember that this side of heaven, all prophesy is ‘in-part’ (1 Corinthians 13:12), meaning that all prophetic contributions will be fallible to some degree.

So, don’t stifle prophecy & don’t blindly accept everything that is spoken in the name of God. Rather, eagerly desire prophecy in your life and in the life of the church (1 Corinthians 14:1) but test all prophetic utterances against the plumbline of Scripture. So, eat the fish and spit out the bones!

 

God the Centre (Numbers 9-10)

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In Numbers 9, the people of God have been out of Egypt for just over a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. At this moment, just before they set out into the Wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land, God establishes a rhythm of worship and God provides an observable fulfilment of His promise to Moses.

Exodus 33:15-16 records how God promised that His presence would always be with His people, and how Moses implored God to make His manifest presence always known amongst His people;

And he said to him, “”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”” (Exodus 33:15-16)

Accordingly, God’s people were then neatly arranged in an orderly fashion. They had assigned roles & responsibilities. God had given specific instructions on the details of worship centred around the tabernacle, and in Numbers 9, we read of two pillars that were God’s answer to Moses’ request recorded in Exodus 33:15.

The pillars of cloud and fire hovering over the tabernacle signified God’s presence in the midst of His people. God’s presence was right there at the centre of the elaborate arrangement of the twelve tribes, the focal point. God was quite literally at the centre of their lives! Worship of God was central to their lives, God’s presence being with them was central, it was paramount to them.

Also in Numbers 9-10 we read about a rhythm of worship and remembrance (Passover and other feasts like the Day of Atonement) all established by God. These rhythms continuously reminded God’s people of their need of Him, of how God had delivered them & provided a way for them to be forgiven.

Now, we don’t live in tents arranged around a tabernacle in a desert, and we don’t have pillars of cloud and fire. However, just as they were arranged with God at the centre of everything. Just as their lives had a rhythm that God established, ensuring that He was not just physically but mentally at the centre of their lives. We too are wise, when we arrange our lives around God. We are wise when we arrange our lives around regular corporate rhythms of worship. Gathering together as the people of God (the church), drawing near to Him together, in repentance forgiveness and worship.

We live in an age of impossible busyness, where the habit and the rhythm of gathering on a Sunday every week is being pushed out to the periphery for many! In South Africa, small towns used to have church buildings at the centre. Church buildings are right there on the main street or in the centre square of the town. The assembly of God’s people for worship was central to the rhythm of life, and this centrality even had a physical manifestation. Today, the church building has been replaced by the mall, the soccer stadium, the TV…

Moses’ plea that God be at the centre, that His presence never leaves us – seems forgotten. It is commonplace for people to treat gathering as a church for worship on a Sunday as an occasional thing.

For many believers, if their lives were a camp, the tabernacle/Sunday worship would no longer be at the centre! Gathering for church on a Sunday is just no longer central to their lives, their thinking or their regular rhythms! Corporate worship as God’s people has slipped on the list of priorities for many so that it is now lower on the list of priorities than family, recreation, rest…

But this is not how God meant it to be! This is not what Moses pleaded for in Exodus 33. God is meant to be at the centre of our personal lives, our families, and gathering for corporate worship as a whole church is God’s way and wisdom.

The writer to the Hebrews urges us as believers to not give up the habit, the rhythm of meeting together as the church, because that rhythm puts God at the centre of our lives, it demonstrates what we believe (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I urge you to consider your life, your choices, your regular rhythms & your priorities. If your life were a camp, would it be obvious that God & the gathering with His people for worship was the centre of your life? Is your life arranged around the gathering of the saints or is Sunday worship or Small Group something you occasionally do when there isn’t anything else more pressing? We can not replace the gathering of the saints for corporate worship, the word of God & fellowship with private times of worship and PODCAST or VODCAST sermons.

God’s people have always for millennia arranged their lives around the rhythm of their gathering for worship together, God’s presence has always been central to the life of the believer – is it yours?

Don’t do this because you feel you HAVE TO, but because YOU WANT TO, or if you can’t say at present you want to make it your regular rhythm to gather with the church for worship then at least acknowledge that it is the WISDOM OF GOD and a command of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and so re-prioritise your life, your weeks and weekends and put God at the centre again and your heart will be melted in His presence so that in time it will once again become what you want to do.

Unified in Jesus (Romans 9:30-33)

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A wave of nationalism and increased polarisation between diverse groups of people is washing over the world stage with issues like Brexit and the increasingly hostile international trade negotiations between the USA and China just current examples.

Within our nation (South Africa), we are experiencing the same wave of polarisation. In our recent national elections, there was a rise in support for the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum and the rhetoric in the public space is increasingly acrimonious.

The church that received this letter from the apostle Paul was needing to work out its unity in diversity, needing to avoid polarisation within the church. The Christians who were ethnically Jewish seemingly had some heart re-wiring that was required. They were in danger of spiritual arrogance, trusting in their traditions and ethnicity. They were at risk of potentially looking down on their Gentile brothers and sisters as being ‘less-than’ in some way or another.

Paul has been at pains in his letter, to show that salvation for all people is not something we can earn personally through law-keeping, is not something we obtain through our ethnicity but that God has revealed a righteousness that is received by faith in Jesus alone. (Romans 3:21-24) and so God is the God of the Jews & the Gentiles equally (Romans 3:29), God is the One who mercifully ‘justifies the ungodly’ (Romans 4:5).

All believers are in the same position. None of us is deserving of God’s grace and mercy, none of us was able to earn it through good behaviour, no one has any ethnic advantage – we all need God’s grace and mercy to be saved!

(Romans 9:30-31): Shockingly to Jewish believers, Gentile believers who didn’t even seek God or deserve anything – have been made righteous by God’s gracious choosing.

And Jewish people who wrongfully put their trust in the Law and their law-keeping efforts have not been made righteous because God has revealed a righteousness that is ‘apart from the law’ (Romans 3:21).

All people are in the same position, all people need God’s grace, and all people need to put their trust in Jesus, not in their law-keeping efforts or their ethnicity or traditions but to put all their faith in Jesus only.

(Romans 9:32-33): Which makes Jesus the stumbling block that Isaiah prophesied about. The proud religious person who believes they deserve or have earned God’s choosing of them will battle to put their trust in Jesus – He is a stumbling block to them, a rock in the road obstructing their way.

Paul is uniting the believers in the church in Rome, destroying spiritual arrogance, digging up pride in ethnicity and relaying the same foundation for all people – “…and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33).

The great power to overcome polarisation in our nation and the world is the Gospel of Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved! No matter what your upbringing was, no matter what your social standing is, no matter what sin you’ve committed – putting all your faith in Jesus is the answer and therefore is also the great equaliser and unifying power in the world. May we, as believers, be part of churches that demonstrate this unity in diversity that is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?

United in our need (Romans 2)

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LiU-IAS-Konsekvenser-av-demografisk-och-organisatorisk-mangfaldAs we read Romans, it is helpful to remember who this remarkable letter was written to. The church in Rome was a multi-cultural church with both Jews and Gentiles in it. It appears as though this church was wrestling with how to work out the truth of the Gospel in this multi-cultural setting. Paul is building an extended argument that stretches through this whole letter to show off the Gospel and how we should live.

Jewish Christians would have had no problem with Romans 1, probably feeling like Paul had pagan Gentiles in mind. In Romans 2 Paul points the spotlight on all believers by warning the Jewish believer of being judgemental (Romans 2:1-11) and proclaiming radically that; “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11). A radical statement that declares that the problem outlined in Romans 1:18-32 is universal, that all will be judged according to how they have lived (Romans 2:6).

All who have sinned, whether they are Jews under the law or Gentiles apart from the law, all will face judgement equally before Jesus on THAT DAY (Romans 12:16).

The Jewish believers who were rejoicing in, trusting in their heritage, their Jewishness are rebuked here by Paul – “You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law” (Romans 2:23) So, whether you are born Jewish or circumcised is not as important to God as each one obeying God’s moral law (Romans 2:25-29).

Romans 2 could be summarised as a warning to the Jewish believers in Rome not to be self-righteously confident in the wrong things (their Jewish heritage). The problem of sin outlined in Romans 1 is not a Gentile problem, and they who were Jewish believers are not in a privileged position as believers, God looks on all obedience with no partiality. As Paul declares succinctly in Galatians 2:28; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We are united in our need since no one has fully obeyed the law of God. And we are united in God’s provision for our need, the good news about Jesus, His son sent for us… But more on that when we get to Romans 3.

Two Faithful People (Luke 2:22-340)

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Nothing is known really about Simeon, but Scripture describes him as a man who was waiting with expectation and hope. The NLT translation vs25-26 says of Simeon;

He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Simeon, was waiting eagerly. He believed that God would come to comfort His people by sending the Messiah. In fact he had heard God speak to him by the Holy Spirit that it was imminent, that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.

We have no knowledge of how long Simeon had waited with faith and expectation, but we know that in the period of delay, of waiting, he just kept coming (vs27) to synagogue (the equivalent of church in his day). He didn’t get discouraged waiting, he showed his faith by being consistent in coming, didn’t moan at God about delay but trusted God in it!

How do you handle delay? I urge you to keep being faithful, to keep trusting God even when you’ve had to maybe wait a long time. God is faithful. Decide to be disciplined in the delay!

More than this, he came ‘in the Spirit into the temple’ (vs27). He was like the person coming to church full of faith and expectation that He was going to see God do wondrous things, and that day recorded in Luke 2 was his day.

When Simeon met Joseph and Mary and their small child Jesus, he saw not in the natural (just another baby boy) but he saw Jesus’ destiny, he saw that Jesus was the Messiah the Saviour of God’s people (vs29-32). He picked up their child and blessed him recounting Scripture over Him speaking of His destiny, prophesying to Mary about Jesus’ future life.

All the longings in Simeon’s heart were fulfilled in a moment seeing Jesus! Now I can die in peace he said in effect (vs29). One meeting with Jesus, satisfied Simeon. Jesus is the answer to all our questions, the fulfilment of all our longings, Jesus is the One who alone can and does save those who trust in Him.

Luke tells us of another person who met Jesus that day in the Temple, an old woman called Anna. Anna was a prophet, she had lost her husband many years ago and was now 84yrs old but she too, recognised who Jesus really was when she encountered Him and so she exclaimed the truths about Jesus to those listening (vs38), telling them of who He really was.

Simeon and Anna are such examples of long-obedience, long-suffering faith, and the joy of encountering the real Jesus.

Jesus is all you need. The good news is you don’t need to wait for Jesus like Simeon or Anna did. So, why not reach out to Jesus now, call on Him, speak to Him in prayer. Jesus is so willing and ready to meet with you and to speak with you and to transform your life.

This link is to a song Michael Card wrote about this moment if you want to listen to it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBZiPRPogn0

Simeon and Anna were patient in waiting for God to do what God had promised.  Is there something you are tempted to give up in, tempting to stop trusting God for?  Why not come again to God and to ask Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit and to give you the heart that Simeon and Anna had.

They had been with Jesus… (Acts 4:13-22)

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Let’s re-cap for a moment the story thus far…   Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension, ‘wait for the Promise’!  Then the promised Holy Spirit came with a remarkable manifestation of joy & power which resulted in a boldness in the disciples that catapulted them onto Jesus’ mandate and mission for their lives.  

Peter preaches the first sermon and 3000 people put their faith in Jesus on that first day!  The new community formed through the Gospel is a radical one which starts sharing life and possessions and devotes themselves to God in prayer and to one another.

In the days that follow, Peter and John then meet a paralysed man begging at the temple.  However, rather than meeting his financial need they decide to give him the very best that they have to give – faith in Jesus!  They pray for him and this man crippled for 40yrs is instantly healed in public which creates a crowd and a context for Peter to preach again about who Jesus is and what God did through Jesus on the cross in fulfilment of myriads of Old Testament prophecy.

All the commotion, the big crowds and the multitudes professing faith in Jesus (now about 5000 men so more like 10 000-15 000 women children!) raised the ire of the Jewish religious authorities who subsequently arrest Peter and John. 

The next day they are hauled before the council and questioned about under what authority are they acting – Peter full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8) stands up and preaches again proclaiming with razor sharp clarity the Gospel crescendoing with;

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:12)

The Jewish council are dumbstruck!  They remark at the incredible boldness and clarity of these everyday men, who are unlearned fishermen and yet proclaiming with clarity and boldness regarding the Scriptures.  They can’t deny the miracle of the healing of the crippled man standing before their eyes and witnessed by the multitudes.  But they want to shut this movement down and so call Peter and John in again and try to intimidate them commanding them to stop speaking about Jesus as if He was Messiah and in authority.

Peter and John boldly refuse to be shut down, and so reply to this command saying effectively; ‘you decide whether we should obey you or obey God!  We cannot stop speaking about Jesus and all we have seen and heard!’

The council threatened them again and then had to let them go because the multitude was praising God for this miracle God had done.

It’s so important to hear the assessment of the Jewish council, Peter and John were ordinary men!  However they had been ‘with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13) and we know that they were now also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit & full of faith in Jesus.  Incredible things are possible if we will walk closely with Jesus in our daily lives, if we will be full of faith in the power of the name of Jesus and if we will be continuously full of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit!

  • What’s God saying to YOU through this passage?
  • What are you going to PRAY for as a result?
  • What do you want to START doing more of?
  • Is there anything you feel you need to STOP?

See, Love, Act (Acts 3:1-10)

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After the rousing sermon that followed the remarkable prayer meeting and the incredibly deep fellowship of the early church all recorded in Acts 2, Acts 3 has an air of normality about it as it starts.

Peter and John are about to enter the Temple complex at around 3pm in the afternoon which was the time of prayer.  The earliest believers had been raised all their lives up to the present of Jews, and the earliest church assimilated it’s new revelations about Jesus with their habitual rhythms (like daily prayer here in the Temple complex).

At an the entrance was a man who was lame, who had been unable to walk since birth.  He was seated at the gate asking people for money considering his state.  

What do Christ Followers do when faced with human needs like; this man’s physical, emotional, financial & spiritual need?

They SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  

Like Jesus with Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:46-52) who stopped for Bartimaeus, Peter and John stop for this crippled man.  They SEE him, they LOVE him enough to acknowledge his presence and this action of SEEING and STOPPING must have communicated value to him. 

They didn’t just toss some coins in the dust although he would probably have been happy with that.  Rather they stopped and looked at him saying; “Look at us… Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

They loved him enough to stop and to see him, to recognise him as a person but then they met a deeper need than even the need he would have identified as his need.  He was asking for money, they saw past that need and saw how being crippled would never allow him to do anything except beg for money and so they reached out and acted with faith speaking life, healing & health into his body all in the name of Jesus!

Having spoken with faith, Peter then reached out in faith with his hands to lift the man up and as he did Dr Luke records that the man’s feet and ankles were immediately made strong.  Peter and John, SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith when confronted with this man’s need.

The way Dr Luke records this miracle and the sequence of events, I can’t help be wonder whether the man would not have been healed unless Peter had had the faith to pray believing God would heal, and then also having the faith to stretch out his hand to lift him up so as to take his first steps ever as a person born cripple.

What life transforming things are passing us by every day?

What would God have you do, small or large that can transform someone else’s life?

Are your ears and eyes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Dr Luke knows this condition was congenital, knows it had lasted 40yrs (Acts 4:22),  and so he records the medical evidence of this wonderful instant healing in response to Peter and John’s faith and their stepping out in faith.  Dr Luke tells us three times that this man was now walking, in fact more than that he was walking and leaping!

Thomas Walker comments, ‘the power was Christ’s, but the hand was Peter’s’.  Peter and John saw, loved and acted on their faith in Jesus and this man’s life was transformed!

What does God want to do through you in the life of others?

May we be those who SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  Amen.

Devoted! (Acts 2:42-47)

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With the World Cup Soccer 2018 reaching fever pitch level on the excitement scale for many around the world, when I read this passage and read the word ‘devoted’, I am reminded of all those soccer fans colourfully arrayed in their teams colours.  Faces painted, hats on, scarves, socks, shirts, tattoos even themed underwear!!!

In moments like this words like devotion, passion are on display in technicolour.  In our passage today, Luke uses the Greek word that is translated into English as ‘devoted’.  The underlying word means to be earnest towards something, to persevere in something, to be constantly diligent in something, or to continue to adhere closely to something (like with teaching or instruction).

The converts from Peter’s first Gospel message joined the 120 disciples and together they formed the first church on the planet.  A church, a new community of faith that had previously not existed, people that did not know each other or even have much in common instantly became a family that together devoted themselves to some things.

  1. The apostle’s teaching (which is the Scriptures now for us)
  2. Fellowship/Community/Partnership
  3. Breaking Bread (Communion)
  4. Corporate Prayer

Now, we know what a devoted Brazilian, English, French…. soccer fan looks like, they are hard to miss really.  So what would a church community that’s DEVOTED to these things look like?  And, who doesn’t want to be part of a church like that?

Which reminds me of something Nicky Gumbel said; 

“Stop looking for a perfect church.  It does not exist.  Join an imperfect church and serve in everyday you can to make it nearer to perfection”.  

This church we have in Acts 2 is radically wonderful!  But don’t go looking for one, rather make the church you’re in like one, because you’re there and because you get it…

These brand new believers kept on meeting (vs44) with one another in the big meetings, all together in the temple and then also meeting in homes (small groups) (vs46), they ate meals together (vs46), they had their view of personal finance transformed by their faith.  

So much so, that these devoted Christ followers ensured that no one amongst the family of faith had any need because they provided for another through sacrificial giving to the church by liquidating assets and investments to provide in abundance (vs45) for God’s church.

This was a worshipping (vs47), glad, supernatural (vs43) community who were also in awe and reverence of God (vs43).  A church where reverence, wonder and amazement is dead will also have worship that is dead.  That’s because wonder, reverence and ‘strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship’. – John Piper

So, let’s believe God for churches like this saturating our cities and towns just like this church started to impact Jerusalem with its devotion as the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (vs47).

Pray: 

  • Pray that you would be freshly filled with the Holy Spirit like these believers were.
  • Pray that you would be full of awe, wonder, thanks and praise
  • And pray that you would be devoted to Scripture, Fellowship, Communion & Corporate Prayer like they were
  • Pray that your whole life would be transformed by the Gospel including your finances, your view of your time, resources, relationships…
  • Pray asking God to ‘do it again’, to cause churches like this one in Acts 2 to fill your city!

Act:

  • Don’t look for a church like this one, make one!  
  • Live the change you desire!
  • Be devoted!

A new Era! (Acts 2:14-41)

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The Holy Spirit has been poured out on those disciples who were waiting and praying as Jesus had commanded them to (Acts 2:1-13), the resultant worship and joy has drawn a crowd of people some of whom are in amazement and some are mocking…

Someone needs to say something! Peter, full of the Holy Spirit stands up and impromptu preaches the first message in the history of the church of Jesus Christ.

He addresses those present, addresses their questions coming from what they have observed (vs15 & 22-24), he draws on OT biblical texts (vs17-21, 25-28 & 34-35) to teach and to convict of sin (vs23) and to motivate them to respond, giving them hope of what God’s response will be (vs38-39).

Many in the crowd are ‘cut to the heart’ (vs37) by listening to Peter’s preaching and as a result they want to respond and so exclaim; “what shall we do then”? (vs37)

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

They asked; “what shall we do?” and Peter’s response is that they should;

  • Repent (be contrite & acknowledge your sin before God & then turn from it)
  • Receive forgiveness (ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and then receive His forgiveness)
  • Receive the Holy Spirit (having been cleansed of sin, be filled with the Holy Spirit and His new life)
  • Be baptised in water (make an outward demonstration of the inward step of faith you’ve made)

And then those who did these 4 things, get added to the local church community. The Gospel saves individuals but joins them to a family of faith! There is no such thing as Christianity outside of local church community.

Questions for application

  • Have you responded with faith in Jesus to the good news of the Gospel?
  • Have you truly received forgiveness and received the in-filling of the Holy Spirit as a believer?
  • Have you been baptised in water yet or do you need to still take that step declaring your faith?
  • Have you added yourself, joined a local church community as a committed member?  What’s stopping you?

 

Amazement & Mocking (Acts 2:1-13)

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Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until ‘the promise of the Father’ (Acts 1:4-5) and so they did. Devoting themselves to prayer together and then suddenly one day, Luke records that there was an experience that was quite unexpected and without precedent.

A sound, a roar came from heaven and was heard in the room they were in. A supernatural unusual breeze entered the room, followed by a physical manifestation of flames of fire that rested on each one of them. Something was happening and they all knew it. How long did it take for someone or all to recollect Jesus’ words and conclude that surely this was the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had spoken of and promised just days before.

The resulting impact of this sound, this wind and these supernatural flames was that everyone there was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in supernatural languages as the Holy Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1-5).

I love it that we had a medical doctor on the scene to describe in detail what was happening! At this point we don’t know what they were saying, but we know that they were saying it rather loudly. So loudly that the sounds emanating from the room gathered a crowd, devout Jewish people from all over the known world (who were dwelling in Jerusalem). And what did they hear? Babbling, craziness?

No, rather these who gathered to the sound of the disciples speaking in tongues exclaimed;

“…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:11-12)

Not everyone was amazed though, some seemingly didn’t hear praise but simply assumed that these disciples, who has been filled with the Holy Spirit, had in fact just probably had too much wine to drink, that had gone to their heads and mocked them. (vs13)

  • The big question is the one the devout men asked; “What does this mean?” What did it mean then, what does this mean now for you and for me?
  • This was the moment of the fulfilment of OT promises (Joel 2:28-32)
  • Jesus is faithful and trustworthy ( John 7:37-39, John 14-16 & Acts 1:4-5)
  • The outpouring or in-filling of the Holy Spirit was tangible/experiential
  • It is possible to be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ & it’s urged in Scripture (Ephesians 5:18)
  • The gift of speaking in tongues was not learnt but a spontaneous initial sign of in-filling by the Spirit
  • The content of speaking in tongues (recorded in Acts 2) was worship to God in a multitude of earthly languages
  • The impact of the in-filling of the Spirit was joy & merriment that could even be confused with drunkenness
  • The impact of the in-filling of the Spirit was unity amongst believers. A united experience of God’s presence and power, a united explosion of worship and a united multi-cultural witness about the glory of God.

Jesus explained at length this anticipated moment, and the ongoing life/help that the Holy Spirit would bring (John 14-16), this life and help is the birthright of every believer in Jesus (Romans 8:9-11).

So, if you have believed in Jesus, this remarkable moment in church history ought not be a mere exception, but a historical account of a move of the Holy Spirit that should provoke you to ask God for His in-filling in your life, in your church.

Lord, would you move again in power, Holy Spirit would you fill your people again with power, provoking extravagant worship and power for mission for the sake of Jesus’ great name and glory!

And if youhave not been filled with the Holy Spirit, or if you feel like you need to be filled again – then simplly pray and ask God the Holy Spirit to fill you now, again and again.

Yes, yes, what! (Acts 1:9-26)

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Jesus ascends up into heaven before the disciples eyes, they stand amazed looking up into the heavens  and have two angels address them saying; “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

These are momentous days!  The early prototype church has watched Jesus ascend into heaven, they devoted themselves (men and women) to corporate prayer seeking God’s wisdom (vs14), they’ve had one of the original 12 exposed as the betrayer of Jesus and then everyone became aware of how he died in the field he obtained with the ‘reward of his wickedness’ (vs 18).  

The prototype church need leadership. You can almost hear the questions; ‘What should we do now?’, ‘Jesus has left…and told us to wait’, news of Judas’ death was probably raising questions within the prototype community of faith concerning who they should replace him with…?

Peter stands up and points them back to the OT Scriptures (Psalms 69 & 109) seeking to explain what’s just happened with Judas.  Seeking to help them to discern God’s will now and then Peter leads them off the back of those Scriptures and makes a suggestion that they should seek a man who has been a witness of Jesus’ to replace Judas (vs21-22).

The congregation of 120 disciples agree with Peter’s leadership proposal and they put forward two men who satisfied the requirements Peter had proposed (wonderful example of leadership, collaboration and followership).

Then wonderfully the church prays (vs24-25) that God would show them who He has chosen to replace Judas as one of the 12 apostles; 

“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

Yes – to devotion to prayer

Yes – to dedication to Scripture for guidance for life

Yes – to leadership, collaboration & followership

Yes – to corporate faith-filled prayer and the desire for God to reveal His will

What!  

And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles (vs26)

They prayed and then cast lots, rolled the dice as it were!  This was an accepted practice in the Old Testament (see Proverbs 16:33, Leviticus 16:8 & Numbers 26:55) and they had prayed and asked God to show them His will, and God can control the outcome of a cast lot – but seriously!

This is never repeated in the NT as a method for leadership appointment or decision making so what can we make from this?

After all they have done that is a great example for us to follow, throwing lots was actually the best they could do in the absence of Jesus and prior to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit!  The Helper who was still to come, who is clearly involved in leadership appointments and deployment later in Acts 13:2 & Acts 20:28?

Dr Luke’s account of the early church has only just began but we are off to a rollicking start!  What an example they are for us.  Prayer, preaching, leadership saturated with God’s word, followership, more prayer and a desire to be lead by God…  May we be like them individually and corporately! 

And may we who have the help of the Holy Spirit, ask Him, be lead by Him and obey His leading in our everyday lives and churches!

Do it again Lord… (Acts 1:1-8)

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Picture the scene, the disciples (who by now are a core group of 120 men women and children, no more than an average size small church) have had a wild, exhilarating & challenging last three years with Jesus leading them. So much has happened!

Jesus taught and performed countless miracles, engaged with countless people but then dies at the hands of the Romans on the cross but then rises again from the dead as He promised He would! Jesus then re-appears to them at many times and in many ways over a remarkable period of 40days after his death & resurrection and before His ascension into heaven (vs3). Who would have missed out on those meetings?

During this time Jesus kept telling them about his kingdom. Telling them what His kingdom was like, what people who have Him as their king are like, what a community of people with Jesus as their king are like, how Jesus wants them to take His kingdom rule and reign and invade the known world setting people free from the kingdom of darkness and bringing them into His gloriously good kingdom characterised by grace & love, healing and wholeness, joy and peace with God.

At one time Jesus draws them all in and tells them all to;

‘wait for the Promise of the Father…John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’ (vs4-5).

And after some questioning from those gathered which just reveals how little they were getting at the time Jesus carries on with what He was saying;

“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (vs8)

Something had been promised by Jesus (see John 14-16) and by the Father (Joel 2:28-32) that was about to happen, to be fulfilled! The disciples were instructed to wait for it. They were not to proceed until they had been totally filled to overflowing with the presence and the activating power of the Holy Spirit.

That in-filling of power from God would activate them as Jesus’ agents in the world, sent by Him to bring His kingdom to all those they met right there in Jerusalem, in the surrounding regions too and ultimately to the very ends of the earth! (vs8)

This book we’re reading in July/August is the eyewitness account of what those 120 did once they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and as they obeyed Jesus command to be His witnesses to the world.

So what relevance does this have for you and for me?

Ask: You have been walking with Jesus, you have put your faith in Jesus like they had. They were told to wait until they had received an out-pouring of Holy Spirit power on their lives that would activate and enable them to be Jesus’ agents in the world! Have you prayed and asked God to fill you with His Holy Spirit so that you too can be activated for God’s mission through you? Pray now, ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit for power to be an agent of Jesus’ today.

Consider: This book is not some nice church history, some nice stories of the early church. This book is not meant to be exceptional but rather an example of what God wants our lives and our church to be like and to do for God in our day. There were just 120 in that room listening to Jesus, no more than most little local churches but consider what God did through them!

Pray: Oh, Lord do it again through us, through me! Fill us, fill me with your Holy Spirit, with Your power and glory and send us, send me out on Your mission to the world.

What a church! (Colossians 3:1-17)

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In Colossians 3:1-17 we find a vision for an incredibly amazing church.  A church where the people are living out holy lives in response to the wonder of the Gospel of Jesus.  They have and are putting to death old sinful life-patterns which affect their attitudes, actions, speech & behaviour (vs5&7-9).  They are living in a right reverent fear of their awesome God who is holy and yet their Father (vs6).  These people in this church have put on the new nature that is theirs as the children of the living God – they are beginning to look more and more like their Saviour – Jesus.

This church is a multi-cultural church, a community of faith that has formed because of the Gospel.   They have come from all walks of life but have all been united in their common need and their common faith in Jesus who answers all their sin-problems (vs11)!

These people know that God literally chose them to be His beloved children, His holy ones on the earth (vs12).  They live with this truth shaping their thinking and their lives.  They were chosen to be holy ones, chosen as sons and daughters of the most High God.  And because of this knowledge, these people live differently!

They are confident because of God’s love and yet humble and compassionate & kind because they know God loved them when they were unlovely.  They love others, are gentle, patient and forbearing with one another because that is how God has treated them (vs12).  They don’t hold on to wrongs done to them but forgive one another because they know that they have been forgiven (vs13)!

This church is characterised by love, pulsing through everything that’s done and said and this results in a deep community and a deep unity and peace in their community in spite of their diversity (vs14-15).  The people of this church are characterised not by anxiety and worry but by peace that comes from knowing that your Saviour holds the whole world in His hands (Colossians 1:15-20)!

These people are a gospel-centred people in that they are supremely grateful to God.  Thankfulness saturates everything because they keep looking back at who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for them and that discipline fills them continually with thanks and praise and faith for the future, that thanks glorifies God and fuels their worship and the lives (see thanks 3x in vs15,16,17).

They are a Scripture-saturated people!  They love God’s word, read and honour God’s word by obeying it.  The Scriptures form the basis of their conversations, their relationships, their counsel and their worship.  They aren’t just taught by preachers but in fact they all teach each other continually from the Scriptures in TRIO’s and Community Groups(vs15-16).

Worship, songs of thanks, songs that tell of the greatness of God and express praise that makes Him the centre and their preoccupation are forever in their hearts and on their lips (vs16).  In fact they’ve turned anything and everything in their life into worship as they do everything from a place of wanting to represent Jesus, to bring Him honour – whether they are employing people, studying, working for someone, being a husband or a wife or a neighbour…  They do everything for Christ and in the power of Christ knowing that they are His ambassadors in the world (vs17).

What a church!  Where do I find such a church?  

You don’t find one, you and I all make one!  You and I and others all saved and rescued by Jesus together form a community, work out our salvation, keep Jesus the centre, saturate ourselves with Scripture, and keep being transformed by the incredible power of the Gospel and then this is the type of incredible church that will form!  Don’t look for a church like this – play your part in making one!

Magnificent Praise… (Nehemiah 12:1-43)

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Psalm 66:1 (in the NIV) declares!

Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! 

Loud, exuberant, whole-hearted praise & thanks to God is always appropriate!  A subdued, disengaged time of worship when the gathered church meets, or a worship-deficient personal life-style is just out of place with the reality of who our God is and what He has done for us.

Having re-built the wall, re-populated the city, renewed their faith and their covenant with God, having renewed their contributions to God’s house now it was time for praise and thanks.

Nehemiah and Ezra organise a praise party, a celebration of glorious praise befitting of the exhortation of Psalm 66:2.

Two great choirs are amassed to help in dedicating the city to God.  A dedication that was to be full of gladness, thanksgiving, singing & musical instruments…  The worship was lead by singers with Jezrahiah as their leader and the time of worship was so great, so gloriously magnificent that the ‘joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.’ (vs43)

Corporate worship is so important to God’s people.  God gifts people with singing ability, with worshipful hearts, with skill on instruments and with leadership and the best use of those gifts is to cause God’s people to remember, to reflect and to thank God in songs of exuberant praise that are worthy of our magnificent God.

Oh, how I love to worship with God’s people in moments like this!  May our praise, our thanks and our worship in church always reflect our magnificent God, who He is and what He has done for us.  I urge you to bring your part every-time we gather – together making His praise glorious! Amen.

God’s Design (Nehemiah 10)

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In chapter 10 we read all the names of the people who as representatives signed the renwal of the covenant with God.  And we read details of how they renewed their contributions, their giving to the temple so that something could happen…

God’s design was always that 11 of the 12 tribes had been given land so that they could work the land and provide for themselves and that they should also bring their tithes into God’s storehouse which in turn would provide for the 12th tribe – the Levites who weren’t given their own fields/lands and so couldn’t provide for themselves but needed to rely on the other 11 tribes as they devoted themselves to serving in worship and ministry.

God’s design was that 1 tribe would consecrate (set themselves aside to focus on something) themselves so that they could serve God and serve the other 11 tribes by ministering to them.  And God’s design was that the other 11 tribes would commit to that 1 tribe in providing for them and would benefit from that 1 tribe in that they would be ministered to by that tribe.

God’s design is still the same, some are gifted and then set apart to give all their time to serving God by ministering to His people for their benefit, and those they minister to would in turn provide for them.  A symbiotic relationship that serves God’s purposes in all people.