Precise instructions from God lead to unique encoutners.

Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah. Acts 8:26-28 (The Message)

A friend of mine put on his facebook that he had ‘felt’ God say to him to go down to the church (he is a minister). He went and met up with one of the builders working on the building. He was reading the bible and wanted prayer for a problem. What a cool encounter! God was pleased to lead my friend into this encounter in the same way that he was pleased to lead Philip to his encounter with the Ethiopian finance minister. He too was reading the Bible, a part of it called Isaiah, and the opportunity was opened.

I am confident that God can make such opportunities for us today too, if only we are willing to be led by him. If we will take his Word in the Bible and look for his Spirit in prayer then who knows what opportunities lay in store. We need to be willing to take up such encounters though, as God will not push or shove us into helping others find his truth. He will only lead us.

Peace to you in the name of Jesus.

May we encounter God’s Word today, encounter his Spirit, and take the time and trouble to listen for the opportunity to encounter others and lead them into both his Word and his Spirit. Amen.

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What do people expect of their church leaders, Vicars, ministers, and elders today?

And with that, the apostles were on their way, continuing to witness and spread the Message of God’s salvation, preaching in every Samaritan town they passed through on their return to Jerusalem.  Acts 8:25 (The Message)

The apostles were the first to lead the church. They didn’t spend a great deal of time drinking cups of tea and being polite to the people who paid their keep. They didn’t spend all their Sunday’s preaching to those who filled their pews. The job of the apostle was to go and spread the Message of the Good News of Jesus. They went to every town in Samaria on their way to Jerusalem. They were missional in their work and were supported by the Jerusalem church despite not spending all their time with them. There were every day folk in the church who were able to look after the pastoral care and teaching while the apostles were away doing the work of God elsewhere.

If today you are part of a church community have a good close look at where the priorities of your church life lie. If it is in self-service then the need to take on the philosophy of the Jerusalem church to release its leaders to the work of God is essential. If your leaders seem to be satisfied with the pastoral and preaching ministry within their church then it is for you to raise the challenge for them to take the gospel into the ‘Samaritan towns’ that surround  your church. There is a false security in expecting our leaders to preach what we know to who we know, but taking who we know to those we do not know takes a real security in Jesus.

On the journey with Christ, let us see that taking steps outside of where we feel most comfortable is to take the Message of Salvation to those ‘Samaritan towns’ on our door step.  In order that we are faithful to the vision of Christ let us stop off at ‘every Samaritan town’ on our journey to the new Jerusalem. Amen.

Simon was surprised at the apostle’s response. I wonder if we are surprised when our own hearts fall foul of the holiness of God?

“Oh!” said Simon, “pray for me! Pray to the Master that nothing like that will ever happen to me!” And with that, the apostles were on their way, continuing to witness and spread the Message of God’s salvation, preaching in every Samaritan town they passed through on their return to Jerusalem. Acts 8:24-25 (The Message)

I can’t pretend to be ‘holier than thou’, no one would be fooled. In fact, anyone who is ‘holier than thou’, in my experience, fool very few! The surprise that Simon expresses is based on his assumption that he is better, different, more worthy, than anyone else. His self-centredness betrayed him as he thought that, with a little money and influence, he could be like those Jesus called as apostles. He had no perception of the sacrifice and preparation these men had put themselves through. He had no perception of what it means to walk as Jesus walked. He is quickly taken back and asks for the apostles to pray for him. I do like his change of heart, although we hear no more of his journey I am heartened to think that, from then, he went on in faith.

The fact of faith is that we are never on the sharp end of the stick if we practice two simple principles. Repentance and faith are to be our constant companions on the journey. If we speak out of term or walk out of step with God’s will we are to take stock, repent (change our thinking toward God) and walk on in faith. The idea that we should remain on our knees, beating ourselves (even metaphorically or psychologically), and looking downcast, is not what Jesus intends. When we recognize our error and come to him for forgiveness we can depend on him to do so, and what Jesus does he does perfectly.

May we have the humility to recognize when we are in error and the sense to show our repentance in order that God can fully forgive us. Then, may we walk forward in faith with our Saviour, following him and learning from him. Amen.

What does it mean to bargain with God?

Peter said, “To hell with your money! And you along with it. Why, that’s unthinkable—trying to buy God’s gift! You’ll never be part of what God is doing by striking bargains and offering bribes. Change your ways—and now! Ask the Master to forgive you for trying to use God to make money. I can see this is an old habit with you; you reek with money-lust.” Acts 8:20-23 (The Message)

O.K! We live in the material world. Money and possessions are a part of our life and experience. Unless we deliberately take the steps to the life of a hermit or a monastic, we are tied into economy and consumerism. No choice!

How we take this on board as a follower of Jesus is another thing though. There is nothing wrong with having a decent income, enjoying the benefits of owning material possessions. How we use these, and the mind-set we adopt, is essential though. If we use what we have to influence and to build up our own part in church and faith then we have it wrong. If it is that we see that which we have as ‘ours’ to do with ‘as we wish’ then we are not truly following the way of Christ.

If we are to follow Jesus then all that we have is to be his and all we are used to his glory. Submission to the will of God, in Jesus, means not seeking our own glory but his. Giving our lives over to him may mean that we enjoy a good economic and material life in the world but we are to make every pain to make sure we seek his glory and not our own. What we do, what we say, how we do it and how we say it needs to be submitted to him. That is the way to know we are living fully in him and living fully for him.

May my mind be like that of Jesus today, following his will, speaking his words and giving everything I own and everything I am to his glory. Amen.

Money can’t buy you everything!

When Simon saw that the apostles by merely laying on hands conferred the Spirit, he pulled out his money, excited, and said, “Sell me your secret! Show me how you did that! How much do you want? Name your price!” Acts 8:18-19 (The Message)

In our materialist society it is easy to think that you can buy whatever you need. Having money means having power, while having no money deminishes our power or status in society. God is not influenced by our riches or social status. Instead he is concerned with our faith and integrity of heart.

Simon Magus gave the appearance of faith and yet, when it came to the idea that he could be raised in status or own the power of God. He believes that he can buy the power of God. Understandable, to some extent, when he has been so used to the manipulations of sorcery yet he was unwise to offer money in order to have the power of God for himself. God requires that we be willing to submit our lives to him, that his Holy Spirit should be used only to give him glory. If we are intent on our own benefit alone and not on the greater purposes of God then our heart is not right and our integrity lacking.

May we seek you with all our hearts Lord, that we may bring your presence into the lives of others and let our desire be only to see Jesus glorified. Amen.

It is sometimes better to receive than it is to give.

When the apostles in Jerusalem received the report that Samaria had accepted God’s Message, they sent Peter and John down to pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Up to this point they had only been baptized in the name of the Master Jesus; the Holy Spirit hadn’t yet fallen on them. Then the apostles laid their hands on them and they did receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:14-17 (The Message)

If we think that we can be ‘Christian’ by what we do, by how we live, by giving alone then we aren’t on message. Well not as far as the Bible is concerned. When people believed in Jesus, in the earliest days of the church, the apostles first concern was that they ‘receive the Holy Spirit’. Truth be told this is Jesus’ primary concern for those people who would follow him. He said, ‘The Spirit  gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.‘ John 6:63 (The New International Version).

The need for a Christian to receive the Holy Spirit is paramount. This isn’t a one off receipt at conversion, or by the laying on of hands alone. Receiving the Holy Spirit is part of the journey of faith. It is a part of the growing in faith. It is a part of the empowerment of the Christian life. Without first receiving the Holy Spirit then nothing that we can do will make us more Christian.

May we be open to recieving more of God and his Holy Spirit on our journey. May we live our lives in such a way that we grow in the Holy Spirit and so receive more of him in our lives. Amen.

There are two sides to the coin of supernatural power!

Previous to Philip’s arrival, a certain Simon had practiced magic in the city, posing as a famous man and dazzling all the Samaritans with his wizardry. He had them all, from little children to old men, eating out of his hand. They all thought he had supernatural powers, and called him “the Great Wizard.” He had been around a long time and everyone was more or less in awe of him. Acts 8:9-11 (The Message)

We have seen them on documentaries, Shamen, Witch Doctors, and holy men, who hold people in awe. Some use spiritual terror tactics while others manipulate others needs. If they practice the occult then there can be an appearance of supernatural power that is frightening and controlling to ordinary folk. The work of God, through the power of his Holy Spirit, never works in that way. Keeping people under control and manipulating them emotionally is never the work of God.

It is the responsibility of Christian ‘ministers’ and all those who seek to influence others toward Jesus to act responsibly. Preaching, prayer, pastoring, and witnessing need to be about liberating people and empowering their lives through Christ. If conforming to a religious standard, or getting people to support a cause, is the motive then it isn’t the work of God. Jesus works in order to bring people into God’s kingdom and create a work of grace in their lives. So should his followers! Opposing those who seek to apply personal control and manipulate people and situations is the work of God. Giving people the opportunity and freedom to choose, while seeking the kingdom come, is the purpose of every believer. Once we own the liberty then it is for us to share it freely.

May today be filled with the freedom of the Spirit and the liberty of the saints of God so that we may share that which is beyond price, that which we can not buy. Amen.

In the comfortable times ‘clear signs’ can be a bit foggy, in the challenging times we need clarity of vision toward the future. Was it ever thus!

And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home base, the followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God’s action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city! Acts 8:3-8 (The Message)

In the postmodern culture, into which we are increasingly being immersed, that something is true is less important than that it works. In modernity the arguments were about whether the gospel is true, now there is more importance placed on whether it works. Unfortunately, in recent decades, the importance on the historicity of the gospel and its doctrines has taken us away from its impact. Not that the historicity and doctrines of faith are unimportant but they bear little resemblance to the missional question being asked by a world in need. I don’t even think that the question is related to the supernatural intervention of God in the miraculous (so the cessationists reading this blog can breath easy). The question is ‘Will Christian faith transform life to my benefit?’ with the need to see this in the life of the Christian before converting?

If we are honest embracing the disciplines of the Christian faith, and seeking the transformation the gospel brings, can be like swimming in molten metal. The work of God in our lives, if we choose to accept it, can be more uncomfortable than if we didn’t. The outcome is the thing to hold to though, the transformation is on-going until Jesus comes again or we depart to be with him, but the benefits are to be seen in the present too. What do I mean? No pain, no gain! Taking the steps of faith in Christ means taking steps to follow the crucified and risen Lord. Following him means taking up his burden and seeking to become more like him in every way. It is no easy ask but it is the only way in which our lives will be transformed by God. The only way we can fulfil our God given potential, oppossed, oppressed, or not!

May we embrace the way of Christ and endure the refining work of God gladly. May we show the benefits of the transforming effect of the gospel so that others may find the answer to their question and follow too. Amen.

We don’t know what it is like but we can imagine!

 That set off a terrific persecution of the church in Jerusalem. The believers were all scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. All, that is, but the apostles. Good and brave men buried Stephen, giving him a solemn funeral—not many dry eyes that day! Acts 8:1-2 (The Message)

Afraid for their lives the Christians in Jerusalem scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Unwittingly the Sanhedrin had done what Jesus had prophesied to his followers before he departed to be in heaven (Acts 1:8). The spread of the Christian church was, in no little part, due to the death of Stephen and the subsequent persecution of the church.

When adversity strikes today do we think of it as a set-back or an opportunity. I rather think we see it as the former. Many in the church are bemoaning the changes in the West that are increasing the difficulties of Christian witness. Isn’t it time we started to grasp the opportunity to rediscover our roots, away from Christendom, and more on the radical edge of society. What do I mean? Instead of offering a safe place of religious worship on a Sunday aren’t we intended to be a scattered people creating pockets of resistence to institutional and societal corruption. Isn’t the peculiar quality of the Christian life that it doesn’t conform to the norm but constantly challenges us to be out there, with the poor, the oppressed, the dispossessed of every tribe, nation, religion, and society. It says to us, ‘Take up your cross and follow me, … those who lose their lives will keep them!’ Doesn’t the demand of the life of the disciple mean that we are not to hold to the frailties of this world but hold to the certainties of the next?

May we see the coming kingdom today as the opportunity at the end of Christendom and may we take our scattering as the will of God to be his witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Amen.

Whether we join in, or whether we stand on the side and give support, when we ‘stone’ someone for speaking of faith we act in oppostion to God. 

Yelling and hissing, the mob drowned him out. Now in full stampede, they dragged him out of town and pelted him with rocks. The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man named Saul to watch them. Acts 7:57-58 (The Message)

Violence never achieved anything but oppression and more violence. If we were ever to think that the views of faith held by another, that do not promote the harm of others, should be quashed then we do not act as Christians. Jesus never commands us to oppose those who speak against us or to hate those who hate us. The example of Jesus is to love in the face of oppression and to love despite being subjected to hatred. Stephen followed Jesus’ example, do we?

I think that most of us would find it hard to even think kindly of someone who disagrees with us and says so. People who do not accept the validity of our faith or who follow different ways of life and being can be hard to accept. As Christians, however, we are called to be true to following Jesus and invite others on the way. No one said that it would be easy and Jesus certainly is plain about the strength of some people’s rejection of us and of him. What is clear though is that this is not to change our attitude of heart toward them. If Jesus would love them, and have died for them as well as for us, then who are we to hate anyone?

May the peace of Christ dwell richly in our hearts so that we may love those that hate us and follow Jesus even to death. Amen.

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