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The church as the body of Christ is subject to the conflict with powers in the world that Jesus endured.

“For in fact they did meet—Herod and Pontius Pilate with nations and peoples, even Israel itself!—met in this very city to plot against your holy Son Jesus, the One you made Messiah, to carry out the plans you long ago set in motion. “And now they’re at it again! Take care of their threats and give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your Message, as you stretch out your hand to us in healings and miracles and wonders done in the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:27-30 (The Message)

When we think about the privilege of coming to God through Jesus do we imagine the responsibilities too? Carrying on the misson of God, in Jesus his Son, means facing the same potential reactions he faced from those who fear his message of God’s kingdom come. Living in the life of Christ brings us spiritual blessing but also raises potential danger. If we have the courage of our convictions to speak an uncompromising message of coming to God through Christ alone and his kingdom coming in power it will not always be well received. The most important thing for the body of Christ to do, in face of the conflict of interests, is to pray. Coming to God through Jesus, we pray for one another in the journey. We proclaim that God rules in every situation and every principality and power must conform to his will. When we pray for protection then we say, ‘Our God reigns!’

Today, may the will of God prevail as we speak courageously of the good news of Jesus Christ. May we see the power of God over every principality and power at work in the world as his kingdom comes. Amen.

Peter and John went to tell their friends what God had done!

As soon as Peter and John were let go, they went to their friends and told them what the high priests and religious leaders had said. Hearing the report, they lifted their voices in a wonderful harmony in prayer: “Strong God, you made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David: 

 Why the big noise, nations? 
 Why the mean plots, peoples? 
 Earth’s leaders push for position, 
 Potentates meet for summit talks, 
 The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers!   Acts 4:23-26 (The Message)

World leaders met for the G8 in Canada last week. The eyes of the world turned onto this meeting of political leaders from the major industrial nations. They are the makers and shapers of the world economy and much rests on their actions that make, and reactions that shape, the economic ups and downs. Of course, as followers of Jesus, we believe that there are greater powers at work in world affairs. We can see that the worlds rulers are subject to powers outside of their control and we believe these to be multitudes of spiritual powers in conflict with one another. No wonder we see the values of the material world out of kilter and the balance of haves and have nots badly off balance.

The early church were quick to recognize the need for praise and proclamation of God over every power in the world. They recognized that world powers do not readily submit to the maker and creator of Heaven and Earth. He is, however, the Strong God who ultimately subjects everything to his rule and brings about salvation, justice, and peace in the nations. The war continues to rage but the outcome is secure in the hands of our Strong God.

May our hearts and minds be set on the victory of the Strong God in all areas of life and may our eyes be focused on Jesus in whom all things come together. Amen.

Well, for this man forty can certainly be said to be when life begins!

The religious leaders renewed their threats, but then released them. They couldn’t come up with a charge that would stick, that would keep them in jail. The people wouldn’t have stood for it—they were all praising God over what had happened. The man who had been miraculously healed was over forty years old. Acts 4:21-22 (The Message)

When the threats of the religious leaders came to nothing and Peter and John were released they returned to the most important matter. The man that God had healed was no spring chicken, he was approaching middle age, in our day and age, but in the culture of the time forty was pretty old. I remember friends of mine from Ghana, in West Africa, who told me that a man of sixty years of age, in their country, was a rarity. They considered themselves middle aged at thirty + and I was approaching thirty then. It made me think!

The truth is that age is not an obstacle to God. Our physical bodies are his creation and the physical world is at his command. We may struggle with the fact that there is a natural progression from birth to death that exists until Christ returns: We may struggle with the fact that not every ailment or illness is cured by prayer: We may not believe that God still works miracles or that there is a place in God’s plan to aid us through the struggles and sufferings of live. When we see a life changed for the better through the intervention of God’s power, however, we can do nothing other than join with Peter and John in going on our way rejoicing in what has done, does, and will do again!

May we rejoice in the goodness of God that we see transforming the lives of others and may we live peaceably with the tensions of not seeing all that we hope or pray for now in our own lives. Amen

I wonder what our response would be to such a warning?

They called them back and warned them that they were on no account ever again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John spoke right back, “Whether it’s right in God’s eyes to listen to you rather than to God, you decide. As for us, there’s no question—we can’t keep quiet about what we’ve seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20 (The Message)

This was not an empty threat on the part of the religous rulers, they had the power to raise up a crowd to stone Peter and John to death, if they so wished. With such a threat hanging over their heads why would Peter and John refuse to be warned? Why wouldn’t they just quietly slip away accepting the warning and be thankful to leave with their lives?

The answer is a simple one, because of  ‘what we have seen and heard.’ The reason they would not back down was because of the powerful acts of God they had witnessed and the teaching of the kingdom of God that Jesus had given in their hearing. Our Christianity today, in the West, rarely provides us with the same powerful conviction. It is hard to get Christian people to speak about their faith in public never mind to get them to be quiet. We have the wake of a great impact on our society of Christianity but that is all that it is. Heritage and memory of days gone by when the Church was an important institution in people’s social and spiritual lives. Some how the experience of God and the power of Jesus’ teaching has become a long lost memory and, if believers are to lead others to a vibrant and life transforming faith,  that must change.

So where do we start? Well, we start with one person seeking God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We start with one person giving their all that they might gain all in Jesus. We begin with the commitment to stand up for what we know and believe to be true, through engaging with God’s Word and his Spirit as life transforming realities in our daily lives. We begin, when challenged about our faith to stand firm because of ‘what we’ve seem and heard’ too!

May we have the strength of our conviction of faith in Christ today through what we see and hear and may we stand firm when other seek to dissuade or intimidate us. Amen.

Not everyone is impressed with the miracles that God does. 

They sent them out of the room so they could work out a plan. They talked it over: “What can we do with these men? By now it’s known all over town that a miracle has occurred, and that they are behind it. There is no way we can refute that. But so that it doesn’t go any further, let’s silence them with threats so they won’t dare to use Jesus’ name ever again with anyone.” Acts 4:15-17 (The Message)

Despite the evidence right in front of them the religous rulers of Jerusalem were not about to believe. By their own confession they were unable to refute the miracle that had taken place. Their only concern was that the news had spread through the city and how were they going to control the people. Those who have power are not going to give it up lightly, even to the rule of the living God, and those who stand up for Christ are dangerous to such people. So what were they to do? They were supposedly servants of God but they wanted power and control not submission and service!

Are we ever like these religious people? Do we want to limit the impact of God’s power in our lives and keep the message of the gospel harmless and tame? If so, are we standing with those who use religion for its benefits rather than following Jesus fully. Jesus said, ‘Whoever serves me must follow me: and where I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.’

May we serve the Lord of life with all our lives and may we welcome the power that transforms us into his image so that our service will be right. Amen.

Oh to have such confidence! 

They couldn’t take their eyes off them—Peter and John standing there so confident, so sure of themselves! Their fascination deepened when they realized these two were laymen with no training in Scripture or formal education. They recognized them as companions of Jesus, but with the man right before them, seeing him standing there so upright—so healed!—what could they say against that? Acts 4:13-14 (The Message)

Seeing is believing they say, although faith always requires a matter of understanding that there are spiritual matters in the universe that we need to accept without seeing. While the religious rulers did not believe what they saw, or they would have turned to Jesus as Saviour and friend, they could not deny the reality of what had happened. Confident disciples come from believing and seeing. There is always room to grow in confidence for our witness to Christ. Does the evidence in our lives display the glory of God to an doubting and sceptical world? Is the living God tangible in our lives? If so then others may not believe and follow, but they will not be able to deny the reality of our faith.

Living Lord, show yourself in and through the power of your love in our lives. Display your glory today in the presence of all, that our lives may be a witness to your power over sin, death, sickness, fraility, and disease. Amen.

Faced with the people who killed Jesus would we be this courageous?

With that, Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, let loose: “Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, put under investigation regarding this healing, I’ll be completely frank with you—we have nothing to hide. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross, the One God raised from the dead, by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole. Jesus is ‘the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.’ Salvation comes no other way; no other name has b-een or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one.” Acts 4:8-12 (The Message)

The simple conclusion when looking at the transformation in Peter, the one who pledged undying allegiance to Jesus then denied him three times, is that God had done something amazing! If it were that Peter stood before, and speaking to, the religious rulers in his own power then I am sure his knees would have buckled. Standing before, and speaking to, people who deny the person and power of Jesus takes a certainty of mind and heart. I can imagine that this confidence grew up in Peter following Jesus’ resurrection and spending time with him before he ascended to heaven. The seal on this confidence came at Pentecost though. When Peter received the Holy Spirit he received the fulfilment of the promise that Jesus gave when he said, ‘ … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (The N.I.V. translation)

It takes a certain conviction of heart and mind that can only come from receiving the Holy Spirit to stand up for Jesus in adversity. Today, we live in a society that no longer honours the name of Christ but uses it as an exclamation. The fear of God now has little appeal to a self sufficient consumer culture. Do those of us who seek to follow Jesus today have the conviction of heart and mind, shown by Peter, to stand up for Jesus in this age of adversity?

May we have the will to receive power from on high today so that we too may be witnesses to Jesus in our society and culture. Amen.

I wonder who God has made you accountable to?

The next day a meeting was called in Jerusalem. The rulers, religious leaders, religion scholars, Annas the Chief Priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander—everybody who was anybody was there. They stood Peter and John in the middle of the room and grilled them: “Who put you in charge here? What business do you have doing this?” Acts 4:5-7 (The Message)

The same religious rulers and scholars that crucified Jesus had Peter and John before them. I can imagine how nervous they must have been feeling with their lives in the balance. The strangest thing about standing in front of the people who crucified Jesus, as his followers, must have been the sense that God was allowing them to experience something of the pre-crucifixion torment that Jesus was put through. The religious rulers in Jerusalem considered themselves to be the arbiters of all truth and appropriate in the lives of all Jews. To have been told that a miracle had taken place and that it was by the followers of Jesus, whom they had recently crucified, must have perplext them greatly.

If someone, possibly a church leader or theologian, was to see your life today, would they ask the same question of you. By who’s authority do you live your life? Is there enough evidence of your following Jesus for such people even to bother to ask? As we walk daily with Jesus we are called, as were Peter and John, to be obedient to his Word and respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the consequence the answer to the question of who has authority over what we do and say should always be, ‘Jesus Christ, the one who has authority over sin and death, over heaven and earth, he is the one in whom I live, move, and have my being.’

Lord, fill my life today with your Spirit and fulfill your will through me. May I always stand for you and may you always work through me. Amen.

Ever imagined being arrested for speaking about Jesus?

While Peter and John were addressing the people, the priests, the chief of the Temple police, and some Sadducees came up, indignant that these upstart apostles were instructing the people and proclaiming that the resurrection from the dead had taken place in Jesus. They arrested them and threw them in jail until morning, for by now it was late in the evening. But many of those who listened had already believed the Message—in round numbers about five thousand! Acts 4:1-4 (The Message)

When I became a Christian, over twenty-three years ago, it was still the time of the USSR and two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. I became involved with a group that prayed for Christian’s in countries whose governments objected to their faith. In the Eastern Block countries, China, other communist and Muslim countries people who spoke about Jesus could be arrested, put in prison, be placed in mental hospitals or have to do hard labour. It is unimaginable to think that the faith of Christ could solicit such inhumanity on the part of people and authorities. It isn’t something we have ever heard about on our news broadcasts or in our papers.

It made me think at the time, and makes me think today as persecuation of Christians who speak the name of Jesus and seek to practice their faith still happens, what about me? Do I take for granted the freedom that our society gives? Do I soft soap the message of saving faith by grace from the sacrifice of Jesus? Will I be confident to speak about the gospel and challenge others to accept it despite any possible consequence today?

May my freedom in Christ give me the confidence to use the freedom I own in my society today to speak about the gospel to others. Let it be without fear of any consequences driven on by the recognition that others still lose liberty and life in order that the name of Jesus should be spread abroad. Amen.

There is no disconnection of the present from the past in the gospel.

“All the prophets from Samuel on down said the same thing, said most emphatically that these days would come. These prophets, along with the covenant God made with your ancestors, are your family tree. God’s covenant-word to Abraham provides the text: ‘By your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ But you are first in line: God, having raised up his Son, sent him to bless you as you turn, one by one, from your evil ways.” Acts 3:24-26 (The Message)

Our past doesn’t necessarily define our present of future in the kingdom of God. What do I mean? The glories of the people of God as they entered the promised land were immense. They lived in the land and began to take their heritage, and their God, for granted. All the prophets of the Old Testament told them of the time when God would bless other nations as he had blessed them but they weren’t willing to accept this. So, the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus created the transformation of Israel from  the people of God in the promised land to the people of God in every tribe and every nation. This then became the promise, not an insular people in search of a geographical location but a community of faith that knows no physical bounds. This is the promise of God and Peter challenged his own nation to respond to the promise of God in Jesus Christ, by turning from their narrow minded way to embrace the global message of reconciliation with God through Jesus.

Are we too narrow today in who we see God including in his kingdom of grace, love, and power or are we looking for every opportunity to spread the light abroad?

May we be those who take the good news to others, and see God going with us out of our narrow and small mindedness into the world at large, to give  the glory and honour that is due to the name of Jesus.

June 2010
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