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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.

We talk about being Spirit filled today but we rarely mean it like this!

At that point they went wild, a rioting mob of catcalls and whistles and invective. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, hardly noticed—he only had eyes for God, whom he saw in all his glory with Jesus standing at his side. He said, “Oh! I see heaven wide open and the Son of Man standing at God’s side!” Acts 7:54-55 (The Message)

Rather than standing in a church with his hands raised and a serene look on his face Stephen is standing infront of people baying for his blood. I wonder how confident of the grace and mercy of God we would be in a similar situation. We claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit in our churches but God wants us to be filled every part of every day. He wants our walk and our words to reflect the gospel of Christ. He wants us to be single minded and undistracted by words of opposition or threats of violence. While not courting the disdain of others, if the gospel brings persecution, then we should keep our focus on Jesus. Christianity isn’t simply for the soft and comfortable times but for the hard, harsh, and harrowing times of persecution too. We are to keep the same disposition of the Holy Spirit at the forefront in our lives on both occassions whether we enjoy comfort or endure opposition.

May the gift of the Holy Spirit be the most precious of gifts to us and may we face each difficulty or obstacle with the same dispostion of grace that we enjoy in times of comfort. Amen.

What may have seemed like an attempt to save his life, from Stephen, takes a turn here.

“And you continue, so bullheaded! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you’re just like your ancestors. Was there ever a prophet who didn’t get the same treatment? Your ancestors killed anyone who dared talk about the coming of the Just One. And you’ve kept up the family tradition—traitors and murderers, all of you. You had God’s Law handed to you by angels—gift-wrapped!—and you squandered it!” Acts 7:51-53 (The Message)

Not concerned with the history of their faith, too consumed by controlling worship through institution, finally an accusation of ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit and murdering people that talk about the ‘Just One’. Stephen wasn’t trying to make friends of the religious rulers of Jerusalem. He must have known that speaking the truth of their rejection of God’s plan in Jesus he would not curry favour. Stephen’s thoughts, however, were not on preserving his mortal life but on the path of salvation that God has given us in Jesus. What he wanted was to be faithful and truthful to the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ and not be intimidated by the threat of death.

Honestly, I find myself thinking twice about talking about Jesus to others when I think they may dislike or even abuse me. I can not imagine being in the position where my life is in the balance and taking such a hard line with those who hold my life in their hands. I would like to think that faced with such bullheaded and powerful people I may be moved by God to follow the conviction of my faith. But isn’t God moving me to stand up for Jesus in every situation to speak the truth of our rejection of God and our need of Jesus to reconcile us to him? Maybe not in the same direct manner as Stephen or with the same consequence, probably in a more congenial social setting , but as uncompromising and challenging as he. Without exception, each person needs to have insight into Jesus given by those who follow him. The situations we are in and the way we do this is certainly more varied than Stephen’s but the moving of God for us to speak faithfully and truthfully so is no less definite.

So, may we accept the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives today to speak of Jesus and God’s plan of reconciliation for the whole world through him. Amen.

Obsession with buildings is the curse of the church imho.

“Yet that doesn’t mean that Most High God lives in a building made by carpenters and masons. The prophet Isaiah put it well when he wrote,

   “Heaven is my throne room;
      I rest my feet on earth.
   So what kind of house
      will you build me?” says God.
   “Where I can get away and relax?
      It’s already built, and I built it.”

Acts 7:48-50 (The Message)

 If we make our spiritual life subject to bricks and mortar, or any geographical destination, we run the risk of missing the big picture. Stephen is clear about his priority. He is clear what he believes. Although Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, the prophet Isaiah gets straight to the point. Who will build a house for him, he has a house, one that he has already made!

What does that mean? Well, it is clear from the New Testament that the Holy Spirit makes his home in the hearts of people. When we experience God in the intimacy of prayer, from a heart of faith, God lives in us and we live in him.

May we know the closeness of God’s presence through his Holy Spirit and may we be the ‘house’ of God as we walk each day with him. Amen

You may believe in Jesus and do the things expected of a Christian, church, prayer, nice manners, etc. but have you ever wondered how to get into God’s good books?

Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built the house for him. Acts 7:45-47 (The Message)

Does it ever seem like God likes everyone else but seems to have missed out on you? Do the benefits others talk about, in the Christian life, seem to escape you because life is just hard and it provides little, if anything, to be happy about? If so, I want to suggest something to you. There is more to the picture than meets the eye!

What do I mean? Well, being happy is a good thing, enjoying material and emotional security is a good thing, but these are not the be all and end all. Realizing that, despite the harsh and hard circumtances of life, God is for you! This is a hard thing to grasp but in the Bible it is seen as true. David, who enjoyed the favour of God spent most of his life being sidelined by his family, ridiculed for his size, chased by the kings army, and tempted to murder for the love of a woman. He was, however, a man on whom God placed responsibilites and brought good.

As people who wish to follow Jesus the most important truth we can grasp is that to be satisfied with much or with little is the secret of happiness. That God places his favour on us isn’t seen by the quantity of our material possessions, or a lack of worry or trouble, it is seen in the quality of our spiritual walk with Jesus despite these.

May we know the joy of being satisfied whatever we have or do not have in life and may we embrace the path of spiritual life with Christ to sustain us through all worries or trouble. Amen.

The tabernacle of the Testimony is at the centre of the Jewish religion.  The pilgrim people of God travelled for forty years and took their place of worship with them. Have you ever wondered about the significance of this?

“Our forefathers had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. Having received the tabernacle, our fathers under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David,” Acts 7:44-45 (The Message)

Moses produced the tabernacle of the Testimony from what he experienced in his walk with God. It was the pattern given by God (Exodus 25:9). Our ‘place’ of worship is to be after the pattern that God has shown to us. As Christians, Jesus is our pattern of worship and we are to worship God in his pattern. We are a pilgrim people passing through this world and taking our ‘place’ or worship with us. Jesus said, ‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24 NIV). Our ‘place’ of worship  is to be following the pattern of Jesus, looking to become more like him in our heart and attitude toward God and other people. Living our lives in the pattern of Jesus is the worship of those who would follow him, it is the God given pattern.

May our worship of God be to seek to make our lives in the pattern of Jesus and may our lives reflect the pattern of Jesus to others today in our attitudes of heart. Amen.

 We have so much choice but choose to ignore what is best, was it ever so?

“God wasn’t at all pleased; but he let them do it their way, worship every new god that came down the pike—and live with the consequences, consequences described by the prophet Amos:

   Did you bring me offerings of animals and grains
      those forty wilderness years, O Israel?
   Hardly. You were too busy building shrines
      to war gods, to sex goddesses,
   Worshiping them with all your might.
      That’s why I put you in exile in Babylon.

Acts 7:42-43 (The Message)

In all honesty who could blame God? Well, it looks like a lot of people find some reason to blame him. God presents a soft target for every woe the besets us. Any small accident or major calamity and God comes in for a bashing. The question is, however, if we aren’t living God’s way, making him the object of our devotion, rejecting all vain images and temptation in order to be faithful to him, why should he be to blame? The living God will not divert from his purpose or change his course to please our human ficklenss. In his holiness he can’t accept our inability to stay the course and worship him alone. So, why should we, who find faithfulness so difficult and depend on grace to support our weaknesses, blame God for our lot. We choose who to follow and we show, through our lives, the who it is we are devoted to. If we put selfishness, materialism, or idols in the place of the living God, primary place in our lives, then we have no-one else to blame than our own decision for the consequence we face.

May we learn to look at the way ahead and seek to follow the way of Christ. May our lives reflect the devotion of our hearts as we put God first in our lives today. Amen.

 ‘Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t’ is the saying, but is it better than the challenge of ‘knowing’ the God you don’t ‘see’?

“They craved the old Egyptian ways, whining to Aaron, ‘Make us gods we can see and follow. This Moses who got us out here miles from nowhere—who knows what’s happened to him!’ That was the time when they made a calf-idol, brought sacrifices to it, and congratulated each other on the wonderful religious program they had put together. Acts 7:39-41 (The Message)

Moses faced many challenges in leading the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the promise of God. Not least was their desire to have ‘gods’ they could see and ‘religion’ that was ordered. Today we face similar temptations as the material world holds great appeal and the supernatural nature of God is mysterious and invisible. Sometimes we put our trust in bricks and mortar, wood and metal, religion and order, before we trust in the mysterious and invisible power of the living God.

Today may we trust in what we do not see and worship the living God who is beyond our comprehension. May we put aside the desire to make and control the object of our worship and, instead, live, move, and have our being in him. Amen.

September 2010
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