Monthly Archives: May 2013

Explosion in a Paint Tin

EXPLOSION IN A PAINT TIN

“Those who had been scattered by the persecution triggered by Stephen’s death travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, but they were still only speaking and dealing with their fellow Jews. Then some of the men from Cyprus and Cyrene who had come to Antioch started talking to Greeks, giving them the Message of the Master Jesus. God was pleased with what they were doing and put His stamp of approval on it — quite a number of the Greeks believed and turned to the Master.” Acts 11:19-21 (The Message).

Persecution spread the church like an explosion in a tin of paint. Wherever the believers went, they coloured their environment with the good news of Jesus. In less than one generation, the church had spread north, south, east and west. Blowing like a fresh breeze through communities which were stale and stagnant with old religions, the Holy Spirit brought new life to people of every colour and culture.

Although some had not yet broken out of their old inhibitions, others boldly proclaimed new life in Jesus across racial barriers and found, to their surprise and joy that God was approving their initiative by giving life to non-Jews in Jesus’ name. Believers from as far afield as Cyrene in Africa and Crete in the Mediterranean Sea, congregated in Syrian Antioch and shared the good news with Greeks living there.

“When the church in Jerusalem got wind of this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to check on things. As soon as he arrived, he saw that God was behind and in it all. He threw himself in with them, got behind them, urging them to stay with it the rest of their lives. He was a good man that way, enthusiastic and confident in the Holy Spirit’s ways. The community grew large and strong in the Master.” Acts 11:22-24 (The Message).

Syrian Antioch was coming alive in Christ and becoming a centre of Christian faith and worship. Once again the church in Jerusalem took the initiative to check on the authenticity of this new outbreak. Barnabas, a trusted man though not an apostle, was sent to find out what was happening. He was an outgoing man and an optimist. He had stood by Saul when the church in Jerusalem was suspicious of his “conversion” and kept him at arm’s length until Barnabas vouched for him.

Barnabas was excited and enthusiastic about what he saw and heard. The Holy Spirit had done a work in the hearts of Greeks and he was quick to recognise and acknowledge them as fellow-believers. In his customary positive way, he urged them to stay with their new-found faith in Jesus. Once again the power of this new life resonated in many hearts and the church continued to flourish in non-Jewish soil.

Jesus had once assured His disciples, in full view of the most disgusting public display of pagan religious orgies at Caesarea Philippi, Israel’s “red light district”, that His church would be planted and grow right in the heart of environments like the one they were witnessing. “On this rock,” He had said, “I will build my church and not even the Gate of Hell, (the supposed entrance into the demonic underworld); will be able to hold it back.” True to His word, the church was growing and flourishing right in the environment of hostile Jewish religious legalism and wicked and promiscuous pagan religions.

What was the key to this phenomenal growth? Through the power and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the church was a family held together by love and unity. Wherever the Holy Spirit ruled, the church remained pure and people were attracted to something they had never seen or experienced before. It had to be God; these groups of people doing life together was a supernatural thing.

Every life rescued from sin and self and reconnected to Jesus, became connected to every other life in Jesus. The result was families of people of different languages and cultures sharing and caring for each other like they were blood brothers and sisters. When God’s love holds sway, the world does not have an answer for the power that attracts broken people and draws them into the love and unity of this Body.

Free from the guilt and shame of their past lives, they experienced the forgiveness of sins and a new peace and joy that lifted them above petty differences and brought them into fellowship with Jesus and with one another. This was nothing short of the power of God!

On The Mat

ON THE MAT!

“The news travelled fast and in no time the leaders and friends back in Jerusalem heard about it — heard that the non-Jewish “outsiders” were now “in”. When Peter got back to Jerusalem, some of his old associates, concerned about circumcision, called him on the carpet. ‘What do you think you’re doing, rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?'”

“So Peter, starting from the beginning, laid it out before them, step by step:….” Acts 11:1-4 (The Message).

“Hearing it all laid out like that, they quieted down. And then, as it sank in, they started praising God. ‘It’s really happened! God has broken through to the other nations, opened them up to Life.'” Acts 11:18 (The Message).

Traditions and taboos — the worst enemies of the cross! These men had yet to learn that God’s grace is for everyone. They were still clutching the tattered rags of their racial pride, still believing, in spite of their pitiful history, that they were exclusively God’s people. Externals were their passport to God’s favour, so they thought; circumcision and food taboos, of all things, their hope!

Like Peter, they needed to be jolted out of their fool’s paradise. They needed a new revelation of the nature of this God who revealed Himself in Jesus. Not even the years they spent in His company were enough to erase the misconceptions their religion had bred into them.

What had they heard that piqued them? True to form, the grapevine had produced a twisted version. By the time it reached their ears, it was enough to make them turn on Peter. “That crowd…eating what is prohibited…ruining our good name…” Strange how gossip cancels out friendship and the loyalty of those who should know better!

It would have to be a good story for Peter to get himself out of this one and, fortunately, his story was convincing enough to show up their arrogance towards him. Once they had heard the correct version, their attitude changed, fortunately, and they were convinced that Peter’s little excursion into “enemy” territory, was actually a revelation of God’s plan.

The most dangerous enemies of the church are not the “outsiders” who attack out of ignorance but the “insiders” whose traditions cancel out the truth of God’s word. This was Jesus’ unresolved issue with the religious leaders who eventually had Him executed because they would not honestly consider the evidence.

Jesus warned that the entrance to life is small and the way narrow. “Truth is a knife edge and error a wide flat land” I once heard a preacher say. The work that Jesus did on the cross is sufficient for all people for all time. He does not need our petty little additions to complete what His death accomplished. He does not need any qualifications like “circumcision’, whatever the equivalent is, and eating “kosher” food to make us more acceptable to Him than we are now.

There is nothing we can do to influence His attitude of mercy towards us because it comes out of who He is, not because of who we are. God is not obliged to do anything for us but He does because He is God.

The people who are so stuck on their traditions that they believe them rather than the truth of God’s word are a stumbling block to “outsiders” who want to know God. Imagine what would have happened to Cornelius and his associates had Peter allowed his tradition to overshadow God’s instruction! He would have planted himself squarely in front of their entrance into eternal life

Jesus still says, “Follow me!” That’s all…..

Mission Accomplished

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

“No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” Gentiles, but there is was — they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.

“Then Peter said, ‘Do I hear any objections to baptising these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.’ Hearing no objection, he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.

“Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days.” Acts 10:44-48 (The Message).

Mission accomplished! Finally the door of the gospel had swung wide open for the whole world. With the Holy Spirit Himself authenticating the next phase of Jesus’ mission, the disciples of Jesus were free to take the message to the ends of the earth.

What an experience for a seasoned Jew! God had got His point across in no uncertain terms and Peter had no option but to fall in and obey. God had once again fulfilled His promise that He would confirm His word with signs following.

My journey through Acts thus far had left me wondering why we are not seeing the same powerful acts of God happening through the church today as it did in the early church. What have we missed, lost, changed or forgotten that has left the church relatively powerless, an organization rather than a living organism and another religion instead of a vital and dynamic relationship with the living God?

In His teaching on prayer, Jesus brings our attention to two destructive forces in our lives and in the world — unforgiveness and the evil eye. Most of His prayer focuses on God and puts us and our insignificant concerns into the perspective of who God is and what His agenda is for us in His kingdom. Our greatest need is not for “things”, needs about which God knows anyway, but for the “daily bread” of His word without which we cannot live.

Unforgiveness wrecks relationships and cuts us off from God’s forgiveness, leaving us bitter and alone. Forgiveness is not about making excuses for other people’s behaviour. It’s about cancelling a small debt because Jesus has cancelled a very big one.

The evil eye, not the Evil One, is our biggest enemy. The evil eye refers to our natural bent towards selfishness and greed. Is it not true to say that the entire world has been ruined and destroyed by greed? And yet these two issues, unforgiveness and the evil eye are as rife in the church as they are in the world.

Jesus calls us as His disciples to be learners and imitators of Him. What were the qualities that He modelled? Humble and gentle and utterly dependant on the Holy Spirit were the hallmarks of His human life.

Among the many reasons why the church is irrelevant today, I see two streams that are disturbing. There is the tendency to “use” the Holy Spirit for the doing spectacular. He almost becomes a spiritual “entertainment” which draws the crowds. In the other stream the Holy Spirit is relegated to a doctrine. Priests and ministers have replaced Him as head of the church and individual believers grieve and quench Him into silence and inactivity.

With our relationships in tatters because we refuse to forgive, and with self with its self-will and greed firmly in the driving seat, it is any wonder that the church no longer impacts the world by modelling the life of God and the kingdom of God.

Just a thought….

Handpicked Witnesses

HANDPICKED WITNESSES

“You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the devil. He was able to do all this because God was with Him.

“And we saw it, saw it all, everything He did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed Him, hung Him from a cross. But in three days God had Him up, alive and out where He could be seen. Not everyone saw Him — He was not put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand — us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with Him after He came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that He is in fact the One whom God designated as Judge of the living and dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that He is the means to the forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of the prophets.” Acts 10:37-43 (The Message).

If you had stood in Peter’s shoes, what would you have said to that company of Gentiles eagerly waiting to hear your message? Would you have explained that they were all sinners and needed to be “saved”? Would you have given them a gory description of hell? Would you have urged them to repent of their sins and receive Jesus as their personal Saviour?

Peter had so much to tell them and an audience hanging on every word. What was the most pressing thing they were longing to hear? Peter grabbed the opportunity to present Jesus to them, not a Jesus who would deal with their problems and give them peace (which are not the reason but the result of bowing the knee to Him as Lord), but the Jesus who represented a loving God to the world and whom God authenticated by His resurrection to be both Saviour and Judge.

He, Peter, and his fellow disciples were eyewitnesses of the most amazing event in history; God came in the flesh to live among His people as an ordinary man, die the death of a criminal and rise from the dead. They saw Him, they spoke with Him and He ate with the after He had risen from the dead. What did all that mean?

It meant that everything He said and did was the truth. It all hung on His declaration that He would die and rise again. He had to be who He said He was to pull that off! And pull it off He did! Not only did He predict that He would do it but the prophets who wrote hundreds of years before He appeared on earth also predicted the same thing.

Surely this Jesus, who did something like that, was to be embraced as the Son of God and His promise believed that forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Father was the outcome of His death and resurrection. That was the message of the apostles to the world and that was the explosive power of the good news.

To these Gentiles who had known only the worship of gods who demanded but never gave, this came as a light from heaven. The proof of its truth lay in the evidence of eyewitnesses who were willing to face imprisonment and death rather than deny what they had seen and heard. Through Jesus they could receive forgiveness of sins and a place in God’s kingdom for which they had to do nothing.

What joy it must have given Peter to have the freedom to deliver a message like this to people he never thought would be eligible to receive it! God had forcefully made it clear that Jesus was for everyone, even for Gentiles and Roman soldiers! He had forgotten that the prophets had spoken of this day.

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me.” Isaiah 65:1 (NIV).

“And now the Lord says…’It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and to bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.'” Isaiah 49:6 (NIV).

Missions

Dear Family

As we reflect on missions in this month’s edition of Chronicles, I want to remind you what missionaries and mission is all about. As background, the word “mission” is derived from the Latin missionem, meaning “act of sending” or mittere, meaning “to send”. The Greek word we translate as “apostle” was translated as “missionary” in the Latin translation of the Bible, and basically means “sent one”. So in effect, all those men and women who have been sent to a mission field somewhere, are in fact “apostles”. We can take this even further, and know that we have all been sent in a sense, and thus all qualify as “apostles”. After all, Jesus is the chief apostle and we are his disciples! This is certainly a far cry from the hype with titles we see in the church today. The fancier a preacher becomes, the more likely he is to be called, “apostle”. Though in fact, the person who labours in the field, often unknown, mostly unrecognized, and probably under supported, is the actual biblical missionary or apostle.

Jesus’ commission to His disciples in Matthew 28:19 to “…go and make disciples of all nations…” means that whoever you are, and wherever you go, you represent the King, you go in His name, and as such are His “sent one” to wherever you find yourself. Whether we like it or not, God sends each one of us to go to our families, our friends, our social circles, our work places, our play places and anywhere else we find ourselves, with a message and a mission. God sent His Son to die in our place to reconcile us again to Himself. He did this because He longs for all mankind to know Him, to love Him, and to fellowship with Him. Our sin condition separated us from Him, but He sent the solution, the Missionary, Jesus Christ. Now he sends us who have come to know Him to do and to be likewise.

My prayer is that each one of us will respond as Isaiah did as we read in Isaiah 6:8 “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Paul