Monthly Archives: May 2019

THE BOOK OF ACTS – A JOB WELL DONE

A JOB WELL DONE

“Paul and Barnabas handpicked leaders in each church. After praying — their prayers intensified by fasting — they presented these new leaders to the Master to whom they had entrusted their lives. Working their way back through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia and preached in Perga. Finally, they made it to Attalia and caught a ship back to Antioch, where it had all started — launched by God’s grace and now safely home by God’s grace. A good piece of work.

“On arrival they got the church together and reported on their trip, telling in detail how God had used them to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in. Then they settled down for a long, leisurely visit with the disciples.” Acts 14:23-28 (The Message).

“Life is lived forward and understood backwards,” Many months before, two rookie missionaries set out from Antioch. They had no mission board behind them, no regularly monthly stipend paid into their bank accounts, no cell phones or email to keep them in contact with home base; just them and the Holy Spirit in them.

Now they were back home, back in the safety and comfort of their circle of brothers and sisters, reporting on both harrowing and joyful experiences which were all in a day’s work for two courageous pioneers. What did they tell them back home? What were their greatest moments on their journey through unknown territory, both geographically and spiritually?

It seems, not a word about their suffering! Did they have enough to eat? How did they get from town to town? Where did they sleep? Who did their laundry? Who cared for them when they got sick? No. They returned to their home church to report on the work God had accomplished through them. They joyfully shared their story of a wide open door for Gentiles to enter God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus.

King George VI once quoted these words in his New Year message: “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a lamp that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ He said to me, ‘Put your hand in the hand of God. That will be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.'”

Paul and Barnabas surely found those words to be profoundly true. A long look backwards revealed the hand of a faithful God on them in spite of suffering and hardship. Forgotten were the weary days, the cold nights, the steep and stony roads, the growling stomachs and the taunts and cruel words of unbelievers. It was the memory of the God who sustained them and carried them through, the God who opened hearts and gathered people into His kingdom that filled them with joy.

We may not be facing the trials and troubles that Paul and Barnabas had to embrace to do their Master’s will. By comparison, our lives may seem cushy but, nevertheless, each one of us has his or her testing to endure. The same God who sustained them is with us on our journey, but our experience of him depends on our perspective as it did theirs. They did not dwell on the hardships. Those were part of the package to toughen them up to reach their goal.

After all he went through, this was Paul’s perspective: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen it temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV).

THE BOOK OF ACTS – ANCHORED IN TRUTH

ANCHORED IN TRUTH

“After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, then Antioch, putting muscle and sinew into the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not to quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn’t be easy. ‘Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.'” Acts 14:21-22 (The Message).

How would you tackle the mammoth task of penetrating a completely pagan society with a message that made no sense and was being actively opposed by unruly mobs of fanatically religious Jews who were out to kill you? Call it a day and go home, probably!

What guarantee did Paul and Barnabas have that the converts would not quit the moment their backs were turned? Why should these people stick with believing a story about a Jew who said and did some extraordinary things, was executed as a criminal and then came back to life again? What proof did they have that this was all true?

Unlike religions, which are man-made belief systems, Paul and Barnabas were in partnership with God Himself. When people received the Message, something supernatural happened: their unresponsive spirits were made alive to God; their minds were enlightened by the truth and they were joined to Jesus by the Holy Spirit. God Himself took up residence in their spirits and they were in direct communication with Him.

They may not have had the written Word of God in their hands as we have today, but they had the Living Word in their hearts. Paul and Barnabas had a limitless confidence in the power of God to sustain every believer and keep them following the Master. It was their task to teach, exhort and encourage them to persevere, and those who were truly made new by God’s Spirit stuck with their new faith and passed it on to those around them.

Jesus gave His disciples the assurance that He would build His church. Their commission was to make disciples, not converts, by passing on everything they had learned from Jesus. For Paul and Barnabas to evangelise was only half the task. It was imperative that they thoroughly ground their converts in God’s Word — the Law and the Prophets — to ensure that their faith had a firm foundation in truth, not fantasy.

Paul and Barnabas did their best to imprint that Word into the new disciples and, to their delight, as they retraced their steps from town to town, they found people who were committed to the Faith they had received, regardless of the price they had to pay. They learned that the grace of God is free but it is not cheap. They had received the free gift of eternal life but with it came the refining process of hardship and trouble which would prepare them for lives that bore witness to the power of Jesus at work in them.

Those of us who have a shepherding role to play in the church have an example to follow in these two stalwart missionaries. They never gave up, no matter how tough the way. They faithfully taught the Word of God to the converts until they became disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, committed to Him as their Rabbi to stick with Him, learn from Him and imitate Him so that others, in turn, would also follow.

Our role is not to propagate a religion but to invite people to become followers of Jesus, to be united to Him and to navigate this life with Him as He takes us to the Father.

THE BOOK OF ACTS- BATTLING THE LOSER

BATTLING THE LOSER

“Then some Jews from Antioch and Iconium caught up with them and turned the fickle crowd against them. They beat Paul unconscious, dragged him outside the town and left him for dead. But as the disciples gathered around him, he came to and got up. He went back into town and the next day left with Barnabas for Derbe.” Acts 14:19-20 (The Message).

A close shave for Paul, but all in a day’s work! It seems that this interlude did not put him off. He had a calling and a commission which he would not renege on, no matter what it cost him. Put yourself in his shoes. How much more would you have stomached from your fellow-Jews before you packed up and went home? Not Paul! There was a determination in his spirit that refused to be beaten down by the enemy.

Why was Paul able to write the letters he did, which have been the strength and support of millions of people down through the ages? He was drawing from the wealth of his own experience, hammered out in real-life situations, to build up the believers who had been won through many a hard-fought battle.

Who was the enemy? Not people, as he had come to realise, because people are deceived into believing what is not true if their minds are not fortified by the truth. These Jews who hounded him from city to city were just like their leaders back in Jerusalem who perceived that Jesus was a blasphemer and not the Son of God as He claimed to be; so they killed Him.

They refused to believe that God was kind enough to send His Son to rescue mankind from the results of their rebellion. Their religion was a self-help affair that put their God under obligation to them. It was a hard pill to swallow to change their thinking to believe that they were helpless to do anything about their plight and to put their trust in someone who had been executed for blasphemy against God and treason against Rome.

Paul knew what spiritual warfare was. He had been in the conflict from birth, on the wrong side, believing that his way was right and trying to exterminate the enemy by killing those who opposed him. He had to learn that the real enemy was not people but the one who was deceiving and using people to his dirty work – the devil and his demons.

He changed allegiance when he was confronted by the living Jesus on the Damascus road. Just as fanatical as he was for his religion as a young Pharisee, so committed was he to the Jesus he had once persecuted. Paul had to learn that he touched Jesus every time he touched one of Jesus’ people. He also learned that every time a person touched him, it was the enemy of Jesus behind that person, actively opposing the work of Jesus in him.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 (NIV).

Where do these forces most powerfully operate? In the minds and hearts of people, of course! Satan, the counterfeiter, knows that, to get people to act for him, he must control them through what they believe. Influence them to believe lies and they will do exactly what he wants — sow conflict and chaos wherever they are.

Through the Word and the Holy Spirit, God is constantly offering us the knowledge of the truth. When we believe the truth that He is here, He is good and He is in charge, we have no need to fight people. All we need to do is to stand firm on the truth of who God is and what He has said. No need to “pull down strongholds” except in our own minds, to identify “spirits”, or to do anything to defeat the devil. Jesus did that on the cross.

We have one instruction which takes care of the devil and his lies – “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 (NIV). Paul had no need to oppose or fear the people who had attacked him. They were not the enemy. He could quite safely go back into town because he had overcome the enemy within, the hatred and revenge that would have destroyed his peace and put him at enmity with the Spirit of God in him.

THE BOOK OF ACTS- OUT OF THE BLACK HOLE

OUT OF THE BLACK HOLE 

“‘In the generations before us, God let all the different nations go their own way. But even then He didn’t leave them without a clue, for He made a good creation, poured down rain and gave bumper crops. When your bellies were full and your hearts happy, there was evidence of good beyond your doing.’ Talking fast and hard like that, they prevented them from carrying out the sacrifice that would have honoured them as gods — but just barely.” Acts 14:16-18 (The Message).

Strange what humans can come up with when they deny and let go of the truth! When superstition takes the place of reality, reason and common sense go out of the window. Gods becoming men has no foundation in fact and no evidence to prove that it could or did happen. Why? Because gods do not exist. They are the fruit of perverted human imagination.

But what about Jesus? Wasn’t He God come to earth as a man? A thousand times, yes! So what’s the difference? The difference is, firstly, that God exists. We have the evidence of creation, its design and unity, and the goodness and blessing we receive from it, not as concrete proof but as evidence of a Being of supreme goodness, power and wisdom who exists and who created the universe.

Secondly, we have the evidence of prophecy. God’s entire plan was laid out in detail centuries before it happened. If God prompted men to write about it accurately in advance, He must exist. How else can anyone explain prophecy?

Thirdly, we have the resurrection. The greatest legal minds have worked hard to disprove the resurrection but the evidence is overwhelming. Jesus died on a Roman execution stake and three days later He walked out of the tomb. He appeared to over five hundred people in a body that could be touched, that could eat and yet was able to do more than our mortals bodies can do.

Fourthly, how can we explain the church if there were no God, no Jesus and no Holy Spirit? Without the supernatural power of God at work in people, convincing them of the truth and changing their lives, no one would have bought the apostles’ story. It was too far-fetched if it were not true and too dangerous to embrace a fantasy that could cost them their lives in a hostile world.

Fifthly, what about the Bible? Both internal and external evidence points to a unique book which cannot be explained apart from God. It was written over a period of 2000 years by more than 40 different authors from many walks of life and yet it is a comprehensive story and presents a unified picture of a God whom human imagination could never invent.

There is one factor that is missing in most of the people who hear the apostle’s message — faith — not a leap-in-the-dark kind of faith but a rational acceptance of the evidence and a step towards God to which He immediately responds.

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible….And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Hebrews 11:3, 6 (NIV).

What is it that prevents people from accepting the overwhelming evidence of a God who is both powerful and loving and passionately desires a relationship with His human creation? It’s that stubborn independence woven into our nature through Adam’s choice that refuses to come under His authority and live His way.

But when we do, we find, to our absolute amazement and delight, that life makes sense, has meaning and purpose and is filled with joy and peace that makes no sense and has no explanation outside of God. It’s like stepping out of a black hole into the glorious light of the midday sun.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – A TRAGIC TRADE

A TRAGIC TRADE

“When Paul and Barnabas finally realised what was going on, they stopped them. Waving their arms, they interrupted the parade, calling out, ‘What do you think you’re doing? We’re not gods. We are men just like you, and we’re here to bring you the Message, to persuade you to abandon these silly god-superstitions and embrace God Himself, the living God. We don’t make God; He makes us and all of this — sky, earth, sea, and everything in them.'” Acts 14:14-15 (The Message).

O, what a message the world needs to hear! We didn’t make God; He made us!

How can it be possible that millions of people have swallowed the lie that the universe came into being by sheer chance and that we can invent our own gods? Surely the wonder of creation itself should lead us to the Creator! Has anything that we use every day just happened — motor vehicles, aircraft, great ocean liners, buildings, computers, cell phones; you name it — they had to have a designer and a craftsman to fashion them.

Surely any rational and sane-thinking person must realise that there is no such thing as spontaneous change or interim stages in a creation of such complex and intricate function. If any component is missing in a machine, it will not work. Anything in a human body that malfunctions or is not there causes deformity and disease. A single extra chromosome is enough to produce Down’s syndrome.

And what about the unity of creation? How can the entire created order function in such perfect harmony, even galaxies of stars millions of miles apart affecting each other, so that the universe has never gone haywire? Without the laws of nature, humans cannot harness the natural world for their benefit. Scientists could never have put men on the moon without them. The universe functions as one to reflect the perfect oneness of the God who created it.

And what of the gods humans have so cleverly invented? Does a single one of them come anywhere near the nature of the God who had revealed Himself in His Son? Can anyone think that up! We can only imagine what we know. Every god humans have ever invented is a taker, demanding, unpredictable and without love or justice.

Only the God of the Bible, who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus, is a gracious and generous giver and a perfectly righteous and just God. We only need to look at the cross to see love and justice coming together in perfect harmony so that God is free to forgive and restore everything humans have messed up by their irrational and rebellious independence.

We cannot hide behind the excuse that we did not know. “But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate; as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of His divine being. So nobody has a good excuse.” Romans 1:18-20 (The Message).

Why is the world like it is? We brought it on ourselves.

“What happened was this. People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat Him like God, refusing to worship Him, they trivialised themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in His hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside store.” Romans 1:21-23 (The Message).

What a tragic trade! And what was the outcome?

“So God said, in effect, ‘If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.’ It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them — the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes!” Romans 1:24-25 (The Message).