We’re Here to Serve God (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

As Christians, we are here to serve the Lord, not the other way around

I am certainly not against all television ministries, but an unguarded look at Christian TV might make you think that Christianity is all about getting the best life you can. Some falsely lead you into thinking that having a relationship with God will make all of your problems go away or that all of your dreams will come true. This is not so.

I do want to add though that God does indeed love us and want us to have good lives. He is a good, good Father and wants what is best for His children. However, God’s primary concern is neither our comfort nor our bank balance.

God is not a cosmic genie ready to grant your every request and wish.

God does not exist to serve us, rather quite the opposite is true. If the focus of your Christian life is to get whatever you can from God, then I suggest you perhaps care more about what God can give you than God Himself.

Christians are here to serve and worship God. Our time, energy, money and resources should be devoted to His service. We should go about our days not thinking about what we want to achieve, but seeking to serve Him and follow His lead.

This is a real challenge. Speaking for myself, I am only just realising the depths of my pride at times. Surrendering to Jesus as Lord is a daily (or even second by second) process. Few of us put and keep God at the very centre of our lives. I ask you though, is there anything more important?

Are you in this to get what you can from God, or are you fully committed to serving Him? How might your plans for today change as a result?

God bless; you!

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

We take a little break from the book of Acts to consider this question today. Many individuals over the centuries have tried to answer this one, and the vast majority were cleverer than I am! I offer a few thoughts here which I hope you find helpful.

The argument often goes something like this. If God is supposedly all good and all powerful, then how can there be suffering in the world? If God can remove suffering and chooses not to, then He can’t be all good. If He can’t stop suffering in the world, then good He may be, but He is not all powerful. Suffering therefore disproves a good or all powerful God, right?

It is a compelling argument, and one that many have used over the years. The problem of suffering in the world is a tough hurdle for many to overcome. For most, it is sufficient to conclude that there is no God at all, or at least not one that is in any way interested in us.

The Bible totally disagrees with this view!

God is Good

God is a good God. It is easy to say of course, yet we see throughout the pages of Scripture it is true. There are many places in the Bible where God’s love and goodness are demonstrated, but all could be argued away by pointing to other Scriptures are wrath and judgement. In my view, God’s wrath does not diminish God’s love, but is in actual fact a necessary part of that. Love is not love without hatred of evil. Something for another day perhaps!

I can say with absolute confidence that God is a good God because of one single event. Jesus Christ crucified.

Jesus, who we believe was both God and man, sacrificed Himself for the world. If God was mean or distant, there is no way He would have come down as a Man, lived a perfect life and then allowed Himself to be executed in such a cruel and undignified way. Such a mean or distant God would not have cared about whether humans lived or died for all eternity. Such an uncaring deity would have simply washed His hands of us.

Not our God!

Our God is so good and so kind and so full of love for us, that He became a Man and took on the punishment we all deserve. Not satisfied to let us die in our sin and face eternal punishment, He gave up His very self to pay the ransom only He could pay. Praise this wonderful God of ours!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (WEB)

No one who sees the cross and what it took for God to do that, could ever claim our Lord is not good or loving. Suffering is a very real problem, but the cross, if nothing else, tells us clearly that suffering is not on us because God does not love us. The cross has the final word. Even in the midst of all suffering, we can know for sure that God loves us, and He is good.

God is All Powerful

if you accept this, then perhaps suffering exists because God is simply unable to remove it from us. Good as He is, perhaps He does not possess the power necessary to withdraw all suffering from the world.

Again, the Bible simply cannot support such a claim.

We read in the book of Genesis in the Bible that God made the entire universe, and He did so by uttering a few words.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (WEB)

We cannot comprehend the kind of power God possesses, and must still possess, to have created all that we know. Neither can we restrict this creation to just the physical, as there is an entire spiritual world beyond that which we can see and perceive with our eyes.

There is probably no other example which better demonstrates the kind of power we are talking about here. Yes, God parted the Red Sea before the Israelites, and yes, He made the sundial go back and even held the sun in the sky for a time (see 2 Kings 20 and Joshua 10) but do such astonishing miracles compare to the creation of all things?

Are we to say nothing of the resurrection of the dead? We see many examples in the Bible of those who were dead, and yet lived again. None more important than Christ Himself. Could a God who could do all of this and more ever be considered less than all powerful? I think not.

Conclusion

Where does this leave us then? If you accept the points above, then you accept that God is both good and all powerful. Yet, suffering still exists.

We must therefore conclude the following. If God is all powerful, it means He can remove suffering from the world if He wishes. As He has not, then we see that He has a reason not to do so. As we demonstrated above, if He is good as well as all powerful, then His reason for not removing suffering must likewise be a good one. And we do not know what it is…

I put it to you that God, being both good and all powerful, has His reasons for not withdrawing suffering from the world. Just because we cannot comprehend or understand it, makes it no less true or valid. God has no obligation to explain Himself to us.

I would love to be able to sit here and explain to you why you are suffering. If I did though, it would not in any way reduce that suffering. Someone will always ask, “Why me?” and yet, “Why not you?” For us to try and fathom such things is perhaps no small hubris on our part. We are not God, nor can we expect to understand all that He does and knows. Job lost everything, and he was not privileged to know the reason. When he encountered God at the end of the book, he was silenced before the Almighty daring not to even question the God who made him.

If you are in the midst of suffering right now, then these intellectual arguments probably don’t help all that much. Suffering can rarely be explained away, and especially not when we are personally facing it.

If that is you today, then I urge you to look to the cross. I cannot explain your suffering to you in any satisfactory way, but I can grieve along with you. The cross, if nothing else, shows you that the Maker of all things is not distant, but that He chose to suffer and die for you. He knows how suffering feels, and He will walk through it with you every step of the way.

God bless you.

Apostles Vs. Authorities

In Wednesday’s post – God Rather Than Man – we discussed the events of Acts 5 and the arrest of Peter and the Apostles. Peter miraculously escaped the jail, with the help of an angel, and continued to teach in the temple courts. Again, he is summoned by the authorities, and we close chapter 5 thinking about his words.

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. 32 We are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and were determined to kill them. 34 But one stood up in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, honored by all the people, and commanded to put the apostles out for a little while. 35 He said to them, “You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men, what you are about to do. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, making himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves. He was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the enrollment, and drew away some people after him. He also perished, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad. 38 Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. 39 But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found even to be fighting against God!”

40 They agreed with him. Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name.

42 Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ.

Acts 5:29-42 (WEB)

Peter begins, as discussed on Wednesday, by telling the authorities that he must obey God rather than man. God has instructed the apostles to share the message about Jesus, and they must obey this command even if the authorities tell them to stop. This is not without risk, and nearly all of the apostles lost their lives because they refused to stop talking about Christ.

Peter pulls no punches. He states that Jesus was raised up by the “God of our fathers,” that is, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and tells them that they are guilty of His death. They killed Him. They hung Him on a tree. Yet God exalted Him, making Him Prince and Saviour. We must understand Jesus is both Lord (Prince) and Saviour. He saves us yes, and we rejoice in that, but He is our Lord also and we must revere Him as such.

Jesus achieved “repentance for Israel,” and “remission of sins.” The people of Israel, not able to fulfil the Law, require a Saviour to act as a substitute for them. Similarly, Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross achieved the remission of sins, meaning that sin is fully paid for. This leaves us the choice of facing the consequences of our sin before God, or accepting what Jesus has done and His payment of that sin. Choose the latter I urge you!

In verse 32, Peter says that they – the apostles – are witnesses for what Jesus has done. Not the apostles only however, but the Spirit of God also. To deny the testimony of the apostles is to deny the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The unpardonable sin, mentioned in Mark 3:29, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In my own mind, I suspect the unforgivable sin is to deny the witness of the Holy Spirit, that is to refuse to believe what He says about Jesus and to reject Christ as our only Saviour.

They react rather angrily to this, as you might expect. But a peacemaker among them, named Gamaliel, interjects and has the Apostles sent out. He names a number of individuals who raised up and gathered followers. Gamaliel points out that all of these came to nothing.

Gamaliel says something very insightful. If this is not of God, then the authorities need not worry about it. If it is of God, then they cannot stop it anyway and would be foolish to try. Two-thousand years later, the church numbers in the millions and stretches across the globe. It did not fizzle out or lose momentum after Jesus’ and the Apostles’ deaths, rather it has only grown and become established.

There is a lesson for us here I’m sure. How often do we try to force open doors that God has shut, or close doors He has opened? We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Your will be done,” but at times fight against it. Take this blog for example, I might want it to grow and pay for all manner of advertising to make it happen. That may be a perfectly valid thing to do, but it might also be pushing out ahead of God and beyond His will. Never a good idea.

Are you rushing ahead of God right now? Do you need to fall back and walk beside Him again?

The authorities bring the Apostles back in, and once again strictly command them not to speak in the Name of Jesus. This did not work last time, so I am not certain why they believe it will work now. Peter has already said that he must obey God and not man, so there is clearly no intention to stop their ministry of God. The authorities have them beaten, but this too, does not deter them.

Verse 41 gives us a lot to think about. I don’t know about you, but when I suffer for the Name of Jesus, I rarely “rejoice” about it. In fact, I am sometimes a little offended. After all, I am doing what God has asked me – why would I face opposition or persecution? While we may feel like this, it is not biblical. Our faith cannot be used to move all opposition or to remove persecution from us. Instead, we are to rejoice when we suffer for Jesus.

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

2 Timothy 3:12 (WEB)

The Bible makes it very clear. If we want to live for Christ, we will be persecuted. But we rejoice when it comes, because it indeed means we are living a life worthy of Jesus. We may suffer persecution now, in this life, yet we have a whole eternity to celebrate and enjoy God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The problems of this life won’t even register!

Chapter 5 closes with the following verse:

Every day, in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ.

Acts 5:42 (WEB)

The authorities have clearly commanded the Apostles to stop, yet this verse tells us that they “never stopped.” At home or in church, we must never stop preaching Christ and Him crucified. Amen!

Consider My Groaning?

Today I share a video message thinking about prayer, “groaning” and biblical meditation. The focus of the video is Psalm 5:1, which says:

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.

Psalm 5:1 (ESV)

And in another translation:

Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation.

Psalm 5:1 (KJV)

Hope you enjoy the video!

Sometimes the preview loads upside down, apologies! It will play just fine!

God Rather Than Man

Before I launch into today’s post, I just want to say a massive thank you to those who responded to my blog post – Life Happens – yesterday. I really appreciate your support of this blog, and am so grateful to you all for reading it.

Now, on to the rest of Acts 5:

But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy 18 and laid hands on the apostles, then put them in public custody. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out and said, 20 “Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.”

21 When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and taught. But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But the officers who came didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!”

24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these words, they were very perplexed about them and what might become of this. 25 One came and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them without violence, for they were afraid that the people might stone them.

27 When they had brought them, they set them before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “Didn’t we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.”

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Acts 5:17-29 (WEB)

Chapter 5 began with Ananias and Sapphira attempting to cheat the church, or rather God Himself, and were judged as a result. This event acted as a warning to those who would infiltrate the church and in some ways brought the group of believers together. In that group, many miracles were being performed and crowds were gathering, bringing their sick to the apostles.

The high priest and the Sadducees take notice of all of this, and verse 17 tells us they were filled with jealousy. Jealousy is an interesting motive here. The high priest is not arguing on points of theology, but on popularity. While of course they do not agree with the apostle’s teaching about Jesus, that is not their focus. They are more worried about the fact that people are responding to the Gospel than to their own teaching of the Law. They care more about what the people think of them, than what God thinks of them.

This jealousy drives the religious leaders to arrest Peter and the Apostles, putting them in custody. God has other plans though… Verse 19 tells us that an angel appears to them at night, opening the prison doors and leading them out. He instructs the apostles to go and teach the people in the temple. I’m intrigued by the phrase in verse 20 – “all the words of this life.”

The apostles waste no time and enter the temple at daybreak. Meanwhile, the high priest assembles the council ready to interrogate the apostles. They send for them, but the captain of the guard returns to say the prison is empty! Not only that, but the doors remain locked and the guards still at their posts. This means the angel led the apostles out through the locked door and past the standing guards. This won’t be the last miraculous prison break we read about in the book of Acts.

The gathered council are “perplexed,” which I imagine is something of an understatement!

It is reported to the council that these very men were now in the temple, proclaiming the Gospel. The captain of the guard is sent to retrieve them, and yet verse 26 informs us that he does it rather more gently this time, for fear of the people.

Peter, not for the first time, is set before the council. They remind him that they have strictly charged him not to speak in the Name of christ, and yet he continues to do so. Moreover, he is showing their guilt in Jesus’ death, and this is a particular point they mention.

Look at Peter’s response, and this is the heart of what I want to say today.

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

Acts 5:29 (WEB)

Peter says that he (and the other apostles) must obey God rather than man.

I must confess to you that I am a natural people-pleaser. I hate conflict and my natural inclination is to do anything for a quiet life. It is one thing to live peaceably and to try to avoid conflict, but it is quite another to disobey God just to please people.

In Acts, the authorities are instructing Peter to disobey God, and he cannot do that. The same should be true for us. This does not give anyone a green light to disobey the law of the land or to cause deliberate disruption, but it says that we must prioritise what God says more than anyone or anything else.

Living in the Western world, there are very few occasions where my faith in Christ comes into conflict with the law of the land. Things are changing though, and perhaps for my children or theirs, there may be a time when faith in Christ is outlawed. I pray not, but should such a time come, Christians in that generation must be ready to choose God or man.

In everyday life though, you may be making choices about serving God or man. Let’s take a married couple for example, one of whom is a Christian and the other spouse not. Will the Christian continue to go to church? Will they be a generous giver as instructed in the Word, or will they compromise their faith in some way?

For many of us, believing in Christ may not lead to our arrest or death, but that does not free us from persecution. You could potentially be looked over for a promotion at work, or lose friends or family over your faith, or come into direct conflict with the education system over your beliefs. As each of us face these matters, we must put God and His ways first and foremost.

What does obeying God, rather than man, look like for you this week? What choices will you face or make? Pray ahead of time that you have the courage and conviction to make the right choice.

Peter says more than this, but we shall pick that up another time. God bless you this day.

Many Miracles

Today we tackle a fairly short but astonishing passage from Acts chapter 5. It again highlights to us the kind of life that these early believers lived and it is only natural to compare their experiences to our own.

Many miracles and wonders were being performed among the people by the apostles. All the believers met together in Solomon’s Porch. 13 Nobody outside the group dared join them, even though the people spoke highly of them. 14 But more and more people were added to the group—a crowd of men and women who believed in the Lord. 15 As a result of what the apostles were doing, sick people were carried out into the streets and placed on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 And crowds of people came in from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were sick or who had evil spirits in them; and they were all healed.

Acts 5:12-16 (GNT)

Many Miracles

The passage opens by telling us that “many miracles and wonders were being performed by the apostles.” We must not miss this, as it is clear that miracles were “many” and not “few.” The Early Church saw many wonderous works and this is something to praise God for.

As i said above, it is rather natural to compare this to our own experience. I confess that my experience is not of “many” miracles at all, and they are sometimes rather few and far between.

This is partly because of what we mean by “miracle.” This passage shows that these were wondrous works, and if we do not see things that fit this category, then we assume that miracles are not occurring. This is not so! To me at least, one of the greatest miracles is to see a life changed by God. Someone coming to Christ and committing to Him fully is nothing short of a miracle in my book.

I am not trying to sidestep the passage however, and it is a genuine question as to why we do not see the frequency of miracles the Early Church saw. There are many answers to this question, but I do not think it is because miracles are now extinct – far from it.

A few suggestions:

  • We fail to ask for or expect miracles.
  • We are afraid of failure if we step out in faith.
  • Little of value is taught on the subject (in my experience).

From the Outside Looking In

Nobody outside the group dared join them, even though the people spoke highly of them.

Acts 5:13 (GNT)

I have read this passage many times, and yet this is perhaps the first time I’ve really picked up on this verse. Those outside the group dare not join them – why not? Churches are sadly known for their cliques’ at times, and is this the first example of it? I think not.

In reality, the events at the start of this chapter probably have a lot to do with it. If you recall, Ananias and Sapphira were struck down for their deceptiveness before God and the church. This story would have gone around like wildfire and I imagine put many off trying to infiltrate the group. For me, it lends credence to the idea that what happened to Ananias and Sapphira was an act of defending the church from those who would harm it.

Note that all the people spoke highly of the early believers. This is a real challenge to us. Some churches do not have a great reputation among their community. This can be for many reasons. Yet we should aim to have a good reputation as it can only strengthen our witness. This is not to say we should water down our beliefs or be swayed by the winds of the world, but as much as we can, we should strive to be well thought of.

A Crowd of Men and Women

Verses 14-16 clearly show that the Early Church was no impenetrable clique. Many were being added to the group due to the acts of the Apostles – hence the name given to this book of the Bible. These men and women, responding to the teaching and miracles of the Apostles, “believed in the Lord.”

Those who were sick were brought in on beds and mats, and verse 16 says that people were coming in from the towns around Jerusalem. The word was getting out about the church, and the things it was doing in the Name of Christ.

Our passage today closes with the words “and they were healed.” We should not gloss overr this fact. The picture is painted of many sick people coming to the apostles, and the passage does not suggest that many went away empty-handed.

We see the same was true for Jesus in Matthew 8:

When evening came, people brought to Jesus many who had demons in them. Jesus drove out the evil spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 He did this to make come true what the prophet Isaiah had said, “He himself took our sickness and carried away our diseases.”

Matthew 8:16-17 (GNT)

Acts 5 also describes how the people crowded around, hoping that even Peter’s shadow would fall on them. This is reminiscent of the woman who wanted to just clasp the edge of Jesus’ garment so that she might be healed. In a time when there were no hospitals and medical science was yet to be invented, people strained to receive healing from the Lord. That too may be a reason we do not see these kind of signs and wonders – few are willing to go to great lengths to reach Jesus.

As I finish today’s post, let me encourage you to meditate on this passage. Use your mind’s eye to put yourself in the middle of the scene. What would it have been like to be in that crowd and to see the miracles right before you? Imagine striving through the masses gathered to let Peter’s shadow fall on you.

Praise the Lord for such wonderous works!

Justice (Audio)

Andy shares about the subject of justice, and considers one of the Proverbs given below.

Condemning the innocent or letting the wicked go—both are hateful to the Lord.

Proverbs 17:15 (GNT)

This audio will also be uploaded to the podcast feed for those who prefer to listen to it there. You can find the podcast “The Andy Brown Podcast” on all good podcasting apps, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Make Someone Feel Valuable (PoW)

Pearls of Wisdom

Everywhere you go, do whatever you can to make someone feel valuable

Many people do not feel all that valuable or valued. In fact, many feel worthless and unwanted. As Christians, we know this is not true. God values every single human being, and the price He paid for them was the cost of His Son.

Not everyone is open to our Christian message however, but that does not mean we cannot communicate their value. We value the people in our lives, yet often do not show it or neglect to tell them.

If you truly value your spouse or children, then make an effort to show them that. There are myriad ways you can do this, but one of the simplest and most effective is just to say “thank you!” You or they may not think it a big deal to cook dinner every night, or put the bins out, or work every single day, or raise the children. But do not take these things for granted, and make sure you let them know you appreciate them and what they do.

Similarly, for those outside of your household, you can still recognise their value. Whether it is the local shopkeeper who has helped you during this time of lockdown, or the nurse or care worker who has looked after you or a relative, you can ensure they know how valuable they are and their contribution is.

Everywhere you go, do something to show the people around you how much you value and appreciate them. A note of thanks or encouragement can brighten someone’s day. Use social media to promote some one, service or business which has helped you out. Be a blessing and go the extra mile to recognise those who work tirelessly behind the scenes or who are rarely thanked.

You can make a difference. You can shine the light of Christ in this often dark world. What will you do this week?

Help The Poor (Audio)

Today Andy shares a brief audio message thinking about how Christians should be helping the poor, and indeed, one another as well.

Andy has been reflecting on the life of the early church from Acts 4, and also this proverb:

Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

Proverbs 14:21 (ESV)

We hope you have enjoyed this audio message. You can find other messages on the Audio page.

Graves Into Gardens

I was having a bad day last week, and not the first during this lockdown period either I’m afraid to say. Work was proving difficult, the children were not exactly enthusiastic about their education that day, and I really wasn’t being the best Christian witness. I came away feeling pretty low if I’m honest. Part of that was due to tiredness, so let me add that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is get an early night!

I decided to put on some worship music and a particular song began to play and it really moved me, where I was in that moment. It was called “Graves Into Gardens” and is by Elevation Worship. You can hear it on your music platform of choice or else watch it here on YouTube.

It is a song about our Transforming God – not that he transforms, as He never changes, but rather how He transforms us and the situations we face.

Graves Into Gardens

The title of the song, and the begining of the chorus states how our God changes graves into gardens. It is a picture of resurrection, and how God can bring life even into a graveyard full of death.

In my own mind, I picture this from Matthew’s Gospel.

Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit.

51 Behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they entered into the holy city and appeared to many.

Matthew 27:50-53 (WEB)

As Jesus died, and the curtain in the temple was divided, many of the dead saints rose to new life. This is a point we sometimes miss when thinking about the death and resurrection of Christ. Imagine being in that graveyard that evening…!

Bones Into Armies

In a similar way, God also turns dry bones into armies of flesh! He takes the dead and dry, and breathes new life into them. He is a God or restoration!

Again he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and tell them, ‘You dry bones, hear Yahweh’s word. 5 The Lord Yahweh says to these bones: “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you will live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you will live. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.”’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. As I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, there was an earthquake. Then the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I saw, and, behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.

Ezekiel 37:4-8 (WEB)

Seas into Highways

Our God can do the impossible. No matter the size or inertia of the obstacle before you, God can make a way!

As the Israelites approached the sea, with the entirety of Pharoah’s army behind them, it looked like there was no way out. We dare not limit our Limitless God!

Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today; for you will never again see the Egyptians whom you have seen today. 14 Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still.”

15 Yahweh said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward. 16 Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. Then the children of Israel shall go into the middle of the sea on dry ground. 17 Behold, I myself will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will go in after them. I will get myself honor over Pharaoh, and over all his armies, over his chariots, and over his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh when I have gotten myself honor over Pharaoh, over his chariots, and over his horsemen.” 19 The angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them, and stood behind them. 20 It came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. There was the cloud and the darkness, yet it gave light by night. One didn’t come near the other all night.

21 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and Yahweh caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 The children of Israel went into the middle of the sea on the dry ground; and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

Exodus 14:13-22 (WEB)

Nothing is Better Than You

The repetitive refrain of the song echoes that nothing is better than God. Our God is the greatest, the highest, the most wonderful Being in existence! We chase after all this world has to offer, and yet the maker of all things stands ready to be in relationship with us. The sin that separated us has been dealt with at the cross of Christ, and through faith in Him, we can rest in the very presence of the Father.

As I sang this song that day, it moved me as I realised all the cares and worries of this life are literally nothing next to the surpassing greatness of knowing God through Christ. In my weakness and failure, I can still enter into the presence of God by the blood of Jesus. All my failures are forgotten and forgiven, and I can worship Him without fear.

I do not deserve the wonders of the Father’s grace, but if I did, it would cease to be grace. At times, I glimpse the glory of God, the depth of my sin, and the lengths He went to to save me from it. There is only one response to this – worship!

Join me today in worshipping our God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who transforms us, giving us beauty for ashes. Sing with me that there is nothing, not one single thing, bettter than Him! Hallelujah!

One Heart and Soul

We conclude Acts 4 today, thinking about verses 31-37.

When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. 32 The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. 34 For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need. 36 Joses, who by the apostles was also called Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of Encouragement), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, 37 having a field, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts :31-37 (WEB)

Answered Prayer

In yesterday’s post – Praying Under Persecution – we thought about the kind of prayer Peter prayed in response to the persecution they faced from the authorities. Peter did not ask for the trouble to be removed from them, but instead asked for boldness to speak the Gospel in the face of that resistance. Perhaps I should have included verse 31 in that post?

Verse 31 clearly tells us that God faithfully answered the prayer. The Father’s power is released and the place where they were was shaken. I must admit that such a thing has never happened to me! Wouldn’t it be amazing if every time we uttered the “Amen!” that we would see a physical sign like this – a kind of “read receipt” acknowledging our prayer had been heard.

Yet, on the other hand, we need no such sign to be assured that God has heard our prayers. We live by faith, and not by sight, and we trust that God has heard and naswwered our prayers irrespective of whether we feel or see anything in that moment. We know when the answer comes, even if it is not the answer we had in mind.

Without the shaking of the place, we would still know that the Father has responded. All who were gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit, and then began to speak with boldness. The very thing they had askked for was given immediately.

One Heart and Soul

The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.

Acts 4:32 (WEB)

Sometimes, when we hear of church division and in-fighting, we can only dream of the unity described in these verses. It tells us they were of one heart and soul, the very epitome of teamwork and unison. They worked together for the Gospel, sharing and supporting one another.

It says that not one of them claimed ownership of the things they possessed, and instead shared everything. This is very hard for us to imagine. For us, who have so very much, it is hard to comprehend the idea of owning nothing and sharing everything.

This kind of selfless lifestyle goes far beyond mere giving. It describes a people who have truly crucified the flesh, letting go of their own desires and living for the benefit of the whole. The modern church in the West has moved so far from these values it is virtually impossible to see a way back.

We might be excused for thinking that perhaps these disciples had very little to share, so maybe it was easier for them to do so. If you have little, then sharing and benefitting from the whole makes sense. yet the passage corrects this view too. It says those who had lands sold them, and placed the money at the apostle’s feet.

Those who had more, shared with those who had less. There was no longer “me” and “mine”, just “ours.” Such a way of life requires all to obey the rules. Everyone must do the same, pooling their resources such that “no one lacked anything.” Imagine lacking nothing… we work hard for what we get, and we keep it all, yet few of us can claim we lack nothing. This family of believers gave up everything for each other, and yet had all they needed. That is God’s economy in action!

And look at the result highlighted in verse 33 – “With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all.” We want the power and the grace, we want the success in ministry and to see God at work in our lives, yet are we willing to live like these beleivers did?

Son of Encouragement

Joses, who by the apostles was also called Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of Encouragement), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, 37 having a field, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:36-37 (WEB)

The passage and the chapter ends with these words about Joses, also known as Barnabas. Bar means Son, and so they call him a Son of Encouragement. I imagine he must have been one who constantly built up those around him with affirming words. Encouragement is a spiritual gift, and yet is something we can all practice in our lives. A rightly placed word of encouragement can make a person’s day and costs us nothing.

Barnabas had a field and he sold it, giving the proceeds to the apostles for the work of the faith. He held nothing back. He may have had plans for that field, perhaps wanting to farm or some other activity. Instead, he gave it up for the good of the family of believers. He chose to have less so that others might have more. What a humbling lesson for us!

Note these actions of Barnabas, because they will be important as we understand the events of chapter 5. Will any successful group, there will always be those who want to get in on the action for their own gain. We see such an example next time.

I have been quite humbled as I’ve read this passage and written these words. My life seemingly falls far short of the life that these believers lived. How can I explain the extra TV I bought, or the bigger house I purchased, when I knew of believers in need around me? I am not telling you to sell all you have and give it away, let me be clear, but all of us ought to look at the Early Church’s example and assess our own faithfulness.

Does this passage challenge us to live differently? I’ll leave that one between you and God.

Praying Under Persecution

It had been my plan to complete Acts 4 today, but as I read through the remainder of the passage, I felt that what I wanted to say about the first part should stand alone. We will cover verses 23-30 today, and then complete Acts 4 tomorrow – God willing.

Being let go, they came to their own company and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, “O Lord, you are God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; 25 who by the mouth of your servant, David, said,

‘Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples plot a vain thing?
26 The kings of the earth take a stand,
and the rulers take council together,
against the Lord, and against his Christ.’ Psalm 2:1-2

27 “For truly, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together against your holy servant, Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen. 29 Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”

Acts 4:23-30 (WEB)

In case you have not read my posts on Acts 3 and the first part of chapter 4, let me catch you up. Peter and John went to the temple one morning, and encountered a man unable to walk and begging at the temple entrance. They healed this man before all the people, and it caused a stir! Peter shared the Good News about Christ, and was promptly arrested and detained overnight with John. The next day, the chief priests and religious leaders questioned them and strictly warned them to no longer speak in the Name of Christ.

The “Being let go…” in verse 23 above, refers to Peter and John being released, and we see them returning to the other disciples which was now quite a number. Peter and John tell them of what has taken place, and the group respond in unison. Note that phrase again in verse 24 “with one accord.”

In the face of this persecution from the religious leaders, the community of believers pray. The focus of my post today is that prayer. As we, too, face persecution in this world for our faith, how should we pray and what can we learn from the early disciples?

Recognition

They open their prayer, as all good prayers should, in recognition of Who God is. They acknowledge that God is He who made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them. We were no cosmic accident or roll of the dice, we were skillfully and wonderfulloy made! The One who shaped the stars in the sky is the same One who formed us from the dust of the ground. It is indeed right that we worship and praise Him!

In continuing that recognition, they quote Psalm 2 where King David asks why the nations plot in vain and the kings of the earth gather together against the Lord? It is an act of complete futility, and yet they persist in taking their own council and taking their stand against God and His Anointed One! utter foolishness!

Despite all good sense and evidence to the contrary, there will always be those who stand against God and His Kingdom. There will be those who persecute and kill the church as best they can, and while they may inflict much damage on us, they will never succeed.

Verse 28 says that they gathered “to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen” to the Messiah – Jesus Christ. They acted in vanity against God, hating Him and yet were acting in line with His will and purpose. They were His instruments to bring about God’s will, yet are not innocent of their crimes.

The Request

As they bore the brunt of this persecution, they conclude their prayer petitioning God. What do they ask for? If it were you or I, we might ask for that resistance to be removed from us. They do not.

Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”

Acts 4:29-30 (WEB)

They do not ask for the “threats” to be thwarted, but instead for the power to be bold and to proclaim the Gospel in the midst of that trouble. They ask God to stretch out His hand to heal, that as they preach the Good News, they are backed up by the power of signs and wonders authenticating their message.

It is not in their power that they do these things, but in the Name and power of God’s Servant – Jesus Christ.

In the West, we have been largely free of persecution for some time. We have had freedom to worship God without “threats.” Times are changing, as I mentioned yesterday.

This came as something of a shock to me when I started to share this blog on social media. In the large part, many were supportive and enjoyed the posts. As I shared it more widely, I encountered those who mocked the faith and made fun of the message I gave. Don’t misundestand me, I was in no fear of my life as many Christians are across the world, and I do not compare this mockery to the physical threats many face today.

In recent days, a fellow Christian blogger had his posts removed from Facebook without reason or explanation. I saw nothing offensive in his writing, nor have I read anything which covered controversial areas of the faith. So why would Facebook remove it without apparent cause? I can think of no other reason than it is Christian in nature.

This, too, is persecution. Post on social media about all manner of sinfulness or any other religion, and it is fine. But post about the Risen Lord…? It is becoming unacceptable, but let that not prevent us from spreading the Gospel!

If you want to support that fellow blogger, you can check out his blog here – Devotional Treasures.

Persecution

Persecution will come, and in many forms. There will always be those who mock or slander God and the faith of those who follow Him.

Like Peter and John, we must pray and ask God the Father to give us “all boldness” as we speak His word. Not to be deliberately offensive, but to not allow fear to prevent us from standing up for what we believe in. May He also ordain signs and wonders to follow our proclamation of Christ, that He may be glorified and as many as possible turn to Him.

Persecuted we may be at times, but we are also a praying people, and we will stand firm! This world offers its trouble and trials, but we follow the One who has overcome the world! Amen