The Rule of Six

Here in the UK, the government have now introduced a new rule known as “The Rule of Six,” which means that outside of work or other specific situations, no more than six individuals should meet together. This is an attempt at preventing further spread of COVID-19 which is on the rise across the country right now.

Some have questioned the new rules, accusing the Government of having no science to back this up. While true, there are no scientific papers to support the idea of six people being anything other than an arbitrary number, it is more a practical decision. Previous rules were somewhat confusing about who could meet and when. The premise of the Rule of Six is to simplify things. Sadly I don’t think it has achieved that.

Our family is a family of six, which means we cannot all meet up with any other person or group. Some point to the absurdity of being able to work with a group of seven people but then not being to go out to lunch with them.

It is all rather easy to criticise the Government in this situation. They cannot get it right for trying. No one wanted a lockdown, and yet they were criticised for not locking down sooner. There is obvious contradiction in their seemingly random approach, encouraging us to eat out one minute and stay home the next. I do want to point out what a difficult job the Government have and it is right that we believers pray for them continually.

This is all well and good, but not exactly my usual approach to blogging. Typically I stick to the Bible and leave politics out. I make no comment here on the new or previous rules, and so turn to the Scripture in our uncertain times.

Whether deliberately or otherwise, a great sense of fear was created around this virus. We have never locked down before, and many – rightly – understood this to mean how serious the situation was. The subsequent consequences to the economy pose an equal or even greater threat, so steps are being made to try to undo the damage. Fear is not so easily dismissed as it is created.

We were not created for fear. In fact, we see that fear was the very first negative experienced by Adam and Eve after the Fall of humanity.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool[c] of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”[d] 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)

Having eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve realised they were naked. They were just as naked before, but now, for the first time, took their eyes off of God and turned them on themselves. Sin entered the world, and the first emotion they felt was fear. There is no evidence of fear prior to this.

The Bible has much to say about fear – far more than I can ever say in this one short post. Suffice it to say that fear is not what God wants for His people. Fear often stops us obeying the Lord or doing what we know is right. Sometimes we fear other people and so don’t fully serve God, frightened of people’s judgement or criticism.

Many places in the Bible tell us not to fear. It does not necessarily mean do not feel the emotion of fear, but rather, do not allow the fear you feel to stop you doing what you know is right.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

So how do we conquer fear? How do we master it in these fearful times? I could write a whole book on the subject, but hope these few points help.

We must start from the point of understanding that God does not want us to be afraid. Fear is a very real and powerful emotion at times, but we must harness it, not allowing it to drive us but instead God’s Spirit. As you act and speak this week, ask yourself if the words or deeds are driven by fear or the Holy Spirit.

We must pray through fear. Fear is not an easy foe at times, and so we must stand firm in prayer and draw on the strength of God. If you are facing a particularly frightening time, then please do seek God more and more. Often the thing we fear becomes tiny and insignificant as we compare it to the splendour and majesty of our God!

My final suggestion is to think through the consequences or outcomes of what you fear. For example, a couple of weeks ago I faced a situation which was quite scary. I knew it was coming and was getting anxious about it. As I thought about it however, I realised if it did not work out as I wanted, there were virtually no consequences. at all. Fear and worry about it was a major waste of energy. We play the “What if?” game which can be mentally draining. Many of the things we fear though have little consequence, and even fewer have eternal ramifications.

The world we live in can be a frightening place at times, but you do not face it alone. Fear can be beaten, and we do so in the strength of our Lord. What do you fear right now? Talk to God about it and fight that fear!

Peter Preaches

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday and I shared some thoughts on Acts 2 and the coming of the Holy Spirit. You can read that post here or even watch the video version on my Facebook page – Andy Brown on Facebook .

Acts 2 is a fairly lengthy chapter, so I won’t include the entire text in this post. Today I want to focus on Peter’s sermon which he gave to the crowd after they saw the results of the coming of the Holy Spirit. You can find the full text of Peter’s message here – Acts 2:14-41.

The Sermon

Seeing the Apostles so moved by the Holy Spirit, and hearing them speak in all manner of different languages, the crowd accuse them of drunkenness. It would be quite some drink that allowed them all to speak in various languages, but let’s not get distracted!

Peter stands up and begins to speak. It is a powerful word with conviction of the Holy Spirit behind it. What does he say?

Peter points out that what they are seeing is nothing to do with alcohol, especially given the time of the morning, but instead goes straight to the Old Testament Scriptures.

But this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel:

Acts 2:16 (WEB)

This is interesting to me, as my expectation might have been to use the Hebrew Scriptures to a primarily Jewish audience. We know from the same passage though that there were many different nations and tongues present on the day of Pentecost. In our evangelism, we might choose not to be too Bible-heavy, quoting Scriptures and pointing our biblical texts, thinking those outside of the church may not respond to it. This is a mistake! People are saved by hearing the Word of truth!

having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which lives and remains forever.

1 Peter 1:23 (WEB)

So we see Peter is right to quote the Scripture, and we should too.

Peter shows them that what they are seeing is the fulfilment of prophecies given long ago in the Old Testament. Joel speaks of the “last days” that God would pour out His Spirit freely, and various spiritual gifts would be displayed. What this audience is seeing in the disciples behaviour, is the release of that promise. We will read later that those who came to Christ as a result were also in receipt of the Holy Spirit and too displayed these gifts.

May I also point out that if those were the “last days,” then we, two thousand years later, live in even later days. Christ is coming, sooner or later, He will return. Every one of us must be ready for that hour.

Peter then goes on and sets out the truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God to you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him among you, even as you yourselves know,

Acts 2:22 (WEB)

He tells them that they know of Jesus, what wonders and miracles He did among them, and yet was delivered up to be crucified. Peter shows them that this was the plan from the beginning, yet those who did this wicked thing were lawless men. He tells them that death was not able to hold Him in the grave, and that He rose to newness of life.

Peter again draws on the Old Testament, and particularly cites Scriptures of King David. He explains to his hearers that David could not have been speaking of himself, because they knew precisely where David’s tomb was in that very day. Peter shows them that David was a prophet, and was pointing to the Christ who would come after him, and that was Jesus.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

Acts 2:36 (WEB)

The Response

How do they respond to this sermon preached at Pentecost?

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:37-38 (WEB)

Peter’s words are wonderful, but only the conviction of the Holy Spirit can bring about such a response.

They immediately know that what Peter has said is true. They knew of Jesus, and the miracles He worked among them, and yet they knew that He had been executed without cause. What can we do! They cry out in fear, knowing they holdsome part of the guilt.

Peter tells them to repent, to change their ways and their minds and to be baptised in he Name of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. They must submit to Jesus, giving their lives over to Him and receiving the forgiveness that His death brought about. If they do, then they too will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit just as the disciples have done.

In closing, we read:

With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:40-41 (WEB)

With many other words Peter convinced them, and I do wonder what those words might have been. What we do know though is that many turned to Christ that day. Verse 41 says that three thousand were added to their number! Amazing!

And this was just the beginning…

Pentecost Sunday

It was my privilege to share with the church in our village this morning, celebrating Pentecost Sunday. Not all of the church’s members have access to video so I’ve written out a short message which I share below. I will put the video version out on my Facebook page later today. Here is a link to the Facebook page if you are interested in following there – Andy Brown on Facebook .

It is Pentecost Sunday, and the day we remember what is essentially the birth of the church. The word “Pentecost” means “50 days”, and it occurs fifty days after the Jewish Passover. We may associate Pentecost with the church, but if you look at Acts 2:1, you will see that the Apostles met together on Pentecost, and then the Holy Spirit came.

Jesus, prior to His Ascension and after His death and resurrection, had instructed the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they had been “clothed with power from on high.” (see Luke 24:49). The Ascension, usually celebrated on the sixth Thursday after Easter, reminds us of how Christ ascended into Heaven. For ten days, the disciples have waited for this event, not really knowing what would happen.

The Holy Spirit descends on them with great power. As Jesus ascends into Heaven, He does not leave the disciples to fend for themselves, but sends His Spirit to dwell in and with them. We see this power displayed in an amazing way in Acts 2, with a great rushing wind and tongues of fire. The Apostles then begin to speak out in the languages of the people around them, sharing the Gospel of Jesus with them. This is perhaps a reversal of the events at the Tower of Babel, centuries earlier when God confused the language of mankind and scattered them about the Earth. Now all people are united in hearing the news about Christ and what He has done.

For us, living in the 21st Century, these first Pentecost events may seem like something out of a movie. Very few of us, I imagine, can claim to have seen such works of power. I do not think such miracles are restricted to the Early Church, but such things are not the subject of our message right now.

For today, I want us to focus on the Apostle Peter. As the people see the strange actions of the Apostles, they begin to imagine they might be drunk. Peter leaps to their defence and begins a very eloquent sermon. With authority, he speaks of Old Testament prophecies from Joel and how God would pour out His Spirit. Until that point, the Spirit was reserved for only a select few of the Old Testament believers.

Look at Peter, and listen to his words. How he has changed in such a short time! Less than two months prior to this, he denied that he even knew Christ let alone was one of his closest friends. Now he stands tall and proud, proclaiming the good news about Jesus to a huge crowd. Later in Acts 2 we read that 3,000 people believed in Peter’s words, so the crowd was at least as large as that and of course probably more.

What has driven this change in Peter? What has made him so bold?

I suggest two things. Firstly, no one who encounters the Risen Christ can remain unchanged. Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the others travelled north to Galilee. There he met the Risen Lord by the sea, and told Jesus that he loved Him three times (see John 21). Jesus restores Peter, and although the road ahead would not always be smooth and would in fact lead to martyrdom, Peter knew he had been accepted and forgiven by Jesus.

Secondly, Peter has indeed now been clothed with power. Peter no longer acts alone and impetuously, instead he is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit shapes his words and gives him the confidence to face the crowds and Jewish authorities. Peter does not do it in his own strength, but in the Lord’s.

For us, we can likewise encounter the Risen Christ this Pentecost. We may not see Him with our own eyes, but that makes Him no less real or accessible. In the same way as Peter, we too can draw on the power of the Holy Spirit for our everyday lives. While we may not be called to speak to crowds like Peter was, the Spirit is as equally willing to aid us in raising our children, doing a good job at work or witnessing to those in our community.

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11:13 (WEB)

Amen!

Don’t Just Stand There

Let’s pick up where we left off with the book of Acts:

Therefore when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them, “It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

9 When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, 11 who also said, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky, will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.”

Acts 1:6-11 (WEB)

A conversation is recorded between Jesus and the disciples, and we recall that this is happening between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Having seen all that they had seen, the disciples ask a question. Will you now be restoring the Kingdom to Israel?

It is hard for us to imagine what they had been through. They find a Man they believe to be the Christ, see Him perform many miracles, signs and wonders, and they watch as He is arrested and executed. Their hopes and dreams are dashed. Wasn’t He the One who was supposed to restore Israel to the good old days of King David?

jesus has challenged them all throughout, trying to help them understand that He is the Suffering Saviour, not the Warrior King they are expecting. One day He will come riding a warhorse, but not now.

Having seen the resurrection, they now think it is time for Him to rise up and conquer the Romans… it wasn’t the kind of King He was that they got wrong, just the timing right? Their question betrays all of this.

Jesus gives them something of a rebuke. It is not for you to know! Times and seasons are set by the Father, by and through His very own authority. He is in charge, and He calls the shots.

Jesus turns their thinking on its head once more. They are told they will be given power to be witnesses for Christ. yes, in Jerusalem of course, but also Judea, Samaria and the whole world. The mere mention of Samaria might have made them catch their breath, for the Jews and the Samaritans were not friends. Jesus tries to turn their Israel-centric thinking into a more global perspective. The Kingdom Jesus speaks of is not an Israeli one, but a worldwide one.

After Jesus had said these things, He ups and leaves – quite literally! The disciples watch as He ascends into Heaven, leaving them behind. They perhaps felt rather alone, His words ringing in their ears and highlighting that perhaps they had little idea of what was about to happen.

Verse 10 tells us that two men were standing by them, dressed in white clothes. The Greek word here is aner, and it means adult male. Some translate this as angels and many of us assume these are two angels standing there. And of course, it could well be.

The last time we saw Jesus enveloped in a cloud and touching Heaven was on the Mount of Tranfiguration, where there were also two men standing there.

About eight days after these sayings, he took with him Peter, John, and James, and went up onto the mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became white and dazzling. 30 Behold, two men were talking with him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory, and spoke of his departure,[d] which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Luke 9:28-31 (WEB)

The word “men” in verse 30 above is the very same word – aner – as in Acts 1:10. It could be, and I would not make a new doctrine out of it, that these two men of the Transfiguration (Moses and Elijah) are the same two who spoke with the disciples at Jesus’ Ascension. It is just an idea, but interesting nonetheless!

Our passage today started with a question – the disciples asking Jesus about the Kingdom, and it too ends with a question. The two men, whoever they were, asking the disciples why they stood gazing into the sky? Do you not know that Jesus will come back the same way that He went?

The implication is that there is work to be done. Don’t stand around staring at the sky, roll up your sleeves and get on with the work of witnessing. Wait, of course, for the coming of the Spirit, but then let’s get on with the job until He returns.

I pose that same question to you today. Are you standing around, or do you know that Jesus will one day return (and perhaps soon)? We have the Holy Spirit, so let us all get on with the job of telling the entire world about Christ! Amen!

Wait!

Yesterday I began to write about the book of Acts, and you can find that post here if you didn’t get a chance to read it before – The Acts of the Apostles. Today I am continuing with chapter 1 concentrating on verses 4 and 5.

The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, 2 until the day in which he was received up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 To these he also showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking about God’s Kingdom. 4 Being assembled together with them, he commanded them, “Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me. 5 For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Acts 1:1-5 (WEB)

As we discussed yesterday, these words describe the time between Christ’s Resurrection and His Ascension into Heaven. This was a period of approximately forty days in all.

Verse 4 begins “Being assembled together,” and although perhaps contains no great revelation for us, it should remind us that believers are meant to be together. This is but one example of how the Apostles met together, and indeed were almost constantly together in prayer and worship.

For them, this was of course a time of preparation for the launch of the church. They would not have known this necessarily, but dedicating this time to God in prayer was readying their hearts for what would be a difficult but amazing time ahead.

We must not neglect being together either.

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)

I have quoted this verse often in recent days, and mentioned it on the blog more than once. It is vital that we – the family of believers – continue to join together. That is especially difficult at this time, as many are still in isolation due to COVID. But I thank God for the technology that allows us to meet virtually if not in person.

The Apostles were together, but they were together with Christ. Note verse 4 which says “Being assembled together with them, he commanded them,” the “he” here is of course Jesus. The Lord was among them and part of their gathering. That’s the way it should be! Church should never become a meeting about God, but a meeting with Him.

Jesus instructs the Apostles to wait. None of us particularly like being told this! Yet Christ always has a good reason for His commands. Some of the Apostles may have been eager to get out there and tell the world about the Risen Lord, desperate to fulfil the Great Commission given them in Matthew 28. Others might have been fearful, afraid of what the Jewish leaders might do to them.

Yet Jesus is clear. Wait.

And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:49 (ESV)

They must wait for the promise of the Father. They must wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus refers to John’s baptism in water, reflecting repentance and a new start. This new baptism would be a baptism of the Holy Spirit Himself. They would be immersed in the Spirit and His power. Eager they may be to go out and tell others about Christ, but such witness would be ineffective without the aid and strength of the Spirit.

I remember, many years ago, asking God to allow me to preach. I was exxcited about the Word of God and wanted to share it, yet I had little opportunity to do so. God told me I was a pencil… which confused me at first! A pencil you may be, I felt Him say, but you must be sharpened before you can be used.

What are you trying to do in your own strength right now? Has God told you to wait? Are you listening, or are you trying to push the door open anyway? Wait until He tells you the time is right, and has equipped you with all that you need to do the task well.

Praying Big

Yesterday’s post – What is prayer? – had a really positive response, so thanks to everyone for reading and sharing it. I thought I would continue on the theme of prayer today.

i heard a story this morning which I wanted to share with you. I retell it below in my own words. I’ve no idea if it is true, but it sends a clear message even if fictional.

Alexander the Great was the leader of a huge empire which stretched across much of the world. Despite this, he never forgot the needs of his people and one day every year he would invite randomly selected citizens to come and ask him for something. Whatever they wanted, he would grant it if it was within his power.

For many years, people would come and ask for small things. One would ask for enough food to eat. Another would request some new clothing.

One year, a peasant was selected and he stood before the great leader. Unlike the others, he asked for a great palace to live in, and the resources to invite all his friends and family to come and dine in the palace and take care of them.

Without hesitation, Alexander the Great said “Yes!”

Later, Alexander was asked why he would grant such a lavish request. His response was telling. “Anyone could give extra food or clothes, you do not need to be anyone special for that. But this request made me feel like a king! For only a king could give what this man had asked for.”

I wonder if our prayers to God the Father are somehow reflected in this story?

When I think about my own prayer life, I am humbled to realise that i do not pray anywhere near “big enough.” How often do we find ourselves saying something like, “God, if you would just….” or “Even if you could give a little help…” What does this betray about how we think about God or ourselves?

Perhaps we think God is not powerful enough to handle our prayers? Or, more likely, perhaps we think we do not deserve to receive answers to such big prayers?

Let me reassure you today, God can handle any prayer you care to offer to Him. The lights in heaven will not dim if you ask too much of God. God created the heavens and the earth, and He raised Christ Jesus from the dead. Is anything too hard for God?

Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the time set for it, I will return to you—about a year from now—and Sarah will have a son.”

Genesis 18:14 (ISV)

Abraham and Sarah became parents at a very old age, and that was not too difficult for God.

On the other point, do you deserve to have God answer your biggest prayers? No, absolutely not. But that is why we do not pray in our name, but in the Name of Jesus.

If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.”

John 14:14 (ISV)

When we pray in Jesus’ Name, we are approaching the throne of God presenting all that Jesus is and has done. We do not go on our own merits, but on Christ’s. When God looks upon us, He no longer sees our sin and sinfulness, but the perfection achieved by Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross.

I once heard someone say, “I’d rather ask God for everything and get some of it, than ask for nothing and get all of it.” We rarely ask for the “big stuff” because we often don’t think big enough.

There is much I learn from my own children on this point. My daughters rarely limit what they ask for. It does not matter how big it is, they go ahead and ask. It never crosses their mind that I might not be able to deliver! And even when I say no (far too often I am sad to admit) it does not faze them one bit – they just go on and ask for the next thing.

If we ask for more in prayer, then what is the worst than can happen? If we ask for anything from God which is not His will, then it will not happen. So move on and ask for something which is in His will. Clearly we should not be asking for things prohibited by the Bible, but don’t limit God by assuming He will say no before you’ve even asked. At least give God the right to refuse!

Set your minds on God, not just what He has done, but on Who He is. Not only is He all powerful, but He loves you so much He gave us His Son to die for you! If we begin to grasp the depth of His love and the strength of His power, then we will never cease to pray!

Now to the one who can do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine according to the power that is working among us—

Ephesians 3:20 (ISV)

God can do far more than we can ask or even imagine. How “big” is your imagination? How much more is God than that!

Start today. Let’s stop praying these tiny prayers as if we are bothering God. Let each one of us, as we pray, use our imaginations to go beyond whatever it is we were about to ask for. Take your prayer and multiply it first, then dare to go further and ask God to achieve it. He is able!

Bear in mind that prayer is not primarily about getting everything we want. Ask for your needs and wants of course, but let us all pray in ways which will last for eternity, not just the here and now.

We praise the Living God who hears our prayers and can do all things! Nothing is impossible for Him! Let us magnify and multiply our prayers a hundred-fold, and give God all the glory as we see the answers come! Amen!