Why water into wine?

It was my pleasure to stand in for our local vicar at short notice this week. In this video, I share a few thoughts about why I think Jesus turned water into wine from John 2.

For some technical reason I do not understand, I was not able to upload the video directly to this post. However include a link below to the video on Facebook. Hope you enjoy!

https://fb.watch/3d1lSFD0DE/

Stir One Another Up

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

Hebrews 10:24 (ESVUK)

During this protracted time of lockdown and COVID restrictions, it can be hard to stay motivated. Last week, for instance, I had a lot on my mind and found most things something of a drag. We do need to overpower such feelings at times, and do what we need to, but they can also be a signal of the need to rest or reflect.

Here in the UK, we have at least six weeks of “stay home!” to look forward to. It can feel constrictive and limiting, but let us not forget to be grateful we have a home to be locked down into.

When we find ourselves stuck in a rut, we have to choose whether to dig ourselves in further, or to stir ourselves up and out of that position. Our verse for today from Hebrews encourages us to do the latter.

Consider

The first thing we are told to do is to “consider.” To consider means to think carefully about something, particularly in regards to making some kind of decision. Like so many things in life, very few things occur by accident. We must be intentional about how we live our lives, and not just go with the flow.

Here, we are instructed to consider – to consider how to stir one another up. This requires effort on our part. It requires us to engage the brain, and to focus not on our own needs (or our own “rut”) but to pay deliberate attention to others. Use your mental energy not to grumble about how tough the lockdown is, but on ways you can support and encourage others.

COVID restrictions do limit what we can do – that’s the point of them! But it does not mean we can do nothing. Even if we are completely out of ideas, God is not, and we can seek Him and His guidance to know what we can do – in our situation – to stir one another up.

Love and Good Works

Stir one another up? To do what? The author of Hebrews is pretty clear here. We stir one another up to love and good works.

When I first began to write this post, I separated these out as two sections; one for Love and one for Good Works. But as I come to write it now, I realise that you cannot separate the two. As James points out in his letter, how can one demonstrate their faith without good deeds? Likewise, how do we demonstrate our love for one another? By performing good works towards each other.

So how do we stir one another up in this way?

In some ways, this blog sets out to try to do that. I am hoping that you are encouraged by what you read here, and it will indeed stir you up to love and good works. If that’s true for you, why not share it with someone else who might enjoy it?

If you don’t have a blog or similar platform, then there’s a good chance you have a social media account of one form or another. Whatever flavour you have; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. how can you use it to be a force for love in the world? How can you encourage your Christian brothers and sisters through it?

I have said it before, likely more than once, but even if you can do nothing else, you can certainly pray. There is no one who does not need a healthy dose of prayer coverage right now, and you can be the one to have the immense privilege of kneeling before God and bringing their needs to Him. Pray through your church directory, phone book or for every person who sent you a Christmas card last year.

In our home, we have a set of lolly sticks with our friends, family and church family written on it. We select a stick at random and pray for whoever we draw. We trust God that whoever we pick out is in need of prayer that day.

I am certain there are a thousand other ideas you can come up with. This is where the “consider” part of the verse comes in. Set aside a short time and grab a notebook, mind map as many ideas as you can to reach out and encourage someone today. Even if you are not in a position to fulfil the idea yourself, post it online and see if someone else can run with your idea.

The best gift you can give someone today is Jesus Christ. Point them to Him in some way. Whether in or out of the church family, we can all bring someone one step closer to Christ with our love and good works.

I would love to hear some of your ideas today, so please do comment below or on any of the social media feeds. Imagine if everyone in the church came up with five ideas and shared them, and if we all did our bit, how much good could we do in the name of Jesus this week alone?

Meditate on this verse today, and let it stir you up this week

Prisoners of Hope

Last night it was announced that the part of the UK I live in (England) is returning to a full national lockdown. Cases of COVID have been increasing rapidly in recent weeks and so the Government have taken the decision to put us back into similar restrictions as we saw last March.

I had a look through my social media feeds last night, and the overwhelming feeling was “Here we go again!” And also, a fair few which said, “There goes dry January!” I hope this was largely tongue in cheek, but let’s not forget that these restrictions are extremely difficult for many families.

What can I say here that hasn’t already been said?

I do not want to debate whether lockdowns work or not, and no doubt you have your own views on this. Given the pressure on our health services, and the increasing cases, something had to be done, and I do not envy those who have to make such decisions. They must weigh the cost of harmful restrictions against the virus, and choose the lesser of two evils.

Let it be an opportunity for us to pray for our government.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

Lockdown: The Return

One post I read said that this new lockdown was much like the first, but with far worse weather! During that original lockdown, I took it upon myself to post on the blog every day. I did so as a way of encouraging those who read it with the Word of God. If we ever needed encouragement, then we do so again now!

The following verse springs to mind, which I want to share with you today.

Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Zechariah 9:12 (NIV)

What is a prisoner of hope exactly? I believe it is someone who simply cannot escape the hope brought about by knowing Jesus as Lord. While this isn’t exactly what Zechariah was thinking of when he penned these words, I hope (pun intended) that I’m not taking too much liberty with the text here.

If we focus on our problems, or even pay too much attention to the big issues of the world, then we cannot help but feel discouraged and hopeless. If we choose to, we can find things to complain about or seek out concerns to worry over.

For Christians though, we have good reason to hope. We know Christ, and we know His salvation. We have heaven to look forward to, and the blessed forgiveness of our sin. We have had peace bequeathed to us and have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (see Ephesians 1:3). We have the privilege of prayer, the bountiful Fruit of the Spirit, and the immense joy of sharing the good news of the Gospel.

These are just a few of the positives we can focus on, and I believe we can do so to such an extent that we can truly describe ourselves as prisoners of hope. That’s not to say that we bury our heads in the sand and deny the existence of problems. We cannot deny that there will be trouble in this life, but we do not have to dwell on it with all of our time and energy.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3 (NIV)

Let us be a people who focuses on eternal things, not on earthly matters. Let us live and function in the world of course, but let us also remember that it is not our forever home. I would venture to say it is impossible to be happy and full of hope without a genuine effort to keep our minds set on our Heavenly Father and the things of eternity.

What does the phrase “prisoner of hope” mean to you? How do you stay positive in difficult times? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts. Equally, if you need prayer support right now, please do get in touch.

Willing to Pray

A while ago, I did a short series of blog posts on the subject of prayer. I’m sure if you search for “pray” or “prayer” in the search box, you’ll come across them. The first in the series was called “What is prayer?” and you can find it here if you’re interested.

In recent days, I have felt something of a burden to pray. Reading that back, I wonder if that’s really a good way to put it. A “burden” sounds like a heavy weight or chore, and it has not felt like that at all. Rather, it is an immense privilege to pray and what I have felt is a stirring of the Holy Spirit to pray more – much more – than I have been.

Truth be told, I’ve started to reflect on my Christian walk of late. On the back of the lockdown in the UK, it has been an extremely busy time in many different respects. Being honest with you, my prayer life has suffered. I run from one thing to the next, seldom stopping to pray over what I’m doing, and essentially crashing at the end of the day without taking time to converse with God about the events of the past 24 hours. Sound familiar at all? I’m sure I’m not alone.

Yet, the book of James tells us that:

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:16 (NLT)

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces tremendous results… wow! Notice it is no throw-away prayer, but an earnest one. Earnest means sincere or serious in effort, it is not some half-hearted attempt. I could not honestly describe my prayers of late as earnest… can you?

Yet we see how powerful prayer can be! Prayers have great power indeed, and not because we’re so wonderful, but because God is. Prayers produce tremendous results!

How quickly I forget the power of prayer. How unconsciously I slip into not praying and not seeing the wonderful results which James speaks of. I am humbled as I write this, and ask our gracious God to forgive me and to remind me each and every day of the power of prayer. How dare we go one solitary hour without petitioning heaven!

King David was a man of prayer:

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
2 May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Psalm 141:1-2 (NIV)

David continually cries out to the Lord, and expects a swift answer. he compares his prayers to that of sweet smelling incense, ever present before God. May my prayers be as sweet before the Lord, and I pray He will indeed come quickly to my aid when I call on Him.

So, I need your help… please do pray for me, of course, I always seek your prayers! But also, please do let me know how I can pray for you. If you send me a request, I will certainly pray for you and it will help me get my mind off of my own business and on to the things of God.

You can contact me via the Contact page, replying to this post or by commenting on any of the social media feeds. I look forward to hearing from you.

Prayer is indeed a powerful thing to do. I have said it before, but prayer must never become a last resort in our lives. In both good and bad times, prayer ought to be our very first step. It is not about getting all that we want from God, but about living life with Him.

I leave with you these words from the Apostle Paul, which I am sure you know well…

Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Words to live by. Amen!

Help Me Do This Right

I once heard of a pastor who sadly lost his wife to cancer. In the midst of this tragedy, he knelt down and prayed. “Father God,” he said, “help me do this right.”

What this wise man meant was that he knew the pain of grief might tempt him to act badly at times. His prayer was a request that God would help him be a great witness for Jesus, even in the midst of suffering.

I have thought much about this prayer of late. I recently applied for a new job, and although not facing a tragedy like this pastor, I found myself adopting his prayer. “God, help me do this right. If I get the job, then please help me do it to the best of my ability. If I fail to get it, help me act right even in disappointment.”

Life throws many tests at us. Today, I want to focus on two major ones.

The Test of Failure

How we act when we face times of failure says much about our character. When we do not get what we want, or when disappointment comes knocking, it can be very difficult to act in a godly manner. It can be all the more trying when we set our hearts on something, don’t get it and our friend or enemy gains it instead.

Take my job opportunity example above. Imagine you were applying for your dream job, and yet your colleague, who isn’t all that good in your opinion, gets the job ahead of you. All the hard work you put in, and they step right into it. How hard it is to be civil in such a situation!

When we try, and try hard, and yet fail, it can be devastating. When we feel that way, we may start to feel like the world owes us something and so we take out our anger, disappointment or frustration on those around us. In such times, we can totally ruin our witness for Christ.

Jesus deserved the glory, yet was nailed to a sinner’s cross. He did not call down curses on those who had done it, but rather asked the Father to forgive them.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Luke 23:34 (NIV)

None of us will face such a trial, thank God! Yet there is much to learn from our Saviour’s example. Had the story ended at the cross, then many may have called Jesus’ ministry a failure. Not so! In reality, the cross and the empty tomb alike, were the greatest success of eternity!

If Christ faced such a trial and acted with humility and mercy, then we must also follow His example and act in godliness when we face our own minuscule trials (in comparison).

Draw on Christ’s strength in times of failure. Ask Him to help you act and speak well in the midst of it all.

The Test of Success

The other test I want to mention is the test of success. Like the test of failure, it too offers a great temptation to abandon our humility and godliness. In some ways, the test of success is far harder to pass than the test of failure.

In times of failure and disappointment, we tend to turn to God, knowing that we absolutely need Him. In times of success however, we can start to believe our own hype and foolishly think we succeeded under our own merits or wits. When all is well and times are good, God can be forgotten. One off the major reasons for trials in our lives is to get our attention. Tests make us realise how much we need our Father God!

You have probably heard a number of stories of celebrities or entrepreneurs who started from humble beginnings, but were later inflated with pride and arrogance. Success in this world is often fleeting, and so these people come crashing down.

Few of us reach these dizzy heights of “success” in our everyday lives, yet many of us are blessed with promotions at work, election into church leadership, or taking a key role in the PTA or school governor’s board. Yet success can inflate our ego or puff us up. With success comes responsibility, and often success draws the eyes of others who will certainly notice if you don’t walk the Christian walk.

Be a Good Witness

Success or failure shows off our character. It displays to the world who we really are inside. If we claim to be Christian, then the world will soon point out our tiniest fault.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV)

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

Acts 2:32 (NIV)

The prayer, “Help me do this right…” is so simple yet so powerful. I find myself praying it more and more. “Father, help me be the best dad I can be…” “Dear Lord, help me manage my employees well…” “Jesus, as I minister in your Name today, please help me do it right…”

What are you facing today? Do you need to pray this little prayer too? Heavenly Father, whatever we do today, let us do it right! Help us to be a good witness to Your love and faithfulness. When people look upon us, let them see You and what You have done for us. In the mighty Name of Jesus, Amen!

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!

Prayer and Sovereignty

A couple of years ago, I was challenged about my view of God’s Sovereignty. I once believe that He did not control all things, but rather had delegated some control (for want of a better term) to humankind. Yet, a careful look at the Bible made me question this view, and ultimately dismiss it. God is in control of all things, directing and holding everything together.

You can read my posts on that subject here – Wrestling with the Sovereignty of God, and – The Sovereign God.

Taking the view that God does indeed have supreme sovereignty and controls everything that happens leads to some very difficult questions. The problem of evil for instance, how can evil exist within God’s will? This is a subject for another day, and is by no means a straightforward one.

Another question relates to prayer. If God controls and directs all things according to His will, then what role does prayer play? The Apostle Paul wrote Romans 9, where he discusses sovereignty, yet also wrote Romans 10 which encourages us to pray. Clearly Paul saw no contradiction.

I have been reading a book on sovereignty this week, and the subject of prayer was briefly discussed in a chapter I read last night. The author did not say what I am about to, but certainly inspired my line of thinking.

Prayer is not about getting God to do what we want. Rather, prayer is God asking us to align to His will and purpose.

Let me explain with an example: football (or soccer for our American readers!).

When I line up a shot in a football game, and kick the ball with all the precision and accuracy I can muster, and it goes towards the corner flag (not the goal), my teammates do not run forward, grab the goal and move it to the corner so that I score! Imagine that for a moment, and how silly it sounds!

Instead, when I play football, I must kick the ball towards the goal. The goal never moves nor does it grow or shrink. I need to get that shot on target and it does absolutely no good to shoot anywhere else on the pitch.

How does this apply to prayer? Well, often we pray and are expecting God to move. We give Him our list of wants, and we are waiting on Him to make it happen. This is akin to shooting at the corner, and expecting the goal to move.

As God is Sovereign, He will do His will and His will only. When we pray, if we are praying for something outside of His will, then it will never happen. Similarly, if we pray in His will, we can be certain it will come to pass.

Why pray then? If God will do His will alone, then our prayers cannot change that. If I pray in God’s will, it will happen, but certainly would have happened independent of me. Likewise, if I pray outside of His will, it will never happen no matter how elequont or frequent my prayers. Prayer is just a waste of time right? Absolutely not!

Take the Lord’s Prayer – we pray “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” This is a prime example of a waste of breath if we are asking for God’s will to be done. If sovereignty holds, then God will keep His own will no matter what. Yet this prayer is not a request! We are not asking for God’s will to be done, as it certainly will be. Rather, we are praying in recognition and agreement with that! It is not a request but acknowledgement! God’s will is done on Earth as in heaven, and we rejoice of that fact!

God wants us to recognise the fact that His will is good, pleasing and perfect (see Romans 12:1-2). When we accept that, why would we pray for anything else other than His will?

Prayer is not about taming God and getting Him to do what we want. It is about humbling us, and changing our mindsets such that we want all that He plans to do. We pray, “If it be your will…” so that we recognise and accept that God’s will is best for us.

Understanding this, I’ll admit, very difficult truth, provides us with extreme security. We may want one thing or another, yet if it does not happen we know that it is because God did not will it. That means He has a different purpose in mind. Too many of us do not think about the long game, only about our immediate comfort.

I say all of this absolutely realising that many of us are going through some very difficult, even life-threatening things. How dare I say people facing such things are in the midst of God’s will? The objection usually comes down to the fact that no loving God could ever allow us to go through such suffering. I humbly submit that this is a human way of looking at things, and we cannot begin to fathom what God has in mind. I can say with 100% certainty that no matter what you are facing today, it is not because God does not love you. Jesus went to the cross and died for you, that’s how much He loves you! No matter what you are facing, do not let go of that cross and knowing your Saviour bled and died for you!

So, we pray in humble submission to God’s will and purpose. We pray to surrender to God and what He wants for our lives. We are free to ask for whatever we wish, understanding that only His will shall be accomplished.

I close with this. Prayer is not primarily about asking God to do things for us, it is about building our relationship with Him. Our praise and thanksgiving should always outweigh our petition. God is love, and He loves you, and He loves to hear your prayers and loves to answer them according to His good, pleasing and perfect will. 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!

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