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

I Thank God For You

Each morning on my Facebook page – which you can find here Andy Brown on Facebook – I try to share a daily Scripture. These are just verses from the Bible which I feel are relevant for the day ahead, and go in no particular order.

Today’s verse was from Romans.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

Romans 1:8 (KJV)

Paul is writing to the Roman church, obviously, and is telling them how thankful he is for each and every one of them. He prays in thanks giving to the Father, through Jesus Christ, that their faith is spoken of the world over.

It is proving to be one of those days today for me. I woke with something of a migraine and the computer i’m working on, which was absolutely fine yesterday evening, is now doing some very odd things. The screen looks as though it is stretched in one direction, and the entire left hand side is missing presumed lost! The screen issues are not exactly helping the aforementioned headache!

We had a very busy day yesterday, as it was my eldest daughter’s birthday. They had quite a late night in the end, so today the children haven’t exactly been totally co-operative…

It would have been all too easy to just give the blog a miss today, but as I’ve posted every day since 17th March, I didn’t want to break the posting streak!

Why am I telling you this? Firstly, I think it is important to be open and honest with people where you are. It can be all too easy to read a blog or listen to a Bible teacher and mistakenly believe that all is well in their lives. Our nature somehow convinces us that everyone else is better and isn’t facing the same issues we are.

Bible teachers, while absolutely should be setting a good example, are human too and have problems like everyone else.

So, when I sat down to write after lunch, I was not exactly in the right frame of mind to do so.

As I pondered at the keyboard for a few minutes, I got to thinking about the verse above from Romans, which I had shared that morning. I cannot say that God “spoke to me” but felt perhaps it was enough to say to – the reader – that, like Paul, I thank God for you too.

To each and every reader of this blog, and to every follower of the Facebook page and social media, I say a massive thank you. It means a great deal to me when people read this blog and make the effort to get in touch. I read every comment and message, and I do my best to respond where I can.

Not only do I thank you, but I thank God for each of you. Most people who read this blog are seeking a deeper journey in their faith and walk with God, and I am humbled that these words can play even a small part in that. I am honoured that you would take time to read, and I pray that this blog encourages you and helps you draw closer to Jesus.

If you like what you see here, do let me know and please do pass it on to anyone else you think may benefit. I notice when people share my posts, as I see a bump in the page views and it is really encouraging. I do not want fame or fortune of course, but it is uplifting to see readers and sharers alike.

Thank you again, and I will be praying for every reader. It is an immense privilege to pray for you, so if you have any requests, then please do pass them along to me as well.

God bless you, and I hope normal service will resume tomorrow – stretchy screen permitting!

Miracle at the Gates

Acts 3 can loosely be summarised into two parts. Firstly, Peter and John perform a miracle at the gates of the temple. Then, the second part of the chapter covers another sermon Peter preached in response to the events surrounding the above miracle. In today’s post, we will think about the miracle itself and then examine Peter’s words tomorrow.

A certain man who was lame from his mother’s womb was being carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask gifts for the needy of those who entered into the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive gifts for the needy. 4 Peter, fastening his eyes on him, with John, said, “Look at us.” 5 He listened to them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” 7 He took him by the right hand and raised him up. Immediately his feet and his ankle bones received strength. 8 Leaping up, he stood and began to walk. He entered with them into the temple, walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 They recognized him, that it was he who used to sit begging for gifts for the needy at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11 As the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.

Acts 3:2-11 (WEB)

Verse 1 (not quoted above) tells us that Peter and John were going to the temple at the hour of prayer. They encounter a man who is entirely dependent on others. Each day they carry him there, and he asks for gifts to meet his needs. In those days, there was no welfare system you could call on in time of need. If you were disabled and not able to work, then you were essentially reduced to begging.

Imagine how difficult that must have been? I guess it would have felt like being trapped, with no way out and very little hope ahead. Speaking from experience, I have a severe sight problem and so have a glimpse (if you excuse the pun) of what it must have been like. Technological advances in the last few years have made such a difference to some with disabilities, and for me personally smart phones and IT kit means I can work and live independently. This man had no such help.

Verse 4 is particularly interesting to me. Peter gazes at this man intently, and asks him to look in return. The phrasing is unusual, and it is not immediately obvious to me what is going on here.

I wonder if Peter, as he was passing by, was moved by the Spirit and this focusing of his eyes on the man was him discerning the Spirit’s call. As he looked on the man, maybe that still small voice was telling him what he could do to help.

Peter tells him to “Look at us!” suggesting he was not, initially, looking at them. I wonder how many times people had walked by, hearing his request for alms and yet not daring to even look.

I used to work in London, and would often see homeless men and women sitting by the side of the road. They might ask for spare change, and yet so many (and I admit myself at times) would walk past without even acknowledging they were there. For this particular man, perhaps the invisibility was as worse as his physical disability.

The man looks up expecting to be given something from these two men. Peter quickly quoshes that idea and informs him he has neither silver nor gold.

Then Peter does something astonishing. He gives the man what he has, and that is the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In that name, and in its power, he commands him to get up and walk. And with a helping hand from Peter, he does just that!

I want to point out that Peter does not pray. He does not first ask God to heal the man, and then wait on Him to move. Instead, he speaks out of his authority, using the power of Christ.

I was once taught that all believers have this authority, and any of us can call on the name of Jesus and invoke this power. I do not want to explore this thought here and now, as I think it is a whole series of blog posts. You certainly cannot take that view from this event alone. Peter may have been a special case, and this healing miracle was certainly “authentication” for the words he would shortly speak.

I am passionate about healing, and certainly believe it is clearly taught in the New Testament. Of course, not every person receives healing every time they ask, and there are many reasons for this. Suffice it to say that Jesus spent much of His ministry healing the sick, and I do not think He has changed today. There are gifts of healing promised in the New Testament, and James’ letter instructs us to pray for the sick, as does Mark’s version of the Great Commission. Unless someone can convince me biblically that healing is no longer for us today, I will continue to believe in it and ask for it.

Peter speaks these words over this man, and immediately his legs grew strong and he was able to walk. It is an amazing miracle, and one for which I praise God. Verse 8 tells us he joined them in entering the temple, and went in leaping and praising God! Thank God for the miracles He works in our lives, be it healing or otherwise!

Verses 9 and 10 tell us the reason for the healing. When all saw this healed man leaping and praising the Lord, they were amazed! It drew attention. It made people open to the Lord, and as we shall see next time, Peter was ready to speak of what Christ had done.

Something God has challenged me on in the last few days is how I approach Bible passages. My immediate reaction is to look for application, and to ask how I can apply it in my life. I heard someone say the other day that the Bible is not about me, it’s about God. I should not feel the pressure to extract application from every verse, as not every verse is about me. That applies here too. I would love to examine the miracle and look for the steps I need to take to receive my own miracle, or to bestow a miracle on others. There is room for that of course, but it is not primarily a teaching passage telling us what to do. Rather, it is telling us what happened.

As much as I would like my own healing, I praise the Lord for this man receiving his.

Had I only scoured this text for what I could get out of it, I would have missed something important. Today, as I wrote this post, I saw something I had never seen before.

A certain man who was lame from his mother’s womb was being carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask gifts for the needy of those who entered into the temple.

Acts 3:2 (WEB)

They recognized him, that it was he who used to sit begging for gifts for the needy at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:10 (WEB)

Look at what this man was doing at the gate. I have always just assumed he sought fulfilment of his own needs, and most likely he was. But reading the verses above, you could also read it as he was collecting money for the poor other than himself.

Not wanting to overstretch the idea, perhaps this man shared what he received with others and that tells us something important about the kind of man he was. Maybe that played a part in what happened to him.

Don’t just read the Bible for what you can get out of it – it’s not about you!

Prayer Video – 4th June 2020

Today Andy shares a brief video praying over the latest requests he has received. Please join him in praying for those mentioned here.

Sorry that the preview is appearing upside down! It should play fine.

If you would like Andy to pray for you, please do get in touch via the Contact page or just leave a comment.

Thanks for watching!

The Early Church

We continue on with our study through the book of Acts, and today conclude chapter 2. There are only a few verses left in the chapter from where we left off, but there is a lot said.

They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. 43 Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together, and had all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. 46 Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47 (WEB)

This passage gives us a brief look into what the early church would have been like. Remember that this comes straight off of the back of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost where three thousand souls were added to the number of the followers of Christ. The “they” here is the new group of believers joining the disciples.

The Apostles’ Teaching

The first thing we learn is that this group of believers were dedicated to the teaching of the Apostles. We are not told specifically what was being taught, but based on Peter’s sermon and other teaching both in Acts and the rest of the New Testament, I think we can get a fairly good idea. The believers spent time learning what they needed to know. They were not satisfied with a short sermon on a Sunday morning, but rather were “steadfast” or continual in the teaching of the Word of God.

Do we “continue steadfastly” in the teaching of the Word, or do we dip in and out of it as we wish? What a challenge!

Fellowship and the Breaking of Bread

Fellowship means that this group of believers lived life together. They were united, and shared their days with each other. This is also seen in the breaking of bread, meaning they shared meals together also. We need other believers in our life. Life is difficult, and all the more so when you are a serious Christian in a hostile world. We need encouragement and support, and we get this from each other. A life lived alone is very difficult indeed. A life shared with other like-minded believers is not necessarily easier, but at least you can draw on the strength and help offered by the family of Christ.

While breaking bread of course means to eat meals together, in the culture of the Middle East it is more significant than that. To break bread with another means to be united with them. In the western culture, we might liken it to the shaking of hands. When we give someone our word, we tend to shake on it as a sign that we are serious. It implies a sort of contract between us. In the Middle East, the breaking of bread means something similar.

Prayer

Again we see here the believers united in prayer. As we read through Acts, we will see time and time again that the Early Church were constant in their prayers. These were nott prayers prayed alone and in private, but corporate prayer shared with others. Absolutely they would have spent much time in private prayer also, but they made it a priority to pray with other believers. We should do likewise.

All Who Believed

We see in verse 44 that all who believed were “together.” It says that they had “all things in common,” and this is a real challenge to us in the modern church. These verses paint a picture of almost complete unity among the believers. It is a unity we often only dream of in churches today.

Yet Jesus prayed for unity as recorded in John 17. He wanted and expected us to be in unity, to stand together and to hold one another up. I really feel, as i write this, that we are to take it seriously. How many churches have divided over silly issues; the colour of the curtains, the time of the services or other such trivial matters. Let each one of us do our part to protect and maintain the unity among us.

There are many references in these few short verses alone of their togetherness, unity, being of “one accord.” etc. Let each of us pray for that kind of oneness among our church family.

The passage tells us that they also sold their goods and possessions that they might share with each other. This kind of selflessness is unheard of these days. Many of us work very hard for what we have, and yet few of us are true givers. We might give some money to the church, but I’ve met very few who would sell what they have just so that they could share with the family of believers. Again, it is a real challenge for us. Tossing a few coins into the offering basket each week seems woefully inadequate next to the kind of selfless life lived by these believers.

The chapter ends with verse 47:

praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:47 (WEB)

As well as all the things we have mentioned above, this verse sums it all up with the words “praising God.” Everything they did revolved around their dedication to the worship of the Lord. He had saved them, in His great mercy, and they now lived their life in worship to Him.

It says that they had favour with all the people, which is a sign that they truly lived humbly and in loving-kindness. Only such a church family would attract such favour.

The chapter closes by telling us that everyday God was adding to their number. As churches, we may long for God to add to our number, and regularly pray that He would do so. It is a great responsibility however, to nurture new believers and we must make every effort – co-operating with the Holy Spirit – to be the kind of church where God can trust us with new believers. Let us not just preach the Gospel, but let us live it out each and every day. As we do so, it will be a witness to the world.

I pray that God will indeed add to the family of believers each day, and that the church globally will look like the early church described above. Amen!

Togetherness

Over the last few days we have started to work our way through the book of Acts. You can catch up on any posts you’ve missed by selecting Acts from the categories list on this page.

I want to try and complete chapter 1 today, as tomorrow is Pentecost and it would be great to be able to move on to chapter 2 in time for that…

We pick up at chapter 1 verse 12, but I won’t include the entirety of the text here because it’s rather long. You can read the full section on Bible Gateway here.

In summary, Jesus ascends into heaven and the disciples and a group of others return to the Upper Room where they spend much time praying. Peter talks about what happened to Judas, how it fulfilled Scripture and then they set about finding a replacement for him.

I must confess to often struggling to write or speak about passages like this one. My make up is such that I immediately look for application and lessons, but some passages just are not there for that reason. This one is narrative in nature, just telling us what happened, and contains no direct instruction for us.

The wonder of the Bible is that there is always something of value to find. What you see in these words may be quite different to what I see, and only in sharing together can we learn and grow. So do feel free to comment below (on any of my posts) of things you see in the Scriptures which I do not mention.

The Disciples

When they had come in, they went up into the upper room where they were staying; that is Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James

Acts 1:13 (WEB)

Verse 13 lists the names of the disciples who were gathered. I just want to point out that if you compares the lists of names in the Gospels, sometimes you end up a little confused. Different names appear, and so it can lead us to ask who actually were the Twelve? Just bear in mind that some of them were known by more than one name. The Twelve were consistent throughout, but one Gospel might use a different name to another.

One Accord

All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer and supplication, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Acts 1:14 (WEB)

Verse 14 tells us that the believers were together with “one accord.” I love this little phrase! The modern day church comprises of all manner of different denominations who believe slightly different things about God and the Bible. Too often we are known by our division, not our “oneness.”

As churches, we are all in the same family of believers. We should not spend our time focusing on our differences of opinion and doctrine, but on what we can agree on. I am not saying we should compromise our beliefs or unite with any group who does not accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but let us all show the world how we can be of “one accord.”

I am struck by how often the early church met for prayer. It seems a constant marker in their lives that they did not just pray, but prayed together. It is a great privilege, seldom recognised, that we can join with other believers and pray to our Father in Heaven.

Peter and the Others

In these days, Peter stood up in the middle of the disciples (and the number of names was about one hundred twenty), and said, “Brothers, it was necessary that this Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was guide to those who took Jesus.

Acts 1:15-16 (WEB)

Verse 15 notes two important things to me. Firstly, Peter is already starting to step into his leadership role. Despite his many failures, he is already beginning to fulfil Jesus’ command by the sea of Galilee to “feed my sheep” (see John 21:17).

I mistakenly imagine this gathering in the Upper Room to be small and intimate. The remaining eleven disciples, holed up and avoiding the authorities, waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit. This verse challenges my imagination, telling us clearly that there were over a hundred gathered there.

During His ministry, Jesus probably did not move around in a small group with just the disciples in tow. For starters, the women who travelled with Him went largely unmentioned. Jesus had no small following, and the events of the upcoming Pentecost would only multiply this.

Peter sets out how the betrayal of Jesus by Judas was foretold by David, and he shares some the Scriptures concerning this. For me at least, one of the reasons I am fully convinced the Bible is true is because of the Old Testament prophecy. It is undeniable that it was written in advance of the events, and yet clearly tells of what would happen. If so many were fulfilled by the coming of Christ, then we can have complete assurance that He is who He says He is. And we can also be sure that those prophecies which are yet to be fulfilled, certainly will.

Of the men therefore who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John, to the day that he was received up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Acts 1:21-22 (WEB)

Verses 21 and 22 again challenge us that there were those who were with Christ from the beginning of His ministry, who were not included in the Twelve.

The passage ends with the selection of Matthias to replace Judas. They do not take a vote, nor conduct a series of interviews and selection processes. They cast lots and seek the will of the Father in this matter. The consensus of the group may have made a different choice, for all we know, and only God knows the heart and can make the right choice.

Doing it like this strengthens their togetherness in “one accord.” There is no division, preferring one party over another. In meekness and humility, they submit to God’s will.

Praise be to the God and Father who knows us inside and out, and let us always seek His will in every matter. Amen!

What a Chore!

What is your favourite part of a church service?

Some might choose the sermon, while others enjoy the musical worship. Still others might prefer the fellowship, and yet others the coffee and snacks afterwards!

I am willing to bet very few would say that the prayers are their favourite part.

Few Christians (in my experience at least) are truly excited about prayer. This is my fourth post on the subject of prayer, and I hope it has encouraged you to want to explore more in your prayer life. But does it excite you?

Have you ever met a Christian who boasted about their prayer life? Perhaps they rise very early in the morning and pray for five hours before making breakfast. Maybe they tell you all about the different things they pray for, and the miracles that occur as they petition the throne of God. As much as we know we should be happy for them, if you are like me you will probably feel somewhat small, or even condemned.

Comparing your prayer life to someone else’s is never a good idea!

When we meet someone like this, we might try to replicate what they are doing. We set our alarm extra early and are all set to rack up the hours. Five minutes in though, and we’ve prayed for everyone and everything we can think of.

We sit it out, watching the clock and struggle through an hour. Ultimately we give up and feel even worse. Why is prayer such a chore!

The Father never intended for us to see prayer as a chore. Sometimes prayer is indeed work, but was not meant to be a drag which we dread.

If you want to subdue a group of believers, just suggest an evening of intense intercession!

The early church was not like this, and never seemed to struggle to pray like we often do.

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Acts 1:14 (NIV)


They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:42 (NIV)


When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.

Acts 4:24 (NIV)

So why does the modern church struggle so much with prayer?

I do not mean to paint a bleak picture here. I’ve met many Christians who were passionate about prayer, but often they are those with a particular gift for it. The low attendance at many prayer evenings betrays something about our view of prayer.

Some religions mandate prayer requiring its followers to pray four or more times every single day. For Christians, no such rules exist. I believe that this was a deliberate choice by God, who could have easily demanded prayer at regular intervals.

God does not want prayer to be a chore. It is not something we have to do, it is some we get to do.

If you are not all that excited by prayer, then ask yourself why not. As I think about the answer myself, I suggest these might be some common responses.

  1. I never know what to say
  2. I’m too easily distracted
  3. I am busy and just don’t put aside the time to do it, and I must admit it is not a priority for me right now
  4. My prayers seem to go unanswered

Do any of these ring true for you? They are certainly all true for me at different times!

The first three are largely matters of discipline. If we don’t know how to pray or what words to say, then we can use the Bible to help us or buy ourselves a book of prayers to get us started.

If too easily distracted, then we need to know ourselves and put aside things that will get in the way. It might mean putting the phone in a drawer for a while!

The third item was hard for me to write because it hit home. While I would never say that prayer is not a priority for me, do I actually prioritise it? It is tough to be excited about something you put off.

The last one is a complex one, and it can be very difficult when we feel our prayers are not being answered. Often we mean that they are not being answered in the way we would like, rather than not being answered at all.

We do not have the space here to discuss reasons why prayers seem to go unanswered at times. Sometimes it is simple, and sometimes not. For instance, we do not get the answers we want if we have not asked (see James 4:2). Also, if we ask but don’t really believe we will get it, then we stray into wishing and not praying.

One thing I can say for sure is that God is always listening. He wants to hear from you, and He delights in answering our prayers. Remember that if we were Him, knowing all that He knows, then we would answer our own prayers the way He does.

Let me close by reminding you of what prayer is. It is the opportunity to talk with the Creator of all things. And this is not some distant or unknown character, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He loves you and proved this love at the cross. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we cannot help but be excited by prayer.

Prayer is a powerful and extraordinary thing. We have direct access to the Father and can ask Him whatever we wish. We can stand in His presence, and seek His favour. We can ask Him to bless those we love, and to spread the good news about Jesus across the world. He loves and enjoys our prayers, and delights to say “Yes!”

Let us all stir up our hearts and get truly excited about prayer. It is not a chore, but an adventure! Praise be to the God who hears our every prayer!

Praying in the Moment

We sometimes think of prayer as an activity – a spiritual discipline if you like – which we may do for a certain length of time. Yet, the Apostle Paul encourages us to:

pray without ceasing,

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV)

So how do we do that? Are we to quit our jobs and just spend our entire lives praying? I do not think so. In fact, I think Paul was instructing us to pray in the moment, while doing whatever other activities we needed to do.

Nehemiah did this.

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”

Nehemiah 2:1-5 (ESV)

There is much going on here, so I will try to explain. These events occur after the nation of Israel has been led into captivity. Nehemiah is essentially asking to return and begin to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.

He appears before the king to serve him yet clearly the king recognises that Nehemiah is sad. Nehemiah is afraid because you dare not appear before the king with a downcast face. You could lose your head for such a thing!

The king questions Nehemiah, and he shares the reason for his sadness. In verse 4, the king asks what he wants. What does Nehemiah do? He does not blurt out his request, but instead it tells us he prays first. Clearly he did not stand there and hold a prayer evening before making the request. He has only a split second before answering the king. His prayer cannot have been more than a simple “Help me!”

There are definitely times when we need to dedicate a set amount of time to God in prayer. But there are also times when we need to pray in the moment, and simply ask for help.

How much trouble could be avoid if we do this? Imagine the time and energy we could save, or the pain we could avoid, if we just took a moment to pray before opening our mouths. Think of the bullets we could dodge by just asking God what He thinks before we commit and make a decision.

I’ll tell you a silly story, but hope it illustrates the point.

Many years ago, I bought a CD… That alone should tell you how long ago it was! I hope no one reading this does not know what a CD is…!

Anyway, as I was waiting in line to pay for the CD, I got a sense that I shouldn’t buy it. Not that it was sinful but just a gentle nudge inside. I ignored it. And do you know, I never once enjoyed listening to that CD? I recognise now that God was trying to tell me that in advance. if only I had followed Nehemiah’s example and just checked in with God first. I could have saved the money and not wasted the time.

What decisions do you make without praying about them first? Now you have a brain and God wants us to use it. No need to pray about whether you should get and go to work, as that’s a given. But we make a mistake thinking we know it all and can run our lives better than God can.

Pray in the moment. If you are in a conversation which is in danger of becoming an argument, take a moment to pray before you say the next thing which may inflame things.

Pray without ceasing. That does not mean pray instead of doing other things, but while doing other things. The Holy Spirit lives inside of us and wants to be our Guide throughout life. He won’t shout or raise His voice over the din of our everyday lives, so we need to take moments to check in with Him and listen.

What traps or trouble might you avoid today by doing this? Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you continually to pray, and offer up prayers in the moments of your day.