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Archive for June, 2014

5. Church Begins – Converted

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5. Church Begins – Converted

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Acts 9:1-6 But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he travelled, it happened that he got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. He fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He said, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise up, and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound, but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. They led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. He was without sight for three days, and neither ate nor drank.

The conversion of Paul is perhaps the most famous throughout the history of the Church. Luke tells us the story three times. But was Paul’s conversion special? Many people say “I have not had a Damascus Road experience“. There were, it is true, special events on that day, which make Paul’s conversion unique. Let us look together at his conversion experience.

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4. Church Begins – Let’s Get Organized

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4. Church Begins – Let’s Get Organized

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Today we go back to the beginning of Acts 6. So far in the book of Acts, we can see that the Church has come under attack by the world (through persecution) and satan (through deceit & moral compromise).

A new crisis has appeared. Unable to destroy the church by way of persecution and deceit, satan now tries to create a split in the church by getting believers to argue and fight with each other. If satan had succeeded in creating an implosion within this church, the only church in existence at the time, then the effects could have been devastating. I have had people tell me they want a church without any form of organizational structure. If a church has no organizational and leadership structure then it will soon have chaos instead of harmony, and will collapse rather than grow. Of course, some leaders are corrupt or make wrong decisions as we have seen already, but Godly leaders will not be corrupt and as we shall see, make decisions that are wise and based on prayer and spiritual insights.

So, what was the problem, what was the solution and what happened after it was resolved?

The Problem! (Actsv1)

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service.

  • Good news – they were growing, but this had caused a problem!
  • Bad news – Some widows were not being cared for!

Hebraic Jews had always lived in the then nation of Israel, spoke mainly Aramaic and some Hebraic. They would have been well used to life in a Jewish society, the Temple and avoiding those who were not Jews: the Gentiles..

Grecian or Hellenestic Jews were part of the Jewish Diaspora, born elsewhere within the known world and had returned to Jerusalem. These mainly spoke Greek, and were well used to working with Gentiles.

We know that widows were and are important to God, because justice is important to God. God is a God of justice and mercy. In the Old Testament, under the Law of Moses, God commanded provision for those who were widows, oppressed or uncared for. The Apostles would have known about God caring for the widows and in Jesus teaching about justice for the poor and the oppressed. We know this because earlier in Acts 2 and 4, people were selling and sharing possessions and ensuring that people within the Christian community were being looked after and cared for. This included making sure that everyone got fed, particularly those who had no family to care for them. Somehow, unintentional or not, this group of widows were missing out.

What then happened?

The Solution! (Actsv2-6)

The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word.” These words pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch; whom they set before the apostles. When they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

Three things about the solution

Transformation of the Apostles – James, Peter & John particularly (v2)

Its not stated here, but a transformation had taken place! Only a few short time ago, the disciples of Jesus had refused to wash feet as an act of service (Peter); some had wanted positions of power and greatness (James & John). Their old nature must have started asking questions and prompting them to react negatively. The world has attacked the church, satan has attacked the church, and now satan would have been using the Apostles old nature to attack the church. But – as they are transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit and now have a new nature, the nature of Jesus Christ, they react much more righteously and judiciously.

All together now! (v2-5)

Notice they gathered all the believers together for a church meeting. The gave their opinion or judgment if you like, that their ministry or time would be better spent doing what God had called them to do – to be leaders of the Church, praying, preaching, evangelizing and discerning how best to apply the 3 years of teaching that they had had when travelling with Jesus Christ before His ascension. Their time, rightly so, was best spent doing that, for that was their ministry of service. But other people in the church gathering, who had a ministry of service and overseeing the food distribution, could spend their time doing that! So what of these seven men with Greek names? They were elected by the whole church, both Grecian and Hebraic, to perform this duty. They may already have been doing it, but now were being set apart especially for this role. These men were controlled by the Holy Spirit and were wise. They were chosen to give relief to the leadership so that the Word of God and prayer would not be hindered.

Commissioning (v6)

Interestingly enough, the word diakonia is translated here as ministry. Another way to translate it is as deacons. But, they were not deacons in the way the Paul uses the word as part of a church government in 1 Timothy 3. Rather they were deacons, set apart for this specific task – it was their ministry. It may well have been from here, that Paul developed what some parts of the universal church understands of the role of deacons. So these seven men, were prototypes as it were, for the Paul-ine idea of deacons.

Note also that the Apostles didn’t say their work was more important than serving. They were just following what God had called them to do, just as God had called these seven men to take responsibility for providing food for the widows. So they were commissioned by God, by the laying on of hands and set apart to perform it. We know only of Steven and Phillip and that they continued doing other ministries as well as this.

The Result! (v7)

The word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly. A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.

The result was growth! Growth and witness may well see the conversion of former enemies. Growth and witness may well see reasoning and transformation.

Now that the Apostles had time for their dedicated and unique ministry, all the widows could be fed, and all believers able to participate within the life of the church. Not only that, Stephen was instrumental in reaching the Apostle Paul (Acts 7:58). Philip was instrumental in reaching the city of Samaria and won over for Jesus Christ, the Ethiopian Eunuch who then took the gospel to Africa. (Acts 8)

This growth was where the word of God increased in its effectiveness in the lives of those unbelievers who would listen to the gospel. This growth was not merely addition but multiplication! It was explosive! So explosive that even former enemies were becoming converts! Sadducees were Jewish believers who didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection – yet they came to faith and started to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not hard to imagine that some of those Priests coming to faith in Jesus Christ were former persecutors of the Church! They were watching the church to see how best to attack and debate them. Yet found that they were joining the church, rather than continuing to oppose it. The church was preaching one thing and acting upon it. There was no hypocrisy within the church. The church was transparent – it lived as it believed. The church was seen as transformative and servant-like. While the Church continued to reason with others about the validity of Jesus Christ’s claims to be the Messiah, it would have not been effective if lives were not being transformed. If lives were not being changed, then no amount of reasoning alone would have seen the growth in numbers being added to the Church. Just as transformation and change alone would not have been the catalyst for growth, without the reasoning behind it.

Transformation

The early Church was a radical community of believers, growing quickly. At Pentecost, the church community began when the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples (Acts 2v4). The hallmarks of this community were commitment and transformation. This community was radical. It was where people’s lives were being changed as the Holy Spirit filled them. Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy. This church in Jerusalem grew by being a radical community imbued with radical individuals engaging with others and serving. It was a church where every member was asked and expected to play some role, in the life of the church. .

The Christian life is to be dynamic and active. As we have seen the word “deacon” here denotes ministry. Ministry is any service for Jesus Christ. When you serve as God’s deacon in this way, God’s honour is released. That’s why the embryonic Church in Jerusalem grew and flourished. This is done because service shows the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ to those being served and to those watching. That is to be our motive for service. Serving and ministry should never to be about what you and I can get out of it. When that is the motive, God is not glorified. God’s glory and supremacy is our goal as Christians. Spiritual growth comes from serving rather than being served. This is because what ever is given in service of God and others, faith grows and Jesus Christ gives back even more. Jesus speaking in Matthew 25v15-30 tells of the rewards for faithful service and the penalties for being faithless.

Serving others is a sign that you are trusting God and having faith in God. Serving God and others is the mark of a spiritually maturity and through service, the greatest servant of all, is reflected: Jesus Christ, who came to serve and give his very life for others (Mark 10v45). As Christians, we are to be as Jesus Christ (Romans 8v28; Philippians 2v5) and to serve. Yet if we are honest, we sometimes feel incapable, just as Moses did (Exodus 3). An excellent example to follow is that of the deacon Stephen.

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Me, The DWP, and the Daily Struggle

Let’s pray for this dear friend and pray for justice to be done…

Pam's Perambulation

It’s taken me a while to write this, but the problems still rumble on.  I’ve pretty much written it straight down.  I don’t have much energy to edit and if I think of the wisdom of it too long, I won’t do it!

The first thing to say, is that I am not a special case – this is happening to all kinds of people.  I just thought I’d share my experiences.

I was declared unfit to work by my doctor in 1995.  I had a couple of trial returns to work, which did not go well.  I was eventually retired on ill-health by The Methodist Church in 1997 and moved to one of their houses for retired Ministers (for which we thank God every day).  Soon after that I had to attend a medical for receiving Incapacity Benefit, which declared me not fit to work and to be rightly…

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3. Church Begins – Persecution

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3. Church Begins – Persecution

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The world was changing, particularly for the Jewish people. They were still under the rule of the odious Romans, in the land God had given them. For centuries they had been expectant of a Messiah, a King, to rise up and rid them of the Roman oppressors. When the Messiah, Jesus Christ, did come – they missed Him. They had misunderstood what the Messiah was to do. The Messiah was not to lead a political revolution as they thought, but rather lead a spiritual revolution, bring people back into relationship with God. The worldview of the Jewish people needed to be changed. When worldviews need wholesale change of focus, problems arise. The embryonic church, followers of Jesus Christ the Messiah, was soon to feel pressure to change back.

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Patrons and stuff

Rev'd Claire

imageA patron. In the Church of England, the one who gets to give the prospective incumbent the once over and decide whether or not to present them to the Bishop. Or today, one who patronises.

I don’t know what it is about the sight of a lone fairly middle-aged woman eating lunch that impels people to come and sit next to her. It might be friendliness, kindness, a desire to be neighbourly. Let’s assume so. When you ask her what she’s doing in the college, if she replies “Hiding in the library with some books”, it’s a fair bet she’s studying. So try not replying “Self guided reading? Marvellous!”

When she politely (if surprisingly tersely) asks, “And you?”, my recommendation is that you don’t explain the basic management technique you have just been taught, because you never know, she might hold a Masters in Business Administration, and be way ahead…

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2. Church Begins – Power & Passion

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2. Church Begins – Power & passion

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1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

1:12-14 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 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. 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 2:1-2 Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

As we saw last time, Jesus has ascended back to the right hand of the Father. The 12 apostles are now back in Jerusalem and waiting. Waiting for the Holy Spirit to come. The Holy Spirit who indwells members of the early church. The Holy Spirit who empowers and transforms them! Remember Peter? Remember how just a few days earlier he had rejected Jesus Christ and openly defied Him by trying to stop Jesus going to the cross. This Peter who was dejected and defeated. In the early chapters of Acts, we see the disciples transformed. Lets concentrate on Peter for a good example of this. This is now a new Peter, transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who speaks with the authority Jesus gave the disciples.

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1. Church Begins – Catalyst

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1. Church begins – Catalyst

Jesus’ resurrection is the catalyst for the mission of the church, beginning with the disciples and throughout history. Indeed, the growth and spread of the church, is a proof of the historical fact of Jesus’ physical resurrection or rising from the dead. Having been raised from the dead, Jesus’ mission to earth is coming to an end and shortly He will be returning to the right hand of the Father. Before He does so though, He has some more words to say to His disciples. Lets read Acts 1v1-12 for what happened between His resurrection and ascension.

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

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

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

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

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

Jesus’ Authority

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ authority is a major theme. Where Matthew records Jesus doing miracles, this is to highlight Jesus authority in action and not just merely in words. Matthew records Jesus’ authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9v6) and He imparted authority to His disciples for a short time when they went on a mission in Matthew 10. Jesus has authority (Matthew 28v18) over all things, all people, all circumstances and happenings. Jesus has authority over all spiritual beings, whether angels or demons. Jesus has authority over all nations, governments and rulers. Jesus has authority over all earthly and spiritual authorities. Jesus has the authority. This means regardless of what ever the Christian Disciple faces, Jesus is in control. Therefore, as Christian Disciples, we can obey him without fear of retribution from those who would seek to harm us. We can obey Him regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. It is a great comfort to know, that He is in control of everything!! Through His death on the cross and His rising from the dead, Jesus has conquered all enemies.

Now people sometimes confuse authority with authoritarian. Authoritarian means severe, rigidity and a dictator. None of these apply to Jesus. We have been given a free will, but as His disciples, we should choose to exercise our free will to obey Him and live a life worthy of Him. As the Christian depends on Jesus’ authority, the Christian Disciple gains wisdom, guidance, and power.

You Go

If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then the disciples would not have had a story to tell. But Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, and the early church exploded numerically as the twelve disciples exercised Jesus’ authority and His power. We read about the growth of the early church in the Book of Acts.

Christianity is a faith whereby all Christian Disciples are to tell others of the goodness of God. Indeed God Himself is a missionary God. Ever since Genesis 3 and the fall of man, God has been on a mission to bring and call people back to Himself. That was the purpose of the nation of Israel, to be a light to all nations of the goodness and glory of God! That was purpose when God, who is outside of time and space, entered human history taking on human flesh and restricted Himself in a human body as the man we know as Jesus Christ. Jesus whole mission was one of calling people back to life in God. As followers of Jesus Christ, all Christian Disciples are to evangelize. Evangelism is showing and telling others of God’s message of reconciliation to all people of all time. It is not forcing people to adopt Church standards (1 Corinthians 5v12) and nor is it simply a message of join the church as a symbol of good works (Ephesians 2vv8-10).

Why evangelize?

The prime motivation for evangelism is out of gratitude for what God has done, in that we love because He loved us first. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5v14, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” As His servants we are to tell and live of God’s reconciling message

As I said before, we are all to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4v5). In these last words of Matthew’s Gospel, all Christian Disciples are to make disciples throughout the whole earth! Making disciples is not just evangelism but ensuring that guidance and care is given to new Christian disciples. How is this achieved? How can the Christian Disciple exhibit Jesus’ authority and power in evangelism? Who gives the impetus for Christian Disciples? That is part of the role of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus said would come once He had ascended back to the right hand of God the Father.

Jesus Ascends

Mark 16:14-19, Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1v1-12, we read about Jesus physically ascending into the heavens. He is returning, as He said he would do, to the right hand of the Father. During their last discussion with Jesus, the disciples were still expecting him to lead a revolution against the Romans (Acts 1v6). Despite all Jesus had said to them in the previous 3 years, they still did not understand that Jesus had come to lead a spiritual kingdom and not a political kingdom. Hence He tells them to go back to Jerusalem, with for the Holy Spirit and then go tell others the Good News about Him! And even after Jesus had vanished into the clouds, the disciples still gathered around looking into the sky for Him to return! So two angels came and said “You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.” (Acts 1v11) From there the disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited. They didn’t have to wait long, 10 days, until the Holy Spirit came, filled them and started living with them.

The Holy Spirit is coming

This is in fulfilment of Ezekiel 36v27 “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” where Almighty and All-powerful God will indwell those who follow Him. Throughout His ministry Jesus had talked about how after He was to depart, and that the Holy Spirit would come (John 15v26).

We know from the other writings in the New Testament who the Holy Spirit is and what His ministry is.

The Holy Spirit is spoken of as God (1 Corinthians 3v16). The attributes of God are ascribed to the Holy Spirit life (Romans 8v2), truth (John 16v13) and love (Romans 15v30).

The Holy Spirit is also a Person and is always referred to as ‘He’ in the New Testament (John 16v14). He relates to us as a person for He is comforter, guide and teacher (John 14). He can be blasphemed against and be grieved (Ephesians 4v30), and wherever the Holy Spirit is, the Father and Son are also present because they are one. (John 14v18-23).

Throughout the Book of Acts and in the other New Testament writings we discover more about the Holy Spirit. We see that His prime role to to glorify Jesus Christ the Son of God is praised and glorified (John 16v13-14). He will testify for Jesus Christ (John 15v26). He will witness for Jesus Christ (Acts 1v8). The Holy Spirit is involved with ministering to members of the church, as Jesus would be to us if He were here. The Holy Spirit declares God’s Word, interpreting and illuminating it. He convicts of sin, transforms, indwells, fills, baptizes and seals the believer. With all this, the Holy Spirit also equips for service. God is at work in His body the church, to will and to act accordingly to his purpose (Phil. 2v13), to be my witnesses (Acts 1v8). This is evident in the book of Acts and the other New Testament writings.

How is the Spirit seen? The Spirit’s work is in evidence, where people’s lives become more holy and more like Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12v3; 2 Corinthians 13v7). Sometimes the Holy Spirit works also in powerful ways, with miracles. But He also equips Christian Disciples for service, through the giving of spiritual gifts. Not just the so called more spectacular gifts of healing, miracles etc but also gifts such as mercy, generosity, helps and service.

We see in the rest of the Book of Acts, how the Holy Spirit empowered the early church and because of the impetus He gave them, the church is still growing and expanding throughout the world 2000 years later. In this series of studies in Acts, we will look at some of the key events in the life of the New Testament church, as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts.

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