Saturday, March 31, 2012

Studying Acts (part 5)

Chapter 8 of Acts must be one of the scariest chapters of the Bible. Here’s why:

Jesus told the disciples “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). He had also given them the Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20). Acts 1-7 covers the first few years of the church and lots of great things happened, lots of healings and miracles but the message of the gospel does not leave Jerusalem.

Then Stephen is stoned. This was a major departure from the norm as Jews weren’t allowed to put anyone to death although they could put people in prison. The Romans turned a blind eye to Stephen’s death to keep the peace with Jewish leaders. The believers can’t trust the Romans to protect them and persecution breaks out against the believers. Now, and only now, do we read of the believers evangelising outside Jerusalem. “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria… Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:1, 4).

God will allow persecution in order to push the church out of Jerusalem and out of its comfort zone to spread the gospel and fulfil the Great Commission. So, and this is the scary bit, what will God allow the church in Australia to go through in order to spread the gospel?

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Carey Nieuwhof on 30 uncomfortable seconds

Further to my last post, the second challenging thought I read on Carey Nieuwhof’s blog was where Carey quoted from a story he had heard and said, “30 seconds of you being uncomfortable could change someone’s eternity.” He was referring to a story where someone had invited a friend to church who then invited another person so that after a couple of years 12 people’s lives were impacted with the gospel. We tend to think that inviting someone to a Christian event is a huge, scary thing to do when in reality all it is, is 30 seconds of being uncomfortable.

It is a trick of the devil to make things seem much worse than they are and it is a trick he has been using for a long time. In Numbers we read the story of the 12 spies who go into Canaan to spy out the land. This is part of the report that 10 of the spies brought back: “All the people we saw there are of great size…We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:32-33). These people were so big that the Israelite spies looked like grasshoppers…really? Some serious exaggerating was going on here. When we are confronted with a potentially frightening event we tend to focus on the situation and in our minds it becomes bigger and more intimidating then it actually is. Whereas if we focus on God and his amazing power and grace we would more accurately access the real danger and realizes that maybe it is really only 30 seconds of being uncomfortable.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Carey Nieuwhof on Silence

I was researching Carey Nieuwhof on the internet as he is coming out to Australia to speak at a conference in a few months time. I was reading his blog and came across two challenging thoughts.

Firstly there was what he referred to as the "Silence Test". The silence test simply means sitting alone in silence for 10 minutes or longer. It is something we rarely do in our busy lives and it is quite challenging. Personally I find that I set aside time for silence but instead of sitting I find myself in the kitchen washing dishes or in the laundry sorting clothes. It seems any kind of chore is preferable to silence. Like Carey says when we are silent for any length of time all sorts of emotions come to the surface. These emotions can be quite irrational and we are unsure where they are coming from. God gave us emotions as a kind of warning light like we find on the dashboard of our car. The flashing light isn’t the problem but it is telling us there is a problem under the bonnet. Likewise negative emotions are not the problem but they point to a problem in our lives. Often our reaction is to cover the negative emotion in the hope it will go away which makes as much sense as putting a band aid over the flashing light on the car’s dashboard in the belief that it will fix the problem. God is more than willing and able to fix whatever is wrong in our lives if we will have the courage to deal with it. However the first step in facing what is going on in our lives is to spend some time sitting in silence before the Lord.

And the second challenging thought I’ll share next time.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Studying Acts (part 4)

The last lectures drew my attention to Acts 2:16: “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.”

“This is that” is a highly significant phrase in the book of Acts. Peter is saying what they see and hear (2:33) has been promised and all that is happening is the fulfilment of God’s plan and purpose. While the events of Pentecost were surprising and unexpected to the people of the day, it was always part of God’s redemptive plan. God wants a people who, like Adam and Eve before the fall, would be open and honest in the presence of God with nothing to hide. People who would be in close fellowship with Himself, walking and talking with Him. God always intended to send Jesus Christ because this was a necessary part of God’s plan to make a people for himself who were sanctified. It was always part of God’s plan to send His Spirit so his people were spirit-filled and empowered to live in close fellowship with God. God is forming a people with whom he can spend eternity and from God's perspective, all is going according to plan.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Grace (part 3)

This is a great story that has been around for while but it is a great illustration of grace.

During Abraham Lincoln’s time as president he strongly campaigned against slavery. At one point, he even bought a slave girl just to set her free but the girl was confused as this was completely outside her experience. He handed over her ownership papers and told her she was free to do whatever she wanted. The girl had been a slave all her life and was having trouble grasping the implications of what it meant to be free. “I can choose to do whatever I like?” she asked. “Yes”, said Lincoln. “I can choose to go wherever I like?” she asked. “Yes”, said Lincoln. “I can choose to work where I want?” she asked. “Yes”, said Lincoln. When she had finished her questions and the enormity of what Lincoln had done for her sank in, she said to him, "Well sir, if that's the case, I choose to serve you all the days of my life."

It's a great illustration of what God has done for us. We were slaves to sin, unable to free ourselves but God took the initiative. He sent Jesus and paid the price so we could be free. When the enormity of what God has done for us sinks in we realize that we no longer serve God because we are slaves, or because we owe it to God, or because it is our duty but rather we choose to serve God because we are so grateful Romans 7:6 puts it this way: “Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.”

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Review: The Power of a Whisper

Bill Hybels writes his book, The Power of a Whisper with a desire to show from Scripture and personal experience that God is a communicating God who has a deep desire to communicate with his children.

As part of Bill's research he asked his church to email him stories of times when they heard a God 'whisper' and how they responded to that whisper. The response was immense and some of these stories are included in his book. Bill then goes on to explain the five tests he uses when he thinks God is telling him something:

1. Is the prompting truly from God?
2. Is it Scriptural?
3. Is it wise?
4. Is it in tune with my character?
5. What do the people I most trust think about it?

From there Bill tells many stories from his own personal life where he believes he heard from God and the difference it made in his life. Times when it has changed the direction of his life, times when he was given guidance or prevented from making a bad choice.

This is an easy to read book that is encouraging and challenging.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Studying Acts (part 3)

This week the lecturer spent some time outlining the historical context of the temple, particularly outlining what the Jews believed about the temple in terms of the Messiah. I found this fascinating I love learning about how the Old Testament provides context for the New Testament. Long ago I had a pastor who would often quote these two statements: “The New Testament is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed” (St. Augustine). “The New is in the Old contained, and the Old is in the New explained” (Graham Scroggie).

Solomon’s temple (the first temple) was destroyed by the Babylonians when the Jews were taken into exile. They built the second temple on their return from exile. Many wept (Ezra 3:12) when they saw it being built because it seemed so insignificant to those who remembered Solomon’s temple. Yet it was promised that, “‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Haggai 2:9).

When the Romans invaded Israel, Herod renovated this second temple and it was the temple of Jesus’ day. This second temple had no ark of the covenant, no cherubim’s wings and no mercy seat which is where the Jews believed God’s presence resided. In fact there is no mention of the ark once the Jews went into exile in Babylon and while there are many rumours as to its whereabouts it never came back to the temple. But when Jesus came to this temple the presence of the Lord came back to the temple. The prophesy that the glory of this temple is greater than Solomon’s is fulfilled because Jesus, the Lord of all glory, came to the temple.

Often we breeze past significant events in the Bible (and in our lives) with barely a second thought, but when we stop and consider what God has done, we stand and marvel.

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Monday, March 05, 2012

Book Review : The Art of Racing in the Rain

Garth Stein cleverly writes, The Art of Racing in the Rain, from the point of view of the main character's pet dog, Enzo, who he believes he will be reincarnated as a person in his next life. His current incarnation as a dog is, apparently, training ground for being human. It is a rather amusing scenario which gives the author plenty of scope to present his story.

The story itself is rather sad. From the beginning we realize that Danny's wife is going to die. We are less prepared for the ensuing battle for custody of Danny's daughter with his in-laws. The backdrop for the story is that Danny is a skilled racing car driver and is particularly good at racing in the rain - hence the title.

Enzo is used by the author to draw out parallels between life and racing a car in the rain. The skills that Danny has learnt on the race track must now serve him as he deals with the death of his wife and the possible loss of custody of his daughter.

I enjoyed the author’s novel approach to telling this story and the clever ways he attributed human reactions and emotions to Enzo, as well as the way he dealt with information that Enzo couldn't know.

Overall an enjoyable read.

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