18.8.19 – Jesus’ Body Is Our Temple – Annie-Kate Williams

Read John 2:13-25

Jesus was, furious, angry full of zeal, rage, fired up?

This is not the picture of the kind, loving, peaceful Jesus we often see. Pictures of Jesus often have him with long brown hair and a whimsical, soft, gentle look on his face.

Well not this day. Jesus made a whip and used it. “…he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle…”. Jesus was fired up! He wasn’t calm, he didn’t use reason to get them to leave what they were doing, he didn’t use a nice tone of voice. Jesus was fired up.

He didn’t act wrongly in a fit of rage as we know he was sinless. I think while he was fired up he was still calculating, choosing what he was doing, in control of his actions. He wasn’t a man blinded by a temper tantrum. He had reason and God-given purpose behind what he did. But it wasn’t nice or pretty.

We don’t exactly know, but the whip was probably only used on the sheep and cattle rather than people as well, but it could have been- we don’t really know. He had time to make a whip. I think if it was me – I can get worked up about something but if I had to them make a whip I would have some time to think and would probably come to the conclusion: no, I don’t need to react this way. It’s not that big a deal. This wasn’t just a fit of uncontrollable rage for Jesus. This was Jesus fired up for his Father, full of zeal.

This side of Jesus may scare us a little – bring into question the character of Jesus as he seems to lose it with these people. We may struggle to line this passage up with the image and personality we have assigned to Jesus in our minds and hearts. This zeal that makes us uncomfortable or scares us a bit reminds me of how God acts in the Old Testament with the Israelites and how God would get fed up with their inability to stay faithful to him.

We normally only want to look at the parts of God that we are comfortable with. The nice, loving parts and avoid the uncomfortable characteristics of God. In the Chronicles of Narnia ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis, Aslan is the lion, the king of Narnia. And the story is symbolic and draws lots of parallels with Jesus including being killed and rising again. But Aslan while loving and kind, generous, and gentle is also a lion who can be fierce, strong, so strong we cannot control him. Often we want to find the good side of the story of Jesus driving everyone out of the temple courts, to make Jesus more tame and easier for us to understand. So often we want to tame God, so he fits into our nice neat understanding of who God is and how God acts. But we cannot tame God. We can only dig deeper into who he is.

I stumbled across this picture (“God is not safe but he is good”) and it really made me think. There are verses in scripture that talk about God protecting us and keeping us safe from the evil one. But that does not mean life will be safe. Carrying a cross and following Jesus is not a safe life in worldly terms but it is good, and our God is good.

This passage shows me another aspect of Jesus’ strength. He wasn’t weak because he was also gentle, loving etc. He was strong.

There was a market in the temple

Selling animals for sacrifice and changing money wasn’t bad in itself. Many people came from far away to offer sacrifices and it wasn’t feasible to bring a dove with you or a sheep. From what I’ve gathered, the temple also required a yearly temple tax which could only be paid in the temple currency so that it did not have images of idols or people, being given to God. There were also different currencies so exchanging money would have been helpful. It made sense to have these facilities nearby.

In saying that they were doing something drastically wrong too for Jesus to get all fired up.

A market- a mall, a supermarket. It’s where you go to get things, good food for dinner, post a letter, some new socks, a birthday present for a family member. A market is where you go to get things. Jesus said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” Somewhere you go to get jobs done and buy things you need and want. A good market is convenient, serves you and your needs easily. You can find what you are after easily. Stop turning my Father’s house into a market.

I think it’s easy to compare the temple with church buildings. Temple like structures where worship, among other things, happen. So, do we need to ask ourselves the question, “Do we treat this place as a market- somewhere we come to get what we need and go home?”

John2:19, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 

 Our temple is not this building we call church as great as it is.

Jesus body is our temple.

When Jesus died the curtain in the temple that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple was torn. The Holy of holies was where God’s spirit was dwelling. Only the high priest went in there once a year to make sacrifices on behalf of the people. This is where God’s spirit dwelt and when Jesus died, and that curtain tore, the way people dwelt with God changed. The way was opened for God’s Spirit to dwell among us through Jesus.

We follow Jesus and Jesus welcomes us into his life, the Holy of holies is now opening relationship up for us to live life through Jesus, and Jesus in us, through the Holy Spirit. This seems a bit technical sorry but it’s really important. We are not living in temple times. Church isn’t our temple that we come to worship God in. It is a building we meet in to do worship among other things and is it sacred ground. Maybe, but it is not our temple. Jesus is clear that the new temple is in him, in his body. We are united with Christ.

He is the vine; we are the branches. We are connected into Jesus, into relationship with God through Jesus.

There is a picture by Andrei Rublev’s called Icon of the Trinity. It is symbolic in all sorts of ways. Who has seen this before? It is symbolic in showing the Father, Son and Spirit in relationship with each other, each included in the circle of pure love. What I find most awesome is the little square near the bottom. It is thought to have had a mirror at about eyesight height. So, as you looked at the painting you were seeing yourself at the table as well. Brought into relationship with God. This is beyond any temple, any building as God has brought us into fellowship with HIM directly. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension made it possible for us to worship in Spirit and in truth.

Communion reminds us that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Communion also talks of the bread as Jesus’ body. Symbolically Jesus body into our body

1 Cor 11:23-25 The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

We began with talking of Jesus being fired up and how that can make us a little uncomfortable with Jesus and now here we are talking about being intimately connected to Jesus and therefore God, as Jesus, through the Spirit, brings us into the Holy of holies, into the presence of God. This is our true place of worship now. It is not a building or temple but God and his people (the church) united to God. And in this communion with God, in this relationship with God, in the place that is the Holy of holies there is no place for a market. There is no place for getting what you want and leaving again. This is God’s home and we have been brought into that love as children to participate in this relationship of the Trinity. It is not about our needs being met although there will be some of that. It’s also about living in relationship with God. And a healthy relationship is where one lays down his life for another. It’s what we do for the other because we are concerned for their good, their wellbeing. Are we concerned with what God wants? Are we following out his commands because we love him in return? Or are we solely trying to get our needs met before we go on our way again? Do we treat God a bit like a market? A shopping list of prayers- please God, please God, and nothing else? Asking God for things is totally ok,. We are brought to the table to participate not keep silent. But if all we are doing is “God give me, God give me”, are we doing the very thing Jesus makes a whip about?

Maybe we need to slow down and sit at the table with God, sit in his Holy presence and listen, do as he commanded because of the love and reverence we have for God.

Sometimes Cecil my husband asks if I can get him his favourite juice at the supermarket. Sometimes I know he wants one but hasn’t asked in a while, so I get him one because I know he likes it and will appreciate it. While I have been asked I also enjoy getting it for him because I love him.

Another thing I don’t enjoy so much, would be going to every possible museum that has anything to do with Roman times. Not something I really enjoy after the 5th one but I did it happily because I know he loves it. What about for God? What do we do for God because we know it brings God pleasure? Some suggestions as starters;

  • Treating each other as we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31), not always enjoyable but we do it because it pleases God.
  • whatever you do for the least of these you do for me (Matt 25:40).

This Christian faith is not about what we get in return from God, but it is a two-way relationship. And this two-way relationship means we cannot sit and receive and get our needs met alone but if we love God in return we will also do what pleases God; do what he wants of us. How do we know what God desires? The Bible is full of ideas and a good place to start. Or ask God to show you; ask other Christians.

This passage is one of the best passages to encourage self-reflection. We need to check our motives, check our hearts, be open to God’s leading and open to the transformation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Because we don’t want to be the self-serving money-changers or the ones selling Christianity in a way that profits us.  We don’t want to make a building a temple when Jesus has brought us into the holy of holies, into relationship with God through his body. Our true place of worship is in Spirit and in truth and that is not a market, not serving our needs alone but a two-way relationship.                                                                                                   

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11.8.19 – Following Jesus’ A.C.T.S. Example – Peter Cheyne

Last week we looked at the way Jesus attracted crowds and then periodically challenged those crowds, meaning that many people chose to no longer follow. But those who responded to the challenge, Jesus then trained with the intention of sending them out to repeat the process.

Today I want to add just two thoughts. They might be very surprising or they might not. They might be very challenging. We might have to rethink our assumptions.

Think of the Day of Pentecost. A crowd was attracted by the manifestations – the wind, the fire, hearing the message all in their own language. Peter challenged them with the gospel – and it was quite a challenge, accusing them of having killed the Messiah. Some responded and the next thing we see is the church dedicated to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer, selling their possessions and giving to those in need, and so on. They were in fellowship, being trained in Kingdom of God living. Later those people were scattered, by persecution, and preached the gospel.

That was Acts 2. What about Acts 3? A crowd was attracted by Peter and John healing a lame man at the Temple. Peter saw the opportunity. What was the next step in the process? He challenged them with the gospel – and it was quite a challenge, accusing them of having killed the Messiah. We read only part of Peter’s speech. He went on to call them to repent that their sins might be forgiven. His preaching was interrupted by the priests and the Sadducees who were disturbed that he was proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. Peter and John were arrested. But, if we look at 4:4, we see that many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

At the end of Chapter 4 we read that all of the believers were one in heart and mind. They shared their possessions; the Apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of Jesus with great power. The community was learning about Christian living. And they prayed, “Now, Lord, consider their threats (because the authorities were persecuting those who were preaching Jesus) consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” They knew they were sent.

The early church adopted Jesus’ model and I believe God intends us to do likewise. We do not know more about this sort of stuff than Jesus did. The wisest thing we can possibly do is learn from Jesus.

Here are my two comments. I think we overlook these things and, to my mind, that might help explain why today’s church is largely ineffective. I might be wrong. You decide. But, if I am right, this is important for us.

  1. The crowds experienced God

In the ministry to the crowds, Jesus did not use gimmicks or games or entertainment. In fact, He refused to do miracles just as party tricks. Everything He did revealed the Kingdom of God. People were healed, delivered, raised from the dead. God’s word was taught with authority. They discovered the love of God, and were forgiven (and only God can forgive). It was all about the presence and the power of God. Likewise in the early church. On Pentecost, the Apostles did not organise a huge audio-visual extravaganza to wow people. It turned out to be a huge audio-visual extravaganza but it was manifestations that revealed the presence of God. The whole thing, including Peter’s preaching, was the work of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 3, at the Temple, it was a healing. I Corinthians 14 talks about unbelievers being in a Christian gathering and going away exclaiming, “God is really among you. God was in that church today.”

Two weeks ago we said that the power that the Bible talks about is not in us but in God. It is not in our abilities or our wisdom and knowledge or our organisational skill. The power is in God and it was that power that attracted people. People were not attracted by the Apostles’ cleverness. They were attracted by the Kingdom of God present among them – God at work, setting people free.

It is not just about spectacular miracles. The willingness of the early church to share their possessions is just as miraculous and is evidence of the transforming power of God. Their love for one another and their lack of love for their money resulted in people saying, “God is doing something amazing here”.

If the crowds are to experience God, what does that say about the people sent out?

Clearly, those sent out need to be able to take God to the crowds. We talked about Stephen a few weeks back. The criteria for selecting those who would distribute food to the widows was that they be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. If people were going to experience God, those sent needed to be God-filled.

  • Jesus was willing to lose people

There were various times when Jesus challenged the crowds, and individuals, with hard teaching or with the cost of discipleship, and it was too much for them. They said, “Thanks but no thanks”. Crowds dissipated; individuals walked away. Every time Jesus said, “Follow me” that was a challenge. The person either did or did not. People were filtered out and that was Jesus’ intention.

Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give to the poor if he wanted eternal life. He couldn’t do that but Jesus didn’t chase after him with another offer. He let Him walk away.

He set the bar very high because His intention was to find, and work with, those who were committed. Not only was Jesus willing to lose people, He made it hard for people to become disciples.

In Acts 2 and Acts 3 it was slightly different. Many responded. There are times in history when vast numbers respond but that is not because the challenge was any easier. The requirement was repentance – turning their lives around radically. Those responding knew that there was the likelihood of persecution. The bar was still high. Many were converted but not everyone. Some chose not to follow Jesus. The church let those ones go and worked with those who did respond.

Let’s compare what happens (generally speaking) in the church today? Let’s take an example.

A church runs an op shop – a shop with second-hand clothing and other items. They see it as a service to the community, especially to the poor – a ministry to the crowd. And it is! Very good. The problem is that there is no link with the gospel. It is no different from the op shop down the street run by a secular service club. Are people blown away by the presence and power of God? No. There is no evidence of God.

Because it is about working in society, this church talks about it as being an expression of the Kingdom of God. If something is about social action or social reform, we tend to put the label “Kingdom” onto it. But there is no Kingdom if there is no King. Without Jesus, the op shop is not the Kingdom of God.

This church staffs the shop with a few retirees, and maybe some volunteers from the community. Good compassionate people but possibly not Christians or able to bring God into this situation. Can you see the difference between the op shop and Jesus? Much of what the church does has no Jesus in it.

In New Zealand churches serve. We do great things in the community but we struggle to know how to then talk about Jesus. I suspect that is because Jesus is not present in the serving. If Jesus isn’t present in Phase 1, it is hard to go to Phase 2. When Jesus healed someone the natural response was ‘Who is this man?”. There was an immediate link between the event and the person. Likewise, if Jesus was present in the op shop – let’s say the shop assistant prayed with an unemployed person who then, miraculously, got a job – there is a link and every reason to say, “Tell me more about this Jesus”.

Or, it could just be that someone is amazed that Christians volunteer their time to serve and she queries that. The shop assistant replies saying what Jesus has done for her and says that Jesus cares for the poor and, as a follower of Jesus, she has a new love for the poor. It might be the first time that poor person has felt the love of someone else and the first time she has heard that God loves her.

Cheap clothing will attract people on one level but the presence of God that has a Kingdom attraction.

This is immediately relevant for us. How we might serve our community? Might we focus on helping immigrants? More about that later but if we are going to be like Jesus, it needs to include God. We want people to experience the attractiveness of God not just have a physical or emotional need met. We want there to be a link between the serving and the gospel. We need to be intentional about serving “in Jesus’ name”. So, let’s look for people who genuinely love those they serve and are full of the Holy Spirit. We need a team of people who will pray, who will look for opportunities and who are open to be used by the Holy Spirit.

Second comment: One of our strongest values churches have is “for goodness sake, keep everybody happy. We need everybody we can get”.

And so, we stay in the Attract phase. We try to turn on worship services that people can enjoy hoping that they will come back next week because getting them back is the most important thing. We love crowds. The bigger the numbers we can record, the better. Big numbers equal success.

But what about the challenge? What about the training? What about sending out Holy Spirit-filled people? We no longer ask people to state their faith in Jesus and their commitment to follow Him – growing and serving because that is too challenging. Because we are too scared to ask, we tend to assume everyone is a Christian.

This has all sorts of ramifications. We try to train people who are not yet Christians. We try to maturity people before they have been born. That doesn’t make sense. We try to train people who are not yet Christians how to live a Christian life. It is impossible. No wonder we are frustrated!

And then we don’t have godly people who can take the presence of God into the marketplace which just reinforces that our crowd ministry is devoid of the presence of God. Is it any wonder that the church is declining? It is a recipe for failure. We are trying to do something very different from what Jesus did.

There will be some people thinking, “Oh dear, we cannot talk about who is a Christian and who isn’t. That will upset people.”

That is exactly the point! We do not address these basic questions. Jesus was willing to upset people so as to find those who would die to themselves and follow Him.

All I am suggesting is that we must learn from Jesus and much of what is assumed in our churches is far from what Jesus modelled. Are we willing to be more attached to Jesus than to church conventions? Are we willing to be radical? I am not saying we should upset people for silly reasons. I am just saying that following Jesus, and His example, will upset people but it will also reveal those who are committed.

Is this so different that it is hard to accept? Do we need to take more time to think about it? Do we need to ask questions and study our Bibles?

I think that that A.C.T.S. cycle can teach us a lot about how Jesus operated and therefore how we should operate. Into that context, add two thoughts and let’s work through the implications of them. We need to think through what effective mission looks like.

  1. The crowds experienced God.
  2. Jesus was willing to lose people.

Are those two thoughts true? If so, what should we learn from them.

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4.8.19 – Why Did Jesus Turn People Away? – Peter Cheyne

To state the obvious, Jesus had a massively popular public ministry. Crowds of people swarmed to wherever Jesus was, sometimes travelling long distances from the adjoining regions. We know that there were crowds of many thousands. Jesus fed 5,000 men plus women and children on one occasion and 4,000 on another occasion. There are frequent references to the large crowds. One time Jesus had to preach from a boat floating on the lake to avoid being crushed.

What attracted them to Jesus?

  • Miracles
    • Healing
    • Deliverance
    • Raising the dead
  • Teaching with authority
  • Stories
  • Friendship
  • Forgiveness

But Jesus also had a more private ministry to the twelve disciples and the two ministries were virtually opposites. One was to the many, meeting their needs in spectacular ways, and asking very little of them. The other was focused on a few and it asked a great deal of them.

What on earth is going on here? What is the connection, if any, between these two? Was Jesus experimenting with two strategies, not sure which one would work? Which one did work – the ministry to the crowds or the ministry to the disciples?

That is a silly question. They both worked. Jesus was not clutching at straws. He was very clear about His strategy. Both the ministry to the crowds and the ministry to the disciples were part of the one strategy and both were essential. How are they connected? Understanding this can help us as a church.

The crowds were a way of reaching many people but Jesus’ objective was a few, highly trained people. To find those few, He periodically challenged the crowds, and many turned away.

John 6 is a classic example. The chapter begins by emphasising the great crowd that followed Him and it tells us why they did. They followed because they saw the signs He performed by healing the sick.

Jesus then fed this huge crowd with just five loaves and two fish. Besotted with the amazing things He was doing, they concluded that he was a prophet and wanted to make Him king. But Jesus withdrew up a mountain by Himself. Being a political king was not His plan. Their plans showed they did not understand His plan.

The disciples left in a boat and got caught in a storm. Jesus walked out to them on the water in the early hours of the morning and when He got into the boat, the storm subsided and they immediately reached the place where they were heading.

In the morning, the crowd searched for Him and found Him in Capernaum. So, here is a picture of a wildly enthusiastic crowd, loving the miracles and following Jesus wherever He went.

But Jesus did something surprising. He said, “You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because I gave you food.” The miracles were signs that revealed who Jesus was but they hadn’t realised who He was. They just enjoyed being fed and seeing the spectacle. It was purely selfish.

“What does God wants us to do?” Believe in the One He has sent.

 “Well, give us a sign so that we can believe. Do something like providing manna in the desert.”

Amazing! Jesus had just fed 5,000. What could be more like the provision of manna?

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” Jesus went on to say that He had come to save those who would believe. He would raise them up to eternal life.

The people were unhappy that Jesus had said that He was the bread that came down from heaven. Who did He think He was?

Jesus continued, saying that those who were drawn by the Father come to Him. Those who believed would have eternal life. He again said that He was the bread but He added something shocking. “I am the bread. Whoever eats the bread will live for ever. This bread is my flesh.”

That is weird and the Jews said it was weird. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

It is strange language, isn’t it? It sounds like gross cannibalism. But all through the passage, Jesus had been talking about believing in Him. He just put that in a different way – a rather shockingly different way. He used a metaphor. Just as physical life depends on eating food, spiritual life depends on Jesus who is the spiritual food. Eating Jesus is a metaphor for trusting in Him, relying on Him.

But the people said. “This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Jesus again stressed the difference between the physical and the spiritual. “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” And most of the crowd deserted Him. Jesus wondered if even the Twelve might but Peter responded saying that they had come to believe who He was – the Holy One of God.

In one chapter, Jesus started with a huge crowd and ended up with a handful. And, it seems He was quite intentionally shocking. It seems He deliberately offended them with a graphic image. Why?

This wasn’t the only time. Luke 14:25 says that large crowds were following Him. Jesus turned to them and said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sister – yes, even their own life. – that person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” He then talked about counting the cost before starting. Following Jesus is costly. Be aware of that. It is better to not start than to start and not finish.

So, Jesus deliberately put people off. Why? Why do all of the miracles and tell such fantastic stories and attract great crowds if your intention is then to persuade them not to follow? And what are the implications for us? Should we also persuade people not to belong to the church?

Let’s be clear about the nature of the crowd in John 6. They “followed” Jesus but they were not believers. Jesus said, “You have seen me and still you do not believe” (v.36). They were simply infatuated by the blessings. They followed for only selfish reasons. That was not what Jesus was after but how could He find the committed ones?

He preached the gospel. Who would believe? Who would repent? Who would put Him before their own families and their own lives? Who would carry their crosses and follow Him? Who would pay the price?

Only a few. “‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:13-14) Many like receiving from Jesus; few believe in Him. Many are called but few are chosen.

The crowds were part of Jesus’ plan. He fed them and healed them and forgave them and told them fascinating stories. He was enormously popular. Clearly crowds were part of Jesus strategy, because… somewhere in those crowds were the few who would respond.

Jesus’ strategy was to attract crowds, then challenge those crowds with the gospel. Would they believe in Him? Would they repent and follow and obey? Those who responded, He trained with the objective of sending them out.

Very conveniently, the initial letters of Attract, Challenge, Train and Send, spell A.C.T.S.

Mark 3:13-14      Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed twelve that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.

The whole process is seen in those verses. It started with a crowd. The previous four verses talk about the crowd. They were coming from every region and there were so many Jesus had to teach from a boat to avoid being crushed. He then called those He wanted. That was the challenge. Would they become His disciples? It was decision time. And we are told that they came to Him. They responded. He appointed twelve to be with Him. Being with Him was the method of training. So that He might send them out. The purpose was to send them out to preach and to deliver people from demons.

That framework can help us think about our own mission strategy. If we are to follow Jesus’ example, we need to think about how we can serve the many – our community – in a no-strings-attached way. What might attract the attention of our community in a way that allows them to see something of the Kingdom of God? We need to have contact with many people. How can we do that? By loving them and serving them.

That is a key part of the process but it is only the start. How can we then share the gospel? The gospel, by its very nature, is a challenge. Who will trust Jesus, repent and obey Him? The gospel filters out those who are committed from the many who are not. Then it is a case of helping those people grow in their faith which will include being sent to serve and share the gospel. We have a framework for thinking through how we can accomplish each one of those phases.

This is part of thinking about our future as we prepare for the AGM and we will ponder it more next week. How do we serve the many? How do we share the gospel? How do we train those who respond?

But, equally, we can think about where we are in the process as individuals. Where are you on that diagram? Are you part of the crowd, enjoying the blessings that God gives but not really yet a believer. Obviously the crowds believed that Jesus existed and they knew that He was good and kind. They knew He was something special – maybe a prophet – but they didn’t know that He was the Son of God who called for their 100% commitment. Or, are you at that point of deciding who Jesus is? Are you at the challenge stage knowing that acknowledging Jesus as Saviour and Lord will require your 100% commitment? Or, have you decided to follow Him and you are now in the intensive training phase because you want to love Him and serve Him as fully as you can? Or, are you at the sent stage? You are going back into the world serving and modelling the Kingdom of God. Where are you?

Remember, Jesus’ desire was not a crowd. Crowds are shallow. Jesus’ objective was trained followers whom He could send out.

Footnote: Jesus never turns away anyone! I’ve asked why Jesus turned people away. He didn’t. In fact, He said in this very passage, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37). Someone should have pointed that out!

Jesus never told anybody to go away. He welcomes everyone. He wants everyone to be saved. But there is a cost: faith, repentance, obedience. Periodically, He challenged the crowd with the cost. No one can say, “Jesus did not accept me”. Jesus will accept anyone who comes to Him – anyone. It is just that some people, when they hear the cost, choose to walk away instead. Think of the rich young ruler. And so Jesus works with those who do have faith in Him.

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7.7.19 – In suffering stand firm in God’s strength – Annie-Kate Williams

Read 1 Peter 5:8-14

Part 1 – In World

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

  • Sober mind
  • Evil prowls
  • Resist and stand firm
  • Not alone

Be alert and of sober mind- what does this look like?

  • Discerning
  • Not a ‘poor me’ mentality

As we go about our daily lives, the mundane, the exciting, the hard we are continually met with choices. Choices how we live out our faith. What does it look like for us to stand firm? What does it look like for us to resist evil this week?

Vishal was telling me last week or so about a situation she had to walk through.

She works in a lab checking the data that comes in. Making sure everything matches is spelt correctly and that sort of thing. If they find a mistake they are to log the mistake which comes up against the person who did the mistake. Through a series of events the staff decided they would, instead of logging each other’s mistakes, go back and fix them even though it wasn’t protocol. A situation arose, and Vishal felt she needed to stop doing this which was going against her fellow colleagues but following her boss and protocol. She had a sober mind. In order to make the right decision we weigh up all that’s in front of us and make a decision. From Vishal recalling the events it seemed like evil was prowling around. Bulling work colleagues, peer pressure to do what was against protocol. Vishal resisted and stood firm in what she thought was right. There was some backlash from that. She stood firm and the passage says stand firm because you know you are not alone. Other Christians around the world are also having to stand strong, be people of integrity. We are not alone, we aren’t the only one.

Often, we think we are the only one who struggles with reading our bible, prayer, feeling the pressure and distance from work colleagues when we stand in what is right. We think we are the only one going through a spiritual battle or questioning God through suffering. We are not alone. Stand firm because others are also suffering and standing strong.

Part 2- In Christ

10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Standing firm in faith.

  • Eternal glory
  • After suffering
  • Restore
  • Make strong, firm and steadfast
  • Praise

A friend was telling me about a friend of theirs who is in hospital. Their friend has a brain tumour and it’s terminal. It is affecting her hugely in all sorts of ways and yet she is saying how she is so blessed. Through it all this lady could praise God in the midst of suffering. It didn’t sound fake. It sounded like this person oozed gratefulness to God. She really did feel blessed regardless of what she was going through. Dying of a brain tumour and she can say “I’m so blessed”.

This book of 1 Peter is convincing that Christians will face persecution, that there will be suffering. “After you have suffered a little while” What is a little while in the scheme of eternity! This says after you have suffered a little while. Suffering will happen to you. In the scheme of eternity, I guess ‘a little while’ isn’t much?! 

Suffering as a Christian isn’t part of the prosperity gospel which has been around lately. The idea that God will make your life prosperous. Financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God in this gospel and you need to give more, pray more, believe more and God will make your life prosperous in health and wealth. This has twisted truth.

It is true our God is generous, and God is concerned with our lives and the details of our lives, including our financial and physical well-being. But the gospel is much deeper than God making our lives nicer.

I read an article that was talking about using God for comfort: ‘The Gospel of Feel-Good’ (Desiringgod.org Article by Greg Morse). This focusing on God fixing and meeting my emotional needs and what God can do for me and my life. This becomes a very one-sided relationship. God help me with this. God please help with that. And while this is part of God’s character, if our faith is all about what God can do for me, then we have missed the gospel. For a healthy relationship to work it goes two ways. Our lives are woven into God’s life through Jesus and the Holy Spirit is woven into our life. God is active. God is doing things in this world. If we are joined with him are we open to be part of what he is doing and joining him in that? Or are we too caught up in God help me to make my life prosperous emotionally, physically, financially even spiritually? Help me get spiritually in the right place- then I will…… feel bold enough to talk to my neighbours, then I will….

I don’t want to give the impression that you shouldn’t look after yourself. In a season where healing is needed, I think you should heal. Take time to heal, of course. But we don’t have to be perfect to join God in what he is doing. We can be dying of a brain tumour and genuinely praising God. Genuinely encouraging other believers in their faith through suffering not just when we are on the other side of it. Although it is much easier on the other side. And we all know in hindsight we can often see clearer.

It is by grace, it is by what God has done for us, God has called us to his eternal glory in Christ. It is by God’s grace (undeserved favour) that a lady can say “I’m so blessed”. And after suffering for a little while God will call her to his eternal glory in Christ.

Maybe you are like me and don’t feel the urge to utter praise, but you can remain steadfast in faith.

In Christ we have been given grace, undeserved favour, glory in Christ. In the end God will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. None of this is what we have done but what God has done for us. There is a lot in this book of 1 Peter that is do this, do that, you should do this, and this, and that. But all of that is because of the grace of God. All of that is because first Christ is in us.

Part 3- With each other

12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.

13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

  • Encourage you
  • Testify to God’s grace
  • Stand fast
  • Chosen not forgotten
  • Greetings- Babylon not your home
  • Kiss of love- outward affection

Greet one another with a kiss of love. Mornington, I think we need some more kisses of love around here! More kisses (joking)! It was custom for men to kiss men and women to kiss women in greeting.

One of my uncles gives great hugs. Ever since we were little he would wrap us up in a big bear hug which would make us feel special. It was, and still is, a proper hug, not a small hug for the sake of pleasantries or this is how we are meant to greet each other so we will. This uncle with a big smile, looking you in the face, usually giving some compliment wraps you up in a good proper hug. And its great. Part of it is that he outwardly shows affection in a culture where affection is not often outwardly expressed in groups, and not often by physical touch.

We could all do with a few more of those good hugs in our lives. And while it might not be hugs for you, or kisses like in Jesus day. It might be expressing affection for each other in some way that makes them remember they are not alone, and they are loved. And I really don’t mean to encourage hugs that have no meaning behind them. With my uncle, for example, there was a lot of relationship behind the hugs. The hugs were not without relationship. Greet each other with love.

Hands up anyone who has been going through something challenging lately. Look around, we are not alone in our suffering. We are in this together, we are not alone. Around the world there are others facing the same challenges and different challenges and praying for us. Hopefully we can pray for them as well. And pray for each other.

So, to wrap up-

These 7 verses say a lot more than I covered this morning but here are a few highlights. 

In this world

  • Be alert and of sound mind,
  • stand firm like Vishal at her work place

In Christ

  • By God’s unmerited favour we are in Christ
  • We have much to be grateful for like the lady with the brain tumour who feels blessed

With each other

  • We are not alone
  • Maybe it’s more hugs around the place but maybe it’s more about more love around the place. 
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30.6.19 – Characteristics of Shepherds And Sheep – Peter Cheyne

Read 1 Peter 5:1-7

Three weeks ago we looked at the appointment of the men who would deliver food to the widows in the very early church. There were very definite criteria for their selection. Can you remember what was required of them? They were to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

It is remarkable how crucial leadership is. John Maxwell says everything rises and falls on leadership.

What makes good leaders? There are lots of things but Christian leaders are expected to be different from other leaders in some significant ways.

Mark 10:42-44    42 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

In 1 Peter, Peter next addresses elders. A church facing persecution needs very good leadership. Imagine how the sheep might be scattered if there are not good shepherds. Everything rises and falls on leadership. And this is relevant to us at a time when we need new elders. What sort of person makes a good elder?

Peter doesn’t talk about skills at all. He talks about attitudes. He talks about the person’s heart and motivation and character.

He uses the rich biblical image of a shepherd. 23rd Psalm says, “The Lord is my shepherd.” The kings and leaders of Israel were called shepherds (sometime bad shepherds). Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd and so on.

In many ways it is a very tender image. The good shepherd cares for the sheep and knows each one individually. He is constantly interested in the sheep’s welfare. He leads them to food and water. He gives them rest. He protects them from wild animals. Jesus talked about the good shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. The shepherd is the servant of the sheep. Whoever wants to be great must be your servant.

That is the attitude that Peter calls for. “Be shepherds of God’s flock”. It is God’s flock so the shepherd is simply the manager who has been put in place to look after God’s flock. They are under his care. He is to watch over them. The shepherd actually is the leader, not the sheep but Christian leaders are servants.

Peter uses three contrasts to describe the type of person who should be an elder/shepherd.

Watch over them not because you must, but because you are willing. One possibility is reluctance, compulsion, resentfulness, feeling obligated. “The church needs elders. I suppose I could do that.” Peter says “No. Wrong attitude.” God is looking for people who say “Yes. Sure. Certainly”, people who bring a whole-hearted commitment to the role.

Secondly, he says “Not pursuing dishonest gain but eager to serve.” It sounds like they paid their elders and some people might have done it for the money! Or even used their position to extract money from people dishonestly. But, equally, the gain might have been status or prestige or influence. Again, Peter says, “No. Wrong attitude.” The right attitude is “eager to serve”. The shepherd is the servant of the sheep and is eager to serve. “Please let me serve. I desperately want to serve. I am available to work in ways that will help others.” Selfless. It is not about how I might benefit; it is about serving others.

Who are the people who have a selfless attitude and simply want to serve others?

Thirdly, Peter says “Not lording it over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock”. “Lording it” means exercising power and authority and bossing people around. Eldership/leadership is not about having that sort of power. It is about being an example to the flock. That simply means that the leader has to be living a godlier life than the people he/she is leading. It means authenticity in the life of the leader. The leader’s life needs to be genuine so that people can see spiritual maturity. The leader needs to let his/her life be seen so that others can see what following Jesus looks like.

I am part of a group of American pastors who meet online periodically to discuss a book. A few weeks ago one person said, “Eldership is not about decision-making. It is about disciple-making.” It is not about having influence and sitting in a boardroom making decisions for other people to carry out. It is about being shepherds of God’s people, being an example of godliness to them so as to grow them.

So, Peter highlights willingness, selflessness and leading not by authority but by example.

All of which, Jesus demonstrated. Jesus could have been reluctant. I think I would have preferred to stay in heaven and avoid the cross. But He was willing. Jesus could have been selfish. He could have gained masses of money and adoring crowds. Satan offered that to Him. But He rejected it Instead, He served. Jesus had authority but He didn’t force people into anything. He modelled faith in God and modelled the Kingdom of God and modelled servanthood and selflessness etc. Peter refers to Him as the Chief Shepherd. Christian leaders are under Him and are to model themselves on Him. Who are the people in whom you see this type of Christ-likeness?

It is very easy for leaders to abuse power; to use people for their own benefit, to be in their role for the wrong reasons. But those who willingly and selflessly lead by example will be rewarded by God with a crown of glory that will never fade away. We will come back to that.

If you are thinking, “I am not an elder so this doesn’t apply to me”, or if you are thinking “Yes, I like this. Our leaders should be our servants” look at what is next.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. What has just been said applies in the other direction as well. This is about submission – mutual submission, as Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The shepherd serves the sheep and the sheep submit to the shepherd.

Hebrews 13:17    Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (ESV)

Earlier in this letter, Peter has said a lot about submitting to those in authority and it includes submitting to leaders in the church. The leaders are responsible for people’s souls and will have to give account to God for their leadership. That is the scary responsibility of leadership. But Christians are to submit to their leaders so that their leadership is a joy, not a burden.

Clearly it is a bit awkward for me to talk about this because it could look very self-serving but we have to know what God says. How does any leader talk about these things but studying the Bible requires it?

We talked about submission largely meaning teamwork; largely being about cooperation. Submission means saying “yes” not “no”. It means choosing to work together, not working against each other. That is what makes a leader’s job a joy – a team of people cooperating, a team of people serving one another and heading in the same direction. Of course there can be different ideas and robust discussion but we choose to cooperate. We choose to listen to each other and to think and to talk and to be united, which might mean sometimes that Person A chooses to back down in favour of Person B and sometimes Person B gives way. That is mutual submission.

I have been in Christian leadership of one sort or another for 45-plus years. I can tell you some of the things that make leadership a burden.  You might not know anyone like this so you will have to use your imagination. This might be right outside your experience but see if you can imagine it happening.

  1. The person who moans and objects all of the time. That causes leaders to groan. It feels that this person is always fighting against you.
  2. The person who, no matter what is suggested, wants to do it differently. Non-cooperation.
  3. The person who looks down on the rest of the church; who doesn’t want to play with the rest of the team but be independent. In other words, the person who always knows better. Groan.
  4. The person who outwardly says nothing but inwardly says “No”. There’s no opposition; there’s just nothing. Will you pray for your church? No response. Will you love your neighbour? They might even agree but nothing happens. Will you be part of the team? Will you help? Nothing.

Hebrews 13:17 says that the job of every church member is to make the task of the leaders a joy, and, praise God, there are people who do that. There are those who are willing and selfless and humble. They say “Yes” and it is not about them. They serve, being an example and helping others follow Jesus.

If you think that you are not an elder and you are not young so none of this applies to you, look at what is next. Sorry, no one escapes. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another because God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble and oppressed.

Do you want to know God’s blessing on your life? Then be humble, be the servant, cooperate i.e. work together.

The alternative is really scary. Be proud; be independent; be the one who frustrates and God will be your enemy.

There were those three “not that but this” attitude contrast. There are also three “now v then” consequences contrast. Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Humble yourself now and be exalted, and lifted up, later. Those who voluntarily miss out now will be honoured and rewarded by God later. V,4 had said that those who serve as shepherds now will receive a crown of glory that will never fade away. Temporary service, eternal glory. In v.1 Peter talked about having witnessed Christ’s sufferings but also that he would share in the glory to be revealed.

  • Humility now – exaltation later
  • Serving now – glory later
  • Suffering now – glory later

This passage is very relevant for us. We want new elders. What sort of person should we be looking for? It is not necessarily the people we immediately think of. It is not necessarily those who seem like the natural leaders or who will promote our particular point of view, or those who want the influence. It is those who are willing, indeed, eager to be servants and who can do that as examples of genuine discipleship – who are Christ-like. Christian leaders are different from leaders in other spheres.

Peter talks about leadership but he also talks about followership. He talks about being shepherds and he talks about being sheep. He addresses all of us, calling us to co-operate: work together. Do we have anxieties about that? Do we fear that if we serve, people might take advantage of us? Is submission frightening? Do we fear having no status beyond “servant”? Do we fear that we might look silly if we have to back down on one of our ideas? Do we feel that we have to fight to prove that we are always right? Do we fear that God might not keep His promises – that there might not be glory in the future?

Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Give it all to Him. You do not have to carry it because, literally, you are His concern. You matter to Him. He is not trying to hurt you. He is not abandoning you. He is not asking you to suffer for no purpose. You matter to Him. Trust Him. Let Him carry your fears. You can serve. You can submit. Try it. He will not let you down. Indeed, God shows favour to the humble and the oppressed.

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23.6.19 – Persecution, Suffering, Rejoice, Commit – Annie-Kate Williams

Read 1 Peter 4:12-19.

We have been working through the book of 1 Peter and this week we are looking at the second half of chapter 4. There are another 2 weeks left before we are finished.

Peter is writing to a church that is being persecuted and his letter has a theme of persecution throughout. And as our Peter Cheyne says, this book keeps calling us to be more of a Christian – calling us to be more like Jesus in all that we do, rather than less, when it gets hard. Rather than shying away from the faith when it gets hard, become even more like Jesus in the way you live your life.

So persecution! Last week Stephanie from the Barnabas Fund was here and she asked us if any of us felt unsafe coming to church last week. We answered “no”. Our lives are not in danger for being a Christian in Mornington. So are we persecuted? If so how are we persecuted? What is persecution? What does persecution look like in Dunedin in 2019?

Who does the persecuting?

  • People
  • Media/government/society, rather than individuals?
  • Evil/powers and principalities?
  • Evil uses people?
  • All of the above?

The media, our society, government and culture have undertones that are not inclusive of the Christian faith. We also have laws that make it illegal, or at least hard, to persecute people because of faith. But it does happen. It’s culturally acceptable to be accepting of anything Muslim at the moment but the same cannot be said about Christianity. My opinion is that Israel Folau is also helping the media and our society be more against Christianity at the moment. But that’s another matter!

I think our teenagers are probably the most persecuted Christians in NZ. At school, bullying is huge and young people can be brutal in their words to each other. School was the time when I was persecuted the most by others. Our Christian young people could use your prayers but also your listening ear to talk about what they are going through. Don’t give them a lecture or tell them what they should do or a token “I’ll pray for you”. Rather listen to them and learn about their faith, hear their struggle, point them toward Jesus.  Was anyone here persecuted at school for being a Christian?

 When we get older and smarter we avoid situations and people who discriminate against us or persecute us because of our faith. Often Christians hang out with other Christians and don’t have a lot of friends who aren’t Christians. Isolating ourselves is not the answer.

So what does persecution look like for all of us this morning?

1 Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

An ordeal that tests our faith? In Chapter 1 it talks of suffering trials which will test and refine our faith like fire refining gold.

1 Peter 1:6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Suffering can test our faith. We all face suffering but that doesn’t mean it’s persecution.

Hands up anyone who has experienced suffering that has refined their faith?

In the book of 1 Peter, suffering because we are a Christian is persecution.

Hands up anyone who has experienced suffering because of their faith.

Is persecution by people only, or can we be persecuted by evil, by Satan, the devil, whatever name for evil that you have? Was Jesus persecuted for his faith when he was tempted in the desert? Is there a difference between spiritual warfare and persecution? Yes there is, but I also think they often go hand in hand.

1 Peter 5:8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Suffering because of faith in Jesus comes in many forms. If we face no persecution, no spiritual attack, are we living our faith out as Jesus calls us? Do we need to ask ourselves some hard questions? Why is our faith not being tested?

Are we silent about our faith? I think there is this huge blanket of silence NZ Christians feel. With faith being private and our culture telling us to be politically correct, and more factors, we often are left not saying much about our faith to anyone on a weekly basis. Whether it’s powers and principalities or our own fear of persecution by other people, we are often silent. Maybe you aren’t and if so, good on you! But can any of us say we feel we are sharing God’s good news in such a way that he would call us a ‘good and faithful servant’?

In the west we do not face persecution like our brothers and sisters in the east. But yet we often tear the church apart from the inside out. We don’t need outside help from the likes of governments. The division, the gossip and slander than happens within the church, (I mean the whole church of NZ, or the West). Division between denominations, within denominations, church splits, people being offended with each other, broken relationships. Christians are persecuting each other. What about here at Mornington Presbyterian Church? Are your words and actions, building the church or persecuting people in it? We know there is division of ideas around one service or two and other things. Different ideas are ok but division is not. There is no need for us to be persecuted if we are persecuting each other.

1 Peter 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household;

God calls us to a high standard of relating to each other and all those around us.

Chapter 5:5b All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,  

It may be a good idea for us to really look at ourselves. Look at how we are relating to each other, how we are treating each other behind their backs as well as to their faces.

We can do a good job of persecuting each other. Persecution of silence. Persecution of isolation. If we are isolated from others when it comes to talking about faith; if we are not stirring each other on to love and good works, there is no need for persecution or the persecution has already happened.

This passage talks about rejoicing when you suffer for Christ. When you suffer a fiery ordeal don’t be surprised. Rejoicing in suffering is not a normal response. Rejoice, be overjoyed, praise God when you suffer because of Jesus.

Why rejoice when we are persecuted? Why would that be our response? The main reason I can see, is that persecution tests and refines our faith. Our faith becomes more real, deeper, more true, as we come closer to Jesus. Growing in our relationship with God is something to rejoice about. But to remember this in the midst of suffering?! When I’ve been going through struggles I can tell you that I can’t say I was rejoicing! I’ve been mad at God; questioning God; asking, “Why God?”

I can’t remember where I read it, but the author was talking about being persecuted, being held in jail. Rather than praying for the suffering to end, those in jail wanted prayer for strength to persevere until God’s will was done. We so often pray that the suffering will stop. Rather, their prayer was that they would persevere and stand firm until the end.

As we pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted and killed for their faith in Jesus, may we pray that they would persevere and stand strong, not lose faith, not lose hope. Pray the suffering stops of course but pray for more than that. Pray, our teenagers, those in our youth group, will persevere and be able to rejoice when they suffer because they are a Christian.

1 Peter 4:19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

If you suffer for following Jesus, commit yourself to our faithful Creator and continue, keep going, persevere. Our life is not our own but God’s, we commit our life to God. Our God is a God who knows suffering well. Jesus on the cross, in the midst of suffering, committed his spirit to the Father. As each of us will die some day, may we each be able to commit our life to God regardless of the suffering. May we be able to rejoice and be overjoyed that our faith is being purified and we have committed our self to our Creator 

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9.6.19 – A Man Full Of God’s Grace And Power – Peter Cheyne

Today we celebrate the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, 3,000 people converted and the church was born. That story is in Acts 2. From then on the book of Acts is saturated with the Holy Spirit. Many have suggested that it should not be called the Acts of the Apostles but the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

We are not going to look at the day of Pentecost but an example of the life of the church from very soon after Pentecost.

Maybe 3 or 4 years after Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost a dispute broke out. The church was distributing food to widows but the Greek-speaking Jews complained that their widows were being overlooked. The apostles knew that their calling was to the ministry of the word and prayer, not to distributing food. It would be wrong for them to try to do this as well. Far better to delegate it. Involve more people. Recognise the diversity of gifts and ministries. So the apostles said to the church, “Choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

So, the church chose seven men, including someone called Stephen.

The apostles had been very clear about the type of person who should be chosen. They were to be men (and we are not going to go into that just now) who were to be known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.

Why? All they were going to do was distribute food! This is a pastoral care role. Why was it crucial that they be filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom? And what does it mean anyway? And they were to be known as people full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Apparently, this was something that people could readily recognise. What makes it apparent that a person is full of the Holy Spirit?

And, what does this say to us? Should we require exactly the same thing? Before we put anyone into a ministry role in the church, should it be apparent that he/she is full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom?

I hope we can answer those questions as we look at the story.

Acts 6:7               So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

The ‘so’ at the beginning of that verse tells us that the growth was a result of the appointment of these seven men. That could be because they defused a developing division and maintained unity in the church. I think there was great wisdom in addressing the complaint and finding a solution that involved delegating ministry to others.  But I think there was far more to it than that, as we shall see.

The story then focuses on Stephen. Who was he? Who knows? But look at how he is described in 6:8: Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power… performed great wonders and signs among the people.

We know that he had to be a man full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Now we get a picture of what that means. He was full of God’s grace and power.

God’s grace is His goodness, His generosity, His provision, His willingness to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We are saved by the grace of God. It is pure gift. We cannot earn it ourselves, God gives it generously. We are protected and guided by God’s grace. We are equipped by God’s grace for His service. So was Stephen receiving God’s grace in an abundant way or was he modelling God’s grace and conveying God’s grace to others in an abundant way? Was God blessing him or was he blessing others?

Undoubtedly both. Those who receive God’s grace are expected to pass it on. Jesus said, “You have received freely, therefore give freely.”

He was performing great wonders and signs among the people. Clearly, he was receiving God’s grace. He could not perform miracles by himself. God was doing great things. God was graciously working through him. But Stephen was not just receiving. He was extending God’s grace to others. People were experiencing God’s grace through Stephen. Presumably people were being healed and delivered of demons; prayers were being answered. Probably it mirrored Jesus’ ministry.

Even in talking about God’s grace, we have started talking about God’s power. Stephen was full of God’s power. Jesus had said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Clearly that was happening exactly as Jesus had said. Stephen was simply a meals-on-wheels deliverer but he had the power to perform great wonders and signs because of the Holy Spirit in his life.

Let’s revisit the questions we asked earlier. Why was it so important for these men to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom? When they delivered food, they obviously ran across all manner of other needs. People were sick. People had demons. Marriages were strained. People needed jobs. Whatever. They could not just drop the food and run. There were opportunities here to minister to hurting people and for people to witness the power of God. Stephen could not identify those needs and respond to them without the help of the Holy Spirit. Dealing with these things requires God-given wisdom. Stephen needed to be receiving the grace of God if he was to minister the grace of God.

It actually says that he performed great wonders and signs “among the people”. That could just be the widows in the church but it sounds to me as if he was out in the community doing these things. Perhaps the widow who needed food told him of her neighbour who was dying.

If people are going to minister in the name of the church, they should not be non-Christians or even powerless Christians. Even pastoral care, or social service, roles require people filled with the Spirit.

How would they identify who was filled with the Spirit? Maybe it required only a simple question: Can you see God at work? If someone is healing the sick, it is pretty apparent. If someone speaks with an unusual authority such that people sense God speaking, that is pretty apparent. If someone’s character is being transformed – they are increasingly demonstrating the love, or the patience, or the compassion of Christ, it shows. The apostles said, “Choose people in whom, and through whom, you see God at work.

Stephen’s story continues. People got angry. They did not want people being healed or set free by Jesus. They opposed Stephen, arguing against him. But, v.10 says that they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. His words had Holy Spirit authority and logic.

They brought him before the Jewish Sanhedrin and made accusations against him. When they looked at his face they saw that he had the face of an angel. This again is the presence of God and the grace of God.

Stephen then made along speech. Most of chapter 7 is a recitation of the history of Israel from the calling of Abraham to the captivity in Egypt, to the exodus under Moses, to the giving of the Law at Mt Sinai, to the conquest of the Promised Land to Solomon’s building of the Temple. But that is a story of regular disobedience and Stephen finished by accusing the Jewish leaders of being stiff-necked and resisting the Holy Spirit, just like their ancestors. They had even killed all of the prophets. And now these people had betrayed and murdered the Righteous One, God’s Messiah. What incredible courage to speak so boldly! That was a Holy Spirit thing as well. This is not natural.

Not surprisingly, they were furious. Then Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Is that not, again, the grace of God? The Holy Spirit was powerfully at work, although when he said what he could see, it made them even more angry! They dragged him out of the city and began stoning him.  Being battered to death, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and then, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Then he died.

How do you pray prayers like that – a prayer of peaceful trust in God and a prayer of forgiveness for those killing you? They echo Jesus’ prayers on the Cross. Stephen had a Christ-like character. The Holy Spirit had been moulding his character and, at the time of death, gave him peace and compassion.

Today is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Stephen’s story illustrates what Pentecost meant. The early church was a Holy Spirit-filled church. This is what it looked like.

What do you think this was like for Stephen? Would it have been exciting being part of the life of the church, ministering to people, seeing miracles happening and lives changed? Do you think he went home at night and lay in his bed and gave thanks to God for all that he was seeing and was able to be part of? Do you think the Spirit-filled life was a source of constant joy? Even dying didn’t seem to terrify him. He was faithful to Jesus and courageous and, at the end, had a God-given peace. God was good. Stephen knew the grace of God in multiple ways.

There is even a particular blessing in suffering for Jesus. Just a couple of verse before chapter 6, we read, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

This has to be an invitation to us. This is the church as God designed it. I guess that most of us would say that we are not seeing God at work today in the same way that Stephen’s story illustrates and we ask why not. And yet I am sure He wants to fill us with His Spirit in just the same way. What do we need to do?

How did Stephen get to be a man full of God’s grace and power? I am guessing but I suspect.

1. He wanted it

Maybe he had seen this in Jesus and in the apostles and he wanted it. Who wants it? Who hungers for it?

2. Pray.

Again, we do not have information about Stephen specifically but prior to Pentecost, we read that the Christians all joined together constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14).

We should be on our faces, crying out to God to know more of His grace and to be able to extend more of His grace to others.

Truthfully, if we want to see our church be anything like the New Testament church, we should have many, many people at our prayer meetings, praying passionately. Could we? Could that be the catalyst for us experiencing far more of the grace of God?

3. Act

Be faithful in little things. Stephen was willing to do a fairly menial job but discovered that God was opening more and more doors for him. He went through those doors and God used him in a far greater way.

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