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Monday, 31 October 2011

Psalm 34 A song and a sermon

23rd October 2011
Sunday Evening
A song and a sermon.
Psalm 34
An overview:
 Author: David
 Occasion: 1 Samuel 21. David being chased by Saul finds himself in Gath where he seeks help but is met by opposition and so he pretends to be mad in order to escape capture and certain disgrace at the hands of foreign kings. They refuse him help and send him away. David takes refuge in the cave of Adullam.
 Verses 4 & 6 are references to his feelings at that time. David sought the Lord and was heard of God; delivered and saved by God.
 Verse 7 speaks of the special way in which God protects His people. The angel of the Lord encamps around the fearful and delivers them.
 Verse 10 takes a lesson from nature, lions may become weak and hungry but God’s people lack nothing. Great words from a man who is on the run and afraid.
 Verse 11 begins the sermon. Listen to me and I will teach you. Lessons from experience are the best!
 Verse 12-22are great lessons in theology or doctrine, all from this experience and vital for Christian life.
The song:
Verses 1-10: This is a great devotional lesson to all of us, learned in the pit as it were but vibrant and vital for all of God’s people. It is experiential and full of great truths concerning God and His people.
We need to keep our minds on where David is as he pens these words. He is worried, in danger and pretending to be mad in order to protect himself. He has sunk to the lowest a man can. He has given up dignity and self-respect and is dribbling in the dirt! That having been said David is still able to sing praise to his God. Some of his decisions may seem to be dubious to say the least but God is still his portion and his praise.
 David encourages God’s people to praise God in difficult circumstances. In verses 1-3 he makes a vow to praise God whatever might happen. He will praise or extol Him, His praise will always be on his lips and the Lord will always be his boast. David then says let that be a lesson to all of God’s people who are in trouble and it shall be of great encouragement. He encourages God’s people to glorify and exalt the name of the Lord together. The importance of joining together in praise through our difficulties. David is concerned to encourage others to join him!
 David’s testimony. He continues to encourage others in his song. After all that is what songs are supposed to do, we encourage one another as we sing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. David the writer of this great song is only too aware of the truth of this. Verses 4-6 tell of what David was doing whilst he was pretending to be a madman. This is where at times words and actions do not match up too well. A lesson that we ought to learn from this is not to be too judgemental against those who at times do things that are odd or out of character. They may just be protecting themselves in the only way that they feel they can in those circumstance just as David did here! Despite that David takes time out to explain what he was doing. He sought the Lord, he was delivered by the Lord, He called to the Lord and the Lord heard him! He was rescued or saved by the Lord whilst at the same time in hiding and in a mess! But look again at verse 5 he tells us that those who look to God are radiant and shameless!! The kings of Gath etc. saw David as a lunatic, they saw the unkempt appearance and the dishevelled look but God saw David a man close to His heart. How encouraging is that!
 God’s special agent. God is with us has always been a great theme of the bible. He met with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He instructed the people in the construction firstly of the Tabernacle and then the Temple which would house the Ark of the Covenant which was a symbol that He gave to His people to signify His presence with them. We now have our own Immanuel the Lord Jesus Christ residing with us. But on occasions God comes especially close to His people in particular when they are in trouble and as David says in poetic form He in the form of the Angel of the Lord (who just happens to be the pre-incarnate Christ) encamps around His people and He delivers them. What great encouragement this is to us for whom our Saviour says He will never leave us or forsake us.
 David’s plea. Verse 8-10 there is nothing better than a tasty meal. It might be sweet to the pallet or bitter to the tongue but it is a delight to the eater! That is the analogy that David has for us. He says I have set a great menu before you, it does not matter what your issues are just as you would heartily eat a magnificent meal taste what God has done for you. See that He is good. A meal is only good if it is eaten in the same way we can only know the goodness of God if we experience Him! Fear Him saints and we will lack nothing. Lions in all of their might will fade when hungry but seekers of God lack no good thing! Is your complete trust in this our God?

The Sermon:
Verses 11-22
 Verse 11 David makes a proposal to us. Listen and I will teach you. We need to listen in order to learn that is pretty basic. It is a pity that many of our educators no longer seem to believe it! But it is the subject that David proposes that is of great importance.
 Verse 12-14 David addresses those who love life. There are not many who do not truly love life. I think that David showed his own love of life when he preferred to be thought of as insane rather than to die at the hands of foreign kings. Life to him was clearly precious. For all of us who long to see many good days David gives sound advice: Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from lies. Turn away from evil, do good and pursue peace. These are all of the attributes of the righteous man! David is saying seek righteousness above everything! Because:
 God is looking: Verses 14-15: A great doctrinal lesson comes so easily. David says God is omniscient! But he says it in easily understandable words. God’s eyes are on you and His ears are attentive. God is seeing and hearing you even in the cave of Adullam! Wherever you are. You might sink to the bottom of the deepest sea or be on the mountaintop, God is always attentive to His people. He never leaves us or forsakes us. BUT:
 God is angry: Verse 16: Another great truth, God is angry with those who do evil! It is important for us to remember that God hates sin and therefore sinners who remain unrepentant! A hard thing to come to terms with but that does not make it any the less true! Not only is He angry He has set His face against them and so He judges them! That is what it means when David says that God will cut off their memory!
 God is protective: Verses 17-20: God judges the evil ones but protects the righteous. He hears their cry for help, He delivers them from trouble, He is close to the broken-hearted, He lifts up or saves those crushed in spirit. Whatever the troubles we have God delivers us from them all!! You might say that this is not my experience but we all have to remember that we are still on the road to our final deliverance! He even protects the bones of the righteous. It is at this point that we must stop and consider who he is speaking of here. This verse is used as evidence of Jesus the Righteous One who when He had died did not have His legs broken. This simply reminds us that when God deals with the righteous we are only counted righteous on account of Him who alone is truly righteous. It is His righteousness that is our shield. But finally:
 God is ultimate judge: Verses 21-22: The wicked will die on account of their evil and will be condemned by God. He is their final judge and He never makes mistakes. There are no miscarriages of justice in either heaven or hell. All in either place are judged by God to be fit for that place. Hell is reserved for sinners and heaven for the righteous. Righteousness is only on account of God’s grace found in Jesus Christ and so all who trust in Him alone will be redeemed and find refuge. There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!!! This being true should cause us to do all that we can to rescue others by our witness!

Psalm 19 God has spoken.

30th October 2011
Sunday evening
God has spoken.
Psalm 19
Written by David, this Psalm is all about God’s revelation of Himself. It is in three distinct sections:
1. God is revealed in nature: verses 1-6
2. God is revealed in scripture: verses 7-11
3. God is revealed in experience: verses 12-14
1: The revelation of God in nature:
Kant said “there are two things of perennial wonder, the starry sky and the moral law.” David in the psalm begins with the first of those wonders, the wonder of nature. He declares that God tells mankind much of Himself in and through nature. This is what the theologians call “general revelation,” that is it displays something of God’s character which is plain for all of mankind to observe and learn. David had much experience of outdoor life, his formative years being as a shepherd. He had spent many days and nights out in the fields; therefore he had a great knowledge of nature and the universe. Clearly as he had observed the changing patterns of night to day and winter to summer with all of the transitional periods between each of them David had come to a clear understanding of God through what he saw.
So what did he see of God as he looked at nature?
He saw:
 His glory. (vs.1)
 His creative work. (vs.1)
 His word. (vs.2)
 Knowledge of Him. (vs.2)
 His voice which is universal. (vs.3-4)
 His omnipotence: God is all powerful in His control over nature. (vs.4b-6)
 His provision through nature: the heat of the sun being a great example. (vs.6)
As we read these words we cannot help but think of Romans 1:19-20:
“Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
As Paul wrote those words he clearly had scriptures such as Psalm 19 in mind and so he applied what David taught from his experience in Psalm 19. David tells us that God reveals His character through creation and Paul teaches that because of general revelation mankind is without excuse before God. This means that they will not be able to hide behind ignorance of Him on the day of judgement! They have seen his glory every time they have looked up into the sky. Every time they think of the vastness of the universe and when they wonder at the beauty of a tiny bird or they consider the pent up power in every little atom. Every time their well worked out theories are foiled by new discoveries. Every time they think of particles that break the light barrier and have to re-think all of their theories of relativity what they are really doing is seeing the glory of God who is the creator that many of the people of today are desperate to deny. They are without excuse; God is plain to see in all of these things and so much more. Day and night creation is pleading with them to:
He is there to be seen all across the world by the educated and the uneducated alike, by rich and poor, male and female young and old, all can learn of Him and His majesty from His handiwork. You do not need to know much about art to know a Constable from a Picasso; they both obvious by their handiwork which has the artists signature in every brush-stroke! That is just what David teaches us about God; His signature is throughout His work of creation, it is unmistakable!
2: The revelation of God in scripture:
There are six different aspects that the Psalm teaches us of God.
1. The law of the Lord. (vs.7)
2. The statutes (AV = testimony) of the Lord. (vs.7)
3. The precepts (AV = statutes) of the Lord. (vs.8)
4. The commands of the Lord. (vs.8)
5. The fear of the Lord. (vs.9)
6. The ordinances (AV = judgements) of the Lord. (vs.9)
Each of these scriptural revelations teaches us vital lessons of God and his character.
The Law of the Lord is perfect, it is without fault, it never errs from the truth it is the very word of God. It has been recorded and written down by men of old under God’s supervision. It is as the theologians tell us wholly infallible, perfect and without fault. That is what David first declares and then he tells us what the law does:
It revives the soul!
Firstly we know that it reveals sin to unbelievers and then God revives the soul of those who respond to the call of the law! But it also revives the soul of flagging Christians. It speaks of God’s perfection, it reveals our sinfulness and to believers. The law in turn reminds us of the grace that God has extended to us in Christ Jesus.
The statutes or testimony of the Lord are trustworthy. They are totally reliable.
But what are the statutes?
A statute is simply a law passed by a government or by an absolute authority. In our case it is a divine directive. Testimony would have worked well when the AV was first produced but language is organic and some words develop and change emphasis. “Statutes” in modern language says what David is teaching but that word needs probably updating to something like dictates or directives. More importantly what do they actually do?
They make the simple wise!
Compared to God the Lawgiver all mankind are simple and so the directives of God make man wise. Wisdom in scripture always refers to a saving relationship with God. David is saying that God’s statutes bring us into fellowship with Him. What are His dictates? Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!
The precepts or statutes (AV) are right. They have no error in them!
But again what are they?
They are simply rules for action! They need obeying, there is absolutely nothing wrong in the expectation that God has. The way that He expects mankind to live is perfectly right and good. So what do God’s rules do?
They make us rejoice or happy!
This is no promise of jollity but it is all about true happiness. Remember the beatitudes; the blessed of Jesus. The Greek word used for blessed is equally translated as happy. To live a truly happy life is to be obedient to God. We saw something of that joy in Stephen this morning as he was martyred. He saw the Lord in glory; he saw heaven open and he happily went there! Why the joy? Simply because he was obedient to the precepts of God even to the detriment of personal safety and security!
The commands of the Lord are radiant, they open blinded eyes. We think of the Apostle Paul when he saw the radiance of God he was blinded by the experience but when he obeyed the commands of God, or when he finally confessed that he did not know who the Lord really was. Then when he came in submission to the Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ Paul may well have been physically blind but the radiance of the glory of God shone into his heart and from then he had clear spiritual sight! The commands of the Lord open blinded spiritual eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, it is perfect! It is nothing like fear of the bully that makes us do just what he wants of us mercilessly. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; it is simple trust in Him for everything for life; for provision, for salvation, for everything that is necessary!! David then continues to teach us something great importance:
Our salvation is permanent!
It endures forever! Nothing and nobody can ever separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus. Christians; the security of our salvation is not a concept drawn from the pen of Calvin, he simply taught what the whole of the bible teaches. Our salvation cannot be taken from us, whatever men might say!
The ordinances or judgements of the Lord are sure and righteous altogether! The overall decrees of God are without fault. Here I think that the AV is more helpful, God judges perfectly and righteously and His judgements are without error. He has revealed Himself by His word and in that there is great benefit:
 It is precious. Worth more than gold or even life to us!
 It keeps us on the straight and narrow.
God’s word is what we all need in order that we live the life that God intends for us.
3: The revelation of God in our experience:
Our Christian experience teaches us all about God’s grace.
The Psalm reminds us that we cannot even deal with our own wilfulness; the things that we shouldn’t do we do, and the things that we should do we do not do! Is that not our experience but since the day of our conversion that has changed! We now have the scripture that directs us and if we obey it we live right before God. Therefore we should strive to live under the authority of scripture. Scripture teaches us our errors, it warns us but our testimony is also of great purpose because it reminds us of God’s amazing grace and the great rewards that we have in Him. Our testimony is powerful in that it reminds us that we are only what we are because of God’s grace, for it is by grace that we are saved for the glory of God! We need to continue in grace; pleading for help to overcome our sinful nature and thus to be pleasing to God Himself!
Our continuing prayer should therefore always be:
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.”
I am grateful to David for writing this Psalm because it reminds us that in the whole of creation we can see God’s handiwork in which He displays His Majesty. In the scripture He reveals His law which is vital for our relationship with Him, and in our own experience we know our own faults and that shows us just how much grace we have received and need for everyday life!

Stephen's defence of the faith. Acts 7:1-60

Sunday Morning
30th October 2011
Stephen’s defence of the faith.
Acts 7:1-60
Our last look at Stephen revealed a contrast between his accusers and himself. His accusers were happy to employ whatever means that they could in order to bring Stephen to justice as they saw it. The result in their thinking should never be in doubt. They knew wanted to have Stephen executed on trumped up charges of blasphemy. That was their desired end and so they began their business of entrapment. The reason was that Stephen had something which they did not have and of which they did not understand. It is right at this point to remember that amongst the number of accusers was Saul of Tarsus. He was one of them and so he was part to all of the proceedings and was in full agreement, but from his testimony we know this incident would have had a profound effect on him. Before we even look at the content we learn that we can never tell what God’s purpose is in all circumstances. For Stephen it was an extremely difficult experience but God’s purposes were far more than anybody could expect.
Last time we saw that Stephen to his accusers appeared to have the face of an angel. We remembered that an angel is a messenger of God and so it is no surprise that:
1. Stephen is asked to speak.
2. Stephen’s message is powerful.
3. Stephen’s message is effective.
Stephen is asked to speak.
As we discovered last week Stephen having the face of an angel was displaying the purpose for which he was sent. His accusers thought that they were in control of the situation but God was about to speak powerfully and effectively to them through His servant Stephen. For that to happen Stephen needed and audience and when he got their attention they were captivated by what they heard. I am sure that as soon as Stephen started to speak they would have been most confused because instead of being defensive of his position Stephen gave a history lesson. He revealed his orthodoxy in what he believed about the nation of Israel and how God had separated them for Himself. He could never go wrong by speaking truthfully about the fore-fathers of Israel, and that is what he did. Stephen; beginning with Abraham and God’s promise to Abraham of a people who would have their own land. He moved on through Isaac and Jacob and to the 12 sons of Jacob. He speaks of God’s provision for Israel which came through great personal suffering for Joseph who was their saviour at that time. Israel were kept safe and provided for in Israel until in God’s providence another king who knew nothing of Joseph became ruler of Egypt. Israel then suffered greatly at the hands of the Egyptians but this was the unfolding of God’s plan for them. Moses was being raised up under the noses of the Egyptians and he would be the deliverer or saviour of his people from slavery. Moses would lead Israel through the wilderness and eventually to the doorstep of Canaan. Whilst in the wilderness God was present with His people in the Tabernacle which was the tent/temple of its day. David wanted to build a permanent temple but due to the fact that he was a king of war the temple was eventually built by his son Solomon who was the king of peace. Stephen then reminds them of scripture which says that God does not dwell in buildings of man’s construction and also by using Isaiah 66:1-2 he declares that God is as always residing and ruling the earth in heaven. This was all good stuff and I can imagine his accusers wondering where Stephen is going. He has been accused of blasphemy and yet seems to believe all of the right things. It is only when Stephen utters his final 68 words that they react. We will come to that soon but before then we have here a perfect example of what we discussed last week. God had a message for the men of the Sanhedrin, He had a message directly for Paul and Stephen was God’s messenger.
Just as they had looked intently into Stephen’s face earlier they now hung on to his every word. Their motive for doing so was to trap Stephen by his own words but in order to do so they needed to be fully attentive. We are reminded of Isaiah’s words in chapter 55 which says that God’s word will go out and will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it. The immediate result seems to have been to worsen the situation but we never know what God is doing in hearts and lives when the gospel is being preached. How often we hear of people being affected by the gospel when it has been directed elsewhere. E.g. Alan Jordan’s RAF friend!
Stephen’s message is powerful.
As we have discovered the majority of what Stephen speaks of is the history of the nation of Israel. There could not possibly be any fault found by his accusers until those last 68 (in our English translation!) words! It had all been historically accurate, theologically sound and proclaimed passionately but it ends with a pointed application. This is the sting in the tail!
The power of what Stephen says is not from his own thinking or imagination but is directly from the word of God. God’s word has been given to revive the soul, to make the simple wise, to give understanding and in the keeping of it there is great reward as David says in Psalm 19. But the word of the Lord also acts as a judge which passes sentence on all who reject it. Therefore the words of scripture are as sweet as honey is in the mouth to a believer, they are the words of life itself but to the unbeliever they are the sentence of death, they are odious to the heart and totally without blessing. Stephen’s hearers were readers of the scripture and lovers of the rules even though they did not fully obey God’s commands. When Stephen addresses the Sanhedrin he speaks biblically and so they could not help but understand and agree with what he was saying.
In his application Stephen quotes from Exodus 32:9 and refers to the Sanhedrin as a stiff necked people. Those were God’s words to Israel who were guilty of making a golden calf whilst Moses was on the mount receiving the commands of God. Again in Exodus 33:5 the Lord told Moses to tell the Israelites that they were a stiff necked people and consequently under God’s wrath and judgement. Straight away the whole Sanhedrin understood the implications of Stephen; the accused one is accusing them of ungodliness! That is just the first clause of his application. Stephen continues by quoting Leviticus 26:41 where God speaks of His disobedient people as being uncircumcised of heart. That done in the body was not evidence of the reality of the heart! In Deuteronomy 10:16 Moses instructs the people upon their receipt of the commands a second time around to “circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff necked any longer.” To be uncircumcised in heart is equal to being an unbeliever. Stephen is saying to the religious authorities you just like the Gentiles are rank unbelievers. But Stephen says that it is not only a problem of the heart but that their ears are shut also. They might be attentive to his every word but they will not listen and change! Their fathers were bigots and so are they. The Holy Spirit of God is resisted by them. God’s Spirit interprets and applies truth to their hearts but they resisted it. They were acting just like their fore-fathers who had killed God’s messengers in the past. The prophets declared the coming of the Righteous One and yet they were killed because of their message; and to cap it all Stephen accuses them of having killed the Righteous One. They have had the law handed down to them which had been put into effect by angels (God’s messengers!) but they have not obeyed what it demands. Stephen in a bold and powerful way is saying, you might judge me but the word of God judges you to be bankrupt of faith and out of relationship with God. That of which they were most proud (being God’s special people!) was not the reality.
There are many of us here today, most if not all appear to be good bible believing Christians. But is this true? Do you really trust in Jesus Christ for salvation? Or are you playing the hypocrite just like Stephen’s congregation?

Stephen’s message is effective.
We quoted Isaiah 55:10-11 earlier but here it is in full: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
God had given Stephen the authority to speak, He had given him the audience and He had given him the message. Just as rain accomplishes all that it is meant to so also the word that Stephen had that day accomplished all that God desired to achieve! The immediate result was their rage and anger! But Stephen’s message was not finished yet! He could see the glory set out before him. Being filled with the Spirit of God he saw God in all of His glory, he saw Jesus standing at His right hand and he declared this to his hearers. Look he said but they could not see. Stephen could see heaven open, ready for him to enter!! He saw the Son of Man, the title used of the Messiah! They knew that he meant Jesus; or the Righteous One and where is He? Standing at the right hand of God, equal with God in authority! This was impossible for them to agree with.
At this the word of God powerfully worked in their hearts, they would not listen, they shouted at Stephen stopping their ears just like children do to stop them from hearing what they are being told! It might be funny in children but for these men it was disaster. They lost all sense of decency, grabbed Stephen and stoned him. We have to say here that the word achieved for Stephen what God desired for him. He was promoted into heaven a few moments later. But not before he prayed! His prayer echoed our Lord’s Prayer from the cross, “do not hold this against them!” At that Stephen fell asleep, absent from the body present with the Lord which is far better. Stephen died, the Sanhedrin showed their true colours and God’s purposes were accomplished. BUT look again there is somebody else there a young man called Saul in charge of proceedings. God is working in his life also. Stephen’s word did not fall entirely on deaf ears, Saul would have to get much worse before he meets with Jesus on the road to Damascus but he was being irresistibly drawn to God.
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Are you listening or are your ears stopped up? Are you putting your spiritual fingers in your ears declaring “I will not listen to this?” If you are then remember this day because God’s word has been declared to you. It is powerful and active; it is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and if you reject it them you are as guilty as the Sanhedrin were on that day. The choice that you make is separation from God!

An ordinary Christian. Acts 6:5-18

23rd October 2011
Sunday morning worship
An ordinary Christian.
Acts 6:8-15
As Christians we often hide our poor Christian life and effort behind the reputation of some whom we might believe to be Super-Christians. The Apostle Paul is one such character, who can ever match up to what he was. There is much truth in that but we need to keep a balance also. Remember it was Paul who wrote Romans 7:15-20:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Paul also elsewhere refers to himself as the least worthy and chief of sinners. Paul was under no illusion that he was better than the rest. All of his achievements he attributed to his Lord. All of his authority and understanding came from the Lord and all of his resolve was of the Lord.
It is right to get this into context before we consider Stephen another of the church’s super-heroes. Before the mention of his name for the first time in Acts 6:5 to the reader of the New Testament Stephen was an unknown quantity. He was chosen by the church because he had the required qualities for the role of servant of the church. If you remember the qualifications laid down for the choosing of these 7 men who were to care for the widows of the church was that they be full of faith and the Holy Spirit. That is a description of all believers! Remember since our repentance and conversion we are a new creation, gone are the old ways. Our sin has been replaced with righteousness given by God and the gods of our former life (Satan and self) who solely occupied our very heart have been replaced by God Almighty through His Holy Spirit. Therefore these are the credentials of all who are born again of God. The church then had the responsibility to choose 7 men who were exemplary in their faith. We can of course see quite clearly that some people are in closer relationship with God than others are and so the shortlist for the 7 was made smaller. But then the job at hand needed to be done and so those suitably equipped would be shortlisted further just as we do when interviewing for any specific job. The job at hand was quite specific, it was all about caring for people in difficulties and so Stephen was by reputation chosen because he was good at such things. The church had to make pragmatic decisions for a spiritual work. That was the work of the church membership. But what of the man himself and what was it that the church recognised in him?
 He was obvious.
 He was powerful.
He was obvious.
The very fact that it was obvious to all should never go without saying. The greatest testimony that can ever be made is that of other people. There are so many autobiographies written these days that tell of the wonderful things that “I” have done. They often tell it warts and all but it is always with a bias that will only disclose truth and error as far as they want to. But when somebody else speaks of us if they are truthful they can only record the reality of what can be observed. Luke in his research for this book records that Stephen was a man full of God’s grace and power. What he saying by this is; Stephen was a most impressive Christian. He did not gain favour by being relevant or trendy or even by having the right theology. It was not his character that set him apart although I am sure that it was impressive in itself; after all the Greek believers trusted him with the welfare of their widows. These are the attributes that we generally look for in people fit for service, it is not wrong to do that but there are higher qualities that are even more important. A note of caution here is necessary Stephen was not so High minded that he had no earthly use. He was clearly respected for his human values but he was also a Godly man of the first order.
He was Full of God’s grace, he had many of his own graces but to be full of God’s grace is truly both impressive and important. It was impressive because others saw it in him. It was not just the Greek believers that entrusted him with their widow’s welfare but the Jewish believers did also. That in itself is amazing, both factions are pleased with all 7 appointed men including Stephen.
If ever there was a time when grace from God was necessary it was then. How does a church deal with such potentially explosive issues? The leaders needed great wisdom and Stephen was wise. They needed much grace to deal with the issues and God is who full of grace, it was He who had empowered Stephen for such a time as this!
As we have read Stephen was unfairly arrested, the members of the Synagogue of the Freedman (there is not much known about who these are but they are thought of consist largely of freed slaves) opposed the gospel and picked an argument with Stephen. His wisdom confounded them and the Spirit of God by whom he spoke defeated them publicly! As we all know a cornered rat is a dangerous animal it will attack violently. These Greek Jews did what they best could, they summoned up a group of liars and made false accusations against Stephen. It is oh so familiar! They gained support from the crowd and also the elders and the teachers of the law on trumped up charges of blasphemy which just happened to be the emotive subject of the day. These upright religious guys had no scruples about false witnesses. Their theology was that the end justifies the means. In other words it does not really matter how dubious or wrong your efforts are as long as it all turns out well for you. Sounds so modern doesn’t it!!! The charges of course soon get enlarged and from firstly being a charge of blasphemy it becomes a charge of constantly criticising the temple and the law and of making wild claims of Jesus destroying the temple. To cap it all they accused him of changing the customs of Moses. They in effect were claiming that Stephen was attacking the very core of society and culture.
As they sat in judgement they looked intently at Stephen! What did they see? They were clearly surprised at his calm; he was not shouting injustices or claiming his rights as we might. There is no evidence of his being downcast and hurt. He simply is there being observed. Earlier they could not stand against his wisdom which tells us that his claims were fair and with authority. Stephen was truly a man who was wise in difficult circumstances.
In this he is a great example to us today, we do not have to stand before kangaroo courts of theologians’ intent on destroying us but we do have a critical people out there who would love to destroy our witness. They will use all manner of unfairness to destroy our witness. Remember how not long ago a group of parents in the village made unfair claims about what we taught the children. We were reported as telling them that they were dirty rotten sinners. That was totally unfair but as with Stephen’s accusers it was based on the truth. What they accused Stephen of saying was true to a point. Christ and the church will destroy the old form of faith but not in the way that his accusers implied. We also must not shy away from truth, the bible tells us that all have sinned and that includes small children. Even King David admitted that he had been sinful since birth! We are expected to teach truth to old and young alike. We do teach universal sin to the children but it is never our place to apply the depths of their personal sin to them and neither do we! We of course to some are the most evil people because of the misrepresentation. What do we do about it?
We learn a lesson from Stephen! We must simply and accurately and without fear declare the truth as it is. We will see next time just how Stephen achieved that and what resulted from it!
A final lesson from Stephen:
He was powerful.
Remember that those sitting in judgement were looking intently at him! They saw much more than his wisdom. The saw his real power, Luke reports their understanding. Stephen to them had the face of an angel. At this point we have to get rid of all of our mythical understanding of what an angel is! We are about to enter a most dangerous time in the calendar when the whole country seems to go Christian mad! There will be cards coming through our doors with the most bizarre representations of what angels are. We will see little baby-like creatures with wings and blowing trumpets. This is a soppy and wrong interpretation of the reality! Whenever angels appear in the scripture they bring fear and trembling to their hearers, certainly if not at first they do before they depart from their subject. They often come with a sword to speak of their authority or with a trumpet to give a clarion call. For our information the trumpets if they ever were with the angels at the declaration of the birth of Jesus would have been to make the clarion call from God that battle has begun. The Lord had set His plan to go into battle against the devil: His warrior Jesus was now at war! That is the implications of the event. The angels came with a set purpose from God to declare His plan for them.
That is always the case with angels; they are warriors for the Lord with a message to the people from God! What the accusing of Stephen saw was certainly not a baby faced being! They saw wisdom and power from God! They also had a word from God to listen to, which is what angels do! They speak God’s word with power to those whom God has sent them. It is therefore no surprise that they then invite Stephen to speak. More of the message next time! But as we will discover they listen for 52 verses to Stephen’s interpretation of what their history is all about! In the end they choose to ignore it and to execute Stephen but they did listen. Why did they see Stephen to have a face like an angel? Because God had sent him to them with a message! Stephen at that point was an angel: a messenger of God. To a point we are all angels. Remember in the first few chapters of Revelation the Lord Jesus addresses the angel of various churches, if you study it a little you will find out He is speaking to the one with the message in the church. We are all messengers of God; called to declare the gospel message to all that we know. To them we are angels and our message has great authority. It might well be rejected but it comes with the full authority and power of God.
Stephen was an ordinary Christian just as we are but yet he was powerful when he declared his message. We are equally powerful when we declare the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I wonder if our hearers ever notice the power that we have in the Lord.
They never will if we are never God’s angels to them! Ordinary Christians at times are angels to others; our message has great authority and power from God for them at that time.

We should pray for the opportunity to be an angel to somebody; they should in turn see us to be full of God’s grace and power. I wonder what you might say to the next person who unwittingly asks that you be an angel to them.

A problem solving exercise. Acts 6:1-7

Sunday morning
16th October 2011
A problem solving exercise.
Acts 6:1-7
As we have seen over recent weeks the church was growing at a phenomenal rate. The Lord was blessing her greatly and that caused many problems for her. She was experiencing persecution from the authorities but also as we have read there was an undercurrent within the membership.
The church has been commended for the way that they cared for each other; property had been sold in order to help any in need. We have no real way of discerning the timespan between those events recorded in chapter 4 and chapter 6 but the impression we get is that it is only a short space of time. In this period there has developed unrest amongst the members. It was a dangerous situation and it needed to be deal with swiftly but carefully. The way that the church dealt with it is a great example for us as a church today. This morning we will consider:
1) The problem.
2) The proposal.
3) The result.

1: The problem:
The problem began with the church growing. We could say that they were experiencing growing pains but that would be far too simplistic. The reality was that amongst believers a racial tension was in evidence. From our studies of the New Testament we know that racial issues are a constant battle. The Jews were a very proud people; proud of their heritage as the nation singled out through whom God would bless the whole world. When a person is converted the scripture tells us that he is a new creation, the old sinful nature is dealt with and a new Godly nature replaces it. That might suggest that sinless perfection results and so consequently that person will from then on never transgress again. Some believe that it is not only possible for Christians to attain such perfection but that it is an expectation. But the evidence of the bible is that this is never the case. In fact we will one day be made perfect but that is when we receive our glorified bodies in the presence of God in heaven. Until that day we battle against the old sinful nature and so in the words of scripture we need to crucify the old nature and work hard at living a holy life. As we know that is easier said than done. In our passage Luke records the church displaying this very problem, they are guilty of letting the old nature raise its ugly head.
Racism is becoming a problem. The Grecian Jews are in their opinion not being treated as well as the Hebraic Jews. The very thing that we commended the church for just a few weeks ago is now a failure. Inequality has become a part of the church. From being all equal now some are feeling marginalised and unfairly treated. As with all such problems it is not absolutely certain where the truth lies. It might well be true that the Hebraic Jews were receiving preferential treatment but equally it could be true that it was a perceived favouritism on behalf of the Grecian Jews. That does not really matter; there was a problem that if not dealt with would soon split the church. Church history is littered with splits due to lesser issues than this one that we are considering today!
The problem was important, the widows of the Greek section of the church felt that they were being overlooked by the food bank. Their perception was that the Hebrew widows were being cared for properly and their widows were not! Therefore a real tension was building up the result being that they were complaining amongst themselves!
If this situation were to continue then real problems are just around the corner. Jealousy soon would destroy the fellowship! I am glad that this issue is recorded by Luke. It is a great encouragement to me that the early church was just like us, they did get things wrong. Human nature causes all sorts of problems especially when a number of people are together for any period of time. It would be so easy at this point to get all stewed up and to let emotion and hurt take over and to react in a way that is detrimental to the church and its witness.
We will undoubtedly experience our own unique problems; in fact there are probably issues within our fellowship now where some might feel marginalized for all sorts of reasons. The important thing for us is: what we do when we feel like that!
We have a great example before us as to how we should deal with such issues.

2: The proposal:
We are not told how the Apostles came to know about the problem but it had clearly come to their attention and they immediately took it seriously! It is too easy for us as leaders to bury our heads in the sand when we see problems, but as we all know when we do then the problem amplifies very quickly. The Apostles acted quickly and efficiently.
First they addressed the problem publicly. This was a church issue and the whole church was consulted as to the remedy. Information is always encouraging to those going through difficulties. Often in news reports we hear of some incident that prevents public transport having to delay their journey. One of the great criticisms the public has is that they do not know what is going on. The church on this occasion could not criticise its leaders for a lack of communication. We would do well to take note of this point; there should be no secrets from the membership as to what is going on in the church. There will obviously be matters of confidentiality when working with people but for the smooth running of the church and for matters of organisation then information is vitally important for all!
Not only did the Apostles take the issue seriously and address the church but they also assessed it rightly. The Apostles had a mandate as to what their role was. It would have been easy at this point for them to muddle along and attempt to deal with the problem. They were of course the leaders and might have felt that they should roll their sleeves up and sort it out. But that was the role of another group of believers. You see the Apostles main role was to pray and to minister the word! That was enough for any man at that time. To get involved with other issues would have resulted in their ministry being compromised. It is so easy for leaders to want to meddle in all of the issues of the church! There are various ministries in the same way as there are various parts of our bodies and just like an eye is specially made to see things and a hand to feel things then within the church there are various members who are especially equipped to perform the many necessary tasks of the church. The last thing that the church needs is a one man ministry or even few member ministries! What we do need is a full body ministry where all members are mobilized and about their own special ministry in the fellowship. There should be no back-benchers or retired members, we are all vital to the cause of the gospel here!
So what did the Apostles do? They made an important proposal!
Choose 7 equipped men and appoint them to the task of serving the church. The equipping required was that they be full of the Holy Spirit and wise. The church knew exactly which men to choose and presented them to the Apostles who then set them apart by praying for them and anointing them (or laying hands on them) and then letting them get on with the job.
We need leaders who take their role seriously and who deal with all of the issues of the church swiftly and fairly. We need the leaders to do the job that they are appointed for and to appoint equipped people to perform the tasks with which they are especially equipped and then to leave them to do the job for which they have been appointed!
So often the leaders are everything in the church leaving the rest of the members feeling impotent. Equally just as Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas were both available and willing to be involved so we need all members of the church (Christian attenders!) to be willing and available for service! The church is an all member activity and not a work for the elite few!
3: The Result:
As we have seen before church growth resulted from good church practise! Look at verse 7; the result of serious leadership is the spread of the Word of God. But not just the spread of the Word but God was also pleased to bless the Word being preached. The Apostles prioritized rightly making themselves available to preach the gospel and God gave the increase. The number of disciples grew rapidly and also at the same time the enemy is being decreased! A large number of priests were converted; simply because the church would not bow to the authorities when they demanded that the gospel should not be preached and also due to the faithfulness and obedience of the church and its leaders in the internal issues of the church.
Notice that it is God who convicts and converts; that is His work! BUT the spread of the gospel is our responsibility. Just as the early church did we must take that duty seriously and the church must all work together in order that the gospel might be preached widely. Where there are problems they must be dealt with speedily with great efficiency but also with great care and wisdom. Problems should not hinder our gospel work but should be dealt with swiftly thus making the church more gospel efficient. Then we MUST pray that the Lord gives the increase. We do not need plans and church growth schemes we simply need to be biblical and obedient!

The church under attack: Acts 5:17-42

9th October 2011
Sunday am
Acts 5:17-42
The church under attack
Last time we considered the signs and wonders that authenticated the beginning of the church. We concluded by making the point that this very thing brought about a jealousy and opposition from the leaders of the Jews.
The issue at hand for today is why did the leaders object so violently and how can that benefit us here today?
Let us first of all consider the opposition:
Who were the leaders?
Luke seems to be rather condescending towards them when. he introduces them as the high priest and his associates. The high priest and his gang or cronies is what we might say today.
The high priest was supposed to be God’s representative to the people. His position was appointed by God and his role was to make relationship between God and the people possible. He could in actual fact do nothing by his own ability because before God he was no better than the people to whom he was ministering. It has always and always will be the case that all have sinned and all have fallen short of God’s perfect standard. The problem was that the high priests did not believe that. In their own estimation they were a cut above the people, they were arrogant and proud and believed themselves to be righteous in every way. They were all important and God was privileged to have them as his co-workers. Remember Jesus story of the Pharisee and the sinner in the temple! The Pharisee had no problem with claiming superiority over the repentant man at the back. That was the very mind-set of the high priest and all of his mates.
But there is more to the issue than meets the eye. As always there are a number of contributory factors. Luke simply records that they were members of an elite grouping. They were all Sadducees, what that means is that they were all theologians. They studied their theology and made dictates in line with their own particular understanding of who God is!
This is where the rubber really hits the road! Good theology is of vital importance, it is the vehicle that helps us to understand the things of God. This bible of ours is a book of theology but as we are all too well aware it can easily be misread, misinterpreted and abused! That is exactly what the high priest and his associates were guilty of and in a way it is what made them tick.
One of the main doctrines of the Sadducees was that they did not believe in the resurrection, the Holy Spirit or of angels and miracles. They had the same Hebrew scriptures which are our Old Testament and which was read and taught in the Temple and also the synagogues of Judea but yet they would not believe in all of the truths contained within. It now starts to become clear as to why they reacted as they did! They were seeing mighty miracles happening, they had previously seen similar miracles performed by Jesus whom the hated and plotted against. They could not sanction what was happening theologically and so it was in their estimation an abomination.
There is also another point to consider, they were convinced by their own hyper spirituality and so why did these things not happen for them and so they were jealous because they were not the focal point.
All of these things are a recipe for disaster and the dis aster unfolded very quickly as we have read. They acted quickly in arresting the apostles:
We often scratch our heads and wonder why there is so much opposition to our gospel and to the church and its teaching. The high priest and his friends are a perfect example as to why. The majority of people are just like them; they have their own theologies, are equally self-important and self-righteous and in the same way want to be the centre of God’s attention.
We should not be surprised that such people hate it when we speak of our own personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ who died for our own personal benefit. They will hate such a message. They might not in Britain arrest us and beat us simply because it is not the “done thing” here! In other lands there is no such protection.
We should always take heart and even rejoice when we are attacked for the sake of the gospel for the same reasons that the early church did: We are being counted as worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Opposition is cause for rejoicing rather that the depression that we often have when negativity come the way of the church. It should not come for what we have done but because of what God has done in Christ Jesus!!

How can this benefit us?
Just consider what happened simply because there was opposition. The church experienced God’s mighty hand at work! The authorities are against the church and the gospel, they might have clever ideas and negative comments but God is with His people. He promised never to leave them or forsake them. They are for a second time thrown into prison but this time one of God’s special agents is sent to the rescue, during the night he opens the door, brought them out and locked up behind them; when the jailor came the next day the prison was securely locked! Not only does God send a rescuer to them but he is also a messenger.
The message from God: “Go into the courts of the temple and declare salvation through Jesus Christ to all of the people. A reminder that whatever men might say the gospel must be preached by His people.
We would do well to take notice in a day when we are encouraged to speak in any other name than Jesus. The gospel must be preached by us to all of the people!
The apostles are obedient to God’s instruction and early in the morning go to the temple and began to teach.
The high priest and his mates call for the apostles but of course they are nowhere to be found, they are all puzzled because the prison is locked up. Until word comes to them, “they are in the temple courts teaching about Jesus!!” Fearfully they are brought to the high priest and then taken before the government. They are reminded of the previous instruction made not to speak in the name of Jesus and then accused of teaching all of Jerusalem. That is effective gospel witness! Then we see what threat the high priest appeared to be under. You are even blaming us for this man’s death. How hypocritical can they be? They were guilty; they had sat in judgement and approved of all that had happened to Jesus.
Peter along with the other apostles waste no time, he goes straight for the jugular:
• We must obey God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God whom the high priest and his friends misrepresented!
• God raised Jesus from the dead, how painful that must have been to a people who did not believe in the resurrection.
• Jesus was dead because you killed Him on a tree, thus making Him a curse. They would have known full well the scripture that speaks of the one who died on a tree as becoming a curse!( Dt21:23) Not realising that this was God’s way of dealing with sin the innocent one becoming a curse before God on behalf of those living under the curse of sin.
• He is now exalted by God and is the Prince of heaven and the Saviour for all who will repent.
• We are witnesses of these events along with the Holy Spirit given by God to all who will obey Him.
I am not too sure what they expected but they received the full anger of the High priest, and do not forget how much authority and influence this man had but Gamaliel was there. He was the voice of reason and common sense. He was a Pharisee with good old common sense at a time of crisis. He reminded them that if this was a work of God they would not be able to prevent it but if it was not then they soon would know! That was just what they needed, an excuse to back off a little and to keep face. A good old flogging was dealt out and the apostles released with the renewed command not to speak in the name of Jesus.
That command was as good as useless. A rejoicing group of apostles left and continued with the great commission. Nothing would stop the apostles doing what their Lord had commanded.

What stops you from speaking in the name of Jesus?
The threat of pain and death would not deter the early church from fulfilling its mission. We do not seem to have the same resolve today even though it is far less dangerous for us today to stand up for Jesus.
Why is that?