Acts 29

So here we are at the end of our series on the Book of Acts. This will be the last of these blog posts.
 
I particularly want to thank our contributors through the series – Duncan, Vicky, James, Penny and Paul. I’m sure you will agree with me it has been refreshing to read different people’s perspectives on the various passages as we’ve gone through the series, in parallel with the preaching on Sundays. Thanks to you all!
 
Now, Paul spoke on Acts 28 on Sunday, and the topic of this final blog post is... Acts 29. But, I hear you say, there is no chapter 29 in Acts! And you are quite right, of course. But as Paul pointed out on Sunday, Luke ends the book of Acts quite abruptly – not quite in mid-sentence, but definitely in mid-story.
 
If I were writing Acts, I would probably want to wrap everything up neatly: continue the story over the next few months or years that Paul was in Rome, before ending with his execution, and a valedictory conclusion that refers back to the themes introduced in the first chapter. But all scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and so Luke ends with Paul proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, because...
 
Acts 29 is about us! Acts 29 is the story of the Empowered Church. And we’re still writing it today, nearly 2000 years after Luke put down his pen.
 
For me, as we’ve been going through Acts for the past four months, two themes have shone out strongly through the whole book. The first is ‘witness’. “You will be my witnesses,” said Jesus in Acts 1, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” Throughout the book we’ve read of Peter, James and John, Philip and Stephen, Paul, Barnabas, Silas and many others doing just that – being witnesses for Jesus as the gospel message spread wider and wider, until we end up with Paul in Rome.
 
But Rome is not the end of the earth, not then and not now. So the story continues with us, with the Empowered Church. We are called to be witnesses to Jesus throughout the world. And though the gospel message has now reached almost everywhere on the planet, there are still plenty of people, even here in Poole, who need to hear the message of salvation. So we need to continue to be witnesses to Jesus – to our friends, neighbours, work colleagues. As our British society becomes ever more secular, we all need to be, like Paul, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness.
 
The second theme that comes strongly through the whole book of Acts is the power of the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power,” said Jesus, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” And through the book we see multiple examples of the Holy Spirit at work in empowering the preaching of the word, in miraculous healings, in returning life to the dead, in transforming people’s lives.
 
And the Holy Spirit is still working in the same way today. ‘Walk by the Spirit,’ Paul urges us in Galatians 5, and ‘if we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit is the one that gives power to the Empowered Church, and we are missing the whole point if we only live by human wisdom, by human strength. Let’s each of us live expecting the Holy Spirit to empower us. Let’s ask him for his gifts of knowledge, of prophecy, of discernment, of healing and let’s exercise those gifts.
 
As we reflect on the Book of Acts, let us go forward as the Empowered Church, living as witnesses to Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
 

We all have a story to tell (Acts 22)

We all have a story of how we came to know Jesus. What's yours?

Don't be put off by thinking that it may not be impressive enough, or seemingly not as interesting as someone else's you know. The truth is, your testimony has great power. No one else can tell your story like you can. They don't know the intricate detail, how it felt, and what it meant to you at that moment. They don't have the passion with which to tell it, and for that reason there is no better person to recount it than you. Our testimonies are an encouragement. Telling them makes us vulnerable, we can't know how others will respond and it may not always be what we had hoped for, but this should not put us off.

In Acts 22 Paul speaks to the people, giving his testimony. Prior to this we see Paul in the temple, where crowds of angry people had been stirred up by the Jews from Asia, when they had heard that Paul was the man teaching everyone, everywhere against the people and the law and this place (Acts 21:28). Paul was dragged out of the temple where the people sought to kill him, however he was instead arrested by the tribune. The tribune wanted to learn the facts about Paul, and due to the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken to the barracks. As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he asked if he could say something, and begged to be permitted to speak to the people (Acts 21:39).

Despite all that was going on, Paul's priority was to speak truth to the people. He took the opportunity, where perhaps some may have thought there was none. An angry mob wanted to kill him, his life was in serious danger, but Paul was never deterred. He addressed the people in the Hebrew language, on the steps to the barracks, and when they heard this they became quiet.

I wonder how we would fare in a situation like this? We may worry about what people would think about us, or whether we would be ridiculed, but how would we feel if our life was being threatened? Do your own experiences stop you from giving your testimony? Taking opportunities is a risk, but it is such a vital thing to do. Personally, giving my testimony - even to those who know me - is hard enough. I write a personal blog and recently published my testimony on it. I really felt that it was a great platform to get my story out there, but I felt unsure about how it would be received. For the most part I won't know if it impacted anyone. Statistics tell me how many people visited the page and if anyone left a comment. Perhaps on some level, writing it down and getting it out for people to see seemed a little easier to me than talking to someone face to face, but I still felt vulnerable when I published it. Most of the people that read my blog don't know me, but I am letting them in on my life. I was blessed, the comments I received were positive, people had enjoyed reading my testimony, and I really enjoyed hearing their opinions and stories in return. It opened a dialogue. Often we may not get the reaction we had hoped for first, but if a conversation is started as a result, then we have made an impact.

Whilst the people did listen to Paul, we see that in Acts 22:22 they raised their voices and said, "away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live." I wonder if anyone that was in the crowd hearing Paul's testimony that day had their lives changed as a direct result of what they heard? Maybe that started up a conversation for them with someone else.

What opportunities will you take to tell your story?

The Course

Acts 20:24 - ”But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In my sermon on Sunday, I explained how Acts 20:17-38 are Paul’s final words to the Ephesian church elders after spending about 3 and a half years in the city. It’s an emotional speech as he is very aware that this is the last time he will see these people he had grown to love and hold dearly. He details how the Holy Spirit is leading him onwards to Jerusalem, where he will be met with imprisonment and afflictions.
 
But how did Paul persevere in such occasions? How could he take himself to Jerusalem despite knowing what lay in front of him? We see from this verse that Paul is starting to come to the conclusion that his earthly ministry is beginning to wind up. He refers to finishing his “course” which is the same word used as 2 Timothy 4:7 where he refers to finishing his “race”. Paul is concentrating on finishing strongly, but in his wisdom he gives tips on how we can live strongly.
 
1. You are on a mission given by Jesus
 
This might seem an obvious statement, but it’s one that can easily be overlooked. Paul talks about how his course (life) has been given to him by Jesus Christ, and that is the same for all of us. This means we are stuck with the mission and plan Jesus has for our lives whether we like it or not. You can’t opt out of it, you can’t choose not to play your part. Like a private in the Army you are under orders of your commander. This may seem constraining, but it is actually freeing. Your life is in the hands of an all-loving God who is sitting outside of time. He knows what has been and what will be. Therefore, when the Spirit calls you to Jerusalem to face trials and afflictions (he’s probably not literally calling you to this!) he can also be your counsellor and healer during this time.
 
2. We should be Paratroopers
 
It seems like a vast majority of Christians see the religion as being one you can ride in a first class seat. If you pay your money, show up at check-in on time, and go through the safety briefing then you will hypothetically be taken on a cosy flight with an inflight meal and drinks to your chosen destination. Unfortunately this isn’t what Jesus has called us to. In fact he’s asked that we live more like a Paratrooper. Paratroopers are somewhat famous for their slightly mad and often borderline heedless attitudes as they jump out of planes into severe war-zones. But, that’s the sort of flight that Jesus offers us; at any opportunity he could call us to jump out and land in a war-zone, or a barren land, or a hardened community. This is why we can not be precious over our lives, we need to be ready to give it up at the drop of a hat because we have not been guaranteed a journey without turbulence.
 
3. You need to know what the goal is
 
To finish the race you need to know where the finish line is. To win at football you need to know where the goal is. To pass your assignment you need to know what the question is. To complete anything in life you need to know exactly what is expected of you, and it’s no different with your own mission. No matter what gifts, skills, or talents you posses they should all serve to the same purpose: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Our lives must remain faithful to the Gospel at all times. We must be bearing witness through our words and actions, and if they betray that, then we are guilty. So keep your eye on the finish line to make sure you stay on course and do not stray. Remember that your goal is to glorify Jesus, and share that story with the world.

The Power and Authority of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19 v1-22).

The first half of chapter 19 looks at first sight to be a series of unrelated events – this shouldn’t be surprising, as the book of Acts is a genuine historical record, and sometimes in people’s lives a series of events happen that are important enough to remember, but don’t seem to have much connection to each other (as they probably would if the tale was fictionalised). However, in praying about this, I felt there was actually a theme that can be drawn through these events that tells us something important for today. 

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” v11.

Indeed, some of the descriptions of Paul being able to heal people with handkerchiefs (v12) seem far outside of our current experience of Christianity as to seem incredible. We might ask ourselves why was Paul chosen for this, and how might Christians today be able to access this power?

I believe that the bible is the living word of God, and each passage is constructed in a way that contains multiple layers of meaning. I believe one of the things this passage is pointing towards is showing how Paul followed a pathway that allowed him to access the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.

Verses 1-7 describe a meeting with some people who were disciples of John the Baptist. The bible tells us two things about this group. Firstly, that they had been baptised in a baptism of repentance (they were committed to holiness and right living) and that they were disciples (they would have studied the scripture and tried to follow where it led). These are the only two things the bible tells us about this group, until it records that they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and met with God’s power. I believe that this passage is pointing to the preparation that all believers should do if they want to experience more of the Spirit – how many western Christians today want more of the Spirit, but are not willing to put in the hard work of holiness, repentance and submission to the dictates of scripture?

However, another meeting with a different group of Jewish disciples points to another step on the pathway to knowing more of the Spirit’s power.

In verses 13-20, we meet a group of Jewish exorcists. These would have been holy, righteous men, who would have known the scriptures, and who must have had at least some spiritual power: people don’t make a living as exorcists if they aren’t able to at least occasionally cast out demons. However, we hear in the story that they used the name of Jesus as an incantation; they treated the power of the Spirit as a “head knowledge” thing, a thing that they had mastery over and could control and use. They may have known about God, but they did not know God, and as the demon correctly surmised, God (and the wider spiritual world) did not know them.

There are some in the church today (maybe including the chap writing this blog post) who have learnt the lesson from the first group Paul met – they are disciples of the word, who are called to repentance. However, in their thirst for knowledge of God, they glory in intellectual understanding rather than outworked experience, just like the Jewish exorcists.

Paul however, had successfully navigated the pathway towards knowing the true power and authority of the Spirit. He was committed to holiness, and esteemed and valued knowledge, but he never relied on it, or let it get in the way of where the spirit was leading him. He was a man who was so given over to God that even the demon in v15 knew him by name.

That would be my prayer for the church, that we would know so much of the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, that even the powers of Hell will know us and shudder.  

When you meet opposition... Keep going! (Acts 17:1-9)

The Book of Acts is packed full of accounts of the apostles witnessing that Jesus Christ is the saviour, and of the Holy Spirit moving in power. But the message of the gospel wasn’t received everywhere with glee. In fact some of the places where they preached, they met opposition rather than people interested in meeting with Jesus.

In Acts 17:1-9, we have the account of Paul and Silas in Thessalonica for the first time. They’ve just experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in amazing ways in Philippi, and as Tim described on Sunday, they’ve left an unusual but effective church plant team in Lydia, the slave girl and the jailer. So they come to Thessalonica, no doubt expecting to see God work in similar ways.

But things don’t always go as we hope, do they? Paul preached the message of Jesus Christ, and ‘some of the Jews were persuaded... and a great many of the Greeks.’ So far, so good. But the Jewish leaders were jealous of people listening to Paul, so they stirred up a mob to attack them and accuse them falsely. There was such an uproar that ‘city authorities were disturbed.’

On this occasion, Paul and Silas managed to escape without a beating or imprisonment, and they moved on to Berea where ‘the Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica. They received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.’ (Acts 17:11) In other words, the Bereans were the ideal audience for a preacher or a missionary, while the Thessalonians were the opposite.

And yet, from which of these beginnings grew the stronger church? Within just a few years, Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonian church, saying that ‘your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.’ Indeed he goes on to say, ‘Therefore we boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions.’ (2 Thess 1:3,4)  How much do we hear anywhere else in the Bible about the church in Berea?

So what does this mean for us? It is a good example of how we shouldn’t give up hope if someone doesn’t want to hear our message. Few of us are called to be missionaries in foreign cities, but we are all called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ among our friends, neighbours, work colleagues and people we meet as we go about our daily lives. Some people might seem receptive, others might not. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will work miraculously in people when we pray or when we witness. Other times we might encounter aggression or abuse.

But we shouldn’t judge by what we see. And we shouldn’t limit our witness to those situations that seem comfortable. As our society in Britain today is turning ever more hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ, so we should expect more opposition if we stay true to our calling. Paul was called to preach to the gentiles, and he went from town to town doing so, regardless of the reception he met. Our calling is to be witnesses to Jesus, and we should keep on doing so (in grace) regardless of the reception we meet from other people.

It may not always be easy, but let’s not shy away from our call, because as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians when he was reflecting on his first visit there, ‘we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.’ (1 Thess 2:4)

God Changes our World View (Acts 15)

This point in Acts marks a significant and substantial change in the world view of the newly formed church.

God had appeared hundreds of years before to Abraham and had promised him more descendants than could be numbered and that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. The Old Testament recorded numerous repetitions of the covenant and prophecies of the coming Messiah. The Jews knew that they were the specially chosen people of God. In accordance with God’s promises Jesus came as a Jew and concentrated much of his ministry on the Jews. Jesus commissioned His disciples to go to Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the Earth. Pentecost saw the church birthed with thousands of Jews accepting Jesus. The church began to grow and when persecution came the believers were dispersed. God supernaturally intervened to send Peter to Cornelius and show that the gospel was also for the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas, as well as other disciples, went out and whilst they still started with the Jewish synagogues the Gentiles heard the gospel and believed in great numbers.

Reports of the growth of the gospel amongst the Gentiles came back to the church in Jerusalem and they faced an awesome decision: Was Christianity a sect of Judaism such that the new believers in the gospel also became proselytised Jews? Or was it a new belief system with its own norms and practises? The resolution was to accept that although God was doing a new thing, His character had not changed, merely the nature of His relationship with His new people. The pattern now adopted by Paul was usually to start by going to win over the Jews, but if that was unfruitful they were free to reach out to the Gentiles too. Before long, Paul would be able to write that within the new church there is no longer Greek (Gentile) or Jew but one new man in Christ. (Eph 2:15)

The Apostles and early believers who had seen (correctly) that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah now had their hearts and eyes opened to the full truth of God’s promise to Abraham that through him ALL the nations would be blessed. Henceforth the mark of what it meant to be part of God’s chosen people was not a physical change (circumcision) but an inward change (faith in Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit). Piety was no longer obedience to hundreds of rules and rituals but being guided by the Holy Spirit and loving God and others.

God changed the first believers’ view of what it meant to be part of God’s chosen people and what being a believer looked like. Are we willing to let him change our views?

The Council's Letter of Unity (Acts 15:22-35)

The Council's Letter to Gentile Believers was written after a meeting of the Jerusalem Council. Earlier in Acts, chapters 13-14 we read about God opening doors. Paul and Barnabas had been travelling throughout Antioch, Cyprus, Iconium and Lystra, preaching the word of God to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27 'And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles'.

At the beginning of Acts 15, we read that some Jewish teachers had come, and taught that in order for the Gentiles to be saved they must be circumcised in accordance with the custom of Moses. We see that Paul and Barnabas had quite some debate with the teachers, and that after this time Paul and Barnabas along with some of the others were appointed to take this question to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

The Jewish teachers were coming from a place of legalism, they were concerned with doing things in what they determined was the 'right' way. In essence they were saying that the only way for a Gentile to become a Christian was if they first became a Jew. They were disregarding what Jesus had done for them. Galatians 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ...

God was breaking down these boundaries!

Barnabas and Paul together with Judas and Silas are sent with a letter to the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. The letter explains that the apostles and elders have come to one accord and therefore felt it was good to choose men to send with their beloved Paul and Barnabas.

The decision made by the council set out in the letter to the Gentiles presents a united witness. The Gentiles are instructed that they must 'abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality'. Acts 15:29

Furthermore upon receiving the letter and after reading it 'they rejoiced because of its encouragement' Acts 15:31.

What strikes me about this scripture is that the Gospel is for everyone. Perhaps this isn't much of a revelation, but really stopping and taking time to think about this is important. There maybe some groups of people who think that the Gospel is not meant for them, that what they have done is just too awful, or maybe they think they are undeserving, perhaps they are ignorant to the word, or have chosen not to hear it because of a preconceived idea of who God is. There is no doubt that the letter is very clear about what the Gentiles needed to abstain from.

Our love for God changes us, it shapes our innermost being, we are transformed and find that we no longer want to continue in our sinful behaviour (I'm not saying that's always easy!). No wonder they rejoiced and were so encouraged by the letter, the burden that they had felt before had been lifted from them, they had been transformed through love.

Out of this conflict and challenging situation a unified church was emerging, a church that was for everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike. I think this must have been such an exciting time.

It's also a challenge for us on how we resolve issues in the church today, are we willing to let ourselves be transformed, or do we hold on to what we think is right ?

Empowered Church: Faith (Acts 14:18-20)

A little under 400 days ago (367 at the time of writing, and 368 at the probable time of your reading), a small movement began which has now gathered so much momentum that it is mentioned all over prime time news, front pages of daily newspapers, has demanded time on radio talk shows, and has swept many millions of people in to following. What is this movement? Well, it’s the movement of the newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron and his party En Marche!
 
369 days ago, En Marche!, was just a concept in Emmanuel’s head, now it’s the party that is governing 67 million people and an estimated GDP of $2.42 trillion. That’s a lot of power to have earned in such a relatively short amount of time.
 
Prior to his announcement that he was going to run for Presidency with his new party, Macron was involved in politics in the cabinet of President Hollande, but unless you paid keen interest in French politics you wouldn’t have known or heard his name. He would have just been another background figure, not really worth too much thought.
 
Fast-forward to Sunday 7th May and we have people going crazy in celebration as his name is called out as the youngest President at 39 years of age. People packed the courtyards of the Louvre waving the tricolore flag, dancing, cheering, and some even being reduced to tears with the pure adulation, as they respond with such joy to what they believe Macron will deliver for them. The voters will be dedicated to him and his movement, hoping all pledges will be met, and that France will be in a much better and stable position once his term is finished.
 
Not to get political, but if there’s one thing we all know about politics, it’s that we need to take everything a politician says with a pinch of salt. All too often words come out of their mouths, which are very quickly rubbished by the next thing they say. Take Theresa May as an example, she repeatedly said she wouldn’t be calling for a snap election, and now look where we find ourselves! However, the French people, like all of us require faith, to stand by and trust in what we vote for.
 
You see this isn’t too dissimilar from the story we find in the Gospels about Jesus. A man for who spent a period of his life in the background, no one really batting an eyelid at, or having too much to say about. We don’t need to fast-forward too far in the bible to find people dedicated to his cause, who would support him at all costs, and would not deny him despite the utmost of threats.
 
In Acts 14:19, we find Paul, a recent disciple and new convert of Jesus, on what is thought to be his death bed. After challenging the people at Lystra who worshipped idols instead of Jesus after both Paul and Barnabas healed a man, the Jews and the people of the crowds turned against him. Things quickly became violent as Paul was beaten and stoned, so bad in fact that they dragged his limp body outside of the city and left him, considering him dead.
 
In the following verse we see the disciples gather around Paul’s body. Not afraid of what they just witnessed, they felt it right to go and be with him. Perhaps they thought they were there to mourn, or even to pray for a miraculous healing, however this was not the case, as Paul rose up himself and bravely walked back in to the city under his own strength.
 
Consider the disciples for one second. They would have witnessed the brutalities, and like the persecutors, would have considered Paul as good as dead. Yet the very next minute they see him back on his feet, brushing the dirt off his shoulders, and facing back towards where he was so harshly treated.
 
Much like the voters on that French election night, I’m sure the joy on their faces was beyond control. They would have been jumping for joy as he got to his feet, truly amazed at the God who rescued him from his pit.
 
It’s moments like these in which faith is strengthened. Faith is defined by Google as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Winning elections sparks momentum and excitement amongst the electorate, and having a God who raises from the dead sparks confidence to return and face your persecutors as you are so sure in the message you preach.
 
This week, seek out the faith-strengthening moments, and don’t let it slip. These faith moments might not be quite so bold as winning presidential elections, or being raised from the supposed dead, but we all have them. It might even come from having words of encouragement spoken to you as we all act to be Barnabas’s as Jamie suggested! Then use your faith to see what you can do - could you like Paul turn and face your persecutors (perhaps that means reconciling with someone who has harmed you), or could you take 5 minutes to share a portion of your faith with a friend who is a non-believer?
 
Wherever your faith takes you, I pray that God blesses you richly.

The Unexpected. (Acts 11:1-18)

My last blog covered the sermon, recorded in Acts 2, that Peter preached after the Holy Spirit had fallen on the one hundred and twenty, resulting in over three thousand being saved on that day, and the beginning of the growth of the church. Acts 2: 37 to 39 records:

Now when they (the Jews visiting Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost) heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself”

Peter was in for a bigger surprise than he expected, he clearly did not grasp the immensity of God’s plan! We join him again in Jerusalem, where he returned to report back to the church of an unexpected and astounding occurrence in Caesarea. Peter had been staying in Joppa, a town on the Mediterranean coast, sharing the good news of Jesus with the local Jews. Meanwhile in Caesarea, another town about 30 miles up the coast, lived a God-fearing Roman soldier named Cornelius, ie a Gentile! While he was praying he had a vision of an angel who told him to send to Joppa for one Simon who was called Peter, who was lodging with Simon, a tanner who lived by the sea.

Cornelius’ servants set off and duly found the house – I doubt they had much trouble as the tanner’s pit would have stunk, maybe that is why he lived by the sea, in the hope the sea breezes would waft away some of the stink!

As they approached the city of Joppa Peter himself fell into a trance and had a vision (there is lots of Holy Spirit activity in this story!) He was waiting for something to eat as he was hungry, but in his trance, saw something like a sheet being lowered. It was full of creatures that God had forbidden Jews to eat. Nevertheless Peter heard the voice of the Lord telling him to kill and eat the creatures. Peter as a good Jew said, “By no means Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean”.  And the Lord replied, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This was repeated twice more – the Lord knew Peter really needed this apparent change of tack emphasised and confirmed!

While Peter was trying to work out what all this meant Cornelius’ servants arrived. The Holy Spirit told him clearly to go with them, which he did, even though it was against Jewish law for him to visit Gentiles. He preached the good news of Jesus to Cornelius and his household – even whilst he was still speaking the Holy Spirit fell on them all, and they spoke in tongues and praised God! All this is recounted in Acts 10.

In Acts 11 we find Peter countering criticism from the church in Jerusalem for associating with unclean Gentiles, by retelling the story of how God told him not to call unclean what God had made clean. It is recorded in Acts 11:15 – 17 that Peter told them,

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said ‘John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

The church leaders’ response was “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life”.

And I am so grateful for that! I am so grateful that I am included amongst “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself”, and that offer is open to people of every nation and tribe and tongue. Peter and the other Jews thought this was a change of tack, but in fact this had always been God’s plan. When He called Abram He told him that “...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3). In Isaiah 56: 7 it is recorded that the Lord says “…for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” , it is a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament if we have eyes to see it. God’s commission for Paul, as revealed to Ananias, was that he was a chosen instrument to carry God’s name before the Gentiles.

As I write this I am challenged by the thought that maybe there are others whom I consider unclean, and beyond God’s reach – the homeless, abusers, adulterers, bullies, those who hurt those whom we love, people who do not make any effort – maybe you could add your own “unclean” people to this list.

The truth is that we are all, Jew and Gentile alike, unclean until we let God make us clean, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor. 6:11b

Thank you Father God, thank you Jesus, thank you Holy Spirit!

 

 

Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8)

So far in our study of the book of Acts, we have seen how the disciples took up the challenge that Jesus left them, to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). But the early Christians were all Jews, and because they were rooted in their own culture, it didn’t occur to them that Jesus’ message was for all people everywhere, not just for the Jews (Matt 28:19). So God needed to intervene supernaturally to open their eyes to his true purpose for the church.

On Sunday, David Gawler preached about the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus – how God called Saul to be a witness to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews (Acts 9:15). But to start with, Saul too worked among the Jewish Christians. So to help the early Christians ‘get it’, God looked for a non-Jew who was ready to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and to join the Christian church. And so we come to Acts 10, and we are introduced to Cornelius.

Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman army, stationed in Caesarea as part of the ‘Italian Cohort’. This means he would have been a middle ranking army officer, with 60-100 men under his command, as well as a comfortable household with several servants. We’re not told what his race actually was, though he was certainly not Jewish.

So why did God choose Cornelius to be the man to show his purpose to the early church? Acts 10:2 tells us his main qualifications: Cornelius was a devout, God-fearing man; he gave generously to the poor; and he prayed continually to God. And he led his household to share his values. Think about this list for a moment – these are all attributes of Cornelius’ character, it’s not a list of his achievements in life.

These character qualities are quite similar to the characteristics that were identified in Acts 6:3, when the church chose the seven deacons. And God is looking for the same kind of people today. He is not so interested in your position, or what you’ve done, but he is interested in your character. Are you, like Cornelius, ready and willing for God to speak to you?

Of course, not all of us will get such a dramatic vision as Cornelius did, in the middle of one afternoon as he was praying. In Cornelius’ case, God wanted to be dramatic, so that Peter and the rest of the church would have no doubt that God had intervened, as you can see if you read on through the rest of the chapter. But make no mistake, God is always interested to speak to people who are ready to hear him. Ask yourself: are you one of those people?

And look how Cornelius responds to God’s calling. He makes himself completely vulnerable in his next actions. He could just have sent some servants to Joppa to find Peter, like God told him to. After all, he was a man in authority in the army, and he was used to telling his servants what to do, and they were used to doing what they were told without question. But Cornelius didn’t just give an order. In verse 8 it says he ‘related everything to them’ before sending them on their trip to locate Peter.

Can you imagine the personal risk he took? What might his servants think when he started talking about an angel appearing in the middle of the afternoon? He might lose all their respect. But no, he told them everything, because he was sure that God would be true to his word. And more than that, knowing how long it would take them to get to Joppa, find Peter, and come back again, on the fourth day Cornelius had gathered all his relatives and friends to see what would happen next (v24). Think of the personal risk there – as far as I can see, God didn’t tell him what was going to happen when Peter got there, but Cornelius has invited everybody round in anticipation.

That’s a challenge for us too. Are we willing to act in faith when God speaks to us? Are we willing to be completely vulnerable, even when we don’t know what the outcome will be?  If, like Cornelius, we are willing, God can speak to us too. And only God knows what amazing things he might do through us, if we are willing to be vulnerable to him!

Stephen's Last Stand (Acts 7).

The Jews in Jesus’ time knew they were a chosen people. They knew that God had given them the Law, through the prophet Moses, and they believed themselves justified by following the Law. They knew that there was a time before the Law had come, but they believed that the Law was the full revelation of God’s purposes on earth, and superseded all that had come before it.

The arrival of Jesus brought confusion. Many of the religious leaders of the time thought that he was opposed to the Law; he hung out with sinners (Mark 2:13-17), he was accused of being a drunkard (Matthew 11:9), and he supported his disciples when they broke the Sabbath laws (Mathew 12). However, Jesus himself taught that he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it (Mathew 5:17). Many of the Jewish leaders struggled to get their head round this, and to Jesus’ often cryptic solutions when they tried to catch him going against the Law – when he did things like healing people on the Sabbath, he wasn’t following the Law, but he wasn’t really breaking it either.

Stephen’s speech at the trial that ended his life was one last attempt to get the Jewish leaders to see what was going on; that Jesus came neither to make people follow the Law, or to do away with it – he came to transcend it.

To our ears, it seems very odd that Stephen chose this moment to give a potted history of the Jewish people throughout the Old Testament. Why is this relevant? And why is he telling this to the one group of people in the entire world who knew this story better than anyone?

Stephen’s telling of this tale shines a completely different light on the narrative to the one that his listeners would have expected. They saw God’s interactions with humanity as a story leading up to the giving of the Law. Stephen spends most of his time talking about God interacting with humans before the law came (Acts 7:1-36), and when he does talk about the time when the people had the law, he draws out two main themes – God’s transcendence of the law (Acts 7: 49-50) and the people’s rebellion and failure to follow the Law anyway (Acts 7:39-43).

Stephen then tells the religious leaders (in verse 51) that they are stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

This pointed back to the central message of Jesus – the Law was good, but only in that it pointed people towards the Holy Spirit and the coming of the Righteous One, who would one day transcend the Law.

A few years later, Paul would write that although the Law was good, it brought death, and judgement, and provoked sin and rebellion in man’s wicked hearts (Romans 4, Romans 7 et al). What Paul, Stephen and Jesus were getting at was that the Jews of the time thought they were Holy because of their partial obedience to the law (for no man could fully keep it).

They trusted in their own righteousness, and believed that this made them acceptable before God.

Nowadays, there are not many people around who believe that following the Old Testament Law is what will make sure they get into heaven. However, the temptation to believe that we can in some way earn our righteousness and work towards our own salvation is just as strong as it was in Jesus’ day. If you talk to the average person in the UK, and talk to them about why people go to heaven (if they believe in heaven), you will invariably get a response about being a good person, helping others, being nice etc etc.

Stephen told the religious people of his time that no amount of being good (keeping the Law) was going to help them – they couldn’t possibly be good enough whilst they resisted the Holy Spirit. What Stephen was pointing towards was Jesus, whose holiness given to us is they only way to transcend the requirements of the Law, and get right with God.

Stephen’s speech ended with a dramatic example of the transcendence he had just talked about – verse 55 tells us “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” The religious leaders saw this as blasphemy of the highest order, and dragged Stephen away to kill him.

But that is how Jesus empowers us to transcend both the demands of the Law, and the trials of this life – by his direct intervention into human affairs. The Law wasn’t the end of God’s story of involvement with humanity, it was if anything just a preface of the age to come, the age when God would write the law into our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and pour out his spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17).

This is the age we are in now – the age of the empowered church, of the Kingdom triumphant, and the age when the Spirit continues to intervene in the lives of believers to confront obstacles such as that which Stephen faced. In the UK we aren’t facing mobs of religious leaders trying to stone us to death, but in whatever we do face, we can have an assurance that the spirit will empower us through it.

I’ve never faced a threat to my life like Stephen did – I guess the closest would be when I was waiting to undergo some emergency surgery a few years back, that turned out to be rather more dangerous than I was aware of at the time. During the preparation for that (and just to be clear for the sceptics – before any painkillers or other drugs had been given to me) I felt an incredible sense of peace and assurance that God was with me. I can’t control God, and cannot conjure him up on demand, but I believe that just as Stephen saw God transcend the circumstances of his impending death, when the time comes that my body fails, the same hand that held me in that hospital ward will be holding me again.

The Empowered Church Chooses Seven. (Acts 6:1-7)

By the time we reach Acts 6, the church has grown significantly – which is great news. But with the growth came some problems. The Greek-speaking Jews thought that they were being treated badly by the Hebrew-speakers. But the exact complaint is not really the issue. After all, we’re all imperfect people. We all have our weaknesses and faults, and no church or community is ever going to be perfect until we reach our eternal life in heaven. As a church grows, some issues will inevitably arise between imperfect people.
 
So, what did the apostles decide to do? They decided to appoint seven men (often described as deacons) to take charge of the practical issues, so that the apostles could focus on their own calling to preach the word of God. Now take a look at v3: what were the qualifications needed for these deacons? These were practical roles, so we might expect that they would look for people with admin or managerial skills. But no – they looked for people of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. Their characters were more important than their skills.
 
This is just as true in the church today. Character is more important than ability or skill – for any ministry or position of service in the church. Because we are a church of imperfect people, we need leaders who are well respected and known for being full of the Holy Spirit.
 
And who did the choosing of the seven? Look at v3 again. It is easy to assume that the apostles chose them – because that’s how we would do it today, wouldn’t we? But look again carefully: “Therefore brothers and sisters, pick out from among you seven men...” Who did the choosing? It was the church themselves, not the apostles. Verse 5 says ‘the whole gathering’ chose the deacons. This is the Empowered Church in action: “You pick out seven men.”
 
God wants us to be the Empowered Church today. We’ve got used to the leadership model of the business world around us, where managers make the decisions and the appointments. But God’s model of the Empowered Church is different. God wants the whole church to be involved. None of us should just sit back and expect that the elders or leaders should make all the decisions.
 
Let us all look to God to empower us with his Holy Spirit, so that each one of us can take an active role in the life of his Empowered Church.

Acts 5: Ananias and Sapphira

A few weeks ago when Dave Gawler preached, he quoted Mark Twain as saying that it is not the parts of the Bible that we can’t understand that give us problems but the bits we understand all too clearly. The story of Ananias and Sapphira is just such a passage, we can try to spiritualise it all we like but very clearly two healthy believers are struck dead by the hand of God. The stereotypical view is that God is somewhat grumpy in the Old Testament and goes around smiting people but in the New Testament comes gentle Jesus meek and mild and God is suddenly much gentler and kinder. This story therefore comes as a shock. Just like with Uzzah trying to steady the Ark of the Covenant and Achan taking a few war trophies, seemingly minor acts of disobedience result in extreme consequences.  Just like with Uzzah and Achan, Ananias and Sapphira failed to understand the holiness of God and the exceptionally high value that God places on His Holiness and that of his people. The people of God are the representation of God on Earth and as He is Holy so he requires his people to display His holiness.

When I shared a room at University my room-mate had a poster entitled Be Careful What You Pray For. The text was something like “Be careful what you pray for, if you pray for God’s justice to flow like a river it might come rolling down your street and you might get wet.” In Acts 4:30 the believers pray together and ask that God will display his power with signs and wonders. God took them seriously and poured out His Spirit and the believers took God so seriously that they did not consider anything they owned to belong to them. Up to the end of Chapter 4 the church is doing well, growing, sharing the gospel boldly and praying together but with the start of Chapter 5 the first problem emerges and God steps in decisively to try to stamp out the problem. God had entrusted the Church with great power and, as all fans of Spiderman know, with great power comes great responsibility. Just like with Uzzah when the Ark was entering Jerusalem and Achan when the Israelites were entering the Promised Land, as God is beginning a new phase with His church He needs the church to take Him and His holiness seriously and not to let corruption and greed slip in. God did not need all (or any) of Ananias and Sapphira’s money but He did need all of their hearts and minds.

God wants to empower His church but it is not for fun. If we want God to use us we have to accept that it is on His terms and not ours. Sometimes God may do things that take us by surprise or do not fit into our ideas of who we want God to be but we need to remember that He is God and we are not. God knew that times were about to get much tougher for the church and if the church was not all in, it would not survive.  Ananias and Sapphira were half-hearted at best and at worst were after praise for themselves. God needs people who are totally sold out and are only interested in His glory, otherwise like the seed that fell on rocks or amongst thorns they will never be fruitful.

The Believers' Prayer (Acts 4:23-31)

The Believers Prayer in Acts 4:23-31 sees the Church come together to pray after Peter and John have just returned from their trial. They had been arrested for teaching the people, and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:2), after the healing of the lame beggar that Tim preached about on Sunday. Peter and John were charged not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, but replied “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

What follows unites the church. Peter and John return to speak to their friends explaining what had happened. Together as one, they lift their voices to God praying that the Lord would give them boldness to continue speaking his word.

At the end of the prayer, we read that the place in which they were gathered together was shaken and that they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Can you imagine being asked not to speak about something which you had seen and heard, that was so awesome. Think about how excited you may have been to go on a once in a lifetime holiday, maybe an achievement passing an exam, or your driving test. Most of us would agree that we were probably overjoyed, and couldn’t wait to tell people. These seem minor in comparison to what Peter and John had experienced.

How often do we pray for boldness in speaking God's word? Do we shy away from speaking out through fear or because we are worried about what that might mean for us?

As a church we have prayed together on many occasions. At prayer meetings, for nations, for Alpha, the homeless, our town. We have also had prayer meetings specifically where we have prayed for healing for those who have been very sick.

Praying together has certainly felt very powerful to me on those occasions. It’s encouraging, and lifts my spirit, in those times I have felt like anything is possible.

Phillips Brooks says, “Do not pray for easy lives, pray to be stronger men and women. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, pray for powers equal to your tasks.”

The believers' prayer releases God's power. It is a great example of how we should be praying today, and that we should be expectant of what God wants to do in our lives.

I encourage you to pray for boldness in speaking God's word. Let's take on Phillips Brooks advice. I am in no doubt that God has much for us to do.

Peter Speaks to the Empowered Church

Peter Speaks to the Empowered Church
(Acts 3:11-26)


Prior to these verses, we find Peter and John, who were at the Temple for prayer, having healed a lame man at the temple gates. This man was asking Peter and John for alms (some money or food given to the poor and needy), but he received something far greater and everlasting. At the time of his healing, the man leaped with joy, and entered into the temple praising and worshipping God. This drew the attention of a crowd that recognised the lame man as being as being healed. This astounded them, and they wanted to know more of both Peter and John.
 
It’s here that Peter gives his 2nd mini-sermon in the book of Acts. This sermon teaches us a few great pointers on what it means for Vine Church Poole to become an “Empowered Church”.
 
1. It’s always God’s glory
 
After this miracle, it would have been very easy for Peter and John to lap up and play to the crowd a bit. After all, something supernatural just happened following their spoken word. However, we find in verse 12 & 13 that Peter is extremely quick to point away from himself and point to God. All things we do are at the power of the hands of the Potter, with us simply the clay. If Peter were to take even a second of praise for himself from these people, that would be glory stolen which was rightfully meant to be for God. To become empowered church we must always point back to God.
 
2. We must share the truth
 
Peter calls out these people on their ignorance, as he notes back to how the Jewish people called for the murder of Jesus and for a criminal to be freed. He shares how these people were not truly aware of Jesus being the Son of God, but he doesn’t leave them in their ignorance. Peter roots them in the truth of who Jesus is by using the common knowledge the people already had – the stories of the Torah and the Old Testament prophets. Peter shows that Jesus is the prophet whom Moses talks of, and is the seed of Abraham. Finally, Peter recounts the death and resurrection of Jesus and the power that has been granted to all believers as a result. To become an empowered church we must share the truths of Jesus.
 
3. Repentance
 
One of the key things we see in this passage is Peter directly calling these people to repentance. Unlike Peter, we so often tiptoe around sin, and when we see it we can become nervous of it and just try to push it under a carpet somewhere. As verse 20 says, we must call sinners to repentance so “their sins can be blotted out” as God seeks to restore His creation. And to be people who can call others to repentance, we must not overlook ourselves. As Christians, we are still just as likely to slip and slide, and the danger is that unlike the Jews we cannot claim to be ignorant. We must call our own hearts to repentance daily before the Author of Life. To become an empowered church we must be repentant.

Peter - Transformed by the Power of the Spirit (Acts 2:14-41)

What do we know about Peter? He was an apparently unschooled fisherman, good at his craft, but clearly hungry for something more. Once he had encountered Jesus he and his brother Andrew abandoned his family business to follow this enigmatic teacher – I wonder what the rest of his family thought about that?

Peter was the one who got the revelation of who Jesus was, declaring “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16); what he did not understand was that Jesus was a Messiah who had come to rescue from the kingdom of darkness and establish God’s Kingdom on earth, rather than raise a rebellion against the occupation of Rome. He rebuked Jesus when He spoke of His necessary death and resurrection.

Wasn’t Peter the guy who was always opening his mouth and putting his foot in it? He was the one who swore that he would die with Jesus rather than disown Him, but when Jesus was arrested Peter deserted Him. He followed at a distance, denied that He even knew Jesus three times, and at the rooster calls reminder of Jesus words went outside and wept bitterly at the state of his own heart.

Even after Jesus resurrection and appearance to his disciples Peter seemed lost in his guilt, and encouraged his friends to go back to their old occupation of fishing. When Jesus revealed himself on the beach and commissioned Peter to care for His people, Peter seemed more concerned about what Jesus was going to ask John to do, than the amazing conversation he had just had with His risen Lord. (How many of us can identify with that!) (John 21)

But Jesus saw more in Peter than Peter himself knew was there. Peter’s original name was Simon, when first introduced to Jesus, John 1:42 tells us “Jesus looked at him and said “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).”  Peter means rock, though he was not behaving in a very stable, rock-like fashion at that point! Peter was also one of the three closest to Jesus, who were taken up the mountain to experience Jesus’s transfiguration. He was the one who dared to walk on water towards Jesus. We tend to focus on his sinking when he doubted, but he did initially respond to Jesus and get out of the boat and walk!

So, Peter was a bit of a mixture, but not necessarily one on whom you could depend in a crisis. That is until, as Jesus promised, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…..” (Acts 1:8). Peter was baptised in the Holy Spirit!

Acts 2:14 – 41 records part of the very powerful sermon Peter preached to thousands of “…..God fearing Jews fromevery nation under heaven.”  (Acts 2:5). These were the same people who had weeks earlier cried for Jesus to be crucified and who had preferred the release of Barabbas, a convicted murderer, to an innocent man who had healed many sick and set many free. The Jews, who had come to Jerusalem from many nations to celebrate Pentecost, had just witnessed the strangest phenomenon, when Peter and his 120 companions started declaring “…the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11). Did Peter and his companions run back to the upper room and hide? No! They boldly stood up and Peter addressed the crowd, using much scripture to explain that this was the fulfilment of the promise God had made through the prophet Joel to pour out his Spirit on all people.

Peter confronted the crowd with their own part in the crucifixion of Jesus – “.... you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” He went on to declare that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and to prove from the scriptures that this Jesus was the promised Lord and Messiah. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36, ). How bold is that!

The people did not attack Peter, but were cut to the heart and asked what they should do. Peter, who now understood what sort of Messiah Jesus was, encouraged them to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of their sins, and promised that they too would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the church grew by 3000!

I am very grateful that Peter said “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). That includes you and me! Peter was transformed from a man who hid in an upstairs room, to someone who boldly fulfilled his calling in God. We too can be transformed to people boldly fulfilling our calling, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift that we can ask for and receive. If you are not sure whether you have done so I encourage you to talk to one of the elders.   And this is not a one off – Paul encourages us to “…be being filled with the Spirit..” (Ephesians 5: 18).

I am also fascinated by the amount of scripture that Peter quoted in his sermon. Did the Holy Spirit bring it spontaneously to his mind, or maybe he and the 120 had been searching the scriptures and receiving revelation from God whilst they were hiding and praying in their upper room for the fifty days before the coming of the Holy Spirit? At the end of Luke, which covers the same timeframe as the very beginning of Acts 1, it is recorded that Jesus said to his disciples ““This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” LUKE 24:44,45). I don’t know, but I would definitely encourage us to read and ask the Holy Spirit to open our minds to understand the scriptures, so that the Holy Spirit can remind us of them when we need to explain something of our faith to others, or even encourage ourselves!

So let us, like Peter, be a people transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can boldly fulfil God’s calling on our lives, and be part of seeing Jesus change everything in our town and this world.

The Empowered Church Needs Leaders (Acts 1:12-26)

Welcome to the first blog post in our series on the book of Acts, ‘The Empowered Church’. We will publish a post every Wednesday, to cover the sections that we are not covering during the Sunday morning preaching.

This first post is by Peter Phillips, but we have several different people who have volunteered as blog-post-authors over the series. So you can look forward to a variety of different perspectives on the book of Acts over the next four months.

On Sunday, Tim preached from the first part of Acts 1, encouraging us to wait for God’s timing and to trust him. The second half of Acts 1 focuses on the choice of a new apostle to replace Judas. They were eleven now instead of the twelve that Jesus had chosen. So they recognised the need for a new leader. The man chosen was Matthias.

Now, I find it intriguing that Matthias is not mentioned (as far as I know) anywhere else in the Bible – neither before nor after this particular day when the disciples met in their upper room.

So, who was Mathias? The answer is quite simple – he was a disciple of Jesus. In fact, he was ‘one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us.’ (Acts 1:21-22) Matthias had been with Jesus throughout the three years of his earthly ministry, so he was qualified to be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection.

(Just as an aside, it is wrong for us to think that Jesus went around with just the 12 men he designated as apostles. Actually, he had a lot of disciples, both men and women, who were with him much of the time. In fact there were 120 of them in the upper room on this day when they appointed Matthias.)

And there was actually another man who was qualified for appointment as an apostle. Joseph (also known as Barsabbas or Justus) met the criteria too. So they decided to draw lots to decide between the two. To us today, drawing lots seems rather an arbitrary, random way of making a decision. In a similar situation, we would tend to compare the two men, and debate their strengths and weaknesses, in order to make a decision. 

But the disciples drew lots and put their faith in God to bring the right result. That way the appointment of Mathias was directed by God, rather than human wisdom. It strikes me that this is a good model for decision making – set the basic criteria, and then if there is more than one option, trust God to direct your choice and then get on with it wholeheartedly. Better than worrying over all the details, and then wondering afterwards whether you got it ‘right’.

So I hope that both Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas felt empowered after this day. The empowered church needs empowered leaders and empowered people willing to serve God with the gifts he’s given them. I hope that Matthias stepped up into his new role as an apostle and served God wholeheartedly in it. And I hope Joseph too wholeheartedly served God in his life, wherever that led him after this day.

Both men had walked with Jesus for three years and witnessed his ascension into heaven. God had roles for both of them in his new empowered church. And the same is true for you and me today. God has roles for each of us in his empowered church. God has given us gifts and talents and he has empowered us to serve. As we start this journey through the book of Acts, let’s all take up our roles in God’s empowered church!