Vicar's Voice, 25 August 2019

I never cease to be amazed at the manifestations of the continuous presence of God’s power and majesty in the book of Acts. Some commentators even call this book the Acts of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 8:26-40 I notice several obvious manifestations of God. Let’s open the Word and read it together.

Verse 26: It is an angel who speaks to Philip to direct him to the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza, a journey from Samaria of about 100 kms. As Philip has already been used of God to bring many signs and wonders (v. 4-13) he is keenly aware of the Lord’s guidance and is probably not surprised by the appearance of an angel so he immediately leaves (v. 27).

Verse 29: Again, prompted by the Holy Spirit Philip approaches the chariot of an Ethiopian court official who just happens to be in Philip’s path, and is returning from Jerusalem and just happens to be reading a scroll containing at least parts of Isaiah 53. There are no coincidences in God’s Kingdom! Philip is ‘set up’ for this opportunity to share the Good News with a very strategically placed official and this encounter will have far- reaching consequences.

Verse 30: The Holy Spirit has prompted the Ethiopian to ask Philip to explain the Scriptures to him: “How can I [understand], unless someone guides me?” Here we witness uncommon humility in his willingness to learn from a total stranger who has suddenly appeared out of the blue.

Verse 36: What are the chances of finding a body of water, suitable for baptism, alongside the desert road? Again, God has made the journey of the Ethiopian entourage to coincide with the location of a conveniently placed baptism site. 

Verse 39: The Spirit “snatched Philip away” (NRSV), sounds rather dramatic. But think about the transport of other men in the Scriptures such as Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus himself. “We should never be surprised when the Holy Spirit seems to let things get a bit out of hand” once said a strong Calvinist bishop at a clergy retreat. It is our imaginations that are limited which cause us to be amazed at the miraculous. Because these things are beyond our own experience we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss them. I have implicit faith in the veracity of Scripture. As I mentioned before, the ‘problem’ of Ananias and Saphira, and Simon the magician, show us the author, Luke takes great pains to record everything, the good, the bad and the ugly, that he knew from eye witness accounts. If it was a work of fiction the scandalous and unbelievable would have been excluded.

Next thing Philip knows he is about 20-30 kms away at Azotus! He then proceeds on the 100km journey to Caesarea, happily proclaiming the Good News in all the villages on the way. So the progress of the message continues its inexorable journey, all the way to the ends of the earth, even Indonesia.

Do not underestimate the power of God to cause the Gospel to reach the most unusual places in the most remarkable ways, through the most unlikely people. The Lord is looking for those who are willing to yield to the Holy Spirit to be equipped and empowered to share the Good News. Every one of us as followers of Jesus, like Philip, is included.

In Christ,

Alan

Vicar's Voice, 14 August 2019

Saul approved of their killing Stephen. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1-3)

 When Jesus commanded his disciples to become Spirit-filled witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), I am sure they were all a bit mystified and concerned at the enormity of the task. But already within the first year after Jesus’ ascension persecution has caused the followers of Jesus to scatter into at least the Samaria part of their mandate. 

 We may think that persecution is a serious impediment to the growth of the Church. But so often it is recorded in Scriptures and the annals of Church history that persecution mostly results in the strengthening of believers’ and growth of the Church. Present day South Sudan and China are examples of growth in the face of extreme opposition. Iran is probably the most remarkable, more Iranians have become Christians in the past 20 years than in the preceding 13 centuries: It’s a simple story that can be summarized in just two sentences: Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.” (from The Gospel Coalition, 30 July 2016 - click here)

I ask that you would keep the people and nation of Iran in your prayers. Please pray for: 

  • Many more Iranians to give their lives to Christ.

  • Endurance and joy for Iranian Christians suffering in prison for their ministry—many have testified to sensing the prayers of the global church while imprisoned.

  • More trained leaders to serve as evangelists, church planters, and pastors to disciple the many new Iranian believers.

In November there is usually an international day (Sunday 3rd) set aside for prayer for the persecuted church (https://idop.ca). While we cannot imagine how painful it is to suffer for our faith we can learn to pray for our brothers and sisters who are persecuted. Should we ask God to remove the source of opposition? If we are going to pray for the conversion of anti-Christian opponents, perhaps that is a better solution. At least we should pray that those who are persecuted are filled with compassion and love for their enemies and continue to bravely witness for Christ.

 In Christ,


Alan

Vicar’s Voice, 4th August 2019

The church through the ages has often referred to today’s passage (Acts 6:1-7) to establish the origin of what we call today “deacons.” Its origin is the Greek word diakonos which is usually translated as “servant.” The verb “to serve” is used at the end of verse 2 so the men selected to serve at tables, or supervise the distribution of food, as some translations have it, became servers or deacons.

Deacon is the title given to elders in some Protestant denominations. This would compare to our use of the term “warden” in the Anglican Church. These normally are the lay leaders who help with administration and policy making. But we Anglicans give the title of Deacon only to someone who is ordained to the ministry for the first time and then about a year later they are ordained again to become “priests.”

What fascinates me about this passage is that Stephen and Philip (that we know of) seemed to have a very effective preaching ministry! While the apostles appointed the seven to take care of the practical matters at the community’s centre, they were supposedly releasing the apostles to get in with the ‘real ministry’ of preaching. What a surprise then when we see Stephen and Philip stepping out to join the preaching band. In the case of Stephen, he gets to testify to the Sanhedrin and all the Jewish officials. Philip first goes to Samaria and then finds himself on the Gaza road, chatting to an Ethiopian eunuch.

This speaks volumes about the ultimate purpose and motive of every one of us who follows Jesus. Whatever our vocation we are to consider ourselves first as heralds of the Gospel message. Even those in the humblest of positions in our community, God wants to use us for His glory. Even children have a role sharing what they know about Jesus (through the ministry of Kingdom Kids and faithful example by godly parents).

William Carey was a shoe repairer and later became a missionary to India for 30+ years. He translated the Bible into several languages. He is known for the saying, “Expect great things FROM God, attempt great things FOR God.” Dwight L. Moody was a shoe salesman who became a renowned evangelist and founder of a Bible College. He is also known as one of the greatest preachers of the late 19th century and is attributed as saying, “Faith makes all things possible…Love makes all things easy.”

From humble beginnings, Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr (and preaches a knockout sermon in Acts 7). Philip becomes the vessel through which the Gospel is given to the first African and is believed to be the founder of Christianity in Ethiopia.

So, where do we see ourselves? Some of us think that we are not much use to God, even as servants. But take heart that we are all important in God’s eyes and it would help us to believe that of ourselves and of others. Let us care for one another in such a way that our love and service for each other causes the Gospel to flow into the streets of Jakarta.

In Christ,

Alan Wood