Vicar's Voice, 13 October 2019

“Be doers of the word, and NOT merely hearers who deceive themselves…” (James 1:22).

When James wrote his letter it wasn’t to an homogenous group of followers of Jesus. Some had converted from a Jewish background and had all kinds of traditions and rituals to overcome and replace with faith. Others were from a pagan background and worshipped amongst a plethora of gods and idols, accompanied sometimes by possibly outlandish, even occult practices. They were from widely diverse cultural backgrounds. But the common denominator is now, writes James, “the implanted word that has the power to save…” (James 1:21). 

It is not a theoretical “word” but one that must have profound effect on our values and behaviour. It is the word that God’s people have had already for many generations and have yet to put it into practice. Sadly, they were hearers but not yet doers.

It is a challenge for all of us who follow Jesus. The Scriptures as we now have them, consisting of the Old and the New Testaments are so rich with teaching about how to live the godly life. How easy it is to read James’ letter, for example, giving mental assent to what he writes but then, like the Pharisees of old, fail to take the next step. Our lives must be changed.

Resonating with James’ letter, this week I read and adapted this excerpt from Brandon O’Brien’s blog (and also found in his book Not From Around Here). He deals mainly with adjusting to a new culture but this exercise is very helpful in any stressful situation or dealing with our own bad reaction to others’ poor behaviour. 

1. Become aware of God’s presence. Pause where you are, stop and take a deep breath. Give yourself a moment to let your thoughts settle and become aware that God is with you always.

2. Give thanks for God’s blessings. Recognize the good things God has done for you where you are, however small. Thank God for something good about other people. Consider thanking God for this new perspective that you find challenging or frustrating.

3. Pay attention to your emotions. Reflect on what happened and how you responded. Did what you read (or heard or saw) make you feel angry? Guilty? Self-righteous? If you aren’t sure, that’s ok. Tell God about that, too. Spend enough time on this step to gain some clarity.

4. Repent and receive forgiveness. Confess your self-righteousness, fear, frustration—whatever it was that motivated your reaction. Say it out aloud. This isn’t about guilt or shame. It’s about change. Saying it will help.

5. Give thanks for God’s grace to have a better tomorrow. Thank God that he knew your motives before you did and had already forgiven you. Ask for grace to face tomorrow with greater confidence and courage in his grace.

A lot of our divisions with other people stem from divisions within ourselves. This kind of confession and repentance, over time, strengthens our capacity to deal with difficult and frustrating situations. But you have to begin recognizing that God is with you and for you, or you may quickly become demoralized. Rest in the grace God offers and let it empower you to move closer to other people who have different perspectives.

Let’s be doers not just hearers.

In Christ,

Alan

Vicar's Voice, 6 October 2019

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I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 NRSV). This is one of the most familiar parts of Scripture, known to most Bible-believing Christians. The implication is that followers of Jesus, seek to be faithful to our call by God to give ourselves to His service. A “living sacrifice” is literally an act of complete surrender to the will of God, so that we might glorify him in our lives. The whole point of resisting conformity to the pattern of this world is so that we can turn away from sin and evil and seek those things God wants in our lives. The resulting transformation is in body and mind and in spirit.

Our lives will be different. Followers of Jesus are set apart and don’t speak and act like unbelievers. Our actions are consistent with our words. Yet many unbelievers say they want nothing to do with the Church because it is full of hypocrites. You might be shocked when I agree with that statement. “Hypocrite” literally means play-actor. What is happening on the outside is not consistent with the true beliefs and values on the inside. Imagine what life would be like if our thoughts were displayed on a screen on our foreheads for everyone to see! So, in that sense we are all hypocrites because none of us are perfect.

The transforming though is meant to be ongoing, like a journey. We know our goal or destination is perfection in Christ and we are motivated by love for God to do our best to do that. Hopefully we get closer each day to our words and deeds becoming consistent with each other. We want to “practice what we preach.”

The apostle James, the brother of Jesus wrote many aspects of this in his letter to the Church. It would be too simplistic to say that his central message was that faith and works are inseparable, but it is what he essentially writes. Maybe a little more elaborately than that, but he does deal with many life issues that sometimes cause us to fail the consistency test (between words and deeds). 

James deals with a variety of themes, with an emphasis on practical aspects of the Christian life. Some of the subjects include: handling trials and temptations, practicing pure religion, understanding the relationship between faith and works, the proper use of the tongue and display of true wisdom, being a friend of God rather than a friend of the world, and the value of humility, patience and prayer. While these may appear unrelated, they are crucial to the growth and development of the Christian. 

I look forward to digging into this goldmine together over the next few weeks.

Alan

Vicar's Voice, 29 September 2019

When we begin what seems to be a small undertaking, we have not imagined the possibility that we could make a global or national impact. Thomas Edison who invented the first commercially viable light globe, may have understood the importance of this invention. But he put aside another invention for 10 years in 1877 to work on what he thought was more important. It was an invention that has had a far greater impact, the phonogram. This was a primitive sound recording and playback device that has led to all kinds of technology in sound, performance, radio and television. 

When the elders in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) gathered for their regular prayers the Holy Spirit led them to ‘set apart’ (dedicate, consecrate) Barnabas and Saul to go from Antioch and start new churches in places to be revealed by the Spirit’s guidance. We have the whole history unfolding in the rest of the book of Acts but could those men in Antioch have known what was going to eventuate? We don’t know the full impact or extent of the rest of the apostles’ ministry, extra-Biblical writings of the Early Church Fathers give only scant details.

Jesus mentioned “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) and I think the Antioch church sending the first ‘missionaries’ was the beginning of the global impact of the Gospel. So it continues today many years later. It has long been a tradition of missionary sending organisations to ‘set apart’ new or returning missionaries each time they venture forth in the Name of Christ. It is very humbling to know that many people have been involved in the formation and sending out, each time we have left our home.

It is the function of the local church to not only be missional in their own neighbourhood but also to have a healthy understanding and vision to engage globally. Economics has given us the saying, “Think locally, act globally” (ca. 2006). What happened in Antioch illustrates that idea quiet well from a missional point of view. Locally, Barnabas and Saul had been ministering to the congregation for over a year. Now the church had reached a level of maturity where they could hear clearly the Holy Spirit to send out these two men (Saul becomes Paul, and John Mark from Jerusalem also joins them briefly). 

Our challenge is to missionally evaluate our church. We seem to be functioning well in ministering locally. We are nurturing members of our congregations across two centres through Biblical preaching, pastoral care and small groups. Locally we are also closely engaged with our Outreach Projects. But what about the world beyond Indonesia? What is our global plan? Have we ever thought the possibility of sending and supporting missionaries to other countries in S.E. Asia or beyond? What would it take for All Saints to become truly global in its outlook?

This is something to pray about. The church here was established through the missionary enterprise of people from other nations. Initially ASJ was engaged in mission to China and other parts of Java and Sumatra. While it is true there are Christians in almost every country in the world, there are still a lot of unreached people groups (7,153 UPGs out of 17,098 total) in the world today. They will never hear the Gospel unless missionaries are sent. Antioch church started on their knees. Before we try to answer the questions above, let’s start on our knees.

In Christ

Alan

Vicar's Voice, 22 September 2019

One of the results of the Industrial Revolution and the “Age of Enlightenment” during the 18thcentury was the undermining of the authority of the monarchy and the Church in Europe. It led to many of the revolutions which occurred during the “Century of Philosophy” (late 1600s to 1789).

The most devastating effect was the rise of liberalism, theologians who tried to explain Scripture using reason and rationalism. This resulted in a deterioration in the acceptance of the miraculous and supernatural material of the Scriptures. Indeed, the Holy Bible was relegated to the place of world literature and considered to be just another academic work of a rather fanciful nature like Gulliver’s Travels (which had as well political undertones). It has been said that the strength of the Anglican Church is that we stand on the 3 pillars of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Overemphasis on any one or two of these results in the church losing its way, as we have witnessed in the post-modern age.

As we have been focussing on the book of Acts the repeated and consistent occurrence of miracles, healings, deliverances, visitations by angels and the Lord, and almost countless acts of guidance through visions and dreams, are apparent. The denial or even the rationalisation of these supernatural events not only reduces the impact of the testimony of salvation but denies completely the power of God to intervene in human history to rescue us. 

There are two aspects of this. As Luke began his gospel and Acts, he testified to Theophilus “…after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you… so that you may know the truth…” (Luke 1:3-4). He claimed he was writing the truth from eyewitness accounts, and what he saw when accompanying apostle Paul on some of his journeys. There is nothing more compelling than the factual account of an eyewitness. His integrity is unchallengeable.

Secondly, the power of God is being manifested in the early church in a way and magnitude that has never been witnessed before. Sure, there are supernatural events in the Old Testament, with burning bushes, parting of the sea, healing of a pagan king, Elijah burning up a stone altar etc. But over so many years they do not come very close to the demonstrations of power by Jesus who begins his ministry after it seems Heaven has been “locked up” and there have been no miracles or prophecies for over 400 years!

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry right through to end of the book of Acts at least, there is recorded virtually daily demonstrations of God’s power. Apostle John helps us to understand why these ‘signs’ are shared with us: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”(John 20:30-31). 

A new Kingdom has come. The King himself is the Creator of all things and has power over all things. This King, Jesus, also gives us life through his death. Surely, we can trust and believe in the King who has done this for us because his power to save and power to bring us all to our own resurrection has no equal.

In Christ,

 

Alan

Vicar's Voice, 15 September 2019

…a great number became believers and turned to the Lord…

I hate labels. I mean the way we tend to stereotype people and relegate them to a personality type, or Myers-Briggs classification or psychological type or even by the colour of their hair or their age. We even define people sometimes by what they do for a living. For example, Westerners tend in polite conversations to quickly move on from pleasant introductions to, “and what do you do for a living?” As if a person’s occupation defines who they are. This is so we can put them in a box and subsequently limit our imagination of how that person functions by their job.

This ignores the fact that somehow, they might have been working all their lives in the wrong vocation. They succeed because of hard work and drive but in their heart of hearts they don’t really like what they do. But they soldier on year after year, faithfully serving especially because as luck would have it, they have married and now have a family to support.

In the account of the history of the early church (the book of the Acts of the Apostles) as followers of Jesus spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean region sharing their message of hope and salvation, congregations began to meet and gather in clusters. A ‘church’ (from the Greek word ekklesiya meaning ‘gathering’) was formed. The apostles in Jerusalem heard of this and sent Barnabas to help to lead the congregation. 

As it happens this does not escape the attention of the local unbelieving community who labelled the followers of ‘The Way’ (followers of Jesus) as ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26). This was meant as a term of derision and contempt. To label someone a Christian meant you were insulting them and questioning their intellectual capacity to believe such superstitious nonsense. To believe that some Israelite had risen from the dead was just too ridiculous to believe, everyone knows that could never happen, to believe such a fantasy indicates some mental deficiency. 

I think I have just inadvertently described what the unbelieving world is currently like in 2019. But in the first century there was a growing awareness that the number of Christians were increasing and opposition to their cause was increasing. To discredit them however possible was the aim of every unbeliever. In 115 AD Pliny, a Roman historian, claimed that Christians were cannibals (eating the flesh of Christ) and engaged in incest (loving their brothers and sisters in Christ). If anyone seriously believed him, I would be surprised but he was attempting to discredit Christians in his letter to the Emperor.

Today of course many of us (about 2.6 billion across the globe) are proud to be labelled as Christian and some would be willing to die for that privilege, as many have done so through the ages. My prayer today is that we would be called Christian because people see in us the nature of Christ. That we would be known for our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-26), keeping in step with the Spirit of Christ. Especially, “by this all will know you are my [Jesus’] disciples” (John 13:34). The reality that we are identified by who we are in Christ, not a man-made label.

In Christ’s love and for one another,

Alan

Vicar's Voice, 1 September 2019

“…for he is my chosen instrument …”

The conversion of Saul (later named as Paul) is a monumental event in the life and history of the church. It has made a great impact on world history as the apostle has a dramatic turnaround from being a fierce persecutor of Christians in the early Church to a conversion experience without equal. So intent was Saul on destroying the Early Church that the only way for the Lord to get his attention was to confront him on the road to Damascus. The Church is later affected as persecution then subsides somewhat and there is a brief period of peace and growth (Acts 9:31). Imagine if Saul had not become a follower of Christ and he continued his murderous rampage unabated.

His old friends, the Jews were not at all pleased when he started to proclaim the message about Jesus with the same sort of passion he used to persecute Christians. They attempted to capture and kill Saul but he is able to escape their clutches with the aid of his disciples.

But a “Damascus Road Experience” has also passed into secular literature to denote a complete reversal of will in a general sense, without the spiritual connotation. I wouldn’t be surprised if some authors now use the expression with little or no understanding the origin of the phrase. What is understood is that it means a complete reversal. It is assumed that everyone knows the context. That will change with time of course as secular society continues to drift away from even a fundamental biblical knowledge. The saying will become meaningless outside of a Christian context.

Many of us have come to faith in Christ in a much less dramatic way. That doesn’t mean that our conversion is any less genuine or sincere. Some, like me, have had some slow transformations, also some quick ones. We are not all the same, thankfully. The important thing is that we are responding to Jesus’ call, we know we are followers of Jesus and are trying to live by “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Jesus”. Like Saul, we have been chosen to be Christ’s messengers to the world. We are the only means by which the Gospel can be proclaimed through our words and actions.

Let us persevere in our efforts to live as light and salt in our community. Pray that the Lord will lead us to those who are ready to hear and respond to the message of Mercy and Grace. Come Holy Spirit, fill us anew!

 In Christ,

Alan 

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