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, 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