“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4)
Psalm 137 was written during the Babylonian Exile by an oppressed people who experienced separation, loss, sorrow, mockery, defiance and rage. Although their anger is expressed in vicious terms fuelled by a longing for revenge, there is within it a cry for justice and plea for God to change circumstances. As we experience our own form of pandemic exile, we too might be asking “how can we sing the Lord’s song”? Psalm 137 does not provide an easy answer but it does give us permission to express raw emotion, lament and pray for God to act decisively.
“Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were ill and those tormented by impure spirits and all of them were healed.” (Acts 5:16)
Halloween has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Statistics also show there is a growing fascination and involvement with the occult in our country.
Humanity has always yearned for and sought a supernatural power beyond themselves. God has designed us to find that in Him alone and scripture is clear about the dangers of the supernatural outside of Him. The occult offers the lure of power and control when life is hard and unpredictable but risks destruction and darkness.
Acts 5:12-25 is full of the Gospel shared through word and authenticated with signs, wonders and miracles. Jesus himself promised in John 14:10-12 “very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things then these”.
Would people turn to the occult if they saw the grace and love of the gospel authenticated and demonstrated through signs and wonders? Or saw and heard many testimonies of transformed lives through the power and compassion of Jesus? Is the church showing the full, unadulterated gospel to give people every opportunity to know Jesus and be turned from darkness to light?
Let’s pray that God’s power be fully turned on in the church and people would be amazed and captivated by testimonies of lives transformed by Jesus.
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47)
Families, including my own, all look different and none are perfect. This is no different of the Church Family, as we should expect in the broken world in which we live. But Acts 2 offers a really helpful template for what church family could or should look like:
1) They were a spiritually diverse group of people – There were some that walked and served with Jesus, as well as new believers convicted by the words of Peter and recently baptised.
2) They had everything in common – Perhaps we shouldn’t take this verse quite so literally but rather learn from Acts 4:32 which tells us, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.”
3) They were united – United in their effort to share everything they had and give to anyone who had need.
4) They were united in their devotion – Their devotion to the apostles’ teaching, their devotion to fellowship, their devotion to the breaking of bread and their devotion to prayer.
In this difficult time for us all and for the church at large, can we find a new devotion for the fellowship? Nicky Gumbel says, “Stop looking for a perfect church. It does not exist. Join an imperfect church and serve in every way you can to make it nearer perfection.” So how can you learn from the example of this early church in Acts, devote yourself to the church and give towards a better and healthier body? Can you devote yourself to the leadership of this church and our teaching? Can you devote yourself to the fellowship and the breaking of bread, even in your homes (when and if it is safe to do so of course)? Can you devote yourself to praying (either online or in person)? Can you give from what you have for the benefit and blessing of those in need? Because if we devote ourselves in this way, meet with glad and sincere hearts as we praise God, then perhaps The Lord will add new believers to our number as He did to the early church. And let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will do this work in us by His grace and mighty power to become a Spirit-filled community to the glory of God.
“You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 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: 38,39
The 120 waited with expectation and obedience, knowing they had been promised the Holy Spirit by Jesus and God the Father.
The Holy Spirit came with tongues of fire representing the ignition of the fire and power of the gospel. A fire which spread rapidly from Jerusalem and is still spreading to all the ends of the earth.
It was essential the 120 waited for the Holy Spirit to empower and enable them to fulfil the commission of Jesus, to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Yet it was futile to attempt this without the power of the Holy Spirit who brings the Word alive, breathes life into the spiritually dead, heals diseases and casts out evil.
We too have been commissioned by Jesus and we too must also wait for the Holy Spirit with expectation and prayer.
Confronted with a valley of dry bones, God asks Ezekiel “Can these bones live?”. With the Spirit of God, the impossible becomes possible. Death becomes life, so that people will know “I am the Lord.”
We wait for the fire of the Holy Spirit for the sake of those who need to catch alight with the life-giving truth of the gospel.
“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 1:4-5)
Like so many schools, restaurants, theaters and churches, the Christian conference Spring Harvest had to close it’s doors in April, unable to meet in the usual way to worship God and resorting to YouTube. It was very successful actually. What struck me about that online conference though was the theme, ‘Unleashed’. Planned one year in advance and exploring the early church of Acts for believers today. At first the title seemed to have an irony about it, how could the church be unleashed whilst our doors were closed for gathered worship? But became deeply prophetic, with the life of any church not dependent on gathering people in a building or even upon singing. The church can still worship God and make disciples of all nations, as the early church did, empowered by the Holy Spirit in houses and homes. If we are to be the church unleashed then we need to learn two things. First, to wait for the Holy Spirit. Empowered for witness as the early church were and with strength received from God alone. Second, to have a willingness to be the church unleashed. With the same spirit of adventure seen in the apostles of Acts, standing out in this uncertain landscape alongside the living God as salt and light. It is my prayer that we will be encouraged, even enabled, to be a church unleashed. To share Jesus in our Jerusalem, our Judea, our Samaria, to the ends of the earth, in our homes, our houses and neighborhoods. It is my prayer that this church will be unleashed from the confinement of its four or many more walls to the wider world for God’s glory.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7-9)
Harvest has always been a season of celebration. The reward for sowing, watering and protecting precious seed symbolises abundance, life and fruit from a season of work and sacrifice. The formula for a harvest was established by God in Genesis 8:22 “as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease”. Seeds must be buried in order to produce new life. This represents Christ, the ultimate ‘seed’ who was buried to release new and eternal life for us.
In Galatians, Paul describes the ‘seed’ as “doing good” and encourages to not grow weary, for at the proper time, in the correct season, we will reap a harvest. Sowing seeds is essential to a good harvest. Like the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8, we are called to abundantly sow seed without prejudice to the environment. Some of the most seemingly hostile environments, such as the Guinebor II hospital in Chad can produce the most abundant of harvests. In this hospital, due to the seeds sown of self-sacrifice, the harvest is salvations, healings and deliverances.
“The Israelites had done all the work just as the Lord had commanded Moses. Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded. So Moses blessed them.” (Exodus 39:42-43)
by Rev Andrew Fitzgerald
Following six months of live streamed services, we reach the conclusion of this series on Exodus and the wilderness wanderings of God’s people, with a wonderful passage that celebrates the unity of God’s people in their completion of the tabernacle. The Hebrew word for “work” in verses 32 and 42 is in some texts translated “worship”, which gives deeper meaning to the Israelites’ work unto God in Exodus 39. Not simply being a necessary or mundane task with nothing better to do in the wilderness but carried out with love, respect and admiration for The Lord. Naturally, we might want to ask whether our “work” either in the home, the workplace or the church is done out of mere routine or rather out of obedience and worship unto God. But we also have a deeper understanding of Moses’ “work” in Exodus 39, specifically verse 43, with the Hebrew word translated to be “workmanship” and referring to His vocation or calling to oversee, inspect and bless the work of God’s people for God’s glory. How do we respect, honour and obey those whom God has called to leadership? And therefore receive their blessing, as Moses blessed the work of God’s people in Exodus 39. Exodus concludes with words concerning the glory of God, which filled and settled on the tabernacle, also accompanied and led the people of God on their travels. Wherever this church finds itself in the next three to six months, whether in the building or out of the building, whether limited by numbers or filled to capacity, let’s each know the glory and Spirit of God filling and settling on every single one us. Accompanying and leading our coming and our going, as we seek to keep fully in step with the Lord God Almighty.