“His brothers said to him, ‘Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?’ And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.” (Genesis 37:8)
Before we get into this passage, let me first explain what we mean by the series title, ‘Liminal Lent’. ‘Liminal’ means ‘threshold’ – the space in-between two different places or seasons, with the past very much behind and the ‘new’ not yet clear. Lent is a liminal space and of course we find ourselves in a liminal season now. But we will discover in the example of Joseph that he too experienced a significant liminal season, between dreams much later fulfilled. Two dreams in Genesis 37 concern the reign of this loved and yet hated young man, specifically over his immediate family as “the prince among his brothers” (Deuteronomy 33:16). Perhaps understandably, the reaction to these dreams was pretty strong. Joseph had already experienced favouritism from his father Jacob and loved more than any of his other brothers but these dreams further elated Joseph and hate to rise in his brothers. They planned to kill Joseph but eventually stripped him and threw him into an empty cistern before being sold. With his life sustained however, his dreams were kept alive. You may have dreams yet fulfilled, perhaps due to this recent pandemic and liminal season. But as we remember the example of Joseph, keep on dreaming for God will work His purposes out.
“When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” (Acts 21:12-13)
We find the closing chapters of Acts to focus on Paul and his journey to Jerusalem before finally settling in Rome. In Acts 21 words are exchanged between Paul and some disciples in Caesarea, with two particularly striking narratives in the scene. The first, is the church’s love for Paul. As the people pleaded with him not to go to Jerusalem and following a prophetic warning through Agabus. But second, is Paul’s determination to serve God despite the warnings. He says in verse 13, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Wow, what an example. Are we prepared to do the same? But the book closes with a surprising and inconclusive ending as Paul witnesses in his rented house, proclaiming the kingdom of God and about the Lord Jesus Christ. For Gavin and Anne Calver, as well as other Bible commentators, this serves as a challenge to past, present and future believers to follow Paul and play our part in the mission of God. We are invited to write the next chapter and so may we respond with the words of Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).
“Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19:18-20)
This account occurred in Ephesus after the supposed failure of the seven sons of Sceva to cast out an evil spirit from a man, which actually led to many believing in the superior power and truth of Jesus Christ.
We often learn far more from failure than success and we can learn much from their account.
We learn there is no power in reciting words, formulas or rules. There is no power in mere humans.
Rather, power comes from the Holy Spirit, who can dwell within all believers of Jesus Christ.
We learn, the Holy Spirit gives us our identity as beloved children of God and gives us the authority of Jesus Christ meaning evil spirits will recognise and submit to us in His name.
Ephesus was a city of immorality, idolatry and the occult. In some ways no different to the culture we are immersed in today. We need, as Paul did, to exercise our identity and authority in Christ, given through the Holy Spirit to battle all schemes of satan. Through the Holy Spirit we have all the weapons and armour we need for victory.
The Holy Spirit also brings freedom from any darkness within us through the power of revelation, conviction, confession and repentance.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” (Acts 16:25-26)
In Acts 16 Paul was joined by Timothy, travelling from town to town, seeing churches strengthened in faith and growing daily in number. They travelled throughout Phrygia and Galatia, to Troas, Samothrace and Neapolis. To Philippi where we find ourselves in the passage read last weekend and the Unleashed Worship of God’s people in Paul and Silas. They unashamedly prayed and sung hymns to God in the context of a prison. Having been stripped and beaten with rods, severely flogged and with their feet fastened in an inner cell. The response was a violent earthquake, with prison doors opened and chains loosed. Following which the jailor asked, “what must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:29) and his whole household was baptized and filled with joy. We can learn such a great deal from this passage but primarily this invitation to be unleashed in our worship. Yes, in the comfortable and easier places but in the difficult and bleaker places too as Jesus Himself joined in hymn singing as He prepared for betrayal, arrest and the agony of crucifixion after the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26. Gavin and Anne Calver write, “To be a church unleashed requires learning to worship no matter how we feel, what is happening, or what could happen…. As we do it, something shifts in us: strength rises, the Spirit empowers, and we are reminded that the Lord Almighty has the victory.” Make unleashed worship a priority for you today.
“Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:5)
Gavin and Anne Calver, in their book ‘Unleashed’, describe Acts 12 as “one of the most exciting and terrifying moments of Scripture.” And one can see why – Peter experienced the danger of following Jesus together with the wonder of following Jesus in close proximity. But there are two themes of focus in this passage:
1) The participation of Peter in the experiences of Jesus as he was seized, arrested, guarded by soldiers for public trial and welcomed with disbelief by those gathered in the house of Mary; and
2) the participation of God’s people in prayer as they prayed earnestly to God for their brother Peter (Acts 12:5) and not solely but gathered as many (Acts 12:12).
As we consider the participation of Peter in the experiences of Jesus and the participation of God’s people in prayer, how can we do similar? Pick up our cross and follow Jesus? Be baptised, perhaps? Read His Word and join whatever prayer streams or gatherings are available? Because it matters to God, will be a blessing to you and to the church.
“The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:21)
We continue our series on the Church Unleashed, started before Advent and leading to Lent. Helpful in these days as we rediscover what it means to be church beyond the walls of our church buildings and for the witness to Christ Jesus. Antioch was one landing place for the scattered and persecuted church in Acts, with six core values that have influenced our own life and ministry at CBC. They are to:
1. SPEAK the good news about Jesus Christ (Acts 11:20)
2. GROW in our study of the Bible (Acts 11:26)
3. HELP those in need (Acts 11:29)
4. WORSHIP with prayer and fasting (Acts 13:2)
5. LISTEN to the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:28, 13:2)
6. SEND people to serve God (Acts 13:2-3)
These are the six core values of an Unleashed Church in Antioch and of Canterbury Baptist Church. How can we collectively keep and support these values in the context of our serving together at CBC? And how can you keep them in your faithful and bold service unto God both in these COVID days and beyond?
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
This prophecy was given to King Ahaz before the imminent invasion of Assyria in 734BC. Ahaz could not comprehend the word since he had ignored and disobeyed many previous signs and words from God given through His prophet Isaiah.
The virgin in the prophecy was Jerusalem, the labour referred to the Assyrian invasion and the son, Immanuel, was the faithful remnant of people, birthed from the destruction of Jerusalem. This faithful remnant were people who believed and obeyed the signs from God.
Immanuel means ‘God With Us’, a sign and reminder of God’s faithfulness, mercy and hope. The sign is also a promise for us today, the ultimate fulfilment of God’s good purposes for His people. For those who would believe and follow in the ultimate Immanuel, Jesus Christ.
The Magi in contrast to King Ahaz showed obedience and a heart to see and hear signs from God. They saw and followed the star; a sign from God that pointed to the prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ.
As we start this new year, let us, like the Magi, commit to know the Scripture that points to and reveal Jesus. The Scripture that changes our hearts and open our eyes. Let us stay vigilant to watch, listen and obey. Let us recognise Jesus for who He is, ‘God With Us’, to bow down and worship him and give him our lives.