Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Keep Shining, the World Needs Your Light

We continue our journey through Acts. As you might know Acts, or the Book of Acts, is properly called The Acts of the Apostles … but really its most accurate name ought to be The Acts of God Through the Apostles … because that is what the book is about: What God did, and still does, when the Church is set on fire by His Holy Spirit, or … what God does when individuals are set on fire by the Holy Spirit. The person recognised as the leader of the 18th century evangelical
revival in England (John Wesley) is credited with saying: “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn” and “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”  That of course is what Billy Graham loved to do in the 20th century isn’t it? How many came just to see him burn … and caught fire themselves. All he was doing is continuing what God began in Paul … taking the gospel to the gentiles.

10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
13 But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.

They sent Paul away from Thessalonica (last week) to Berea (this week). Berea was 60 miles west of Thessalonica. As the crow flies, not as the roads take us, that is roughly the distance from Norwich through Peterborough to Leicester.

Three things stand out in this short section: There is the scriptural basis of Paul’s preaching; there is the bitterness of the Jews; and there is the courage of Paul.

1. The scriptural basis of Paul’s preaching
Notice that Paul, in Gentile, pagan cities, went first to the Jewish synagogue. Why? Because as Jesus Himself said: “Salvation is from the JewsJohn 4:22. We do well to never forget that, because to forget that is the source of all Christian anti-Semitism through all the ages. Salvation is from the Jews.

Don’t shout out (or even whisper) the answer to this question (you might embarrass yourself … or me): What was God’s answer to the sin of the world? In Genesis 1&2 we have the creation of the world and of people. In Genesis 3 we have sin entering the world, what is sometimes called The Fall. From Genesis 4 we have the consequences of sin … Cain and Abel, wickedness in the world, Noah, destruction and flood and new start … but, Noah’s drunkenness destroys all that … sin continues … chapter 11, the tower of Babel, the highpoint of man’s arrogance. Then comes, Chapter 13, God’s answer to the sin of the world: The Call of Abram.
The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.
Gen 12:1-3

All peoples on earth will be blessed through you: That’s us, blessed because Abram was blessed.

Yesterday I shared with the Elders that God has a mission. God’s mission is to redeem a broken creation, broken as a result of sin and disobedience. He has done this through the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus and through the gift of the Spirit to God’s people. And He has done all this in order to bring creation back into its perfect order. Of course, I speak here of God’s final Kingdom, but the challenge of God’s people is to live into that kingdom now. That is God’s mission, and because God has a mission, there is a church. Because God has a mission, there is Meadow Way Chapel. We stand here in that mission and because of Jesus … but, Jesus didn’t come from nowhere and He didn’t appear into a vacuum. No, God’s answer to the sin of the world was the call of Abram; from Abram came a family, from the family came a clan; from the clan came 12 tribes; from 12 tribes came a nation placed at the very centre of the world: the crossroads of the world, the place where all movement and trade between the great empires of Egypt in the South, Mesopotamia in the East and Greece and Rome to the west … they had to pass through that little strip of land called Israel. And so God formed that nation, with great difficulty, and placed them there to be a shining light to the nations; so that as the world passed through Israel, it would see what a nation under the rule of God looked like and, like moths to the light, be attracted to the Light. They failed, which God had always anticipated, but not planned, as a probable outcome. And so from the nation created by God came the man Jesus, descendant of Abram, from Him came 12, from them came the small clan which was the early church, from them came the nation which is the people of God in the world today. We have the same mission that Abram had: be a shining light to the world, blessed in order to be a blessing, called so that God’s kingdom can come on earth and His will done on earth. That was Abraham’s task, that was Israel’s task, that is the church’s task that is your task and my task. Israel failed miserably … are we doing much better?

Today’s Sunday Times helps answer that question:
A POST-CHRISTIAN era has dawned in Britain, with most white Britons now saying they have no religion, according to a new survey.
The increase is most pronounced among those aged under 40.
The poll, conducted by YouGov last month with a sample of 1,500 across the whole population, including recent immigrants, found almost half (46%) have no religion, up from 42% in February 2015 and from 37% in January 2013.
This rises to more than 50% among white British.
Among the under-40s of all races, 56% have no religion. Less than a third (31%) say they are Christian.
Only a small proportion are anti-religious (13%).

Now I don’t know what the statistics for Hellesdon might be, but probably no better.

As I said to the Elders yesterday … There is work to do. Let’s do it. Paul always began with the Jews and with the Scriptures … neither of those are an effective strategy for us today, because there is no synagogue in Hellesdon and most people don’t read or know the Bible, so we can’t start there, they don’t accept the scriptures. If that’s our starting point we’ve lost them before we start. No, we start with the love of Christ in us for the people around us, we believe the words of Christ when He said: You are the light of the world. You are the light of Hellesdon … go and attract the moths, when they ask why you act in the loving way you do, tell them about Jesus; when they ask more about Jesus, tell them about the Bible … give them a Bible. When they have counted the cost, not of the Bible, but of discipleship … Jesus commands this way of church growth in Luke 14, … when they have counted the cost and still say yes … then baptise them into my Body.

2. The bitterness of the Jews
They not only opposed Paul in Thessalonica; they pursued him to Berea. The tragedy is that undoubtedly they thought they were doing God’s work by seeking to silence Paul. After all, his interpretation of what we now call the Old Testament was not the same as their interpretation and there was no room for differing opinions, or, loving your enemy, or, seeking reconciliation. I wonder how they would have got on at this past week’s meeting of the leaders of the Anglican church. I wonder how Jesus would have got on there. The bitterness of the Jews: they thought they were doing God’s work by seeking to silence Paul. It can be a terrible thing when people identify their aims with the will of God instead of submitting their aims to that will. Jesus showed us, didn’t He?, that you become your enemies friend, you do whatever you can to show them how much you love them, you refuse to be divided or separated from them, knowing that this might well mean it will leave them with no choice but to torture and kill you … but that must never stop us, as Praise God, it never stopped Jesus, into whose likeness we are being changed in this life, from glory unto glory.
Beware of what it is that makes you bitter, especially in the church.

3. The courage of Paul
He had been imprisoned in Philippi; he had left Thessalonica in peril of his life, under cover of darkness; and once again in Berea, he had to flee for his life. Most people would have abandoned a struggle which seemed bound to end in arrest and death. I don’t know how big the missionary David Livingstone is in the history books of England, but he was quite big in the history Chris and I learnt back at school, …  but when he was once asked where he was prepared to go, he answered: “I am prepared to go anywhere, so long as it is forward.” The idea of turning back never occurred to Paul either.

I had a deep sense as I was writing that last sentence that there is more than one person who needs to hear that word this evening. You are really thinking you should turn back from a path you were convinced God had set you on … but, you’re so unsure now. Press on … and please speak to me in this week so that I can pray and fast for you.

Let me conclude:

Hopefully these verses challenge and encourage us. The Word is our source of inspiration to be attractive light in the world around us; we might encounter bitterness; but press on.

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