Considering Philip

Posted: April 29, 2014 in evangelism

The Evangelist

I have been reflecting lately on the word ‘evangelist’ found in the New Testament. It appears only three times – in Ephesians 4:11 as one of the ministry gifts; in Acts 21:8 naming Philip as an Evangelist; and finally in Paul’s instruction to Timothy: ‘Do the work of an evangelist’ (2 Timothy 4:5). Given that this commandment to Timothy is really God’s word to all of us, to ‘do the work’ of the evangelist, whether we feel gifted/called or not, it may be worth exploring Philip’s activities in Acts 8 and beyond. What does it take to do the work of an evangelist?

Preparation. Luke tells us of Philip earlier in Acts, that he was selected to serve because he was ‘filled with the Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6:3-5). In any age of the church, it takes more than just zeal or even spiritual empowerment to be a successful witness, we also need to be wise! Those zany Corinthians had the Spirit, no doubting it, but needed to be ‘adult’ in their thinking (1 Corinthians 14:20). The lost deserve a church who are intelligently seeking for them. That’s what I would want if I were lost at sea, or in a desert: a smart rescue operation! Get anointed but get wise too.

Public. When Philip steps out from the preparation place to the public place, we notice he is able to minister in differing contexts – in large public gatherings (Acts 8:6) with great demonstrations of miraculous power (Acts 8:13), and in private conversations (Acts 8:27) with a single individual. Not everyone is at home with either, or both. But God may call us into these, within the space of a single day as with Philip. Miracles follow the message, expect them, be bold.

Preaching.  The New Testament rarely gives us a verbatim report of what the apostles preached on each and every occasion, but there are a number of clues about the content of Philip’s message: ‘Jesus’ and ‘the Kingdom of God’ (Acts 8:12, 35). Not the church, not his favourite theology or pet doctrine, but the powerful truth of the Son of God and the life He came to give. Whether he was a ‘hell fire and brimstone’ speaker we don’t know, but the crowds were left with ‘joy’ when he spoke (Acts 8:8, 39) so there’s a hint! He could also explain difficult Bible passages (Acts 8:35). Oh and let’s be clear – you can’t share the Gospel fully without words.

Progress. Philip’s story doesn’t take up too much space in the Bible, but on both occasions when he finishes preaching, we are told that baptism in water followed accordingly (Acts 8:12, 36). Perhaps modern day evangelists like us could take a leaf out of his book. Let’s see conversations turn to converts, and decisions turn to disciples. When Philip preached, they left with a baptism certificate and a wet face, not just the planting of a seed. Let’s stay on the journey until the water tank where possible. We are ‘disciple makers’ in the Great Commission.

Private. Finally, in later chapters of Acts, Luke gives us a tiny but helpful insight into Philip’s family life. He had four daughters, each of whom were prophets (Acts 21:8-9). Imagine going to their house group, or even just ‘saying grace’ in their home…  But the dedication of these girls is very special information. Perhaps they saw that the public ‘preacher Philip’ was no different from ‘Dad’ at home. Perhaps he made sure that his first and primary converts were the members of his own family. Whatever the truth, these girls didn’t hate church, or resent God, or find the claims of Christ to change lives to be false. The faith of their father was in them, and the Spirit had gifted them too. It’s good when faith starts and finishes at home. As for me and my house, well… you know the rest.

Philip’s life, both public and private, was full of surprises to me. Let’s be encouraged to do the work of an evangelist. All the time.

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I have recently been teaching my 2nd Year ‘Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies’ class at Mattersey Hall Christian College, and we have been discussing speaking in other tongues from the Book of Acts and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. One of the unspoken questions, especially among Pentecostals, might be this: why did God choose such a peculiar spiritual gift to accompany the Baptism in the Spirit (Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6) and the ongoing devotion of praying with one’s spirit (1 Corinthians 14:14)? Let’s face it – speaking or praying in a language that the speaker does not understand is… well… a little strange! What may lie behind God’s purpose in bestowing such an unusual ability when His Spirit comes upon us for the first time? Here are some thoughts:

  • Speaking in tongues at the Baptism of the Spirit reminds the believer that they have been empowered to take the Gospel to foreign lands. This was the response of many early Pentecostals at the beginning of the twentieth century. Each time you speak in tongues, let it be an indicator of your own missionary call – yes to your closest neighbour, but also to the ends of the earth too. When the Spirit came on people in ‘Acts’ they invariably left town to preach Jesus elsewhere. Speaking in tongues should draw your attention to the urgent spiritual needs of those far, far away.
  • Similarly, speaking in tongues is an indication that all kinds of people need to be reached for the Lord. In the Book of Acts there was religious racism – a prejudice against sharing God’s word with the Gentile peoples. That is unlikely to be an issue for us today, but we can still have a reluctance to engage with certain ‘types’ of people – whether they are too rich or too poor, too sinful or too religious, too dangerous or too pious, to speak in tongues is to remember that God’s word is for people who aren’t at all like me!
  • Speaking in tongues is an instruction that we are to share God’s love in the language of our hearers. At Pentecost this meant in their own national tongue (Acts 2:11), but there can be a broader application. The unchurched world do not share some of our religious language and ‘Christianese’ and we must learn to break down the Gospel message, without compromise or dilution, into a form that our contemporary culture can fully understand. That is all part of being Pentecostal.
  • Finally, speaking in tongues is a thrilling assurance that a supernatural God is with us for the task ahead. In a post-modern Western society, significantly penetrating our culture can perhaps seem a complete impossibility – a battle that simply cannot be won. But take heart, the Lord of the harvest Himself is with us, willing to stretch out His hand to perform miracles and confirm the word with accompanying wonderful signs.

So, the next time you are speaking to God in your ‘unknown tongue,’ just maybe your mind need not be completely unfruitful. Perhaps you can catch afresh an exciting burden for reaching others for Jesus Christ, people who are far, far away, powerfully demonstrating that ‘everyone who calls upon’ His Name shall be saved (Acts 2:21).  Just be sure that when you go, you speak in their language. That’s completely Pentecostal!

While at Christmas time we concentrate on the story of Mary and Joseph and their special journey to Bethlehem, there is another very wonderful ‘Christmas’ couple – Elizabeth and Zechariah – whose story of struggle and blessing contains much wisdom for the life of the Christian believer today. Enjoy!

This recording was made at Mattersey Hall Christian College.

Video  —  Posted: December 18, 2013 in Mattersey Hall, spiritual life

Living the Dream

Posted: November 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

Joseph‘Living the Dream’ has to be one of my pet hates when it comes to a social media status update. Perhaps I am just jealous, thinking others are having a better time than me! But living his dream is something that the Old Testament prophet Joseph did, even when he thought he was in a nightmare. I am sure there is a phenomenal amount we can learn about living the purpose-filled life from him. Here are a few ideas:

1. Make sure your dream really is from God. It may be exciting for you (Genesis 37:6-11) and others may endorse that God is with you (Genesis 41:38-39) but will the outcome of your vision be of benefit to others? This is often the litmus test of whether we  are on track with heaven (Genesis 45:7).

2. Be careful who you share your dream with! Joseph’s brothers were supremely unimpressed (Genesis 37:5-11). Heavenly business is not everyone’s business and sharing too much may lead to arrogance or self importance – this was Paul’s concern too (2 Corinthians 12:1-7). Best to take a leaf out of Mary’s book and keep things hidden in your heart (Luke 2:19).

3. Accept that God may need to ‘edit you.’ The Joseph narrative has him lose his robes again and again (Genesis 37:23; 39:11-13). For some of us, every time we work out who we are and what our work is, we find ourselves being remoulded for the next season. Slap bang, back on the potter’s wheel, just when we had established life’s future shape. Each robe Joseph wore was a containment that just looked like a blessing. Let God edit, painful though it may be. While the Lloyd-Webber show ends with Joseph asking for his ‘coloured coat’, in fact it wasn’t for him by then. We often have to ‘move on’ in God’s plan.

4. Serve the vision of others. Before he ruled the planet, Joseph ruled the prison and Potiphar’s place. Before his dream came true, he interpreted the dreams of his fellow ‘waiting room’ companions (Genesis 40). It’s rare to meet someone who has found success in ministry and service to Christ, who has not first served wholeheartedly the vision of their local church or leader. We are not the centre of the universe, just a link in a chain.

5. Pass the character tests. Most of us are aware that we face tests but those who find God’s greatest blessing are those who realise that these are tests to be passed! Joseph was hated, abused, attacked, sold into slavery, tempted with sexual activity, falsely accused, wrongfully imprisoned, forgotten by a vital government department… the list goes on. Perhaps the biggest test was that he was later given authority – the power to deal harshly with everyone who had wronged him. He forgave with joy and thanked God for the journey. Keep a good heart, otherwise your dream is just a fantasy.

6. Praise God even if the dream seems to die. The vision of being the sheaf of corn that rose above them all must have seemed absolute folly as Joseph entered his third year of dungeon time. What he couldn’t possibly have known was that each ‘negative’ step was taking him closer to the day of its fulfilment. Sometimes we have to let a dream go and accept that we have got it wrong; other times, we need to rejoice. The sovereign Lord is taking us to a great place, even if we wouldn’t have chosen the route ourselves. We may be nearer than we think.

I love how the story concludes. The character-tested dreamer has not had his faith stolen during the process and he has clearly held on to God through it all, rather than just the dream. He says to his rogue brothers: “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). If God has spoken to you, even if you are a thousand miles from any sense of fulfilment, watch out – you may in fact be living the dream after all.

Night Fight

Posted: November 2, 2013 in spiritual life

Image

For sure, the passage in the Old Testament where Jacob wrestles with a mysterious angelic being who we later discover to be none other than God Himself (Genesis 32:22-32) is a very strange portion of the Bible. Yet, it could not be more applicable to so many of us in our spiritual journey. Even for the most devout, perhaps especially for them, there comes a dark season of life:  an seemingly endless, pitch-dark struggle. Like Jacob, we feel alone, confused and, worse of all, it appears that God is behaving like our opponent. Doors we prayed open remain shut; illness we thought we had overcome returns; families shatter; circumstances conspire against us to frustrate and confuse us in our faith. Our heart, if not our lips betray us: “Oh Lord of Heaven, I sought you to help me, yet it seems you have become my foe!”

We would do well to learn from Jacob. He soon became weak as a wrestler with God and resorted instead to clinging on to God. “I will not let you go!” he affirms. The Lord requires the same of us. In our confusion, pain, disappointment, we must cling on to God, believing above all else that He is a blesser. It’s the only way to have our name changed.

During the struggle, the Lord asks Jacob: “What is your name?” (verse 27). It was not that God lacked this knowledge. It was so that Jacob would speak the truth. He was not “Esau” stealing a blessing, but Israel contending for one. Not from Isaac but from Christ. If you feel the fight has drained everything from you, hold on to the invisible Jesus. See the night through. You’ll be Israel in the morning.

cambridge church

Over the last month, it has become quite obvious that King’s Church in Cambridge is experiencing the activity of the ministry of the Spirit in a new and exciting way. The church has long been a place to witness genuine charismatic gifts in operation and to learn how to improve in their use, but the last few weeks has seen this move to a different level. Week by week, and certainly not just on Sundays or in church meetings, men and women are being confronted by  Jesus Christ, who is dramatically healing the sick, touching lives for the good, and speaking through revelation and wisdom gifts, leaving some guests quite shocked and having to re-evaluate their worldview. People are healed by the laying on of hands, a simple petition, or even a brief but persistent prayer over the telephone. Prophecy is spoken with love, humility and accuracy, many times including some ‘impossible to know’ information. As Paul wrote in First Corinthians, the guest who enters finds “the secrets of his heart… disclosed” and “he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). It is not as dramatic as that at Cambridge but certainly close.

I had the privilege of being at the Church over the weekend. I am its former Minister. The anointing, for those who believe that they can sense such things, is obvious as soon as the service begins. I don’t believe we should call this anything like revival – it is very small, and in fact, it is just the church ‘warming up’ to that which should be normal Christianity after all! But I do want to encourage anyone in the Cambridgeshire area who has a deep emotional or physical need, or is hungry for the reality of God’s Kingdom today, to pay King’s Church a visit as soon as possible. Personal miracles aren’t guaranteed and never are, that would be foolish, but a presentation of God’s love and power is. You’ll find out when you get there.

To God be the glory!

The Christian Atheist

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Christianity

Confused man

I know it sounds odd, but it seems to me that it is perfectly possible for a Christian to be an active atheist. Of course, not in the way that we normally use the term – meaning: someone who intellectually or emotionally does not believe in the existence of God. No, I mean in the way that the Bible perceives of the atheist: a person who lives as though there was no God. “The fool” who says in his heart, “There is no God!” (Psalm 14:1) is not an intellectual atheist, but a practical one. The term ‘fool’ as used in the wisdom literature of the Bible is not an ‘idiot’ but a person who has chosen an immoral path. He behaves as though no-one is watching him, as though there were no consequences to sinful actions, and no day of judgement. In that regard, the most devout Christian can have a season, or even a daily lifestyle, of atheism mixed in together with their Sunday faith. We need to guard against it.

Psalm 14 goes on to tell us what this “foolish” practical atheism does to a person’s heart. He or she performs vile deeds (verse 1), has a prayer-less life and neglects to seek God (verses 2-3), despises people (verse 4), lives in fear (verse 5) and exploits, or at the very least has no concern, for the poor (verse 6). By these standards, I’d say we all ought to watch out for atheism.

I was once challenged with this thought: Don’t tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do. Then, I will be able to tell you what you believe. So, do you believe in God?