Early church challenge #1: direct opposition

After the inception of the church, Acts 3-4 brings us to the first challenge of the early church – direct opposition. 2 verses

So they seized them and put them in jail until the next day (for it was already evening). But many of those who had listened to the message believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
Acts 4:3-4

When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus. And because they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say against this… For the man, on whom this miraculous sign of healing had been performed, was over forty years old.
Acts 4:13-14, 22

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Job – God’s sovereignty in suffering

He said, “Naked I came from my mothers womb, and naked I will return there. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety. Job 1:21-22

This passage follows Job’s extravagant outburst of sorrow. He tore his robe, shaved his head and threw himself face down to the group. Imagine a child in a shopping aisle in tantrum. This picture frames his words. In his anguish, he philosophises with a sense of symmetry:

  • We came with nothing and we leave with nothing
  • God gives and God takes away

Job’s rollercoaster life illustrates the very things that our sovereign God gives and takes away – life and everything in it while his spoken analogy of birth and death reflects the sovereignty of God giving and taking away perfectly. This illustrates 2 things for us:

  • Nothing in this life is permanent – the gift of life (on this earth) is transient
  • Nothing is outside of God’s control – the sovereignty of God is all encompassing (Job 42:2)

These are 2 very important concepts that Job teaches us. But lets not forget the third – God’s plan is good:

So the Lord restored what Job had lost after he prayed for his friends and the Lord doubled all that had belonged to Job… So the Lord blessed the second part of Job’s life more than the first.
Job 42:10, 12 (see 10-17)

God wants good for us. The ultimate goodness that God wants for us is not comfort, health and wealth because these things are all transient but Himself – everlasting, all powerful and all good. Sometimes God does bring goodness in this life as is the case in Job but we can be sure He brings it in the next. Notice that although it says that all these good things are restored to him “after” or “when” he prayed for his friends, it was not because of Job’s actions. God’s goodness is not shown here to be dependant on our action.

Job’s exclamation is entirely appropriate: “May the name of the Lord be praised!” This is not fatalistic “que sara sara” exclamation, this is “praise God” active acknowledgment for His gift (transient it may be), his sovereignty and his goodness. Job even before God restored him had already found the ultimate goodness – God himself.

Psalm 107

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
and broke away their chains.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he breaks down gates of bronze
and cuts through bars of iron.

Some became fools through their rebellious ways
and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
They loathed all food
and drew near the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them;
he rescued them from the grave.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them sacrifice thank offerings
and tell of his works with songs of joy.

Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.

He turned rivers into a desert,
flowing springs into thirsty ground,
and fruitful land into a salt waste,
because of the wickedness of those who lived there.
He turned the desert into pools of water
and the parched ground into flowing springs;
there he brought the hungry to live,
and they founded a city where they could settle.
They sowed fields and planted vineyards
that yielded a fruitful harvest;
he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased,
and he did not let their herds diminish.
Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled
by oppression, calamity and sorrow;
he who pours contempt on nobles
made them wander in a trackless waste.
But he lifted the needy out of their affliction
and increased their families like flocks.
The upright see and rejoice,
but all the wicked shut their mouths.

Let the one who is wise heed these things
and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

This psalm lies close to my heart. Each story of God’s grace and mercy resounds in my heart as my own story. As one seeking rest, as one trapped in chains, as one deep in my own rebellion and as one trusting in The Lord. The circumstance do not change God’s nature.

I agree with the psalmist. “Let the one who is wise heed these things
and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.”.

Learning from others mistakes

I was reading this morning (http://marcronez.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/city-harvest-case-part-5-chcs-crossover-or-sun-hos-crossover/) and realised that we haven’t spoken too in-depth about transparency and the associated risk and risk strategies. (And here is my governance/public servant brain speaking: these should be documented as well.)

Read: Proverbs 11:14; 12:15; 13:10; 15:22; 19:20-21; 20:18. And probably Rehoboam’s story.

Risk strategies is not just financial. So far, the only things we’ve spoken about is: “what if we can’t get 30 people” or “what if sara and may get pregnant”. We’ve looked at the risks to our product but not the risk in our process.
– What are things that we are doing now that can be perceived in the wrong light/will be hard to explain? / Will what we are doing be seen in good light by all?
– What is our plan Bs for each milestone? Are we placing all our eggs in one basket? Are there different ways of doing things with lower risk that we need to explore or keep the door open for?

Regarding transparency:
– Is the means to reaching the goal appropriate to the goal? Can our process and rationale be scrutinised by a third party?
– Have we included nay-sayers in our planning and rationalising process or is it all yes-men? What have we done about the words of nay-sayers?
– Who are our advisors? After reflecting on our advisor’s words, do we go back to our advisors and discuss what we think about those words?
– Have we been transparent with our current leaders/mentors/advisors?

The author of the article had difficulty separating God’s call from selfish human desires by examining the church’s actions. And honestly, as living breathing people, examining our ourselves is hard. Thats what advisors are for. Ps Kong Hee had advisors – good and respected advisors. Did the advisors not pick out these blind spots (which makes them not so great advisors) or did Ps Kong dismiss/rationalise away anything perceived as against the agenda. The problem is that in Christiandom, once someone says “God said so” or “this is God’s call”, others often back off with their disapproval and/or they can’t say anything else. That is a challenge to the kind of transparency, openness and authenticity we strive for.

The same set of questions above need to be asked of our own lives as well – our ministry is an extension of our life. God’s call, confirming prophetic words, encouragement from advisors is all good but handled without wisdom (and plain common sense) will jeopardise the call.

The Mystery Of The Kingdom

The Parable of the Growing Seed
He also said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. By itself the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he sends in the sickle because the harvest has come.”
Mark 4:26-29

There is a certain mystery about the kingdom – about the sowing, growing and harvest. Something that is beyond human comprehension and observation. The work of God that happens behind all that we can see, hear and do will always remain a mystery.

A clear reminder that I don’t know it all and I never will.

Healing 2

Great to hear your thoughts on healing.

I must say I was surprised by your first comment about faith. I had always thought faith was essential. I even spent considerable time in my early years searching the Bible for an out that would assure me I didn’t have to believe, and God would still heal me. That backfired slightly, because I ended up more convinced that faith was the normal way of operating, but I also increased in my faith for healing so that was worthwhile.

Thinking about your questions:

  1. Did Christ die for our sins AND so that we can have healing in this life? If it is so, then Christ’s death might be deemed ineffective because we still have sick christians.

    I think I would say that physical healing is to be seen as a by-product of reconciliation to God. In Mt 9:1-8 Jesus closely links healing & forgiveness, and the healing was evidence of the forgiveness. Before sin, there was no sickness, and every sickness (& other destructive force) can be traced back to someone’s sin somewhere. (I am not saying the link is always direct – some is a direct sowing & reaping, some is the result of another person’s wickedness affecting us, and some (for example some natural disasters) is more a general result of sin in the world breaking the God-ordained order & introducing decay etc. When the sin problem is dealt with, the door is open for healing as well.Then again, if Jesus shows us what God is like, & He went around doing good & healing all who were under the power of the devil (Acts 10:38) then it is likely that is what God wants to happen everywhere.

  2. What then is the role and practice of healing that we have now? It seems to be more hit and miss than the consistency that the Apostles had. If physical healing is a sign of power that our gospel is true (as it is used in Acts), Matthew 7:21-23 and testimonies from other religions almost serve to discount that.

    It is truly complex & hard to completely understand. Some of the principles I have learnt are:

    – Healing & miracles are used as confirmation of the message (also Gal 3:1-5)- Backslidden / ungodly Christians can also get miracles. I suspect this is because the proclamation of the message & salvation of others is sometimes a higher priority than the persons individual lifestyle (see Phil 1:15-18). Classically illustrated by the American healing evangelists who had amazing meetings even while they were severely sinning. This also suggests that some people have a gifting in this area, or have entered into a dynamic that is generally lost to the mainstream body of Christ.

    – False Christs will also perform miracles, so it is not a guaranteed seal of God’s approval. This also suggests a connection with a spiritual dynamic that can operate independent of Christ (but probably not independent of some (good/bad) spiritual authority figure.

  3. I read verses like John 14:11-12 and Acts 14:8-10 (the man had “faith to be healed” not “faith to believe”) and am perplexed (or even Luke 10:1-17). Ae we expected to be able to heal as Jesus did or as the Apostles did?I believe it is an undeniable teaching that we are supposed to demonstrate the power of the God in our lives & proclamation of the gospel. We are all supposed to desire spiritual gifts, one of which is healing.

    It also appears that while we should all pray for healing, some have greater authority in this area. The story of Dorcas in Acts 9 demonstrated a pattern of Christians calling for the apostle to get their healing. Whether the other Christians had already prayed for her is not mentioned, but the “special” believer had greater power. This is also interesting because it is not directly associated with an evangelistic event. And James instructs anyone that is sick to call for the Elders & get healed. This passage also links sickness with sin & healing with forgiveness, and encourages us ordinary people to pray & believe.

  4. What do we do with all these sick Christians?

    We must always get our beliefs from the Word first, and not from what we see around us. We live in a society that is characterised by unbelief, and we are struggling to throw off that cultural mindset in order to reach the fullness of what God has for us. The pervasive trust in riches is also a deceitful snare that blinds & hinders us. I suspect that this is why we hear about miracles in 3rd world nations & don’t see them here.And we have to realise that we will never fully attain Christlikeness until we see Him face to face.
    As well as that, there is an aspect of the sovereignty of God that can never be calculated & explained. Some people appear to meet all the criteria & not get healed, and some get healed almost by accident.

    But the important thing is whether you should be praying for the sick. On this I have no doubt. I do not doubt that you are called to (at the least) be an elder in the body, and therefore part of that group with special authority to heal the sick. I also know that you need to add unpredictable Holy Spirit fireworks to your solidly reasoned scripture. “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Cor 3:6. There is a danger that we can reason ourselves out of faith & out of usefulness by wanting everything packaged nicely with logic & formula, but following Christ is a walk of faith out into the unknown & unreasonable. You and Sara have an ability to tap into the Spirit when you sing together – especially when Sara sings I can see the power to refresh & heal. You need to draw from that & find a way to connect that same dynamic to the Word. We like to minister from our strengths but in order to be anointed we need to have an element where we are out of our depth and totally dependent on God – and praying for the sick adds that. It keeps us humble and dependant because we cannot impress anyone without His help.

    More & more I am also convinced that we are like the Laodicean church. We think we are rich & successful, but we are blind, poor & naked. We are the amateurs when it comes to the things of God, and we need to put aside our fear that it might not work, & set ourselves on a lifelong journey to discover a life truly lived in the Spirit.

    I hope this is helpful – let it light a fire that never dies!