Dreams, prophesy and visions?

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy,  your young men will see visions,  your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’ (Acts 2v14-18)

I love this picture, especially its colour and vibrancy. The tree with its autumnal leaves is beautifully contrasted against the azure blue sky. In short: all is well within this picture. Moreover,  it fufils and defies our expectation.

In a similar way, Peter brings colour, vibrancy and contrast as he explains to the visiting Jews what it is they have just experienced: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy,  your young men will see visions,  your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’

Or in other words:

‘Listen guys, you want answers and the only thing I can tell you is that God is making good on His promise. As we speak, His Holy Spirit is falling on people, enabling them to  prophesise, have visions and dream about a different future with God in which He reigns.’ (circa Bob)

However dull or muted or lifeless we might feel in our Christian life, the truth is that God is in the process of bringing change to the weary and downtrodden. Change fuelled by a desire that we too – like the first Christians – might know Him deeply and respond to the gifts he generously gives us. The only catch being that we must be open to God, willing to accept whatever we are given and proactive in putting them to use as we build God’s Kingdom in the world.

 

 


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Grace to all?

“Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2v7-12)As a writer, I love the subtle nuances found in this passage. Luke – who is the author of Acts – frames the dilemma of the visiting Jews who hear their native language coming out of the mouths of Jesus’ disciples. Now, while I don’t want to focus on the semantics of the piece,  there can be no doubt that the visitors curiosity is picqued by the ‘how’ of the situation they find themselves in

“Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? (v7)

Later, as Peter explains what happened to Jesus and how all of humanity are responsible for this rejection, he delivers his coup de gras:

‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ (v37)

Challenged by the fact they also are culpable, the visiting Jews respond in the only way possible:

 ‘Brothers- what shall we do?’ (v38)

 Peter’s answer doesn’t seek justice, restitution or payment.

 ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And 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.’ (v39)

So, in summary: God is in the business of meeting with people. He does this by drawing alongside (through his people) and getting their attention.  A model, the church has found to work and been using ever since.

 

 


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Speaking the language of love?

‘Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?’ (Acts 2v5-7)

I don’t know about you but I sense the crowd’s bewilderment at what was happening. It’s one thing for everyone to be speaking the same language in your own province  but to do it in a foreign country with a group of seemingly uneducated men speaking to you about the wonders and glory of God? Well, that’s another thing….

For the crowd, their amazement at being spoken to in their own language seems to have been quickly surpassed by incredulity as they realise the men are from Galilee – a place held with little regard by most from outside it and yet God’s Holy Spirit enters these ‘lowly’ people and instructs them to  announce the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.

However, God isn’t finished yet. Peter – a fisherman and disciple of Christ – steps forward with the other eleven and explains God’s plan of salvation to the visiting Jews. Finally, Peter finishes by explaining the need for the crowd to repent and be baptised and 3,000 visitors are saved as moist eyes give way to tears of repentance and the tag team of Holy Spirit and  humanity rolls on…


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Tongues of fire?

‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’ (Acts 2v1-4)Growing up in England in the mid-seventies, there wasn’t much television for a child on a Saturday with sports shows dominating both channels. While most of what was broadcast held little interest for me, there was something intriguing about the wresting bouts. In  particular, the tag-team matches in which one weary wrestler  –  usually the one who had taken a right pasting at the hands of the opposition – would tag out and give way to the stronger wrestler to take over and save the day.  (Maybe you see where I’m going with this?)

The crucified and resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples and instructs them to wait and pray for the promised Counsellor to come upon them- the Holy Spirit. Obediently, the disciples – buoyed by seeing Jesus in his resurrected state – wait and pray in anticipation, unsure of who they were praying for and what would happen. They didn’t have to wait too long because…

…on Pentecost Day – suddenly, unexpectedly, a wild wind fills the house where the fearful disciples had been praying. Everything breaks lose as the promised tag-team player arrives – God’s Holy Spirit falls on the disciples and they spill out from the house onto the streets, telling every person they meet about the good news of Christ crucified and resurrected. What’s more, they miraculously speak in languages they never knew they had and end up converting thousands of Jews (visiting from abroad) who will later return home, taking this message of salvation with them. A first wave of new converts who now carry the same Holy Spirit as the disciples. There can be no doubt. The Tag-team partner has arrived, ready to equip Christians to effect the work of Christ in the world!

 


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Raving mad or Saviour of the world?

‘”No one takes (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” The Jews who heard these words were again divided.  Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”

But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”’ (John 10v18-21)

Most people would agree that death is the inevitable consequence of having life in the first place – rather like the comic observation about how there are only two sure things in life – death and taxes. The moment that anything is born, it’s one second closer to it’s demise – such is the nature of life and death by old age, illness, accident, malevolence or whatever. We all die. So imagine the surprise of Jesus’ listeners when he  claims:

‘No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.’

If someone said the same thing to us, we would think it improbable – not just the idea that you can sidestep illness, ageing and injury but rather, you have control over death itself in such a way that the grave can never hold you down. No wonder, those who heard Jesus’ pronouncement responded the way they did. After all, only the mad or demon-possessed would suggest such a thing.

For christians, Jesus is the only one who can make such a claim because he exists both inside and outside of time. Jesus was present at the beginning of Creation as Logos, speaking and directing God’s words in unison with the Divine Father  as the Holy Spirit brooded over the waters and the Trinity went into action – see Genesis 1  and 1 John 1. However, unlike those that were quick to dismiss Jesus, there were others – more rational and open in their thinking – who  on the evidence of the miracles they had experienced were ready to defend Jesus. Moreover, people who could see beyond the immediate to the potential of a different future where death would no longer have the last word.

But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”’

 

 


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The first of many?

‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.’ (John 10v14-17)

Another photo from the Tower of London in 2014 with the  start of the World War One commemorations  that will end later this year (Nov 2018). Each of the 800,000+ poppies placed in the moat area representing someone killed during the conflict.

As outlined in the previous post, the Christian hope is that Christ’s grace and generosity extends to all. He who was crucified and rose from the grave, also holds the keys by which all may be  freed from the shackles of death, decay and darkness. Jesus understood the nature of death. He also knew it was not an end in itself. We see this in his explanation as to why he must lay down his life and become the firstborn from the grave but also in his understanding of God’s love for him:

The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.’

Unfortunately, human understanding and fear renders many people hopeless when thinking about life after death. In short, they’d like to believe it but the sheer enormity of death twinned with the finality of the grave, makes it hard for many to see beyond that which is in front of them. Fortunately, the same cannot be said of Jesus whose faith is that God will act and make good on that which He has promised. Moreover, the fact that Jesus Christ has gone in advance to prepare a way  (in death) shows that the realities of Christian understanding converge sharply with rational thinking.

When Jesus returned from the mountain, the morning after the transfiguration, he was assailed by a man whose son who had suffered many seizures. Unable to heal the boy, the disciples handed the problem over to Jesus who challenged the boy’s father over a comment he made which revealed the limitations of his understanding. His response to Jesus is more of a prayer actually in his words: “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

None of us are immune to times of doubting or disbelief but the man’s prayer to Jesus of ‘I do believe; help my unbelief!”is not a bad one to have in our arsenal! 


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Abandoned to death or saved by Christ?

 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10v11-13)

I took this photo four years ago. It was at the start of the 100 year commoration of the First World War and a ceramic red poppy was placed in the moat area around the Tower of London to represent each life lost during that conflict. A truly poignant pictorial representation of all the lives lost.

On the day I attended, the approximate count of poppies placed was somewhere in the region of  800,000 with more to be added. Can you imagine it? Eight hundred thousand people dead? Each one with parents, siblings, spouse and friends, all left to grieve their  violent passing. A terrible tragedy affecting millions upon millions of people. (Even worse, the war to end all wars did not do as predicted with 45 wars more wars since that time).

So what has all of this to do with Jesus as the good shepherd?

Well, the Christian belief is that Jesus has won a battle that makes people free from the shackles of death, decay and darkness.  Long before young men and women were cut down in the prime of life, Jesus came to earth to die and be resurrected, determined that the wolf should not have the final victory over humanity. Hence, Jesus’ response to the dying thief on the cross who petitions him to show favour  after he dies. Jesus’ reply answers the ageless question of what exists after death:

“Truly I tell you: today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23v47)


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Life to the full?

‘Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”‘ (John 10v7-10)

I love the imagery being used here by Jesus  –  ‘I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.’

In the 1st Century, Jesus’ listeners would have been all too aware of the dangers facing sheep. Corralled into their pen for the night, the sheep would be dependant on the shepherd to sit in the gateway and ensure no animal or person came in to steal them. Hence, Jesus words: ‘whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.’

But what of his statement that ‘All who have come before me are thieves and robbers?’  Well, by occupation, Jesus was a carpenter not a shepherd so he is describing the spiritual role he is about to fulfil as carer for those who will place their faith in him. People who believe that in death they will pass through a cross-shaped gate to be with him for eternity. Which begs the question: what is it that the people are being saved from?

Jesus says:All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them…(and) the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (but) I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

In short, thieves and robbers bring nothing to the table. They exist to steal and destroy and do this by distracting people away from Jesus who provides the opportunity for eternal life to all. At the time, Jesus was often speaking against religious leaders who opposed his message though today it could just as likely be an institutional practice or system that reduces humanity to anything less than their full spiritual potential  Today, praise God that the full potential of God lives within you as you trust Jesus for the route ahead.


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Enough trouble for today?

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6v34)

Is it just me or does Jesus’s advice seem completely sensible yet hard to put into practice? Yes, we all know that stress is a killer. It’s rather like those moments in Western movies where the travellers are circled by hungry vultures  who are ready to drop on the next person who succumbs to death and falls from their horse. But is Jesus asking  the impossible in instructing us to not worry about the problems of life?

Clearly, the enormity of things we will encounter in our lifetime does seem quite  daunting. Indeed, if all these calamaties came on us at once, the burden would be too great to undertake. And yet, human experience tells us that most big problems do not arrive in one overwhelming strike – but rather in a drip feed of one issue after another over months and years.

In the passage, Jesus’ words sound  a clarion call across the ages. A warning for all people to keep perspective when problems come upon them. Not that each should shirk from their responsibility to respond to bad situations but rather not allow these concerns to alter the way they think about the world by seeing it as a place of curse rather than God’s blessing.

This week, thank God for His provision. For the wisdom, strength and discernment given to you though God’s Holy Spirit. And, having peace with God, resolve not to worry but steadfastly hold on and trust the Divine Creator for all that lies ahead.

 


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Seeking the Kingdom of God?

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6v31-33)I wonder how you understand the instruction to seek and make God’s Kingdom your priority? In the verses above, it seems that the encoragement to seek God’s will  is done in order that benefits might follow – food, drink, clothes, security – but is this a fair rendering of the scripture?

Our own human experience is that a fair day’s wage follows a fair day’s work. An employer – unless very trusting – would not pay for the work until it has been done. However, that is not what the scripture is suggesting. Instead, the verse tells us that when directing  heart, mind and spirit into seeking God’s Kingdom, an unexpected bi-product occurs in which human needs are met as spiritual outcomes are realised.

This seems nonsensical to us as humans because our need to control outcomes necessitates that we take control, initiate and meet our own needs. Moreover, place God’s demands second. But to do this is to superimpose a human model of sensibility onto God which can never work with a sovereign God who wills in ways as He chooses.

Today, if you are tired of trying to have your needs met using your own ingenuity and strength, why not consider handing these issues over to the Divine by seeking to address God’s needs first. There can be no promises other than that of scripture…

…your heavenly Father knows (what) you need . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 

 


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