Vital Signs of Life
Over the weekend I was speaking at the Beech Hill Church, Otley’s weekend away. There were four sessions based on the first ten chapters of Acts. It was interesting to explore some of the vital signs of life that feature in Luke’s dramatic narrative.
I have always been impressed by the way that Luke highlights the importance of prayer in both his Gospel and Acts. Prayer is a thread that runs like a lifeline throughout his two-part work. I sometimes used to joke that the church I pastored had received a truckload of blessing in return for a wheelbarrow full of prayer. I guess this reminds us that our prayers are vital to the purposes of God, but that prayer is not a magic password that automatically opens every closed door.
In Acts Chapter 1 Luke shows us the gathered church of 120 people, wrestling with the tough question of the defection of Judas and what they should do about it. Prayerful reflection on Scripture and hearts open to discern God’s mind leads the infant church to decide on the matter and move on.
I have always been struck by the way that Luke emphasises the importance of the church being on the same page as God and one another. All the internal threats experienced by the church in Acts are a variation on the theme of that oneness being disrupted. The climax of this desire to preserve gospel oneness is in Acts 15, where the church provides a masterclass in how to think through the implications of Scripture prayerfully before deciding how gentiles should be received into the church.
Preachers need to be attuned to the tremors that threaten to rock the oneness of the church and learn how to shape biblical proposals for dealing with them. Such a mature approach to being church makes the church stronger, wiser, and more compassionate.
The beating heart of the Acts of the Apostles can be seen in the statement made by Jesus in Acts 1:8 which sets the agenda for the whole book.
The challenge of the first few chapters is that there is evidence that the church was slow to move outward with the gospel beyond Jerusalem. The move to Samaria is prompted by the scattering of believers through persecution and the reaching out to the Ethiopian eunuch was a remarkable one-off experience.
Everything changes when Peter is prodded by a vision to move out of his comfort zone to reach out to a Roman centurion who has also been prepared for a gospel encounter by a vision. Now the floodgates are open for the first stage of global mission with the planting of a multi-cultural church in Antioch. I often tend to think that this is my favourite church of all time. The reason? There are open to God, one another, and a needy world. When Barnabas arrives there we are told that “He saw the evidence of the grace of God and was glad.” (Acts 11:23)
It was good to see evidence of the grace of God over the weekend. Preachers rejoice when they see that and are eager to see people keep on keeping on, seeing more grace touching more people.