A call for abstinence

A call for abstinence

Act 21:25 “As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.”

James and the elders do not want to put burdens on the new Gentile believers.  They had written to the churches saying what they should abstain from 4 things and why. (See my blog on entitled sex, meat and black pudding from Acts 15:20). Now James reiterates this position.

Not all the teaching in the past was wrong. That’s the important point. Judaism had lots to offer the new believer especially in the way of discipleship and breaking with the idolatry found in many Gentiles lives.

Even in these early days of the early church advancement there was a need to embrace the old teachings.

How much further we have advanced in today’s modern Christendom?

But the things that our forefathers held to we no longer give a second thought to.

We have become all-embracing and in the promotion of grace we have ripped up any laws that have been passed down. In the main we are better for it.

However, we have forgotten the importance and the necessity for having the law in the first place. Without the law there is no sin. If there is no sin there is no need of grace. So what we think is grace may not be grace after all. It may be a grace-fake. I wonder if we need to be reintroduced to the laws of abstinence again?

I grew up in a Christianity where abstinence was not primarily for my sake i.e. I did not smoke because of health reasons, but for the sake of my walk with God, my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit etc. Abstinence revealed my love and devotion to God. But there isn’t a lot of abstinence in my life now and if there is, then not much of it is because I think God is pleased with me not doing or having something. Incidentally I still don’t smoke!

The Church has in many areas lost its abstinence because it is not pc in our society to be so ‘fundamental’. Other world religions sometimes have more abstinence than Christianity. But for us we are so afraid to reveal a God of rules, that there is now no danger of any do’s and do nots. The message is come as you are and stay as you are.

Maybe abstinence doesn’t prove anything of your discipleship and love for God. Maybe. But maybe it should.

Yesterday afternoon I spent a short but wonderful time with some missionaries who have returned home from the field for what will be at least a few years before they go again. In our conversation they talked about their desire not to get caught up with the agenda of desires that other Christians seem to have. They want to remain minimalistic and sacrificial. The irony is that in their church friendship circle they have believers thanking God that He has given them everything they could possible wish for and at the same time these missionaries are thanking God that their abstinence from these things has brought them closer to Him.

I do think James was right and that some abstinence is helpful for our walk with God. I think I need to have more things in my life that I don’t do because of my respect and fear for God. What about you?

 

For demonstration purposes only.

For demonstration purposes only.
Acts 21: 24 “Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.”

The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem had been told that Paul was telling the Gentile converts to abandon Moses and the law. That was not true. Here he is now in Jerusalem with James and the elders and they have a plan to try and bring order out of what could turn into mayhem. Paul should demonstrate his desire to support the Jewish practices. He should join in some ceremonial washing and pay the expenses of 4 of the leaders who were going through the rites and shaving their heads. That is the plan.
Paul was to enter into certain rites for demonstration purposes only in order to diffuse a situation.
Paul wasn’t going to think these rites would make him clean before God or nearer to Him. He was doing these things not for God but for man.
How much do you desire unity?
What could you do that you wouldn’t normally do simply to show your love for people?
What could you stop doing to show people you were for them not against them?
Sometimes words are just not needed. Actions sometimes do speak louder.
Demonstrate today. Do something uncomfortable for you but as an act of love for others. Demonstrate your love.

Do what you are told

Do what you are told
Acts 21:23 “do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow.”
James and the elders had made a decision and now they needed Paul to do what they told him.
There are days to invite people to do something.
There are days to ask people but then there are days to just tell them to do it.
I am sure our prayers each day have been along the lines of “I will do what you tell me.”
In our desire to be like Christ we know he was sent by the Father.
He was an obedient Son.
In the wilderness he had to choose obedience and again in the garden of Gethsemane. The writer of Hebrews says he offered up prayers and that he learned obedience.
For us to be in the image of Christ, we need to know we are not first but second. We are not leading everything but following. We are not in charge but conforming ourselves to Him and not to our rights. We live in a society which looks so nice in that everyone is free to be whoever they want to be. But this is not true as a Christian. We have to be told. We have to do what we are told. There are times when to obey Christ is that we obey our leaders, we do what we are told because we know they have wisdom in a situation that we do not have.
Paul, the great apostle is being asked to obey. It takes a great man to do so.

Make a decision

Make a decision.
Acts 21:22 “What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come”

James and the elders do not want to bring any disruption to the success of the gospel in Jerusalem due to Paul being dragged into a dispute over what he is being wrongfully charged with. At the same time they are in support of what Paul has achieved with the gospel to the Gentiles.
What shall we do?

Maybe that is the question you are speaking today. 

Perhaps there is uncertainty over many things leading you to wonder what you are going to do. However, James and the elders were certain about something and that would be where they get their course of action from. They did not rest on their uncertainty but on what was ‘certain’.

The Jews will hear Paul is here, they will come as a multitude to confront and cause division, it will escalate out of all proportion, that is what is going to happen. 

What are you certain of today? It may be leading you to say, “I do not know what to do” however, the answer is found within the certainty. Don’t ignore it, don’t bury your head. You can make a decision to try and avert that what is certain. There are choices that you can make and they are found in what is certain no matter how difficult and uncomfortable it is. This is what James and the elders would discover. They would find a plan in the place of what they believed to be certain.

That what is certain will try to cause you to freeze and be unable to act or think what to do. Many are trapped in debt, brokenness, illness and failure today because they did not know what to do with what was certain. They had hoped that what was certain would go away. It never does. Their failure was in not making a decision to do anything to stop the certainty from happening.

Bible Wikileaks

Bible Wikileaks
Acts 21:21 “They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.”

So who informed them?
Whoever it was they had twisted the truth.

Paul was not teaching the Gentiles to turn away from Moses. However, he wasn’t telling the Gentiles who got saved that they should then follow the Jewish customs and laws. So the informant had taken what was actually true and made it into something quite different.
So who informed them?

Whoever it was could have been confronted by James and the elders of the Church, but were not. Were they themselves fooled by the informant? Or were they intimidated? Informants need to be disciplined if they have spoken falsely. 
So who informed them?

Whoever it was doesn’t seem to have a name because the information was more important than where it came from.

Sometimes the information can be so sensational that accuracy is not that important either, just ask those who read the many tabloids!
So who informed them?

I don’t know but informants can often be informed on! Gossipers can be gossiped about! Siggi Thorsdarson worshipped the ground Julian Assange walked on and was fast tracked through the Wikileaks organisation. He decided to hack into the Icelandic government and in order to authenticate his position with the hackers there he sent a secret film of him and Assange. But actually the leader of that hacking group had become informants for the FBI themselves. Siggi was sacked from Wikileaks on another matter and for revenge he entered into some sort of deal with the FBI and gave crucial information to them but for a very small $5000.

Informants don’t make great confidantes or friends. It is so today and it was then in the early Church.

Others are right also, aren’t they?

Others are right also, aren’t they?

Acts 21:20 “When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.”
Paul gave a report and then James and the elders gave theirs. Both reports were about salvations. Both were very different. Gentiles being saved and relying totally on the grace of God. Jews being saved and holding passionately to the Jewish laws and customs that kept them close to God.
James and the elders rejoiced. Paul and his team rejoiced. Surely there was no problem was there?

Experiences of the salvation of God may be different but they don’t cause problems between one another, do they?

I mean a person’s experience of God may be beautifully personal and powerfully impacting but that person knows they don’t have a monopoly on all the possible experiences of God, don’t they?

Jewish salvation, Gentile salvation, Evangelicals to Orthodox to Pentecostals and everyone in between, no one holds the definitive truthful experience, do they? 

No one will turn their head away at the other with a roll of their eyes to say that the others experience is a lesser one to their perfect one, will they?

Surely not …

Look what God has done!

Look what God has done!
Acts 21:19 “Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.”

If we are always moving forward then we are never able to look back. If we never look back we are never able to give thanks for what God has done. A vision of the past is so important, for if we don’t have one, then we can be as guilty as the other 9 lepers in Jesus’ parable.
Paul had much to look back on how God had brought salvation to Gentiles and how the Spirit had fallen on them just as at Pentecost.
What can you give thanks for?

I give God thanks for:

the conception of a church in Boston USA;

the leadership growth in Honduras;

successful team visits in Guyana;

great conferences held in Brazil;

the ideas regarding missions coming from Chile;

the 2 churches in Argentina planted by Chile.

John and Rachel taking the gospel in the forests of Paraguay;

Oscar and Rachel commencing a church with children and young people in Guatemala;

the only Pentecostal denomination in Estonia coming into Elim;

the new church plants in the south of France;

the amazing fast-growing church in Cologne, Germany;

the development of youth leadership in Romania;

the new churches in Spain;

the 10,400 members of the expanding Elim Italy;

the new churches in Macedonia;

the 93 churches in Burkina Faso and the many visions of Christ that Muslims have been having before converting;

the new Fulani church plants in northern Ghana, Cameroon, Niger, Senegal and Togo, all in Islamic strongholds.

the uniting of the 2 denominations that had split in Kenya and also in Zambia.

Janine and her team in Kenya who in a single week had 91, 921 children in their Sunday school;

the new vision and strategy developing in Malawi;

the conversions of Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria;

James and Joanna leading young people to Christ in Rwanda;

the church in Kenya sending missionaries to plant churches in Somalia and Sudan;

Daniel and Hani taking the gospel in order to plant churches in northern Ethiopia amongst the Eritrean refugees;

the love of the Tanzanians and that John and Debbie are piloting a new concept of church planting;

all 5 Ugandan denominations but especially Moses who I ministered with and how we saw the supernatural move of God changing the weather before our eyes and those of the witchdoctors;

the courage of the rape survivors and ex-child soldiers of the DRC;

Pastor Cafuliza of Mozambique who singlehandedly went and planted a new church in a new area even though he overseas 4,500 people;

for the conversions amongst the poorest people and the new churches planted in Swaziland, South Africa and Cote D’Ivoire;

for £5,000 that a small church in the UK gave for a new church land in Burundi;

for the fresh honour and memory of missionaries massacred in Zimbabwe;

for the courageous passion in the Christians in Myanmar;

for the rehabilitation of the trafficked woman of Cambodia and further church plants;

for the faithfulness of the church in Hong Kong and the fearlessness of the church in Lebanon;

for Chris and Carmelitta who did what others just talk about and went to China;

the amazing passion, courage, signs and wonders, healings, miracles and resurrections found in the churches of all the 12 denominations of India;

James and Andrea deciding to move to Sri Lanka to work with the 2 denominations in taking the gospel to those who have never heard;

the desire of Sheryl and Novi to travel each month in Indonesia to a smaller island to oversea 2 new churches;

the 200 new church plants in Nepal;

the suffering church of Pakistan who know what it is to be brave;

the work amongst the poorest of the poor in the Philippines from the 2 denominations we have with a renewed desire to go on mission to the hundreds of inhabited islands in their nation;

the Church in Japan which has less than 1% Christian in the nation;

the friendship and missionary zeal of New Zealand who have planted 4 churches in Samoa and keep reaching other nations too.

the 15 new UK missionaries who joined the existing 69 all around the world; 

the 1,000 people engaged in prayer and giving at least £1 per week who receive these and many more stories every 2 months of what God is doing; 

That’s my world at the moment and that’s what I report on and what I thank God for.

All over the world the Spirit is moving.

There is more coming too!

Paul would say the same. This is what God has done but He is going to do so much more!

What about you? Just look back and thank God for what He has done. Don’t just focus on the future. Pause and thank Him.

How can I be in a room full of Giants? 

How can I be in a room full of Giants?Acts 21:18 “The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.”
Paul, Luke and the rest of the team all go to see the brother of Jesus, James. He was most probably the leader of the church in Jerusalem as all the other apostles had gone to different parts of the world. 
They take with them the offering they had gathered for the poor in Jerusalem and they also take with them their stories.

I wonder if ever we will see a film from the archives of heaven? This would be one of those amazing scenes. The apostle Paul, apostle James, Luke the writer and the elders of the church altogether in one room. Such powerful men, but men.

In my early years of ministry I was given some advice which kind of said I should try and walk with Giants. So I tried to mix with the leaders I thought were Giants. The only problem was I was so small the Giants didn’t want to speak to me. I wrote a letter to one Giant leader and he never replied. I went into a room of Giants and I stumbled over my words and at worst didn’t know what to say. Twelve years ago I received a prophecy that I would be a leader of leaders. Four years ago I became the Elim International Missions Director. I am working with the International leaders of over 4,000 churches around the world in 53 nations. Recently I was having dinner with an International Giant of all Giants, that’s all I can say about him. I handled my anxiety quite well but I was boosted with peace when this great man of God told me he was nervous going into a nation that I had been in a few times. He was asking me for advice! Suddenly his gigantism seemed small! Here I was trying to bring some comfort to this great man of God! 

When I began this job I had to report to the UK Elim national leaders every 2 months and I still do. That first year I remember walking down the corridor to that meeting sweating with nervous desire that my plans and hopes would be accepted by the Giants. Four years on I still pray before I enter the room but I never sweat. Why? The Giants have become men in my eyes, very nice men though (I thought I would put those last few words in case any decide to read my blog!). So what have I learnt about having dinner and being in rooms with Giants? 

How to walk with Giants?

1. See their humanity. Apostle Paul had murdered Christians and even Jesus’ own brother, James, had a time when he refused to believe Jesus was who he is. Giants have their own skeletons and present sins. 

2. Giants have weaknesses where you are strong. Be comfortable in who you are. Be you and how God has made you. Don’t change for man. Never change for man.

3. Become a Giant, decide to let God grow you.

4. Never become so big the small can never walk with you. Always take others with you. 

5. Always look up and realise there is no one like God. Even Giants have to bow the knee.

Free Hugs

Free Hugs
Acts 21:17 “When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly.”

Travelling a lot means I am forever being welcomed. Thankfully I have never had a bad welcome. My most outlandish reception was that of a brass band who could not be faltered for their noise! Amongst the many garlands of flowers and head dresses, scarves, plaques and other trinkets, the stand-out gift has to be a knitted tie I received from an African church which has the words “We love Rev Paul Hudson” down the front. I have never found the right occasion to wear that tie! 
Today is a Sunday and people will arrive at Church and be met by the usher or the welcome team or the doormen or the bouncers, (whichever part of the world and the Church you are from!)

I think those people who stand at the church door have the biggest job in the church. Get this job wrong or give it to the wrong person and you may find no one comes to church. The welcome is crucial. Not a sloppy welcome neither an austere one, it has to be just right.

Do you live your life embracing warmly those who come near you?

What about the ungodly? Or even the strangers to you? Are you warm towards them?

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Matthew 5:46-48 

The Message translates today’s verse, “In Jerusalem, our friends, glad to see us, received us with open arms.”

That is our position. Open arms. 

We worship Jesus who opened his arms and was crucified for our sins. We worship with hands open and arms wide. And in the same way when whoever approaches us, our friends, strangers and even our enemies then let us open our arms and receive warmly. It is the position of God.

Several years ago there was a new craze called ‘Free hugs’ and I remember showing a film clip of some people on the streets of the USA giving hugs to complete strangers if they wanted one. The idea was that it was a way of expressing the love of God to them. It appeared to be very successful. We tried this on the streets of my town for awhile but it fizzled out fairly quickly. Maybe our town were not ready for such liberation!

Today is a Sunday. It is a good day to hug someone. But tomorrow is Monday and perhaps people need a hug more then than today!

Above all just warm up a bit. Nothing is achieved by being cold and stand-offish.

Pauls team with all their fears about coming to Jerusalem still prevalent would have been given a whole lot of peace by being received as they were. 

It’s amazing how disarming and empowering a warm welcome can bring. Go on be a great receptionist today, who knows you may even entertain Angels! 

The Church needs those with more of a past than a future.

The Church needs those with more of a past than a future. 
Acts 21:16 “Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.”

Okay so I confess (not good for the reputation!), though I have read the Bible through many times if someone had asked me ‘who is Mnason?’ I would have been thinking of some Old Testament obscure guy. 
Yet Mnason is a really important man.

Not only did he open up his home for the whole team when they arrived in Jerusalem. But he was one of the early disciples.

Luke includes this detail perhaps because he was indebted to some of the early historical events that either a) gave him the information needed regarding the first 5 years of the Jerusalem church because Mnason had become a believer under the preaching of the apostles, perhaps even Peter’s famous Pentecost sermon or b) Mnason was one of the 120 disciples that were following Jesus pre-Pentecost (see Acts 1:15). It is definitely one of these two and I actually favour the latter. 

What did Mnason have that Luke didn’t?

1. Stories of Jesus, first-hand perhaps, his stories. He was there.

2. The experience of devastation as the fledgling Church recovered from the betrayal and loss of Jesus.

3. The revival amongst the believers and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

4. The hard days of persecution and suffering as the Jerusalem church was scattered.

5. The stories of the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles.

I recently came back from Myanmar and our church there are predominantly all aged under 30yrs. It makes for an exciting and vibrant church. Many of them became Christians as children and remained following Christ into the young adulthood. When they speak of the early years they may talk about the time when they were 11 years of age and the Church had been going only 1 year but they became a follower of Christ.
There are churches in the UK that pride themselves on their youthfulness and they are amazing places.

I am not writing to promote young people or old people. I know some old people can be grumpy, stubborn and a real pain to the life of a Pastor/leader. But so can some young people!

But the Church needs people with experience.

The Church needs people like Mnason:

1. They have walked with Jesus for years.

2. They have walked through failure.

3. They have been in the revivals.

4. They have suffered.

5. They have missionary hearts and experience.

No matter what their age, if you have some people in the Church who have any of the above 5 then embrace them, don’t side-line them, love on them, encourage them. Do all that you can to make sure they stay and have a place in the Church. 
The Church needs the early disciples. 

We need to look after those who have gone before us.

If Luke hadn’t met Mnason then maybe he would not have written with such amazing detail. 

The growth of the Church is not only dependent on the future challenges it faces, but it is dependent on how it faces those challenges from its experiences of the past.

We need the Mnasons.