Thursday, 16 August 2018

THE REAL FIGHT


 Fights can destroy a marriage. Fights can destroy a family. Fights can destroy a church. But not fighting can also destroy a marriage, a family, or a church. Thus, there are many things we shouldn’t fight about, but there are many things we should fight for!
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
First Timothy 6:12
The_difference_in_fighting_2
An essential part of my preparation of a couple for marriage is teaching them the difference between fighting and arguing. When I tell a couple that I want to teach them how to argue, they often laugh! But when I describe the difference between fighting and arguing they realise that it’s no laughing matter. The kind of fighting that many couples engage in has a very harmful objective – to hurt. I hate this kind of fighting. It hurts people, weakens marriages, and damages children. When a couple has been harmed by fighting, it’s time for them to fight for their marriage. This takes love, care, listening, repentance, reparation, and as I wrote in last week’s pastoral blog, forbearance. This highlights the difference between fighting about and fighting for. I wish more people fought for the right things
¶ For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Colossians 1:3
The_Fight_FeaturedOver the past few weeks as I’ve spent time with various people, I’ve had several of them describe their struggles as a spiritual battle. Many of these folk have discerned that what they are dealing with is not a ‘flesh and blood’ fight but a demonic attack  (Eph. 6:12). They are often right. How we should fight under these circumstances is not as obvious as many have been led to believe though. Years ago I read a book by John Dawson who argued that the means in which Scripture taught believers to engage in spiritual warfare was not by focussing on demonic forces – not even talking to them – but by refocussing on Christ in worship and worshipful service of others. In summary, the kind of service of others which Dawson prescribed was an opposite spirit to how we sense the enemy might be attacking us. In an almost counter-intuitive reasoning, Dawson called for people to fight by giving away the very thing they wanted most! If the Enemy is discouraging you, fight by beginning to encourage others! If the Enemy is luring you into pride, fight by humbling yourself and promoting others!  
Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
He is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and He in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me
Psalm 144:1-2
How should you be fighting? How should we as a church be fighting? Certainly not with each other about things that don’t really matter! We should, like the Apostle Paul, learn to fight in prayer for each other, our community, and those who have not yet opened their hearts to Christ’s offer of love and forgiveness. 
The Apostle Paul urged his colleague Timothy to fight the good fight. The prize of this fight, Paul wrote, was to lay hold of eternal life. This informs us that the Christian life is a call to fight. We have to fight spiritual laziness with spiritual iscipline. We have to fight unfruitfulness with the cultivation of spiritual fruit mentioned in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). We don’t often think of ‘joy’ or ‘peace’ as something we have to fight for, but for those who have battled stress and anxiety while longing for joy and peace, the battle is real.
Where_the_fight_happens_3
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
Second Corinthians 10:3-6
The toughest fight you’ll ever have will never be with another person. According to Second Corinthians 10:5, our greatest fight will take place in our minds. While our Enemy will mercilessly try to drag us into despair, depression, and darkness, our fight will always be to intentionally control our thoughts by focussing on whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praise-worthy. 
¶ Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8
Our greatest fight is not with demons or devils. Rather, it is internal. We must fight to bear the kind of fruit the Holy Spirit produces with our cooperation – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-controlBut by developing the fruit of self-control we can commit our minds to not think about those things which darken our minds and choose to dwell on those things which fill our minds with wonder and praise for God.  
May God help us to fight for the right things in the right way – prayer, service, and acts of God’s love. 
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.Second Timothy 4:7
Keep up the good fight! 

Pastor Andrew

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Forbearance

FORBEARANCE

Forbearance has nothing to do with with your forebears (although, come to think of it, it might). Forbearance has to do with patiently bearing disappointment with others. It is most commonly called for when we have occasion to be disappointed with someone because of their inconsideration and even rudeness. The New Testament describes it as a trait of the highest order which reports to the “love one another” passages of the New Covenant. It is thus a trait that only those truly serious about following Christ ever come close to attaining. The good news is for these few ardent disciples of the Christ, of which I hope we all aspire to be, it is one of the essential means for which we qualify for the fuller potential of our heavenly reward (1Tim. 4:8). To my shame though, it is sadly one of those difficult disciplines of which I too often neglect and fail to attend to its practice. As I read Scripture I can see that I wasn’t the only one either. The Apostle Paul begged the immature Corinthian believers to show him forbearance at one of those times when it is urgently called for: when we are being corrected.
¶ I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!
Second Corinthians 11:1
You might point out to me though, that I have just provided an example of an appeal to ‘bear’ rather than to ‘forbear’. The reason for this is painful. Before any of us can begin to forbear, we must first develop the reflex of being able to bear with others (if you a part of a larger family, you have probable got a head-start on the rest of us). 
¶ I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
Ephesians 4:1-2
I have found that most of us love love. We love receiving it. We love seeing it. We love hearing about it. But I think we are less interested in studying it with the aim of learning how to do it better(?). The God who saved us did so because of His unconditional love for us. We now worship Him in surrender and adoration in return. As we do, we are being transformed more and more into His likeness.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Second Corinthians 3:18
What does it mean for us to worship a God of unconditional love? It means transformation. It transforms not only our behaviour – especially toward others – it also transforms our motives for this behaviour. We don’t just act loving, we actually love! It involves us showing and feeling love toward those who injure us, slander us, despise us, because this is what God has done for us!
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8
Consider this kind of love – not just in response to offensive behaviour – but in response to rude, demeaning, ridiculing, vicious behaviour! Therefore, if you, like I, want to fulfil the Great Commandment to love (Matt. 22:38-39) we must learn to love like the Great Lover Himself which is why commitment to the community of Church is our highest priority.
But by now you’re probably saying, “Yes, but what has this got to do with forbearing and what actually is forbearing?”
Before we respond (please note these two key words), we need to see forbearance in this little story.
Jayne is meeting her older sister Suzette this afternoon. When Jayne converted to Christianity her sister Suzette ridiculed her more harshly than she had become accustomed to. The constant ridicule, mockery, and belittling, was eased somewhat for Jayne by the support from her mid-week Bible study group. Over the past few months they had been studying Romans 12:9-21 together where Jayne had begun to learn what genuine love and authentic tolerance looked like. This had prepared her for her coffee date with Suzette. She had settled in her heart that despite Suzette’s inevitable attacks and mockery that was sure to come that afternoon, she had resolved that she was not going to take offence or harbour resentment. That afternoon Jayne and Suzette met for coffee. It didn’t take long before Suzette launched into her tirade. But Jayne was able to overlook the swearing, lies, slander, and defaming allegations that Suzette hurled at her. In the midst of these attacks, Jayne found herself praying for Suzette that God might open her eyes too, and bless her regardless. Jayne showed forbearance. Later that day someone asked Jayne how her time with Suzette went, to which she replied, “I had a nice time with my sister. She’s a very beautiful person. Thank you for asking.” Her answer was also an act of forbearance. 
By now you might realise that forbearing involves two key words: ‘before’ and ‘respond’. Before we are offended, hurt, or insulted, our hearts are prepared to forgive/let it go/refuse to dwell on it/ and to determine to: respond with kindness/grace/mercy/and generosity. Try it. Decide now in your heart that with God’s help and grace you are going to forgive, let go, and not dwell on the next insult or offence you receive. Prepare now to respond with kindness, grace, mercy, and generosity, rather than slander, rehearsing hurts to others, or malicious gossip. If you can, you are forbearing.

Pastor Andrew

Thursday, 2 August 2018

WHICH IS BETTER, TO HAVE YOUR BURDENS BAREd OR BEARed?

WHICH IS BETTER, TO HAVE YOUR BURDENS BAREd OR BEARed?

We currently have an overseas student from a non-English speaking country staying with us for a few months. There are now constant reminders about just how weird English is – particularly all those words in English which sound the same but have completely different meanings. It might take you a minute to find that minute speck of dust on your camera lens which could lead you to discover that it was actually a dust mite and not a piece of lead. Did you detect how many homophones I just used in that sentence? Might and mite should be easy to detect because this was the only pair which were not spelled the same. I do sometimes wonder whether most English speakers know when to use lead and when to use led when they actually used lead? The reason I think that this is important is because God has ordained the written language (including agreed spelling and grammar) to preserve and deliver the eternity-changing message of the Gospel to those who need it most.  
bearing_one_another-s_burdens
This morning I read someone’s post on Facebook which called for people to “Bare one anothers burdens”. I struggled to overlook the missing apostrophe – but I struggled even more with the fact that they had conveyed a message exactly the opposite of what I’m sure they intended! 
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2
To ‘bare’ another’s burden is to expose it – which may actually make it worse! To bare another’s burden may result in humiliationembarrassment or even shame. ‘Bare’ is one of those curious English words which has several meanings depending on how it is used –
  • the cupboard was bare (there was nothing in the cupboard)
  • he showed his bare bottom (there was nothing on his bottom)
  • he laid bare his heart to her (he exposed how he really felt) 
Whereas its homophone, ‘bear’, can have rather grizzly connotations, or even determine which way you should turn – but when the apostle Paul used it in Galatians 6:2 (βαστάζετε from bastadzo) he meant it to mean lift, carry a load, take up. This would involve helping someone to avoid being humiliated, or embarrassed or even ashamed. 
babies+mother+africa

WHO SHOULD DO THIS BEARING OF BURDENS? 

¶ Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Galatians 6:1
Perhaps more important than homophones, is the actual point of what Paul wrote to the Galatians about burdens and whoshould carry them. He is addressing two groups of people – the spiritual and the transgressing. If we were in a Bible Study group at this point, I would ask, “And which of these two groups does Paul say were burdened?” If you answered “The transgressing” you would be right. Believers who yield to temptation can easily become snared into a lifestyle of sin which can leave them burdened by their wretched double life. Those who are spiritual can reach out in loving kindness to those who are burdened by their transgressions and help them. This can begin by simply showing care, which conveys an important message of non-judgemental acceptance. Listening, praying, encouraging are important ways to alleviate a burden caused by transgression. But if you were to continue reading what Paul wrote about burden bearing you might respond to my question – “The spiritual”, and you too would be right.
For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbour. For each will have to bear his own load.
Galatians 6:3-5
The kind of burdens that Paul is instructing the spiritual to bear on behalf of the transgressing, do not appear to be general life burdens, but rather, those burdens which have resulted from being in the grip of sin. The kind of burdens that he instructs the spiritual to always bear are their own life burdens (Gal. 6:5). Supporting and caring for our families can be a burden. But it is a burden we must each carry and take responsibility for. Maintaining our possessions and property can be a burden. But it is a burden we must each carry and take responsibility for. Being punctual can be a burden. But it is a burden we must each carry and take responsibility for. Getting our work done well and efficiently can be a burden (especially with a difficult boss). But it is a burden we must each carry and take responsibility for. 
Janette I-hate-using-apostrophes BoyleWhile some of us don’t care about apostrophes or the appropriate homophone, there are some select people, such as myself, who do. It is to such people to whom it appears the burden of correcting everyone else’s poor grammar is a burden we must carry and bear responsibility for. But I’m not sure though that this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind. Perhaps we’ll never no!   
  
Pastor Andrew.

Friday, 27 July 2018

THE GREATEST COMMAND AND SPARROWS

THE GREATEST COMMAND
AND SPARROWS

sparrow-01I thought it timely to remind you of two great truths. We need reminding of them because we so oftenreadily, and easily, forget them. Worse still, we tend to disorder them. I will commence by looking at the lesser of the two great truths which has to do with sparrows. I hazard a guess that you haven’t thought much about sparrows yet today – but my writing to you is not intended to shame you about this neglect. Rather, it is meant to prod you to be wonderful about why Christ would draw our attention to these incredible birds. 
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Luke 12:6-7
covean-cottage-sparrowsJesus said that in His day, two sparrows could be purchased for ‘a penny’ (Matt. 10:29). These seemingly common and very cheap birds were considered to be of very little worth – yet, He goes on to say, And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your (Heavenly) Father (knowing about it). This is how much God cares and sees. But, and it’s a significant but, “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:30). 
Whenever you feel insignificant, unnoticed, uncared for, consider what Christ has just taught us about our Heavenly Father: He knows you; He notices you; He cares for you; He knows what you need!
This is the second great truth I felt that I need to remind you of now. Ponder this truth well. Let it fill you with wonder so that you become wonderful about your Heavenly Father. This pondering may sound like, as many people have twisted it to be so, that this is about how great you must be. But it isn’t. It is about how great our Heavenly Father is. It is about how loving, caring, generous, and protective Heavenly Father is! 
¶ See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.
First John 3:1

THE GREATEST COMMAND 

When Jesus was challenged by the religious elites of His day, He was asked by a religious lawyer, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36
And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”
Matthew 22:37-38
The very thing we need – the very thing we want most; Christ said was the greatest commandment: love! Deprive a person of love and it will cripple them. Deny someone the opportunity to love and it will ruin them. Convince someone that love is determined by their feelings – or even more wicked still – convince them that they cannot choose or control these feelings, and it will seduce them into a trap so deep and so dark that the result can ever be the kind of confusion and disappointment that makes experiencing real love near impossible!
Loving God is so important that He has designed for us to experience facsimiles of it from the moment we are born. When our mothers embraced us to their breasts in those first few moments of touch when air had just rushed into our lungs, we were experiencing love. When they whispered to us in our first seconds of embrace what to everyone else was like mere sounds) we understood perfectly and knew we were loved. When our fathers picked us up and wrapped us in a blanket and cuddled us, we felt his protective strength and knew that we were loved. These experiences of love are designed by Father God to be a sample of, and to introduce us to, His love. It should be the most natural thing in the world then for us to love Him in return, except for the introduction of sin into the hearts of every member of the human race. This is why we need to learn how to love – and especially so when it comes to obeying the greatest command.

HOW WE LOVE WHEN COMMANDED

british-house-sparrowsLove makes the command to love our delight! Because I love my wife, if she commanded me to love her, I would be delighted to do so. When we have a heart to love God, His command to love Him is our delight! The loving relationships we enjoy, or at least observe, here on earth, are the training ground for loving God. I know how my wife would feel if I never spoke to her. Because I love her, I speak with her warmly and politely. To love God similarly involves sharing our hearts with Him in prayer. Because I love my wife, I make it my priority to come home for dinner each night. Because I love God, I make it my priority to be in His House when it’s dinner time to be seated at the family dining table to feast on His preached and taught Word and be reminded of the power of His body and blood as I participate in the Communion. This is what I feel to remind you of especially at this time in your life that the God who sees sparrows sees you and loves you and gives us our greatest command which as it turns out is our greatest need and delight anyway – to love Him.
We love because He first loved us.
First John 4:19

In love,
Pastor Andrew

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

WHAT IT TAKES FOR A LOCAL CHURCH TO BE A COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS

OUR COMMUNITY

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
Acts 2:44
The local church is called by Christ and His Word to be a community. A community of believers is where people are known, needs are shared, prayers are offered, victories are celebrated and losses are comforted. This takes time, trust, humility, and commitment, to develop. Many experts, such as Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock, are deeply concerned that the community within local churches has disintegrated so low that it is now in jeopardy! Their new book, The Way Back, makes a strong case that churches have lost their sense of community which has led to a loss of attraction to those in the world looking for soul healing. They state that when the average American church goer now only attends their local church less than 3 Sundays in every 8, the church’s ability to foster its community is rendered near impossible – and worse still, its collective witness is undermined. Rod Dreher makes a similar point in his book, The Benedict Option. But it’s not too late for us here to maintain and build our church’s sense of community. Here’s why.

A PLACE OF LOVE      

¶ Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
Acts 4:32
None of us go to church on Sunday because we are the church. The former is a consumer mentality, the latter is a Biblical mentality. Each Sunday our church comes together. To maintain and build our sense of community as a church requires work, sacrifice, and commitment. This is why parents have a duty to model to their children what being a member of a church community is all about. Children should see the times when their parents are sacrificing in order to come together as the church with their church community. We live in such an individualistic culture that is built around ‘my’ happiness and what ‘I’ want. But God’s design for people is for them to become a part of a church which is an ‘us’ culture where our focus is beyond ourselves rather than on ourselves. 
In the world love is thought of as what brings me pleasure, but in the Kingdom of God love is what brings others their highest good. The kind of community we are called by God to be and become is a community where we learn to love each other. 

SUNDAY IS FAMILY DAY!

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Galatians 6:10
Your church community is your family. Parents bring their children to church each Sunday to demonstrate to their children that their family is much bigger than just their nuclear family. Thus, when their children one day move out of home and possibly even relocate to another city, they will have a Biblical truth planted deep in their soul: that the local church is also my family wherever I am!
Because Sunday is family day as a church, we intentionally do those things which strengthen our community bonds. We worship together. We pray together. We give our attention to God’s Word together. We share conversation together. We share our burdens together. We listen to one another. We confess to one another.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
James 5:16

NOT JUST A SUNDAY COMMUNITY

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
Acts 2:46
Home Group BBQA church community is just maintained and built on our Sunday gatherings. We are an Acts 2 church. This doesn’t mean that we are trying to be either nostalgic (dwelling on the past) or romantic (idealising the past), rather, we observe that from the outset of the Church’s establishment by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost that there were principles upon which the Church was founded and then built upon. These are most obvious in Acts 2. It is here that we see the Church met in the Temple precinct and in homes. The larger attractional gathering plus the more intimate home meetings were the key environments for fostering the church’s community. This is why our small group meetings held in homes around our Valley are so pivotal to us developing our bonds of community. This too requires work, sacrifice, and commitment. The Home Group that I lead is comprised of busy (and often tired) people. We share together, occasionally cry together, laugh together, eat and drink together, pray together, confess to each other, and ponder God’s Word together.
How-To-Be-A-Covenant-Community-of-Believerspsd

I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
John 17:23
We are being very intentional about developing our church community. This is why each of our Home Groups have been undertaking a study of Romans 12:9-21. It’s why each of the Home Group leaders meet together every month for breakfast. It’s why we roster each of our Home Groups on a particular Sunday to work together to show hospitality to the broader church family. It’s why we need everyone on board with this mission to be a covenant community of believers. 
Pastor Andrew

Friday, 13 July 2018

ABOUT GENUINE MIRACLES

About-Genuine-Miracles
Miracles have become increasingly heard of in our culture. Our team is getting thrashed yet somehow in the final throes of the game they manage to win! The commentators describe their win as ‘a miracle‘. Twelve young soccer players and their young coach end up trapped in a Thai cave system due to the rising waters of monsoonal rains. A team of 90 rescuers were able to rescue them over three days before the cave completely filled with water. Every reporter I heard described the rescue as ‘a miracle‘. While these commentators and reporters may be correct, these are not the ‘miracles’ we are now dealing with. And while the ability of spiders to spin a web is also, according to Dr. Dorian, ‘a miracle’, neither is this what we are dealing with.  
Charlottes-web-terrific“Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider’s web?”
“Oh, no,” said Dr. Dorian. “I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.”
“What’s miraculous about a spider’s web?” said Mrs. Arable. “I don’t see why you say a web is a miracle-it’s just a web.”
“Ever try to spin one?” asked Dr. Dorian.”
― E.B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web

1-The_Conjurer-Encounters-Miracle

depiction-of-simon-sorcerer
¶ But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. Acts 8:10  They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”
Acts 8:9-10
Simon was a conjurer had learned how to manipulate people. People who saw him perform his conjuring referred to him as, “The Great One”, and some even referred to him as “God”. Then one day, two apostles arrived in his Samaritan village and began performing miracles as ‘sign’ and ‘wonders’ for the message they were bringing about a resurrected Saviour. Simon the Sorcerer, as it appears he called himself, was gobsmacked. He couldn’t see how these former fishermen were doing it. They must have paid a lot of money to have learned how to manipulate people like this, he may have thought. Perhaps he wondered whether he had to baptised to be initiated into this secret society of magicians? 
¶ Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
Acts 8:14-23
 The experienced conjurer and manipulator could not replicate the miraculous acts of the apostles. By his own preparedness to attempt to ‘buy’ the power of the Holy Spirit, he was admitting that what these apostles were doing was not the same as what he had done. 
It’s worth noting though, that the Samaritans who believed the Gospel he preached and had their faith confirmed by the signs he did (not the other way around).
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.  And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.  For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.  So there was much joy in that city.
Acts 8:5-8
 2-Egyptian-Magicians-gnatted
When Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh, they threatened to announce certain plagues upon Egypt if Pharaoh would not free the captive Israelite slaves. Eventually Egypt would suffer ten plagues due to their king’s stubborn heart. What made Pharaoh’s heart initially harden was the ability of Pharaoh’s magicians to seemingly replicate each of the first two plagues declared by Moses and Aaron. (I’ve always wondered why they didn’t use their alleged magic powers to purify the water which had been turned to blood or remove a few million of the frogs which were now plaguing Egypt?) But when it came to conjuring gnats in a similar way that Moses and Aaron had done by the power of God, they were unable to do so.
¶ Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast.
Exodus 8:16-18
This led them to declare to their King – 
Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
Exodus 8:19
Truth be told, these charlatans probably knew that it was the power of God behind the extraordinary deeds of Moses and Aaron from their very first miraculous plague! Even today there are those who have made it their mission to debunk the genuine power of God by using mentalism and trickery to imitate the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. For example, Derren Brown in his 2015 stage show, MIRACLES, now available on Netflix as a TV show, admits from the outset that – “I happily admit cheating, as it’s all part of the game.  I hope some of the fun for the viewer comes from not knowing what’s real and what isn’t.  I am an entertainer first and foremost.” [Source] With this in mind, most viewers are immediately disarmed by the opening claim: “No stooges or actors are used in this show.” Yeah right! 

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“A miracle is an event brought about by the power of God that is a temporary exception to the ordinary course of nature, for the purpose of showing that God has acted in history.”
Prof. Emeritus Richard L. Purtill, Western Washington University
Professor Craig Keener is a sceptic by training and upbringing. He states, “I began my own quite young philosophical explorations as an atheist, at which I denied the possibility of miracles” (p. 733). This former self-confessed atheist later found good reasons for believing that the claims of the Christian Gospel were true which led to his conversion to Christ. When writing a commentary on the Book of Acts he was dealing with the objections by liberal theologians that the accounts of miracles in the Book of Acts are legendary and mythological. He reasoned that if he could footnote the evidence for some modern miracles it would validate the possibility that the Biblical accounts of miracles were more likely to true rather than legendary. The result of this quest to find a couple of verifiable footnote miracles was astounding. He was able to document over two thousand miracles which could be verified by before and after medical reports, or personal testimonies, or direct eye-witnesses. These accounts were published in two volumes
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He writes, “Miracle claims, especially regarding healings, are by Western standards surprisingly common (though by no means universal) in regions of the world where such events are expected. These claims include, as in the Gospels and Acts, the healing of the blind, those unable to walk, and the raising of the dead, among many others” (Keener, 2011, Vol. 2, p.761). In his tome on the subject of miracles he analyses the argument used by atheists that miracles do not happen. It was the Scottish Philosopher David Hume who defined miracles as a violation of the laws of nature. Hume went on to say that miracles cannot happen because there is no such thing as a miracle. This is called ‘Circular Reasoning’ because it presumes the very thing it is trying to disprove – that miracles do not happen. Keener gives thousands of examples (literally) where the best explanation for what appears to be a miraculous occurrence is that it is a miracle.
The author of the recently released book, THE CASE FOR MIRACLES, Lee Strobel, says about miracles, “Some of what we casually classify as “miracles” really seem closer to fortunate “coincidences,” or God at work through routine processes. How can we tell them apart? For me, when I see something extraordinary that has spiritual overtones and is validated by an independent source or event, that’s when the “miracle” bell goes off in my mind.” [Source] While investigating testimonies for this book, Strobel says that it was the story of Barbara Snyder which “blew his mind”.
“Barbara Snyder was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic with multiple sclerosis. She deteriorated over a period of many years, several operations, many hospitalizations,” Strobel explained. “It got to the point where she was dying. And, in fact, one doctor described her as being one of the most hopelessly ill patients he’d ever encountered.” Synder ended up in hospice care with a no resuscitation order; she was nearly blind, her hands and body were curled and she had a tube in her throat to help her breath as well as a tube in her stomach to ensure proper nourishment. Meanwhile, her muscles were atrophied. The situation was pretty hopeless — until something quite shocking happened. 
“One day, one of her friends called WMBI, which is the radio station in Chicago run by the Moody Bible Institute, and said, ‘Pray for Barbara. She’s on her deathbed,’” Strobel explained. “So, we know that at least 450 Christians began praying for her, because they wrote letters saying, ‘We’re praying for you.’”
Then, on Pentecost Sunday, two of Synder’s friends read her letters from those praying for her. As she listened, she said that she heard a male voice coming from the corner of the room — a voice she now believes was God. “This male voice coming from the corner of the room where nobody was said, ‘Get up my child and walk,’” Strobel recounted. “So she basically pulls the tube out of her throat, says, ‘Go find my parents’ [and] jumps out of bed.”
Bizarrely, her calves were inflated and her once-atrophied muscles worked again — and that’s not all. Her feet and fingers were suddenly straight and normal again. Her blindness, too, had been instantaneously healed. “This was an instantaneous healing of all of her symptoms and all of her illness to the point where … 31 years later she’s completely healthy,” Strobel said. “To this day.”*

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Our faith in Christ is not grounded in any minor miracle – such as any that we (or anyone else) may have experienced. Our faith in Christ as our Saviour from eternal condemnation unto adoption as God’s child, is grounded in the greatest miracle: the conception, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – but particularly, the resurrection of Christ. The evidence for the resurrection is based on reliable eye-witness accounts, the dramatic change in many of these eye-witnesses (who each refused to recant their testimonies of what they had seen even under threat of death), and the failure of those opposing Christ to produce His corpse (because there was none). 
Strobel-MiraclesNaturally, we might wonder why God doesn’t always grant miracles. So did Lee Strobel as he wrote his book. His own wife battles daily pain from her incurable fibromyalgia. He concluded his book with this question in mind. 
To bring my research full circle, I wrote a chapter called, “When Miracles Don’t Happen.” Often, people pray for supernatural healings that never occur the way they want them to. I interviewed Dr. Douglas Groothuis, a Christian philosopher whose wife is suffering from debilitating dementia at a young age. Despite their fervent prayers, God has not chosen to heal her at this point. This may be the most powerful chapter of any book I’ve ever written, as Dr. Groothuis speaks from his heart as well as from his vast reservoir of philosophical experience.
-Lee Strobel, author of THE CASE FOR MIRACLES
Your Pastor,
Andrew