Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category


As Pentecost Sunday approaches I was reading through Acts in our church community group and was struck by this verse:

And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2)

For a disciple not to have heard about the Holy Spirit seems to be Not A Good Thing.

For those of us who are concerned to emphasise (I think rightly) the priority of preaching Christ and him crucified and who see the Spirit’s role mainly as (to use J.I. Packer’s expression) a ‘spotlight ministry’, drawing the attention to Christ not himself, this stress on the Spirit in Acts is an important thing to reckon with. Is there a danger that those of us who would think of ourselves as ‘conservative evangelicals’ might be so keen to distance ourselves from the excesses of hyper-Pentecostalism and unhelpful (or downright non-Christian) pneumatologies, that we might leave people with no doctrine of the Spirit at all? “If it’s not all about tongues, how do I know whether I have the Spirit?” I was asked recently. Where does the Holy Spirit fit into our proclamation and church and the Christian life?

Acts 19:2 makes me think:

  • Presumably preaching the gospel usually included mention of the Holy Spirit and his work. Acts 2 is a great example. The focus from beginning to end is on Christ but all the persons of the Trinity are mentioned: the exalted Christ has received his Father the Spirit to pour out (v33). (A gospel outline like 3-2-1 can be helpful in making sure we talk about the Trinity early on and don’t leave it till later as an embarrassing bolt-on.)
  • Presumably the invitation to receive Christ and to be baptised usually mentioned the Holy Spirit. Again, that’s what happens in Acts 2: baptism-forgiveness-Holy Spirit. Baptism is into the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). When Paul reminds the Galatians of their conversion he appeals to them as ones who clearly knew that they had received the Spirit at that point (Gal. 3:2) – that was not debate – that was obviously what had happened – he wants to remind them how they received the Spirit – i.e. by hearing and believing the gospel of Christ crucified not by Law keeping. It also seems the Galatians knew their Christian life had begun by the power of God’s Spirit (Gal. 3:3), the question is whether they will go on that way.
  • Presumably the early discipleship of believers would have been full of reminders of the gospel including explanation of the Spirit’s role in their salvation. You certainly see this throughout the apostles’ letters to the young churches. They are constantly reminding believers of what has happened to them so they grasp the enormity of it and live in accordance with it. Their focus is always on Christ and him crucified but wherever they talk about justification by faith and salvation through the blood of Christ, the Spirit is never far away. Ephesians 1: The Father chose you before Creation, the Son died for you on the Cross, the Spirit sealed you as you believed (cf. similarly 1 Peter 1:2). Titus 3:4-7: Father, Son and Spirit; justification and regeneration. Romans 8: stellar chapter interweaving the glorious gospel of Christ and the true work and marks of the Spirit.

Putting this altogether it seems that for the apostles to speak about Christ was inevitably to speak about the Spirit-anointed Christ. To speak about his death and resurrection would have inevitably led to talking about the Spirit who unites us with Christ to make the benefits of his death and resurrection ours. They would have left no one in any doubt that without the Spirit of Christ they are dead and that from their first breath of faith to their final good work, all would be the Spirit’s work in them. They would have talked about how God sent his Son to redeem us and the Spirit of Sonship into our hearts that we might be swept up into the Son and cry out to the Father as our Father. They would talked of our natural blindness and desperate need every day for the Spirit to open our eyes wider and wider to Christ.

Is that my message and life?


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MTC Dec 2014 2

More notes and resources:

And for the 2nd year apprentices:


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Sammy speaking at MTC Dec 2014

Tweeting the first three days of MTC:

Our 2nd Ministry Training Course is happening. Wonderful testimonies from our apprentices. Great time of Expositions from Acts #MTC2

WhyPreachActs: to persuade us that what the world desperately needs is the gospel & that this gospel is not only the way in but also the way on

Danger for university graduates: head replaces heart. Aim of MTC: a vision of Jesus that moves heart, head & hands

Acts = History, Defence, Guide, Picture of triumph through persecution

Pastor = Servant, Steward, Scum, Father (John Stott on 1 Cor 4)

Additional notes and links:

And in the second year programme:

Please keep praying for us that we would see more and more the glory of the gospel of God and have our hearts, minds and strength captured by that vision.


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Sorry if this is getting wearying. Maybe this isn’t as relevant to some as to others of us. Maybe a long comment doesn’t always require a long response. But it’s been helpful for me at least to think through some of these issues, many of which are massive ones in our context.

For those who missed it – this was the original comment by Oral Roberts on ‘What is the Gospel? Riches’.

And finally:

5. My personal experiences: I have seen many bright young people drop out of school because their parents cannot pay school fees and their dreams fall to the ground. I have seen the sick die when they were taken out of Private hospitals where they offer best medical services, because the family cannot afford, to some cheap government facility where they offer poor medical services. The children of a poor Pastor neither want to be pastors nor marry pastors. Poor churches are riddled with wrangles and frequent splits.
I have received many invitations to preach the gospel in many places: to Chandigarh Northern India, but I never went because I could not raise my ticket. Then I got another invitation to Chennai Southern India, I never went because I could not raise my ticket. Then I got another invitation to Madagascar, I never went because I could not raise my ticket. It is easy to say, may be it was not the will of God. However, the reality is all the other places I have gone preaching and teaching the word of God, I had an invitation but also was able to pay my air ticket. I do not always use circumstances to judge what is the will of God for me. Many sinners travel the world because they can afford it , not because it is the will of God.
6.The early church in the book of Acts was very poor in Acts 3: 6. Then they moved on to Acts 4:34, there was no lack among them. Then Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira his wife died and are buried over their material wealth. Then Acts 6: 3 they appoint seven managers. A church that is stuck in Acts 3:6 is not able to fulfil the great commission. Let no one be deceived the enemies of the gospel bought Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and crucified him, then they paid the guards money to deny Jesus resurrection! Think about it! Do you think it won’t cost money to preach the truth….He is risen.
7. Poverty is not humility! It is neither a virtue nor one of the gifts / fruit of the Holy Spirit. My candid statement……with love n respect for the views of others but the truth is my ultimate goal.

Personal experiences

Oral raises a couple of issues. One is the very real hardships faced by millions in our nation. They’re not helped by the false promises of the prosperity gospel but they very definitely need addressing. In addition to the 3 gospel responses already mentioned, it might be worth adding links to:

The other issue is that of support for pastors and gospel ministry in our context. This is a really tricky one that needs lots more thinking and discussion. At Raising the Bar Tigoni we talked with pastors with different experiences and different models and we could all see advantages and challenges and biblical support for each of them.

  1. Congregation-supported. Seems to be the expected pattern (1 Cor. 9:8-14; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim 5:18) but a) difficult in very poor informal settlement contexts; b) not appropriate in evangelistic/pioneering situations where there is a risk of appearing to peddle the gospel for money and confuse grace (1 Cor. 9:15-18); c) can attract people into ministry with the wrong motives; d) raises a temptation for the pastor to preach and lead in a way that manipulates the congregation and increases the collection. Having said this, the model has been shown to work successfully and with integrity even among poor congregations.
  2. Tent-making / self-supporting (or partially self-supporting). This seems to be what Paul was doing in Asia (Acts 20:34) and partially in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:9 cf. Phil. 4:16). This can mean doing some part-time business or craft or having a full-time job and pastoring in the weekends and evenings. The obvious disadvantage is the danger of distraction and having less time and energy to properly pastor the flock (and even more significantly the danger of distraction of heart – business as part of a mission agenda slipping into business as an end in itself). If the business involved fairly low time and energy investment then this can work well. Part-time craft or farming can also be viable but is very hard work. Having a full time job wouldn’t be viable for a single pastor but might be possible, at least for a season, if there was a team of 6-8 men each giving the equivalent of a day or two a week to the ministry of a church.
  3. Supported from other congregations and believers. This could take a number of different forms: a) The Philippian model of believer supporting a missionary pastor as he ministers to people in a different place (Phil. 4:16) – this is basically the partnership model that we love at iServe Africa. There are strong (esp. urban) churches and individuals in Kenya which could be supporting many pastors and missionaries in rural area and informal settlements. Challenges include lack of appreciation of the partnership model, a preference for tithing and harambee, and the technical difficulty of sending regular support. b) A denominational model where congregations’ giving is pooled and then divided between the different pastors and churches. This has advantages in terms of accountability but potential challenges in terms of bureaucracy and control issues. c) A church planting model where one congregation sends out a pastor and/or team to another place and commits to support the new church at least in the early stages.

Book of Acts

The progression that Oral notes is very interesting. The apostles had nothing (Acts 3:6). In fact it seems that they stayed that way (cf. 1 Cor. 4:8-13). When the money was brought to their feet they didn’t hold onto it but gave it back, distributing it to the needy believers (Acts 4:35). The wonderful situation  ‘no needy among them’ (Acts 4:34) is indeed closely followed by the scary report of financial misreporting (Acts 5:1-11) and the incident of ethnic tensions in the distributions and the need for strategy and good management (Acts 6:1-7). Certainly money and management are really important issues in the great commission going forth but I would question the idea that money is essential for the progress of the gospel:

  • Money was needed to shut up the guards at the tomb and spread a false story (Matt. 28:11-15) but it wasn’t needed by the women who first proclaimed the true message “He is risen” (Luke 24:9-10; John 20:18). Throughout history and across the world today hostile governments have spent and spend vast sums of money seeking to shut up and destroy the gospel message while the persecuted church, meeting in homes and secret locations, hard-pressed and with virtually no financial resources grows and grows unstoppably.
  • Continue moving through Acts beyond chapter 6 and you find the next big expansion of gospel mission comes through persecution and scattering (Acts 8:3-4). Philip goes as an IDP to Samaria and just preaches Christ (Acts 8:5). Interestingly there is then the issue of the apostles refusing money (Acts 8:18-20) followed by the preaching of a relatively poor Philip to a far more wealthy African (Acts 8:27-39). Throughout the book of Acts the real driver of mission and church growth is not money but the Spirit of God and the preaching of the Word of Christ.
  • It’s interesting to notice that no usage of PA systems is mentioned in the book of Acts. I’m being a bit tongue in cheek here but it’s interesting how, particularly in Africa, we have come to see the PA system as one of the vital things for setting up a new ministry – pastor, room, plastic chairs, pulpit, PA system. And for the more middle class churches of Nairobi we could add ministry vehicle, drum set, soft furnishings, laptop projector and screen. Are these things really necessary for the apostolic gospel to move forward?
  • While there is a lot of debate about how exactly to represent economics in the Roman world in the first and second centuries, there is wide agreement that the early church was basically poor – certainly including very very few wealthy and privileged people (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26). And yet during this early period it grew from 120 believers to millions.

Poverty is not humility

Very true. You can be poor and proud and rich and proud. There’s nothing glorious or particularly spiritual about poverty or suffering in itself. It can just be degrading and embittering and crushing. But (hard as it sounds) suffering can be a gift (Philippians 1:29), can be humbling (Dan. 4), can be a means of mission, can be something that the Father uses to make us more like the Son (Rom. 8:28-29). That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight to alleviate suffering and poverty (we should), but it does mean that we see the bigger picture of God’s sovereignty and his purpose for us and his mission and his glory.


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Praise God the first Raising the Bar Kisumu kicked off today, numbers swelling from 20 booked 48 hours ago to 40 here for the beginning of the programme this afternoon. Sammy started us off with a wonderful overview of Acts, showing us very clearly that the camera focus throughout the book is on JESUS and that it’s not so much as a how-to church manual but a historical narrative of the preaching of the gospel of Christ in the power of the Spirit to all nations. I particularly appreciated the big lessons:

  • God’s mission heart
  • The ministry focus on preaching Christ crucified
  • We don’t change the Word to fit our world, the Word is the change-agent in the world
  • God’s sovereignty in a hostile world, even using persecution as the means of spreading the Word

Sammy particularly recommended David Cook’s Teaching Acts – the introduction to which (including diagrams and all sorts of useful overview on Acts) is available as a PDF here.

Kisumu 1

Kisumu 2

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RTB highlights

From the recent Raising the Bar at St Benedict’s, Tigoni, a few personal highlights and then a few photos…

  • Loved the fellowship, the singing, conversations, extreme Uno playing.
  • Loved hearing the testimonies and wisdom of older, wiser pastors.
  • Loved Zephaniah.
  • Loved Philip’s overview of Acts:
    • it was not the strategy and initiative of the apostles that moved them from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth; at every juncture it was God who moved them on and out even despite themselves
    • things change all the way through Acts; even the classic summary at Acts 2:42-47 is not definitive because a couple of chapters later it’s a different picture
    • Luke doesn’t just tell us that Peter or Paul preached in such a place and this many people believed, he records what they preached; there is an emphasis on content
    • apostleship is defined in Acts 1:21-22 and Paul is the exception that proves the rule; he’s ‘untimely born’


Listening (2)

James 1



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MTC Dec 13 a

Thanks to all those who were praying last week over the ministry training. Perhaps you were even following the Twitter-esque updates on Facebook. Praise God that we had a really good time together, noses in the Bible, chewing on some very meaty theology, wonderful singing (Salama Rohoni is new favourite for me), and a good atmosphere of fun and fellowship.

As promised to the apprentices, here are the notes and links:

And from the 2nd years programme:

And from the closing carol service:

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Bernie muluuGuest post from our good friend Bernard Muluuta, pioneering some grassroots work encouraging faithful Bible teaching in Uganda:


Preaching is fundamental in the growth of the church and bears much fruit in the lives of Christians especially when done faithfully.

There are steps we go through when we get down to preaching or rather prepare to: we pray, study, pray some more, study more, write, pray and finally speak God’s Word to His people.

In our study and preparation, we are encouraged to handle the text right. “Context. Context. Context,” we are reminded, “is key” to understanding the big idea of the text. One other reason why we need to get our context right is because it affects how we apply the text to our hearers. A good understanding of the text and its context will greatly help us to apply the text to the people we are preaching to and show them why the text is relevant to them today and through that we hear God speak to us.

Spotting the context within a verse, chapter or book is good but it is also helpful to see it from the big picture perspective of the whole sweep of Scripture. All through the Bible we run into precedents – events that set patterns, they become a mould other events can fit into or are modelled on. (I don’t think I am the only one who runs into déjà vu moments in Scripture.)

We see patterns (set rolling by precedents) that are repeated in the Bible: the sacrificial system; prophets preaching God’s Word to a wayward people; God’s judgement against the people for their rebellion; the need for a king to lead God’s people; salvation for those who have faith in Jesus Christ.

The patterns have a lot to teach us about God, His character and plans, what He was teaching His people and how deviating from the pattern brought punishment against the people.

But it’s not just precedents and patterns we run into, we also find one-off phenomena – occurrences that happen only once and we are left with no other events to draw parallels to in an attempt to find a good explanation for the event. These are the exceptions.

moses-and-the-burning-bush-the-bible-27076046-400-300In the Old Testament we find events like Enoch walking with God and being taken away (Gen. 5.24), Moses and the Burning Bush (Ex. 3), Joshua and the messenger of the LORD (Josh 5.13), Gideon and the woollen fleece (Jdg 6.36-38). In the New Testament we find Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul’s shadow and handkerchief healing the sick (Acts 19.11-12).

I point out this distinction because it is easy for us to mistake an exception for a precedent. In preaching some dwell on some of these exceptions and make so much of them more than the text itself intends.  This is reflected in the applications in the sermon as people are told they should walk with God that like Enoch they will be taken away (as mysteriously as he was). Or how like Moses they need a burning bush experience. In yesteryears I have heard (and unfortunately still hear) sermons where people are told that they like Paul should have the power to heal the sick with their shadows and handkerchiefs.

People experience frustration when they hear sermons that turn these exceptions into patterns that are supposed to be happening in their lives but never materialise. It has resulted in Christians who think their faith is weak simply because “these signs are not following them.” (Mk. 16.17-18) Others wonder what is wrong with them if they have not had a “face-to-face” chat with God like Moses did.

We need to be careful as preachers to study the Scriptures right and understand where events fit into God’s salvation story and revelation of Himself. Our understanding of their relevance then and God choosing to reveal Himself in a particular way will affect what we preach as well as how we apply the text to our hearers.

Let us not weigh down the church with expectations and challenges God did not intend for them or leave the church with the wrong impression of what God is communicating.

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We’ve argued before that preaching that is led by the Spirit will be Bible-driven preaching. Now to add another thought that should flow naturally from that but is worth stating on its own: Spirit-led preaching is all about Jesus.

At least things point in this direction:

1. The content of the Spirit’s Word

Taking it that the whole Bible was written by the Spirit it’s interesting to look at the balance of mentions of the different persons of the Trinity. In the Old Testament there are about 14 references stating or implying the fatherhood of God and roughly 90 mentions of God’s Spirit. When it comes to the Son, there are around 25 theophanies (which I take to be the pre-incarnate Son), 52 references to ‘the Angel of the Lord’ (again I would take to be the Son) and somewhere over 300 explicit messianic prophecies. This is without beginning to try to enumerate the thousands of references related to typological offices (e.g high priest), characters (e.g. David), events (e.g. Passover) and objects (e.g. tabernacle). Jesus was not twisting things when he said (John 5; Luke 24) that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms are all about him.

Then coming to the New Testament, there are 128 references to ‘the Spirit’, 243 explicit references to ‘the Father’ (beside hundreds of references to ‘God’ where God the Father is implied), and 950 mentions of ‘Jesus’ (not to mention hundreds of separate references to ‘the Son’, ‘Christ’, ‘Lord’, ‘Son of Man’ etc.).

Now admittedly statistics are a very crude indicator but this should immediately give us some sense of who the Spirit is most keen to talk about. He talks relatively sparingly about himself. Some have called him a “shy and retiring spirit” or “the elusive person of the Trinity” (this may be one reason why there is so much controversy about the doctrine of the Spirit – there is simply not a huge amount of biblical data). The person the Spirit seems most keen to write about is Jesus. If we imagine the Spirit as an artist, we might say that he doesn’t go in for self-portraits in a big way, his great work is a massive mural of Christ.

2. The Spirit’s stated work

The night before he died Jesus gave the most detailed explanation of the Spirit and his work that we have (John 14-16). J.I. Packer gives a great summary:

The Spirit… would be sent, said Jesus, “in my name” (14:26), that is as Jesus’s courier, spokesman, and representative… the Spirit would be self-effacing, directing all attention away from himself to Christ and drawing folk into the faith, hope, love, obedience, adoration, and dedication, which constitute communion with Christ… the Spirit would make the presence of Christ and fellowship with him and his Father realities of experience for those who, by obeying his words, showed that they loved him (14:21-23)… Again, the Spirit would teach… and the Spirit’s way of teaching would be to make disciples recall and comprehend what Jesus himself had said (14:26)… the Spirit would attest Christ in the manner of a witness… (15:26; 16:8-11)… Thus the Spirit would glorify the glorified Savior (16:14)… a floodlight ministry… It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message to us is never, “Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,” but always, “Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.”

3. The apostles’ Spirit-led preaching

The Spirit was given that the apostles would bear witness to… Jesus (Acts 1:8).

On the day of Pentecost there is a spectacular outpouring of the Spirit, Peter is filled with the Spirit, his hair is on fire, he stands to preach an expository sermon on a text from Joel, a text which is one of the clearest Old Testament passages about the Spirit… surely we’re going to get a sermon on the Spirit – if ever there was a time for an exposition on the doctrine of the Spirit this is it… but no… “Men of Israel, hear this: JESUS” (Acts 2:22). And this most Spirit-filled of sermons continues with a relentless focus on this Jesus – his life, death, resurrection, exaltation. The Holy Spirit is only mentioned once (v33) as a confirming sign of Jesus’ exaltation and his identity as the Lord of David and the LORD of Joel.

You get the same pattern again and again in Acts – Peter is “filled with the Spirit” and preaches about salvation in Jesus (Acts 4:8-12), Stephen, a man full of the Spirit, gives a Bible overview focussed on Jesus (Acts 6-7), Philip is led by the Spirit to preach from Isaiah “the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8). We find the same pattern in the ministry and letters of Paul.

So a couple of questions:

  • When did you last hear a sermon series on the Spirit?
  • When did you last hear a sermon series on Jesus?

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Why preach?

If we believe Scripture is clear – that a good reading of the Bible ‘interprets itself’ – then why do we need preaching at all? Well one answer would be sometimes we don’t. Sometimes a simple reading of the Scriptures is sufficient to cut to the heart (e.g. 2 Kings 22:11). But Timothy is told not only to be devoted to reading the Word but commanded, extremely solemnly, to preach it (2 Tim. 4:2). Why? What is it to ‘preach’? It can’t mean ‘explain’ (as if it’s unclear) or make it ‘relevant’ (as if it’s irrelevant) or ‘make it come alive’ (as if it’s dead) or use it as a springboard to your own thoughts – no “Preach the Word” – give them the pure Word of God. How is that different to simply reading then? Three brief thoughts from Acts:

  1. Preaching is guiding – Acts 8:26-40 – Years before the first European, the first African to receive Christ has no trouble reading the Prophet Isaiah and he can understand basically what it’s saying (v30) but he’s struggling with what the big idea is – what and who is it really all about (v34). What he needs is a guide: “How can I unless someone guides me?” (v31). What’s a guide? It’s someone who shows you around a game park or a town or a museum and points out the things that you might otherwise overlook or miss the significance of. “Do you see that leopard in the tree?” “Do you see the way that rock looks like a human face?” “Do you see that building, the most important in Nairobi?” That’s what a preacher is to do – take the Scriptures and say, “Do you see this?” Rub our noses in the text. Point out the key ‘sights’ that we must not miss. And what is it that we absolutely must not miss on our guided tour of the Bible? “He told him the good news about Jesus” (v35).
  2. Preaching is arguing from the Scriptures for the necessity and supremacy of Christ – Acts 17:1-9 – We looked at this at our last ministry training week – you can download Basics of expository preaching NOTES (MTC1).
  3. Preaching is correcting our thinking about God – Acts 17:16-34 – I’m increasingly feeling that maybe a big part of what preaching should be about is saying, “God is not like we think he is, he’s like this…” In Athens Paul is again preaching Jesus (v18) but as he does this he has to say God does not live in man-made temples, he made the universe  (v24); he isn’t served by us, he serves us (v25); we don’t make him, he made us (v26-29). Naturally we think we know God and naturally we get God completely wrong. Paul doesn’t say to the Athenians, let me build on your understanding of this ‘unknown god’ (v23) – No – he says, let me show you that you really don’t have a clue what God is like. He’s nothing like what you’re worshipping – he’s the sovereign, serving, life-giving, missionary, acting-in-history, resurrection God. We all need this sort of preaching because our theology naturally constantly slips away from the truth – every week we need preachers to show us from the Scriptures that God is not a pocket-sized genie or a dictator-in-the-sky but that God is Christ-like.

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