2016-08-12

Lessons from the Two Famous Deacons of Acts - Stephen and Philip

While Stephen and Philip had similar backgrounds, characters, and talents, their lives were vastly different. Stephen was martyred at his best adult age like Jesus. Philip lived to a good old age with four daughters who were preachers. Whose life do you want to live? What are their lessons for our lives?
The lives of Stephen and Philip are described in the Book of Acts 6-8.

They shared the following similarities:

  1.  of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, 
  2.  whom we will appoint to this duty of Deacons, distribution of foods Act 6:3
  3.  were Greek-speaking Hebrews.
  4.  Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip Act 6:5
  5. Work of Stephen:
    1. And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Act 6:8
    2. Members of the synagogue of Freedmen could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. (Act 6:9-10)
    3. the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. Act 6:15
  6. Work of Philip:
    1. 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. Act 8:5-7.
    2. Philip met with an angel and sent him to bring the gospel to the Ethiopian Officer Act 8:26-38.
    3. Philip experience time-travel in Act 8:40 after the baptism of the Ethiopian.
Their Different Endings:
  1. Stephen was stoned to death after preaching his last message on the God of the Hebrew and their dealings with the prophets of God. He condemned the people for their rebellion and killing of God's prophets. In a way, Stephen actually planned out his martyrdom!He left behind the famous words, just like Jesus, in  Act 7:60  "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. 
  2. Philip lived up to ripe old age as we can see and infer from Act 21:8-9  On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.  9  He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.
So we can see that while both were true men of God who have great testimonies, Stephen was a martyr when young and Philip was an evangelist that lived to a ripe old age.

Lessons for Us:
  1. It is not for us to wish ourselves to be Stephen or Philip. 
  2. As God has different plans for Stephen and Philip, God has a different and unique plan for our lives. It is our responsibility to find out God's plan for us. Some may live short but meaningful and powerful lives. Some may live long and also meaningful and powerful lives. 
  3. Living meaningful and powerful lives seems to be dependent on us, being faithful to Him and His Words and the Holy Spirit as both Stephen and Philip had shown us.
Hence, worry not, but make sure we are faithful to His calling for us and live our lives to the maximum with His leading.

Lim Liat (c) 12 Aug 2016

2016-07-27

The Devil's Tactics Against the Church

Devil's 3 Tactics against the Church are persecution, lies, and division. See how they can be overcome. 
Reflections on Sunday Chinese Sermon of Ps John Liu of Petra Church on 24 July 2016.
I often wonder how do people see more things, or more revelations as believers like to put them, in the very same Bible passage that we read. One way of course is by studying hard and listening widely and accumulate through years of learning. Another way is to study it, read it, and reflect it in conversation with God. Another way is to have a fresh perspective such ashttp://christianity-rediscovered.blogspot.sg/…/the-branding…. The simplest way is to just enjoy the exposition of others.
The title is "The Tactics that the Devil Uses Against the Church" base on Acts 4-6. The passage itself has no mention of the devil and it is not too obvious to me to relate it to the activities of the devil. Ps presented a good overview of the content of Acts. But the keys are the three tactics that the devel employed against the church and how the church overcome them.
1. Devil uses persecutions to soften up or weaken the church.
Act 4:1-14, 29-31.
The miraculous healing of the lame beggar caused an uproar for the people and the religious leaders. Religious leaders put Peter and John into prison, threatened them not to speak of Jesus anymore. However, instead of being scared to silence, they spoke up boldly and they prayed to God to give greater boldness. Overcome persecutions with testimonies of patience and boldness with the power of Holy Spirit within.
2. Devil uses lies to pollute the church.
Act 5:1-11 We have the stories of Ananias and wife who sold their property and reported to Peter only 1/2 of the actual price sold. They were killed instantly when Peter exposed their lies. If you heard Ps Joseph Prince sermon on this. He said Ananias was not a believer because the text was "a man named Ananias". "Disciple" was used, instead of 'man', to describe a true believer as in Acts 9:10 that described another Ananais.
To counter devil's pollution of lies, we must worship and serve God truthfully. Authencity and truth overcome lies. (See how some of our local churches failed on this.)
3. Devil creates problems to cause separation in churches.
Acts 6:1-7. Here there were two groups of believers, the local Hebrew Jews speaking and the Greek speaking Jews who were converted. The complains arised because the Greek speaking 'foreingers' widows were not treated fairly vs the Hebrew speaking ones. This is very much like Churches with multiple languages where one group will be given priorities over another. Notice the wisdom shown by the apostles here.
  1. The problem must had been investigated and confirmed and so duly addressed. That explained why changes were made to solve this problem. Often, in the name of peace, real problems were swept under the carpets instead of being addressed upfront. Hiding problems does not make problem go away. Hidden unhandled problem accumulates to blow up later ... resulting in church split etc. 
  2. Be not distracted. The focus on preaching the gospels was not diverted to handle this problem. A separate group of leaders were ejected to handle this administrative issue. 
  3. Show of Wisdom, Trust and Love. The new leaders , deacons, elected were of Greek Names showing that they were purposely chosen among the Greek speaking congregations to address their problems. It is not a 50%-50% Committee of Hebrew and Greek. It is all Greek. It shows:
    1. the ones who can identify with the problems are chosen to fix the issue.
    2. the trust the Hebrew Leadership had for the Greek speaking leaders. 
    3. the Love the key Hebrew speaking dominant group has for the weaker Greek speaking group. More should be given to the weaker that the weak may also grow up.

While Ps Liu summarized the overcoming of the problem with "Not Afriad of Death" testimony, 不怕死的见证. I would like to summarize it differently as 愿牺牲的见证 Willing to sacrifice testimony or better, 勇敢,智慧与爱的见证 - Testimony of Boldness, Wisdom and Love. Only by bolding facing a problem, with a wisdom to find a solution, and implementing a solution with love, can we successfully overcome the divisive work of the devils.
For more on the devil's tricks. see Sun Zi's Art of War and the Bible.
Lim Liat (c) 27 July 2016