This morning we looked at words of knowledge, prophecy and deliverance from evil spirits in the book of Acts and realised that the miraculous happens because the spiritual world is real and God wants to lead and guide us into a knowledge of Him. Many do not believe in miracles because they believe only in a material, physical world, but this worldview precludes the miraculous because it precludes God. As Jesus made plain to the Sadducees, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matt 22:32) There is so much more the life than what we can experience from our five senses; the spiritual world is real, even though it may be invisible and intangible msot of the time. Miracles bring us into connection with this spiritual world in a tangible and visible way. They literally connect us to the divine, opening our eyes to the invisible, enabling us to see and know that God is real and at work in the world.
In the book of Acts, we see the reality of this spiritual world on different occasions, showing us the contrast between good and evil. Simon was one who had practised sorcery before his conversion, which was largely due to seeing Philip perform miracles in Jesus’s name. (Acts 8:9-24) When he saw the apostles laying hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit, he wanted to be able to buy that same power, but Peter told him this was impossible; miracles happen not because of our ability or financial prowess, but because of dependence on God. Another example of someone who opposed the gospel message was Elymas, who became blind following Paul’s condemnation of him. (Acts 13:6-12) A word of knowledge from God demonstrated His complete knowledge and power to the proconsul who then became a believer.
Later in Philippi, a word of knowledge revealed to Paul that the slave woman’s speech was not from God and this led to her deliverance. (Acts 16:16-18) We need spiritual discernment at all times, because the enemy often masquerades as an angel of light (see 2 Cor 11:13-14). Jesus reminded us that words are not enough; a good tree will bear good fruit, but words alone will not guarantee us spiritual relationship. (Matt 7:16-23) What is needed is a personal relationship with God (described in terms of the good Shepherd and the sheep who know his voice in John 10).
When God speaks to us, the miraculous is involved! Sometimes He speaks audibly, but more often through dreams, visions, ‘nudges’ and even through circumstances, as Paul discovered on his missionary journeys (see Acts 16:6-10) It is our personal relationship through Jesus which matters, as the sons of Sceva discovered (Acts 19:13-19). Miracles testify to who God is and what He can do and often result in people coming to faith. In order to confirm His word and to show people His power, love and mercy, God works miracles through ordinary believers – even today
In a world of wars and personal animosity, on the second Sunday in Advent, we focus on the theme of peace, recognising that peace with God is the pathway to personal peace. ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,’ Paul tells us. (Rom 5:1) Jesus’ arrival at Bethlehem heralded the start of this reconciliation with God, hence He is known as the ‘Prince of peace.’ (Is 9:6)
Jesus teaches us how to forgive others and live at peace with them, as He forgave those who betrayed Him and put Him to death. Forgiveness is probably the biggest single step to peace. We have to learn to let go of our hurts, prejudices and grievances and to forgive others as we have been forgiven. (Eph 4:32) Only then can we move towards peace.
Christmas is a time of indulgence, and often we eat, drink and spend money in excess. There is nothing wrong with treats and festivity, but as we consider daily disciplines, we do need to reflect on living wisely, which at times means saying ‘no’ to that umpteenth chocolate or glass of wine.
Far more important than food and drink, however, is the need for daily discipline in our attitudes to sin and God. Often, we shrug our shoulders at wrongdoing. It’s a ‘little white lie.’ It’s ‘no big deal.’ We lose our tempers over nothing and don’t feel any regret at the hurt we cause. We rationalise our behaviour and make excuses for ourselves while ranting over the insensitivity and rudeness of others.
God wants us to live righteous, holy lives 365 days a year. In Titus 2:11-13, we read, ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ This is how we need to live all year round.
We have already looked at how the Lord’s Prayer encourages us to ask God for our daily bread. This framework for prayer starts with the words ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name’ (Matt 6:9) and reminds us that daily prayer is the best way to start any day!
Prayer starts with a recognition of God’s presence in the world and in our lives. The Lord’s Prayer urges us to begin prayer by recognising who God is and who we are in relation to Him. He is our Father in heaven. We are His children. This reminds us of our need for dependence and of God’s glory. We move on to ask for God’s name to be hallowed (to be made holy.) God is already holy, but in this prayer, we recognise this fact and pause in our busyness to consider holiness and an alternative way of living.
Whether we pray the Lord’s Prayer every day or not, there needs to be time set aside for prayer every day. As the saying goes, ‘seven days without prayer makes one weak.’ Let daily prayer become as much a part of your everyday routine as brushing your teeth and eating!
Daily acts of kindness help us to keep our focus on God and away from the selfish tendency to hoard and think only about our own needs. Yesterday, we talked about a ‘giveaway Advent calendar’ to help our local Salvation Army food bank and to encourage generosity, but generosity is not always shown in material ways. We can help others through daily acts of kindness: speaking positively, paying compliments, thanking others, showing love in acts of service (doing shopping for someone, maybe, or helping with a repair.) In these acts of kindness, we show that we value people, appreciate them, and are thinking about them.
We might thank a shop attendant instead of haranguing them; we might stop to help someone in the street; we might offer to make a drink at home instead of expecting to be waited on hand and foot! These daily acts of kindness never seem particularly noteworthy, but are, in fact, visible demonstrations of love and appreciation. They really do make a difference!
Today is St Nicholas’ Day. St Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, pawnbrokers, repenting thieves and children. He is also the patron saint of Russia and Greece, and such cities as Liverpool, Aberdeen and Galway, and is also popularly known as Santa Claus.
St Nicholas was born in Greece in 270 A.D. and was orphaned at an early age, being left with considerable wealth. He became known for his kindness, helping the poor, sick and suffering with aid and gifts. He devoted himself to a life serving God and became the bishop of Myra. He reminds us that the Christian life should involve serving others and helping those in need.
One ‘alternative’ Advent calendar is to put aside an item to help others each day during Advent. It might be a tin of beans or a packet of rice. By doing this each day of Advent, you end up with either 21 or 24 items (depending whether you start on 1 December or 3 December!) to give to a food bank, for example, to help people in need. Maybe on St Nicholas’ Day we can focus on giving, rather than receiving!