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      Do Deeds Matter More
than Words?
  by Robert Weston

As a church we are making our way through Acts; in this article I am skimming over Acts 5-6:7, where we see the church experiencing one of its defining periods.


Revivals and the Fear of the Lord: Acts 5

In Acts 5 from verses 11-16 we see a period of great harvest with many miraculous signs and wonders occurring and many being touched by the Lord – whole crowds of people coming to faith.

Such blessing does not go unopposed by the powers of darkness. They have many ways of stirring up people’s hearts and instigating kickback. We’ll see what the enemy did through the authorities in a moment, but never underestimate the weakness of our own heart.

We find at the start of the chapter the very sobering example of Ananias and Sapphira: a couple who wanted to be well thought of, and who therefore pretended to be doing what other believers were doing in selling what they owned and making it available for the church. The only trouble was they held back some of the proceeds of a sale of property for themselves and lied about what they had done.

There are plenty of people who have done similar sorts of things since then who have got away with it, but when God is working in revival power, everything is magnified and shown in its true light.

Ananias and Sapphira’s deeds did not match their words, and they met a sudden and severe end, and from then on people knew exactly what God felt about such deceit. It was a huge warning to be careful of craving a good position or reputation but to be taking moral shortcuts. God really does notice such things.

Their death had a huge impact on the local church and community. Until now, Jesus was the name that everyone associated with healing, but now the fear of the Lord came on the Church – and it is that healthy fear that has so often been the missing ingredient in the modern church.

Rulers who resist – and the Lord’s solutions!
As for the rulers, the same ones remember who had done away with Jesus, they seized the apostles and threw them into the communal jail. If the Lord had not done something really wonderful at this point, that could have been the end of the story, but the Lord did something really wonderful at this point: He despatched an angel to release them from prison.

The original theme for one of the recent Sundays was ‘Do miracles happen’? The answer is my goodness they do – sometimes as a simple token of God’s love, but often in direct proportion to the need. I was reading a delightful book by a Shropshire vicar’s wife yesterday, called Miracles, by Hope Price. It’s a wonderful resume of what God is doing around the world. The splendid thing is a secular firm, Macmillan, published it. It is surely so much better to get these stories out into the world beyond Christian circles. You might also like to track down on Amazon the book I mentioned a few editions ago that came out in America earlier this year with Harrison House called Extraordinary miracles in the lives of ordinary people, a project I was involved in.

If the disciples had not been released from prison, the authorities would have succeeded in snuffing out the fledgling church. It was essential that they were free to continue the ministry the Lord had set before them. It was the same in Acts 12 when Peter was miraculously released from prison. Again, this was not an option from God’s point of view given Peter’s subsequent pivotal and foundational ministry in the early church.

Don’t make a Doctrine out of an Experience!
What we cannot do is to make a doctrine of ‘disciples being sprung from prison a la Houdini by the Holy Spirit.’

Not every Christian by a very long way dies peacefully in their bed, as Ros made plain when she was leading us in praying for the suffering church today. The simple truth is that some people’s race is, as we have seen very recently in Vicky’s case, much shorter than others. May those of us who have got time left to run on our lease on life use it to the full!

I know a man who claimed that anyone who was in prison for their faith was there because of their unbelief; God would spring them from prison if they only had more faith. On the day when we remember especially the Persecuted Church around the world that is frankly insulting. What about James who was beheaded for his faith? Was he a lesser man of faith than Peter? What nonsense!

We’re all tempted to do it when we have been blessed. We want others to come into the good of what we have experienced and received, but we have to be careful. God may have other plans for them. On the other hand, it is a great mistake if we refuse to believe each other’s testimonies, just because they may be outside our experience. We risk becoming like the vicar who said, ‘I’ve never seen an angel, so that means that there are no angels.’

Wrong, wrong and wrong again. We must be so careful not to limit God to our own lack of experience. But equally we can’t put God into a box and decree what He should or should not do. He is God – not a tame lion, as CS Lewis so brilliantly put it (referring to Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia). It is never a matter of one size fits all in the Kingdom.

I have seen many interventions of God over the years that I can only call miraculous, but I have also led organisations over many years where we have urgently needed help and workers. When the Lord has provided them, has that been any less a sign of His moving than some more spectacularly obvious miracle? This, too, is God at work, and we should recognise it as such, just as it is God’s moving if He puts it on your heart to become more fully involved in the life of the Church.

Pressing on despite Persecution
Jesus had told His disciples that they would face trouble in the world. It was coming their way now in spades – and how brilliantly they handled it. The authorities had grieved the Holy Spirit by failing to be moved by all the signs and wonders that were happening around them, and they added greatly to their guilt now by failing to learn the lesson of the disciple’s miraculous escape from prison. They were too full of hate and prejudice to see what was really going on. We see scorn and fear in equal measure in the way they treated the disciples – who they insisted on looking on as unlettered men.

There have been many such persecutors since then who say, in effect, ‘You can’t be used by God if you haven’t got the right qualifications, unless you are the right age, the right gender or the right something else. All of this is putting God in a box and failing to benefit from the unique gifts of the special people whom God is raising up.

The flogging they inflicted on the apostles would have been a severe one. There are contemporary accounts of what was involved in such beatings, and they would have been of near life-threatening proportions. Such grace was on them, however, that they rode through it rejoicing and got on with their incredibly active work of ministry.

In other words, the angel hadn’t come to release them just to hide them away, but to lead them straight back to witnessing to what they knew to be true: in the zone of maximum blessing and of maximum conflict.

In many parts of the world where revival is happening, many newly converted people go straight into action with what they have received from God, and He gives beginners’ grace and lasting fruit through it. How static we are by comparison! But let’s not be fatalistic or condemned by that: We are what we are but that does not mean that we are all that we are capable of becoming.

The message of Acts 5 is that God has far more in store for us.

It’s often easier to be strong against outside pressures however than it is to deal with troubles within the camp. Acts 6 begins with a difficulty arising that threatened to take the wind out of their sails. Administrative and relational difficulties often do!

Think of the 12 disciples as a group and what is the unit you would first think of comparing them to? Quite probably not to a church PCC!

Well as growth happened to the early church, certain changes had to occur and the equivalent of the PCC became necessary. Money had been given by the new leviers and collected by the apostles, and they were responsible for dividing it out amongst now several thousand believers where the needs were greatest. In the way this happened, however, the needs of the Greek speaking widows had been overlooked, and this was producing some tension.

In other words the fledgling church was facing a financial challenge. By the way I thought Simon and Ken handled the financial imperatives facing this church very well last week - do catch up if you were not here last week: there is an explanatory letter; outlining principles of giving, and most important of all, gift aid forms at the back: praise God for the government still allowing charities to reclaim 25 pence or so on every pound that is gift aided.

Up until know the disciples had been all of one accord; together in heart and purpose. But this wasn’t a minor whinge – in the days before social security payouts, this was a matter of some widow’s livelihoods. They hadn’t yet heard Paul’s teaching that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Scythian barbarian slave or freeman – but we are all one in Jesus.

As Matthew Henry reminds us, ‘In the best-ordered church in the world there will be something amiss, some mal-administration or some grievance, or complaint.’ Really? We hadn’t noticed(!!)

Seriously, the thing I have found is that at the heart of almost every serious relationship difficulty and breakdown lies a root of envy. Proverbs reminds us that ‘anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before envy?’ I won’t say anything more now, because we don’t know for sure exactly what was going on in this passage; what we do know is that once envy taints our heart it invariably does real structural damage to all concerned.

The way the apostles handled the matter is was as clear and decisive as everything else they were doing at this time: they insisted that that they needed to be set apart for prayer and preaching and that others needed to attend to the many practical matters of a growing organisation.

Feed your Spirit!
It is interesting that many of the churches that grew the fastest in the later years of the 20th century were those which set the pastor aside to have plenty of time to prepare rich teaching. The more we feed our souls, the more we have to bless others with.

But let’s not leave it all to the preachers. I have a feeling that many who are in any form of Christian ministry are spending too much time on their computer keyboards and not enough time in the Word and making best use of the huge range of godly books and other material that are available in the English language. It’s easy to default to the computer, like it’s easy to sink back into idle channel surfing on the Internet or TV, and to miss out on the wide range of brilliant books that are available.

Growth requires change in any family and in any organisation. Let me ask you, what are you doing to feed your soul? It is a fast food diet or richer fare?

As Matthew Henry beautifully put it, ‘The apostles will no more be drawn from their preaching by the money laid at their feet than they will be driven from it by the stripes laid on their backs.’

Elections that release new layers of leadership
So the apostles appointed seven men of good character and repute; in an administrative capacity. The environment in which this occurred was Jewish; nobody was talking at this early stage of new converts giving up their Jewish customs – and the way in which people were elected is certainly not a modern one member one vote style; rather, elders were men of experience and judgement who referred their decisions back to the brethren for them to approve rather than debate. The apostles laid hands on them, and suddenly, a whole new layer of help was introduced – just as we are developing entirely new layers of leadership through the cluster model.

Clusters are an original and enterprising solution to being out of the church building. If we had persevered in the main building, we would simply have persevered with the same structure in which a few gifted individuals up front do it all – as it is we are multiplying leaders in all directions, and giving everyone the opportunity to participate in a totally different way.

Do get hold of a copy of the booklet I have just produced, ‘Moving into Clusters’ to see in more details why they are such an appropriate means for growth.

Because of the action the apostles took, the Greek speaking Jews came to a greater prominence – which was very timely considering that they would be the ones God used for taking the gospel very much wider in the years immediately ahead.

Change is challenging
We too are a church that is growing and changing as we move towards clusters – and change and growth can make people feel insecure. In change management terms, there are usually early adopters, and then main adopters, but there are usually resisters and sometimes a few saboteurs too. Resisters sometimes have important truths to hear, and can be won over by talking with them, but saboteurs cause many problems. I stressed a couple of weeks ago in the main church when people were out on clusters, let’s not fall into the way of saying that things shouldn’t be done in our church because it isn’t really our church at all, but the Lord Jesus.’ We must let him be the Head of His church.

Character must be tops
Let’s not sidestep that bit about the seven being full of wisdom and of good repute. We sometimes make big mistakes in choosing people according to their gifting, but gifting sometimes takes people where their character cannot keep them. Character speaks louder than words – or rather words carry weight when there is a godly character behind them. I want to illustrate this in a very simple way. Think back to the first teacher you can remember at school.

That teacher will have spoken hundreds of words to you every day you can remember very few of them now – but what they were may well be etched in your mind: if they were kind and welcoming, or alternatively harsh and threatening.

You see? You remember what they were much more clearly than what they said – or rather what they said has power because of the kind of person they were. The more authentic we are, the more power our words will have.

Finding our Role in the Body
So the disciples were released to carry forward the work they were uniquely gifted and qualified to do – and other gifted and spirit filled people were there to fill in the task behind them to make that work doable. They say in the army that it takes a team of ten to keep one man in the front line.

We lived for many years in a tiny village in Shropshire called Marshbrook that boasted a pub and an outstanding tug of war team. A few years ago our tiny hamlet came third in the world, in their weight class, actually beating the national teams of China and the US. You sometimes see people wandering around the village pulling barrels around filled with concrete as they get in practice. Once when Ruth was ten, she slipped down a steep bank under a tractor mower they came along and pulled her to safety!

Each of us must play our part in the tug of war team - or, pulling, as it is called these days. Will we always stay in the same position? Not necessarily by any means. When we next meet two of the people mentioned here – Stephen and Philip – we find them serving in a totally different capacity. There were extraordinarily gifted people in that group of seven, just as there are here in this church. May God find the right place for that gifting to express itself.

One hint I have found more than helpful when you know that you are about to move on: ‘stay until you leave.’ It is amazing how many things open up at the last minute, especially as people know that you are leaving they often open up more. There’s often a harvest to be reaped towards the last minute if you are prayerful and alert.
Some of us will be point or in the middle – not all of us can be anchor. Some feel more comfortable in the middle, some need to venture further forward, some for whatever reason retreat a bit; it’s no bad thing for certain types of leadership roles to be rotational. Geese don’t always fly point.

But the idea of flying point is a really important concept
Read the Parable of the Geese (see the very end of this file)

If we are flying point we need covering. It’s always wise to seek it out before you do things for the Lord. But it’s not only full time leaders who benefit by being prayed for: you can feel the difference: prayer brings certain things within reach which would otherwise have remained out of reach.


Don’t forget the prayer aspect!
All the really great evangelists and those who are most used by the Lord have strong prayer lives. It’s the area I have probably taught on most for the past twenty years, so I will look forward to sharing more in the months ahead.

God appointed some to be prophets, teachers, evangelists – some churches appear to have rewritten that verse: ‘in the church God appointed pastors, pastors and pastors.’ Most unfortunate! We need the full compliment to be a balanced church, like the one in Antioch in Acts 13 where we find prophets, teachers and evangelists working together, their different skills complementing, rather than fighting against each other.

Make room for these giftings and give God time.
Sarah Barratt brought us a prophetic word about clusters, to the effect that the dough is still rising and we are to be patient while that takes place. She then had a second picture. This time the bread was fully baked and fresh and she could see small groups of people receiving this bread. When they ate this bread, they came to appreciate its super flavour and each person said how nourished and refreshed they felt after eating it – and the welcoming smell of freshly baked bread was drawing others in to find out who had baked it. They also wanted to know the recipe and how to make this great bread so they can bake it for the people they know.

I suspect that what we are doing in this cluster-launch is going to be of direct benefit to other churches in due time.

So we come back to the starting question, do deeds matter more than words? We have seen that words can be used to deceive as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, or to denounce and oppose as in the example of the ruling authorities. But we have also seen the apostles preaching powerfully and arguing quite rightly that they must fear and honour God more than men. Words are powerful when they are backed up by a person who is laying all his or her life open to the Lord, and seeking to be used in His purposes in his or her right place in the tug of war we are all caught up in for God and against the ways of the world, the flesh and the devil. May that include all of us, and may we see something of what the early church experienced: many coming to faith.

Next autumn, when you see the Canadian geese heading south for the winter, flying along in a V shaped formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. As each bird flaps its wings it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds at least 70% to its flying range than if each bird were flying on its own.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going much more quickly and easily because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. If we have as much sense as a goose we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are.

When the head goose gets tired it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs . . . whether with people or with geese flying south. Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. What do we say when we honk from behind? Finally . . . and this is important . . . when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by gunshot and falls out of formation, the other geese fall out with it and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies. Only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation, to catch up with their group. If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

Copyright Robert Weston 2008 Canterbury.
All material may be freely used if properly attributed to:
Ruach (breath of life) Ministries

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