Chiasm in Acts 6:1-7

Others have probably noticed this, but as I was working on Acts 6:1-7 last week, this chiasm jumped out at me:

A  In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

B  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.

C  Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them

D  and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

C1 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 

B1  They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

A1  So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Analysis:

A  Church is growing so rapidly that it experiences growing pains

B  Twelve call together all the disciples (church members) to address a pressing need

Twelve ask the disciples to choose seven Spirit-filled and wise men

So that the Twelve can give their full attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word

C1 The disciples choose seven Spirit-filled and wise men

B1 The disciples present these seven men to the apostles, who called them together, for their approval and blessing

A1 Church continues to grow and flourish

A chiasm, among other things, helps the reader to discern (consciously or subconsciously) the center of a given passage, in this case the apostolic task of prayer and the ministry of the word (D), and matters relating to or leading back to that center, in this case, the growth of Christ’s church through the agency of Spirit-filled men, the Twelve and the Seven.

Takeaway? Prayer and the ministry of the word lie at the heart of the life and ministry of the apostolic church. Pastors who believe “one holy catholic and apostolic church” (Nicene Creed) have a duty, then, to give considerable amount of time to both of these. In our rushed, busy culture, it may be necessary for us pastors remind ourselves that we have permission to spend a lot of time praying and preparing sermons. Permission, because it is our duty and holy calling.

Have you ever asked your minister whether he makes enough time, both to pray and to prepare sermons? It may lead to serious reflection on his part if he’s not doing so, or some much-needed affirmation if he is doing so, and in every case–as odd as it sounds–permission to do so.

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Published in: on May 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Prayer for Illumination

Here is an example of a prayer that was used before a sermon on Micah 1:1-2:9, for which the New Testament Lesson was John 1:14-18. A minister could adapt this prayer according to what he is preaching on any given Lord’s Day.

O Radiant God,
  Source of never ending glory,
Creator,
  Saviour of your people,
We pray to you for the gift of the Holy Spirit,
  that we might understand the prophecies
    of your servant Micah,
That being instructed by his word,
    we might be wise in your ways.
We pray that hearing the Gospel
  of your servant John
  we might perceive grace and truth
  and thereby enter your eternal kingdom.
Through Jesus Christ,
  our Lord.

AMEN.

Source: Hughes Oliphant Old, The Prophecies of Micah and the Gospel at Christmas: A Series of Sermons (1985), 10. Rev. Old preached this series of sermons to his flock at Faith Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette, Indiana during Advent and Christmas, 1984.

A Biblical Theology of Prayer

According to one of my teachers Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, in his monumental Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church (Tolle Lege Press, 2013):

From the standpoint of a biblical theology of prayer two things should be said: (1) Recount the story of God’s saving acts, as we find them in Psalms 78, 105, and 136, and (2) dedicate our lives to his service in recognition of his grace.

He’s commenting here on the Thanksgiving Prayer or Prayer of Dedication, as he calls it, in Calvin’s communion liturgy. For those of us who’ve grown up on the liturgical forms inherited from the Reformation, this rings true. Old provides a translation of this Lord’s Supper thanksgiving prayer formulated by Calvin:

Heavenly Father, we return to you our prayers and eternal thanks, that you have prospered us with such manifold blessings. You have lifted us up from our poverty and futility and brought us into the communion of your Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour. For our sake you offered him up to death and even now you have given him to us for our food and nourishment.

Now grant us also this further blessing, that we not ever be allowed to forget these things, but have them engraven upon our hearts. Grant that we grow and diligently increase in the faith; that we abound in all kinds of good works. Grant that we live out our whole lives in the exaltation of your glory and the edification of our neighbour, through the same Jesus Christ your Son, who in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns eternally with you, O Father. Amen.

 

 

 

60th Anniversary Meditation & Prayer

I was requested to publish this from our 60th Anniversary Celebration. SOLI DEO GLORIA!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, honourable guests, neighbours, friends,

I was asked to focus on the last decade of Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church, the better part of which I’ve been privileged to serve here. It’s impossible to cover everything, so I will just highlight a few of the great things God has done for us that make us so happy.

Psalm 126 talks about how God’s people at that time “were like those who dreamed.” God has done great things for us in Christ, and when that happens, all sorts of other things happen that only seem possible in a dream. That has been true for us, by God’s grace, over the past decade. I won’t get into all the delightful exegetical details of this beautiful Bible passage. That’s for another time. For the purposes of tonight’s celebration, I just want to highlight a few of our own dreams as a church.

One of our biggest dreams as a church, a dream that is coming true every day for us, is the mission work God has allowed us to do over the past decade. In 2004, setting up theological training in our overseas mission field was just a dream. Today it is a reality. Many church leaders are being trained and churches planted, and through them thousands of others are being reached with the gospel and provided with rich and sound biblical teaching. Many souls are coming to Christ; many others are coming to greater maturity in Christ.

The dream of being a light and witness of Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, has always been alive and well in this church. Ever since the first decade of our existence. I’ll share with you just one way I know that is a fact: the red-roofed church donation box in the foyer. If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure you take a look at it later. It’s on a table in the foyer, right by the front entrance.

'The red-roofed church,' one of the first donation boxes, prominently displaying in Dutch and English:  "Preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). God's call to mission and evangelism remains a high priority 60 years later.

‘The red-roofed church,’ one of the first donation boxes, prominently displaying in Dutch and English: “Preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). God’s call to mission and evangelism remains a high priority 60 years later.

So what’s so special about this red-roofed church? Well, displayed prominently with white letters on the red roof, both in Dutch and in English is this text from Mark 16:15:  “Preach the gospel to every creature!” More about that on Sunday afternoon.

This model-scale church building is where members placed their tithes in the early years of this church. I would imagine that a big part of the dream at that time was to gather enough money to build a church.

It’s obvious that even as they were saving up for their own house of worship, though, those early church members and their leaders—some of whom are represented here tonight, either in person or by their offspring—they saw the importance of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ into the world. Their dream was to be a light for Christ in the world. And that dream hasn’t died. It is still alive and well, and we desire to continue carrying the torch that ignited that dream.

We desire to be used by God to make that dream a reality. God has his ways of making seemingly impossible dreams come true, and we plan to hold on to that dream by God’s grace and in obedience to his call.

Just think about this: The church of Jesus Christ is the most ethnically diverse body of people anywhere in the world. I have it on reliable authority that the city of Surrey, which had Cloverdale as its first town centre, is one of the most ethnically and socially diverse cities in Canada. This is also reflected, to a degree, among us.

Back in the first decade, the church membership list consisted mostly of Dutch-European names, most of them either beginning with Van or Vander, or ending with Veld or Hof or Horst—names and families that are still well-known and deeply cherished among us.

Six decades later, however, our church family mosaic has become even richer and more diverse. Family names like Li and Wu, Chang and Zhang and Dong, Jubenvill and Diack, Lazzara and Hansen, Shei and Burongo and Kalombo have become just as familiar and dear to us. Our church family now has a beautiful blend of many different nationalities.

Our hope and prayer is that our ethnic diversity will continue to grow richer as the years pass, and as God continues to bring all the nations of the earth to Jesus. We were like those who dreamed. Let’s stay that way. Let’s continue to hold God’s Word high, and be obedient to his call, as a church in the world, as a church that belongs to the everlasting kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

PRAYER

Gracious Father, for the joy of being your people,for a gracious sense of your favour in the past, your goodness in the present, and your promises for the future, we give thanks to you, through the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you, O Father, that so often in this building, and whenever and wherever this your congregation has gathered over the past 60 years, you have been present with us, and spoken your word to us through the reading and the preaching of the gospel.

That among us the waters of baptism have continued to flow—for the forgiveness of our sins in the blood of Jesus, and for a rich welcome into your eternal kingdom.

That among us the bread of life, which is Jesus Christ, has continued to nourish our bodies and souls for eternal life.

We pray, as you are the God who knows our past, and who sees us now, and has planned our future, that as you lead us into another decade of church life, we may have a sense that our past is bathed in your pardoning grace, that our present is held by your strong hand, and that our glorious future in Jesus Christ and his eternal kingdom has been once and for all secured.

For the many gifts that you have distributed among us, many of which have been on beautiful display this evening, we give you thanks.

For the fellowship and love of Jesus Christ and his Spirit that binds us together,as brothers and sisters, as families,as a variety of people brought together as one in Christ, we give you thanks.

For the friendship and love of those who have joined and greeted us tonight,
as neighbours, as friends, as past members and leaders among us, as charter members, we give you thanks.

Give us, both as people and as a church, wills that bow happily to you, affections that rise in love towards you, and lives that more and more please you.

Bless this church. And through us be pleased to bless this city, this province, this land, this world.

All for Jesus, for the sake his kingdom, for your glory, through your mighty Spirit.

To you, O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be all glory, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be, world without end.

AMEN.

N.T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms

Those who love the biblical psalms will want to reach for N.T. Wright’s The Case for the PsalmsHere are some highlights I couldn’t wait to share:

By all means write new songs. Each generation must do that. But to neglect the church’s original hymnbook is, to put it bluntly, crazy.

There is a temptation to act

as though the Psalms are the problem, and we should try to fit them into our world. Actually, again and again it is we, muddled and puzzled and half-believing, who are the problem; and the question is more how we can find our way into their world, into the faith and hope that shine out in one psalm after another.

And here’s a great one on Christian liturgy:

Good liturgy, whether formal or informal, ought never to be simply a corporate emoting session, however “Christian,” but a fresh and awed attempt to inhabit the great unceasing liturgy that is going on all the time in the heavenly realms. (That’s what those great chapters, Revelation 4 and 5, are all about.) The Psalms offer us a way of joining in a chorus of praise and prayer that has been going on for millennia and across all cultures. Not to try to inhabit them, while continuing to invent nonpsalmic “worship” based on our own feelings of the moment, risks being like a spoiled child who, taken to the summit of Table Mountain with the city and the ocean spread out before him, refuses to gaze at the view because he is playing with his Game Boy.

It only gets better:

The Psalms, I want to suggest here, are songs and poems that help us not just to understand this most ancient and relevant worldview but actually to inhabit and celebrate it–this worldview in which, contrary to most modern assumptions, God’s time and ours overlap and intersect, God’s space and ours overlap and interlock, and even (this is the really startling one, of course) the sheer material world of God’s creation is infused, suffused, and flooded with God’s own life and love and glory.

Speaking about the symbolism of Gothic cathedrals, those “great vaulted spaces, soaring high above ordinary human capacities,” Wright says:

When we sing, the sound made even by small-scale earthbound creatures such as us rings around the rafters that we cannot otherwise reach.

And later this:

Sing these songs, and they will renew you from head to toe, from heart to mind. Pray these poems, and they will sustain you on the long, hard but exhilarating road of Christian discipleship.

I think you’ve probably figured out why I’m so thrilled about this book. If you don’t have it, get it and share it, or borrow it. Wright has a way of putting into words what you may have known or experienced for a long time but were never quite able to put into words. And of helping you go beyond.

Published in: on October 16, 2013 at 9:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A night-time prayer

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

As cited by Adam S. McHugh, retired hospice chaplain

Published in: on March 1, 2013 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Your kingdom come

Indeed, what are we praying for when we pronounce these absolutely unique words, “Thy kingdom come”? Above all, of course, we pray that this encounter may take place now, here, and today, in the present circumstances, that in my mundane and difficult life I could hear the words, “the kingdom is near you,” and that my life would be filled with the power and light of the kingdom, with the power and light of faith, love, and hope. Furthermore, we desire that the whole world, which so evidently lies in evil and longing, in fear and in striving, would see and receive this light, which entered the world some two thousand years ago, when at the outskirts of the Roman empire was heard that lonely, yet still sounding voice: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). We pray also that God would help us to not betray this kingdom, not to constantly fall away from it, not to sink into the engulfing darkness, and that finally, this kingdom of God would come in power, as Christ says.

–Alexander Schmemann, Our Father

Bringing things to Jesus’ attention

N.T. Wright reminds us of one of the crucial things about prayer worth remembering. Speaking of Philip and Andrew’s reaction to the large crowd before them that needed to be fed (Jn. 5:1-15), he writes in John for Everyone:

Philip doesn’t know what to do. Andrew doesn’t either, but he brings the boy and his bread and fish to Jesus’ attention. The point is obvious, but we perhaps need to be reminded of it: so often we ourselves have no idea what to do, but the starting-point is always to bring what is there to the attention of Jesus. You can never tell what he’s going to do with it—though part of Christian faith is the expectation that he will do something we hadn’t thought of, something new and creative.

The Lord Jesus doesn’t need us to bring things to his attention for him to notice them. But we need to, to recognize that what seems to us an impossible situation is something that he can solve in ways we’d never expected.

Published in: on February 26, 2013 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Prayer for the hastening dawn

Grant, O Lord, as the Dawn hastens to full day that we also may soon see clearly, face to face and fully, what we only see now through a glass darkly.

AMEN.

–D. Patrick Cassidy

Published in: on January 26, 2013 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Marvel of the Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer in particular is a marvel of compression, and full of meaning. It is a compendium of the gospel (Tertullian), a body of divinity (Thomas Watson), a rule of purpose as well as of petition, and thus a key to the whole business of living. What it means to be a Christian is nowhere clearer than here.

–J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ

Published in: on January 17, 2013 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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