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Posts Tagged ‘From Eden to Eternity’

The book of Acts is full of dramatic, exciting stories. Last Sunday 19 June 2011, I preached at my church and below is most of what I said… plus a few added visuals.

The reason many people in Ireland have been reading GodActs together is because 2011 is the Biblefresh year recognising the 400th anniversary of the first publication of the King James Bible. GodActs is the PCI Board of Mission in Ireland’s contribution to the Biblefresh year. Do you see the Biblefresh logo on the cover of the booklet?

The King James Bible is the all time best selling book in the English language. Did you know that it is also the most stolen book in history?

This morning my title is Acts 29.  But what is the Book of Acts all about?

Some Bibles entitle it the Acts of the Apostles – and it does tell the stories of what the apostles and disciples did after Jesus finished his earthly life.

Other people say that a better title would be the Acts of the Holy Spirit – and that’s an excellent title too because it was only after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost that the apostles and disciples were empowered to do what they did.

So what is Acts all about?

  1. Acts is full of stimulating stories!

There’s Pentecost when the disciples experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and began preaching to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world for the festival. And everyone heard them in their own heart language.

Then there is the story of how Peter and John going to the Temple healed a man crippled from birth – a great story. The people who witnessed it were filled with wonder and amazement!

And what about Philip and the Ethiopian Chancellor of the Exchequer? That’s one of my favourites because he was the first African Christian… well, as far as we know.

And Saul’s conversion. The man, who hated the Christians and was cruelly hunting them down, became a Christian himself in a remarkable encounter with Jesus.

And then all the exciting adventures as Paul and his companions went on missionary journeys around the Mediterranean world.

Great stuff! Acts is full of the stories we remember from Sunday school.

Let’s ask the question again – so what is Acts all about?

  1. Acts is full of tough stuff!

After healing the crippled man, Peter and John were arrested and thrown in prison.

Stephen was stoned to death and became the first Christian martyr.

There was persecution and many of the Christians fled for their lives from Jerusalem.

James the brother of John was executed by King Herod.

Again Peter was imprisoned.

And what about Paul? Remember how the Lord told Ananias that he would show Paul how much he would suffer for the Lord’s name. And he did. Imprisoned, flogged, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked and eventually executed in Rome. Paul gives a horrific list of what happened to him in 2 Corinthians 11.

Do we gloss over all this tough stuff as we read Acts? Do we focus on the exciting stories and edit out the suffering that Christians experienced – both then and now?

So… let’s ask the question a third time – so what is Acts all about?

  1. Acts is about the growth of the Christian church!

That’s the core of Acts.

Remember the cover of GodActs? Those circles radiating out from Jerusalem…

Acts tells us how God used a relatively small group of Christians as they obediently carried out Jesus’ instructions in Acts 1:8

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Rome and Ethiopia might not be the ends of the earth for us, but they were close enough in the first century AD.

Here’s the question for the final time – so what is Acts all about?

  1. It’s part of the big story of the whole Bible!

One of my favourite stories written by Luke isn’t in the book of Acts at all. It’s Luke 24 8 the story of the resurrected Jesus meeting two disciples, Cleopas and his friend (his wife?) on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t recognise Jesus as he talked to them…

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” v27

Jesus was saying that what we know as the Old Testament was all about him. It was all about how he would come to earth as the Messiah, but not in the way the Jews had expected. It explained that he would suffer and die and rise again to life on the third day.

Cleopas and his friend were overjoyed as they realised that it was Jesus – and then he disappeared. But they said…

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” v32

So what did they do? As it was getting dark, they hurried 7 miles back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples their story about meeting Jesus.

Many people throughout the UK and Ireland saw the Wycliffe presentation of the drama From Eden to Eternity performed by the Saltmine Theatre Company last March.

Here’s Paul’s conversion scene in the show…

Saul's meets jesus on the road to Damascus

Saul's meets Jesus on the road to Damascus

Those of you who saw FE2E might remember Paul’s words towards the end of the presentation?

“Salvation comes by Jesus Christ through grace. I preached his Word and helped his church to the last of my strength and the end of my life.”

And that is exactly what Paul did!

The last two verses of Acts 28 say…

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house [in Rome] and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Like Cleopas, Paul told people his story of how Jesus changed his life …and so did many others that we have never heard of.  As they travelled around they told people about God’s love for Israel and about how, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they too could be brought into God’s family.

And the people that Paul told about Jesus told others, who told others, who told others …

Not that it was easy to be a Christian; sometimes the young church had to meet in secret, in caves and hidden places. When things were at their worst, Christians were thrown to the lions for public entertainment.

Satan roared, but the Church grew. Quietly, one by one, people told their friends and family about the good news of Jesus – and the people they told, told others who told others who told others…

And so the church grew – the Church that had been persecuted by the Roman Empire outgrew and outlasted the most powerful political force the world had ever seen.  It wasn’t all plain sailing, with power and influence, came corruption and arrogance. But even at the worst of times, there were still those who kept their eyes on Jesus and what he had done and who told others about him… people like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther and William Tyndale.

The Church has done great things down through the years; there are amazing buildings, stories of great heroism and some truly remarkable people. But the strength of the Christian faith has always been the thousands, millions of individual Christians who don’t find their way into the history books.

People who told their story about Jesus in word and action.

Many many people quietly and unobtrusively followed in the footsteps of the first Christians and told people about Jesus and those people told others, who told others, who told others – who told you and me!

For the last few sentences, I’ve been talking about Acts 29 – the chapter that isn’t in the Bible; the chapter that began when New Testament history ended; the chapter that isn’t finished yet; the chapter we live in today.

Finally back to Acts 1:8 again…

 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The first disciples heard these words from Jesus at a time when their lives had been turned upside down and inside out. Jesus had been arrested, crucified, came to life again, spent time with them. They were looking forward to amazing things happening as the Kingdom of God was restored to Israel!

But Jesus turned their lives upside down once again. He spoke these well known words – and disappeared via a cloud into the sky.

As we have seen in reading through Acts, they obeyed. In Acts 2 they were filled with the Holy Spirit – and began their mission… the roller coaster journey that is the Book of Acts.

And what about us? This same exciting roller coaster journey with Jesus awaits us – as a church, as individual Christians. How are we responding to Jesus’ words up there on the screen?

Acts 1:8  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

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Ballynahinch Baptist Church

Just before and after the last night of the From Eden to Eternity Irish leg of the tour in Ballynahinch Baptist Church, I got some feedback from people who had attended the show.

Two church youth workers who were at the Stormont event:

Hi John! I just wanted to say thank you for allowing us to attend “From Eden to Eternity”. We both throughly enjoyed the evening and thought that the show itself showed God’s love in such an awesome way! It was really moving! The actors were brilliant and the script was ingenious! There were some parts where we were roaring with laughter and others where we wanted to cry! It was an amazing show so thank you very much for putting it on and for inviting us 🙂

The leader of a Young Adults group texted me about the Crescent event:

Congrats and thanks to all involved in putting on last night’s show. Very well put together and helpful in bringing the Bible to life. All the young adults there enjoyed it.

And so to the last night in Ireland…

Sam doing pre-show sound checks

The Ballynahinch audience was around 200 and interacted enthusiastically with the drama – sometimes there was loud laughter; at other times there was a hushed silence as the Bible brought to life on the stage impacted people’s hearts and minds. Jon, Mim, Tom, Ashley and Sam put on another energy-packed performance.

"God has brought me laughter" Abraham & Sarah celebrate the birth of Isaac

The Trinity restored after the Resurrection

And afterwards… the van was packed up yet again!

The Saltmine Team pack the van after the last night in Ireland

I said my farewells, I drove home and I received this from a good friend:

Thanks for tonight. A superb evening, very engaging and much thought provoking for discussion. Keep the dream alive.

Other blogs in this On the Wycliffe Road series…

Limavady

Book of Kells meets Eden to Eternity

Dublin FE2E

Ballymena FE2E

First Minister meets Eden to Eternity

Portadown FE2E & Moira

Crescent FE2E

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And last night From Eden to Eternity was back in Belfast, at the Crescent Church just beside Queen’s University!

Crescent Church in the Belfast university area

The evening went really well: an audience of around 450 equalling our best numbers at Ballymena. Jon, Miriam, Tom, Ashley and Sam were all on top form despite tiredness starting to set in after 5 performances in six days. As for me, presenting the Wycliffe bit, I had a taste of how often the actors and techie Sam have to adapt from venue to venue… Although the audience probably didn’t miss anything, I had to adapt at the last minute when we discovered that the visuals would not work – and my presentation had to be all me speaking with no fascinating visuals to liven up the message for our audience. So I’m hoping for the full audio-visual experience to be working at Ballynahinch tonight – the last venue in the Irish leg of the tour.

It was good to see lots of friends at Crescent last night – a special mention for the Saintfield Roaders, both the more mature contingent and the Young Adults who claimed the front row of the balcony – did I hear a bit of banter from that direction when I did my intro part?

As I chat to people afterwards, I’m hearing more and more  that the dramatic presentation of the Bible makes people think.

Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac at Crescent Church last night

People say, “I saw that in a new way”  or “I wasn’t totally comfortable about how that part was done, but it certainly makes me think about my own pre-suppositions about what the Bible is saying there.” And I want to write a blog taking that topic further when the Irish tour is over, the team heads for Scotland – and I have a wee bit more time to think and write.

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It’s been a busy weekend!

First Portadown Presbyterian Church

On Saturday evening From Eden to Eternity hit Portadown for the fourth night of the Irish tour – hosted by Edenderry CE in First Portadown Presbyterian Church. It was quite a contrast for the Saltmine team… from the wide open spaces of the Great Hall at Stormont to a tight stage with an audience of around 280 mostly teenagers. Like the professionals they are, the guys adapted to the new set and put in another superb performance – although I thought that Moses was in danger of dumping the dead Egyptian overseer over the edge of the stage rather than dragging him backstage!

It was a lively atmosphere and the comedy routine between Pete and Andy got some empathetic interaction from the audience and afterwards I got good feedback and some theological discussion from some of the leaders over a cup of tea and a delicious slice of Fairtrade chocolate cake. [Sorry, Jon and team, but I have my networking to do while you slave away packing up the set 🙂 ]

Here’s a moving feedback comment that we got on the night:

The Eden to Eternity show was great! I’ve been feeling discouraged & worrying about someone who is unwell, so the part about Peter sinking into the water encouraged me to look more to Jesus.  Thank you.

And once again in my end slot from the stage, I shared a line from the show that has been buzzing around in my head since last Wednesday in Dublin:

Sooner or later when you follow Jesus, you do things you never thought you’d do.

 

So on Sunday, while Kat and the Saltmine team had a day off and succeeded in losing each other in the Peace Maze at Castlewellan

Peace Maze in Castlewellan Forest Park

Moira Baptist Church

… I was at Moira Baptist Church for their mission day evening service along with Wycliffe colleagues Philip and Heather Saunders and former Wycliffe short termer Vic Walsh. Again I spoke on the Road to Emmaus passage from Luke 24 focussing on the verse where Cleopas and his companion talk about how their hearts burned within them as Jesus talked to them on the road – and shared stories from around the world as people’s hearts are warmed by hearing the Bible in their heart languages for the first time.

And now it’s Monday morning 7 March 2011 – and tonight we are at Crescent Church Belfast – see you there!

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Friday’s From Eden to Eternity show was always going to be different. It wasn’t in a church. It was an event for invited guests. It was in the Great Hall at Stormont. We were there at the invitation of the Right Honourable Peter Robinson MLA,  First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Peter Robinson welcomes Wycliffe and our guests to Stormont

In his opening comments, Mr Robinson said that it’s so easy for us to take things for granted and that one of the things we take for granted is that we have the Scriptures. There are millions of people around the world who don’t share this privilege.

The Great Hall was a tremendously atmospheric venue for From Eden to Eternity and the invited audience was enthralled at the energetic performance as our Saltmine friends Jon, Miriam, Ashley and Tom took us through the Bible story from creation to eternity.

Eddie Arthur introducing the show to the audience in the Great Hall

Wycliffe Bible Translators UK Director Eddie Arthur linked the show and built on Mr Robinson’s opening comments. The Christian church has grown because the first disciples took Jesus’ parting words seriously and told others about him and these people told others, who told others, who told others… and eventually someone told us. The challenge to our audience and to the church in the UK and Ireland is to continue this process and be part of telling 340 million people who speak over 2,000 different languages who still have no access to the story of God’s love for them in a language that they can understand.

Here are a few of my favourite photos from Eden to Eternity at Stormont…

Saul's meets Jesus on the road to Damascus

Adam and Eve disobey God in the Garden of Eden
Abraham on the point of sacrifing Isaac
Simon and Andrew: Who is Jesus?

The final scene of from Eden to Eternity

And so to First Portadown Presbyterian tonight, Crescent Church in Belfast on Monday and Ballynahinch Baptist on Tuesday!

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Wellington Presbyterian Church, Ballymena

Welcome to From Eden to Eternity – the Story of everything as the Bible is brought to life on stage by The Saltmine Theatre Company and Wycliffe Bible Translators. Journey with us through tragedy and tears, music and mirth, serpents and salvation!

Tim's rueful look at the wee bump from Friday night

On Thursday we travelled from Dublin to Wellington Presbyterian Church in Ballymena and it was my turn to do the Wycliffe bit at the start… inviting the audience to make sure their mobile phones were switched off, their luggage safely stowed in the overhead lockers, their seats firmly in the upright position and their seatbelts fastened securely as we started out on the journey From Eden to Eternity together.

Team photo taken before the show

It was another superb performance from the Saltmine team – and today we feature Sam the Techie Man! Sam has a ridiculously vast number of cues to make during the show. He was just great last night.

Sam hard at work on th sound desk

Part of my job at the end is to invite members of the audience to become Wycliffe Voices…

Wycliffe Voice sign up card

… but more about that another time!

So two down and four to go. Tonight we’re in The Great Hall at Stormont with an audience of invited guests…

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We’re off!

First night of From Eden to Eternity with Saltmine Theatre Company and Wycliffe Bible Translators in St Mark’s Church, Dublin.

St Mark's Church, Dublin

Saltmine set-up

Kat sets up the Wycliffe stand

Grabbing a sandwich before the show

Good first night crowd of 160 plus who gave a standing ovation at the end, filled in lots of Wycliffe response cards and bought a good number of Biblefresh handbooks.

Joe Kelly does the Wycliffe bit

Saul denounces the Christians

Next stop Thursday 3 March 2011 at Wellington Presbyterian Church, Ballymena

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