Archive for "Pastor Ryan’s Journal"

Vanish or Slip Away? What Happened to Philip?

Pastor Ryan's Journal Jul 11, 2017 Comments Off on Vanish or Slip Away? What Happened to Philip?



So Kylie Hofer, our brilliant Children’s Minister (part of an equally brilliant team) was working on the material to be taught to the kids in our services this next week when she ran into a biblical conundrum. For the last 10 weeks or so we have been slowly working through a book on how to read the Bible well (see below).

This study has been teaching us to ask good questions about what the text of the Bible would have meant to those who were hearing the text for the first time. The idea is that we should endeavor to understand what the biblical text meant to its author and to its initial recipients rather than just jump into the question of… What does this mean for me?

Only after we have come to a reasonable understanding of its original meaning (called exegesis) can or should we begin to ask questions about what the text means for us (called hermeneutics). So Kylie was putting these ideas to work on the text to be used in this week’s curriculum when she encountered something that she did not understand.


The text in question is that of Acts 8:26-40 (text given below).

This is the story about how after God used the newly elected Deacon named Philip to preach the gospel to the Samarians (Acts 8:4-8) the Lord sent Philip down the road that leads to Africa from Israel. The Lord gave Philip the direct instruction to go to a man who was in the service of the Queen of Ethiopia ad to speak to him about the Messiah.

Philip did as the Lord instructed, the man was filled with faith in Jesus and sought to be baptized on the spot because of his joy in learning about the Messiah.


All of that sounds pretty easy to understand. To the original audience of Acts, this was a divine appointment. God used his man Philip to go and give Jesus to an influential and faithful member of African royal society. The man desired to be baptized, also not a surprise as in Acts this has been the pattern at Pentecost and again in Samaria.

What comes next is the part that stumped Kylie and brought this issue to me as a point of discussion. After the man was baptized, Philip is said to have been taken away from the Ethiopian caravan and was not seen again until he appeared in another town (Ashdod or Azotus probably about 10-15 miles from where the baptism occurred).


Now the traditional reading of this situation has Philip vanishing into thin air… disappearing like magic from the view of the Ethiopians and then suddenly reappearing in another town.

This is not a problem for those who believe in miracles. Miracles are when God defies his own laws of physics and changes the world to meet his will. So for most Christians this interpretation of the vanishing deacon is no problem to believe and we usually do not give it another thought.

However, Kylie asked a pertinent question when she inquired about how the audience of Acts might have understood this situation. And so we dived into the text and started asking our questions.


The verses in question are given to us in the NIV (2011) as…

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.


In the English versions, there is nothing that says that this was to be understood as a vanishing act like we might imagine thanks to our love for Sci-Fi movies. It simply says that God intervened and Philip was taken from the caravan unseen and that Philip was not heard from again until he appeared in the next town over.

But we can understand where the vanishing idea comes from. We want Philip to teleport to another town because we think that is cool. So cool that almost all the children’s Bibles in our office push the supernatural element to the breaking point as they teach kids that Philip vanished.

But the question needs to be answered by asking our questions to the biblical text rather than to Stephen King. And so I shall.


Question 1.

What does the text actually say?

πνεῦμα κυρίου   ἥρπασεν  τὸν Φίλιππον καὶ οὐκ εἶδεν αὐτὸν οὐκέτι

Spirit of the Lord  snatched/grabbed  Philip     and not   he see  him   anymore

The only part of the text that needs to be examined from the perspective of the original audience is this idea that the Lord grabbed or snatched Philip away.  This comes out of the verb, ἥρπασεν, which is used many times elsewhere in the New Testament.

In most all of those uses the verb is speaking about someone reaching into a group to remove an individual item. In the immediate context of the book of Acts there is a use of the term that should help us understand the right use of this idea with Philip.


In Acts 23:10 we hear the following…

10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

Here the Apostle Paul was being mobbed by an angry crowd so the troops were sent in to remove him, snatch him, and take him somewhere else. This is the most common understanding of this idea and is the most likely way the audience of Acts would have heard the use of the term in question with Philip.


Question 2.

What was the historical situation?

So here we want to know what else is happening around this situation with Philip. What was the historical context of his encounter and removal?

The Ethiopian man was in the royal court and immediate service of Kandice the Queen of the Ethiopian region.

Kandice is not the ruler’s name by the way. It is a title like Pharoah or Caesar that was handed down and recognized as a vassal ruler by the head office in Rome. Also, her kingdom was not modern Ethiopia but this was a name that covered the Nile region. This ruler was following in the footsteps of her predecessor Cleopatra.

This man was part of the household of the most powerful ruler in Norther Africa. This region is well known for its collection of scholars and educational materials. The library of Alexandria was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

It would not be hard for the audience to imagine that once Philip was prized as a preacher of truth that he would be “invited” to go with the caravan as the guest of the queen. This is not something that most people could say no to if they valued their necks.

So if we add this to the situation we see that the Lord spirited Philip away so that he would not be dragged off to Northern Africa as the pet of the Queen.


Question 3.

Is there a precedent or does this set a precedent?

God has done amazing things with and for those in his service. So it would not have been seen as impossible or unusual for the Spirit to break the laws of physics and cause Philip to physically disappear and reappear elsewhere.

However, there is no use of this vanishing act motif elsewhere in the New Testament for any of the others who would most certainly have liked God to cause them to teleport to safety.  This does not mean that Philip did not vanish but would the audience of Acts have come to this conclusion over the simpler explanation that the Spirit helped Philip simply slip away and get back to work sharing the Gospel with the people around Jerusalem?


So where does this leave us?

How are we supposed to understand the meaning of Acts 8:390-40?

Well, here is what we can say for sure…

  1. God sent Philip and was directly involved with this situation.
  2. God intervened and rescued Philip from being permanently attached to the Ethiopian caravan.
  3. God helped being Jesus to Northern Africa by sending someone from Northern Africa to present the gospel to his own people in his own way.
  4. Philip went on about his ministry and became an influential evangelist in the port city of Caesarea where he hosted Paul and his companions (Acts 21:8).


It is my opinion, based on the facts presented here, that Philip did not vanish like Harry Potter and reappear in Azotus in a puff of smoke.

Instead, Philip was obedient to God and was sent away from the Ethiopians so that he could carry on his mission of sharing the gospel in and around his home community.

The Ethiopians, North Africans, were spared the dangers of venerating Philip as some sort of godlike figure who would be lifted up as more important that Christ himself as he became the leader of the North African church.

All of these points are far more important than having a single moment of cool in the disappearance of Philip as depicted in our modern reading of this singular event.


The text being studied by the staff is that of:

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. Fourth Edition. See the link below to find a copy for yourself.


The NIV 2011 text of Acts 8:26-40 is given below:

 26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Value of Communion

Pastor Ryan's Journal May 02, 2017 Comments Off on Value of Communion

This article was recently published in the On Mission Journal which can be found here…

I wanted to share this reflection with you and make you aware of the great resource available in this monthly publication.

Thanks, Ryan 



Look at this picture. Does this remind you of something? Your schedule? Your life? How you feel when you walk into your local church service?

Truth be told, we all feel like we are spinning plates. We jump from one potential disaster to the next, hoping that we can just keep moving long enough to get to that next, wobbly looking problem at the end of the day.

Oh, and let’s not kid ourselves, we can often feel like this when we are supposed to be spending time with God. We struggle to pause and reflect on the deeper, more spiritual aspects of our walk with the Lord because every time we quite down and start to listen to the Lord, we can hear the faint sound of one more plate getting dangerously out of control.

What we need is some forced reflection. We need the Lord to give us something to do that will help us focus and train our busy minds and ears on what is real and true in our faith. We need something more substantive than a song, something more hands on than a sermon, and something that speaks loud enough to get our attention in the midst of a busy world.

This is where the gift of communion steps in. When we participate in the gift of communion during a time of purposeful worship and reflection we find a point of connection that is tailor made for our modern world.

The physical act of holding the bread and the cup in our hands does wonders for our ability to stop spinning plates, juggling schedules, and fidgeting with nervous energy. When we have the opportunity to pause during a gathering of other like minded Christ followers so that we might work through the meaning and the message of this God given act of worship, we are able to do something that is not found anywhere else in our world.

During the few precious moments that we celebrate communion, we are able to focus on the symbols of the bread and the cup to the exclusion of all other influences. We are given the freedom to focus on what we are holding, tasting, and consuming. The physicality of the bread and the cup force us to be present with the Lord in that moment.

When we hold the bread, we are reminded of so many truths. As this bread is real and physical, so was the Son of God. As the bread has been broken for us, so was the Christ. As the bread feeds us, so Jesus reminds us that he is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) that the Father has sent to all who call on his name.

When we take the cup in our hands, we are able to see the sacrifice made for each one of us. Jesus shed his blood on the cross, the greatest gift ever given and we cannot ignore this message while we are trying not to spill it down the front of our shirts.

There are a million amazing truths and points that can be said about the value and the meaning of our shared times of communion but the one that I need the most is this…

I need my times of communion to help me stop focusing on all that is moving and chaotic in life so that I can, for a few moments, focus on the one reality that actually matters for the rest of eternity.

I hope that we all experience this gift during our next opportunity to feel that bread and hold that cup. I hope that the physical stuff of communion will draw us into the present, the now, this moment with God. We all need to experience this gift as often as possible.

Ryan Laden

Board Chairman, Churches of Christ in WA

Senior Pastor, Warnbro Community Church


Life Group 101

News, Pastor Ryan's Journal Jan 30, 2017 Comments Off on Life Group 101



Hey there. It is great to see you checking out what it means to be a part of a Life Group.

When we talk about Life Groups at Warnbro we are talking about a great opportunity to grow in your knowledge of the Bible, grow in your willingness to put God’s truth to work in your life, and to grow in your trust and faith in Jesus Christ.

A Life Group is a small group of people who are also interested in growing in their relationship and experience with God. Together, the participants in a Life Group are able to encourage each other, pray with each other, and practically help one another in times of need.

A lot of our current groups meet weekly or fortnightly in people’s homes at times that are most convenient for those involved.  If you would like to talk to someone about when and where these groups meet we would love to help.

The easiest way to get to this information is to click here…

Alternatively you can call the church office at 08 95932133 and we can take it from there. 

If you are curious about what it takes to lead, host, or be a committed member of a Life Group we have posted a great resource below. This is a PDF that tries to help you understand what it means to be in a group, how to run a group, and what kinds of things often take place in a Life Group. If you are interested in that information just click on the following…   Life Groups 101

It is great to hear from you and we hope to se you around the church very soon. 

Yours in Christ, 

Ryan Laden, Senior Pastor. 

Genesis 1-11 Combined Study Notes

News, Pastor Ryan's Journal Oct 10, 2016 Comments Off on Genesis 1-11 Combined Study Notes



Genesis 1-11 Bible Study

Combined Notes from weeks 1-5

Here is a link to a single PDF that has all 45 pages of notes from our most recent study.

001 Genesis 1-11 Combined Handouts small copy

Moving Away from Worry

News, Pastor Ryan's Journal Jun 19, 2016 Comments Off on Moving Away from Worry



The following Bible study was prepared in response to the message given by Pastor Ryan Laden at Warnbro Community Church on the 19th of June, 2016.

You can watch or listen to this message by going to the sermons page of


God wants to help us replace our worry and fear with his gifts of peace and wisdom.

In the following passage, taken from the larger message of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we can hear some of the steps that we are invited to take as we travel away from the destructive power of worry and into the healing power of God’s peace.

If you are interested in moving out of a place of anxiety and fear, then listen to the message of God’s word and prayerfully consider how the following needs to be applied to your life.

Philippians 4:6-7

6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.


There is a big difference between living with a general sense of anxiety and having specific concerns and worries in life.

In this passage we are instructed by the Apostle Paul to reject the destructive influence of worry and instead, to embrace prayer as an alternative to worry.

In order to bring your worries, fears, concerns, wants, and needs to the Lord Jesus Christ in a time of prayer, we must first be able to articulate and identify these worries.

In the space provided, write out some of the worries or concerns that you are currently experiencing that you know you need to bring to the Lord in prayer.





We are encouraged to pray. In fact, in verse 6 we are told to pray about everything.

Are there some areas of your life, your emotions, your background, or your wants and desires that you are hesitant to bring to God in prayer?



Can you give an example of something that you are not comfortable sharing with God in a time of open communication?



At the end of verse 6 we are told to give thanks for all the Lord has done during our time of prayer.

In the space provided, write out some of the points of gratitude that you would like to share with the Lord right now?





God’s Peace

In verse 7 we are told that as we talk to God about any and everything in our lives, and as we learn to demonstrate our thanks to the Lord for the good that he has done and is doing in us,

we should begin to see the worry in our hearts be replaced with God’s gift of peace.

In the space provided, describe what you feel God’s peace might look like or be like if applied to your worries and concerns listed above.





Fix Your Thoughts

In the next section of this teaching, the Apostle Paul gives us a great example of how we can go from living in fear and worry to living in the peace of the Living God.

Philippians 4:8-9

8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.

Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.


We are being called by God to take our eyes and our thoughts off the problems and worries that we are bringing to the Lord in our time of prayer.

Instead of focusing on these issues, the we are being invited to replace them with those things that will help us live in the peace being offered to us through faith in Jesus Christ.

In your own words, write out a brief description or example of each of the following replacement thoughts that were given in this teaching:








Worthy of praise

From your perspective, how does this shift of focus away from the negatives of worry, fear, doubt, and anxiety and toward the good listed above, impact your ability to walk through life in the peace that goes beyond all understanding?


Next Steps

Spend some time in prayer with God, talking about whatever is on your mind and in your heart.

  • Hold nothing back from the Lord.
  • Give God thanks for the good he has done in you. Choose to remember the good.
  • Ask the Lord to help you replace the destructive nature of worry and fear with his gift of peace and with the power of his presence.
  • Ask the Lord to help you be aware of the good that the Lord is doing so that you will be able to spend less time consumed by the bad that comes with unchecked worry.