Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pentecost! Acts 2:1-13

Pentecostal Christianity: The Only Kind there is!
Acts 2:1-13
Introduction: The title of this message might raise some eyebrows considering that we are a “Conservative Baptist” church!  “Pentecostal Christianity: The Only Kind there is!”  A couple of folks might be ready to call for a special business meeting, others, coming from a different church background, might think, “Finally, the pastor seems to be coming around!” I am being deliberately provocative. Understood correctly this title is historically accurate.  Though the “Pentecostal movement” as we know it today is a relatively recent phenomena (the beginning of the 20th century) “Pentecost” describes a key, foundational moment linked to the events of the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.  The only true Christianity is the continuation of the new phase of redemptive history that was initiated on the day of the first Christian Pentecost. It is the birth of the New Testament church.  
The church is not a building. It is a gathering of people, a called out assembly, a supernatural entity defined and empowered by the presence of the Spirit.  You might think, “I don’t feel very empowered this morning, supernaturally or otherwise, I didn’t get my second cup of coffee!” We are not talking about feelings, we are talking about reality. The just shall live be faith. That means believing what God said, taking Him at His word, trusting Him implicitly. The Spirit has been sent among us, according to promise, as the very presence of God. Through Him we are able to carry out the mission we have been given.
The Big Idea: The church is not a building. It is a gathering of people, a supernatural entity called out by God and defined and empowered by the presence of the Spirit.
I. The Context of the Spirit’s Coming—The Right Attitude to meet with God: Obedient, Believing, Available, and United (v.1). “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.” 
             God’s timing is always right. Jesus had told the disciples to wait. When the day came, when the time was right, because they believed Him and obeyed Him, they were together and available to be blessed by Him and to be used by Him. Jesus had told them about the coming Spirit, and to wait for Him in Jerusalem, and they took Him at His word. That is faith. Remember “the just shall live by faith.” Has God ever asked you to wait?  That seems to be one means that He uses to test our faith and to build our faith.
            It’s hard to over-estimate the importance of this event in the unfolding story of Luke/Acts. There are also some parallels between the two books: Luke 2 presents the incarnation of Christ, Acts 2 presents the incarnation of the church, the Body of Christ.  The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in Luke 3:22 at the beginning of His public ministry, and here the Holy Spirit descends on the church as they are to carry out His mission in the world.  Later, in Acts 11, we’ll see Peter returning to Jerusalem, to report to the leadership what had happened in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10. There he makes a statement that refers back to Pentecost (Acts 2) and emphasizes the significance of this day: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). The beginning? What beginning? Usually this phrase has an expressed predicate of some kind. In Philippians 4:15 Paul uses it to refer to the “beginning of the Gospel” going out into Europe on the 2nd missionary journey. It occurs also in John 1:1,2, there also without a predicate, referring to the beginning of Creation, alluding to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word…” i.e., “In the beginning God…”  Here in Acts 11 Peter referred to a “beginning” that was so significant, that was so recognized and understood that it did not have to be explained. What Peter had experienced in the house of Cornelius was parallel to what the church in Jerusalem had experienced “in the beginning,” i.e., on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out for the first time on the assembled followers of Jesus. In the context of Acts it seems to clearly refer to the beginning of the New Testament Church.  You see, the church is not a building. It is a gathering of people, a supernatural entity defined and empowered by the presence of the Spirit.

II. God is faithful: He kept His Word in sending The Spirit as promised (vv.2-4).  “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
            Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father.  Earlier, He had spoken to his disciples in the Upper Room about the Comforter who He would send in His name (John 13-17).  For example we read in John 16:7,  “…I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Three years before John the Baptist had announced that the Baptism in the Spirit would accompany the New Age of the Messiah that was at hand.  Messiah, the One whose sandals John was unworthy to untie, would baptize “…in the Holy Spirit and in fire…” (Luke 3:16).  This was that. God is faithful, He keeps His promises.  We’ll see next week, when we look at Peter’s speech that follows, the prophets had spoken of the pouring out of the Spirit in the last days (see Acts 2, Joel 2). God has demonstrated His faithfulness, He has given us reason to believe Him.
            The Day of Pentecost was the day that God had chosen for this new work to begin. He took an Old Testament pilgrim feast, a day in which Jews would gather in Jerusalem from all over the known world, and invested it with new significance.
        In the Old Testament and in Jewish tradition, Pentecost was one of the Pilgrim feasts of Israel. It occurred 50 days after the Passover. The people were to gather in Jerusalem and celebrate the blessing and provision of God, it was a day to celebrate the “first fruits” of the harvest. Based on Exodus 19:1, by the second century BC it had also come to be celebrated as the anniversary of the giving of the Law at Sinai.  Both of these ideas found their full expression in the first Christian Pentecost.
         Pentecost found its full expression, and was thus transformed in its post-Resurrection manifestation as the exalted Son poured out the Spirit.  Now God was ever present and in a new way permanently indwelling his people. The time of harvest had come.  Though several hundred believed and followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, three thousand believe on this, the first day of the New Testament church.  As God had descended on Sinai in thunder and lightning, once again with visible and audible manifestation God had confirmed His presence in the constitution of a new covenant community, the church. The church is not a building. It is a gathering of people, a called out assembly, a supernatural entity defined and empowered by the presence of the Spirit.

III. The Spirit and the Power and Proliferation of the Gospel (5-11). “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.  7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?  9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,  11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians- we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." 
             First, we are struck by the diverse people who were present for the feast: clearly a prelude to the worldwide spread of the Gospel that was to come. In God’s providence, this was one of the factors that explain the “wait” of ten days after the ascension.  The crowds gathered for the feast, Jews, dispersed over the known world, as well as proselytes, people from the nations who had converted to faith in the God of Israel. The scene was set! NB. It is not the main point, but we need to understand these were known human languages, not ecstatic speech, or mysterious “tongues.” From the initial group of disciples, now filled with the Spirit and dispersed in the crowd, individuals were supernaturally enabled to speak the wondrous works of God in the various languages of the people present. There was clearly a miraculous communication of God’s story to those who would listen.  The fact that they could hear the truth in their own language, the language of their heart, and not merely Greek or Aramaic was significant.
             It’s not difficult to see here a reversal of a story from the Old Testament.  Genesis 11:1-9 described a scene in the post-flood world, humans trying proudly to ascend to Heaven, building a tower united in their human effort, and God intervened and their languages are confounded.
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.  2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  3 And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.  4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth."  5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.  6 And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech."  8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.  9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
One commentator noted that in this passage humans tried to ascend toward heaven; in Acts 2 “…Heaven humbly and graciously descends to earth.” In Genesis the nations that were scattered at Babel when their languages were confused, Pentecost assures us that a remnant from every nation will ultimately be gathered together in Jesus. We see Him building His church.  Not a building, but a gathering of people, a “called out assembly,” a supernatural entity defined and empowered by the presence of the Spirit.

IV. The Response to the outpouring of the Spirit (12-13). 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"  13 But others mocking said, "They are filled with new wine."
            The supernatural manifestations certainly got people’s attention. Some were amazed, intrigued by what was happening, inquiring as to its significance.  What was happening? What could this mean?  It seems the “sound like a mighty, rushing wind…” and the “tongues, as of fire” were manifest in the upper room gathering, but as the newly baptized believers go out into the streets it is the proclamation of the mighty works of God is diverse languages that is so stunning, and intrigues many of the hearers. Their inquiring minds were no doubt primed to receive the explanation that Peter would offer in the sermon that follows.
            Sadly, others mocked in unbelief.  “These guys are drunk!” They weren’t making sense, what else could it be?  There was no openness, no curiosity, no seeking. Just mockery from these sceptics.  As we seek to share Christ, don’t we see these same responses today?  As the parable of the soils that the Master had told predicted, some are fertile soil, prepared by the Spirit, open and seeking. Others are hardened and determined not to believe.  Paul explains it this way: 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 says:
 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.  16 "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The church is not a building. It is a gathering of people, a called out assembly, a supernatural entity defined and empowered by the presence of the Spirit. The Spirit has been sent among us, according to promise, as the very presence of God. Through Him we are able to carry out the mission we have been given.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Should it matter to you that the Holy Spirit is with you and in you? For one thing, it’s a motivation to be holy! He is right behind you, more than that, He is inside you. One of the Word of Life Olympians was at the “store” on Wednesday night, it’s a chance for them to use the points they earned (“BOBs,” Boothbay Olympian Bucks!) to buy some little things the coaches put out for them.  This young man looked through a bunch of fabric “bracelets”, many of them with Bible verses on them. One just had only the initials “WWJD?” on it.  “What does that mean?” he asked me.  It’s a question that we as Christ followers should ask frequently as we are confronted with choices in life: “What would Jesus do?”  If we are following Him, that means we are on a path that should make us more and more like Him.  We have the Spirit living in us, to convict, guide, and enable. It should also give us boldness in the mission that has been entrusted to us. Ask Him for eyes to see the lost around you as He sees them, for openness to recognize that the fields are white for the harvest. Be courageous, He goes before you! Be faithful, He really is right beside you!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Discerning the Will of God: Acts 1:12-26

Acts 1:12-26
Introduction: Billy Graham said, "The strongest principle of life and blessings lies in our choice. Our life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously…” Think about it, we all make choices every day. Do we consistently involve God in our decision making process? This week I was reminded of the Scripture that shaped the Reformation: “The just shall live by faith.” That means believing God, living by a commitment that says His Word is true and His way is best. As we seek God in fellowship with the Body of Christ and in submission to the Scriptures we will discern His will.  As we look at the Book of Acts again this morning, we will see the disciples making an important choice, who will replace Judas among the twelve and take his place of leadership?  The answer to that question will set the stage for the unfolding of God’s program for the early church. What do they do, and what can we learn from their decision making process?
The Big Idea: As we prayerfully act in submission to the Word and in fellowship with the faithful, God will guide our decisions.
I. The Foundation of Prayer: The Unity of the Body and Fellowship with God (1:12-14).Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet…  14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
             First of all, notice who was there as they gathered to seek God and His will (12,13): The eleven (Jesus’ hand-picked inner circle of disciples who would become His apostles), a group of faithful women (first witnesses of the resurrection and faithful followers), and Mary, His mother, and the brothers of Jesus.   The failures and doubts of the eleven less than two months earlier were history. Grace prevailed and they were here. Peter who three times denied Jesus among them, along with John who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested in the garden. The women, saved by grace, first witnesses to the resurrection, ever faithful, remained.  Mary, mentioned here for the last time in the Bible, alongside the other disciples, along with the Lord’s brothers (who had some doubts about their big brother earlier!).  At least one of them, James, would soon become a leader in the Jerusalem church.  What is the difference between this scene and what we saw at the arrest of Jesus until the tomb?  The uncertainty and doubts of the brothers, the pondering of these things in Mary’s heart, the scattered and cowardly disciples, all were transformed because of the historical fact of the resurrection. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone… The resurrection changed everything.
              What stands out about this group is their attitude, they were of “…one accord…” “One-mindedness” was a characteristic of this group, and something that we’ll see carrying through the book of Acts.  This great truth is a characteristic of New Testament Christianity. We are “One,” a family, brothers and sisters, members of the body of Christ.  Sometimes we fail to live in the light of that truth, but that is who we are.
             Paul would emphasize this truth in his writings, that is, positionally we are one. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.  13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free -- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).  Also to the Ephesians he wrote, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,  2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,  3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:1-6). Verses 4-7 are quite clear in describing the unity of the body: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith one baptism, one God and Father. That’s seven “ones.”: O.K., do the math, 17=1 !  We are one. Since we are one, we must endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…” That means living in the light of who we are and what we have in Jesus.  Why is that important?
            Practically, unity in the body brings glory to God. The psalmist said it back in Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”  Paul for example wrote, “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus,  6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:5-7). So Paul admonished his churches to strive for the unity that glorifies the Lord, Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:27). As we open Acts we see a united church, one in mind and Spirit, and united first of all, in prayer.
             The initial activity of the church was focused in this area of united prayer: “…in one accord in prayer and supplication…” One of the things that Luke emphasized in his Gospel was prayer. Jesus taught about prayer, and He set an example of prayer. Luke shows us that frequently Jesus withdrew from the busyness of life and ministry and spent time with the Father in prayer.  In fact, before every major decision and transition in His earthly life, Luke reminds us that Jesus prayed. The lesson is clear: if it was important for Jesus in his humanity to pray, how much more important and necessary is it for us to pray? And be assured that God hears and answers, as we prayerfully act in submission to the Word and in fellowship with the faithful, God will guide our decisions.

II. Acting in Obedience to the Word of God (1:15-23). And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said,  16 "Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David… Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,  22 "beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection."  23 And they proposed two…”
       First of all, Luke wants us to know who was gathered in this prayer meeting.  Notice again the people God uses: “Peter stood up in their midst…” A sinner, a failure, three times denied Jesus on the night He was betrayed, restored by grace, rises to leadership. His earlier failure had not disqualified him, by grace he had been restored and by grace he would be used. In the first 12 chapters of Acts Peter is the key leader among the apostles (He takes the lead here in Acts 1, then he is the chief speaker among the apostles in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. In Acts 4, Peter and John are out preaching Christ and are arrested and threatened.  In Acts 5, it is Peter who speaks as Ananias and Saphira come with their wrong hearted offering and are judged. Peter and John are preaching again in Acts 5 and arrested, and the Lord sends an angel to set them free. They continue to preach and are confronted by the Jewish authorities and are beaten.  And so it continues. In Acts 8, Peter and John must join Philip in Samaria for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10, while Peter is preaching in the house of Cornelius, the Holy Spirit falls on the gentiles. In Acts 11 Peter reports in great detail what had happened to the other leaders in Jerusalem).  Though he “departed to another place” at the end of chapter 12 he would return once more to give important input at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15.  The point is God will use us, despite our weaknesses and failings, to accomplish His good purpose.
        As Peter is giving his “speech” to the assembled believers, notice the importance of knowing the Word: As Peter rises to speak, he appeals to Scripture. Jesus had taught the disciples the Word, and had opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44,45). The Old Testament Scriptures in their entirety were the inspired Word of God and found their fulfillment in Jesus (see for example Luke 24:25-27). The disciples had come through a very disorienting time.  Just like we’ve been hearing in Sunday School, “It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t easy, but they got through it.”  Now God brings the Scripture to their remembrance at an opportune time. I remember hearing a saying early in my Christian life that has stayed with me: I think it was Howard Hendrix that quoted it, I am not sure if it was original to him: “Dusty Bibles always lead to dirty lives.” There’s a complimentary saying from the opposite direction, “A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”  Have you made a study of the Bible a part of your life?  We need to be in the Word, reading, praying, studying, listening to what God is telling us.  I get so much mail it is like “triage,” sorting through the “stuff” to find the important and urgent. The problem is, every now and then I miss something important and never open it! E-mail is even worse, I go through my inbox with one finger hovering over the delete key.  With the barrage of requests and information that we are overwhelmed with, it is easy to let time slip away and to neglect the most important written material that humans have ever received, the Bible.
      Remember, “the just shall live by faith.” That means believing God, taking Him at His word. We affirm the authority of the Word – There is no debate or question about the applicability or authority of Scripture. God said it. That is enough.  His Word is true, obedience is not an option for a follower of Jesus.
       So if the Bible is our authority, we are committed to obeying the Word (v.23). Faith means we believe God, we take Him at His word. Practically, it means we trust and obey. We see these believers hearing the Word, and acting in obedience to it.  As we prayerfully act in submission to the Word and in fellowship with the faithful, God will guide our decisions.

III. Giving the choice to God (1:24-26). The disciples pray, affirming God’s omniscience and asking for His will.
            First, they pray specifically – You sometimes hear children pray in very general terms, “God bless mommy and daddy, sister and brother, and everybody in the whole world, amen!”  That is OK for a child, but don’t hesitate getting specific in your prayers. They did here: “You O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show us which of these two you have chosen…”  They wanted God to guide them, to reveal His will, to help them to make the right decision.  They are saying, “We want your will to be done Father!”  Sometimes we can narrow the options when we have a decision to make.  Both of these jobs are possibilities Lord, which should I pursue? Should we buy the house? Home school, public school, or Christian School for the kids? We can make an argument of each one, but which is your will Father?
          Notice this: they are not trying to manipulate God into doing what they want. They are asking Him to show them what He wants. Recognizing God’s choice or His decision is what we should seek. It is not that we ask God His will and then decide if we’ll do it. Obedience is our desire, show us your will, Father. In other words, “Your will be done, on earth [and in my life!] as it is in heaven!
           Well there is one detail here that seems a little strange. What’s the deal with drawing lots? This is an example of how we need to be discerning in how we read and apply the Bible. When we look at an event or a teaching we need to ask what is different in terms of the unfolding history of redemption between that situation and ours. Then we ask how it applies to us. As we study Acts we’ll need to pay attention to the unfolding drama of redemption and the transitional period in history that it is describing.  Remember here, the disciples are still on the other side of Pentecost. The Spirit has not been poured out, and technically, the New Testament church is not yet born. In this situation, as in the Old Testament, the casting of lots to discern the will of God was still valid. We never see this being practiced after Pentecost in the New Testament. Something changed when the believers were “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” When we turn to Paul’s letters we have his inspired explanation.
Today, we are led by the Spirit. In Romans Paul described “normative Christianity” when he said, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His…” (Rom 8:9,14). So we are led, but how? I’ve told a couple of you that in my experience when I’ve been faced with a big decision I wished God would give me an experience like Moses had at the burning bush. Just tell me Lord, and I’ll do it!  But so far, God has used much more subtle means to lead and direct in my decisions. He has given us some basic guidelines.
1) First of all, God leads through the Word – and so, like these disciples we need to be in the Word, searching the Scriptures to discern what God would have us to do. God will never contradict himself and will never ask us to do something that is contrary to His revealed word. Scripture trumps any “feeling” or “leading” you might think you are hearing. Your situation is not an exception, God’s Word is always true.  God wants us to love our spouses unselfishly, and to train up our children in the way of the Lord. He wants us to faithfully participate in a local church and to discover and use our gifts for the edification of the body. Stealing is never right, adultery is always sin, and hatred without cause is murder and cannot be justified. You get the idea. If God said it, that settles it.  
Right next to our discerning search of the Scripture I will include the godly counsel of other believers.  We see the church facing a big decision in Acts 15, an issue that could have divided the church: what do we do with these gentile believers? The church comes together, considers Scripture, evaluates circumstance and hears testimonies about what God is doing. Paul and Barnabas, Peter and James, they all share. And together they decide. We need each other. Iron sharpens iron. God may use others to help us see our circumstances in the light of God’s word and God’s work in us.
God also leads providentially through the circumstances of life (e.g. Acts 8:1,4). He is the Lord of history, and that includes our story.  We’ll see a dramatic example of this later in Acts as a persecution arises against the church in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen. That was a bad thing perpetrated by unbelievers. Yet God works through those circumstances to accomplish His purpose: those who are scattered preach the word, and the program of bringing the Gospel to the Samaritans and the Gentiles which Jesus had announced in Acts 1:8 (cf. Matthew 28:18-20) begins to unfold on schedule. God opens doors, and He closes doors, and will make our paths straight as we trust Him. 
The final aspect of the leading of God in our decision making is by the inward prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I put this last since it is most subjective, and because we can so easily deceive ourselves, it should be subordinated to the first two. Certainly to the first, God’s Word takes priority. 
What is God saying to me in this passage? As we prayerfully act in submission to the Word and in fellowship with the faithful, God will guide our decisions.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do you desire to know God more intimately, and to live at the center of His will for your life?  One lesson from this passage is that we cannot forsake the body. There is no New Testament model for “lone ranger” Christianity. We need to gather together, to benefit from each other’s gifts, to provoke one another to love and good works. And to pray together. Most of our small groups include a time for sharing prayer requests and praying together. Are you a part of a group?  We have at least twice a week when the church is invited to come together for prayer: Sunday morning at 8:30 AM, Stan Lewis leads us in a time of prayer, and Wednesday evening at 6:30 PM we have a short devotional, and Sam Michael leads us in our prayer time. Prayer is also intended to be a significant part of our Wednesday morning men’s meeting at 6:30 AM.  Most of these prayer meetings are not packed. Have we forgotten the value of prayer? I don’t think so. I think we value our personal prayer time, but here we see the church praying together.  Consider the model of the New Testament church that we see in the Book of Acts. God has given us this record not only to tell what happened there and then, but to encourage us and teach us how He would have us to live here and now. May we determine this year to pray together, and all the more as the Day draws near.                                 AMEN.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Pastor's Report Preview: January 2014

Pastor’s Report: January 2014
                As the calendar has turned to a New Year we look ahead expectantly to what God will be doing through us and in us in 2014. Our New Year’s Eve service was an excellent time of praise and of opening our hearts and minds to the Lord as we read aloud once again through the entire Book of Revelation. Though some of the details may be difficult to understand, the main idea is clear: Jesus wins!  Praise God for the privilege of following Him as He continues His mission of building His church.   The dawning of a new year seems to offer us a clean slate, another opportunity both as individual followers of Jesus and as a local body of believers to reexamine our priorities and to reaffirm our commitment to growing in our obedience to Him. We summarize our mission as a church as being “to know God and to make Him known.”  “Knowing Him” is not merely an academic or intellectual exercise, but rather it speaks to a living, authentic relationship with Him. To know Him is to love Him in the truest sense!  And so, as we state in our vision statement, “We envision a community of Christ followers rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable and proclaiming the riches of His grace to the World.”
                One highlight for this quarter has been the privilege of fellowshipping with the Simon family as Barbie, Jude, and Vanessa have been living with the Houses and attending Coastal Christian School. Their steadfast faith as they have been passing through a time of unspeakable grief has been an example and encouragement to many. We are honored as a church family to come by their sides and to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” 
We’ve had one baptism this quarter and look forward to others taking this step of publically affirming their faith in Christ and unity with the body.  Our small group ministries continue with several groups having started or re-started in the fall, while others continued year round.  The elders agree that we would love to see everyone in our church family involved in some kind of small group.  These gatherings give opportunity for mutual encouragement and accountability at a deeper level than we are able to experience in our Sunday morning worship services.  One of our small groups has restarted a “dare to care” type outreach and also plans to participate in monthly community lunches.  The group that meets in the parsonage on Thursday evenings has been a blessing to us as we share music, a time in the Word, prayer, and fellowship around the table each week.  If you are not in a group as of yet talk with me or your elder and we will try to help you find a group that will meet your needs.
As we have finished our preaching series through James, we have just begun a new series in the Book of Acts. I am excited at what we will discover as we look at the inspired record of the birth of the New Testament church.  We will see the attitudes and practices that characterized the early church. The most exciting theme that strikes me as we approach this book is the reminder of our dependence on the presence and power of God to carry out the mission He has entrusted to us. May we faithfully lift up His Name in our community and beyond.  Another emphasis we will see in Acts is the church praying together. Will you consider joining us on Wednesday evening (or men, at the Wed. A.M. coffee and prayer time) as we bring the needs of our church and community before the throne of grace?
                I continue to be available for biblical counselling to individuals and couples in our church and appreciate the discipleship that is going on at various levels in our church family. I’ve been pleased to be able to help at New England Bible College on Thursdays, and will for at least one more semester as they are going through a transitional time as an institution. Mary Ann also volunteers at Coastal Christian School on Monday serving as the elementary school librarian.
May God bless you in 2014,

Your co-workers in Christ, Pastor Steve and Mary Ann

Sunday, January 5, 2014

God's Plan: Pentecost, Parousia, and YOU! Acts 1:6-11

“God’s Plan: Pentecost, Parousia, and YOU!”
Acts 1:6-11
Introduction:  At the outset of a New Year it is typical for us to consider our goals and plans for the future. Since it is already January 5th, many of us have already made and broken one or more New Year’s resolutions!  We resolve to lose weight or to eat better, read through the Bible, or to get organized (O.K., now you know my resolutions!).  Planning is good, as long as it has right motives and seeks to conform our actions to God’s plan. (Remember James, “…If the Lord wills, we will live, and do this or that…”)  God has a plan for 2014, and it includes you!  As we turn to the Book of Acts we are reminded that the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus are linked inseparably to the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost. God’s plan continues to unfold exactly as He ordained it. As these disciples were about to discover, we obviously don’t have the physical presence of Jesus to guide us on the way.  He is, however, present, in the person of the Holy Spirit, to lead, empower, and to guide us in the mission He has given.
The Big Idea:  Empowered by the Spirit, believers are called to be witnesses until Jesus returns. Let’s make it our resolution to embrace that mission more fully!
Context: Acts 1:1-5, for 40 days after the resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples and taught them about the kingdom. The scene as it unfolds addresses three essential questions for us to consider: 1) Why am I here? 2) What can I do? And, 3) How can I endure?
I. Why are we here?  I don’t mean “why are we here in Maine, in the winter, when we get some weather like we’ve seen recently!”  (When it is below zero outside, under most circumstances you will find me inside!).  The question is, “Why are we here in the world?” This passage calls us to refocus our priorities on Mission: We are here for a reason (6,7).
Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying…” (6a). Notice that Luke begins with the word, “therefore.” [Remember the maxim of Bible Study, “When you see a ‘therefore’ ask what it is there for.”].  In the light of Jesus appearing to them and teaching them over an extended period, in view of the promise of the Spirit for which they were to wait, they ask a question.  It’s not so odd. Jesus had been teaching them about the kingdom over a period of forty days. They were to wait for a promise that certainly had eschatological (end time) overtones: the pouring out of the Spirit. In fact when it happens in Acts 2 and Peter preaches, he begins by quoting the Old Testament and saying “this is that.” Joel put is like this:
28 And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions.  29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days…” (Joel 2:28f).
Peter makes an interesting change in his quotation in Acts 2:17,  “…And it shall come to pass in the last days…” He is interpreting what Joel said and making it clear that He views the fulfillment of the prophecy on Pentecost as an end time event, something of supreme importance that is linked to the initiation of the messianic age and God’s unfolding plan.
 And so here, after He taught about the kingdom and spoke of the pouring out of the Father’s promise, they ask Him a question: "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (6b). Rabbis typically engaged their students in a question and answer learning style. He would ask them questions to provoke their thinking, and they would be free to ask Him questions in return. If you are trying learn, there is no such thing as a dumb question. If, however, you’ve been teaching for a while you do occasionally get a question that just proves the student isn’t paying attention!  I don’t think this is that. This is after the resurrection. According to Luke, Jesus had opened their minds that they might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).  So their expectation of a literal end time kingdom on the earth centered in Jerusalem was not wrong-headed. 
By the way, notice that they had what we might see as a “pre-millennial” expectation, an earthly kingdom, with the King present.  After our reading of Revelation on Tuesday night at our New Year’s Eve service, someone was asking me about my view of the millennial issue: a-mil? Pre-mil? Something else? This is one of the contexts that leads me to the pre-millennial view. Jesus had opened their understanding at the end of the Gospel of Luke (24:45). He was with them for 40 days, teaching specifically about the kingdom, and it seems to me this is what they were expecting.  The answer of Jesus in the next verse does not seem to indicate that they were mistaken in that hope, that somehow they had completely misinterpreted his port-resurrection teaching, but rather that when it would happen was not to be their concern.
 “And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority… ‘“  Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for a dumb question. He doesn’t ask, “Haven’t you guys been listening?”  Rather, He essentially says that when this is to happen is not for them to know.  When is the Father’s prerogative and His alone. We’ve mentioned before the harm some preachers have done over the years when they thought that somehow they had God’s timetable all figured out, and even ventured to predict a date for the return of Christ. A contemporary example of this was Harold Camping, who passed away recently.     After the failure of his prophecies regarding 1994 he arrogantly recalculated and came up with Saturday, May 21st, 2011. No. Wrong again. To his credit, it seems Camping did finally repent and admit that his pride had led him to preach what amounts to heresy. Instead of asking about the timing of God’s end time program, we should concern ourselves with being faithful in the “here and now” plan that God has entrusted to us: Empowered by the Spirit, believers are called to be witnesses until Jesus returns.
II. What can I do?  It is important to recognize God’s Plan for the Mission (Acts 1:8).  "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." This has been called by many commentators the “key verse” of the Book of Acts. It provides an outline of the Book as God’s plan is to unfold geographically and ethnically exactly as Jesus predicted. It also reminds us of our mission and assures us of the presence and power of the Spirit to carry out that mission.
              First of all, “I” can do nothing in my own strength, but God can do anything He wants to do through me if I will yield myself to Him. We are weak, He is strong.  Notice that Jesus didn’t say “You are stronger than you think, go ahead and get it done!” He said “wait for the promise” in v.5, now He speaks in the future tense, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The language here speaks to having the strength, capacity, and ability to carry out the mission at hand. That power is linked to the coming of the Holy Spirit (on Pentecost) ten days after the ascension of Christ.
 The power they were to receive is linked to the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  Who is this Holy Spirit?  Not simply a force, but the third person of the Trinity. He is the personal “comforter” that Jesus spoke of in the upper room.  The personal presence of God with us guarantees that God’s will and God’s work will not fail. Think about it, it is God that is our strength. The Battle is the Lord’s! And since He is the omnipotent Creator and sustainer of the universe, victory is certain!
 “…you shall be witnesses for me…” Listen, I love Billy Graham. History will surely affirm Him as one of the greatest evangelists the world has known, ever.  We are not called to be Billy Graham. Most of us don't have the gift of evangelism (though a few surely do). But we are all called to be the Lord’s witnesses.  A witness is someone who sees or hears or experiences something and testifies to its occurrence.  We are not expected to be experts. We surely won’t have all the answers. But we can say that God has made a difference in our lives. People can argue about a lot of things, but your experience is yours, and you can testify to the fact that God’s grace has personally impacted your life. Notice by the way, this also is “legal” language. Earlier it was stated that Jesus appeared to them “by many infallible proofs” over a 40 day period. Here Jesus says, we are to be witnesses. One convincing proof we can share with inquirers is the transformed life of the disciples in the biblical account. How do you explain that cowering bunch that ran when Jesus was arrested becoming fearless proclaimers of the gospel ready to die for the truth? That is evidence that demands a verdict!  But your transformed life is something those around you have been watching, and like it or not, that too is evidence that can either get their attention or leave them unimpressed.
 Notice also in verse 8 the geographical expansion: starting in Jerusalem where they were, outward, finally to the ends of the earth.  That is exactly what happens in Acts. The church is born on Pentecost, and is first established in Judea before it reaches outward to Samaria in Acts 8, and ultimately to Asia and Europe after the conversion of Paul.  One simple application is that we start where we are in the mission that God has given us, and then we remain willing to go where He directs us.  Is Boothbay a mission field?  Boothbay Harbor? East Boothbay and Southport and Edgecomb?  Lincoln County?  You get the idea. You have been placed by God exactly where you are, on purpose and for a purpose. To be His witness.  And you are not alone.  Empowered by the Spirit, believers are called to be witnesses until Jesus returns.
III. How can I endure? We are surrounded by distractions. The weather, the media, people walking down the aisle.  The distractions of life and the attractions of the world.  We need to remember our purpose, we need to resist the temptation to lose focus:  We are here for a season.  
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,  11 who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."
   Notice the timing – the temporal link between what Jesus said in v.8 and what happens in these verses: Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven…” Luke wants to make sure that we as readers don’t miss the connection between what Jesus said and what happens in this scene:
·                    When [or “after”] he had spoken these things…” What things? His teaching in verses 7-8.  They had heard more about the mission that they were receiving, its power and its geographical (and ethnic) outworking according to God’s plan.
·                    Then while they watched Him ascend into heaven, “While they were looking steadfastly toward heaven…” Two messengers appeared by them. The message: “Why are you standing here looking upward?  Did He not tell you what to do?  Didn’t He just explain what needed to happen? Wait for the Spirit and carry out the mission.”  Remember in John 16:7  "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” What could be better than Jesus walking in their midst?  How about God, the Holy Spirit, dwelling in them to empower, guide, and convict?
  Notice the final statement: “This same Jesus who you saw go up into heaven will return in like manner.” Think for a moment about what this implies.  Just as surely as Jesus walked on this earth. As surely as He was crucified and rose again, He will return. The context here is dealing with the mission of the church.  The implication is that this mission is our commission until Jesus returns. One of the take aways of our reading through Revelation again on New Years Eve, is the encouragement to be ready, and to be faithful.
   At times heretical attempts to date the return of Christ have been accompanied by contradictory ideas about the mission of the church being finished.  Well friends, the mission continues until His return. You know, it could be 2014. It could be today. But that doesn’t mean we gather on a hill and look upward. It means we go out into the world, and as we do we look for every opportunity to urge people to be reconciled to God.  This seems to tell us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord…” (I Cor 15:58).
What is God saying to me in this passage? Empowered by the Spirit, believers are called to be witnesses until Jesus returns.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  As we start a New Year, have you made resolutions for the future? Planning is good, but we must always remember to include God in our plans. Have you made discovering and living out your place in God’s program a part of your planning?  You feel inadequate? That’s not a bad thing. You are, if you are trying to do God’s work in your strength!  Paul understood that when he said, “…the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…” Will you make it a priority this year to look for those in your sphere of influence for whom you can pray, and to pray and look for opportunity to point them toward Jesus? A couple of suggestions for 2014…
1. Make your relationship with God a priority. Our goal every year should be to strive to know Him more intimately and to love Him more passionately.  To know Him we need time in the Word. We need to make church more than a one hour spiritual recharge. We need relationships and accountability within the body. I would love to see every one of us have a small group that we can be a part of.  I also think it is important that we have at least one close, one-on-one relationship with a mature Christ follower where we can be transparent, and share our thoughts and struggles.
2. Make God’s mission, your mission.  Think about where you are. Think about the people you interact with on a regular basis. Could it be that God has placed you in your family, in your workplace or school, in your neighborhood, as His “under cover missionary”? Will you consider making a list of 4 or 5 people that you can pray for, and seek to influence for Christ? You might think, “I tried that before, nothing seemed to happen!” Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking… God’s timing is always perfect, we can trust Him. Jesus is still building His church, and until He returns His plan is to empower us by the Spirit to be His witnesses. Think about that,  AMEN.