Monday, June 28, 2010

Give What You Have--Acts 3

How many times have you looked at your lack of resources and thought, “It’s simply impossible to do what I need to do. There’s just no way this is every going to work. If only I had…” My guess is that there have been multiple times that this has happened in some form or another. We’re very good at noticing our lack, and fairly poor at recognizing our assets.
First, sometimes what we think we need isn’t what we really need. This man was trying to survive. That’s as far as he could think. He was in survival mode. He wasn’t asking much. Just a little bit of money to buy food. He wasn’t being greedy. He just wanted his daily needs met. He had no vision.
We get stuck in survival mode. We don’t ask for much. We only ask for what we think we need, but it never moves us forward. We have no vision. We don’t look for what God wants to give us.
God wanted this man to have much more than money to buy food for the day. God wanted this man to thrive! To be able to provide for himself and to be able to not only serve himself, but to serve others, and to glorify God in and through his life.
Second, God doesn’t want us to merely survive. God wants us to thrive. God doesn’t want us just to be able to provide for ourselves, but to serve others and to glorify God in and through our lives.
In addition, it doesn’t take money to do the work of God. Peter and John were broke. They didn’t have even spare change to give to this man, but that didn’t stop them from reaching out and serving and being involved in God’s work. Peter says, “I don’t possess silver and gold, but what I do have, I give to you: In the Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”
I’ve heard over and over lately that it doesn’t take money to do the work of God. I heard it in every workshop I attended at the Linking for Ministry conference that Jim and I attended in South Carolina. I heard Rev. Brown say it when we went on our field trip to observe the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at First Baptist in Jacksonville. Instead, I’ve heard as the Scriptures also say, “God equips those whom God calls.” And the resources are already there.
When we were strategizing on how this church could serve the community, we knew we didn’t have much by way of financial resources, so what do we have that we can share with the community? We have land. We could start a garden. Yes, it eventually did take some funds to improve our land, but when we stepped out in faith, those funds were there. What else do we have to offer to our community? We have a facility. We open it up to the scouts; we’ve hosted Pre-K registration for the past 3 years, and now we have opportunity to open it up for respite care ministry. We can give what we have.
It doesn’t take money necessarily to do the work of God, but it does take commitment, perseverance, and faith. It’s fueled by prayer, and empowered by God.
Fourth point, Peter knew the value of what he had to give. He didn’t bemoan the fact that he was poor. He had something much greater to give. He had the power of Jesus. He wasn’t Jesus. Let’s note that Peter doesn’t forgive this man’s sins as Jesus did when He healed the paralytic. Peter is not God. He doesn’t have the power to forgive sins. But he gives the gift of healing in Jesus’ Name. This lame man was meant to thrive. Now he can not only provide for himself, but contribute to society. He has the ability to help others and to become a giver as well.
Too often we don’t know the value of what we do have. We possess the most valuable thing in all the universe. We carry the Name of Jesus. The value of what we have is only made evident when we give it away. We were meant to carry this power, this Person, into the world, as Henry Sofley talked about a couple of weeks ago. If we knew the value of what we do have, we wouldn’t be complaining so much about the things we don’t have, and we’d be much more eager to give what we have away. We need to know the value of what we have.
Jim’s brother, Joey, said something with which I wholeheartedly agree. He said this, worship, was intended to be Base Camp. The time when we come together to be reminded of our common mission, inspired and bound together by a common vision, and empowered to carry out that mission in the world. It’s where we share reports on how the mission is progressing. What’s happening? What’s going on? Not just to sing some songs, listen to some words, and put a check on our list.
Notice too, that an act of service isn’t an end in itself. Peter’s act of service doesn’t stop with the healing of this man. It’s actually a jumping off point for something much, much greater. This event is witnessed by many people, and the act of service becomes an opportunity to give Jesus away multiple times. Peter preaches to the crowd and gives them opportunity to repent and turn to Jesus. Again, it isn’t Peter who forgives, but he points to the One who can and will forgive sins. And still the story doesn’t stop. It will continue into Acts chapter 4 as we will see in a few weeks when some of our younger folk will be helping me out with the service.
Don’t think that God’s work and mission stops with individual acts of service. That garden out there isn’t just a garden. It’s a jumping off point for something much bigger. It’s an opportunity for people to find spiritual healing, as we are already seeing. The produce we take to the food pantry doesn’t stop there. It’s passed out into the community in the name of Jesus. Opening up our building doesn’t stop there. It provides opportunities for men like Greg Patterson and Brad Drury and Philip Clarke and Kathy Russell and others to demonstrate the love of Jesus by mentoring girls and boys and instilling in them virtues, so that as they grow like Stephen Tankard, who became an Eagle Scout a week ago Saturday, will live out those virtues in the world and lead others.
My sister-in-law had the following quotation from Howard Snyder on her Facebook page: "Church people think about how to get people into the church; Kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; kingdom people work to see the church change the
world." I added to the following to the quotation, “Church people are worried about the number of people they have in worship. Kingdom people rejoice over each person who comes to Christ whether they join their particular church or not." It’s never about church attendance. It’s about the growth of God’s kingdom. That’s not to say that worship isn’t important. It’s not just important, but vital. We’ve already established that. We all need to return to the Base Camp. In fact, Peter and John were on their way to the temple to pray when all this happened. If Christian gatherings and worship are indeed meant to be our Base Camp, then we do need attend, and not just attend, but participate.
So what are we called to do? Proclaim the gospel for the salvation of humankind and to preserve and pass on the Truth, as Peter did when he preached. To shelter, nurture, and be in fellowship with one another—Base Camp meetings. To worship—our highest end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. To work for social justice—Peter’s act of service in healing was an act of social justice, working for the improvement of the welfare of his fellowman. And finally to show the world what the Kingdom of God is like. May we be empowered today to carry out our mission when we leave this place and not to worry about what we can’t give, but instead to give what we have.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Trinity Sunday 2010, Acts 2:37-47

I reread part of last week’s Scripture because someone I was reading that week had pointed out that this is a Trinitarian passage. I don’t remember who made the observation, but since today is Trinity Sunday, I thought we could look at it again.
Today is also Presbyterian Heritage Sunday, so I decided to include a bit of what Jean Calvin has to say regarding the Trinity. One of the things Calvin says also goes with this passage.
Once again hear verses 38-39. (READ) Notice all 3 Persons of the Trinity are mentioned— be baptized in Name of Jesus, receive the promise of the Holy Spirit, and this promise if for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Him—the Father.
Referring to the book of Ephesians, Jean Calvin says, “Paul connects together these three, God, Faith, and Baptism, and reasons from the one to the other—viz. because there is one faith he infers that there is one God; and because there is one baptism he infers that there is one faith. Therefore, if by baptism we are initiated into the faith and worship of one God, we must of necessity believe that he into whose name we are baptised is the true God. And there cannot be a doubt that our Saviour wished to testify, by a solemn rehearsal, that the perfect light of faith is now exhibited, when he said, “Go and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” (Mt. 28:19), since this is the same thing as to be baptised into the name of the one God, who has been fully manifested in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Hence it plainly appears, that the three persons, in whom alone God is known, subsist in the Divine essence. Then, as the baptism of faith is a sacrament, its unity assures us of the unity of God. Hence also it is proved that it is lawful only to be baptised into one God, because we make a profession of faith in him in whose name we are baptised. What, then, is our Saviour’s meaning in commanding baptism to be administered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, if it be not that we are to believe with one faith in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit?98 But is this any thing else than to declare that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are one God? Wherefore, since it must be held certain that there is one God, not more than one, we conclude that the Word and Spirit are of the very essence of God.”
Peter is making a similar connection here in Acts. God, faith and baptism are connected. Peter, in saying to his audience, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus,” is emphasizing Jesus because this is the Person of the Trinity that his audience had not grasped until now. They had not until this sermon understood that Jesus really is the Messiah. And Peter had used the quotation from Psalms to prove that Jesus is also Divine. Being baptized always involved being baptized by the Divine name. With Jesus included, it shows that Jesus is God.
Calvin goes on to elaborate on the distinctions of the members of the Trinity. “The Scriptures demonstrate that there is some distinction between the Father and the Word, the Word and the Spirit; but the magnitude of the mystery reminds us of the great reverence and soberness which ought to be employed in discussing it. Therefore, let us beware of imagining such a Trinity of persons as will distract our thoughts, instead of bringing them instantly back to the unity. The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, certainly indicate a real distinction, not allowing us to suppose that they are merely epithets by which God is variously designated from His works. Still they indicate distinction only, not division. For example, John 1 shows that the Son has a distinct subsistence from the Father, because the Word could not have been with God unless he were distinct from the Father; nor but for this could he have had his glory with the Father. In like manner, Christ distinguishes the Father from himself when he says that there is another who bears witness of him (John 5:32; 8:16). To the same effect is it elsewhere said, that the Father made all things by the Word. This could not be, if he were not in some respect distinct from Him. Besides, it was not the Father that descended to the earth, but He who came forth from the Father; nor was it the Father that died and rose again, but He whom the Father had sent. This distinction did not take its beginning at the incarnation: for it is clear that the only begotten Son previously existed from the beginning. Christ intimates the distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Father, when he says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, and between the Holy Spirit and Himself, when He speaks of him as another as he does when he declares that he will send another Comforter; and in many other passages besides (John 14:6; 15:26; 14:16).
Moreover, this distinction is so far from interfering with the most perfect unity of God, that the Son may thereby be proved to be one God with the Father, inasmuch as he constitutes one Spirit with him, and that the Spirit is not different from the Father and the Son, inasmuch as he is the Spirit of the Father and the Son.”
The church fathers use a big theological word to describe the Trinity—hypostatis. This word is found in Hebrews 1:3, where it is translated, “exact representation” or “exact imprint.” “He, the Son, is the reflection of God’s glory and the hypostatis, the exact imprint, of God’s very being. Hypostatis denotes being. The Father is a being; the Son is a being, and yet they are the same. I don’t really understand how it works either. Someone said to think of persons like “persona”. You can take on a persona, a different character. The difference with the Godhead is that the character part is what is exactly the same. It is the roles that differ; although they also overlap.
Calvin explains it this way…”In each hypostasis the whole nature is understood. The only difference being that each has his own peculiar subsistence. The whole Father is in the Son, and the whole Son in the Father, as the Son himself also declares (John 14:10), “I am in the Father, and the Father in me;” nor do ecclesiastical writers admit that the one is separated from the other by any difference of essence.”
Augustine explains it this way…“By those names which denote distinctions is meant the relation which they mutually bear to each other, not the very substance by which they are one.” For example, “Christ, as to himself, is called God, as in relation to the Father he is called Son.” And again, “The Father, as to himself, is called God, as to the Son he is called Father. He who, as to the Son, is called Father, is not Son; and he who, as to himself, is called Father, and he who, as to himself, is called Son, is the same God.”
Calvin goes on. “In this way, the sentiments of the Fathers, which might sometimes appear to be at variance with each other, are to be reconciled. At one time they teach that the Father is the beginning of the Son, at another they assert that the Son has both divinity and essence from Himself, and therefore is one beginning with the Father. Therefore, when we speak of the Son simply, without reference to the Father, we truly and properly affirm that he is of himself, and, accordingly, call him the only beginning; but when we denote the relation which he bears to the Father, we correctly make the Father the beginning of the Son. It is far safer to rest contented with the relation as taught by Augustine, than get bewildered in vain speculation by subtle prying into a sublime mystery.”
Even Calvin doesn’t understand it and says that it can get bewildering if we think about it too much, and yet the doctrine of the Trinity is important and even useful. Cavlin concludes, “Let those, then, who love soberness, and are contented with the measure of faith, briefly receive what is useful to be known. It is as follows:—When we profess to believe in one God, by the name God is understood the one simple essence, comprehending three persons or hypostases; and, accordingly, whenever the name of God is used indefinitely, the Son and Spirit, not less than the Father, is meant. But when the Son is joined with the Father, relation comes into view, and so we distinguish between the Persons. But as the Personal subsistence carry an order with them, the principle and origin being in the Father, whenever mention is made of the Father and Son, or of the Father and Spirit together, the name of God is specially given to the Father. In this way the unity of essence is retained, and respect is had to the order, which, however derogates in no respect from the divinity of the Son and Spirit.”
Returning again to Peter’s sermon, Calvin points out, “Paul besought the Lord in the same sense in which Peter quotes the passage of Joel, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:28). And nothing prevents us from holding that the Holy Spirit is the entire spiritual essence of God, in which are comprehended Father, Son, and Spirit. This is plain from Scripture. For as God is there called a Spirit, so the Holy Spirit also, in so far as he is a hypostasis of the whole essence, is said to be both of God and from God.”