Monday, August 30, 2010

Failure or Success--Acts 5:27-42

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Worth the Risk--Acts 5:12-26

How many of you are on Facebook? As you know, Facebook has tons of apps, and they can get addicting. I used to like taking quizzes. One of the many Facebook quizzes you can take is “For what are you most likely to be arrested?” And there are 6 or so answer choices and descriptions with which you could end up. For example, I guessed my cousin’s would be for “Disturbing the Peace”. Because she’s good at being a rabble rouser--not that she’s at all criminal, but she is opinionated and loves to speak her mind, and is not going to back down easily.
My quiz answer is “Civil Disobedience”. Like my cousin, I too am stubborn and opinionated, but I also have a passion for social justice. For example, when I was teaching at Robbins Elementary School, I had a student with behavior and emotional problems who was constantly getting suspended off the bus for fighting. This kid had an assigned seat and knew it, so if someone was in his seat, he would act out inappropriately. The problem was when he was suspended from the bus, he was suspended from school. So here is a child who needs to be in school the most—he’s behind academically, there’s no one home to supervise him, so he’s more likely to get in more serious trouble home alone, and the reason the bus seating was a problem was because the bus was too crowded. This was a bus that went into a poorer neighborhood where a good portion of parents spoke limited English or were ignorant of their rights. I said to my student’s primary teacher one day that if this kid got suspended one more time because of overcrowding, I was going to get her, myself, the bus driver, who was also sympathetic, and the parents to picket the central office until they gave us another bus. I don’t know if I was overheard or if it was just glaring that this bus overall had problems, but we did get another bus not too long after that.
What about you? If you took the Facebook quiz, for what would you be most likely to end up in jail? Well, the apostles were arrested for continuing to preach and teach and heal in the name of Jesus. It was religious disobedience—they were clearly and blatantly opposing the command they were given by the religious authority in Acts 4. They were rabble rousing—they were gathering larger and larger groups of people together. They were arrested for doing what the Holy Spirit compelled them to do. They had already weighed the risk, and decided obeying God came first. Jesus was worth the risk.
Think about a time in your life when you had to weigh risk… What was it that made you go ahead or back out? Are you satisfied with the decision you made, or do you have regrets? Now what if Jesus asked you do something risky…how would you respond? David Bruce likes to contemplate this when he’s struggling in his ministry. Pastor Bruce says, “If God asked you to preach to a wall, would you do it?” He thinks of the Old Testament prophets and what they went through. Isaiah was told directly by God that the people were not going to listen to him. Jeremiah was told the same thing. Jeremiah even tried not to preach, but the Spirit compelled him. He says that the Word of God was like a fire shut up in his bones. Hosea had to marry a prostitute. I think he did fall in love with her, but she left him for other men more than once, and yet he kept taking her back. Ezekial had to lay on his side and eat barley cakes baked with dung. Our tame Bibles say, “baked on dung,” but the way they baked was to put the food in the coals—in this case cow patties. I’m glad I’m not an Old Testament prophet!
But we are challenged when God asks us to do something and we can’t see the point or the effect, and it’s just so hard. We aren’t challenged with the same things as the prophets or even the same things that our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are challenged with, but we might be someday. And even in the meantime, Jesus asks us, “What will you risk for Me? Am I worth the risk?” Are we faithful even in those small things? Do we boldly move forward in the confidence of Christ, or do we cave to our own desires?
About a month ago, we examined the disciples’ prayer for boldness, knowing that persecution was coming. Well, now the persecution has started, and once again, they end up in jail. It’s not just Peter and John; it says, “the apostles.” For some of them this was their first time in prison, and yet, look at what they did. What do the apostles do when they get released? My husband pointed out that they do what many criminals do—they go right back and do the same thing again. They continue to preach and perform miracles in Jesus’s Name. It shouldn’t surprise us then that persecuted believers in China or India or Afghanistan have such compulsion and boldness to continue to preach the gospel even with continued threats of harsher imprisonments or death. No, it shouldn’t surprise us, but it should give us pause. Are we as passionate about the gospel? Is it as compelling for me? Am I convinced of its power and of the power of Jesus Christ?
I’ll never forget Dr. Helen Roseveare, medical missionary to the Congo, telling us when we were in Thailand how she was being dragged down the hall by her hair by a soldier knowing she was going to be beaten and gang raped thinking with her work flashing through her head thinking “Is it worth it? Is it worth it?” As she was saying “No,” the Holy Spirit showed her she was asking the wrong question. The new question that kept repeating was, “Is He worthy? Is Christ worthy?” And the resounding answer was, “Yes!” Her “Yes” was strong enough that less than two years after she was released from captivity, she returned to the Congo to help in the rebuilding of the nation and to continue her medical work. Jesus was worth it, because He is worthy!
How much do you value Jesus? Is He asking you to take a risk for Him? Is Jesus worth the risk?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reasons for Giving--Acts 4:36-5:11

Almost all of us are guilty of lying. We use “little white lies,” thinking it’s much easier or less painful than telling the truth. But even lies that seem to be little white lies can be deadly when we are lying to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks only truth, and the unity of the church, which we talked about last Sunday, is founded upon Truth.
VS. 3 literally says, “Why have you allowed Satan to fill your heart?” which goes along well with verse 4, “Why have you conceived this deed in your heart.” Too many people want to blame the devil for their own choices. Satan has no power over the believer but that which we give him. Why is what this couple did so closely linked with the actions of Satan? Because their motivation for giving was self-glory. Self is always opposed to Spirit, and Satan is the Opposer.
As graphic as this story is, sometimes death is merciful for those who continue willfully in sin and try to involve others in their sin. Sapphira was given the opportunity to repent and tell the truth, but she continued in the lie. They had “played Christian” but had hardened themselves against the conviction of the Holy Spirit as described in Hebrews 6. They were pretending to be something that they were not.
I wonder if the problem with Ananias and Sapphira was that they had wrong motivations for giving. Certainly their sin was that they lied to the Holy Spirit, but in what way? Was it really because they didn’t give all their money to the apostles for the good of the community? It was promising something to God and going back on it. They said they were giving all, but they only gave part, claiming that it was all. They were under no obligation to give all, but they made a false claim and a false vow. Also, their giving wasn’t about contributing to the good of the community to the glory of God, but about making a name for themselves so they might be as appreciated as Barnabas, not realizing that it was many other things that Barnabas did that earned him his nickname, and that his giving the money from his land wasn’t the most important thing that he did. They gave in order to get. It was out of self-gain, self-interest that they gave. Selfishness and trying to outdo your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ harms the unity of the Body.
I wonder if the lie to the apostles and the lie to the Holy Spirit was not about the amount of money they received for their land, but the self-importance they placed on their so-called gift, and the credit they took for themselves instead of recognizing that the land belonged to God in the first place and God was the one behind the orchestration of the sale. Ananias and Sapphira had a form of godliness but denied God’s power. They didn’t trust that God would provide for them. They didn’t believe that the Spirit would reveal the truth. They didn’t take the holiness of God seriously. They tried to serve 2 masters.
When we lie to God’s body, we lie to God, and when we withhold from God’s body, we rob God. It’s always difficult for me when people give to something that they can put a plaque on but never give to the general budget of the church. Or people who “give” to the church but want substantial control over “their” money. This is a conversation that has come up in pastors’ meetings on a few occasions. It demonstrates not really generosity but selfishness in giving. People want to be able to say look what I did, not look what God is doing in and through His Church. Certainly it is great to have dedicated restricted funds and generous donations for special projects. In fact, the session has been discussing beginning a capital campaign for our roof. But some of the most generous, truest, joyful givers I know don’t necessarily want a plaque on things they’ve given. It still often happens, many times after those people are deceased, and memorials are done for them out of appreciation, but these folks don’t give to brag about themselves. They give because they know they’ve been blessed by God, and they find joy in contributing to God’s work. They tend to give broadly, but carefully, learning about the projects and causes they are supporting. They look for accountability but not control of their gifts. It’s about being part of something greater and developing relationships.
When we contribute our bits to the offering, whether big or small, it’s about something greater. The gifts combine into a whole to support the work and ministry of Grace Presbyterian Church. It’s not just about paying utility bills and salaries, it’s about providing a place in the community where we can gather for worship and go out in witness. It’s about enhancing our individual worship experiences corporately through quality music and a well-kept facility that glorifies God. It’s about providing space for groups to meet and praying that somehow they might encounter God. It is about raising our children to know and love the Lord. It’s about the Word of God preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. It is about us being discipled and equipped to carry out God’s work in the world. It’s about contributing to works of mercy in our local community and around the world in the name of Jesus. It’s a symbol of our unity. It’s about being part of something we couldn’t do on our own.
Ulitmately, what should be our motivation for giving? Love of God and love for neighbor—the same motivator that we should have for everything. Certainly, we all fall short, sin, every day, multiple times a day, but do we repent or do we try to come across as better than we are?
On the back of your bulletin on the bottom it says “sermon notes”. There are some application questions for you to consider—reasons for why you give or don’t give. What are your motivations for giving? Tax credits? To feel good? To leave a legacy? Out of duty? Out of obligation? Out of guilt? To participate in Christ’s mission in the world? Out of gratitude toward God?
What are your motivations for not giving? Don’t care? Wonder what the church has done for you? Don’t think you can afford to give? Don’t think God’s work is being carried out through the church? Don’t think your contributions are needed or appreciated?
Take an honest inventory of these questions. The Holy Spirit already knows the truth.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Caring for the Whole, Acts 2:44-47, Acts 4:32-37

Every day at Baobab Blast we had a different critter. Today’s critter is Wilma Wildebeest. She lives in a large herd. Some of her friends are Wilbur, Wally, Wanda, Juanita, Greg, Herbert, George, Gail, Glenda, Bob, and Francis. Wildebeests are also called “gnus.” They are actually more closely related to antelope than they are cows even though they are so big.
Wildebeests live in smaller groups of 30-500 for a good bit of their lives. But every year, they join the herd for the great migration. 1.5 million wildebeests gather together to cross Africa. Wildebeests often travel with herds of zebra. They live in groups to protect each other because they are a wonderful food source for lions, hyenas, and crocodiles. They get along well with zebra because they can help protect one another, and they don’t fight over food. Zebra eat tall grass, and wildebeests eat shorter grasses. Because of their ability to come together and act as one and because they get along and cooperate with those who are different from them, like traveling with the zebras, wildebeests teach us about unity. So today’s word is unity.
Our key verse is Eph. 4:3 Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit…Repeat many times.
What is unity? Unity is oneness, agreeing together without division. When something is united, it doesn’t lack anything. When God’s people are united, they also lack nothing because Jesus made us into His body and the Holy Spirit has gifted each of us with different gifts. When we are unified, all those gifts are working like they are supposed to, so that with the Spirit in our lives and Christ as our head, we don’t need anything. God has provided it all.
Some of you visitors today belong to different churches. And we probably do some things differently than you so. And we don’t have services quite like this every Sunday either. I know there are some members here who are very glad we don’t have services like this every Sunday! But it’s okay that it’s different because there is still unity. It’s more important to celebrate Jesus and worship together. That’s what is important. One of the early church fathers, Origen, describes the unity we should have like a properly tuned stringed instrument. The strings are in harmony without discord. The strings aren’t the same. They are different lengths and have different pitches, but they are played to create beautiful music.
When people have Jesus in common, we should have unity. We’re not always good about that though. Sometimes we let things divide us. That’s why in our memory verse it says make every effort. Sometimes unity can be an effort. But when we think about Jesus first and others second, it makes it a lot easier. I heard someone say that’s what joy is. J-O-Y Jesus, others, you. Think of Jesus first, others second, and yourself last. Our memory verse says, make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s unity. If you try to think of others first without the Holy Spirit’s help, then you just get tired and grumpy or you start thinking about how great you are. It takes the Holy Spirit’s power to maintain unity.
The early church described in our Bible passages today did what our Bible verse tells us to do. They made every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. They shared. That was our word on Friday. Not only did these believers share their faith with others, they also shared their things. It says they had all things in common. We had to share things this week--scissors, crayons and markers, glue, magnets. The Christians in our story this morning shared everything. Like Sam the Meerkat shares his house, these Christians shared their homes with others. They had each other over for dinner. They didn’t think of the things they had like they were their own. If they had something someone else needed, they gave it away or let them borrow it. They would even sell things they didn’t need and give the money to those who did need it. They understood stewardship. Stewardship is kind of a big word. But think of a very rich man or a king. The king has to travel far away to another country and will be gone a long time, so he appoints a steward. The steward takes care of the kings things. He lives in the palace and makes sure it is run right. He takes care of the king’s money. He takes care of everything. But even though the steward can use and manage anything the king has, those things still belong to the king. They don’t belong to the steward.
Well, Jesus is our King. He made everything. He lives in heaven now and has left His people to care for His things—we are called to care for each other, for God’s creation, and for everything. We need to recognize that even though we can use and manage lots of things, it all belongs to King Jesus, and some day Jesus will come back and take His throne on earth. Because these Christians we read about today understood this, it was easy for them to share and care for each other.
You know what else it takes to be that generous? Trust! Trust was our word on Monday. The king has to trust the steward to take care of his things. Jesus trusts us to take care of His things. Sometimes we break that trust and have to tell Jesus we’re sorry. But Jesus is so good, He forgives us and still gives us jobs to do for Him. We also have to trust each other. These early Christians had to trust each other that someone wouldn’t take advantage of someone else. Have you ever had someone use you? It doesn’t feel good at all. It makes you not want to trust not only that person but other people. It can take awhile to build trust again with the person who broke yours. We do need to forgive people who have broken our trust, and we should strive to be trustworthy people.
Sharing and caring for each other helps maintain unity. Unity involves caring for the whole. It takes trust, and of course lots of love. When we follow Jesus, He will fill us with His love that we can pass along to others. Unity pretty much sums up everything we talked about this week at Baobab Blast.
There are a lot of benefits to being unified. One is that God answers the prayers of those who are unified. If we are praying for something and yet carry a spirit of division in our hearts, it shouldn’t surprise us when God says, “No” to our prayers. We’ve already talked about not lacking anything when we are unified. Not only is everyone cared for, but God is pleased. In fact when we are unified, we imitate God—the three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are never divided. Unity also witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Professor F. Scott Spencer says, “From the start, the risen Jesus charged his witnesses to share the good news of his resurrection with the world. The resurrection forges new communities of light and life. Only in such fellowship (koinonia) is the meaning of the resurrection progressively discerned and demonstrated, learned and lived out.” So remember today’s key verse, Eph. 4:3, and, “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.”