Sunday, August 31, 2008

This week's sermon: Acts 14-Hardships, Healing, and Humility

Acts 14.
We see God at work in this chapter in the midst of hardships and persecution to strengthen the missionaries, and to reach those who have never heard. We see God at work healing those who are sick, proving himself through miracles, and closing the gap between the Jews and Gentiles. We see God working in Paul and Barnabas to bring humility even when others want to give them the status of gods. They complete their mission to take the good news of the gospel to the provinces of Asia and the Gentiles, and return to Antioch rejoicing and praising God for the great things they have seen him do as they were faithful to preach the message of salvation to those who would believe.

Monday, August 25, 2008

This Week's Sermon: Branching Out and Prodigal Son Syndrome

Acts 13:13-52.
Paul and Barnabas continue to spread the gospel as they travel and stop for a time in Pisidian Antioch. There they share the gospel message with those in the local synagogue. At first, their message seems to be well-received, or at least tolerated by those in attendance. They are even invited to return the next Sabbath to share more.

When they return, word has spread about the message of hope they bring: reconciliation and justification before God. So many people show up at the synagogue that Luke tells us almost the whole town came to hear what they had to say. This is where the Prodigal Son Syndrome rears it's ugly head. Those Jews who were part of the synagogue were jealous because the message was being shared now with gentiles. They had accepted the message the week before when it was just for them, now they were angry and spoke abusively against Paul and Barnabas.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us the older brother had a similar reaction when the Father asked him to join a party celebrating the return of the younger brother. The older brother had spent all of his life doing what the father had wanted him to do, but never realized that the heart of the father was to bring home the lost prodigal. The Jews in this story are in the same situation. They are God's chosen people, and they have spent the last thousand years following God's instructions, but they never saw that what the Father wanted was for them to "be a light unto the gentiles." God wanted to use them to reach out to those who were in darkness. Now that the message has been shared with the gentiles, an open door to justification before God without the requirements of the Law, they are furious. Their "it's not fair" button has been triggered.

We are in danger of developing Prodigal Son Syndrome, where we see the prodigal son in everyone except ourselves. We begin to believe that we deserve God's love and we have earned his favor. The truth is that we can only come to God because of his grace. The Jew's did not choose to seek God any more than the brothers in the parable chose to be born to that father. God chose the Jews to be his people, a light to the gentiles, the ones through whom the whole earth would be blessed. We have this blessing in Christ Jesus, who came through the Jewish nation. We have the truth of his offer of salvation to all who would believe. We are the sons and daughters of God through his grace. Let's not fall into the trap of believing that our only purpose is to preserve our position or to work to deserve God's favor. Our purpose as his children is to bring home our lost brothers and sisters.

How do we avoid the Prodigal Son Syndrome? By pressing in to the heart of God, so that his heart's desires are our heart's desires. We need to draw so close to him that our hearts beat in rhythm with his. His heart is that none should perish, our heart needs to beat with that same passion for the lost. God has not been stingy in extending his grace to us, let us not be stingy in offering that grace to others in Jesus.

This Week's Schedule 8/24/2008

Tuesday August 26th- Friends Women Sewing Day! 9:00 am
Dig Into the Sermon 7:00pm

Friday-Monday- Family Camp @ Quaker Haven

August 31th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for: Dorothy J's family; Galen and Cordelia (and Karen); Ray V. of Newton; Raymond V's health; TJ (Bobbi's daughter) and husband Craig; And all our kids & teachers for the new school year, the Christian school starts Wednesday!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Weekly Schedule 8/17/2008

Tuesday August 19th- Coffee at Amanda's 9:30 am
Dig Into the Sermon 7:00pm

August 24th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for: Dorothy J's family; Galen and Cordelia (and Karen); Ray V. of Newton; Raymond V's health; And all our kids & teachers for the new school year, the Christian school starts Wednesday!

This week's sermon: A Question of Obedience

Acts 13:1-12
I. Obedience means letting go and stepping out
The church leaders in Antioch had to decide to let Barnabas and Saul go to do the work that God had prepared for them. Barnabas and Saul had to decide to step out in faith, trusting God to continue his work in Antioch as he worked through them to spread the message of the Gospel on the island of Cyprus.
II. Disobedience puts up road blocks to the spread of the Gospel
Bar-Jesus, aka Elymas, was a Jew who knew better than to practice sorcery and false prophecy. He practiced them anyway because it led to position and power. When his position was threatened by the truth of God, he tried to misdirect the proconsul who was seeking the truth.
III. God is not troubled by obstacles in his path
God removed Elymas from being an obstacle by temporarily blinding him. God showed that he is not going to be stopped by the roadblock of disobedience. The proconsul had faith because of the message of the Gospel and God's demonstration that his power was greater than Elymas's sorcery.

Application: We each have the choice of obedience, being an asset in the growth and development of God's Kingdom; or disobedience, being a roadblock that must be removed before the Gospel can be advanced. Which will you be? The choice is up to you.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weekly Schedule 8/10/2008

Tuesday August 12th- Elder's Meeting 7:00pm

Friday August 15th- Registration due for Womens Retreat!!

August 17th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for: Dorothy J., Noah P., Galen and Cordelia (and Karen), And all our kids & teachers for the new school year!

This week's sermon: Peter's at the door!

Acts 12.
So far in Acts, we have seen the church suffer persecution at the hands of the religious community. We haven’t really seen persecution yet from the government. Here in chapter 12, that changes. Herod the king decides that the way to gain favor with the Jewish leadership is to help stamp out this new sect. I want to clarify real quickly, this is not Herod the Great, who was king when Jesus was born, this is not Herod Antipas who was king when Jesus was crucified, and there are even a couple of other Herods thrown in there as well. This Herod is: Herod Agrippa the first, grandson of Herod the Great and ruler of Judea and Samaria for just a brief period of time. This Herod was very concerned with observing the Law. He wanted to be seen as someone different from others in his family line who were Jews by the slimmest of margin. So Herod Agrippa decides the best way to prove his dedication to God and the Law and the Jewish people was to join them in putting an end to these followers of Jesus.

He started by rounding up a few of the usual suspects and puts to death at least one: James the brother of John, son of Zebedee. This was a great win for his popularity, the Jewish leaders who wanted the disciples rounded up and done away with were happily encouraging the new Herod to continue weeding out the leaders of the believers. Herod had Peter arrested, and because the religious festival was underway, Herod decided to wait until it was finished to make a public spectacle of putting Peter to death. In the meantime, Peter is put into prison and guarded by four squads of four men; four at each watch, two with Peter, two guarding the door. Herod wanted to make sure there was no way that his ticket to acceptance was going to escape.

Peter is in prison and the church is praying. They prayed for the days he was in jail, they prayed earnestly, and without ceasing. They kept praying even when they knew Peter was going to be tried and executed the next day. They didn’t give up. They didn’t decide that Herod was bigger than God. They didn’t throw up there hands and say, “well, we’ve prayed for days and he’s still in prison, I guess there is nothing more we can do.” No! They put their faith in God. They put their trust in God. They put their hope in God. Right up until the deadline. And God answered their prayers.

He didn’t come early, and he wasn’t late, he came when it was time. And I think he had a purpose in his timing. When we pray for God to deliver, and something happens in the natural world to bring an answer, it is so easy to attribute the answer to the world. Here’s an example. If the early church had prayed and Peter was released on a legal technicality, it would have been easy for them to say, “Boy I’m glad there was a loophole, yippee for loopholes!” Likewise, when we pray for someone’s healing, and they receive medical treatment and are cured. It is too easy to attribute it to the doctors, or the procedure, or the medicine. The truth is that God does work through these things to answer our prayers, but the answer comes from God, not the vessel he sends it in.

God wanted those in the early church to see that he was supernaturally rescuing Peter from the jaws of death. They prayed, and the legal system failed them. They prayed and Herod didn’t pardon him. They prayed, and God sent an angel to smack Peter on the side, shine a light in his face and set him on the road to John Mark’s Mom’s house. God wanted all the credit, and the church needed to learn that God is sovereign.

God set Peter free in answer to the prayers of the church, in answer to their faith. But it did not come in the package they were expecting. They were praying for Peter’s release, but they did not expect him to be miraculously released in the middle of the night and show up at the door. So when he knocked, Rhoda wasn’t expecting Peter at the door. When he called out and she recognized his voice she was so overwhelmed that she forgot to let him in. She ran and told the others, “Peter is at the door” and they told her she was crazy! They probably thought, "Too many late night prayer meetings for Rhoda, we’ll have to put her to bed!" When she argued with them, they conceded that maybe it was his angel, whatever that means. But no one thought to open the door. Rhoda is arguing that he is there, but she hasn’t opened the door to let him in. The others who want her to leave them alone so they can get back to praying don’t bother to do the one thing that would cause Rhoda to put herself to bed: open the door to prove it isn’t him. The only one who thinks of opening the door is Peter, he is still standing in the street banging on the door.

Finally, when they opened the door, there stood Peter, and Luke tells us that they were astonished. They must have all been talking at once, because Peter puts up his hand to get them to be quiet. He tells them the story, and instructs them to pass it on to James and the brothers. Then he left. It doesn’t say where he went, just that he left for another place. That seems the wise thing to do when there are people who will soon wake up to find you missing on the day of your trial and impending execution.

Herod had planned an execution, and someone needed to pay for things not going according to plan. Because they had allowed a prisoner to escape, the only punishment available to these soldiers was death. And really, who is going to believe the story they had to tell? The prisoner was there, and then he wasn’t. No break-in, no break-out, he was just gone. The guards were executed, and Herod moves on to business as usual.

To wrap up this chapter, and to show us all once again who sits on the throne higher than all other thrones, Luke tells us what happens next with this Herod. Peter had gotten away, but Herod was still king. He still had other matters to deal with. He was in a dispute with some people who given the geographical boundaries of his kingdom should have been under his authority. He was in a position to do whatever he wanted in blocking their food supply, but because they had gotten favor with a friend of the king, he heard their case. His response was so powerful that they began to give him the status of a god. The crowd shouted that his voice, his words, his declaration were not those of a mere man, but a god. Herod, who has been looking for approval and popularity is finally getting what he wants, respect and reverence of the highest kind. He doesn’t stop them from comparing him to a god in spite of the fact that he knows the Law, and is an observer of the Law. He knows the commandments, he knows there is one God. Because he let them call him a god, Herod is immediately dealt with in a horrible fashion. Luke tells us that he was struck down and eaten by worms.

Josephus, a Jewish historian gives a remarkably similar account. Josephus says there was a festival where many great people and dignitaries were gathered. On the second day of this festival, he put on a tunic made of silver and made a grand entrance in the morning sun. The people were so impressed by the sight of him, according to Josephus that they said that he was a god. Herod not stopping their cries, sees an owl, a bad omen and “A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner.” According to Josephus, Herod gives a nice speech about how they had called him immortal, but he was being summoned to his death. He collapses, and has to be carried to the palace where he lays in agony for five days before succumbing to death.

Luke just gave us the short and sweet version, where Josephus’s is a little more colorful. Both accounts, though, point to the truth that God is sovereign and because Herod knew this and accepted the declaration that he was a god, he reaped the consequences.

There are two things we can take from these events and apply them in our lives. The first is that God is sovereign. He is in charge. He had the power to release Peter from the middle of four highly trained, highly specialized military operatives and set him free. He had the power to stop Herod from claiming that he was a god. He took care of his own reputation. And he still has the same power today. He can still protect his reputation, and you had better believe he does. Those who claim to speak for him, but blaspheme his name need to watch out. Those who pretend to be equal with him, or greater than him, beware, God is still capable of showing who is boss. He doesn’t need our help to defend himself.

God is still sovereign. He can still deliver us, no matter what the bondage. And he doesn’t always need someone to do his work for him, sometimes he does it all on his own, so that he can receive the glory. He didn’t need the believers to break Peter out of jail. God had his own plan, and his own purpose, and he carried them out.

The second thing we can take from this today is that we have access to God in all his sovereignty through prayer. Because Jesus is our intermediary, we can boldly approach the throne of God. We can ask him for his intervention in our lives. We can ask him for deliverance. We can ask him for healing. We can talk to him about our worries and cares and give them over to him. Prayer gives us access to God.

Now to what that does not mean: That does not mean that we get to tell God what to do! When we invite him into our situation, we can present our requests to him--in fact we are told to do so, but if we really want his deliverance, we have to be willing to set aside our plans and let him carry out his plan. When we invite him into our lives, we don’t get to set parameters, he wants total access. We have to be willing to let him change what needs to be changed. We have to be willing to let him do what needs to be done. We can’t sit in our little prisons and argue with God’s method of deliverance because we think our plan is better, and still expect deliverance! When he shows up, do what he says. When the angel came, and poked Peter on the side, Peter didn’t shush him and say, “You can’t do this, there are guards here! This is not how you perform a rescue!” No, when God sent his deliverance, Peter obeyed everything he was told to do.

Prayer gives us access to the sovereign, almighty God. And when we pray, we need to step back and let Him work out his plan for our benefit, and for his Glory.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Weekly Schedule 8/3/2008

Monday August 4th- Institute at University Friends in Wichita at 6:00 pm. Pastor will be in Wichita through Tuesday early afternoon. Call the cell phone for emergencies.

Tuesday August 5th- Dig Into the Sermon 7:00pm

Thursday August 7th- Pray for Noah's surgery and recovery!

August 10th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

This Week's Sermon: God Builds His Church

Acts 11:19-30.

The Family of God—The Church Begins by Gathering Believers Together

God brought the fruit of conversion from the seed of persecution. As these believers were scattered, God used their lives as a witness and testimony to His power at work in them through Jesus. The message and the witness were so great that it became clear that Gentiles were interested as well. God was bringing the increase. He was at work through the obedience of those who already believed to bring about faith in the lives of those who had never heard.

The believers in Jerusalem heard about the great number of people God was drawing to himself. They sent Barnabas to check it out.Barnabas came as an investigator, and became an encourager and a teacher in response to the work God was doing. He began to encourage them to remain true to the Lord. He didn’t give them a rule book and a theology seminar, he pointed them to Jesus. They were already showing evidence that God was at work in their lives, he simply encouraged them to continue to allow God to work.

His ministry was powered by the Holy Spirit and Faith. Barnabas was a man who believed God. He had faith that God would continue the work he had started, and he had faith that God could be trusted with the lives of these new believers. That faith, that confidence in God allowed Barnabas to encourage without badgering, and witness without threatening. Because of his obedience, God gathered more people to himself. Barnabas went because a number had turned to the Lord, now another great number of people were brought to the Lord. Barnabas needed help.

Making Disciples—Leaders Living Life with People Brings Growth

Barnabas sought out Saul to help nurture the new believers. It makes sense that Barnabas would seek Paul, who had already shown his passion for sharing Christ with his former zealot friends after his conversion, because Jerusalem was 300 miles to the South and Tarsus was only 123 miles on land. And Barnabas had been the one to put himself on the line for Paul , vouching for him to the disciples in Jerusalem.

They lived there for a year, teaching and discipling. Barnabas and Paul helped the new believers to deepen their faith. They were dealing with a whole new group of people who had little to no Jewish background. These new Gentile believers needed to understand some of Judaism in order to understand Jesus and the significance his life and ministry carry.

Barnabas discipled Saul as they discipled the believers together. Not only were Barnabas and Paul teaching the new believers, but Barnabas was teaching Paul how to be an encourager. In reading the New Testament it is easy to see Paul’s passion for the gospel, his dedication to sound doctrine, and his desire to follow Christ. I believe that what we see in his letters to the churches, that encouraging tone—his thankfulness for their faith, his confidence in God at work—I believe all that is due to the critical time he spent with Barnabas building churches. Not only here in Antioch, but in the years to come traveling throughout Asia Minor.

The fruit was so evident in people’s lives, the called them Christ-ones, little Christ’sUp until this point, believers were Jews who happened to believe in Jesus as Messiah, Son of God, Saviour of the World. They were mostly Gentile believers. They needed a new name since they weren’t Jews.

Universal Scope—Caring for the Needs of Believers Worldwide

God warned them of a famine to come, not in their region, but in another place. Up until this time, believers cared for those in their immediate fellowship or gathering. They met whatever needs there were with their own people. Here we see them reach beyond their immediate group to believers who were far away.

Out of concern for their fellow believers, they gave according to their ability to help believers in Judea. Just like with their own internal giving, though, this outreach was Spirit driven. It was evidence that God was at work changing their point of view. It is one thing to see the need close at hand and want to give, it is another to give to meet the needs of someone you have never met.

They sent the gift out to meet the need. They saw a need and decided to give, and they gave according to their ability. After they gathered their love gifts together, they sent Barnabas and Saul with the money to Jerusalem. This was really a kind of graduation for the believers in Antioch. They had shown their concern by giving monetarily, but they also gave up their leaders in order to send that gift where it could do the most good. They demonstrated that they were ready to continue to follow Jesus with leaders raised up from among themselves.

I am encouraged by what God is doing in our church. I believe he is drawing people to himself in new ways. People who have been involved in our church for a long time are receiving a fresh enthusiasm. And we are seeing God at work drawing more people into our fellowship. I know God is at work in our midst. So what can we do to join him in his work? How can we participate with him in drawing people to Jesus? I believe it starts with faith. Remember Barnabas was filled with the Holy Spirit and Faith. It was that faith that allowed Barnabas to obediently do the things God asked of him, and let God take care of the rest. It was that faith that enabled him to seek help from Paul, to encourage the new believers, and in the end to release them to continue to grow without him. Participating in God’s work requires faith that God will accomplish his work. Another way we participate with God is simply by living our lives as a testimony to God at work within us. Remember that at Antioch they were called little Christs. Are we living our lives so that people look at us and see Jesus? If not, we need to continue to seek God and allow him to work in us, to fill us so completely with himself that nothing else remains. Finally, we join God at work by coming together as a church body to meet the needs of others. We do that by meeting the needs of those in our own body, but also by caring about the needs of those who are far away. The believers in Antioch were going to face the same drought, but they knew that Judea would be harder hit. So they gave what they could and sent it to help their brothers and sisters in Christ that they had never met. Are we willing to do the same?

To join God in his work, to draw people to himself, we have to have faith, we have to be obedient and surrendered so that he can fill us with his spirit; so that he can develop in us his character; so that we can share his heart of mercy and compassion for others, including people outside our meeting.