Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Making the Most of the Peace Acts 9.31 (Sermon)

                Wasn’t sure how to start this message. Making the most of an opportunity seems to be full of great examples, though my brain couldn’t find the more positive. For example, The Mayans & 12.21 taught us that if you don’t finish something, then it’s not the end of the world.
                Of course then there is the whole idea that on the heels of a national tragedy, legislation and executive privilege are being thrown around like a football. Truth seems to be hidden for favor of agendas. I don’t know why, but I’ve never really appreciate when a person or group turns a profit (of any sort) from pain.
                But of opportunities, and making the most, I think the best example comes from Paul’s words to the church in Colossi.  Col 4.5-6 state: “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders, make the most of every opportunity, letting your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
                Making the most of the time seems to be a theme that we can see in the book of Acts. Rather than seeing idol worship, Paul saw in Athens religious thirst. Next week we will consider the next section of Acts 9 as we see Peter making the most of his time as he travels and preaches.
                This morning we see the church seems to be making the most of the time of peace that they are enjoying. And it is no small thing to say. Remember, for a time, Christianity was illegal. Its persecution was state sanctioned. Saul was a warrior for God stamping out the church where he could. And then he just stopped.
                It wasn’t that he grew tired, but that he was converted. His energies, his zeal for God, was refocused, honed. He was now a preacher of the Savior. I don’t know if the pressures were instantly noticeable, or if someone, while reflecting, realized that there was no longer this season of hostility. After all, 3 years has passed to this point that Paul had left to arrest Christians. The prisoners never came. Paul didn’t come back pressing the church. He did, eventually return, but to join the brethren of Jerusalem instead.
                I wonder if perhaps such a revelation, that the Church is in a time of peace, was something that Barnabas pointed out. He would be the one to take Paul, giving him a second chance, presenting him to the Apostles. Yes, the church was now at peace. Of course, this peace didn’t mean that there were not detractors Paul had to flee town after a while because the Jews who rejected Jesus also rejected him. They wanted to kill him. But that is not the same as state sanctioned hostility.
                So now there is our text: And the church throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace, being built up and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and it increased in numbers.(HCSB)
                Though this was a physical as well as spiritual peace, Luke lays out a recipe by which we can also be making the most of the peace that we have today, or at least what is left of it. I do believe that the Church of America is in a time of peace. I mean, our government hasn’t yet declared outright that Christianity is illegal. We are not having people rounded up and arrested for their faith as the Church in Iran is suffering, or even now Egypt. We are still in a time of peace, and though we are in the twilight of that peace, we can still make the most of the peace.             To determine if we are making the most of the opportunity of peace, there are 3 questions we should ask:
Are we proclaiming Christ? This is something that we see Paul doing as soon as he arrived in Jerusalem. Sure the church shied away from him, not knowing who they were dealing with. We do it all the time ourselves, don’t we? Take for example, the bull snake looks like a diamondback sans the rattle. Now when you see that critter coiled in the cool of the shade, you freeze, and then you take a step back. Once you realize that it’s not rattling you, then you know you can approach it.
But we are not to shy from people. They need to know the good news. They need to know that as messed up as their lives are, be it divorce, broken relationships, unemployment, addictions, that God can help them, offers grace and hope. The storms in our lives, though they rage, we are quieted. As bad as today looks, there is a day coming, a day promised that all of this will not matter. There is something better for us, for you. It’s in Christ Jesus. That is the message that we are to share.
Do we fear the Lord? Now this one is a bit harder to ask. Do I fear the Lord? So often we look at “fear the Lord” as meaning that we are to revere the Lord. We are to see God as holy. But that is not fear of itself. There is more to this fear. Consider, for example, sovereigns like Esther and King Xerxes. There is a protocol with sovereigns. One, you did not touch casually the king. You waited to approach. Even the queen could lose her life for being cavalier. And you knew that whatever you did, you were accountable to the King. Haman learned that lesson.  Fearing the Lord means that not only do we revere our Lord, the God Almighty, but that we also do what He says.
He said that we are to be a salt, season this world for Heaven, creating a heavenly thirst. If we aren’t, then what good are we? Today, sociologists say that we are in a post modern world. It is a post Christian world. No longer do the vast majority see that worshipping together is as important as it once was. One of the biggest reasons that we are in the shape that we are today is that we decided that we really didn’t need to be that light, declaring what is wrong. We feared the world’s views of us rather than what God thinks of us. Which is better, “George is one of the best neighbors I can have,” or “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
And that is the difference really. We are a culture that doesn’t really understand yet what total sovereignty means. It doesn’t mean that God dictates our every step. He does lay out a plan. If we follow, that is up to us. But we must remember that a day is coming that all our thoughts and actions will be laid bare before Him. Will Jesus be His filter as He gazes on our actions and deeds?
Sometimes, I’ll admit, we can find it difficult to stand for life when our personal lives are mired with contrary actions.  It is hard for us to say we have too much welfare when we are on welfare. It is too hard to stand on sexual purity when the church is full of immorality. It is hard to stand on financial feasibility when our lives are upside down in mortgages and loans and credit cards. It is hard to proclaim love and grace when we shun our brother. It is hard to be the light when we are either under the bowl, or clinging to darkness. Do we fear the Lord? A time is coming when He will answer that for us if we don’t answer it now.
Are we encouraged by the Holy Spirit? This last question is actually the key to being able to answer the previous two questions. Let’s look at this word, encourage. There are two parts, courage, or boldness. En comes along side. So putting it back together, do we let the Holy Spirit come along side us and give us boldness or courage?
The Holy Spirit isn’t here, isn’t given to us so that we can feel better. He is with us so that we can choose better, become better. Paul told the Corinthians that everything is permissible but that not everything is beneficial. How do we know the difference? That is where the Holy Spirit comes and guides us. He helps us to make the better choice. Sometimes we are not presented with choices between good and evil. We are given choices between good and better. What is the better choice?
In a few chapters, Paul will live out such a choice for us. He is a Roman Citizen by birth. He was rare, for by the time the parents can both afford citizenship, children are grown. When he preaches in Philippi, they take to flog him. That is a huge NO for a Roman citizen. He had a choice of stopping them before they began by stating, “Whoa! I am a Roman. How dare you strike me!” But he made a better choice. From that choice, a church that became the dearest to Paul was founded. A family, the jailer, came to Christ directly from that choice Paul made. Now he couldn’t have made that selfless choice if he wasn’t relying on the Holy Spirit.
The choices that we make may mean that we might as citizens lay aside our rights for the message of Jesus to progress. It’s not an easy choice and left to ourselves, we will always choose what benefits us most directly. But in Christ, for me, it’s not about me. For you, it’s not about you. It is about the lost meeting Jesus.
Answering these three questions, we can indeed be making the most of the peace. And then there is that promise. God increased the church. We don’t worry about building programs. That’s God’s job. Our job is to trust, to fear, to proclaim. It’s easier to do now because we are still yet at a time of peace. Are you, are we, making the most of it?