Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Recapturing Pentecost - Acts 2.42-47

As I think about it, I don’t believe I can recall the last time there was a double holiday weekend. The closest I have seen in the past has been when our wedding anniversary falls on Labor Day weekend. But tomorrow, as you know, Memorial Day, a day of sober remembrance of those who gave their lives on the battlefield for us. But for the average American, tomorrow is the first holiday of Summer, even though there is still most of a month of Spring before Summer officially starts.
And if you haven’t realized it, seven weeks have passed since we celebrated Easter. It has been seven weeks and a day since the Passover. So by the Jewish calendar, today is the day that starts the Jewish festival, Feast of weeks, a celebration of the harvest of the first grains. It is a joyous celebration before the Lord, a celebration where what is given to the Lord is not mandated, other than to give with joy and thanksgiving.  So I guess today’s holiday is much like tomorrow’s.
Just as Jesus was the lamb for the Passover, so today marked the birth of the church. Consider what the people saw, what they heard. First it started with wind, not the actual movement of air, but merely the sound of it. It was loud. It was heard through the streets of Jerusalem to the point that people gathered to where the disciples were staying. Then God’s presence was revealed in the tongues of fire descending upon each them, enabling them to speak the Great News in different tongues so that all who came to see heard the news proclaimed in his or her native tongue.
They started questioning it. Some were amazed. A few scoffed, blaming alcohol. Yet from there, Peter had their attention. He proclaimed Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. He demonstrated how He fulfilled Scripture and how the people rejected him and had him killed. God’s Son murdered by their hands. And they knew it. They asked what must be done.
Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and to receive the Holy Spirit. And with these and many other words, Peter pleaded with the people to save themselves from this corrupt generation. The response was phenomenal. Approximately 3,000 were baptized and added that day.
Not only was this the start of the church, but it was something totally new. It was a newness of attitude, a newness of the heart. It was a new transformation. And look how it manifested itself beginning at Acts 2.42 and following.
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
So the question that we ponder this morning is how do we recapture Pentecost? I am not so much talking about this day as much as I am referring to what started this day.  Our passage is weeks, months, even years past this day. How do we recapture Pentecost?
1.     Devotion to Study and Worship
This past week, I had an interesting discussion about faith, the Word. The quote this person left me with, “I don't need some book to tell me how to live or know god. As if anyone has the right to tell someone else that he knows god better (than me).”  Needless to say, at that point our short conversation ended.
Yet it got me to thinking about what this person said. Do I need some book? If I want to be able to do my taxes, I need a book. As I restore my truck, I definitely need a book to tell me how. If I want to practice medicine or law, I need a book. Well I would need lots of books. Even philosophers and self-help gurus are always pushing their books so that the reader can know how to live a better life.
Basically we study books, other teachers if you will, until we've mastered the subject. But even then, living for God, following Christ's example is so counterintuitive that mastery is nearly impossible given every turn we're told that Self is most important thing in life.
Yet another conversation is that if we want to win “x”-religious person to Christ, we need to read that person’s literature and fully understand where the person is coming from. This person even used Paul in Athens where he saw the idol to the unknown god, just in case they missed one in their pantheon of worships.  But Paul stated that in his ministry, he claimed to know nothing but Jesus and Jesus crucified alone.
Just as a person who handles money for a living doesn’t take time to know the counterfeits, but instead spends time studying the real. This allows him or her to spot the fake money when it appears. So we too, are to handle the Word, to know it so fully that when something comes along that is fake, we can spot it and avoid it. This is why it is so important to be devoted to the Word, to study.
As simple as I make it seem, I know that it’s not as easy to do. This is why I need your help, this is why I come to worship with you today, so that you might encourage me in my walk, just as I might encourage you in your walk. And there is something about singing together, praying together, reading the word that unites us. The more we invest in one another, invest in the Word, the more we want to be around one another.
2.     Fellowship with One Another
We become concerned for one another. We find ourselves spending time together. Yesterday, I was trying something new at the Farmer’s Market, “An invitation to sit and talk.” A few were tempted to sit with me. Mike and Cathy did. They were believers. And we encouraged one another because we were able to unite around our common faith, and the struggles we see within our community, within our culture. Before I knew it, an hour had passed.
This is something that I enjoy each Sunday, a time of fellowship with you. Now as for congregations in this country, by comparison, we fellowship more than most. Some congregations have lunch out each week. But we have a light lunch in. But what if we were to increase that to meeting more often, perhaps if not for food, then perhaps for talking about the Word. We don’t have the Temple to meet in anymore, but we do have our buildings. We have our dining rooms. We have the place to make the opportunities.
3.     Ministering to Others
Which leads to being able to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters, and even to others. Can you imagine a time that no one has any financial burdens, that all their needs were met? Are all your needs met?
When we have a changed attitude from being in the Word, being around one another, then what we have takes a new values. God has entrusted me with this. How can I use my blessings to bless someone else? We realize that we are merely stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to us.
Some say that the key to winning someone to the Lord is to show him or her that you care. Often that might mean we meet their worldly needs before we can meet their physical needs. And as part of the Church of Arizona, we will have that opportunity soon enough.
Also this week in the news, state lawmakers and the governor passed a new law concerning public assistance. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) will be pared down to helping individuals/families for one year and then no more, ever. With it estimated that 40% of Arizonans are on such assistance, once that assistance runs dry, where will these people turn?
Once upon a time, a person in need would turn to the Church for help. Then came the Depression and government came alongside to assist the Church in meeting needs. I am not sure when it happened that the government became a person’s first place for help and the church became last, but now history is coming back around that we will once again be in a position to help others.
And as we become the hands and feet of Jesus, sharing God’s good news, love, and grace, we might once again see God act in supernatural wonders. We will see the Church of America, perhaps at least the Church of Bisbee start to grow. As we are loyal to our calling, the God will bless us and add to us those who are being saved. Let us see the fields ready for the harvest.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Story 16 Hezekiah: When Bad News Comes 2 Kings 19

At Wednesday’s Dinner and Discussion, we continued with our journey of The Story. This week was on Hezekiah, the 13th of 20 kings of the tribe of Judah. He is a bit of a wonder, coming from a father who closed the worship of the Temple of Solomon altogether. He was raised in an idolatrous family. Yet as soon as he became king, he started reform. He returned to the Lord.
His first reform was the consecration of the Temple, opening it up, cleaning it up, making it holy so that the Lord’s anger might turn from God’s children.  Once the Temple was consecrated, sin sacrifices were made for not only himself but for the entire nation of Israel, I believe to include the northern tribes that were already in captivity. Of course to their shame, not enough priests and scribes had thought to consecrate themselves, though not a few fellow Levites were prepared and took up in aiding the offerings for this first sin offering.
Upon the completion of the offering, he sent out invitations for the celebration of the Passover. People came as far as Dan to celebrate this. But during this time, it was brought to his attention that the people hadn’t properly consecrated themselves. The priests made sure that this time, they were properly prepared for their service, but not so much for the people. So Hezekiah prayed for them. He prayed that the Lord forgive their ignorance and uncleanness before his sight. And the Lord did.
Once the Passover was completed, it is at this point that all the people, according to 2 Chronicles 30, that the people themselves went out and destroyed all the idols. The people were once again worshipping God, having put away the idols. And then it came, the bad news.
After restoring the Temple, the king of Assyria comes demanding a tribute. The gold that Hezekiah put on the Temple is stripped to pay this final tribute. It wasn’t enough for Sennacherib. He wanted more. First he sent his emissary to the gate to talk in the hearing of the soldiers and the people inside the walls while this king set camp outside.  I like the words that Hezekiah tells his men at this point:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said. – 2 Chronicles 32.7-8
Of course the Lord protected him and the people of Jerusalem. The king was called away. Yet as he was called away, he left a letter that had one fact and one claim. The fact is that no nation that stood against Assyria was still standing. And the claim was that he would be back. But as Hezekiah had said, they have the Lord God to help them. 
Still, we give Peter a hard time about losing focus on Jesus because he became distracted and took his eyes off of Jesus. But was Hezekiah any different? He had seen great things that the Lord had done. Still the letter distressed him to the point that the Lord sent Isaiah to encourage him.
After the miraculous deliverance, Hezekiah receives more bad news. Whatever is ailing him, though it sounds like cellulitis, is killing him. He turned once again to the Lord who in turned blessed him with another 15 years. A sign to prove that he wasn’t hallucinating was that the sun would move back 10 steps. Some say that this is about a few hours. And it wasn’t just local to Israel.
People came from as far as Babylon, curious as to why the sun stood still. We’re not sure how they traced it to the promise of Hezekiah, but came they did. And when they arrived, he forgot himself. He opened all that he had acquired, forgetting that the Lord had blessed him. Then when confronted with the sin, because the Lord wasn’t willing to turn his word on Hezekiah, Hezekiah thought, “At least the punishment won’t happen while I am alive to see it.”
So in a nutshell, Hezekiah was a man, a king, who though he struggled with arrogance and pride, that he lost focus on the Lord. Through him, the Lord teaches us what to do when bad news comes. And bad news tends to come. Some examples of bad news is the dissolution of marital vows, a medical diagnosis that wasn’t wanted, or perhaps death of a loved one.
Our neighbors also deal with bad news. It isn’t just for the believer, or as judgment against the unbeliever. Yet knowing how to handle bad news when it comes will allow us live a life that serves as testimony of faith, that glorifies our Heavenly Father. Knowing how to handle bad news will also allow us to speak grace and hope to our neighbors, and perhaps bring them close to the Father.
Our first response to bad news is to humble ourselves before the Lord. When King Hezekiah heard their report, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the Lord’s temple. – 2 Kings 19.1
When the letter stating that nations haven’t stood before Assyria, that their gods were destroyed, even the king was in sackcloth. Who was he to stand before the Lord in his own royal finery with this concern? He knew that compared to God, he was nothing better than he lowest peasant, and that was how he appeared before the Lord.
Humbling ourselves can be in that attitude. It is also an attitude of self-inspection, a personal inventory. It means that perhaps there is something that you’ve overlooked and need to get right, maybe even a sin that needs to be repented. When we humble ourselves before the Lord, we become bare to Him. Nothing can be hidden. Even Adam learned of this when he tried hiding himself from the Lord, even covering parts of himself with leafs. God is able to see to our core.
Our second response is to trust it to God. “Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers, read it, then went up to the Lord’s temple, and spread it out before the Lord.  Then Hezekiah prayed before the Lord.” – 2 Kings 19.14-15
Hezekiah. When they received the letter, the king laid it out before the Lord at the temple. He then prayed over it. That is what we are to do. When the bad news is received, it doesn’t do good to dwell upon it, rather just to turn it over to the Lord.
Now don’t misunderstand. This isn’t something that we do just once. It is something that we are to do until we receive an answer. Jesus told of a woman who was always seeking justice and finally the judge finally gave in. Of course our Father isn’t worn down by our constant prayers. But are we as steadfast to pray over that bad news?
David, when he was told that the child that came from Bathsheba and him was going to die, David kept praying and fasting until he received an answer. It wasn’t the answer he wanted, but once he had the answer, then he stopped praying. This is how our prayers should be, steadfast, faithful, and sincere.
Now the final lesson is to be Isaiah. “Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “The Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘I have heard your prayer to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria.’ This is the word the Lord has spoken against him: He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or build up an assault ramp against it. He will go back on the road that he came and he will not enter this city. This is the Lord’s declaration.” – 2 Kings 19.20, 21, 32, & 33
Hezekiah was praying over the situations, the sieging of Jerusalem, the letter, and his coming death. From those prayers, Isaiah was sent to give him a word of encouragement. The Lord will not allow the Assyrians to take this city, much less enter it. And the Lord has heard your prayer and you will live an additional 15 years.
When we are praying over the situation, are we open to hearing from the Lord? Sometimes He answers us through His Word. Sometimes, He answers us through someone else. This last week on Focus on the Family, a woman who grew up in South Africa, daughter of missionaries, was raised with the ideology that women’s sole purpose was to be mothers, tending house. She was torn because she loved Jesus, but she vowed that she wouldn’t be that type of woman, a mom.  So in college, Lisa-Jo Baker started dating this young man. After church, a stranger turns to them and tells them that even though she isn’t sure about motherhood or being a lawyer to change the world, God still loves her, that it didn’t matter which she chose. For her, this stranger was her Isaiah.

Now that brings me to the close. In the face of bad news, we humble ourselves and turn it over to our Heavenly Father. But perhaps you aren’t facing bad news, but you know someone who is. Isaiah wanted to be a messenger for the Lord. My challenge to you, then, is to be open as Isaiah was. If there is someone who is facing bad news in her life, be willing to share God’s love and grace. But to be prepared for this, Isaiah saw the revelation that motivated him. So we should be in the Word now, so that we can develop that discernment, to develop the eyes that Jesus wanted us to have when he said the fields are ripe to harvest but the workers are few. Pray that the Lord of the harvest sends out workers.  To see such opportunity is my prayer.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Story 15 - Naaman's Question 2 Kings 5.1-14

In a way, I can relate to Naaman. Here is a general, albeit of the enemy, who is afflicted with some skin disease. Perhaps it was eczema like I have, which makes working with the hands problematic. Perhaps is was psoriasis. Maybe something else. It distressed him to the point that a girl whom he captured from Israel, told him where he could find hope. This hope easily grabs his king’s attention to the point that there is a small processional going with him. I wonder if the king thought, “If Naaman is this good handicapped, how formidable would he become healed?” 

Leading this small parade, he arrived in Israel, appearing to the king, then only to be directed to where the prophet Elisha lived, who in turned used one of his butlers as his emissary to the general. Needless to say, he wasn’t happy. What did he come to see?

That is the question that he wanted answered. He was expecting something great. He expected a few events.
1.       He expected a grand welcoming.  The Prophet didn’t bother to greet him. Naaman was too proud.
Yet what Naaman learned was something of what faith is. Though he came in pomp, he was to come to God. Too often we can begin to think more of ourselves than we ought. God is not lucky to have us. Rather, we are blessed that He welcomes us, just as we are. Perhaps the reason that the servant met Naaman instead of the prophet was that Naaman was unclean with his skin disease. It may not have been a matter of arrogance.

Don’t dismiss how we come before God. Pride always comes before the fall is what the Proverbs teach us. Paul taught the church in Corinth that love is not proud. Jesus said blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. When we first accepted Christ, wasn’t it from the point of our realization of our needs, our brokenness before the Lord?

2.       He expected a grand showing.  God doesn’t serve us. We are to serve and honor Him.
Naaman expected the prophet to come out, to command the healing.  He didn’t understand the nature of God. God is not some genie. God is great, holy being. In previous chapters we saw Elisha’s predecessor, Elijah, have a battle of the gods, if you will. The prophets of Baal and Asherah called on them to consume the offering. Yet nothing happened. For all that great show, not even an ember appeared. Yet for Elijah, a small prayer and God showed His glory, because Elijah’s prayer wasn’t for his benefit. It wasn’t so people would revere him but would turn back to God.

People today say that if God is God, then let him continue to prove it. Stop the wars. Stop the natural disasters. Yet we missed it. How did Elijah hear God? It wasn’t in power, but in the small whisper. God’s miracles often come through quiet prayers and are only seen when people look for them. Today, God uses His children to be instruments of healing and grace.

3.       He expected a grand feat. Yet his task was simple. Dip in the Jordan River 7 times. Again, we can look back at how religions tend to work, through feats of prayer, through posturing, through offering. They tend to be done because the worshipper is seeking his god’s favor. Yet our God doesn’t ask us to make a showing. Jesus tells us to pray in our closets if that is needed to keep our prayers focused on God and not ourselves. He dismissed the offerings of the wealthy and honored the mites of the poor woman. He condemned the babbling prayer of the righteous man and honored the prayer of the penitent man. It is the attitude and obedience in the simple that God honors.

4.       But then God did something grand. When Naaman realized what was being required, doing things in God’s way, his flesh was like that of a boy, strong and supple. His joy was great when he realized the mercy and grace of our Heavenly Father. He tried to gift the prophet who refused.

It is the same for us this morning. So often we seek the great things to happen, that we forget about obeying the simple. Love God. Will the decision I make bring honor to God?  Am I seeking His will in what I am about to do, in what I am asking to have happen? Love your neighbor as yourself. Do you give of yourself not only to your family, but also to strangers? Even when they raise your ire, or have a completely different faith set, do you look for ways that you can show them God’s love?

Another take home comes from not only Naaman but also his servant girl. Her prayer was likely to be restored, to be able to go home to her family. Yet that prayer didn’t get answered. Yet despite being where she didn’t want to be, she still honored God and proclaimed him by telling her master of the prophet in Israel. 

From Naaman, he knew where he was returning. Sometimes there will be a situation not in our control, such as when the king wants to worship his idol and have his fiercest warrior kneeling next to him. Even in that moment, his heart is pure before God.