May 14, 2009

Welcome to Hollywood Kid

I just read a news report that the home of one of the child stars from the Oscar winning film Slum Dog Millionaire was just demolished by the City of Mumbai, India. Seems he and his family had erected a tent on government land and were deemed squatters. The city tore the tent down and the child star and his family were left more homeless than they had been before. Meantime, Slum Dog Millionaire has grossed over $200 million dollars at the box office, making the fortune of several people who had already been pretty well to do.

Now my question is a simple one. I don’t expect the film maker to solve India’s poverty problem. That is a problem that is way beyond his ability but do you mean to tell me he can’t take care of his own? Do you mean to tell me that he cares so little about this kid that after filming the kid goes back to squalor and abject poverty? What would it cost to get this kid’s family off skid row? A thousand bucks a year? Five hundred? He can’t afford that? Welcome to Hollywood kid! Amazing!

May 10, 2009


by The Reverend Scott Homer
In the name of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Jesus says to his disciples, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” That’s pretty cut and dried isn’t it? Nothing vague, nothing ephemeral in that: the person who loves Jesus is the person who does what Jesus tells him to do. And yet, all over the country this morning priests and preachers will be discounting his words and qualifying what he says. They will spend an obscene amount of time and energy arguing that we can’t do what Jesus tells us to do and that Jesus never really intended us to. Not me. I think Jesus meant exactly what he said and like so much of what Jesus said, the words present an immense challenge to anybody who takes his words seriously.

The famous English author and journalist G. K. Chesterton once quipped, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” He is saying that the question we need to be addressing is not, did Jesus mean what he said or is it possible to carry out Jesus’ teachings. If we do the things that Jesus tells us to do we find our lives enriched. A life lived in righteousness is a better life. It is a desirable alternative to the ways of the world. It is a life full of blessing and peace and serenity. And it is the life that God intends for us to live. In fact, he insists upon it. And when we fail to live righteous lives, when we sin, we fall hard. We experience pain and suffering. We know separation from God. And this is not God’s will for our lives. Anybody who has lived on both sides of this equation will tell you that righteous living is better than sinful living. Ask a recovered alcoholic or heroin addict. Ask somebody who has experienced radical conversion in their lives. Seek out those who have experienced the shame of prison. They will confirm what Chesterton says. The Christian ideal is not wanting. It is not a blind alley. It really does lead to new life—better life.

And so the question churches all over the world need to be asking and trying to answer is, how can we do what Jesus is asking us to do? If Jesus has placed an immensely difficult task before us (and nobody is denying that, it is difficult.) Jesus must have provided us with the means to accomplish it. The God of our salvation would not create a no win situation. So, the question is not how can I twist Jesus’ words around in order to avoid doing what my Lord and Savior has asked me to do but rather what are the tools and resources that the Lord has given me, that I may pick up and use in order to accomplish his will? And then, how do I best use these tools? How do I become expert in my craft?

And I want to caution you that immediately upon hearing about the tools Gopd provides, the temptation will be to discount their worth. We will be attacked by the enemy because the enemy has invested a great deal of time and energy into persuading us that the tools the Lord has provided are too small, too insignificant, and too simple to work. He tells us that surely they will not equip us to live up to the demands. But it’s a lie. The truth of the matter is that God’s tools are more than adequate. They are completely sufficient to the task. And we need to banish the false thinking. We need to recommit to the goodness of the Lord and to learning how to use the tools he has provided us.

A hippy was sitting on a park bench in Central Park and a tourist approached and asked him, “Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall. And the hippy replied, “Practice man.” Both the question about what are the tools god provides and the question about how do we use them are learning, experiencing and growing questions. They are questions we live into not questions that have a quick answer. Keeping Jesus’ commands is not a matter of information. It is a matter of formation. It is not about learning facts. It is rather like training to be a doctor by doing what doctors do under the supervision of doctors; or like learning to play a musical instrument by playing in the presence of a master musician and playing in a band under the guidance of a master director. Discipleship is a lifelong task. Luminaries from around the world attended the ninetieth birthday party for the world renowned cellist Pablo Cassals. And in the middle of dinner Pablo excused himself and he was gone for about a half an hour. When he returned someone asked him where he had gone. He replied, “I was practicing.” (Maybe he had talked to the hippy) One of the dinner guests said, “Pablo you are perhaps the greatest cellist in the world. Why do you have to leave your ninetieth birthday party to practice?” And Pablo said, “I think I’m getting better.”

When Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commands he is saying that love will be demonstrated by a devotion to God and a commitment to God’s purposes. The one who loves Jesus is the one who determines to be his apprentice, who devotes herself to being an intern of our Lord because the one who loves Jesus desires to know the way, desperately seeks to experience the truth, and strives to walk in the life that Jesus teaches us. We are saved by grace through faith but God’s saving grace looks very much like a call to serve as his apprentice and to do the things that Jesus does.

If you don’t get anything else out of this sermon this morning I hope that you will get out of your comfortable pew and commit to following Jesus wherever it is that Jesus is calling you to go. Find a Bible study and commit to it for a year. Join a prayer team and commit to praying everyday. Stop worrying about not being able to give the right answer and come seeking the right answer by showing up for Sunday School regularly. Find a Christian mentor to open up to. If you don’t get anything else out of this sermon this morning I pray that you will get motivated to become a learner, an apprentice and an intern of our Lord.

I ran across this quote from Dallas Willard. He says,
“Non-discipleship is the elephant in the church. It is not the much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing general similarity between Christians and non-Christians. These are only effects of the underlying problem. The fundamental negative reality among Christian believers now is their failure to be constantly learning how to live their lives in The Kingdom Among Us. And it is an accepted reality. The division of Christians into those from whom it is a matter of whole-life devotion to God and those who maintain a consumer, or client, relationship to the church has now been an accepted reality for over fifteen hundred years.“And in our day,” he says, “this long-accepted division has worked its way into the very heart of the gospel message. It is now understood to be a part of the "good news" that one does not have to be a life student of Jesus in order to be a Christian and receive forgiveness of sins. This gives a precise meaning to the phrase "cheap grace," though it would be better described as "costly faithlessness."
(Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper, 1998), p.301)

Jesus means what he says. The question for us this morning is, how can we make a start at reversing the trend? What tools can I grab hold of that will help me to do what Jesus tells me to do and to become the disciple Jesus wants me to be?

Doctors need to learn anatomy and physiology, diagnostics, surgical techinque and pharmacology among other things. Musicians need to learn rhythm, tone, and timber and the dexterity to play their instrument. Christians need to acquire expertise in four primary areas: Honesty—honesty—Purity—Love. Each of these is an absolute which is why learning them is a lifelong task and why no one has the right to boast. We all fall short of the glory of God and it is by his grace alone that we know life.

Honesty is a willingness to look at the truth about us, about God, and about the world. Honesty is having eyes opened to the truth and a spirit that is willing to hear the truth even when the truth is painful or difficult. Honesty allows us to behold our needs and the true sources by which those needs can be met. Jesus is wholly devoted to the truth. Time and time again we hear Jesus, Truly I say to you. And we also hear Jesus say, “I am the truth.”

Humility teaches us that there is no life within us apart from the life God breathes into us. Humility is the understanding that our past, present and future rest with God. We realize our true nature, see all the warts and blemishes, understand our propensity to prejudice, ignorance, and the seven deadly sins. Humility will inevitably lead us to the foot of the cross because only at the foot of the cross will we find hope.

Purity is about doing the right thing, about refusing the temptation, denying the urge, and fleeing from the seduction. Purity keeps us out of harms way, free from the sins that separate us from God’s grace. Purity sounds old fashioned. Too prim and proper for our time and yet Purity is virtue at its highest level. A life devoted to purity is a life lived close to the Lord.

And love—love is such an abused term in our culture. The term only vaguely resembles the term Jesus and the Apostles use. Love in its pure form is not selfish or proud. It does not seek its own way. Love is patient and kind. Love gives rather than takes. Jesus models love at its most extreme when he picks up his cross and sacrifices his life on the cross for us. This is a total self-giving for the sake of the beloved. He dies in order that we may live.

An apprentice must learn her craft by studying. The musician needs to be able to read music, needs to know the theory, needs to understand the music the hope to play. An medical intern has to study. And the reason they say that doctors practice rather than saying the perform is because doctors are always learning. The Christian must study. God has given us a holy book that contains all things necessary for our life and salvation but you can’t ever understand it fully and you can’t ever understand it even basically without studying it. The Lord has given us the Bible in order that we might study and become competent in our faith.

An apprentice doesn’t train herself. An intern does not perform a medical procedure without supervision. Christians can not learn their craft without submitting to the tutelage of another Christian. In every case, where there is a student there must be a teacher. The Lord has provided teachers and preachers to act as mentor, instructor, and helper.

An Christian apprentice is faced with a unique problem. They don’t have the ability to use the tools that they have been provided without divine help. We are stuck if God does not intervene and come along side and lift us up and carry us. And so the Lord has provided access through prayer. We pray and we receive the essentials we need to practice our way of life.
The tools we have been given are Bible study, Christian teachers, and prayer. And if we will learn to use these tools, and to practice our faith until we become expert at it we will discover that Jesus’ command, while difficult, is attainable.

And so being a disciple is about living out these absolutes to the best of our ability. We practice these principles in all our affairs and we discover that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. O forgot to mention the best part. Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments AND I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another counselor to be with you forever.” Our love for Jesus isn’t a pining love. It isn’t a distant and detached love. Our love for Jesus and his love for us is intimate, immediate, right here and right now because Jesus prays and the Father sends and the Holy Spirit is with us, in us, around us, through us. As long as our faith is an abstraction and we continue to live our lives according to the ways of the world, Jesus tells us that we will not see him or know him because the world doesn’t see him or know him. But when our faith ceases to be an abstraction and we begin to live our faith out in our daily life and work Jesus prays, the Father sends, and the Holy Spirit comes and we know him because he dwells with us and is in us.

This is all possible because of Jesus’ resurrection. He says, because I live, you will live also. Amen.

May 7, 2009

Living in the Light

Sermon on 1 John 1.1-12
In the name of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

What a beautiful weekend! From frigid winter to hot summer almost overnight. As we enjoy the beauty of God’s Creation on this bright and glorious sunny weekend we may be tempted to give credit to the sun. We may conclude that the sun is the source of all this light and warmth and new life that we are witnessing. And it is true that the flowers and the green grass, and the warm air, the return of the migrant birds with all their songs, all of it relates to the return of the sun to its higher position in the sky. As the sun comes more directly overhead and we begin to come under its affect we can’t help but notice that life improves rather dramatically, but it is not the sun that is responsible for all this new life.

In ancient times, the pagans recognized the power of the sun and to a lesser extent, the moon. They thought that the sun was so spectacular that it must be a god traversing the sky. Zeus was riding his chariot across the heavens and the light and warmth we felt was simply the radiance of his glorious presence filtering down to earth. The Emperor Constantine was a sun worshipper—not a frequent sunbather, he actually worshipped the sun as deity before his conversion to Christianity. And it isn’t too hard to understand considering that when the sun is shining and is high in the sky the earth is warm, life takes on a renewed vitality but when the sun is hidden the world grows dark and dreary. Plants that live in the shade usually don’t thrive. Without the sun the landscape is gray and brown, the atmosphere is cold and all that has an emotional impact on us as well. Seasonal Affective Disorder seems to be a real medical diagnosis. A lack of sunlight during the winter months may cause depression and illness in some. Without the sun for extended periods of time we may experience vitamin deficiencies because sunlight is both a source of some vitamins and a means to help process others. So, it is natural enough to look at the beautiful light of day reflecting off of flowers and shrubs, to feel the warmth of the light on our heads and shoulders, and to attribute it all to the sun but the sun is not the source of light—God is.

The sun and moon are products of God’s very first creative action. In Genesis chapter 1, verses 2, 3, and 4 we are told, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” What is the source of the glorious light we enjoy this morning? God—God is the source of the light. It is through him that the sun came to be. And, of course, God is not only the source of light in the natural world. God is, also and in a similar way, the source of light in the Spiritual world. He reveals his glory to us and through that self-revelation we know goodness, righteousness, truth, beauty, life and love. When we choose to live in God’s revealed glory we know all of those graces affecting our lives. That revealed glory has a name. God’s revealed glory is named is Jesus.

Jesus was with God before the earth and the sky. He was with him before God said, “Let there be light. And from the very beginning, even before there was a created world, God the Father, and God the son had designed you. They knew exactly what you would look like and what you would be like and when they saw you they said, “It is good.” You have been created because God wants to know you. You exist because God’s desire was to make you. And having made you he desires to have a relationship with you. He wants you to be one of his children. He wants you to be a member of his kingdom. And so, God has given you all the tools you need to live as a faithful child of God.

Let’s look at the last few verses of the reading from John’s letter. Let me paraphrase and amplify his words because he explains the “so what” of his words to us. He tells us why he is writing and he explains what he hopes to tell us that may help us in our day to day life. He seems to be saying, “I don’t want you to ever sin. Once a person begins sinning he starts walking down the dark road, the road opposed to God, away from God and apart from God. That road is the road to destruction for you and for your family, for your friends, and for your culture. Worst of all it means an end to your relationship with God. John says, ‘I don’t want you to ever sin because there are always negative consequences to doing the wrong thing. It is always a bad choice. It always puts up a barrier between you and God. Even in the smallest case. And I am writing these words to you in order to provide you with the means for avoiding sinning.

There is a way to know freedom from the bondage of sin and death. The road to destruction is not a road we are doomed to walk. The Lord has provided the means by which we can know holiness and righteousness, by which we can know freedom from addiction and have hope in the future, a means by which we can find fruitful and fulfilling lives even in the midst of great trials. And that means of hope and a future is not a self-help book. It is not a system for living. It isn’t a secret or membership in a mystical society. It is not a medicine or a mantra or a wise mentor.

The means of hope and a future has a name, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Jesus is the glory of God revealed. He is the fullness of God’s revelation. In Jesus we know the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is the light of the world—God with us—and he has provided us with a path to walk upon. On the road that he has provided we are able to walk into the great and glorious life God has ordained for us.’ That path is called faith—faith in Jesus Christ.

‘Please,’ John says, ‘do not sin, but if you do, if you are brought low during a moment of despair, if your courage fails you, if you forget your true source of strength, or ignore the witness of God’s power and authority, if anger overcomes you, or greed, or pride or laziness overpower you, if you fail and if you sin, never forget that there is someone who will step in to defend you. Although you will be alienated from God at that moment, there is one who will represent you before Almighty God. When God’s judgment falls upon you, when God calls you to account for your sin, when eternal life or eternal damnation are in the balance, Jesus Christ intervenes in your defense. He cannot fail, and he does not fail because He is perfect in righteousness. He has the Father’s ear because he is the Father’s beloved son. The Father will give him what he asks for because the Son has given everything the Father has asked of him. Jesus’ defense of you is not a legal argument or an emotional appeal. He does not whine or wheedle or cajole the Father into doing something apart from his will. Jesus’ successful defense of you is twofold: His own righteous act and you belonging to him. Jesus’ righteous act was to take your sins upon himself and to die for them. Your belonging to him is you having faith in him. Jesus agreed to pay the penalty for your failings. And he has already done it. He climbed up upon the cross and allowed himself to be killed in order that your sins may be acquitted by God. Jesus suffered in our place—and not just yours and mine but for everybody in the whole world.

So, John wants us to know that our wellbeing, both in the here and now and in the life to come, depends upon a friendly relationship. He calls it “walking in the light” but he means walking with God, under God’s grace, in the presence of God’s revealed glory. And Jesus is God’s revealed glory. Remember what Jesus said to St. Philip? Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'? (John 14.9)

We are presented with an option—an either/or. Sometimes life is about both/and but that is not the case here. Here we can either walk in the light or we can walk in darkness. “There is no gray twilight between good and evil.” Actions speak louder than words in terms of what we believe—not what we pretend to believe but what we actually believe. If we choose to walk in the darkness, that is, if we choose to deny to power and authority of Jesus Christ in our lives, if we insist upon saying that he has left us defenseless against sin, then the truth is not in us and we get all that comes along with walking down the road to destruction. But if we choose to walk in the light, as Jesus is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” It is the difference between a bleak, cold and bleary winter day, when nothing thrives and everything lays dormant on the one hand and bright, warm sunshine, flowers blooming and plants growing and birds singing, on the other. We choose, and it is not just a one time decision. It is a million decisions. In fact every situation we face in life is another decision to walk in the light or the darkness. We can elect to trust Jesus and do the next right thing. We can choose to feed our pride, ambition, fears and anxieties. The choices we make determine the quality and character of our lives. The life of faith is not just about the big salvation issue it is also about the little, day to day, hour by hour, minute to minute issues. We decide to live by faith in Jesus Christ time after time after time.

John says, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live in the truth.” This is a real issue for all Christians at least occasionally. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All of us have moments of darkness. Some of us are suffering grave doubts and fears. We know that our faith should lift us up but sometimes our faith seems to fail us. Some of us have been dogged by addiction for years. Some of us are overcome by fits of anger or despair. For some of us darkness dogs us and yet we tend to deny it. We want to pretend that we are just fine, that our lives are lives of constant virtue. We put up a good front for the world. But John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us and if we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar and his word is not in us.” But John tells us, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession is the key. We think we can make it all better later on if we can just keep the facts hidden right now but God wants us to admit the facts right now so that he can make it better right now. If we confess our sins God forgives.

Doesn’t it look like we need to be attending to the issue of admitting our sins, acknowledging our brokenness and seeking restoration through the power of Jesus Christ? Sandy Millar, the Assisting Bishop of London says that when his parish started to admit their faults and to confess their brokenness that they started to grow up as a Christian Community. Christian maturity looks like being open about our failings. As long as we pretend that everything is just fine thank you, as long as we insist upon maintaining good Public Relations and making sure that we are marketing ourselves well to others we are destined to walk the road of destruction…because all those lies live and grow in the darkness. But when we begin to reveal the truth, when we start showing our wrinkles and our defects, admitting our faults and failures, then we begin to walk down the path of light and into the arms of a loving and forgiving God.

Jesus has paid the price. As long as we trust in him we do not need to fear God. In fact, honesty, openness, confessing the real circumstances of our lives to one another, this is the road of freedom and peace. Jesus has paid the price and through him we are able to live in the sunshine of God’s glorious grace. Amen.

What Fuels Our Church?

Sermon on Acts 4.32-34 The Reverend Scott Homer
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our furnaces are fired by coal or natural gas. Our cars are fueled by gasoline. Dragsters are fueled by nitro-enriched fuel and submarines and aircraft carriers are fueled by nuclear energy. The Church is fired by the Holy Spirit. And that is really important for us to remember because when you use the wrong type of fuel to operate your car you are likely to sputter and spit and quit—and getting it going again may be expensive and difficult. Engines are designed to be run by a specific fuel source. Only gasoline is able to fuel the typical car. Only nuclear fuel rods are able to power nuclear subs and only the Holy Spirit is able to power the Church. A Church that attempts to operate in human strength is destined to sputter, spit and eventually quit. With the proper fuel and with appropriate care and maintenance an engine can take us to all the places we could ever want to go. The Church needs to quit relying on human strength and start relying on the Holy Spirit.

In lifesaving courses, the rescuer is trained to swim behind the victim and to grab them in a choke hold. That is the safest way for them to save the victim and to preserve their own lives because people who are drowning don’t make wise choices, they panic, they become frantic and in their futile efforts to stay afloat they will just wildly grab onto anything and pull it down with them. If a rescuer is not careful about their approach they may end up drowning along with the victim. Logically you would think that a person who can’t swim would see a strong swimmer approaching and they would surrender control to them, but emotionally the drowning man refuses to give up control. He insists upon doing things his way to the bitter end. If he succeeds in getting his way, it will cost everybody their lives.

Now this is a very good illustration of our spiritual problem. Lives lived independent of God, seeking our own way, are lives lived in waters way over our heads. We may not be able to recognize the danger all the time. Swimmers often get caught in rip tides because they can’t sense it. But whether we can sense it or not, whether we know it or not, we are going to drown if we rely on our own devices. Sin and death are like a powerful undertow that is dragging us out into the deep and dragging us down below the surface. Struggle as we may we will eventually grow tired and weak and we will succumb.

Fortunately, we do not have to live independent of God. We may choose to. Many of us do but we don’t have to. We have been sent a rescuer. It is, in fact, one of the neglected teachings of the Easter season. In John 16.7 Jesus tells his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” So, one of the central benefits of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension is that when Jesus departs the Holy Spirit arrives. God sends the Holy Spirit to us and in the Holy Spirit’s presence we receive power.

One of the greatest gifts of Christ’s sacrifice is the gift of God the Helper coming and living with us and through us. And how will we know this helper? What will he look like? In the Gospel of John chapter 4, verse 26 Jesus describes him as the Holy Spirit, the [One the] Father sends in [Jesus’] name. He teaches us all things. He reminds us about all of Jesus’ teachings, and in 15.26 Jesus says, "He is the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father and He testifies about Jesus. And finally, he comes with great power and authority and he gives that power and authority to us. Submitted to this powerful presence the disciples perform miracles; they heal the sick, they speak the truth with such force that listeners are immediately convicted and surrender their lives to Christ; they forgive sins, a thing only God can do; and perhaps most stunningly, believers become generous and hospitable—Barnabas sells his land and lays the proceeds at the Apostles feet. Surely this sort of hospitality is only inspired by God’s powerful presence.

Now, returning to our analogy of the drowning man, the challenge for us individually and for the Church together is threefold:
1. To gather together and confess our sins to God and to one another
2. To exercise patience and discipline and to wait upon the Lord
3. To exercise courage by actually surrendering our life and will to God and allowing the Holy Spirit to move us and to act through us

That’s the great challenge. The great benefit, of course, is salvation—and that does not just mean going to heaven someday. Salvation means healing our broken hearts. Salvation means healing our broken relationships. Salvation means healing our broken world. Salvation means living in peace—knowing that we are being watched over and protected and cared for by the Master of the Universe and the Creator of all things, the God whose character is love. Salvation means being relieved of the burden of having to fix the immense problems facing us and our loved ones—and yet knowing that we can bring change into the midst of the most difficult situations. Salvation means joy independent of our circumstances. Salvation means feeling loved, not for what you do or who you know or how you act but loved just the way you are. When the Holy Spirit comes, when we are led into all truth, when the power of God dwells in our midst, we know salvation in all its manifestations. And we know the source of our salvation. And along with giving us the knowledge of the truth the Holy Spirit inspires us to shout out and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world—and because our words are powered by God’s Spirit they do not return to Him empty.

Gathering together—confessing our sins to one another—waiting upon the Lord—surrendering our life and will to God; this is the model of life that God repeatedly places before us in the Scriptures. Most especially we see it wrapped around the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus that we celebrate this Easter season.
In Acts chapter 1, verse 4, as Jesus prepares to ascend to heaven he:
4 Gathers [the disciples] together, and He [Jesus] commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?"7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." 9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
Acts chapter 2, verse 1:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
Acts chapter 4, verse 31:
“And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”

First, we have to gather together. God does not deal with us as individuals. He works with us as a community. And as we saw from John last week, a community is only a community when it is admitting its faults to one another. We have to acknowledge our ignorance of the truth, our willful refusal to do what is right and our intentional distance from Jesus.

Secondly, we must learn to wait for the Holy Spirit to arrive. We are always insisting on going off half-cocked. We are always jumping into things and exercising force and manipulation and subtle forms of violence in order to accomplish what we have concluded is right for everybody. We so want to be the source of salvation. And then we wonder why our efforts lack any real power, why we don’t see God honoring our efforts, why we seem to be beating our heads against the wall.

Thirdly, we must respond to the power of the Spirit by exercising the gifts the Spirit gives us. The Spirit brings preaching and teaching gifts. The Spirit empowers people to perform miracles, to heal the sick, to dream dreams and see the future God intends for us. The Spirit blesses us with real love for one another and a desire to welcome and support one another. The Spirit has given each of us gifts but we must recognize his working in our lives, acknowledge his blessing through us and use those gifts for God’s glory.

A church that is attempting to operate in its own strength is like a drowning man trying to swim to shore. If he knew how to swim he wouldn’t be in the mess he is in and rather than try and control the situation he needs to let go and allow his rescuer to grab hold of him, buoy him up and move him to safety.

The Church relies upon the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the Church withers and dies. A Church without the Holy Spirit is a Church without life—an empty shell—a whitewashed sepulcre—with no real ministry and no real purpose. America is full of churches that long ago abandoned the Holy Spirit and who are struggling to find a cause to fight for, searching for a reason to unlock their doors, and striving to tolerate one another. But a Church upon which the Holy Spirit has come and in which the Holy Spirit finds a welcome dwelling is a Church characterized by boldness, by tangible signs of transformation, and by genuine togetherness—real community—real bonds of affection. When the Holy Spirit falls upon us we are changed and we reflect that change in what we say, in what we do, and in the ways that we live with one another. We can’t help it because when the Holy Spirit comes we lose control. We are no longer in charge. The Church ceases to be our Church and it becomes God’s Church. Mission isn’t something people are searching for—it is an assigned project. We don’t come wondering how we can bend God’s will to our purposes—we find our will being conformed to God’s purposes. We don’t give lip service to love while we selfishly seek our own success. The Holy Spirit inspires us to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of God and his people. Barnabas sells his land and places the proceeds at the feet of the apostles—not because he has to but because he recognizes the deep honor in it. When the Church is fueled by the Holy Spirit we cease to begrudge the few dollars we throw in the collection plate and we seek ways to give more because we are able to see the great honor in giving.

The Holy Spirit is showing up in our midst with power. We are seeing individual lives changed, God working to set people free, ministry being born out of sincere love of God, people experiencing the pleasure of serving their Lord through sacrificing for the community. Look at the Daughters of the King. They are not serving out of fear or ambition or obligation. They love what they are doing. Look at the Wild at Heart group. They have been inspired and they are boldly reclaiming ground for the Lord. Nobody really loves showing up to a Bible Study at 6:30am during the week unless the Holy Spirit is feeding them and blessing them in that study and he is. Financial Peace University, the new Community Meal initiative, our volunteers at Uncommon Grounds. We are witnessing the Holy Spirit moving in our midst, leading us into real, sincere, loving community and into bolder proclamation of the Gospel message.
We have no control over what God does. He is sovereign and he moves as he sees fit. But the Lord has promised that if we will gather together, if we will confess our sins to one another and to him, if we will wait patiently upon him and surrender to Him when he comes to us, he will come and we will know His power and his blessing in our lives. Amen.

Nondiscipleship is the Elephant in the Church!

Nondiscipleship is the elephant in the church. It is not the much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing general similarity between Christians and non-Christians. These are only effects of the underlying problem. The fundamental negative reality among Christian believers now is their failure to be constantly learning how to live their lives in The Kingdom Among Us. And it is an accepted reality. The division of Christians into those from whom it is a matter of whole-life devotion to God and those who maintain a consumer, or client, relationship to the church has now been an accepted reality for over fifteen hundred years.

And at present--in the distant outworkings of the Protestant Reformation, with its truly great and good message of salvation by faith alone--that long-accepted division has worked its way into the very heart of the gospel message. It is now understood to be a part of the "good news" that one does not have to be a life student of Jesus in order to be a Christian and receive forgiveness of sins. This gives a precise meaning to the phrase "cheap grace," though it would bebetter described as "costly faithlessness."
--Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper, 1998), p.301; emphasis his