Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Pushing Boundaries - The Gutsy Life

Preached on Sunday, July 31, 2016

Scripture reading: Acts 5:17-42
There was a family with two little boys, about eight and ten. They were full of mischief. That’s putting it nicely. Their parents were at their wits’ end, how to deal with these boys.
Each Photo Is Different:
May and June 2016
Then they heard that a minister in their town had a technique for straightening out kids like theirs. When they met with him, the minister asked to see the boys individually, and they sent their eight-year-old first.
The minister sat the boy down and asked him sternly, “Where is God?” The boy didn’t know what to say, and the minister repeated that same question louder, “Where is GOD?” The boy squirmed and the minister shouted, “WHERE IS GOD!”
The boy was scared to death. He ran home all by himself, and hid in the bedroom closet. His older brother went to be with him in the closet, and asked him what happened.
The younger boy answered, “We’re in big trouble this time. God is missing, and they think we did it!”
The Book of Acts is about the first followers of Jesus, and what their lives were like knowing that God is never missing. Jesus is the evidence of this. Jesus is God in the flesh. In Jesus, God came to be with us. He was born to be with us in life. He died for our sins on the cross in order to be with us in our sins and to take them upon himself. He also died for our sins on the cross in order to with us in our death. He rose from the dead to be with us in a life that is stronger than all evil and injustice; and stronger than death and stronger than hell.
Paul said it, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) The angel who opened the jailhouse doors for the apostles told them to “tell the people the full message of this new life.” (Acts 5;20) Wonderful words of life!
Now this life, following Jesus, and living as one in what the Bible calls “the church” is described all the way through the Book of Acts, and in all the letters of the apostles, and even the Book of Revelation. This life is described as a life together: “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” (Acts 4:32) It was also a life of miracles, with God, in Christ, constantly interfering in their lives in wonderful ways.
The old, full, traditional name of the Book of Acts is the “Acts of the Apostles”, but some people have wisely said that it should be the “Acts of the Holy Spirit”. It could just as well be called the “Acts of Jesus”. It’s about everything that Jesus continued to do, and to teach, after he was taken into heaven. (Acts 1:1-2)
In some way that you cannot understand until it happens to you, this life is a new way of life because it is simply life with Christ, and life in Christ. We belong to Jesus, and we are never alone. Again Paul says it in an amazing way: “For me, to live is Christ.” Then, the rest of Paul’s sentence is more amazing still, “and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
That whole sentence is very important, because it relates to the story we have just read in Acts. Jesus was with the apostles when the angel opened the jailhouse doors. Jesus was with them when they went back to share the wonderful words of life again, in the Temple, where they would be found and arrested again.
Jesus was also with them when they were being threatened with death, and when they all got the forty lashes less one; the standard maximum whipping, like the bloody whipping Jesus got before he carried the cross. They rejoiced over that whipping “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (the name of Jesus). (Acts 5:41)
You have to see that the angel opened the jailhouse door so that the apostles could be re-arrested and whipped till they bled. I don’t think the miracle happened because they had faith. I think the miracle happened because the Lord wanted to accomplish something. The Lord has a purpose, and part of that purpose was (and is) to make his kingdom come, and part of that kingdom coming needs to happen now; through us and in us.
There’s a sorting out that goes on in the coming of the kingdom now. The priests who had sent Jesus to be crucified didn’t seem to realize that they were guilty of shedding Jesus’ blood. The kingdom continued the process of sorting them out by letting them act out, more and more, who they truly were.
They were seeing the truth about themselves less and less, and that is part of the blinding that comes from sin, or what we might call the life of going our own way. They were seeing the truth about themselves less and less, but they were making themselves more and more into the very enemies of the kingdom of God that they would never have recognized in themselves. The truth was becoming truer and truer. And that’s part of the kingdom of God coming now.
For the apostles, Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, was making them more and more truly what he is. For the apostles, the kingdom of God was coming into their lives now, in order to make them more and more clearly part of the new life. More and more, Jesus was Lord, and Savior, and Christ in them.
In a period of about twenty-four hours, they were all free men, and they were arrested and jailed, and they were freed and sent back to certain arrest and to an uncertain fate, and they were all whipped until they bled.
It was all so unpredictable: so many ups and downs in twenty-four hours.  But it was a holy unpredictability. It was all in Christ.
In freedom, and in torture, and in danger of death, they were not in charge; they were not at the center of their own lives. Their lives were not about themselves. Their lives were about others and, most of all, their lives were about Jesus. The kingdom coming now meant that they were learning more and more who Jesus is, and that Jesus is good, and that Jesus can be praised.
This was not easy. They had to be willing to go back into danger. They had to bleed. They had to suffer. They had to say “yes”, and not find reasons for saying “no”. There were solid reasons for saying “no”, and they had to be determined to say “no” to saying “no”.
The scriptures are not only God’s words. They are God’s words to us. They are God’s words to you and to me.
These words in Acts tell you and me that it’s typical for the Lord to send his great joy and a holy arrangement of our lives, to include the sure and clear experience of his power, and love, and deliverance. It also tells you and me that it’s typical for the Lord to send his people into difficulties and troubles, and into dangers and pain.
Otherwise we would stop having the deepest unity and fellowship with those who don’t know Jesus. Otherwise we cannot be one with them, as Christ came to be one with us, and with the whole world.
In all of this, you and I are never alone. We have each other. Most of all, we have and share Jesus. Jesus (being Jesus) is Lord, and we have to always be ready to say “yes” to the next thing, because Jesus is Lord. We have to say “yes” and be willing to live into the next thing the way Jesus would have us to do.
In my life, I find that there is always something that needs my attention. Sometimes it wears me out to think about it. The Book of Acts presents us with an account of the Christian life where there is no pause, there is no let up. The next thing always comes promptly along, and the people of Jesus are always having to say “yes” to the next thing.
One of the disciplines in the prayer journal of the book our adult class is studying is the discipline of asking the Lord what to do next. What is the next thing?
It can be surprisingly difficult. But it’s good to visualize the next thing as God’s next thing, and say “yes” to it as such. It’s definitely the new life that the angel told the apostles to tell the people about. Like God’s holy unpredictability, it’s our form of a holy insanity that makes our offer of a new life credible and believable to others: our willingness to say “yes” to the next thing in a way that looks like Jesus.
We have learned, in Christ, to not find reasons for saying “no” to people and plans. We have learned, in Christ, to say “yes” to people and plans.
We have faith because we know God in Christ, and we are learning to know God in Christ all the time. We can know God in Christ all the time We can know God in Christ in the places of deliverance and possibility. We can know God in Christ in the hard places where we are sent: even in those places where we can see good reasons for saying “no”.
God came to share our temptation to say “no”. In Jesus, God deeply desired to say “no” to his own plan to die under the burden of our sins. The Son prayed to the Father, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark14:36)
Jesus said “no” to himself and “yes” to the cross. He said “yes” to the cross in order to say “yes” to us.
The apostles rejoiced to be counted worthy to share the sufferings of Jesus by suffering for his sake. They said “yes” to sharing life with Jesus on the cross. If we say “yes” when we are tempted to say “no” then we can know that we are with Jesus, and that we truly belong to him all the time.
Wonderful things happen because the kingdom of God is on the move now. Jesus is Lord. How does the kingdom of God want to shape us now? What is the next thing the Lord is telling us to say “yes” to? What does he want to help us become?
We may be saying “no” to some wonderful and joyful things. We may be saying no to going back to a place where we got in trouble before; like the apostles being sent back to preach in the Temple. We may be saying “no” to something dangerous and difficult; something that is still God’s next thing.

Each of us, as individuals, have such next things. So does the church, the body of Christ. Our message is about life. We can say “yes” to whatever the next thing is, and find life there. We will find Christ there. What is it?

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