Thursday, January 13, 2011

Acts Week 2: Heaven and Earth Collide

Our primary passage for the night was Acts 1:1-11 with a focus on verse 8. The verse here comes from Eugene Peterson's The Message . It would be helpful to read the whole selected passage to better track with the summary of the lesson below.

Acts 1:8
What you'll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world."

And there it is. With one statement, verse 8, He sums up the whole task of the church. Jesus goes to heaven, and the New Creation begins with the Holy Spirit filling believers on earth. The Kingdom on earth begins. Not with political power or nationalistic pride, but power to be witnesses of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Heaven and earth collide. Heaven and earth are not two totally different spheres with one being reality, and the other being a far off “sci-fi” like dimension. Heaven and earth collided on ascension day just as much as on the day of Christ’s birth. And, Heaven and earth continue to collide through the Spirit empowered witness of those that follow Christ.

"What you'll get is the Holy Spirit"
The Holy Spirit was not sent just to comfort us, but to strengthen us to comfort others as Jesus did. The Spirit was not sent to simply love us, but that we might be empowered to love like Christ. The Spirit was not sent for our personal gain or benefit, but to courageously and tirelessly point to Jesus. The work of my flesh and blood can never accomplish a Jesus kind of love. Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish that in me. For now, in the absence of Christ’s physical presence, power and strength are given to us not to dominate an unwilling world as Knights in Christ’s Kingdom, as is so often depicted in popular contemporary teaching, but to extend love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

" will be able to be my witnesses"
It’s important at this point to emphasize that being “witnesses” is much more, (note I said more, as in not the only thing) than stating facts and verses in hopes to persuade a person to “accept” Christ. We are “witnesses” to a “Kingdom”, to a “Mission”. We are witnesses empowered, not by brute strength, but by the One described in Scripture as counselor, advocate, and comforter. I wonder if you have ever deeply considered what it means to be empowered by the Holy Spirit in light of the ways we know Scripture defines Him? By His work in our lives, and our availability to be worked through, it’s seems logical to expect that His “personality” would gradually permeate its way into how we express our lives of faith. For instance, as a Spirit empowered witness, I boldly declare truth about God the Father and His Son Jesus. But, I do it through the power given to me by the counselor, the comforter, the advocate - seeking the best for the person or community.

What do you think about this kind of Kingdom? Is this a different kind of Kingdom than the one you had fashioned in your mind? As I mentioned last week, the ultimate rule of Christ will happen. But, this is not our primary concern right now. God will work out those details. We wait... We anticipate... We hope... Until then, our concern is to busy ourselves being Spirit empowered comforters, advocates, and counselors to the ends of the earth. It’s my prayer and hope that today we have a better understanding of what that looks like.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Introduction to Acts

Over the next couple of months The Mission will be working its way through the Book of Acts. To help follow along, I would like to provide a summary of each lesson. Please join us if you can as I'm sure this will be a significant time in the life of our church.

Intro to Acts

The Book of Acts is crucial for us as a bridge to the epistles. Acts serves as a perfect middle ground for us to consider a more FULL understanding of Jesus, His Kingdom, and His Body. Acts challenges us to bring The Kingdom of Heaven to a focal point now. Not just some far off, distant scenario that will only be accomplished when Jesus returns. The Kingdom is very much alive today, and will be fully realized upon Christ’s return. Our job is to continue the presence of Christ on earth today, passionately living to restore justice, serve the poor and needy, and love one another completely. Jesus will bring all this to it’s ultimate consummation by physically returning to earth, bringing with him a completely restored social and political system. At some point in time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. But, that hasn’t happened yet. With each second that passes by is one more second that we should be doing our job, while anxiously anticipating the Return of Jesus.

Acts was written by Luke, a devoted co-worker of Paul, nearly 30 years after the ascension of Christ. It’s interesting to note that the Book of Acts chronologically covers about a 30 year span. So, as Luke traveled with Paul and Timothy for around 30 years, he meticulously kept records of not only the goings on of the earthly ministry of Jesus, but also of the post ascension ministry of Christ. He had access to James, Peter, Mark, John, Barnabas, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquilla, and the list goes on. He very well could be the one person in the best position to write an objective history of both the life of Jesus, and the actions of Jesus through His followers after His ascension. In my opinion, Luke has to be mentioned as one of the most important writers in the New Testament. Luke stands in the gap for us that long to merge Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven, radical social, political, and religious living, and our present apologetical, fact driven, highly cerebral, knowledge based Christianity. If we are to become both knowledgeable and active followers of Christ, Acts is an important place to start.

The Book of Acts is about balance. Balance between knowing and doing, between faith and deeds. It’s the best parts of liberal and conservative Christianity all rolled into one great story. You have incredibly clear and knowledgeable sermons delivered by significant and foundational figures. And, you have amazingly passionate and sacrificial acts of service. Simply, it's church the way it was meant to be.

So, Acts will be our Bridge. It will help us to define ourselves as a church, and define what to do as a church. It will spur us on to become the 29th chapter of Acts - the continuation of this great story of both incredible knowledge, and miraculous action. It will challenge us to be people of faith, and to do, through faith, what Jesus did. We will learn that we need to be people that know how to clearly communicate Jesus, his life, and the religious tradition that He came from. And, we will see how important it is to be ambassadors of Jesus to those that need us, those that are hurting, to those that can’t help themselves. We will also be challenged to let go of all of our prejudices as Acts provides us with a biblical mandate for building a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-economic, and multi-political body of Christ.

Acts is just as much about Jesus as the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. His physical presence is gone, but His spirit-indwelt body of followers is alive and kicking. The next few months will be a journey of discovery for sure. It is my prayer that our study of Acts will become a catalyst to propel The Mission forward as a vibrant, knowledgeable, sacrificial, and balanced group of followers.