Sunday, May 27, 2012

Blueprint for Pentecost

Pentecost 2012
May 27, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Acts 2:  Blueprint for Pentecost



So often in our lives we know that we have a need – a deep seated, even sometimes desperate need – but we don’t know how to fulfill that need, or even how to get it fulfilled!  Our need of the Holy Spirit in our lives is like that.  In fact at the most basic level of life in Christ, it IS that need!

It’s very common these days to hear people asking the question, “Isn’t there more to life than this?”  People of all walks and stations of life:   rich as well as poor, accomplished people and homeless people, professionals, day laborers, shop clerks and managers – all are in the same boat, searching for that “something more” that makes life worth living.

Well friends, today is the day we celebrate the secret!  We celebrate the birth of the Church of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world, poured out on all flesh, by the Father and the Son.  The Secret! 

The Holy Spirit himself is the Secret!  The secret to the abundant life that Jesus promised to his followers in John 10.  The Holy Spirit is the Secret to the motive power for living a victorious life as a follower of Jesus!  The Holy Spirit is not the fancy, optional equipment that makes your car special, no!  The Holy Spirit is the engine, that moves the car down the road.  

I love that Subaru commercial where the dad is leaning into the window and giving instructions about the mirror and the seat belt and the camera pans to a 5 year old in the driver’s seat – and we all panic – then he continues about the cell phone and hands his little girl the keys, only to pan back to the 16 year old, going out for her first time in the car!  That’s how I feel about my role as a pastor.
At some point in your life, you have to take the keys and put them into the ignition and fire this baby, called the Christian Life up!!  But getting “fired up” is the purview – it’s the will and the work of the Holy Spirit himself.  But you need to know that you have a part in this process, just like all of the processes of salvation, God has made you to have a volitional part in the process.  

Last week, Valerie delivered a word that the Lord had laid on her heart for our church body, but that word applies equally to this sermon this morning!  “You have not because you ask not!”  Friends, our Christian experience is anemic.  Anemia is a constant state of weakness, caused by lack of red blood cells which carry needed oxygen to the cells of the body – the carry the fuel for the fire that keeps our body going.

How willing do you think God is that we should be fully alive in Him and fully active in His Kingdom and its work?  Well, God is so willing that He sent his Only Son to die in order to wipe away all the barriers that stood in front of you – that stood between you and Him – that stood between you and asking God for ALL that He has for you!

When Jesus said, “It is finished!” this is what He was talking about.  All the obstacles have been removed – all our sin, all our bondages, all our addictions – the power of them have been wiped out and swept away in the moment of Jesus death.  “It is finished” wiped the slate clean and God reached down in that moment and tore the curtain of separation between His people and His Presence in two!

How anxious is God for you to come and ask Him for ALL that he has for you?  Hmmmm?

It’s interesting though, we are preoccupied with the old toys.  We would rather stay in the sand box and play with the dump trucks there than go and drive the real thing!  We would rather play with the cars on our indoor race track than ask Father for the keys.

Anyone here ever known a 15 year old boy?  How interested are they in cars?  Man, I was obsessed.  I had a subscription to Hot Rod Magazine!  I bought my first car the day I turned 16 – a 1966 Pontiac Tempest – appropriately named!  It had bucket seats and a big motor and could get on down the highway.  I lived, ate, slept and breathed cars.  I had all the accessories, the wheels, the big tires, the stereo tape deck – yeah, I’m that old! – but the most important part of that car was the engine.  The rest was just window dressing!

Friends, how is your engine?

The presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as Christians isn’t optional equipment!  God has given us the most powerful force in the universe – His Spirit – to move us along in the life He has designed for us to live!!

I want to look at the outline of the 2nd Chapter of Acts this morning as an outline that we can overlay onto our Christian Life.  This overlay will keep us focused on the main things as pertaining to the Holy Spirit and the force and direction of His life in our life and in the midst of His People.

Acts 2:1   Willingness, Availability & Obedience
All that has gone before in Acts, chapter 1, has been the orchestration of these three be-attitudes in the community of the believers and followers of Jesus.  Jesus said, several times, “stay here until…”  -  don’t get out ahead of me, don’t try to help me out by doing things out there in your own power!!  WAIT HERE –
For ten days – from Ascension to Pentecost morning, the whole company of the disciples waited and prayed.  Friends, if we did that for ten days, we would have this kind of Pentecost too!  I’m convinced that the root of our emptiness and powerlessness when it comes to the Holy Spirit is our busy-ness.  Our lack is in our preparation – in our willingness – in our availability to Him – and in our obedience when He calls, when He gives us instructions!


Acts 2:2  The Suddenly
In God’s timetable there is no suddenly!!  It is only from our earthly perception that what God does happens suddenly, but when God comes on the scene, things change!  Rushing, violent wind – tongues of fire – the gift of the Holy Spirit given to each one there – the speaking forth as God gave utterance.  

You know we can make a lot of all the phenomenology around the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Much has been made of the giving of these gifts, especially the gift of tongues.  Most all of the Pentecost experiences recounted in Acts include this phenomenon or the presence of other gifts, such as prophesy and healing, as signs of the coming of the Spirit.
The point is, friends, you will know when this happens.

The word in verse two for violent, only occurs once in the whole of scripture.  Here in Acts 2:2 – and its root only occurs another 4 times.  Its not a common occurrence that you could mistake for something else!!!  It’s like being handed the keys to the car!  Your heart is racing, the blood is pumping, the senses are keen; you put the key in the ignition and turn it and wow!!!  The suddenly happens!!

And then you turn it off.  And you turn it on again.  And you turn it off. And you turn it on again.  WOW?   NO!!!

The engine and the key aren’t just for your fascination in hearing the sound of the engine or turning it on and off to make sure it will start!  The engine is here for a reason.  Look at verse 5:  Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
Here is our first hint as to purpose!  The reason the Holy Spirit was sent, wasn’t for the amusement of the Church!  It wasn’t for the edification, the up-building, of the Church!  It was because “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem!”

You don’t have an engine in your car so you can go out and start it and listen to it run!  Or sit and start it and rev it up, over and over and over.  Wouldn’t that seem a little ridiculous to you if you saw someone doing it?  Just revving up their car but never going anywhere?

The Holy Spirit, the engine in the Christian life, is MOTIVE power!  This MOTOR is given to you because around you live “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs” – actually lets bring it home. . . around you live residents of Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson, and Denver counties, residents of Aurora, Centennial, Lakewood, Littleton, Evergreen, Castle Rock, Parker, Denver, Commerce City, and you can name the neighborhoods and businesses that you work at and live in.

I had opportunity to listen to a young lady in our midst who is being given an vision for an orphanage in India – why? Because she works with a group of Indian people who have a heart for their nation and its plight, who belong to Jesus!  She is able to minister to the people from India, from the comfort of her own home!  

The Holy Spirit is sent, my friends, from God, by Jesus, to you, FOR THEM!!!

Jesus said it in Acts 1, during his preparatory teaching in his last speech ever to the disciples:  His very last words were:  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.”  If we combine this with the other picture we have of Jesus last moments with the disciples, from Matthew, we see a clearer picture of our charge, our commission, as well as the power to accomplish it:
Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age!”

The rest of Acts 2 is Peter telling this story to those people.  If you want to know what to say when God sends you to the people of the world, study what Peter said here in ACTS 2.  It is the gospel in a nutshell.

And then the chapter ends with verses that are very familiar to us here at REZ!

The outcome of the day of Pentecost was a community!  A living, dynamic, growing and alive community of faith.  The rest of Acts is the REST OF THE STORY!  But it begin here in Acts 2.

“And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.  And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.
And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Friends, we have not, because we ask not.  Let’s ask dad for the keys!  Amen.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mother's Day

Easter 6
May 13, 2012  -  Mother’s Day
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Bearing Fruit In Christ



Good morning … 

And especially this morning, good morning to all of our ladies.  Today is Mother’s
Day and we pray for and bless all of our moms, but we honor all of our ladies today. The roses in the back are for you to take home and enjoy – and they are for all the ladies here today.

Today, appropriately, our Gospel reading is about bearing fruit.  And in preparing I had to ask the simple and foundational question, “What IS fruit?”   According to Strong’s Concordance the outline of biblical usage includes:
1) fruit = yield
       a) the fruit of the trees, vines, of the fields
                                         (something that we “harvest”)
       b) the fruit of the womb, i.e.  progeny, posterity, children
                                         (the physical “yield” of our oneness or union)
2) that which originates or comes from something, an effect, result
       a) work, act, deed   (e.g., the Yield of the Spirit)
       b) advantage, profit, utility  (e.g., the Yield of Righteousness)
       c) praises, which are presented to God as a thank offering  (the Yield of Thankfulness)
       d) to gather fruit (i.e. a reaped harvest) into life eternal (as into a granary), is used in
                 fig. discourse of those who by their labors have fitted souls to obtain eternal life
                                    (The Yield of a Christian’s Witness)

So FRUIT can be many things,  it can take many forms, but it is always the “yield of living.”  Jesus made a clear distinction between good fruit and bad fruit.  So our lives can, as trees and bushes and fields can, have bad fruit.  Or  NO FRUIT.  Jesus also told parables about trees and fields where fruit was not abounding.  The parable of the soils (the sower) is about the fruit that the field or soil was able to produce under certain conditions – and interestingly, even the good soil had varying levels of productivity in Jesus parable, “some thirty, some sixty and some a hundred fold.” 

Earlier in this very chapter is where Jesus was walking on the way to Gethsemane, through the vineyards of the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem and the Garden, and as he walked, he taught.  The disciples following along, he pointed to the vines, perhaps laden with grapes or fruit of some kind, and said:
Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
This was our gospel reading last week, and then this week’s:
Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

Jesus begins this parable or teaching with one of His “I AM” statements.  I AM THE TRUE VINE.”  And, Jesus continues, we are “THE BRANCHES.”  The Fathers role is to “dress” or tend the vine and its branches, pruning, cleansing them in order that they will produce fruit.  This is an on-going process as the goal of the process is to move us from “no fruit” to “fruit” to “more fruit” to “much fruit.”  It is God’s design and plan that you live a life that is “fruitful” in Christ.  And there is the Key -  IN  CHRIST !!!   Jesus uses the word “ABIDE.”  We are all familiar with his warning, “… apart from Me you can do …  NOTHING.”  Everything, therefore, depends on our ABIDING.   Our abiding IN Jesus Christ.  So what does “abiding” mean?  It’s used 120 times in the NT and translated half of those times as ABIDE. Its also translated with words like remain, dwell, continue, tarry, endure and so forth.  It is defined as
“to continue to be present” or “to be held, kept, continually.”  In terms of our state of being
IN CHRIST it means, “to remain as one, not to become another or different.”

Abiding means we have staying power!  For us in our century I think the greatest challenge we face is our ability to abide, especially in the face of all the distractions that we have in our world – in our day-to-day lives.  We are an ADD culture – that is we have an Abiding Deficit Disorder!!!  It is because we do not ATTEND or give ATTENTION to our life IN Christ.  Jesus often gets pushed off to the margins of our life – and this isn’t a new thing!   Keep in mind that the famous line we quote to unbelievers, about which the painting was made:  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” wasn’t written to unbelievers – It was written to the Church of Laodicea in Rev. 3, verse 20!!!  That is... TO US!

Paul’s prayer for the Church in Ephesus asked that they be “rooted and grounded in love” – listen:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Friends, THAT is abiding.  That was Paul’s prayer for the people he loved and it is my prayer for you today.  It is out of that kind of relationship that we come to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.  It is out of that kind of connection that the Fruit of the Spirit, mentioned by Paul in his letter to Galatia, grows in our lives.  We cannot produce this fruit on our own!  It is the outcome – the yield – of oneness with Jesus Christ.

Abiding is the key to fruitfulness!  It is not our part to “worry” about our fruitfulness and watch out for God, who is coming to lop us off the vine.  That is truly “fruit-less” thinking.  Abiding means turning our attention to Jesus – attending to Him and to His Life within us.  Attending to our time with Him in His Word and in Prayer.  Attending to our time in Fellowship with His people and Attending to our Communion in His Grace.

Sounds strangely like another verse that we’ve heard a lot about here:

And they devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”

Sounds strangely like our big three BE-attitudes here at REZ:

Willingness – Availability – Obedience  !!

Equals

Bearing Fruit, bearing More fruit and bearing Much Fruit.

Let me pray it again, after Paul:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Amen and Amen.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Easter 5
May 6, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Anatomy of a Divine Appointment



Our first lesson this morning is quite an extraordinary (to us) tale of the evangelistic enterprise of Philip, the apostle and evangelist of the early church. Acts 8 is the story of the beginning of the church, beyond Jerusalem. As he left and instructed the disciples, Jesus told them that “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will receive power to be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to all the ends of the earth.” This is a very familiar passage to us here at REZ and we are doing our best to put ourselves in the “flow” of God’s Spirit as His work takes us out of these four walls and into the world in witness, both near and far. Its actually far easier for us, because we don’t OWN the four walls – they are a temporary meeting place, not a fortress of retreat.

This morning I want to take a look at the steps – the experience – of Philip, the evangelist, as he was led out from the home church and he went, first to Samaria and then, by divine appointment, was sent on a jaunt to witness to one person!

Have you ever been somewhere and had an encounter with someone who you knew was a “divine appointment?” Who would say that you have had a similar kind of experience? I’m not trying to gauge spirituality here, but simple experience. What we are talking about is the experience of being “led” by God in some tangible sense. You knew that you were there “for” that person – for their comfort, for their spiritual questions, for the impact that your life brought to theirs – in whatever small way. We realize that God’s economy is in play: That there are no mistakes or chance meetings – that the Spirit of God is still very, very active in pursuing and wooing those who do not know Jesus, to come to know Him in a personal and saving relationship. And we get to be a part of that plan and work!!

EXCITED?

Philip was!! He left Jerusalem when the trouble broke out after the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Look at the beginning of this chapter, Acts, chapter 8. It opens at the scene of Stephen’s death, with Saul, the young and ardent Pharisee, giving his hearty approval and taking the cause even further (in verse 3) as he began to “ravage the church” (NASB) – going from house to house, dragging off men and women and throwing them in prison.”

I love the very next verse – it wasn’t just Philip, the apostle who was an evangelist!
Verse 4: “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Philip went to Samaria (think Acts 1:8) and preached with extraordinary results – great crowds and great power from God accompanying the proclamation of the Gospel. Acts 8 is the Samaritan Pentecost! The story from verses 5 to 25 are the account of this event in and throughout Samaria.

But I want to turn quickly to our story from our first reading this morning, of Philip with the Ethiopian government official. Let’s begin by looking at verse 26: Right away we come across our first stumbling block: An Angel of the Lord spoke to Philip!

If I asked for a show of hands on that one, I might get a few among our group here, but by in large, we are without a great deal of experience in having an angel of the Lord speak to us! How do we translate this? Can we not go out for Jesus without a directive from God Himself? Of course we can. The point of my making a big deal of this, is we need to TUNE IN.

You need to know that Philip didn’t have this big, personal angel that talked to him all the time! We have a name for people like that, and its not Apostle!!! BUT…
Philip was listening!! Philip was TUNED IN to what the Lord was saying.

Have you ever spent time just getting quiet and trying to TUNE IN to what God might be saying to you – in order to fulfill the directive of ACTS 1:8? In order to fulfill the commandment of Jesus in MATT 28, to Go into all the World?

I believe that having that intention is key to our listening and to our hearing from God! Philip was anxious to get onto the next ASSIGNMENT, so he was LISTENING, and he heard – the voice of the Angel of the Lord, in this case, giving him direction for the next step.

“Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza”
Then there is a parenthetical remark: “(This is a desert road)” Why would that matter? This is a storyteller’s device – a way to say (the road less traveled). Philip was being sent to somewhere, where he was least likely to encounter the great crowds he had just experienced! Sometimes God has us in places where we are up front and the fun begins!! The Holy Spirit is moving and the healings are happening, the demons are jumping and people are being saved and baptized. But sometimes God puts us in quiet, out-of-the-way spots, where not many pass by, in order to reach ONE. Always remember the KINGDOM IS BUILT ONE LIFE AT A TIME!

Next line: “So he got up and went;”

Remember our three little BIG words for life @ REZ?
Willingness …. Availability …. And Obedience

Philip was all of those in these two verses! So, He got up and went!! Obedience
And what did Philip find. A chariot traveling the road – a chariot of some substance, the treasurer of Ethiopia aboard, a court official of the queen! And he just happened to be reading from the OT book of Isaiah in the 53rd chapter!!! What a coincidence!!

What is the underlying substrata – the foundational soil of this whole story?
In a word, LISTEN!

The experience of Philip here is based on his willingness to LISTEN …
To God and to another as they passed by.

Then Philip asked one question: “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Have you ever noticed that as people begin to be encountered by the Holy Spirit they often find themselves with questions? Perhaps about life or circumstances, but on occasion, conversation will turn to the subject of scripture.

If we will listen to people, often they will ask the questions!

“Please tell me … (I love that!) … “of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?”

“And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him!

How do you “preach Jesus” to someone? What are the basics? What do you tell them and what do they need to know?

Does anyone here have a bible with Verse 37 in it? In the text of the scripture itself. All of them have it, just most of the modern translations have it as a footnote.

It is not in our reading in the bulletin, but it is in the KJV. Anyone?
“And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Why this discrepancy among the versions of our bible?
Because the KJV was written in the early 1600’s, and was based on the current Greek manuscripts and scholarship and on the Latin Vulgate. Since the 1600’s a great many new and many older Greek manuscripts have come to light, which do not include this verse 37. That is the difference that the modern biblical translators are dealing with, and why the verse is placed in the column or footnotes, rather than in the actual text of the scriptures. (Just a little aside to help you budding bible scholars.)

But the verse itself is interesting in its content: “If you believe with all your heart you may [be baptized]. And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” What we see here, if it is indeed a later addition, is an article of faith for baptism. Not unlike the words of Paul in Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So back to our point:
Philip was willing, available and obedient to God’s voice and direction. He went somewhere that didn’t really make a lot of sense (a desert road out of Jerusalem to the south). As he went, he encountered one man, who was reading scripture and had questions about it. Philip asked a single question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man invited him to ride along and the conversation led to salvation for the Ethiopian court official – and I might add, for many in Ethiopia!
In fact, Ethiopia, not Alexandria, is considered to be the cradle of African Christianity, and here we see the root of that work, that we take part in so gratefully today.

A Final question?

Are you listening?

Let us pray.