The Spirit of Discipleship
This sermon was written for Pentecost sunday based on the first two chapters of Acts...
There were three men of God, talking over the coffee. One was a Presbyterian minister, the second was a Catholic priest, and the last was a rabbi. They got talking shop as you do, and were discussing how they divide the offering between their needs and the needs of ministry.
The Presbyterian began by saying, "I use a very simple method. I draw a small circle on the ground, I take the money I throw it in the air and anything that lands in the circle is mine and the rest is God's."
The Catholic priest went next and he said "I use a similar method. except I draw a circle on the ground, and then throw the money in the air anything that lands in the circle is God's and all the rest is mine."
The Rabbi thought for a bit and then said "my method is better than either of yours I simply take the money, I throw in the air and what ever God wants he can keep."
The story demonstrates the various views we have of different churches and the way they see things. It describes, the culture that we see in each of these churches.
From a 1932 clarinet catalogue:
"Like the Bundy clarinet, the Barbier is also made in France in a Selmer-controlled factory, located in a small city near Paris. This plant is operated by water power, on the most economical lines, and is modernly equipped. Under no other circumstances could we offer such a finely-built and splendidly tuned clarinet at such a low price.
"The master hand of Alexandre Selmer stands out in this fine low-priced instrument. His theory briefly is that--so long as we have the correct bore and inner measurements, there is no point in using inferior proportions in our Selmer student line, the Barbier--thus Barbier players benefit by the long, arduous experimental work of the Messrs. Selmer.
"Mr. Selmer has little patience with the ordinary commercial grade of reed instrument. 'Why expect a beginner to learn on an instrument I could not play myself!' he asks, and rightfully."
The culture here, is that of excellence that supersedes questions of cost. Even today, Selmer is one of the leading brands of clarinets.
In the early Church there was a specific culture. This culture was based around an understanding of and life in the Holy Spirit.
I kind of wonder, whether Peter when he first got up to preach that first sermon after being accused of being drunk, of whether he expected God to actually deliver the results that he experienced. 3,000 new people added to the Church after that one sermon.
I don't know! But certainly after the second or third time when he got up to preach and vast numbers were added to the Church, I guess that he would have begun expecting these results.
The early Church, moved quickly into a culture of experiencing, knowing and expecting the Holy spirit to do marvellous things. If we look at that the very early Church, there is very little planning actually happening. It is very clear that the leadership of that Church is very much making it up as it goes along. They are reacting to new things that are happening rather than looking into the future and trying to plan.
Acts chapter two records how the early Church received the Holy spirit.The immediate result of that activity of the Holy spirit was the addition of the 3,000 souls to the Church. A growth in the Church of 276 fold. This was immediately followed by Peter and John, simply walking down the road, minding their own business and getting caught up in a healing incident. Not only was the man healed, but all of a sudden the Church was now five thousand strong.
This culture, this understanding, this knowledge and trust in the Holy spirit, transformed Peter and John from simple fishermen to men who could stand up to the rulers and the leaders of the nation. First Peter and John, and then all the Apostles were taken by the Sanhedrin and instead of being cowed stood up for what they believed in.
It is equally clear that the early Church did not run on a budget. There was no treasurer busy counting up and expecting people to sell all that they had and to use those funds in the Church. And if we want to move on to Church discipline, the story of Ananias and Sapphira should make clear that when they meant discipline they meant discipline!
What was the early Church doing? It seems like the early Church was concentrating on being Church. They were spending time in worship, both in the Jewish worship and also their own worship, spending time in prayer, and teaching, and in the midst of this, in the midst of their normal life they interacted, they experienced, and they watched for the spirit to do things.
I find it fascinating that the greatest missionary impetus of the New Testament, was not planned by a Church board. Rather it was the equivalent of one of our small groups who decided to simply send out two of their leaders to be missionaries.
Well that isn't quite correct, there were a group of people who were there in the spirit, ministering for Lord and the Holy spirit said "set apart for me Paul and Barnabas." The Bible records in Acts chapter 13, that Paul and Barnabas packed their bags and went. This Church here is a direct result of that missionary effort. Without that change, then the Christian Church would have passed by us Gentiles.
And what does a culture of the Holy spirit do about problems? One of the first things that happened on this missionary journey, was that Paul and Barnabas had the opportunity to speak before a Roman official called Sergius Paulus. The only problem was that in this man's court, there was a magician called Elymas who proceeded to heckle and cause problems in the presentation. Paul, guided by the Holy spirit, simply pointed at him and said you will be blind. And so it was.
There is nothing more dangerous, than placing a preacher in front of a microphone. Things haven't changed much. The only difference between the early Church, in this regard and now is we now have microphones. Preachers, quite often don't know when to shut up. And the other thing I have noticed is the more senior the preacher the more animated, and the more energy they can have late at night. In the case of Paul, this was definitely the case
Paul came to a town called Troas. He was leaving the next day, and he was giving his final instructions and encouragement to the leaders and members of that Church. It was late, getting on for midnight, there were lamps in the room, it was hot it was fuggy. Paul just kept on talking and talking. A young man by the name of Eutychus was sitting there on the window sill of this upper room.
Eutychus, fell asleep and slowly fell back out of that window in that upper room. He fell a great height and died. I have been in a Church service, where a man has had a serious heart attack. And I can guarantee that if we had something like that happen in the service then everything would stop, everything would be bedlam for quite a while. In this case this young man had fallen a great height to his death and what is the response? Paul stopped speaking, he says "Hold that thought! he runs down several flights of stairs, reaches out, raises Eutychus from the dead, runs back-up several flights of stairs and says: "Now where was I?"
There was no problem. The Holy spirit had it under control. All Paul had to do, was go with the flow.
This is the culture of the early Church. A culture of the Holy spirit taking part in every aspect of what they did. It is a culture of the of the Holy spirit driving and directing and achieving the results the Church wanted to achieve.
Paul planned, he worked hard, but the increase was given by the spirit. We should plan, we should work hard, and we should have a culture of the Holy spirit that allows the Holy spirit to give us the increase.
Do we as a Church, here today, have a culture of the Holy spirit that is adequate to allow the Holy spirit to bring the increase that we want to achieve?
Are we sufficiently in touch with the Spirit to allow God to do the things he wants to do in this place through us?
I believe that this is a question that we must grapple with. And if we answer this question in the negative, then we must ask the next question which is "what do we need to do to enter in to this culture of the Holy spirit?"
Microsoft is a household word today. It has dominated desktop computing for two decades. How did they get from a tiny company running on a shoestring, developing basic interpreters, to a company that impacts a large proportion of people's lives in the world on a daily basis?
At the end of the 1970s, there were a number of micro computer companies in place selling product. The vast majority of these systems and companies have gone. Today if you want a micro computer you have a choice of an apple or an IBM PC clone. This was the time before the IBM PC. Most PCs were running an operating system called CP/M. IBM themselves didn't have any product in this level of the computer market. However this market had got big enough so they couldn't ignore it any more. They designed a computer from off the shelf hardware and called it the personal computer.
They needed software to run on this personal computer. Microsoft was going to provide a basic interpreter, which was a standard feature of all personal computers of the time. As well as being a programming language, basic was also the operating environment much the same way as Windows is now. When IBM went to visit the owner of CP/M, Digital Research, they refused to sign the non-disclosure agreement with IBM. Microsoft bought an operating system called QDOS, standing for quick and dirty operating system. They used this as the basis of the MS-DOS which later was developed into the Windows that we see today.
It was the combination of a strong hardware computer, a cheap operating system that was good enough, that has placed an IBM PC clone in just about every household and on every desk in business. Without that point of opportunity that was taken, Microsoft would not be a household name it is today.
We see the Apostles, and the other disciples, a total of 120 people sitting in this upper room. This was the end of a long period of preparation. They had been trained, they had walked with Jesus for somewhere around 3 years at this stage. They have been through the process of the death and resurrection of Jesus.And now all they are doing is sitting there.
They do some very minor business. They attempt to choose a replacement for Judas. Depending on your viewpoint, and your theology pretty much defines how you see that activity. Certainly they are not operating in the kinds of ways the we have seen in the first part of the sermon.
If we were to look back at the journey that NationsHeart has been on over the last 5, 6, 7 years, then we can see a huge amount of preparation. We can see a preparation in terms of understanding vision and direction. We can see the preparation in terms of gaining a heart for mission, a heart for reaching out to those roundabout us. We can begin to describe the kind of place we are called to be in terms of the great sayings we have had over the past years.
"We are to be Jesus hands and feet"
"We are to be a people of grace"
"We are to be a Church without walls reaching out to the community and allowing the community to enter."
We know who and what we are to be. We know what we are to do. Perhaps we don't know all the fine detail, but we know the broad direction.
The Apostles and the other disciples were in exactly this position. They had the great Commission, they were to go out and make disciples of all nations. They had the teaching, they had the attitude but they were sitting there.
Jesus had told them to wait. Waiting was what they were doing.
We as a Church had been trained.
We as the Church have been prepared.
We as the Church should be waiting.
A large part of what I have done over the last five or six months, as an Elder, has been watching and partaking in a coming together and a focusing of what God has been calling us to do. It is exciting to stand back and see the promises and the preparation that God has been doing in this place coming into focus and coming closer and closer to the point when it's released.
However we are not there yet. I sit and I look a watch and I think about myself and I think about my colleagues the other Elders and about the people who belong to NationsHeart and say that we're not ready. Just as the Apostles, just as the 120 had the great Commission, just as they had all the preparation and training, just as they had the promises, at the point of their sitting in the upper room, they are not ready.
Just as the 120, had to wait, had to pray, had to exercise faith and seeking God, I believe that we as a Church must enter into a season of prayer and waiting on God for release into the things that he has for us.
The ministers and the elders of this Church are planning to come back and begin to outline the fairly detailed direction in terms of an action plan for this Church over the next two years or so. At that point we must be ready to step out. So I'd encourage each and every one of us to be waiting on God to be praying to ask that he deals with anything that would stand in at the way of us stepping out into the things that he would have for us.