Acts 20:7-12 Remember the Christ of Christmas with Commuion

Good Morning, Christmas is less than 20 days away!

Did you know that you and I share a heritage that began almost 2000 years ago?  We likely do it somewhat differently then they did but the principle and practice remains some two thousand years later.  And it will be a part of the church, part of HIStory, until our Saviour returns and we unite with Him in the amazing celebration planned for us by the LORD (cf. Rev. 19:6-9).

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Cameos in HIStory: Acts 4:13-22

Should we actually greet people with Merry Christmas?

I have a confession to make…I love this season.   The whole season of Advent.  I admit it.  Christmas is one of my favourite times of year!  Even with its hustle and bustle and everything else that comes with it.   So I’m probably not the best person to ask.   But my bias is up front.  Merry Christmas!

I think for me Christmas has become even more enjoyable because it’s one of the times in the year that before and after is so evident.

Before and after?  What’s the pastor talking about now?  Before and After? Continue reading

Acts 3:1-10 You and me making HIStory

Can you think of an event in your life that caused you to believe that God was real?

Few things overwhelm our soul and generate faith like personal encounters with our God.  I’m talking about those times when God acts in and through us that opens our eyes to the reality of the Almighty.  And not just the God-incidences but the times when we deliberately reach out in faith and find the hand of the almighty reaching through us.  That’s when you and me are making HIStory!

Like when we pray and see the results of those prayers instantly manifest.  I don’t know about you but it blows me away every time!  It catches me off guard until I put two and two together and find it can only equal God in our midst.  That’s when you and me are making HIStory.

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HIStory – The Bible in 52 Weeks Challenge

Acts 22:14-15: “’The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouthYou will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard”.

This was Paul’s assignment: Go share Hope!

How?  By being Christ’s witness telling people what he has seen and knows of Christ.

As I meditated on these verses the week I went on the retreat in November.  Thinking about the simplicity and enormity of what Paul was called to do.  And looking at the outcome of this marvelous commission.   I came to the conclusion that it was not a unique assignment at all.

In fact it was the same assignment the rest of Christ’s disciples received in Acts 1:8, “And you will be my witnesses…” It was in keeping with Christ’s Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

Make disciples who are making disciples who are making disciples!  This is the call from Acts 22:15.  This is “all that” ( found in Acts 22:10) that Paul was assigned to do.    All that the Apostles were assigned to do.  ‘All that’ the disciples in Acts were assigned to do.   And it is ‘all that’ you and I are assigned by God to do almost 2000  years later.  Like Paul, Jesus has chosen you to know His will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the words that are from His mouth.

Is that awesome or what?  You are chosen.  You are a part of the chain that began with God, in the beginning and continues beyond our days “to the very end of the age”.  But how can we continue that chain and not not be a broken link?

How can we make His disciples and make sure that they are not simply becoming our disciples?  How can we begin and carry on to fulfillment, “all that” God has assigned us to do?

For some Christians the question is: where do we even start?

It’s seems a simple assignment on the surface.

“Be His witnesses…” OK? But how do we do that?  Well we could do what Paul and the early church disciples did.  They accurately and honestly told people what they have seen and heard about what Jesus has done.  In essence we communicate about the past to help bring people hope for the future.  We talk about His story in our lives and those that came before us.

As I prayed and hashed this out with Jesus a thought came to me.  Do the people  even know Your Story?  You know the one that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation?  Do people know that Jesus truly is the Alpha and the Omega the beginning of the Bible straight through to the end?

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And then another thought came to me.  In preparing for this last mission trip I took a course from the Biblical Training Institute that I put on SD cards and actually left with the Pastors and church people over in Kenya.  That course looked at 52 stories from Genesis to Revelation.  It is History but it is also your story and my story as we become part of HIStory!

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When I came back from that retreat I was so excited!  I told the Leadership team here at church how I felt God was giving us an assignment.  Read the Word, tell someone the story, and soon you’ll know your place in HIS Story.

One story at a time.  Can you and I tell one Bible story a week?  Help one other person or perhaps many others to learn what God has said and done?  One Bible story at a time.  It’s our story but really it’s HIStory.

Here’s what I think God wants us to do for 2016.  One story a week told and simplified from his Word through our lips to ears that hear or at least may be listening.

Logistically it will begin with reading a Scripture Portion on Sunday morning.  Hearing about that story from whoever is bringing the message that day.  This can help solidify HIS story in our minds.

Then it’s your turn.  Throughout the week as opportunity arises, read the story again and then tell someone the story in your own words and in time you will know that you part of HIS story.

We can do this one on one, and also for those of us equipped to do so using social media and the web.

So you can have a coffee, tell this week’s story in your own words, with perhaps some of my words and perhaps some of the words that I heard but most importantly always begin with HIS Word.

What I believe God is calling us to do in 2016 will see 52 weeks of boosting our level of biblical understanding and helping our remembrance of HIStory while we continue to do ‘all that’ God has assigned for us to do.

Namely Acts 22:14-15.   This is true of every believer of Christ and every disciple who is called to go and make disciples who will go and make disciples that make Disciples of Christ.

“The God of our fathers has appointed you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth and to be a witness for Him to everyone you will tell of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15).

One year…52 weeks… 52 stories from Genesis to Revelations of Christ.  His lips, through your mouths, to their ears.

Can you try?  Will you accept the assignment He has given you and help people to know and follow Christ?

 

 

TIME to GtGtG

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 Each annual meeting we celebrate what the Lord has accomplished through Grace in the Heart of Penticton.  It’s been an amazing year!  More than 100,000 visitors have come through the doors at Grace.  Most through  our virtual church.  Our congregation has pretty well stayed the same size in Penticton.  About 100,000 people have stumbled across us on the internet thanks to Google, Bing, Yahoo and the other search engines that directed them our way.  But we know it is not by simple chance or computer logic alone that people have found Grace in the Heart of Penticton.   God can even use technology to bring himself glory and touch people’s lives with His Grace.  All we need to do is be faithful and willing to try to bless others.   We have a unique church in that regard.  No 20% of the people doing 80% of the work.  We’re running about 100% -1 or 2 who are still learning to trust in Jesus and exercise their gifts.  (Actually we are all still learning in that regard.) But everyone is someone at Grace.  Someone with a unique witness that God is pleased to use to grow his Kingdom.    And grow it did this year!    We all grew to know – T.I.M.E.

My Annual Meeting address to the congregation begins here.  But if you prefer to watch the podcast:


As I’ve said before,  our annual meetings are generally celebrations of what God has done through the previous year.  And this year has been no exception.  Against the odds God has seen us through another year and we came out in the black!  Ahead of budget! Is that amazing or what?  And it isn’t that we’ve just hung on as a church by the skin of our teeth…you know… kind of on life support …waiting to die.

To His glory, we have been blessed, to be used of Him to help lead souls to Christ.   And He didn’t stop there.  Each step T.I.M.E. got in the way.  God gave all of us the opportunity to experience T.I.M.E. …experience where True Intimacy Must Exist.  He focused our conversations and even our thoughts focused on growing deeper in love with Him and helped us to express that love through our relationships with others.

The video showed us some of those special occasions where we drew together to celebrate and grow in intimacy with one another.  Events like, 300 years plus of marriage!  Now there is a milestone of intimacy!    Care groups that actually care about one another!  And a new level of drawing closer through worship as our teams grew in greater intimacy with the object of our worship.  We had Awesome! T.I.M.E.!

Let’s not let go of that for 2014.  Let’s continue to draw closer to God and fellowship with His servants.

 T.I.M.E. for L.I.F.E. as we W.O.R.K.    B.E.G.I.N. to G.t.G.t.G.Slide2

Wow is that too many acronyms to remember?

What does T.I.M.E. stand for? True Intimacy Must Exist

8  Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. James 4:8 (NLT)

How about L.I.F.E.?  What did those initials stand for?   Loving Intentionally For Eternity

And who can remember W.O.R.K.?   Worship Our Real King

Ok keeners!  What do you think B.E.G.I.N. stands for?  You’ll see Next week!

Anyone care to guess G.t.G.t.G.?   

This year let us continue to draw closer to God and fellowship with His servants.

I believe as we do we will find that He draws closer to us and as He does miracles will continue to happen!  But even in this we must be mindful of Lucifer’s downfall, for pride can bring an individual down very quickly as we’ll see in today’s passage of Acts.  Let us learn the lesson that Herod didn’t so that we can continue to grow in T.I.M.E.B.E.G.I.N. to G.t.G.t.G.

Turn with me to Acts 12:19-25.

 19  After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. 20  He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply. 21  On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22  They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23  Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. 24  But the word of God continued to increase and spread. 25  When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.”  Acts 12:19-25 (NIV)

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As you’ll remember from last time Peter had been miraculously delivered from jail and out of the grasp of King Herod who had in mind to publicly execute the leader of this new Jewish sect.  This King Herod, like his grand-father before him, was a ruthless dictator who would stop at nothing to get his own way.  When he saw that killing apostles and disciples gained him favour with the Sanhedrin he grabbed Peter and had him thrown in that jail with plenty of guards around him should those of the Way seek to free Peter by force.  But Herod wasn’t ready for the spiritual attack that God had in store for him.  God’s people were praying!  They were on the knees urgently petitioning the Lord of Lords.  And Peter was miraculously set free!

You and I have hardly begun to know the power of prayer!  We have witnessed it over this past year.  We have been blessed to see how our Kenyan outreach set aside massive amounts of time to pray and even how awesomely God has answered that prayer.

It seems to me for every hour that they earnestly prayed the greatest miracle ever… happened in someone’s life.  And when they had their Kasha’s and had 20-30 people praying all night, sure enough, hundreds of their brethren committed their lives to Christ in meetings throughout that weekend.

Now, don’t think I’m trying to give you some magical winning formula here.  It’s just an observation of one looking from the outside. Perhaps God would have saved all those folks without any prayer at all?  But prayer happened and it was followed by miracles happening in my observation.

GtGtG- Slide13 Sometimes I think we really don’t want to make those connections though.  We want to connect our human efforts at evangelism, whether it be door to door or crusade style events as the key to soul winning.  We like to put people like Reinhardt Bonke and Billy Graham up on a pedestal and treat them as “God’s gifted evangelists”, which they are by the way, but we associate the results of those massive meetings with the key individuals who led them.  Yet Reinhardt & Billy would tell you face to face, Give to God the Glory.  He did it through His people!  All they had to do is be faithful to their part and tell the people where to begin a relationship with God.  God does the hard part.  I confess these two guys are my heroes!  I love what they have accomplished for the Kingdom.

I have a theory as to why we make almost “super heroes” out of the soul winning itinerant evangelists.  But you may not like my conclusions.

I believe it is because we don’t really believe our prayers make a difference and so the average Christian in N. America prays less than five minutes a day.  The average Christian is so consumed by other things  that their prayer life is sadly lacking.   So we need those “super heroes” to come and lead the masses to Christ.

But you know how Reinhardt & Billy do it, right?  Again this is my observation.   I think it’s because they get a critical mass of believers praying for the event around the clock.  And in my observation the greater the mass of praying people the more results they see.

 

The fact that we don’t truly believe that our prayers do make a difference is nothing new.  Look at the household of Mary in the first part of Acts 12.  They had been praying and when the answer to their prayers stood at the door and knocked, they thought the servant girl was out of her mind or perhaps seeing an angel and wouldn’t let Peter in until he persisted in knocking.  But at least they were praying!  Praying long into the night!  And Luke associates their prayers with not only Peter’s release but the down fall of Herod Agrippa.  So pray, knowing that it makes a difference!  Then G.t.G.t.G. as you see the answers to your prayers.

The fallout the next day back at the jail was sad indeed!  Luke tells us that the guards went crazy trying to figure out what happened to Peter.  One minute he was there between two of their finest the next he’s gone never to be seen by them again.  They went crazy!  And for good reason too!

Verse 19 says, 19  Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for him. When he couldn’t be found, Herod interrogated the guards and sentenced them to death”.  Ruthless I tell you!  Blood thirsty and ruthless!

Those soldiers swore an allegiance to Herod Agrippa.  They placed their own lives in jeopardy daily just being occupying soldiers in a foreign land and Herod had the audacity to treat them as traitors for losing someone they could not have kept.   Clearly it was not their fault!  And yet it was.  For they had been given charge of the prisoner. There was no grace there.

Luke tells us that the cowardly King then withdrew to Caesarea.  Did you notice that?  Not wanting to take the heat from the Jewish Sanhedrin for having lost the prisoner, Herod himself left Jerusalem.   Some god he was, eh?   He had the power to kill his own soldiers but it seems he was afraid of the tongue lashing and ridicule that would have ensued over the bungled job.

Sometimes we may feel like, “what’s the use, evil is winning the war, there are more non-believers than ever”.  And who can blame us as we see fewer people in churches here in N. America?  In fact more people shop at Costco and Walmart on a Sunday mornings then go to church in all of Penticton.  So it may seem like we are losing the war.

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But would it surprise you to find out that according to an article in Mission Frontiers  the ratio from Peter’s time of Christians to non-Christian was 360 non to 1 believer.  Whereas by 2010 that number had dropped to 7.3 non-believers to every 1 believer.  And at Mission Fest last year I heard that we are at 6.2 in 2013. God is winning the war!  And the battle at hand is in our favour.  But Satan would sure like to make you think he has the upper hand.  Rest assured that as you pray and do what God is calling you to the powers of darkness flee.

Evil is like that.  When the light shines the darkness flees.   Herod couldn’t stand being in Jerusalem having lost Peter.  But his evil plotting didn’t stop in Jerusalem!

Luke tell us Herod was angry with Tyre.  Tyre was another seaport city up the coast from Caesarea.   There is no historical evidence as to why Herod would have been angry with that city, just what Luke wrote here.  But I have a theory. Ok…so I almost always do…

Herod was like any bully who doesn’t get his way.   He just refocused his bullying elsewhere.  He couldn’t save face with the Jews by bullying the Christians so he took it out on Tyre.

Have you ever got in the path of a bully enraged?  It can be terrible!  He’ll strike out at anything without provocation.  I remember my nemesis in junior high.  I did about everything I could to avoid him but he was the school bully.  And one day when a teacher caught him bullying a student he ran off to the part of the sports field where I had chosen to avoid him.

I had managed to avoid him there for weeks! But now he was coming straight at me. And he was some mad, let me tell you!  He took off some boot laces and started whipping me with them.  I hadn’t even said a word to him.  Soon as I saw him I just knew he was trouble coming my way.  And I was between a fence with no gate and him.  The sting of the lace and his fists pounding on me made me want to seek peace at any price.

I knew this guy was into weed.  So I offered to get him some if he left me alone.  Instantly we were best friends!

The problem was I had no idea where to find pot for him.  I hadn’t ever tried the stuff.  Didn’t even know what it looked like.  But if I didn’t have some the next day at recess I better not show up to school.  Know what I mean.  Well the next day came way too soon.  And so I improvised.

Earl Grey tea if memory serves me right.

I gave him my stash.  He took one look at it and a big smile was on his face.  The bully had won the war, so he thought.  I was safe for the time being until a few days later when I got another real good beating from him.  Apparently when you smoke tea it makes you quite ill.  Who knew?  He had been sicker than a dog.  And he wanted his pound of flesh.

So ended my weed selling days.  After that failed attempt, and with the bruises to prove it, I went to the teacher and told him what happened.  When he stopped laughing he said don’t worry about my nemesis, it was his third strike and he was kicked out of the school permanently that very day.

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Herod thought he was really something when the delegation from Sidon and Tyre came before him grovelling to make peace.   His ego was only slightly smaller than his crown.  Like most bullies he thought he was ultimately in control of those whom he bullied.  And when that day came he even dressed up in royal robes and sat upon his throne.  The crowds went wild with an ovation fit for the King of Kings.  This stroked Herod ego and he just loved the attention.   Loved it so much that when the crowd called him a god, he just lapped it up.

Luke wrote, “Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of Giving the Glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died” Acts 12:23 (NLT).

Bullies come in many forms in life and cause grief and distress to those whom they touch.  We hear about the bullies around the world that have imprisoned Christians for reaching out and caring for people. Some Christians are under daily threats from the local and state authorities while others are much more subtly bullied.

Financial bullies can cause you to tighten your belts another notch.  The big bully Cancer can threaten to shorten your life.  Overbearing managers or bosses can constantly badger you until you can stand it no more.  Even old age itself can seem like a bully who constantly limits your enjoyment in life.

Whatever bullies or battles you face in life, you can be sure of this, God sees them and He cares and will see you through them for His own Glory.

Yet know this too, when it comes to people, God even cares for the bullies but if they don’t soon change their ways they will eventually be expelled and their reign of terror will come to an abrupt end.

The thought of which, I am fully aware, doesn’t help in the midst of the battle you may find yourself in.  But the promise of which is assured and even born out in our passage today.   God allows bullies to help sort out who will Give to God the Glory.  And He never forgets His own!  If you are a bully learn from Herod before you become filled with fish bait.

Paul writes, 13  Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God”  Romans 6:13 (NLT).

Through it all, aim to Give to God the Glory and you will not follow in the ways of the bully but rather gain freedom through Christ who will make you more than a conquerors.  Like Paul in Colossians 1:11.

11  We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, 12  thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.”    

Luke ends this chapter with, “Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers” Acts 12:24 (NLT).

The bully was neutralized and the church ended up stronger for having overcome through the adversity.   The word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.

That is what I hope to write again a year from now concerning Grace in the Heart of Penticton.

Blessings!

Pastor Blake