Sunday, February 12, 2017

Shine - Week #4 - When All the Lights Are On

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service.  As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in.  Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.  Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!”  The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money.  But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you.  But I’ll give you what I have.  In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”  Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up.  And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened.  He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk!  Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.  All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God.  When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded!  They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade, where the man was holding tightly to Peter and John.  Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd. “People of Israel,” he said, “what is so surprising about this?  And why stare at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or godliness?  For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this.  This is the same Jesus whom you handed over and rejected before Pilate, despite Pilate’s decision to release him.  You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer.  You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.  And we are witnesses of this fact!  “Through faith in the name of Jesus, this man was healed—and you know how crippled he was before.  Faith in Jesus’ name has healed him before your very eyes.  Acts 3:1-16(NLT)  
So far in this series on “Shine” we have looked at our main verse, which is Jesus’ command to his followers that we shine with good works so others will see and give glory to the Father. 
Of course Jesus did just that, and, to a lesser extent, so did Moses, Stephen, Peter, James, John, and Philip the Evangelist; they had lives that shined consistently showing God’s love to all.  They were like Flashlights walking wet inviting the Holy Spirit to use their baptismal vows to transform the way they lived so God’s light would shine on what Christ-like living looks like.
And then last week we prepared for the Lord’s Supper by examining our lives to see if we had sins to confess.  If we are to follow through on Christ’s command to shine, it makes sense that there should be no short-circuits (sins) that will turn off our light.
This morning is the conclusion of our series as we take a look at Peter and John out on the street with their faith.  And, after all, isn’t that what we really want…a faith that works from Monday to Saturday…not just when we come to church?
The lifestyle of a believer is characterized by three words we know very well, In Jesus' name.  There have been obvious abuses of that name.  I have known of people who use the name of Jesus like a magic wand to threaten the elements, sickness, even the devil!  It works like this; I know Jesus has promised that whatever I ask in his name, the Father in heaven has to give it!  Therefore, I ask in Jesus' name for a brand new Cadillac to be delivered to my door before 6am tomorrow morning, free and postpaid!  AMEN!!  Now, if I've asked in Jesus' name, God has a responsibility to give it to’s His promise, right? 
Some motives for the use of "in Jesus' name" are eminently more subtle: 
·       We use it (that phrase) at the end of our prayers, so that they'll sound right to God
·       We may tack it on the end of a prayer because we're afraid God will squash us like a bug if we break the formula. 
·       Momma and Grandma always prayed "in Jesus' name", and they lived to be quite old, thank you! 
What our text suggests is that the name of Jesus is not a formula for success; it is not a trademark for Christians or a holy relic to be treasured, petted and protected by the United Methodist Church subcommittee on prayer theology.  Rather, the name of Jesus is the mindset, the attitude, the very “stuff” of which a Christian makes his daily trek through this strange land in which we live.  For a Christian, praying, living, working, and raising a family is all defined by this phrase, in Jesus' name
Strictly speaking, the phrase means, after the character of, meaning, if we pray, we are telling the Father, "I pray the same way your Son prays."  If we work, we are telling the Father, "I do this work with the same enthusiasm for serving, the same attitude your Son would do it."  If we raise children, scrub floors, manage a business, run a country, or walk the dog, we are saying to the Father, I am Christian, little Christ, follower of Your Son, and I walk this dog, do this chore, walk this walk in the name of the Carpenter of Nazareth.
What this means is that we are dependent on the life and actions of Jesus to teach us how to act in every circumstance.  If we are truly serious about having accepted the name of Christ for salvation, then His Lordship, our discipleship, following the Master becomes our way of life.  We are spending our lives living in Jesus' name, having that mind in us which was also in Christ Jesus. 
The story we read shows us two men, Peter and John, living life in Jesus' name, and sharing that life with others.  As the story unfolds, notice the unveiling of the dependent life Peter and John had on the name of Jesus.  Note first of all their....

Personal Involvement

We catch up with Peter and John in the course of a regular day.  It was time to go to worship services at the temple.  This was their everyday activity; and they encountered a person in need.  They were going about their routine of life, waiting for directions in Jesus' name
It is always amazing to me how many opportunities to minister occur when I am in the midst of daily routines.  Some years back I was asked to find a ride for the husband of one of my church members.  He was to have radiation treatments for cancer.  I tried to locate someone, but all the schedules were full.  So the Brownworth taxi was pressed into service.  I didn't have the time...this was a bi-vocational pastorate (work a regular job, and then do pastor-stuff every other waking moment of the day).  But we went anyway. 
It turned out that his wife could've driven him.  She was amazingly independent and spry for 83.  But this was more than just a ride; she needed someone to sit with her while he was getting treatments.  She was just overwhelmed at the thought of losing her lifetime partner, and needed the personal touch of a friendly ear listening to her fears.  You can look at the "taxi" stuff of life as trivial, or interruptions in your busy day.  You can get rid of them (I had the $10 to pay for a cab ride for them)....But you can't do either if you're going to live life in Jesus' name, after the character of the Man from Nazareth.                                   
Personal involvement is something demanded of a follower of Jesus.  Consider the fellow Peter and John met at the gate of the temple.  He was much in need of a personal involvement.  He was crippled from birth, and for most of his forty years he was carried to the gate daily to beg.  This was a lifestyle so dehumanizing that the man had learned to not even look at people. 
The two disciples could quite easily have passed by, or dropped a few coins in the cup.  But that wouldn't have been in Jesus' name.  What would Jesus have done?  They did exactly what Peter and John did...they got involved, personally. 
Beloved, God's greatest resource is not money, or evangelists, or great new movements in Christianity.  God’s greatest resource is you, the believer, who has committed his life to living in Jesus' name.

A Willing Faith

The beggar assumed that perhaps he was going to receive a healthy donation (he just didn't realize HOW healthy!).  Peter was willing to help, and the man was willing to receive.  An atmosphere of willingness, and the faith of God's man...this is a combination that changed the world in the name of Jesus!
We know the end of this story, how the man received both a physical healing, and a spiritual healing.  But often we miss the design God had for the whole event. 
In the final part of the story we see that the people watching this whole event unfold also received a blessing, recognizing God's hand in the whole matter.  This thing was done in Jesus' name in both attitude, and the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
And Peter, before Pentecost, short-sighted, brash, brave and cowardly all in the same moment most of the time, was now living in Jesus name.  The big fisherman seized the miracle moment and shared the truth.  Some would call it preaching.  And certainly it was that; but, truth be told, at the base, whether it’s me standing behind a pulpit on Sunday, or you standing with a stranger, acquaintance or friend in the laundromat, on Monday, or at the lunch line in school, or passing a wrench to another mechanic at the garage where you work, all sharing of the truth of Christ is preaching the Gospel.  And that’s where all the lights are on when it comes to shining!   
And so, the question before the house this morning is several-fold:
1.     What would have become of the beggar, and the townspeople who witnessed the event, if Peter and John had not been WILLING, both in principle and reality to live their lives in Jesus' name
2.     Would they ever have found Christ and new life without this witness? 
3.     Was this their last opportunity? 
4.     Were Peter and John the "only Bible those folks would ever read"?
General Charles de Gaulle attended many official ceremonies during his leadership role in France.  He once said:
Mass is the ceremony I most favor during my travels.  Church is the only place where someone speaks to me, and I do not have to answer back
In the words of that great and revered spokesman for Chicken of the Sea™ tuna, Sorry, Charlie; you're dead wrong!"  Being a follower of Christ, which is living in Jesus' name, is the one place where you answer continuously.
Peter, the street preacher spent the rest of his life learning how to live in Jesus’ name.  He had a lot of opportunities and opposition.  Here’s what he learned about keeping all the lights on so people could see Jesus:
Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it.  So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.  Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.  But do this in a gentle and respectful way.  Keep your conscience clear.  Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.  1 Peter 3:13 - 16(NLT)
And to finish up, here’s another story of a guy who learned how to turn on the lights:
In one of his many books James McConkey told how his brother received help to rescue 11 people adrift on a huge ice flow.  Hearing of the tragedy that the ice flow had broken loose from the land and was beginning to melt, and sweep the people down the river to their death, the brother put $50 in his pocket and hastened to the rescue. 
Arriving on the scene, he found many waiting on the banks of the river for what seemed to be the inevitable.  Stepping up to the crowd, he offered $50 to anyone who would attempt to help the imperiled ones; but not a person stirred.  The brother then got a stiff rope, tied it around his waist, and invited others to rope themselves with him.  Immediately four men came to his side, and the five picked their way over a dangerous gorge, and were able to bring every man, woman and child on the ice flow to safety. 
When you give yourself first, others will follow.  We are not called to be rich, successful, learned or influential.  Many of God's noblest servants have labored in poverty and obscurity. 
But we are called to be faithful. 
·       We ARE called to be living miracles of giving and healing
·       We ARE called to be in Jesus' name, men and women the world can't explain.
You can ask a bunch of people if they believe in Jesus; a lot of them will say “yes”.  But the mere facts of believing – in the sense that you acknowledge he existed, and died, and rose again, and is coming again to set everything right…that is head knowledge; you get an “A” in seminary.
The real question is:  are you living in Jesus’ name?
If so, all the lights are on.   If not, the lights may be on, but nobody’s home to shine!
   Mt Zion UMC           Pleasant Hill UMC

[i] Title image:  Russell Brownworth (own work)

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