Friday, 6 January 2017

How do we prepare for mission? (Acts 1)

We live in a pragmatic age.  One church-growth expert says, ‘people are more interested in what works than what is true.’  A pastor told me that he built his church around a good praise-band.  The lead singers of some popular worship movements leave me wondering if only pretty people can sing.  It seems that Christian consumers want church services to make them feel a certain way.  We need to get the look and mood-lighting correct.

But is this right?  Is this how we open ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit?  In these verses of Acts, we see the embryonic church prepare itself for the out pouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Let’s see what they did to be open to his movement.

1.     They listened (3-5)

Firstly, we see that Jesus prepares the apostles for his departure by teaching them(3-5).  He appeared to them for forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is not an earthly or political kingdom, but Jesus continuing transforming lives and communities through the person of the Holy Spirit.  It is what we see happening throughout Acts. John MacKay writes, ‘First the enlightened mind, then the burning heart.’  Do you want to see the person of the Holy Spirit transform individuals and churches?  Begin by teaching your people the Bible!

2.    They waited (6-11)
Jesus must have been disappointed with their question: ‘Lord, will you at this time, restore the kingdom to Israel?’  They still have a lot to learn.  They are still expecting a military kingdom that would drive the Romans out of Israel.  But they will be a part of a very different kingdom—one that will transform lives in Jerusalem and all Judea, into Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

He tells them that it will be the Holy Spirit who will give them the power to be his witnesses.  No, not by cool, nor entertainment, nor celerity-preachers, nor the latest technology, nor mood-lighting, nor big budgets, nor buildings, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.  Do you want to see the person of the Holy Spirit transform individuals and churches?  Teach them to realise that nothing of significance will happen without the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

3.    They prayed (12-26)

The apostles return to the upper room, are joined by the women and Jesus’ family, and devote themselves to prayer.  The book of Acts is filled with prayer (thirty-one references in total).  In Acts, God’s people cry out to God when they feel helpless, and God responds by doing great things.  Prayer demonstrates a realisation that we cannot extend God’s kingdom in our own wisdom and power.  Prayer should be based on a sense of personal and corporate inadequacy and confidence and faith in God.
The chapter ends with Matthias was chosen to replace Judas as one of the apostles.  These apostles were unique witnesses to the resurrection.  They were specially chosen by Christ (in this case through Jesus’ guiding of the casting of lots).  The apostles’ teaching had a unique place in the church then and now (through what is recorded in the New Testament).
Our situation is different from theirs.  In one sense we are no longer waiting.  The Day of Pentecost came and the Holy Spirit was poured out on all God’s people.  Since then all Christians experience his power.  And the Holy Spirit did not finish after the twenty-eight chapters of Acts—we are Acts twenty-nine people.  The kingdom is still expanding. 
How do we prepare our people to be a part of the mission—through learning, waiting and praying!
While Jesus taught the apostles before ascending to heaven, but he continues to teach us through the word he inspired.  We are no longer waiting for the Day of Pentecost, but the Holy Spirit is not static and we wait for him to go on filling us.  Finally, if we truly grasp that the Kingdom depends on his power, not ours, then we prayer will be at the heart of all our plans and strategies. 

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