Saturday, May 26, 2012

ImPossible Gathering

What a great series we are beginning together, 50 Day People, answering the question what it means to be a Pentecostal Church in a modern day world. We opened the series with ImPossible Gathering and will be continuing with ImPossible Power, Impossible Service, and Impossible Generosity...possibly covering even more during the The Holy Spirit leads!

City Life's foundational verse when asking the question about being Pentecostal is found in Mark 10:27, our life verse for the series...where Jesus declares what is impossible for man is always possible for God, that nothing is impossible for God! That is the essence of Pentecostalism, that the same God we read in Scripture is the same God alive and at work in our lives, able and desiring to be at work in our lives in ways that will cause others to say, "That's impossible!" At City Life, we have an unshakeable belief that God still makes the impossible possible!

This past weekend, we took an introductory look at Acts 2:1-4 where we found that The Church was born on the Day of Pentecost. The prescribed feasts, annual festivals, found in the Mosaic Law for Jewish people were and are still today, to both remember times of God's "impossible" intervention and favor as well as declare a trust for His continued, steadfast love, devotion, and favor forevermore. Two of the most honored for such feasts were Passover and Pentecost. I didn’t quite have time for the last of my three points so I wanted to blog about that point here in this article.

Just 50 days prior to this article, we celebrated Easter, remembering Jesus' atoning death and victorious resurrection, which 2000 years ago coincided with the Jewish feast, Passover. This was Jesus' grand and glorious declaration that He is the ultimate Passover Lamb for all eternity. This understanding is commonplace in churches, that Jesus' death at Passover was an unavoidable intention of a sovereign God. But 50 Days after Passover, we have Pentecost, a feast that primarily was to honor God during one of the year's first harvests (the word pentecost is Greek for “fiftieth day”) gives the name of the feast. The imagery here is just as poignant as Jesus' death at Passover. God was saying to the world that once people begin to have a revelation of Jesus as THE Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, there will be a harvest of hearts, people, that The Church must gather into a spiritual community and take up the sacred work of Jesus’ Great Commission that He proclaimed at His ascension.

And to be a Pentecostal Church is to be a church that as we covenant together to see this great harvest gathered and commissioned, that we also engender within the church, a culture reminiscent of this first church. At City Life, we are committed to be such a church, a community of devoted followers of Jesus, disciples, where we still believe that the list of "impossibles" found in Acts 2:41-47, detailing this culture, are still possible today!

Luke tells us as he writes Acts, that people were enamored with this burgeoning religious movement formed around a common devotion to Jesus. Even for a time in history when there was a great interest in spirituality, the degree of growth, loyalty, community, prayer, power, generosity, service, gathering, worship, and favor that was found among these Jesus followers was, well, impossible! We covered in the opening sermon how their commitment to a daily, yes, DAILY, corporate worship gathering was a hallmark of this new movement. And we focused in on two areas of exploration within this gathering that we want to see in our own gatherings today...people came not with a "what's in it for me" mindset but rather with the hope of being a valuing presence and also if necessary a correcting presence. (You can listen to the podcast if either of those spark an interested in you!) So much of what we come to expect when we attend church, so much of what drives our decisioning as we weigh whether or not to attend weekend unfortunately influenced not by Scripture but rather a western-world consumer based mentality that is grossly self-focused and self-indulgent. We intend to make no room for that at City Life!

So for the third motivation we are striving to see flourish among the people who call City Life home as we consider the priority that attending a weekly worship gathering should hold in our lives is...that we should come to church with the expectation of being a prophetic presence.

In the summer of 1990, the year of my own personal revelation of Jesus as the Passover Lamb...I was attending Mechanicsville Christian Center, not yet of devoted follower of Jesus but certainly wrestling with the debauchery of my life in light of the teachings of Jesus. This was the church that my family attended and I would often come to the service just as the musical portion of the worship service was concluding because of the intense conviction I would experience if I were there while the worship band was ministering. This particular Sunday morning, one of the elders, a man named Charlie Bevels, had a spontaneous, prophetic message at the end of one of the last songs that changed my life forever, being an audible voice for God, a message from God to someone in that room, a message for me.

I was intentionally late as usual and was standing right in the doorway at the entrance to the sanctuary, literally on the threshold. There were several hundred people in the room and the doorway was a considerable distance from the platform for anyone who might suspect Charlie was manipulating the moment having seen me arrive. He has since passed from this life into eternity but on this earth, he was one of the most genuine, honest, forthright men I have ever known. He began to say, "How long will you stand there on the fence, on the threshold? What else do you need to see me do in order for you to embrace the life you were created to live? How many more lives do you need to see me change, 10, 100, 1000...tell, what is it that will move you off that fence, out of that threshold?" Needless to say, I felt intensely conspicuous, under the gaze of my God. Just a few months later, in December of that year, I made my vow of devotion to Jesus.

I had the privilege of sharing that story at Charlie's funeral many years later. He didn't come to church for himself...he came to value others, to lovingly correct others when needed, and yes, he came with an expectation the Holy Spirit just might reveal to him something of God's heart that someone in that room needed to hear, possibly something that would alter the course of their eternity just like it did for me!

Why is it that so many churches that are stereotypically categorized as Pentecostal are over run with eccentricity, excess, sensationalism...just plain weird? We can be expressive without being strange, we can be impassioned without being obnoxious...we can have all the power but without the pageantry! I too want to see our church experiencing the working of the Holy Spirit among us! I also believe that the oddities that have characterized many of our own personal observations in times past were not because the Holy Spirit is aberrant but because people can be strange! I'm convinced the Holy Spirit is saying, "Hey, that wasn't Me!"

In Acts 13:1-2, we have a wonderful account of people coming to a church service in the ancient city of Antioch, with an expectation that God could use them in a prophetic way. And that is exactly what happened…through the working of the Holy Spirit, they identified Paul and Barnabas to be some of the first church planters of this early movement soon to be known as Christianity. When you come to church, do you have this same expectation? Take some time to read the second chapter of 1 Corinthians where Paul explains the Holy Spirit searches the heart of God and reveals His heart to us! And what would otherwise be indiscernible with our natural, human understanding becomes knowable through the mind of Christ at work within us! You are a candidate for such super-natural experiences and so should be one of your greatest motivators for coming to church each week...use me Lord, use me!

See you this weekend!

Pastor Fred