A People of God’s Presence

June 1, 2008 ()

Bible Text: Acts 2


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Compelling People. Acts 2 beginning of the Jesus movement in history. The Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ is sent to us by the Father, crucified for our sins, is buried, rises from the dead defeating sin and death and beginning the healing and restoration of all things that will culminate in the coming of a new heavens and new earth where every last enemy that resists the saving reign of God in Jesus will be banished and made his footstool. He ascends to heaven and leaves behind 120 people and tells them that their job now is to bring his saving and restoring reign to bear upon the entire world even now. To be a people who give the world a compelling picture in the present of what God will ultimately bring about in the future. This world’s destiny, God’s unstoppable vision for reclaiming creation would get played out even now in increasing measure among this people. The first church was evidence that the future is making an appearance even now. God’s ultimate vision for his creation is finding expression even now – a little bit of heaven is happening here. That 120 grew quickly to over 3000 and they became the most compelling people in their city; increasingly devoted to this story of God’s salvation in Jesus; shared this story with compassion and power so that others were embracing it as the new narrative they would live in and give themselves to. Amazing power being displayed among this people – people were healed, delivered, restored to God and transformed in miraculous ways. Compelling love and generosity, caring for the poor and sick and even liquidating their possession to meet needs. Compelling awe and joy that was contagious and life-giving. Compelling courage, facing rejection, torture, imprisonment and even death with resolve and joy. Result: entire cities were filled with the message of Jesus and Acts 8:8 tells us that entire cities were filled with joy as the sick were healed, the afflicted delivered, the guilty forgiven in Jesus, and the poor enriched, as God’s reign found willing subjects. The church shaped the history of cities. It began as an obscure, marginalized movement and become the dominant cultural force that spread throughout the urban world and conquered the Roman Empire. This is not a result of Constantine forcing conversions. Illus Rodney Stark - The Rise of Christianity: the most plausible estimated growth rate of Christianity in the first three centuries was 40% per decade. At this rate, by 350AD Christianity became the majority religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine’s conversion was a response to the rapid spread of Christianity, not the cause. It was spread by a compelling people. They left an impression on those they encountered; unforgettable. There was nothing bland or mundane about their lives – common, yes, but never boring. Courage, joy, love, generosity, power, and a profound story poured out of Xns and their lives provoked people – some to faith, some to rage; some to reverence and fear, some to disdain and scorn – but rarely neutrality. The cities were a buzz about these people and the amazing things that were happening among them and through them.
    This is my dream for Apostles Church – that we would become a compelling people. Not an unnecessarily offensive people, but a compelling people, people who solicit some kind of response from others. People you just can’t be neutral about. There are some people I spend time that bore me to tears. Nothing rises up in me but boredom and pity. But there are other people, some in our congregation, that when I am around them for 5 minutes I am convinced there is a God and I want to know Him. I am convinced Christ is risen, His Kingdom is unshakeable and one day the Kingdoms of this world…I’m inspired to love and give and serve and I am provoked to examine my life and repent of smallness and levity and give myself to the Grand Epic of God if only to be a footnote in it. I am moved to pray and plead with God to do something in my day that few ever get to witness and few even have the courage to long for. As your pastor I want to be a compelling person and I want Apostles Church to be a compelling people who shape the future of our city. Our city has a rich past but the future has yet to be written. I dream that we could become a people, along with the other Jesus centered churches in our city, who live compelling lives and forge the ethos of our city and shape its culture with a compelling message, compelling love, joy, generosity, humility, and supernatural power. 
But, what made the early church a compelling people and what will make us a compelling people is not our name, personalities, facilities, brand, logo, website, graphics, or band, but the presence of the Spirit of God, the Active Presence of God. This movement started with 120 people huddled up in an upper room together in the city. But, Jesus told them wait until they would be clothed with power from on high.  Jesus said he was going away, but that it was for the best because he would send the Holy Spirit who would come to live in them and live among as the Church. Jesus said, it’s good having me here but I am going to ascend the Father and pour out my Holy Spirit into you and among you and his presence will be even better than mine. So in Acts 2, they wait and Jesus 10 days after ascension, pours out the Holy Spirit into His Church and they became the dwelling place of God. God was among them in a real and personal way. Not like an inspirational picture framed on a wall, but personally present with power among them. This is what the Church is – the dwelling place of God, the temple of God where he lives by His Spirit in an active experienced way – Ephesians 2:22; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 Distinguishing mark. God is present among his people in the Holy Spirit working with power, making them a compelling people who shape the future of the city, who forge culture and bring people into the glad enjoyment of Jesus and life in his Kingdom. This is who we are – maybe not what we are experiencing, but it is who we are. It starts here – to acknowledge that this is who we are. We will live small lives of little consequence if we do not embrace this staggering individual and corporate reality – we are the dwelling place of God. If we have Christ, the HS is in us and among us longing to work in a powerful, often times miraculous way so that we become evidence that God is fulfilling his unstoppable vision for reclaiming creation;  a people who do something about our world because God is at work in us. And if you ever meet or spend time with someone like that, who walks in that identity and has experiences that come out of that identity, then you know what I am talking about by compelling. Illus: Neil helping Renee. The Kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power. [Illus: Sociologist and researchers are discovering that most people taking surveys who mark “none” on Religious Affiliation, are not secular humanist. They are people who are disinterested in conventional expressions of faith and are interested in the mystical and magical. They are the ones who are most willing to accept astrology, yoga, or the paranormal. Christianity is not a religion of words – the truth of it comes to us with words, but not words only, but in power by the Holy Spirit. When people came among the early church they did not simply experience lectures, they experienced wonders. God’s presence in power was the rule not the exception.]
Assumed presence/Experienced Presence of God. How do we move from knowing that God is present to experiencing God making his presence known? God wants to make his presence known in your life and in our church in an unmistakable way, where we clearly feel that God is in us and among us. God is not stingy with his presence, but he is selective. The keys are Desire and Exchange. Desire. As much of God that you desire to experience, you will experience. *Seek me and find me when you seek with all your heart; *Draw near; *Luke 11:11-13. Maybe not immediately, but he answers these desires. He is not in the habit of turning down invitations. Not stingy, but selective. Psalm 63 – God rewards this desire. He also give this desire. Exchange. If you want to know God’s increased presence – God making his presence known in increasing ways and measures, you have to lose something in exchange. Christ has purchased the Holy Spirit for us by his death and resurrection. We are not talking about earning the gift of God’s Spirit. We are saying if you want to have an increased capacity to be filled by him and to experience him, you must make room for Him by exchanging the very thing you are trusting in to give you fullness. You have to exchange all the counterfeit joys and securities that you are holding to. Exchange Sin for Increased Presence – you can’t grieve the Spirit and experience more of his presence in your life. Exchange Reputation (Dignity) for Increased Presence – if you desire increased favor with God, you will lose favor with others. Paul said, we are fools for Christ’s sake. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost filling the people with joy and power many mocked them. Spiritually speaking, God gives us what we want. If you want men’s approval, God says, You can have it. But if you want the favor of God and power of God and increased presence of God, you will have to lose your affections for the approval of people. God’s Spirit leads us to do uncomfortable things that lead to the loss of reputation. Times in my life, where I have resisted the Holy Spirit out of fear of embarrassment and I have no idea what I forfeited as a result.
What needs to be exchanged in your life? What is keeping you from experiencing more of God’s presence in your life making you a compelling person that is doing something about this world? New York City does not need another church that is just words; it does not need any more Christians whose lives consist in words– but love, power, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

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Sermon Speaker:

JR Vassar

Former Lead Pastor, Apostles NYC