Last week I attended our Pacific Southwest Conference annual celebration. While I was there I attended a workshop on growing churches. Paul Wilson, our Superintendent was the facilitator. He made a profound point about power. He said that there are two great powers in this age. The first is the power to divide and the second is the power to unite. From a biblical worldview, we know that behind the power to divide is our arch enemy the Devil. It is his primary role in this age to divide people. History shows he has done a good job! Whether on a macro level or a micro level, we are living in a time of great divisions. Sadly, even in the body of Christ there are divisions among believers. In our series in the book of Acts, we will be observing how God was able to keep the unity among the body of Christ as they faced extreme challenges both within and from outside the body. This happened because there is a greater power in the world! That power is in the Holy Spirit of God! He is able to break down walls of division and unite people in Jesus. Paul writes in Ephesians that Christ broke down the barriers through the work on the cross. The Spirit takes this work of Christ and applies it in the hearts of everyone who truly comes in faith to Jesus. We need to be praying earnestly for God’s Spirit to break into our world. It begins with Christians uniting around Jesus and living out the Gospel both in the church and in the world. When I reflect on this in terms of our own context, we must work hard at maintaining our unity in Christ here in Eagle Rock. It begins with our own Christian community and then our brothers and sisters who fellowship around us. Then it is living in peace as much as possible with our neighbors. We have a purpose and that is being Jesus here!
One of the early Christian leaders was Barnabas. Luke introduces him in Acts four. Barnabas is his Christian name.It was common for early Christian converts to have a name change. As a person was preparing for baptism, the members of the body of Christ would pray and the Spirit would prompt them to give a name that reflects something unique to that individual. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, must have reflected a strong spirit of encouragement. His new name, Barnabas, means Son of Encouragement! I bring this up because I experienced someone’s encouragement this week. I was doing an errand for my friend and ran into a brother that I used to be his pastor. We haven’t seen each other in a few years and I was so glad to see him. What blew me away was his appreciation for my teaching. He told me that the reason he will be in heaven is because of my preaching and teaching! He will be in the Kingdom because of Jesus, but I was so grateful to have a part in his faith. What it did for me was give me a great dose of encouragement. He didn’t know it at the time, but I needed to hear from God that what I do does make a difference. The next day someone encouraged me by letting me know how much my teaching has meant to them. Wow! God knew what I needed and it got me thinking how much we need to be encouraged! Life is hard and if you are a decent person and a person of faith, you are trying your best to be what God wants you to be. The problem is that we don’t always get the encouragement that we need. For me, encouragement makes me want to do better. Encouragement is from God’s Spirit and we that are Christian should be the most encouraging people in the world. Let me encourage you today. God loves you despite your faults, weaknesses and sins that keep plaguing your life! Pentecost provides both forgiveness and the Spirit of God. Today is a new day and your are loved!
Occasionally I get asked, “Are we living in the last days?”. This question is tied to the promise of Christ’s return. The people who ask this question are usually relating current events to the prophetic words of the Bible. My first response to this question is yes! We have been living in the last days since God poured out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Since day one of God’s outpouring, Christians have been anticipating Christ’s return. I am sure that the earliest Christians would have been dumbfounded if they knew that the age of the Spirit would last at least this long! I remember when I first received the Spirit. It was a time of great harvest among my generation. With all that was happening in the world at that time, I was caught up with great anticipation of Christ’s return. As years went by and I settled down to adult life, my sense of anticipation seemed to wane. I did have friends who would sit around and talk about end times, but my sense was that God was not finished in doing the work of reconciliation. Where are we now and what is to be our posture as Christ’s followers? I do not believe that the book of Revelation is an outline of things to come. It is primarily a first century book that reveals the truth in a symbolic way of the latter first century world. What it does prophetically, is give us a way to perceive the forces of evil that continually crop its head in history. It warns us of the totalitarian urge of the powers that be. We only have to look at the last century to see that these forces are dynamically at work among humanity. We see these totalitarian forces at work today! In the West, these forces are at work in secular, progressive movements that in the name of compassion are taking away our God given freedoms. In other parts of the world, radical religious extremists seek to destroy Christians and Jews and set up a world order that looks very familiar to the beast of Revelation. Our ever expanding global world that ties economic and technological forces look more like the Whore of Babylon every day! The names may change, but the reality of evil will continue to grow until God says, “Enough!”. Until that day comes, we are to be faithful in our witness that only Jesus is Lord. With ever increasing evil will come persecution. We see it happening right now. We must not get fooled with words of comfort and escape from tribulation. We must remain faithful and trust that God will keep what we have committed until the day of Christ’s return. Yes these are the last days!