Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Celebrate What God has Done!

There was once a great and mighty citadel of the faith. It’s members were many, it’s band large, it’s youth growing in the faith, it’s members organized and energized, it’s outreach far and wide, it’s services many and multiplied, and it’s reputation, as one of the premier citadels of the mighty army.

Long it endured in the golden circle of great bastions, led by great heroes of the faith forward and onward. But not so long ago the citadel experienced a mighty fall. It’s leader had done terrible things in secret and the secrets were exposed.

The once mighty citadel fell into disrepair, the doors closed, and the facility was shut. Yet five years later, the citadel rose from the grave, led on by a series of new heroes who attempted valiantly to bring the fallen citadel back to it’s once mighty prestige.

The citadel that had once been dead, rose back to life, though it never did regain the renown and might it once held. Yet the rebirth was secure, and a new day had come, and all would be well.

This is the story of The Salvation Army Owosso.

In many of the most difficult transitions and changes in our lives we eventually come to a point where we realize everything is going to be ok. We’ve walked through the dark feelings, the grief, the depression, and we’ve found a new path.

The disciples of the Lord Jesus have been through an astonishing and difficult journey. They first saw Jesus betrayed and arrested. Peter himself denied he even knew Jesus. They saw their dearest friend their Lord crucified, killed, and buried.

Yet three days later they saw the unthinkable happen, Jesus rose from the dead. Nothing like this had ever happened in human history. Suddenly everything was different.

Jesus helped Peter and the others to repent after having abandoned him during the crucifixion. He encouraged and restored them. And they were shocked.

Have you ever had an experience in your life where you thought it was all over and suddenly, everything changed?

It’s an extremely energizing experience. It fills you with hope. You begin to believe that there is good in the world and that good things can happen.

So Jesus is with the disciples, appearing them again and again over a period of forty days.

Then we see a particular occasion when Jesus gives the disciples special instructions:

“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” –Acts 1:4-5

In difficult changes in life, traumatic events, sudden shifts, we do experience pain and grief, yet at the other end of the transition we often find a very unexpected and blessed gift.

For the disciples they are told to wait patiently for God the Father to send the Holy Spirit to live within them.

Again we see waiting, patience, trusting God in the waiting. But they’ve just saw Jesus rise from the dead. They’ve seen a dead man alive again and eating with them and teaching them. They’ve seen the impossible happen.

Yet I bet it was still hard to wait for the Spirit. We’ve all seen God do amazing things in our lives and in the lives of those around us. But how quickly we forget and begin to doubt again.

In Owosso, when I moved here, I was hit very hard by fear and depression, coming here to a place where I knew no one. It would’ve been easy to give up or quit. But I found a family of people that I love. The gift was waiting on the other side of fear and pain.

C.S Lewis after great loss in his life indicated he was surprised by joy suddenly. He said joy bursts into our lives when we stop trying to manipulate events and do the good in front of us God has given us to do.

Next we see the disciples question Jesus:

“Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:6-8

The disciples expect that now, right now, Jesus will set everything right. Right now. They assume Jesus will take his seat on the throne of Israel and begin overthrowing the roman empire.

But that isn’t what happens at all.

When big changes happen we assume, alright well this must be the end. It’s all over. But it’s actually just one step along the way.

I know every place I’ve been to do ministry, it feels permanent while I’m there, it feels like the end all be all, until I move to the next place God calls me.

Many days it feels like Jesus could return any moment. But time keeps going.

Jesus redirects us away from what we’re expecting, to what he’s actually planning.

So, so, so many times I have expectations about what God is going to do next. Or what God wants me to focus on. Or what God has for me to do that day. And God will completely change my focus, and completely redirect me toward something totally different.

Can you relate? Like C.S. Lewis said, those things we think of as interruptions are actually our life.

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day.” -C.S. Lewis

God uses change to redirect.

Which is sometimes hard.

Can you imagine how the disciples have longed for the restoration of Israel? Day and night they must’ve longed for it. Their whole lives they had believed a messiah would come who would defeat the romans.

Instead Jesus essentially says actually you’re going to be leaving Israel, I’m not going to restore Israel right now. I’m sending you to the world to preach the gospel. I wonder if they felt disappointed or even angry.

But God redirects us toward His plan, not our own. Our emotions catch up later.

Next, we see the big moment, Jesus is gone.

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” –Acts 1:9-11

The disciples have their instructions, wait for the Holy Spirit. Jesus is now gone, back up to heaven, to the right hand of the Father.

Jesus is promised to return one day, by two messengers of God who suddenly appear with the disciples.

Can you imagine seeing Jesus rise up into the sky? That is crazy. He lifts off the ground and launches into heaven. That’s beyond anything we could imagine. And yet two thousand years ago it happened right in front of their eyes.

They were on the mount of olives. Which leads many to believe that when Jesus returns, he will return on the mount of olives.

But the disciples are caught up in the moment. I think sometimes in big changes we freeze up. We’re so traumatized we just stop. We get stuck in trauma. We get stuck in depression. We give up, in the extreme troubles.

Don’t get stuck in the past. Don’t get stuck in the way things used to be. Embrace the new.

It’s a good reminder from the messengers of God, don’t just stand here looking into the sky. Get to work. The victory is won. The Lord has given us good work to do. Now let’s get to it!

Next, we see in verses 12-14: “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” –Acts 1:12-14

What do the disciples do? They keep gathering together. And they engage in constant times of prayer.

When my day is messed up, or I’m feeling depressed or I’m upset, the best thing I can always do and go somewhere quiet and begin praying. Not just a few words, but a good long sustained prayer, telling God exactly how I feel.

Prayer is the answer.

Always remember that. I can’t think of many situations where prayer isn’t the answer.

Early on in recovery I would feel thirsty for a drink, and I would go into the side bedroom at my mom’s old house, and get on my face before God, on my knees, and say, "God help me."

When I was devastated because a romantic relationship didn’t work out, I would find that quiet place, and pray, "God help me."

When work was crazy and I feel so exhausted and empty and stressed, I find that quiet place, and sit down on my chair, and say "Lord, I just can’t right now."

When drama blows up on social media and people are criticizing me, I shut the computer off, lay down in bed, and start talking to God in the darkness.

Get alone and prayer. Better yet, get together with a group of others and pray together. I would say of all the meetings we’ve hosted at The Salvation Army, the ones I loved most were our prayer meetings. Once a month, or once a week during kettle season, we would gather in the morning in the chapel and pray together for a good hour. It was wonderful.

The disciples gather together it says “constantly” in prayer. Daily I think this means, they would have set times where they would all gather and talk to God. What if you did that? Outside of church, you invited people over and prayed? How would your life change? How would your church change?

Next we see in verses 15-26 that the disciples gather to find a replacement for Judas, who had betrayed Jesus.

It says in 23-26: “So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” –Acts 1:23-26

This is a good reminder that not everyone who gathers among us in the church are actually of us. Many will come and go.

Many have come to me after services and asked me, “Where is so and so?” And I would often simply say, I have no idea. Many simply stop coming. That’s not always a bad thing either.

They may have moved to a new area, or God called them elsewhere. But, just as often, I think it’s they’ve abandoned the mission.

Often, as we pray God will remove from the body people who are disruptive or dangerous as well. So always pray in those circumstances. Just as much, pray for those who depart, that God would restore them to the fellowship.

Not everyone makes it through a hard transition. Many will give up unfortunately and depart. Pray for them. And if you can, go and visit them, and minister to them. Maybe they need a loving friend to encourage them to come back.

Yet God will often add someone new to take their place, someone who will become a new part of our family. Praise the Lord! 

So the disciples wait and wait, they meet together and pray, they keep the fellowship, and finally, finally, finally the day comes.

Notice how they kept meeting together, they didn’t drift apart. So then it says:

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” -Acts 2:1-4

Breakthroughs and victories come when we least expect it.

The power of God descends suddenly, rapidly, unexpectedly.

In the driest seasons of my life, where it feels like God is a million miles away, and the coldness and bitterness of daily life seems to reign supreme, and I’m just trying to hold on the downward trajectory of sorrow and pain, it’s in those moments when it seems least likely that God could ever break through into that dryness, it’s in those times, when I’ve waited patiently, that suddenly God breaks through, and the dry desert turns to a lush blooming forest.

Do you believe He can? You haven’t seen it yet. You’ve tasted the rough sand in your mouth for so long. Do you still believe He can? I still believe.

The Holy Spirit bursts forth into that place where the disciples are gathered and they are shocked and excited, and amazed! Tongues of fire separate and descend into each believer. They are filled with the Spirit. And they begin speaking in new languages. They are empowered by God now, for victory, for service.

Peter preaches a mighty sermon to the crowds who witness this event, and three thousand people get saved. This begins their ministry, empowered by the Spirit of God.

They now do what their Master did. They mimic what Jesus did. They proclaim it bravely. Through the Holy Spirit, the body of believers grows. And they prosper. They achieve victory.

And it brings celebration, devotion, love, unity, and every good thing. That’s what we’ve seen here at the salvation army, and we should celebrate.

It says in Acts 2:42-47: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Celebration. Rejoicing. Praising God. Enjoying the favor of all people. Signs and wonders performed by the apostles. Devotion to the teachings of God, fellowship with one another, and eating together, and to prayer.

These are all hallmarks of the church, the body of Christ, us.

They sold property and possessions and gave to anyone in need. Everyday they met together. They met in each other’s homes. Their hearts were sincere.

And the Lord kept adding to their number daily, those who were being saved. Wow.

Now that’s a reason to celebrate. Celebrate what God has done here, what God is doing, and what God will do in the future friends.

Review of Main Points:

1. In change we often find a surprising gift

2. God uses change to redirect us

3. Trauma causes us to Freeze Up

4. Prayer is the Answer

5. Some will depart during transitions

6. Breakthrough comes when we least expect it

7. Celebrate

He is faithful. He is faithful for the future just as much as he has been in the past. Trust Him for the road ahead. Though it seems so very uncertain, God is trustworthy, our part is to hold on tight as God begins to do a new thing in our lives. The future is bright. Praise the Lord!