Sunday Preview

October 31, 2013

My message this Sunday is called, “A Strategy for Facing Challenges” from Acts 4:23-31. The Bible does not consist of formulas for success in life. It teaches us that God, who created us, loves us deeply. It teaches us that his son Jesus Christ became a sacrifice for our sins so that we can experience forgiveness, and have eternal life. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. The book of Acts was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is full of stories about how the apostles faced the challenges of sharing the gospel of Christ in a hostile culture. Even though our assignments from the Lord differ from theirs, we too have responsibility to share the gospel with people today.

Each of us faces challenges with our families, our businesses, our friends, and in our ministries. In my message Sunday, we will see wise things that the apostles did when they faced major challenges. If we take a similar approach in our lives, we can be equipped for whatever challenges we face as well.

I met with a group of men this morning that I have been meeting with for over fifteen years. Each week we help each other to process the challenges we face. We pray together and encourage each other. My prayer is that you too will have relationships which will enrich your life with the wisdom and grace of God, so that you will reign in life through Christ.

My message this Sunday is called “How the Disciples Handled Conflict,” from Acts 4:13-22. Sane people do not enjoy conflict. We don’t like to argue, fight, or have major disagreements with people. Yet conflicts are unavoidable for followers of Christ. We cannot share the gospel and advance the Kingdom of God without occasionally running into conflicts with those opposed to Christ. We also have conflicts from time to time in our families, at work, and in the church. Conflicts with those I love are even more disturbing to me than conflicts with people I don’t know well. Fortunately, the same grace that helped the early disciples overcome their fear of conflict when their lives were on the line can help us deal with conflict in our lives.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is full of stories about conflicts. Cain and Abel, the first two brothers fought with each other. Deception, jealousy and lust caused major problems in the lives of Jacob, Joseph, Samson and David. The apostles had disputes with each other, as well as with false teachers. It is not surprising that we face similar issues in our lives today.

The good news is that God’s plans and purposes prevail in spite of the sin and weakness of men. The triumph of Christ can give us confidence in the face of every challenge we face. God’s love for us and his abundance of grace allows us to overcome evil and the fear of man.

I believe this message will be a help to you. I hope you will be praying for God’s grace to be poured out on everyone who comes to worship with us this weekend.

I just returned from a Belize mission trip with ten men from Living Streams and Streams Church. While I was there, my Belizean friend Kenny and I were standing next to a strong, hardened, Belizean man sitting on a workbench at his makeshift tire repair stand. We were talking to him because we sensed Jesus asking us to go and tell the people of Dangriga that their heavenly Father loves them and has good gifts for them.

The conversation was pretty routine. It was a nice conversation, but didn’t seem to be doing much good. We asked if we could pray for him and he obliged. As we were praying we tried to listen and see what gift or word the Father might want to give this man. We did our best to pray God’s heart for him. Then, after Kenny and I finished praying, we looked up and saw huge tears streaming down the face of this strong, hardened man. I don’t know exactly what triggered the waterworks or what melted his dry, calloused heart, but he and his Father do. We ended up hugging and we walked away filled with joy that the message we spoke was not just in word, but in power, thanks to the Holy Spirit.

This weekend we will look at Acts 28 and Acts 1 as we continue the Radical Disciple series. In both chapters we are told that the kingdom of God is preached. We will see what happened when the kingdom of God was preached in the first church’s time and space, what it looked like in Belize, and what it can look like here in Phoenix.

There is a vital characteristic that enables believers to overcome obstacles and be fruitful. It is not discussed in churches very often. It was present in David when he faced Goliath. It was present in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they were thrown into the fiery furnace. It was present in Daniel when he defied the king’s edict and was thrown into the lion’s den. Joshua was told by the Lord four times that this would be essential for his success in leading Israel. It was the characteristic that caused the religious leaders in Jerusalem to marvel when they saw it in Peter and John. It will be the focus of my message to Living Streams this Sunday.

My message from Acts 4:1-13 is called, “The Courage of a Radical Disciple.” We need courage when being a faithful disciple leads us into conflicts. We need courage to obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We need courage to share our faith with nonbelievers. We need courage to invest the gifts and talents the Lord has given us. Without courage we are like the man in Matthew 25 who buried his talent because he was afraid he would lose it. That man was rebuked by the Lord and cast out of the Kingdom. I’m looking forward to sharing this message and I hope you have grace to receive it

I’m heading to my 45th high school reunion in Marin County this month. The dinner will be expensive, and it won’t be served until hours past my usual dinnertime. I won’t be indulging in cocktails beforehand, or much of the dancing at the end. I attend our reunions because I value relationships. It takes effort to establish and maintain good relationships. It’s easy to let them die. I have often been surprised and blessed by relationships I didn’t expect to become special.

On a recent Sunday at Living Streams, I was greeted by Dave Raffi, a friend from high school, right before our service started. Dave was in Phoenix for a family funeral. The first time I saw Dave after high school was at our ten year reunion. He gave me his business card. Later that evening I was talking to some other friends. One of the guys asked, “Have you seen Raffi? Did you know he is a lawyer?”

One of the other guys said, “I thought Raffi was an engineer. He gave me this card.”
I pulled the card Dave gave me out of my wallet. It said David Raffi MD. We had a good laugh when we compared his cards. None of us had a clue what he was really doing. In those days Dave was a character. These days he is following Jesus.

I didn’t have good character in high school. By my senior year I had become an immoral, drug-dealing narcissist. I don’t go to reunions because I’m proud of my past. I go because I’m hoping I can share the goodness and grace of God with old friends who are open to receive it. Dave Raffi and I have been transformed by Jesus Christ. We want our friends to hear the good news about Jesus as well.

At a family reunion in 1980, I met my mother’s cousin, Alvar Platt. During World War II, Alvar was flying missions over Germany as a gunner on a B-17. On May 1, 1943 Alvar’s dad was driving to the church in Manteca, California, where he was the pastor. He suddenly had a burden to pray for Alvar. He pulled his car over to the side of the road and began to cry out to the Lord for his son. Two weeks later he received a notice from the Air Force that Alvar’s plane had been shot down. Alvar was missing in action.

While returning from a bombing run over Germany, Alvar’s plane was attacked by a squadron of German fighters. Alvar was reaching down to put on his parachute when machine gun bullets tore through the plane, hitting the seat he had been in moments earlier. Four bullets ripped through his legs. The gunner next to him was killed immediately. The plane crashed into the English Channel at 200 MPH. Alvar was badly wounded and trapped in the sinking plane. He was starting to drown when suddenly a large wave pushed the wing of the plane up. Alvar was propelled to the surface by the grace of God.

A life raft on the plane had inflated when they hit the water. Alvar was pulled onto the raft by four other survivors. The rest of his crew was killed. His leg wounds were agonizing and bleeding. The salt water kept infection at bay while they drifted for two days. As they drifted into the ocean the second night, they fired a flare. They were rescued by French fisherman who turned them over to the Germans.

If you meet Alvar, who is now ninety-four, he will tell you he spent time in Paris, and then studied music in Vienna during the war. What he means, is that he was in a hospital in Paris, then sent to a prisoner of war camp in Austria, where he learned to play the guitar. He will also tell you he loves the Lord. Jesus saved his soul in 1925, and saved his life in 1940. Alvar has blessed me and prayed for our ministry since 1980. I only met him because our family values relationships. God’s family is built on relationships. We have been told to love one another like Jesus loves us. Sharing Christ’s love is how God’s family grows, and how we bear good fruit.

I’ve been noticing that a lot of people seem excited at the beginning of the change of seasons. I know I am. Sometimes the natural is an indication of the spiritual. I believe we are about to experience a new season spiritually as a church—a season of refreshing and of harvest.
I’m also excited to be speaking at Living Streams this Sunday. My message will fit in with the series “Radical Disciple,” that Mark and David have started. It will be entitled “Power, Love and a Sound Mind.” We’ll look at 2 Timothy 1:1-7 and learn how to overcome fear and fan the fire of God’s Spirit in our lives.
My hope is that our eyes will be open to understand and receive these wonderful resources that God has freely given us, to enable us to be radical for him. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will stir his passion in our lives and empower us for the new season ahead!