Playing the Game (9/4/2016)

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The book of Acts tells about the formation of the church. It started in Jerusalem with a small group of people who were dedicated to Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave them boldness so they began to share the Gospel. People were being saved and miracles were happening. However, the Jewish leaders weren’t happy about it.

Acts 5:17-42 says17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.

When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.

25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.

27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Some people love ball practice. One of my high school friends couldn’t wait for football practice to start so he could run, hit and learn plays. I, on the other hand, didn’t enjoy it so much. Practice started on August 1st. I was still in the middle of summer activities on our family farm. Plus, for two weeks in August, we had 2-a-day practices. We practiced in the morning and then sat around for two and a half hours before having an afternoon practice. I realize that long break was supposed to be used to rest and study the playbook. For me it was a waste of time. I hated sitting around and waiting.

Even though there were many things about football practice I didn’t like, I knew it was necessary if I wanted to play the game. People who didn’t come to practice didn’t get in the game very much. They weren’t in shape to play and they had very little knowledge about how to run the plays.

Our scripture lesson begins with the twelve disciples in jail for preaching that Jesus is the Messiah. However, they didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “Hey, let’s go out and do evangelism for Jesus.” They had prepared. A lot.

They spent three years by Jesus’ side. They experienced awe and wonder when they watched him heal chronic illnesses and raise the dead. Sometimes they were confused when they couldn’t understand what Jesus was trying to teach them. Fear gripped them when Jesus was arrested and savagely executed.

After Jesus resurrected and ascended, the Holy Spirit filled them. Then they spent time praying and asking Jesus for guidance. As the church grew, they experienced great successes as well as devastating setbacks.

As a follower of Jesus, do you prepare to serve him? Do you spend time reading his word even though you might think it’s a waste of time because you could be doing other things? Do you prepare in advance to do your ministry activities? Are you willing to walk with Jesus through both the successes and setbacks of ministry?

If our answers to these questions are “No. Not really.” in reality we aren’t playing very much because we aren’t conditioned and we don’t know the plays.

Several years ago, an acquaintance of mine name Jim was coaching little league football. One of the players, David, wasn’t very good. He didn’t put much effort into practice or try to improve his skills.

Even so, Jim made an effort to play every one during the game. Once when Jim was going to put David in the game, he yelled, “David” and looked to where David usually sat on the bench. David wasn’t there. Jim scanned the area and found him. David was sitting in the bleachers talking to his mother, while still wearing all of his football pads.

Jim looked at him and asked, “Do you want to play?”

“No,” was the reply.

Jim didn’t force him to go in the game and David didn’t help his team at all.

We can learn an important point from David. No person has ever helped win a game by sitting on the bench or hiding in the locker room.

As Christians, Jesus commands us to get involved and play the game. Christianity isn’t meant to be a spectator sport.

The disciples were playing. They were out on the field. Their game was dangerous.

The Sanhedrin, which was the ruling Jewish council in Jerusalem, was zealous as well as jealous. They were zealous for their faith. For centuries God required worship to be centered around the Temple in Jerusalem. Why would he change that now? They were jealous of the fact that masses of common people were following a movement which excluded their leadership.

Something new, something they didn’t understand was happening right in front of them. They didn’t know what to do so they did what most humans do in these situations. They reacted with fear and violence.

It doesn’t appear any member of the Sanhedrin said, “Wait a minute. People are being healed. Miracles are happening. These men somehow escaped from secure jail cells. Instead of fleeing they went back to preaching in the Temple courts. These things aren’t natural. Are we missing something?”

They were blind to what God was doing.

Do you know who has trouble seeing what God is doing today? People who were part of what God was doing in the past. They have trouble accepting the fact God does things different as times and people change. The disciples were running new plays but the Sanhedrin didn’t want to get involved.

If you’re called by God, the Gifts Discernment Team, and this congregation to be a team leader, deacon or to serve in other ways, are you willing to pray about it and get involved if God confirms the calling? Or will you prefer sitting in the stands with your family and watching others do it?

If you are using your spiritual gifts and talents in ministry right now, are you giving God your very best?

During my freshman year in high school, our football team played an away game at White Sulphur Springs, WV. I was the center on offense and White Sulphur played a 6-man line on defense. This meant there was no one lined up directly across from me. During the first half, one of their linebackers took off running straight at me and hit me before I snapped the football. I’ll be honest. He hit me hard. I assumed he simply misjudged the snap count.

However, my assumption was challenged in the second half. Again I was lined up ready to snap the ball. Our quarterback, John, was behind me barking out signal counts. As I scanned the defense, I saw the linebacker start towards me. Both John and I knew that if we moved, we would be offside and our team would be penalized. So we stood there waiting to see what would happen. Before we snapped the ball, the linebacker plowed into me again. This time he didn’t hit me hard. He hit me really, really, really, really hard. It was the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life. He knocked me into John and we both went tumbling backwards. As I staggered to my feet, I saw his teammates laughing and giving him high fives. At this point, I realized something. These plays weren’t accidents. He didn’t misjudge the snap counts. He did this intentionally. Perhaps he wanted to intimidate me.

Do you know what I did next? I waited for the referee to walk off the 5-yard penalty against him. Then I lined up over the ball and kept playing.

The disciples were intentionally imprisoned, threatened with death and flogged – all for nothing more than proclaiming Jesus is the Messiah. The Sanhedrin tried to intimidate them. Do you know what they did at this point? They left rejoicing they were worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. They kept playing the game. They persevered.

Our game isn’t easy. Sometimes we’ll drop the ball. Occasionally we’ll get in a hurry and jump offside. Once in a while we won’t hear the snap count and everyone else will start without us. It’s OK. We line back up and we keep playing.

It’s true that we might get battered and bruised when we play on Jesus’ team but that’s the only way to achieve victory. God’s kingdom doesn’t continue to unfold here on earth unless his followers are willing to prepare, play and persevere in serving him.