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Rice University sociologist Michael Lindsay has come up with the best way to help the rest of us understand this split. He's the author of the new book, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. After interviewing some 360 evangelicals, Dr. Lindsay believes the split within the movement is between populists and cosmopolitans.
Here's how he describes populists: "Populist evangelicalism depends on mass mobilizations and democratic action. Populist evangelicalism draws sharp divisions between traditional believers (who are "good") and secular activists (who are "bad"). And capitalizing on evangelicalism's preference for simplicity and pragmatism, populist evangelicalism typically eschews theological sophistication or complexity in sermons."
Here's how he describes cosmopolitans: "They travel frequently, are involved in the arts and live affluent lifestyles. Cosmopolitan evangelicals have greater access to powerful institutions, and the social networks they inhabit are populated by leaders from government, business and entertainment. As one leader described it, this is 'move-the-dial Christianity,' in which evangelicals are in a position to use their faith to influence the rest of society." In an interview last week, Dr. Lindsay told me that this divide goes well beyond simplistic notions of left and right. You will find liberal and conservative populists, just as you have liberal and conservative cosmopolitans.
Interesting piece dissecting the two streams of Evangelicalism today. I would have to say that I see it more and more in my travels as well. You have those who are comfortable in being told what to do and how to think. Others want to struggle a bit and explore their faith in a setting that provides some real boundaries for safety. How we get along is going to be the key to all of this. How will we show grace to each other and the world in the midst of our internal struggles is what the outside world is waiting to see.
TEXT:Â Acts 12:1-19
My earliest memory is of my 3rd birthday.Â I remember it so fondly because it was to be such a big celebration.Â Cake, ice cream, and a party with friends.Â What 3 year old boy could want anything better?Â Little did I know that this birthday would be like no other, and like all the rest to follow.Â You see, one of my birthday presents that year was a baby brother.Â A cute, cuddly, bundle of joy.Â That ruined my birthday and ends up sharing my special day each and every year.
The bad taste has about left me.Â I take some consolation that I had 2 birthdays (even though I can't remember them)Â to myself and poor Mark has yet to have one by himself.Â Â Garth Brooks sings a song about the best answers to prayer are the ones that were a "no".Â I echo that sentiment, even though I dare not sing the tune.
The sermon series we are in is entitled "When God gets out of the box" and is a study of ten chapters in the book of Acts.Â During my study this week, it was not readily apparent when God was ever in a box about prayer.Â Scripture is replete with what seems to be contradiction when it comes to this ever important spiritual discipline of prayer.
Let's review a few of the major passages about prayer and see the contradiction that abounds.
And this bring us to our passage this morning.Â A tale of two prisoners let's call it.Â In a few short chapters, it seems that the church has gone from "finding favor with all people" (Acts 2:47) to being persecuted by the Roman government as they sought the favor of theÂ Jewish people.Â How quickly you can go from being "in" to "out".Â There is a sermon in there somewhere.Â The politicians in the room understand what I mean.
Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, and ruler of Judea arrests James and has him put to death by the sword.Â Agrippa found so much favor from the Jews from this one act that he decides that arresting Peter would be a wise move.Â He not only arrested Peter, but to ensure his remaining in captivity, Herod assigned sixteen guards to keep watch in order to assure his safe delivery to the trial.
Okay, do we have the image in our heads?Â The story begins to turn in verse (5) as the writer tells us, "but while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him."Â The word that most of the translations have is earnestly meaning, " strictly in an extended way; hence eagerly, fervently, earnestly"Â The mental image is speaking from the heart while the arms are extended.Â It is a raw and emotional manner of communicating.Â Part humble begging, part expectant waiting, part overwhelmed.Â Think Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane with blood streaming done his face and you get a picture of praying "earnestly".
The writer wants us to know that this is the defining triggering event that changes the course of this narrative.Â The prayers of the faithful are about to be answered in a mighty and powerful way.Â But let's wait just a minute.Â I called this passage a "tale of two prisoners" just a few minutes ago.Â What about James?Â I can't imagine a scenario where the same type of praying wasn't happening for him to be released.Â He was a beloved disciple, an apostle, a special friend of Jesus and an eye witness to the resurrection.Â Certainly the church cared about him just as much as Peter.Â And yet, there is not "but" in his story.
And so in lies the tension in prayer.Â Results.Â How can the same group of people pray for two people with such a drastic difference in outcomes?Â Are we to simply assume that outcomes are purely by chance and therefore prayer has no impact upon them?Â That flies in the face of the rest of the passage and many other passages such as James 5 and Exodus 32.Â Or do we extrapolate this narrative and say that prayer is effective 50% of the time or some other ratio?
I think this tension about results is a major reason why we don't pray.Â How often would you work out if your chances of getting fit were not well quantified?Â Would we stick money in the stock market without a determination of increase in value?Â Let's face it, we are a results driven society.Â The buzz words just from my personal bookshelf are obvious.Â Execution.Â In search of excellence.Â Pay for performance.Â Performance enhancing drugs.Â 7 habits of highly effective people.Â Less is more leadership.Â The one-minute manager.Â Barney goes to the Zoo.Â But when it all stops, do we even know who we are or more importantly who God is?Â
We tend to be practical theologians.Â We determine who God is by how our life turns out.Â A tough stretch in life and we begin to think that God is a deity who doesn't care, can't help, or is punishing us.Â A great stretch of life and we say God is blessing us, He is powerful and mightily holds the keys to the Kingdom.Â Based on results, last August was a terrible time in the life of our church which concluded with the crash of Flight 5191.Â But we cannot say that God left us.Â No, rather than leaving us, we must trust that these events are being used in a way that bring glory to God.
Most Christians, when asked, will admit to feeling inadequate in their prayer life.Â I believe that our felt inadequacy is created by a misdirected emphasis we put on prayer results.Â In order to become an effectiveÂ praying people, we need to stop the merry-go-round of results based theology, get off, and begin looking for another paradigm.Â A paradigm of prayer that transcends results.Â One that is focused on the character of God and not His perceived efficacy.
Prayer will take on a different life when we realize that it is more about a relationship instead of results.Â Think about Adam and Even in the garden.Â God walking with them.Â God talking with them.Â They had a real relationship.Â That is what God intends for us as well.Â He wants to hear from us.Â He waits to hear from us.Â He initiates the contact if we will simply listen.Â Do you have a friend who you love to spend time with?Â Can't wait to have dinner with or talk on the phone to or see at some social function.Â You got that way through spending time with one another, shared experiences, and sharing each others burdens.Â That is what prayer is all about.Â It is our ability to share time with the Creator of the Universe.Â To have a conversation.Â Speaking and listening.Â Not focusing on what He can do for us, but focusing on who He is to us.
Prayer also takes on a new life when we realize that we are called to persistence instead of performance.Â Jesus told his disciples and us today that the key to prayer is persistence.Â Any good relationship takes time and effort.Â Jesus said that we should keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.Â He told two parables about prayer in particular that emphasized this notion of persistence. One of a widow and a judge and the other about a friend asking for bread in the middle of the night.Â Paul continues in the vain when he tells the church in ThessalonicaÂ to "pray without ceasing".
And this brings me to my final point about prayer.Â Prayer takes on a whole new meaning when we focus on our earnestness and not His perceived effectiveness.Â It is our earnest prayer, the kind with our heart wide-open that pleases God.Â At times, I think that the church has made prayer out to be a special art form practiced by only the most skilled.Â In the end, we have pushed people away from prayer instead of inviting them closer.Â Let me go on the record this morning saying that whether we pray aloud, or on our knees, or on the street corner is not the issue.Â Sometimes we get hungÂ up on "how" we pray and feelings of inadequacy overtake us and we simply do not pray.Â God wants to hear from us.Â He does not care where we are or how we say it.Â None of us truly knows how to pray anyway.Â In fact, Romans 8:26 says:
And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for a)we do not know how to pray as we should, but (b)the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
This indicates to me that God "reads" the desires of our heart.Â Words are just our way of expressing what is in the depth of our hearts.Â God does not need these words, just our open and receptive heart.Â Do you see then how little it matters if we "know" how to pray?Â
Let's stop praying what we think God wants to hear from us.Â What others want from us.Â Let us open our hearts with our proverbial arms extended wide and share with God our deepest needs, wants, concerns, fears, joys, and praises.Â That my friends is what God longs for from us.Â No pretenses, just raw emotion flowing from our heart to God.
I said it last week and will reiterate it again.Â One of the keys to our spiritual growth is prayer.Â We cannot kid ourselves into thinking that simply knowledge or what Wesley called mental ascent will grow us closer to God.Â It is a relationship.Â It is an experience.Â It is our very life.Â I believe that our prayer life will begin to take on new meaning when we remove the focus from what God is doing for us and rather place the focus on our relationship we are building, our persistence in praying even when it seems to not be "working", and our earnestness in sharing our heart with God.
TEXT:Â Acts 10:24-48
With the onset of summer and all the re-runs, we have in a good way stopped watching TV much at all.Â Oh, the occasional sporting event or newscast, but for the most part nothing else.Â But in the last week, I have been smitten by a couple of shows on the Discovery Channel.Â One is the show "man versus wild".Â I thought at first it was a take-off of "The Nanny", that show about parenting.Â I just imagined a dad sitting in the living room that was burned down, or a kitchen full of food, on the floor.Â Do you get the image?Â I was scared that it might beÂ a Michael Moore documentary of my home lifeâ¦"man versus wild.
The other show is called "Myth Busters" whereÂ Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage who combine science, special effects and technology to determine if the myth is actually true or an old wives tale handed down for years without merit.Â This past Wednesday evening, Jamie and Adam helped me out quite a bit.Â My wife Susan and I had a rather pleasant discussion about cell-phone use while pumping gas.Â She was under the impression that it was against the law, or at least a bad idea because cell-phones could cause a spark which might ignite the station.Â I, of course, have never seen a cell-phone on fire, nor a gas station explode.Â Have you?Â I didn't think so.
These urban legends, or myths, or old wives tales (ever wonder why there not called old husbands tales, or high school boys tales, orâ¦you get the point?) are fascinating to me.Â We order our lives around them in many ways.Â Take the cell-phone one I just mentioned.Â Or what about these:
Us religious types are not immune to this.Â Do you know what the most quoted scripture is?Â "God helps those who help themselves?"Â Do you know where it is in the Bible?Â Good.Â But it is a quote from Ben Franklin and not in the Bible.Â My Mother, for years, tried to tell my brother and I that, "cleanliness is next to godliness."Â I learned in seminary that this is not in the Bible.Â Years of guilt just melted away!
Religion, in its simplest sense is a set of common beliefs and practices, both corporate and personal, generally held by a group of people.Â It is those things we hold out as truths that we center our words, deeds, and very lives around.Â And it is these beliefs that dictate who we are and what we as a people and individuals are becoming.Â Everyone, even athiests are religious.Â We all have a set of beliefs that we hold as truth.Â Some are very helpfulÂ to our lives, some are holding us back from God.
There are many I struggle with and am sure you do to?Â I grew up in a highly segregated town.Â My words, actions and thoughts were not what they needed to be in terms of racial issues.Â It wasn't until after college that God showed me the err of my ways and I have been working toward righting many wrongs ever since.Â Upon comingÂ to the United Methodist Church, I did not think that women should be in a pastoral role of ministry. It is through God's grace that I have come to understand how wrong I was.Â Maybe it is not a major social issue for you, perhaps it is not wanting to look silly in public.Â Or your belief that success is defined by education, wealth, and prestige.Â Or the belief that your past wrongs will never be let go of and that they invalidate any good you can do in the future.Â Those are just a few of my "beliefs" that I have am constantly working on.
Both of the figures in our passage this morning carried with them "expectations"Â and a set of beliefs that could have impacted their actions.Â Remember Peter, the first thing he does upon entering Cornelius' house is to proclaim, "I shouldn't be here."Â That is what I call some serious baggage.
Peter had a religion, a set of beliefs, that were central to his life and more importantly his salvation.Â The purity standards for the nation of Israel were not just good things to do, they were imperative.Â And it is in this context that PeterÂ
Cornelius, a roman soldier in the Italian regiment, also was part of a culture that dictated much of his actions and thinking. His co-horts in the roman military were not inclined to be nice to Jews, give to the poor, much less pray to God.Â He was definitely part of a society hostile toward the God of Jacob and Jesus his son.
Both of these men were willing to set aside what their religion, set of beliefs,Â and move toward what God wanted from them.Â Peter had so much to lose by becoming "unclean" as he met with the Gentiles of this story.Â And Cornelius was breaking from his culture as well when he was kind to the Jews and gave to the poor and prayed to God.
Jesus understood the temptation we would have to conform to our personal belief system.Â He also knew that it would dragÂ us away from God.Â In Mark chapter 8 verse 34 Jesus says,
NLT Mark 8:34 Then he called his disciples and the crowds to come over and listen. "If any of you wants to be my follower," he told them, "you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life. 36 And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul(1 )in the process? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?
We sit here this morning with God wanting to use us.Â That is a given based on Scripture.Â Many times it is our belief system, our religion, that prevents us from being used.Â I wonder if Jesus' words were ringing in Peter's ear about losing one's life in order to gain God's kingdom?Â For both Peter and Cornelius had much to lose.Â Peter, a way of life andÂ a people.Â For Cornelius, a livelihood, power, and prestige.Â We know that they made the right decision by losing their religion, but what about us?
So, how do we know what to let go of?Â How do we tell the difference between what is our "set of beliefs" and what is "God's ordained will to follow?" How can we get to the place where our religion is made up of truth from God and not self-delusional facts that we hold in order to satisfy ourselves and those around us?Â I am not sure I fully know.Â How is that for an answer!Â Let's wrestle with this question for a minute.
In 2 Chronicles 7:14, GodÂ says to King Solomon upon completion of the Temple that,
Â "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
Remember Peter and Cornelius?Â The place they started "losing their religion" is through their humility.Â Â Â Both were not too proud as to not understand how empty their former belief system was compared to what God was offering.Â They were willing to be teachable, and open to what God might be doing in their lives.Â It is through our humility that we are able to see our true lives and ascertain what we may be carrying around with us that is carrying us away from God.
Jan Johnson, a noted author and lecturer on prayer, says that as we sit down and pray we should acknowledge all the hats we are wearing to our time with God.Â There's that "pleaser" hat, and perfectionist hat, and materialistic hat, and lack of self-esteem hat.Â Identify them so that we can begin to discern if the voice is God we are hearing or if it is our own.Â
HumilityÂ allows us to see ourselves as incomplete and therefore opens the door for God to work.Â It is humility that softens our heartsÂ so that we can hear from God.Â And it is hearing from God that changes us, not our will.
Think about Peter and Cornelius for a moment.Â Where did they first come to realize that God was calling them to do something?Â How did they do their waiting?Â It was in prayer.Â We cannot expect to hear a word from God.Â We cannot expect to be able to discern what in our life is holding us back from God's pleasure unless we listen.Â Peter did, and God spoke to him and led him to understand that because of what Christ had done on the Cross, the Jewish system of salvation via purity laws were null and void.Â Major change.Â Major message.Â Major hearing.Â Same way with Cornelius, he was in a time of prayer and God sent an angel to give instructions to send for Peter who would bring the Gospel Message.
I have to be honest with you this morning.Â I am in a bit of a dry and dusty land in terms of prayer.Â I sit down to pray and my mind wanders, the phone rings, I get email.Â It just seems that I am way off track.Â Now, I know that God knows my needs, he understands my hurts, and is there for me.Â I don't worry about that.Â But what I do get concerned about is MY MISSING God's instruction for me.Â He may know what I need, but I don't know what He wants.Â I don't want to go off on some tangent that I think is God's will when God really has something very different in mind if I will just listen.
Along with prayer, Scripture is another important way God speaks to us.Â The Bible is not so much an instruction book as it is a love story.Â But it does in place hold great themes of instruction.Â Take James 3:17 for instance.Â You want to know what God's wisdom looks like?Â Ever need to discern if the answer you receive came from your wants or from God's heart.Â Hear these words,
" But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere."
James gives us almost a check-list to work from.Â Think about the list in context with Peter and Cornelius.Â Was it pure?Â Was it full of good works?Â Was it peaceable?Â Was it willing to yield to others?Â Yes, Yes and Yes.Â I believe that Scripture is God's primary vehicle of speaking to us.Â As 2 Timothy 3:17 says,
NLT 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17 It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.
We cannot hope to understand God's will for our lives without studying God's word for our lives.Â If we want to discern what in our life is false beliefs, I know no better way to start than to become immersed in Scripture.
Peter and Cornelius lost their religion alright.Â And in its place, gained God's favor.Â I'd say that is a pretty good trade-off.Â The same can be said for you and me today.Â What things are you wrestling with in your life?Â What is holding control over you?Â Expectations of others?Â Need for control?Â A past failure that you think invalidates any future good?Â Or maybe a life choice in terms of job or school or family matters?Â Are we attempting to gain the whole world, and in the end losing our life?Â I echo Jesus' words by saying, what benefit is that?
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."