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A church worthy of blessing

September 23, 2012

16th Sunday of Holy Trinity-The everlasting things

“It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

Acts 12:1-11

Today I wanted to preach about God’s blessing. I especially want to make you aware that churches can receive the blessing of God. What is God’s blessing? The blessing of God or God’s favor, according to the dictionary, is to have support, protection, shelter and help from God at all times, not only in good times, but especially in tough times.
And the church that is worthy to receive the blessing promised by God is a church that believes in the right to receive that blessing. That makes this blessing, we could say: be set by default in the church at all times.

This morning you may be wondering: Why do I need to hear about God’s blessing for the church? Perhaps you are instead wondering, how can I get God’s favor touching my life, so that I can sort out my own problems. This morning you may have problems with your health, the economy, problems with your neighbor, family problems, emotional problems that come with old age or even things from the past that are not in order. The truth is that today, you’re likely thinking about yourself and what you want most is that God may bless you. And you’re right, but the only way God can bless you completely and permanently with favor is when you receive God’s favor through your own church.
Do you truly want God’s favor which can help you to solve your problems? I promise you today, you will leave the church knowing how to receive it. Let me tell you how it works.

The early Christians began to be persecuted. Our text reports that Herod began the persecution of Christians. In this case, he had James killed. Herod openly persecuted Christians to please the Jewish people, who were always upset with the sect of Christians. Peter was well known as the leader of the church in Jerusalem, which is why he was also arrested. His importance is shown by the number of guards that were assigned to watch him (four times four). This miracle of Peter being freed by the Angel is the principal subject of the story (vv 3-11) Luke describes in detail the sequence of events as the angel frees Peter. To Peter himself it seemed like a dream (“a vision” v 9), even he had not expected to be released. But a miracle happened: God used angels to free Peter. The chance for Peter to be released was very small. But this ‘miracle’ could be because there was a church calling upon God’s power: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him”.

There are two important things that we can take from the experiences of the first Christians. Firstly: God works miracles. God gives power to make supernatural things happen. God intervenes. God changes things for humans when it seems impossible to change. Even Peter, the apostle of Christ, could almost not believe what was happening. But the early Christian church was favored with the blessing of God.
Secondly: Those miracles or interventions of God’s favor to his church occur from the faith and prayer of a congregation that has received the favor of God. God wants to protect the mission of the church and, of course, each of its members.

Every time I hear Christians lament that it can be difficult to change some situations or to solve circumstances within the church, I think of the experiences of these early Christians. And I realize that God’s favor really exists for the church and if we imitate the fervor that the early church had to invoke the favor of God through prayer, we can also have it.
Maybe today you’re thinking about the future of our church and what could be done to change what seems so difficult. Here’s an example of what we can do and that is to pray.
We all know that through prayer we call upon God’s favor. But before we go on, we must ask ourselves: Do we consider ourselves worthy of this favor? To be worthy of God’s favor, first you have to believe in God. I’m sure that everyone of us here today believe in God. The second step is to trust him. That is to believe that he can change the difficult situations that our church may be living through. Do you think it is possible? If you can answer yes, today, then I can tell you that our church is worthy of God’s favor. So all we need to do is start praying for God to show his favor in our church.

When every one of us begins to pray and believe in God’s power, then the church begins to have God’s blessing. That blessing of God, pardon the example, becomes like a nuclear power plant of God’s power. Divine radiation from God’s favor begins to radiate and show in the church, as was the case with these early Christians.
Logically that radiation will touch us all. That radiation will go with us to our homes. We will not let go of it. And his power will take action in our homes too. That’s why it is so important to come to church because a praying church is a ‘radioactive’ generator for God’s divine power.
It is God’s favor that will change the church, will improve it, will bear fruit and will grow it. If we begin to turn to the favor of God in the church, all your problems will begin to be resolved, because that is God’s wish too.
God not only wants us to survive as a church and as individuals, he wants us to grow and to multiply.

Do you know what the firms General Electric, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Microsoft have in common? All of these innovative corporations originated during a severe economic downturn or a depression.
Challenges have served as catalysts for creativity, innovation, and accomplishment throughout human history. Yet when times grow tough and things are not going our way, it is tempting to just hunker down. Thoughts of increase and moving forward are put on hold.

News reports of sinking companies or personal problems of our own can tempt us to think: If I can just hold on, maybe I can make it through another day, another month, another year. If we are not careful, we can develop this survival mentality, this conservative mentality. We stop releasing our faith. We stop believing that we can rise any higher. We just try to maintain the status quo, to keep our heads above water, to break even. What would have happened if the first Christians had thought that way after the death of Jacob?
We are not supposed to break even. We are supposed to break through to a new level, to more of God’s good, to increase, to receive promotion, to grow.
I have known people who have been through tough times. Maybe a relationship did not work out, or they experienced some kind of disappointment, and even though things improved, they never stopped thinking of themselves as survivors. I saw a guy on TV wearing a T-shirt that said, “I survived Hurricane Katrina”. I wanted to congratulate him for surviving one of the worst storms in the history of the USA, but then I wanted to tell him that you can’t stay in survival mode. You can’t always be the victim: I just have to hold on. No, you are not just a survivor. You are more than a conqueror.
I realize some seasons are more difficult. Not every season is a time to harvest. Sometimes we go through trying times where it seems like things are drying up and getting a little more challenging. Part of the problem is that we have heard so many stories about victims and survivors. Yet, there are conquerors in every situation. Even in Hurricanes and Earthquakes and wars there are heroes.
A scripture in Jeremiah says that if we will give the Lord our trust and confidence, God will have us prosper even in the desert. He will even make us prosperous in difficult times. He will make it so that we can grow even in times of shortage. That means when others are going under, God says you will go over.
When other people, in business, are losing clients and business is slow, God is bringing you new clients. When companies are laying off employees, God is opening up supernatural doors for you. When others are pulling back, worried and afraid, you are pushing forward in faith, believing, expecting good things.
That is what it means to have a blessing mentality. Deep down we know that even when we are in the desert, even when things are slow financially, spiritually, even when we get a negative report, God is still on the throne. Our job is not our source, our root. The economy is not our source; the number of members in the church is not our source. People’s worry or negativity is not our source. We know that God is our source. That is the reason why we should begin to pray, in order to receive that favor, that blessing, like it was done by the Christians of our text.
That is why it is so important that you continually remind yourself as a member of this church: “I am blessed. Goodness and mercy are following me right now. God’s blessing is surrounding me like a shield. Even in the desert he will make me prosperous”.
It is time to receive God’s favor and feel worthy of God’s blessing. Amen

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