Preparing for Prime Time

First in a 6-week series titled “Prime Time.”
Delivered February 9, 2003 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Theme: Theme: looking at the importance of heart preparation. Leadership is not just a desire to reach a goal and influence others toward it. It is rooted in the willingness to prepare to achieve that goal.

In this 6-week series titled “Prime Time” (leading up to 40 days of Purpose) we will focus on a season of preparation as Central Church enters another chapter of it’s interim sojourn. It seems that God is saying there is more to prepare for prior to the arrival of his installed leader for the long term future. Even though we don’t know the timing of God’s future, we do know that God’s promise is sure – “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jer. 29:11

Sermon Text:
Luke 1:16,17

It is good to be with you. Today we are going to be taking spiritual temperatures. Hot or cold or in-between, we don’t know, but somebody God wants to speak to today, including myselfSo, we are going to look at a passage of scriptures which is usually connected with Advent or Christmas, but I want to focus on it in a way that is a little bit different. So, if you would turn to me, turn with me, turn to me also, to Luke 1, 13-17. You can look at the pew Bibles or the ones you brought or you can look on the screen as we read this.

But the angel said to him:”Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name of John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Have you ever wondered, with me, why God did what He did to bring salvation or the plan that He used to bring salvation? We might not know all the whys, but we can see that because of the ministry of John the Baptizer that in God’s way of doing things, preparation is really important. In fact, that is why I put on your blue insert, and I hope you got one of these this week, I heard some of you didn’t get these this week, wave to me if you got them. Are there people who didn’t get them? If you didn’t get them, raise you hand. (many hands were raised) Oh man, somebody is falling down on the job. Okay. Well somebody is going to get them right now, and because of the PowerPoint we can put up the verse that is on top of the blue insert and it’s Proverbs 6, 6-8. Good. Let’s read this together, okay?

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”

Okay. So just keep passing them out, okay. (passes out inserts) All right.

Look at that verse. When you think about that verse, nobody has to command an ant to prepare. No ruler comes and tells it what to do. So if somebody has to stand over us and tell us to prepare, we are missing something. Leadership, one of leadership’s most important features is preparation. All through the Bible we see this to be true, and we see it in our own experience as well.

You know we have been hit with a lot of snowfalls this year, and there is one being predicted again for tomorrow, but I want you to imagine if you would, raise you hand if you need one of these blue things because I want you to fill one of these things out, because you are going to remember more if you get one of the things and fill it out. But imagine if you would, for just a moment a couple standing at a window in a hotel in New York and they are looking out at Central Park, okay? And they see this beautiful snowfall. There they are, arm in arm, watching all the beauty, seeing the flakes come down blanketing everything in sight. And as that happens, they look at each other, and everything feels warm and cozy and they think it is the best moment of their lives. But not 500 yards from the base of that building that they are in, a homeless person freezes to death. The beauty of the season is constant. What’s the difference between whether or not something is tragic or beautiful? One prepared and the other did not. Preparation for spiritual growth is critical to God’s way of doing things. And so, let me tell you what I mean by my sermon title, Preparing for Prime Time, by telling you what I do not mean first.

First of all, this is what I do not mean. Prime time as in Deion Sanders. Deion Sanders likes to think of himself as prime time. I am not talking about Deion. Nor do I mean this next shot. Okay? (view of Cable TV guide) It’s not this what I mean by prime time. Not the TV listings from 8 to 10 where you can watch your favorite show. What I am talking about prime time has to do with what one does when they get ready to paint. You have to prime a surface in order for it to be best prepared to receive the paint. Getting ready for God’s finish requires time and preparation. How many of you have ever attempted to paint inside or outside a building? Raise your hands. Well half of you are missing a great lesson. Because we all know that the most important thing about painting is priming. We are having a surface primed for us even as I speak. Anybody who has every painted knows that most of the work goes into the preparation. If you don’t put the tape, if you don’t sand or spackle properly you are going to have a product that’s not going to be very good when it’s done. I mean, it will look good for a while, but once it is all said and done over time all the goofs will show up, won’t they? If you don’t put that down, you will see all the spots on the molding that you hit because you didn’t have the preparation right.

Well, our spiritual growth is that too, our spiritual growth is a lot like priming. We have to check the quality of our spiritual life, take our temperature from time to time. I sincerely believe that God is telling us that this season at Central Presbyterian Church is history, that there is priming in preparation to do. Actually, what I should have had Brad do is get out his sandpaper first, okay. Oh, you did that at home, okay thanks. He did that at home in case you didn’t hear that. And that’s a lot like the spiritual life. There are things that you got to do that nobody sees in order for it to be good. But April 13th, this April 13th, thank you Brad. I mean look at that, that’s looking good isn’t it? Now that’s primed and it is going to take whatever comes on top of it better. But April 13th is Palm Sunday. It happens to be to the very day the 150th anniversary of Central Presbyterian Church’s existence. Do you believe that? And it is also the day that we are going to start 40 days of purpose. Now that is not a coincidence. God is telling us that that’s prime time. We are going to prime ourselves in that 40 Days of Purpose. This time leading up to the 40 Days of Purpose is the sanding, the scraping, the taping and all that other stuff. That is what I mean by preparing for prime time. Because God needs to get us to work up to it. Many of you, some of you, a few of you have run the marathon and you know from running in the marathon that you don’t just wake up one day and say I think I will run in the marathon. You have to take time, a lot of time to prepare. You can’t just wake up and even go five miles if you haven’t walked one. So this is a time of spiritual preparation that I believe God is calling us to.

And that is what John’s ministry was about. His ministry was about challenging people to spiritual preparation. And so we have to ask, what did it consist of? What did he need to help people deal with in order that they may be spiritually prepared? Let’s look at the factors that caused him to prepare people to be ready for the Lord. In fact, if you look at the end of Verse 17 where it says to make ready a people prepared for the Lord, really the order it should be is “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Making ready for the Lord a people prepared. So we are going to look at that. Factors that hinder spiritual preparedness. It says in Verse 16 that many of the people of Israel he will bring back literally turn toward the Lord their God and this phrase turn toward or bring back can be used of a nonbeliever being turned to being a believer, or it can be a believer who has turned away and needs to be turned back. In fact, Paul uses this very phrase in Galatians chapter 4 in verse 9 when he said that the people that he had led to Christ now were going back to weak things. He says, “How can you who have come to know God or rather to be known by God, come to be known by God, how can you turn back to the weak and elemental spirits of this world instead of Christ?” So they needed to be turned back toward. And you can see here, this is the people of Israel who already knew who Yahweh_ was, but they needed to be turned to the Lord. Okay?

And so the first factor that hinders spiritual preparedness is complacency or what the desert fathers called ‘and nobody will probably know this word, accidie, maybe a few of you, acedia is another way to say it. And it almost looks like accident, but let me give you the definition. The definition is right here for accidie. Accidie is spiritual boredom and indifference to matters of religion or simple laziness. The desert fathers tellingly describe it as the devil of the noonday sun. It lies at the roots of our refusal to heed the calling to be instruments of spiritual growth and spiritual guides. Like a cancer it eats away at our abandonment of the love for God and his creation. Now let me say that we all can fall prey to seasons of indifference in the times of coldness. This is talking about a spiritual malaise that lasts a long time, and so I thought, let me test for complacency here. Like I said I am going to take out the spiritual thermometer and I am going to test for complacency by asking you some questions that I came across from John Maxwell. Here you go, think about these.

Questions to test for Complacency:

Does my mouth and mind switch to autopilot during hymns and praise songs?
Is the last time God answered a specific prayer a dim memory?
Do I feel guilty when someone tells me what they are learning in their devotional times, and hope they don’t ask me how mine was?
Do I wonder where my joy went in serving God or are we serving out of duty?
Do I find myself critiquing the worship service rather than growing from it?
Do smiling happy Christians get on my nerves?
Am I continually looking for ways to become less committed to the body of Christ?
Has it been a long time since I have been moved spiritually? Can you remember the last time that you really felt God spoke to you and you knew that he spoke to you or that just doesn’t enter the range of experience.
See even three of these says the spiritual flame is very low and needs to be attended to. Even one says that something needs to be paid attention to. I also came across a Dangers to Ministers over 40 and I thought that was interesting. Let me see what this says, because you know we all can experience times of dryness like I said, but we have to work through those and ministers I think and again, remember that quote about accidie, that was talking to people who had given themselves to the life of the monastery. People who had devoted themselves to spiritual warfare in prayer. So here is the first one.

Dangers to Ministers over 40

Becoming satisfied with mediocrity.
Lack of discipline with the mind and work.
Dying on the inside before dying on the outside. I am telling you, you wouldn’t believe how many ministers I hear about and read about that this is true.
Professionalism replacing passion.
A messed up moral life.
These are the symptoms of accidie and I just want to take a moment to just be honest with you about my own battle with this demon of the desert sun. But six months ago when I decided to end a two years, for what I believe would be the benefit of the church and because the interim was just stretching out too long. How can I tell you so that you will understand?. I was toasted. Okay? That is another word for burned out. And it wasn’t because of the challenges and the demands of this vibrant congregation. It was because something needed to change up here and in here, in both head and heart. I knew I needed a reassessment and that was part of the call to the sabbatical time. I knew I just needed to stop because the thought of dragging and crawling to a retirement finish line somewhere for the next 10, 15 or 20 years just made my blood run cold. I could not imagine feeling that way. And it is not because I wasn’t having quiet times before, but I was not really sitting at the Lord’s feet on a consistent level and basis and I just needed to take a time out. During that time out I was able to travel and to speak to some people that really helped me to think through what maybe some of the causes of that complacency were. And I asked myself that question like on the list. Where has my joy gone in serving God? I remember times of such tremendous joy when I couldn’t wait to wake up, but it wasn’t like that. Okay? And so God gently nurtured and prodded me back to the basics and like Arnold Schwarzenegger said two weeks ago, “I was out of shape internally. Inside, spiritually flabby.” I hang around with him, so I pick up his accent. But it can happen to everybody and anybody and if you are feeling anything like what I just described, God wants to turn you around too. He wants to turn you back to the Lord and he wants you to understand what it takes.

Number two, tells us the beginning of what it takes. Number two tells us a factor that hinders spiritual preparedness is forgetting where our power comes from. You see, John ministered the Bible says in the spirit and power of Elijah. And this is another pointing to preparatory ministry because it was said all through the Old Testament that before the great and terrible day of the Lord, Elijah would come. And at the end of Malachi, which is the last book of the Old Testament it talks about someone coming in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way of the Lord and so John is the fulfillment of that prophecy. But the other thing about being one who preached and ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah was that Elijah was the fellow that confronted spiritual complacency head on and stood toe to toe with Ahab and Jezebel, kings and queens; who stood at the top of Mount Carmel and said to the people of Israel, “How long will you waiver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, then serve him and follow him. If Baal is God or some other weak, elemental thing, serve them.” That is what John the Baptist’s ministry was about. And he couldn’t be a heart-turning catalyst for others in his own power. It had to be a power greater than himself. It had to be the power of the Lord. It’s not about human persuasiveness. It’s about God’s power at work in us. The Apostle Paul prayed for his friends. He got on his knees and he said, “Lord, I pray that the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened, so that they might know the power that is working within them, the power of your mighty strength” this is from Ephesians, chapter 3, “which he exerted in Christ when he raised Christ from the dead.” You know sometimes I think when we look at the resurrection we think that all the fireworks and lights and the thunder and crashing, that’s what happened when Jesus came out of the tomb. I don’t think so. I think Jesus was out of the tomb a long time before the stone was rolled away and angels knocked over the soldiers and all of that. The stone was rolled so people could see in, not to let Jesus out. Jesus was resurrected in his power and it happened silently. It happened without anybody knowing it. And even the people around him, even Mary in the gospel of John didn’t even recognize him. What I am trying to say is that when God’s power is at work, it is not all about loudness and buzzing and humming, it is something silent that happens inside of us. In fact, right now as I am speaking about spiritual preparedness and being turned back to God, God’s power can be at work in the mind and heart of any one of us here. And others who are sitting next to them, maybe they don’t even know it. But God’s power is working.

Now here’s the amazing thing about God’s power. That it only seems to move when we are willing to act. When we are willing to take a step. When we are willing to use the gifts that God has called us to use, and be the kind of people that God has called us to be. When we set out in faith, then we see God’s power. It’s people who don’t even know Jesus; you know when do they see God’s power? When they say Lord I am bankrupt, I need you. Come into my life. Then they see him and they understand God’s power to change their lives. Many never discover what God can do because we are waiting to feel powerful before we do something. And that’s not the way God works. In fact, the Bible says God’s power is perfected in your weakness. So you can feel weak and still you can be the vessel for God’s power. If you will act. That’s the second thing. Forgetting where your power comes from. It comes from Christ dwelling inside of us filling us. And thirdly, the third thing that hinders spiritual power and spiritual preparedness is fractured relationships. Notice in 17B, it talks about John turning the hearts of the fathers back to the sons. This is kind of blanket or umbrella phrase that basically talks about the importance of human relationships and how harmonious they need to be in order to be preparing the way for Christ. Let me give you an example. Let’s just say hypothetically that you were really angry with me for some reason right now. I could preach the greatest sermon of all time and if you are angry with me, you will not hear a word because unresolved emotional and spiritual issues block spiritual messages. This is what Jesus had in mind when He was preaching to the people and He said, “Listen when you go and present your gift to God, when you come to church and worship, and you lay it at the alter, and there while you are praying you remember that your brother or sister had something against you, what does he say?” Leave your gift and go and make it right and then come and offer your gift to God. Do you see the connection between the importance of harmonious relationships and worship that’s pleasing to God? Now the Bible also says that as far as it concerns you, be at peace with all people. Sometimes people don’t want to dance, that’s okay. But we can still try and work at whatever we need to do to make relationships better. You know to go through religious activities and be cold towards others, is religiosity at it’s worse. Spirituality is being aligned with God and with others.

You know I told my wife just a few weeks ago because I felt like God was calling me to prepare for this part two and so I am working, I am trying. I am working physically, spiritually, mentally to get in better shape, and I said to her after some weeks of doing this, I said, “You know honey, if you don’t know that your loved the most after Jesus, then I have failed you and I failed the church and I failed the Lord.” Now again, we all hit bumps in the road, but what I think this is saying in this text is that we have to pay attention to our relationships that are most intimate. Ellen came up to me after the first service, and she said to make sure you tell them that that’s true, that is the way I feel because I don’t want them to misunderstand. But God wants to heal relationships and it’s the need for those relationships to be healed that is part of preparing to experience God.

Now, why was he preparing? John’s focus of preparation was a people who were prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus in their life. You see anybody who thinks they can make it without the Lord, doesn’t realize their poverty. You know I always thought in this text that Zechariah was praying for a son. Did you think that? Those of you who know this text? You know when the angel said; do not be afraid Zechariah your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son. I always thought that the prayer that Zechariah was praying was for a child. Many, many commentators do not think so. Let me tell you why. First, Zechariah and Elizabeth were old. It says that they were advanced in years. They probably gave up praying for a child a long time ago. Secondly, Zechariah was one of 18,000 priest of his day. You didn’t get to offer incense in the most holy place unless you hit the incense lottery. Okay? They cast lots. And you may never get to offer the incense, but if you cast lots and you were drawn, that was you once in a lifetime chance to go into the holy place and offer incense to God. And the odds of you going in there and praying a personal request probably were slim. You are going to be praying the liturgical prayer, Come Lord and receive this incense offering and then the incense offering in the evening was always connected with praying for the coming of the Messiah. Praying for the coming of the Lord. And then when you add to that in verse 13, “Do not be afraid Zechariah your prayer has been heard” what prayer? The Messiah will come. And your wife Elizabeth will bear a son. There is an and in there that doesn’t show up in the English translation. So all of this is saying that probably Zechariah’s prayer was for the coming of the Lord Jesus and John was going to be the instrument to be the preparer of hearts so that the people would understand the coming of the Lord Jesus into their lives.

You know what the next to the last Bible verse is? The next to last verse in the whole Bible in Revelations? What is says? “Come Lord Jesus.” Come, Lord Jesus and that tells me that our whole life is a spiritual preparation for something beautiful that we haven’t even begun to realize yet. Come, Lord Jesus. That’s what God is calling us to do. To prepare us and until then, we are to be greenhouse builders, paint scrapers, primers so that other people can come to know the Lord. If you will commit yourself to preparing, this will happen. And I just want to show you how that can happen and this will be very quick. It looks longer than this. But it’s going to be quick. On the back, two ways we at Central will be preparing in the days ahead. Number one is the Lenten series and life journaling, okay? Now in the Lenten series, March 5 is Ash Wednesday and then the five Wednesdays that follow after that, or five evenings we will have a meal and we will come together and then after the meal we are going to do life journaling together. There is other venues that are starting to happen for life journaling. But this is what God spoke to me more than anything during my sabbatical time. See, I was preparing and reading the scriptures defensively. By that I mean, not that again I wasn’t having times with the Lord, but many times I was reading the Bible so that I could think about what I was going say to you, to preparing it for somebody else. Preparing and reading offensively is you sit at the Lords feet with the scriptures and whether you tell anybody or not, you let God speak to your heart and that’s the means by which you are going to be more and more prepared for spiritual growth in your life and that’s one way and you are going be hearing a lot more about that. That’s going to happen prior to our 40 Days of Purpose. And probably after our 40 Days of Purpose for that matter.

And then that is the second thing, the 40 Days of Purpose, which starts April 13th. It is going to be a significant time in the life of this church. In the Bible it’s clear that God often considers 40 days to spiritually significant. You could probably think of a few yourselves, but Noah’s life was transformed by 40 days of rain. Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mt. Sinai. David heard Goliath shouting for 40 days which finally led him to make a step. The spies were transformed by 40 days of viewing the Promised Land. Elijah went 40 days on a supernatural meal that God provided. Miniveh, after 40 days of preaching repented and turned to the Lord. Jesus was empowered by 40 days in the wilderness. And then the disciples were transformed when Jesus spent 40 days with them after his resurrection. You see why 40 Days of Purpose? Because God wants to have catalyzing times in our life to prepare for God. A team is being formed, you are going to hear more about it, but right now the call of God is and that’s why there is a heart on the back of your paper, I thought not just because it’s Valentines Day coming up, but we have to have heart preparation.

And so, the last blank is, are you willing to make a commitment to prepare? See you don’t have to run out and run the marathon tomorrow. Are you willing to make a commitment to say God I know I am weak and flabby inside, and I need to make a step. Now I don’t know what’s going to inside your heart, and you don’t’ have to do it now, but get some quiet time and write it down, what would it mean for you to make a commitment to prepare for the next weeks and months that God wants to do something in your life. Maybe, something has to come out of your heart in order to prepare for God to work. But this is what we are looking for. Spirit empowered, heart turning catalysts to be primed as the people prepared for the Lord. If you will join me in this challenge, I think we will see God do things that what we see now only feels like a very small beginning.

Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, we thank you that there is a need for us to be primed. And some of us need to be scraped and some of need to be sanded and some of us are doing quite well and need to be a coach for others. Lord I pray that whatever preparation means for each of us that you would work it into our hearts by your spirits power, not on our own strength, so that we might be a catalyst to turn others to Jesus that they too might have life in his name. We pray it in his Holy name. Amen.

Sermon Notes:

Preparing For Prime Time

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” Proverbs 6:6-8

One of leadership’s most important features is preparation.

Factors that hinder spiritual preparedness:

Complacency, or what the desert fathers called accidie. (v. 16)
Definition of accidie: (or acedia): “Accidie is spiritual boredom, an indifference to matters of religion, or simple laziness… The desert fathers tellingly described it as ‘the devil of the noonday sun.’ It lies at the root of our refusal to heed the calling to be instruments of spiritual growth and spiritual guides. Like a cancer it eats away at our abandonment to the love for God and his creation.”
From Spirituality for Ministry by Urban T. Holmes III

Questions to test for Complacency:

Does my mouth and mind switch to auto-pilot during hymns and praise songs?
Is the last time God answered a specific prayer a dim memory?
Do I feel guilty when someone tells me what they are learning in their devotional times-and hope they don’t ask me how mine was?
Do I wonder where my joy went in serving God?
Do I find myself critiquing the worship service rather than growing from it?
Do smiling, happy Christians get on my NERVES?
Am I continually looking for ways to become less committed to the Body of Christ?
Has it been a long time since I have been “moved” spiritually?
Dangers to ministers over 40:

Becoming satisfied with mediocrity.
Lack of discipline with the mind and work.
Dying on the inside before dying on the outside.
Professionalism replacing “passion.”
A messed-up moral life.
Forgetting where our power comes from. (v. 17a)
Fractured relationships. (v. 17b)
John’s focus of preparation was a people who were prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus in their lives.

Two ways we at Central will be preparing in days ahead:

Lenten Series & Life Journaling
40 Days of Purpose
Are you willing to make a commitment to prepare?