Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Courage to “Be”

“Whosoever shall find his life shall lose it; whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

Introduction
Since the dawn of time mankind has struggled to find meaning in life. Jesus posits a challenge in our text this morning. Jesus challenges us to find not only the true meaning for life; but also challenges us to dedicate the life we find to him for his purposes.

Who am I? Where am I? Am I awake or asleep? Alive or dead? How did I get here? What am I supposed to do while I’m here? Is there life after death? Why is there death?

The Movie, “The Matrix” sought to answer these questions. In this movie the world we know as reality is depicted as some form of pseudo-reality. It was a sham, a hoax, perpetrated by those who sought to enslave humanity through use of its vices and weaknesses. The real world in “the Matrix” was the machine world; a world of reality confined to numbers and cold, unemotional purpose. If you had a purpose you were allowed to serve the Architect of this pseudo reality otherwise you were terminated.

The key was to have your mind expiated from this pseudo reality by Morpheus and to be reborn as a cross between human and machine. Once freed your powers were increased and you could fight the machine world to regain and protect the pseudo reality which you despised in the first place. Zion as it were was the city of bliss and happiness that all humans coveted; it had to be protected at all costs. Zion was the aim and object of those seeking to be freed. It was a very intriguing movie but left us just as confused as we were before its production. For you see trying to answer life’s questions apart from Jesus is futile, frustrating, and fruitless.

Jesus uproots us from this pseudo reality and transports us into a new reality, the reality of God’s Kingdom. We can choose to spend our life trying to discover what and who we are in this world or we can spend our time discovering what and who we are in the Kingdom. In the former choice, we find a never ending story; but in the latter decision we find absolute power, purpose, and passion for living. In other words we can spend our time finding out who and what we are only to keep discovering that we can’t fully discover it or we can find and discover who we are based on our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let us explore these two choices, seeking to find out about ourselves in this world or seeking to find out about our relationship to God in this world.
These two choices are reflected in the words of this text: “Whosoever shall find his life shall lose it; whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” This is a strange and mind boggling text. It seems to suggest two pathways; one that leads to death and one that leads to life. In other words, even after we spend a lifetime looking for the answers to the quintessential questions “Who Am I?” “Why Am I Here?” outlined before, even after we find the answers, we will still end up losing our life.

So, should we spend our time looking for our life knowing that we will lose it anyway? Or should we decide how we will live our lives in this world?

Move 2
Now consider this: We are persons! “A person is one who knows the world around him and particularly who knows himself in relation to that world and to other persons. . . . A person may be influenced from without, but the determining factor in shaping life and destiny is from within. Others may influence us; we determine ourselves. This means that a person has the power of looking ahead and of choosing one’s own course in light of moral distinctive.

Thus the challenge that Jesus poses is a challenge that can literally be accepted. This challenge is to “be or to become.” It is to find out who and what you really are and to “be” that unique distinct person, and then surrender that person to him and his cause. It is what Paul Tillich in his novel work The Courage to Be puts this spin on the text:. ” … Therefore, Jesus says that we are to take accept the life we find or determine within ourselves to use that life for his purpose, power, and passion. That passion is to help others discover their true selves and then commit that self to God through a personal relationship with Jesus as a disciple. Since loss of life is inevitable, Jesus challenges us to lose it doing the will of God rather than our own. But who can make such decision without first discovering who they are and “being” who they are in relation to this world? None of us can truly decide to become disciples of Jesus until we first discover who we are without Jesus. From such thinking is derived the saying of Shakespeare, “To Thine Own Self Be True.”

There are obstacles to determining who and what we are. They are three: intimidation, domination, and manipulation. Each derive from our relationship with others. Your environment influences your choices; intimidation, domination, and manipulation negatively influence you becoming your true self. All three of these obstacles are the forces of darkness that seek to cut you off from the light which shines once you obtain wisdom and knowledge about yourself. Only after overcoming these three negative influences can we discover our true self and with that the “life” of which Jesus speaks.

Move 3
Many of us quite frankly are hypocrites. We pretend to be who we are not. We have lived in response to intimidation, domination, and manipulation. We have kept our true self hidden, protected from the world or those in our environment. Only when we develop the courage to be can we relinquish that true self to Jesus in discipleship. Living as someone you’re not keeps you chained, isolated, imprisoned.

Only when you decide to “be” can you realize the depths of your alienation from God and accept God’s Son, Jesus as Savior. This notion of being is as a homosexual coming out of the closet. It is as an alcoholic refusing to drink another alcoholic beverage. It is as you and I determining to speak our truth refusing to allow others to intimidate, dominate, or manipulate us.

Being you is tough. Being you means accepting who you are at the core of your being: the good, the bad, the ugly. People in the world often exclaim, “Don’t judge me!” “Accept me for who I am.” “What you see is what you get!” Then, go on to be who they think someone else wants them to be. Being you is tough; accepting you is even more difficult.

Yet, this is exactly the you Jesus is challenging you to be. He does so because this is the you God is after. David, the King of Israel gave God his true self: whoremonger, murderer, selfish,warrior, betrayer, lover, friend, leader, servant, shepherd, singer, song writer, worshipper. David was all these things; but David dedicated his total nature, his true self, to God. And God accepted David as a son. David the Bible commends David on this one point, “David was a man after God’s own heart.” David sought to become who God intended him to be even as David dealt with his own true self.

This is discipleship: surrendering your true nature to Jesus and exchanging that nature for Christ’s nature. It is an evolving, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. This, my friends, is the courage to be. Jesus invites us to trust Him with our true selves knowing that Jesus has paid the price and knows the way for us to live free eternally. I urge you to submit your true nature to Jesus today! Amen.

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Signs of Pentecost

Scripture References:  Exodus 19: 18-20; Acts 2:1-4, 14-36 

The sound was deafening. Here I sat at the train tracks, seemingly for 10 minutes because I had heard the unnerving sound of the train blast and the engines roaring. I had stopped at the tracks and the crossing rails were down, but no train. I thought, I’m going through this train stop right now. But suddenly, as I prepared to move forward, I saw the train. I stopped and waited for that train to come speeding by. What I had heard was an echo; the train horn had sounded but the wind had carried the sound miles down the track before the train’s arrival. That’s how it was on the day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Passover commemorating the day God gave his law to Moses.

Move 1

 The children of Israel had arrived at Mt. Sinai; the dawn of a new era was just on the horizon. Moses had gathered them around the mountain to meet the God who had delivered them with a mighty hand.

On that morning a thick darkness fell over Mt Sinai engulfing that majestic mountain. Rolling thunder and lightning fire made for a frightening yet memorable arrival: God, Jehovah Adonai, El Shaddai was on his way to meet the people he had chosen to live in covenant with him.

Moses remembered the scene. He said: “18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. 20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So he [Moses] went up.

 One hundred twenty people met in the upper room for worship service, bible study,and prayer. And after they had elected Matthias to replace Judas as an Apostle, Pentecost arrived. Pentecost Sunday, the day of the harvest, a day for them to reap the blessings of God with joy. And all they heard initially was a noise, a loud, booming noise, one that could be heard throughout Jerusalem, just like that horn on that train.

The scene echoed in the minds of those men and women waiting in the Upper Room for the promise of God’s Holy Spirit. They knew that God’s arrival would come in such a way that it could not be mistaken. It was no coincidence that the giving of the Law and the Coming of the Holy Spirit both came on the day of Pentecost. When the Law was given, “thunder rumbled and flames broke forth on the top of Mt. Sinai, and God’s Spirit engraved the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone. Here there is also a sound and flames. But not on some distant mountain peak. Now the wind sweeps into a house in Jerusalem; the flames divides to rest on every believer. And, enabled by the Spirit, all were “declaring the wonders of God” showing that God’s Law is now being engraved on human hearts. ” (Richards, 1994, p. 281)

Just as the Law signaled a new day in the lives of the Hebrews, Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit would signal a new day in the lives of the New Testament believers in Jesus. Never again would they be ruled by fear. This day, Pentecost Day would be their day of empowerment to do the work of Jesus in the land. For indeed Paul was right when he wrote concerning the Spirit, “7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Lord, have mercy!

Move 2

 But what’s all the fuss about. Why does the church continue to celebrate Pentecost? Could it be possible that the church could experience more than one Pentecost, more than one infilling of the Holy Spirit? I dare say it could, should, and does. All that is required for this renewal is apostolic preaching, praying, and praising to be done. C. H. Dodd in his classic work, Apostolic Preaching, distinguishes six recurring themes in such preaching. One such sermon is recorded in Acts 2:14-41. I don’t have time to adequately discuss these now, so let me just enumerate them for you.

 An apostolic sermon 1) announces that the age of fulfillment has dawned. In other words, God has kept his promise; the Holy Spirit is present in the world. 2) Jesus is identified as the source of this new age; 3) Jesus’ resurrection and position at the right of hand of God makes this salvation efficacious. 4) The Holy Spirit is God in the Earth today and as such the Holy Spirit seals us until the day of redemption. In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee of our salvation. 5) Jesus Christ is coming again to retrieve his church, his bride and present her to his Heavenly Father in victory. 6) Every apostolic sermon should end in a call for repentance and invitation to discipleship. Put simply preaching where Jesus is the main attraction reignites burned out saints, heals broken down disciples, and sets free those captive to sin and satan. When the saints get excited about Jesus, the Holy Spirit gets excited about the saints. Lord, have mercy! But let us move on here.

 Prayer and Praising will cause the Holy Spirit to reignite the flames in any believer’s heart. They will be able to face situations with boldness and faith rather than cower in fear. The book of Acts presents countless examples of the Holy Spirit refilling the believers in response to such praying and praising.

 In Acts 4, the believers were threatened with punishment, even imprisonment if they would not stop declaring the Name of Jesus. So they prayed: “29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And God moved: 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”

 And might I add right here that the emphasis is not on speaking in tongues, the emphasis is on power, the ability to get supernatural results when facing adversaries to the will of God. I stop by to tell somebody today that when you receive the filling of the Holy Spirit, you’re going to get positive results against the enemies of your God and His Christ. Hallelujah!

When African American W.J. Seymour who began the Pentecostal movement discovered that white men who spoke in tongues, could still continue to practice racism, he became convinced that “the dissolution of racial barriers was the surest sign of the Spirit’s Pentecostal presence.” (Williams, 2007, p. 219) In other words, the surest sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life is whether that person loves his brother or his sister not how many tongues he or she can speak.

Well did Paul exclaim, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Move 3

 Finally, because of the arrival of the Holy Spirit, we see a church transformed. It moves from being a church in waiting to a church in action. It moves from being a church in exile to a church engaged in its community. Signs of the Holy Spirit in the earth today can be found in the results Christians get when they are combatting institutional racism, policy brutality, poor schools, homelessness, child abuse and sex trafficking. When Christians stand up for the lost, the left out, the outcast, and the rejected in this world and see laws revised or initiated that care for the poor, widowed, orphaned and immigrant, that is a sign that God’s Spirit is present in the earth. When researchers find cures for terminal illness and pestilences around the globe, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is present. When communities of faith join together to combat discrimination in whichever form it raises its ugly head, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is present.

 When people of all nationalities come to realize that all lives matter, the black, the gay, the bisexual, the inter-gender, the transsexual, the bisexual, the queer and the asexual, that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is present. When same sex couples can live in freedom to exercise their rights as human beings to live free from discrimination and hate crimes that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is present.

Two Texans were traveling together on vacation. They decided to stop at one of the natural wonders of the world, Niagara Falls. As they took the beautiful drive from Lake Erie to the falls they were filled with admiration and awe at the size and power of the Niagara River. They were particularly impressed with the rapids just above the falls and stopped there to look. From there they could see the massive mist cloud that always hangs over the precipice.

One of the men, having already been there, said, “Come and I’ll show you the greatest unused power in the world.” Taking him to the foot of Niagara Falls, he said, “There is the greatest unused power in the world.”

Ah, no, my friend, not so!” was the reply of the other. “The greatest unused power in the world is the Holy Spirit of the living God.” (Green, 1989)

And that is why the church must rise in this hour to fight against oppression, discrimination, and injustice. The church proclaims that the Holy Spirit is present, yet the adversaries of God win victory after victory. Church, it’s time for us to stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit and counterattack. We need to stand full of fire and passion that will burn away the enemies of God’s attempts to cause division, strife, war, and decay in our communities and in this world Let’s not leave the Holy Spirit dormant; let’s get filed up, let’s get fired up and stand, hallelujah!

Conclusion

 Beloved, let me proclaim to you “The Holy Spirit is present.” God, the Holy Spirit is present to heal, save, and deliver. This is good news! Pentecost is here in 2015 and the same Holy Spirit that moved in the book of Acts wants to move in Grambling, Louisiana today. It’s time for us to get excited about the Holy Spirit and turn this city upside down for Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we ask that your Holy Spirit would reignite the fire of action within us in such a way that we will work for a better Brambling, a better Louisiana, a better America, and a better world. We pray that you will through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit give us a steadfast mind that will not accept mediocrity nor accept second class existence in the world you have created for all of your children. Loose us now from the spirit of fear and endue us with your Spirit of boldness to stand against such apathy and slothfulness that would cause us to remain careless or unconcerned. Holy Spirit reignite fires of passion in our hearts and give us God’s wisdom on how to proceed to be people who will make a difference in our world. In Jesus Name, we pray, Amen.

References

Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Richards, L. O. (1994). The Victor Bible Background Commentary New Testament. Wheaton: Victor Books.

Williams, D. K. (2007). True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary. (B. K. Blount, C. H. Felder, C. J. Martin, & E. B. Powery, Eds.) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

A Message to Parents

“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.    Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.   These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.   Repeat them to your children.  Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol  on your forehead.    Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Not giving children a moral compass could lead to a chaos. However, teaching apart from example also leads to tragedy.
This is not an argument for perfection rather its an argument for integrity.

As you grow,  your life should reflect your stated beliefs and convictions more closely. Your children should be able to witness that growth and respect you for it.

Life is now and always has been an unmastered process. Talk to your children about the process so they will not be discouraged nor disappointed with your journey or there own.

Be blessed!

From a Caterpillar to a Butterfly

What did the caterpillar feel as the cocoon slowly engulfed its body? Metamorphosis is a scary proposition. Trust in God has to be firmly established in order to surrender to such a process.  And that’s why it doesn’t happen overnight.  Salvation is instant but sanctification takes a lifetime. Therefore, it’s important to be patient with oneself.  Even the cocoon took time to transform the caterpillar.  When your transformation seems problematic or unusually delayed, trust the God of the process.  God has designed the process to fit your true self.  For God loves the caterpillar just as much as God loves the butterfly.  God loves the you you are now just as much as the you you are becoming.  So love yourself and love the journey.