Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Learning to Live Apart from Jesus

Learning to Live Apart from Jesus

John 16:4-15 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

4 But I’ve told you this so that when it happens you’ll remember what I’ve told you. I didn’t tell you this at first, because I was with you. 5 “Now I’m going to the one who sent me. Yet, none of you asks me where I’m going. 6 But because I’ve told you this, you’re filled with sadness. 7 However, I am telling you the truth: It’s good for you that I’m going away. If I don’t go away, the helper won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 He will come to convict the world of sin, to show the world what has God’s approval, and to convince the world that God judges it. 9 He will convict the world of sin, because people don’t believe in me. 10 He will show the world what has God’s approval, because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore. 11 He will convince the world that God judges it, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 “I have a lot more to tell you, but that would be too much for you now. 13 When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into the full truth. He won’t speak on his own. He will speak what he hears and will tell you about things to come. 14 He will give me glory, because he will tell you what I say. 15 Everything the Father says is also what I say. That is why I said, ‘He will take what I say and tell it to you.’

 

Introduction

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  But what is Pentecost? This celebration of Pentecost is derived from the Celebration of the Festival of Weeks, originally a Harvest Festival observed by the Hebrew People of Israel during the time of Moses well into the modern era. Exodus 23:16 says “Celebrate the Festival of the Harvest with the first produce harvested from whatever you plant in your fields. “Celebrate the Festival of the Final Harvest at the end of the year when you harvest your crops from the fields.”  It occurs on the fiftieth day after the Passover, a celebration of Freedom from Egyptian Bondage by the Hebrew People.

From whence does this term arise in Scripture? On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those followers of Jesus who had gathered together in Jerusalem. Acts 2:1-4 records, “When Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover, came, all the believers were together in one place. 2 Suddenly, a sound like a violently blowing wind came from the sky and filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 Tongues that looked like fire appeared to them. The tongues arranged themselves so that one came to rest on each believer. 4 All the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.”

What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today, though usually not in such a dramatic fashion. We rarely get a heavenly wind and tongues of fire anymore. Nevertheless, God pours out the Spirit upon all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciples (see Romans 8:1-11).

Christians are meant to live in the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3), empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1 Cor 12:4-11), binds us together as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13), helps us to pray (Rom 8:26), and even intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom 8:27). The Spirit guides us (Gal 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal 5:22-23).[1]

But it didn’t start out so easily.  Jesus was labeled a blasphemer by the church of his day, cast out of its synagogues, put on trial for heresy, and finally crucified as an enemy of the State.  Jesus had to persevere in his struggle to convince a dying, hierarchal, oppressive religious system that he had found a new living way.  A new way to view God that of Father.  A new way to express God’s concern for humanity, that of Mother.  A new way for humanity to interact with one another, that of brother and sister and friend.  Jesus taught the love of God, the Compassion of God, and the Mercy of God toward all people most especially sinners, outcast, and rejected in society.  He came to liberate, celebrate, and bring justice within society.

Pentecost, then, is about liberation, celebration, and justice.  Pentecost signifies that the oppressed in the world who accept Jesus Christ as Lord have received power for living.  And this outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon believers, frees believers to live lives being led by the Spirit that do not conform to the worldview of those without such a relationship with God. The aim of believers is to live as Jesus lived meaning to meet the challenges of spiritual evil and wickedness with the same clarity of thought and power as Jesus.  Believers who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit move to a different level of knowledge and understanding.[2]

Move 2

Because of Pentecost, the world is constantly being introduced to Jesus Christ, the revolutionary man who preached justice, lived justly, and died on behalf of justice.  And the church knows that the world we live in is not a just world.  Oppression and oppressors are thriving while God’s people are living under heavy weights of persecution and injustice.  The life and message of Jesus is far reaching in its influence in the world.  The church witnesses that the manifesto of Jesus is being realized though not yet and declares that a day of reckoning is at hand.

The Holy Spirit empowers the church that makes the mission of Jesus Christ its own and brings hope, healing, and help to those in need.  A Pentecost Church is a church on the forefront of advocacy for the poor, widowed, orphaned, and immigrant.  A Pentecost Church speaks life to those engaged in alternative lifestyles, addicted to money, sex, and power; the Pentecost Church speaks a word to those on the brink of suicide reminding them that evil cannot win.  Reminding them that God has a remedy for evil.  To all those like David who think the powerful elite have it made.  The church says be patient, keep serving the Lord because Justice is coming.

For I hear James the Church Moderator declare in James 5, “Pay attention to this if you’re rich. Cry and moan about the misery that is coming to you. 2 Your riches have decayed, and your clothes have been eaten by moths. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be used as evidence against you. Like fire, it will destroy your body. You have stored up riches in these last days. 4 The wages you refused to pay the people who harvested your fields shout to God against you. The Lord of Armies has heard the cries of those who gather the crops. 5 You have lived in luxury and pleasure here on earth. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered people who have God’s approval, even though they didn’t resist you.”

Thus, equal pay legislation, reform of our criminal justice system, advocacy for universal healthcare, welfare reform, and social security issues are all things that Pentecost Churches fight for.  They fight for the least of those among us and they stand to speak truth to power.  But not only do they advocate, the Pentecost Church creates.  The Pentecost Church creates programs to educate, employ, and liberate those for whom society is intent on denying freedom.  The Pentecost Church is not a begging church, it is a Church inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in its community and in the world.

Move 3

So, while we’re apart from Jesus, we are instructed by the Holy Spirit to do the works that Jesus did.  Jesus did not allow the Law of Moses to restrict his activity in the world, rather he reinterpreted the Law of Moses to better fit his understanding of who God is.  Jesus did not sit idly by and quote scripture to keep from influencing the world for God.  Often from the mouth of Jesus, we hear the words, “But I say unto you…”

When these words were spoken, people knew a change in attitude and behavior was expected to spring forth. When the church hears the world minimize people based on their socio-economic standing, lifestyle, neighborhood, and race the church uses these words of Jesus to say, “You have heard what the world says, but up in here we say unto you . . .

The Spirit looks at the “letter” but is not confined to the “letter.” The Apostle Paul writes, “And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”[3]

It is in the context of such a life-giving word followed by action against evil that the Pentecost Church impacts lives.

Finally,  “A twelve-year-old boy was saved at a revival. Later, his friends questioned him about it. One said, “Did you see a vision?” Another said, “Did you hear God speak?” The boy answered all of these questions with a simple no. “Well, how did you know you were saved?” they asked. The boy replied, “It’s like when you catch a fish, you can’t see the fish or hear the fish; you just feel him tugging on your line: I just felt God tugging on my heart.”[4]

The Holy Spirit tugs at hearts exposed to demonstrations of God’s power in the world. I trust that he is tugging on yours today.  There is much work to be done, “the world is groaning for the manifestation of the sons of God.  Beloved, a Pentecost Church can live apart from Jesus because it sees itself doing the work of Jesus, speaking the words of Jesus, and having the same results of Jesus.  Beloved, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to help us live apart from Jesus.  Amen.

 

References:

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/what-is-pentecost-why-does-it-matter/

[2] 1 Corinthians 2 differentiates among the world’s wisdom and the wisdom of those led by the Spirit.

[3] 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

[4] http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/he-felt-god-tugging-on-his-heart

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Post-Resurrection Power for Pre-Resurrection Failure

Subject:  Post-Resurrection Power for Pre-Resurrection Failure

Text:  John 13:21-32
21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

 

Introduction

Well, it’s been about 3 years and much has happened.  Jesus intentionally chose 12 men to follow him as disciples and women raised funds to ensure his ministry would be successful.  But for this moment let us consider what happens when your inner circle breaks down when it betrays and denies you right before your very eyes.  For this is not a backdoor affair, this is a public denial by those whom Jesus handpicked to take his ministry to another level. That is the case within our text.  The entire 12 abandon our Lord when he should have been able to count on them most.  It’s amazing what pressure on your convictions can produce.

So Jesus is seated at the table with his disciples, breaking bread with them and the Holy Spirit gives him a glimpse of what he will have to endure in the coming days.  Among this revelation, Jesus sees Judas, his treasurer betray him, his closest ally, Peter denies him, and then the other 11 desert him.  Talking about a vision from God, Jesus certainly had one.

These are not strangers, these are close associates, his disciples.  Men who supposedly have left all to follow Jesus, all ambitions, all worldly pursuits, all worldly desires for power and prestige.  Men who have traveled with Jesus across the Palestinian valleys and the Judaean hills.  They have crossed the Sea of Galilee with him, even endured criticism of him, and have had intense debates regarding theology with him.  They know him, and yet they don’t know him as well as they should. The fact is it is in the hour of greatest adversity, that they get a chance to discover that they are not who they think they are.  They are not the courageous 12, they are more like the hateful 8.  They’re a hot mess; they are pre-resurrection disciples in need of post-resurrection power to be effective witnesses.  Hallelujah!

 

Move 1

This turn of events, this traumatic incident in his life, caused Jesus to reflect on the words of King David, the Psalmist King.  King David, when faced with the dire circumstance of betrayal, lamented in Psalm 41:9, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”   I wonder if he was being prophetic or if Absalom’s betrayal hurt him just as much as Judas’ betrayal tormented Jesus.  But let us move on, it’s lunchtime and we cannot linger here.

It is traumatic because Judas does not betray Jesus until Judas is blessed by Jesus.  It is only after he receives the bread that Judas yields himself to Satan.  Can you imagine that?  You bless your inner circle and then your inner circle betrays you.  Lord, have mercy!

That’s a message all by itself; let us move on.  The Holy Spirit gives Jesus a vision only of betrayal, denial, and abandonment or so it seems; because despite his tortured soul at this revelation from the Holy Spirit, Jesus sees what will happen post-resurrection.

 

Move 2

And that’s why we celebrate Holy Week.  We assemble because we understand the blessing of post-resurrection.  Yes, when pressure is applied, we may fail, but that’s pre-resurrection.  Yes, we may betray friends, deny allies, and even abandon loved ones in their hour of greatest need, but that is pre-resurrection.  Pre-resurrection happens in the face of unforeseen circumstances wherein we thought we could stand only to discover the pressures of life beat back our resolve and revealed our cowardice.

How many times have we resolutely proclaimed a stand for righteousness, justice, and equality only to back down in the face of our opponents?  How often have we made vows to God only to see ourselves fail to fulfill our vows?  This is the stuff of pre-resurrection. Stuff we are called to overcome with post-resurrection power.

But isn’t it good to know that there is fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s vein and sinner’s plunge beneath that flood lose all their guilt and shame.  I’m so glad that God has given us a solution to our pre-resurrection blues.  For I hear the Apostle Paul declare, “When I would do good, evil is always present within me.”  And then Paul asks the Questions:  “Who shall deliver us from these pre-resurrection struggles?”  “I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!” These words led the hymn writer to exclaim, “What can wipe away my sins, nothing but the blood of Jesus!  What can make me whole again, nothing but the blood of Jesus!’

I stop by here on this Wednesday of Holy Week to share with you that there is post-resurrection power for pre-resurrection failure. His Name is Jesus.

And if your inner circle breaks down, if your life has been turned upside down just remember that it was in a similar incident that Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” It is in that hour when your entire world is turned upside down, that God will get some glory out of your life. It’s a matter of perspective

Sometimes, you have to be left alone, ostracized, rejected and abandoned in order to see the glory of God in your life.  Remember beloved, God is not dependent on your friends or your associates to use you.  God does not need you to get over 1,000 social media followers in order to make you a sponsor of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Jesus saw his betrayal, denial, and abandonment as an opportunity for God to be glorified and so should you.

 

Move 3

Let us pray.  Heavenly Father, may we be able to surrender our will to yours, our friends and family to you even in pre-resurrection circumstances.  For we believe that your post-resurrection power is more than enough to bring glory to your name.  Let us view our situations as Christ viewed his:  as an opportunity for you to show up and show out.  Bless your word today, in Jesus Name, Amen.

God Preparing the World to Worship Jesus!

Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”  King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,     are not least among the ruling cities[c] of Judah, for a ruler will come from you     who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’[d]

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

 

Introduction

I learned in English Composition that the opening paragraph (the first couple of sentences) should give the topic of the essay. Upon careful outlining of these first two verses it is clear that Jesus is the subject worship is the verb and that Jews and Gentiles are the objects.  In other words, this story of the magi is about how God prepared the world to worship Jesus.  However, unless a person has an epiphany regarding Jesus, they will never come to worship Jesus, God’s only begotten son, who has been crowned both Lord and Christ.

 

Move 1

Matthew elucidates for his church, three ways God prepared the entire world to worship Jesus. Joseph as the representative of the lineage of David and the Jews are on board. He’s ready to worship Jesus. Now God turns his attention to the Gentiles and through prophecy and signs gets them on board to worship Jesus.

First, God preordained the worship of Jesus out of every nation. In other words, God prophesized that he would send Jesus to restore Israel and unite the gentile nations under his light. Listen to what the prophet Isaiah and Micah proclaim.

Isaiah 60, verses 1-6 reads, “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance. “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home.  Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands. Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the Lord.”

Micah gives the place for the entrance of Jesus into the world, the place where caravans of gentiles will come to worship Christ.  Micah 5:2-4 says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world.”

And Matthew provides the fulfillment of what God prophesized when he wrote in Matthew 1:18-23, 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

This is indeed the culmination of advent. This is the coming of the great king Jesus who will save his people from their sins; who will have dwelling within his body the entire godhead. This god-man will be the answer to the demands of salvation for all who worship him. It says to us no matter where you reside, God is able. God is able to lift you up when you worship Jesus.

Second, God self-revealed himself in Jesus Christ to all humanity according to the scriptures. The church calls it an epiphany. What is an epiphany? An Epiphany describes a sudden and striking revelation.  Wikipedia defines “epiphany” as a feeling. The article says about epiphany, “Generally the term is used to describe a scientific breakthrough, religious, or philosophical discoveries (defined earlier as experiences of sudden and striking realization), but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.”[1]

The church celebrates Epiphany as the sudden realization of not just the wise men, but of all Disciples of Christ in every age, that Jesus is the physical manifestation of God.[2]  John had such an epiphany and wrote in John 1:1-1-3, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.”  But each of the apostles had this epiphany concerning Jesus and concluded with joy in John 1:14, “14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son [Jesus].”

Paul also had such an epiphany and wrote in Colossians 2:9 reads, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.”  Paul received this revelation from his encounter with Jesus was on the Damascus road and subsequent revelations as he labored in the gospel.

Third, God protected his investment in Jesus. When God got ready for Jesus to enter this world; God did not allow evil to prevail. Herod was no match for God protected Jesus by unmasking the desires of Herod to the wise men and God kept Herod from preventing the Gentiles to worship. In one bold dream God cemented forever the worship of Jesus. He told the magi, don’t trust Herod; go back home another way. And try as he might, evil could not destroy the worship of Jesus.

 

Move 2

What makes some people see a star and immediately pack their bags and head across the dessert for Bethlehem looking for a savior? Why is it that some people can see the brightest light of all lights shining in the sky and be torn from their ordinary hum drum existence and be driven to go and look for something they truly believe is so important that it will change their lives—and change the world. And yet others will see the same star the same night, in the same way, and look up and say, “well, yes, that was nice, now let’s go back inside to catch the start of the third season of ‘Downton Abbey’”? The wise men (Magi) were hundreds of miles away, but they got it.[3]  These wise men teach us three very important lessons about the worship of Jesus.

First, Those who understand who Jesus is (those who have an epiphany) will travel the farthest to find him. Our text says in verses 1-2, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Second, Those who understand who Jesus is (those who have an epiphany) will travel the farthest to worship him. Matthew 2:10-11 reads, “10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

These wise men had an epiphany; a sudden realization that the star meant the fulfillment of prophecy; that God had done what he said; the Messiah had been born and getting to him to worship was the right approach.  Only by coming to Jesus to worship could gratefulness be demonstrated by those who had this revelation.

Third, these wise men teach us how to worship Jesus.  They come to worship and they do not come empty-handed.  They bring gifts prophetically linked to the destiny of Jesus Christ. Their gifts are ordinary gifts one would offer to a king: gold has great value; frankincense is a perfume; and myrrh is a common anointing oil. The gifts have symbolic significance in light of the identity of the baby to whom they are given. Gold is a symbol of kingship on earth, it symbolizes the wealth of the nations, the prosperity that occurs in the lives of those who worship God and obey his commandments.

Frankincense (used for incense) is a symbol of deity, and is used in worship.  “Incense engages our senses in inescapable ways. The smoke we see rising from the burning incense is the physical representation of our prayers rising to God. The aroma we smell reminds us to live our lives as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.[4]

Myrrh (an embalming oil) is a symbol of death.[5] It was used in embalming (John 19:39 ), also as a perfume ( Esther 2:12 ; Psalms 45:8 ; Proverbs 7:17 ). It was a custom of the Jews to give those who were condemned to death by crucifixion “wine mingled with myrrh” to produce insensibility.[6]  It prefigures the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross for the sins of the world.  He would not take the numbing myrrh to reduce his sensation of pain, but his devoted disciples would anoint his body with it as he lay in the tomb.  Hallelujah!

Move 3 (Conclusion)

Listen beloved, do you understand who Jesus is?   Have you come to worship him as Lord and Savior? How do we honor Christ as our ruler, revere him as the Son of God, and lament his identity as the crucified Messiah?[7]

Because when we get the revelation, like the wise men got it, we too will return to our homes another way.  Matthew 2:12, reads, “12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.”  The revelation of who Jesus is will not allow us to return back to our worlds the same way we came.  We will bypass evildoers; we will walk in the light of Christ and live by his commands.

When you have an epiphany an awareness that Jesus is the light of the world and the Savior, your Savior from darkness and sin, you too will take another route home, to work, and to play.  No longer will you be the same person you were before you encountered Jesus.  No longer will you come to worship empty-handed.  You just like the magi will bring gifts tied to the destiny of the church in the world.  And that destiny is to make disciples and help usher in the kingdom of God in the earth.  No longer will you be known for your frugalness; you will be known for your generosity because now you understand who Jesus is.  Your heart, your life, and your possessions will be given to Jesus because you understand who He is.  Hallelujah!

Beloved, you and I were made for worship; we were made to give praise and glory to God through Jesus Christ. Yet, we must be prepared by receiving the revelation of Jesus contained in the Word of God. You and I must have an epiphany. Strange things happen when you experience an epiphany of who Jesus is. Look at what happened to the wise men; when they understood who Jesus was, they were totally transformed and determined to worship him.

I dare say someone here this morning needs to see Jesus for who he really is.  Jesus is God’s Son and God desires for you and me to worship him.  Worship him as king of kings and lord of lords.  Worship him because he is God’s Shekinah glory.  Worship because he is your light and your salvation.  God has prepared the world to worship Jesus?

And if you don’t worship him now, you will.  For Philippians 2:9-11 reads, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  God has prepared the world to worship Jesus and he created you for the self-same thing.  Will you worship him today?  Will you do as these wise men, bow down and worship Christ?  He stands ready to receive you into his kingdom today.  Will you come?  The door to the kingdom is open for you.  Walk on in!  Walk on in!

References:

[1] Chesser, D. (2015). Notes on Matthew 2:1-12. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphany

[2] Chesser, D.  ibid.

[3] Duncan, S. (2015). Who were those guys?  Retrieved from http://homebynow.blogspot.com/2013/01/who-were-those-guys.html

[4] Kleinwechter, S. (2013). Incense in Episcopal Worship.  Retrieved from http://www.stmartininthefields.org/incense-in-episcopal-worship/

[5] McKenzie, A. ibid.

[6]Bible Study Tools (2015) “Myrrh” Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  Retrieved from http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/myrrh/

[7] McKenzie, A. (2013)  ibid.

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.

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.

The Church:  A Place for Forgiveness and Freedom

Introduction

It is said that one night in a church service, a young woman responded to God’s call and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.  The young woman had a very rough past, involving alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. But the change in her was evident. As time went on she became a faithful member of the church.

It was not very long until this faithful young woman had caught the eye and heart of the pastor’s son. The relationship grew and they began to make wedding plans. Problems began.  About one half of the church did not think that a woman with a past such as hers was suitable for a pastor’s son. The church began to argue and fight about the matter. They decided to have a meeting. As the people made their arguments and tensions increased, the meeting became completely out of hand.

The young woman became very upset about all the things being brought up about her past. As she began to cry the pastor’s son stood to speak. He could not bear the pain it was causing his wife to be. He began to speak, “My fiancée’s past is not what is on trial here. What you are questioning is the ability of the blood of Jesus to wash away sin. Today you have put the blood of Jesus on trial. So does it wash away sin or not?”

The whole church began to weep as they realized that they had been slandering the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They thought that there harsh, condemning judgments were the judgments of God; how wrong they were.  How misled they had been.

Move 1

For Jesus said, 13-15 “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.

16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

19-21 “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”

Beloved, we need to come to grips with the fact that the church is not a place for condemnation; it is a place for forgiveness and freedom.  How often do our harsh, condemning judgments prevent forgiveness and freedom from being the inheritance of those we feel have lived too sinful a life to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.

James Moore tells the story about a young girl named Ellen.  She was a junior In high school, an honor student, a member of the band, and secretary of her class.  Her life was beautiful, her future bright; but then, everything went wrong.  I was called on to conduct her funeral on what would have been her seventeenth birthday.  It was suicide.

In the depths of depression, she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills.  She left a note saying that she couldn’t go on.  She couldn’t fight the rumors and the rejection any longer.  She felt betrayed by her friends and her community.  This tragic teenage suicide was sparked by a misunderstanding, by a false rumor, by people spreading vicious gossip, by ordinary people like you and me passing on a cruel, destructive untruth.

The rumor was that she had come home at daylight in a drunken stupor, her clothes disheveled, delivered to her door by an older man in a fancy sports car.  That was the rumor.  The truth was that she had sat up all night at the hospital with her gravely ill grandmother and had been brought home early the next morning by her uncle.  That was the truth!

A neighbor saw something out her kitchen window and jumped to the wrong conclusions and then started spreading a false rumor.  As a result, an innocent teenager was devastated.  The harsh stares, the cruel jokes, the profane wisecracks, the vicious gossip, the whispering behind her back, the pointed fingers, and the blatant lies became too much for Ellen.  Her fragile, sensitive personality couldn’t take it.  She cracked under the pressure, and in a moment of deep agony and excruciating emotional pain, she took her life. (Moore, 2012, pp. 21-22)    

Move 2

This morning, we must come to learn that Jesus does not support churches which specialize in condemnation of others; for in our text Jesus makes clear his intention for coming to the earth.  Let’s explore them for a few moments.

First, Jesus says, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”  In other words Jesus’ vision for humanity is forgiveness and freedom.  Forgiveness from original sin and any wrongdoing we may commit while living on this earth.  Freedom to live the abundant life in God through his sacrifice on Calvary.  You will remember Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and that more abundantly.”  Jesus does not wish any of God’s children to be bound up by sin, weakness, or failure.  Jesus frees us to make mistakes and to grow from those mistakes.

Life gives us ample opportunity to sin.  We fail God in some way each and every day of our lives.  But we need to hear Jesus as he pronounces, “Where sin abounds my grace does much more abound.”  The grace of mercy of Jesus ensures that we are not defeated by sin, but liberated to get up and get back in the race.  

This leads us then to the second thing Jesus says in our text.  Jesus says, “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”  

Say this with me:  I am not condemned by God; I am set free by Jesus Christ.  Beloved, you have been acquitted.  You have been set free to live in covenant with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now we must confess that when we look into the Word of God, the Word of God exposes our sinful condition.  The word exposes our weaknesses, flaws, and imperfections.  And when that happens rather than concentrate on the flaws, weaknesses and imperfections of others; we are to look within our own hearts and confess our sin.  For the bible declares in John 1:7-10, “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.”  The Lenten Season affords us an opportunity to deal with the sin in our hearts so that God might wash and cleanse us with God’s Word.  Hallelujah!

But let us move on.  Let us consider next these words of Jesus, “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure.”

When the church operates through gossip, innuendo, condemnation, and using a person’s past to hold it over their heads, people refuse to attend that kind of church.  So what?  You know my past.  Have you forgotten your own?  Are we not all working out our own soul salvation with fear and trembling?  The church has been called into existence as a way station on a highway filled with traps and snares laid by our enemy the devil.  

We each will get trapped, but Jesus declares he will set each of us free.  The church then has no right to hold someone hostage to past sins, past mistakes; we need to be people who know how to let things go.  Every person who comes to the church with a past, is coming to be forgiven and freed from that past so they can move on with their lives.  Gossipy, tale-bearing Christians are the first line of offense used by the devil to make them run away from the light of God’s Word which is the only thing that can save them.  Lord, have mercy.

Jesus says people love to sin and changing their lives is not something they want to do.  None of us gives up sin willingly.  It’s a fight; it’s a struggle because we enjoy it.  Galatians 5:17 reads, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”  Beloved, each of us have selfish tendencies; we enjoy having things done our way.  And because we are selfish, we do not often please God voluntarily.  I agree with the gospel that says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.”  God works a miracle in us when we come to the light of His Word.  And it is at this point that the church is so vital to the transformation of person.

But when we devour one another through harsh, condemning judgments, we circumvent what God is trying to do in the life of that person.  Beloved, these things out not to be.  None of us should condemn any of us; rather we should love, support, and pray for one another that God’s will be done in each of our lives.  The church should do everything in its power to ensure those whose seek to be free from sin, are not tripped up by some harsh words spoken among us.  Hallelujah!  Say this with me:  I am not condemned by God; I am set free by Jesus Christ. 

Move 3

Dr. David Sylvester, of Denton, Texas tells the story of a businessman who constructed a daycare center near a major highway. Due to budget constraints, a fence was deleted from the project. During recess, the children huddled near the steps of the entrance, afraid to venture into the yard toward the busy highway.  After a fence was constructed, the children felt liberated, and romped and played in the entire grassy area. The fence provided freedom, not restriction.

       As we come to Christ and look to His Word, we find true freedom rather than restriction. Freedom is found within the boundary.  That why David could declare, “The Word of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and they are safe.”  Beloved, there is safety in the Church, because the Church is the repository of God’s Word.  Whatever you do, don’t lead people away from the Church, help them run into the Church.  The church is God’s place for forgiveness and freedom.  The Church is the place where people are saved, healed, and delivered from sin.

The Word of God declares, “Thy Word O Lord, have I hid in thine heart that I might not sin against thee.”  Jesus is the Word; bring them to Jesus and let Jesus redeem their lives from destruction.  Put a watch over your mouth; be careful with your words.  Let God be the judge and you be the conduit through which the word of God flows.  This Lenten Season fast from gossip, fast from harsh, condemning judgments and allow God to be God in your life and in the life of others.  Let’s give this bad habit up for Lent and then for the rest of our lives.  Hallelujah!

Conclusion

         Finally, if you’re here today and have been injured harsh, condemning judgments from church members, take heart.  Jesus has come to give you victory over that offense.  Jesus has one objective for your life.  Jesus said “I came to seek and to save them that are lost.”  That’s why we’re here and I invite you to come to the altar this morning and allow Jesus Christ to deliver you from church hurt.  It’s time to let it go and move on with your life free to live, love, and laugh.  Forgive of your sins and redeemed through the one act of sacrifice by Jesus Christ.  I invite you to come; the Spirit and the Bride say come.  Will you come this morning and give your hurt to Jesus?  Will you come and let Jesus become your leader and guide; his Word will transform you and make your life better.  Will you come?  Let us stand.

References

Moore, J. W. (2012). Give Up Something Bad for Lent. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.