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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Ekklesia 2 - Called Out of Shame

It has been 10-11 weeks since we had a regular, onsite worship service at Pleasant Grove.  In fact, all over the world, it has been months since congregations have gathered in the sanctuaries for worship.  Does this mean we are no longer the Church?  Absolutely not!

In fact, during these crazy times, the Church may be more active doing God’s work than ever before.  I have been busier than ever doing Zoom meetings, making phone calls, and learning new technology.  I’ve had to become a medical expert, media expert, Bible expert, statistical expert, sociological expert… (not really, but I've been learning about and using tools in all of these categories and more…) I've been doing a daily devotion every morning on Facebook Live for almost 2 months.

I’ve been very busy!  In fact, I’ve hardly taken a real day off since his all began.  Even on my days off, I’ve been emailing, fielding texts and phone calls, and just thinking about ministry stuff.   One day soon, for my own personal health and well-being, I’m going to have to take some time off to just unplug from everything.  I’ll be turning my phone off, my computer off, everything off and you won’t be able to get hold of me.

Believe it or not, you’ve been busy too.  It may not feel like it, but you have.  Have you been staying at home? Doing nothing? Your sacrifice is for your own safety and the safety of others. That’s sacrificial love and it’s work. I’ve talked with people this week who haven’t left their homes in over 2 months! Wow!  That takes a toll.  Have you been living by faith? We like to know what the future holds and what our schedules will be.  However, we are living in a time when everything that used to be considered stable is up in the air.  The school calendar, sports schedules, vacations, camps are all being postponed and we don't know when they will be "normal" again.  Faith is the bedrock of the Christian faith and we're having to live by a lot of faith right now.  And it's tiring.

Others are considered “essential workers” who must bravely go out--sometimes to the very places everyone else is asked to avoid.  I know you're tired.

The New Testament Church dealt with and worked around plagues and persecutions.  They couldn't always meet in their usual ways or the ways they wanted because to do so might get them arrested and tortured or killed.  They had to be creative with Church, just as we are having to be creative during this COVID 19 pandemic.  We could learn a lot from their experience.

Today, I want to continue our message series “Ekklesia” about the purpose of the Church.  What is the Church?  What is our purpose?  The Greek word for Church used in the New Testament is Ekklesia.  It roughly translates “the called out ones.”  The Church that Jesus established is composed of people who are called out of darkness into the light, called out of shame into nobility, called out of a fallen world into God’s Kingdom.  Now, when we talk use the word "church" today, we think of a building.  Driving down the road, we might say, "Oh!  Look at that pretty church!" (Meaning the building).  But when the New Testament uses the word Church, it is referring to the congregation.  So as I am talking about Church in these messages, I am trying my best to use Church to refer to the people gathered in a Christian congregation.

The Church is a group of people who’ve been called out of something old into something new, something ugly into something beautiful, something shameful into something noble.  I want to read from God’s Word.  In this passage, I want you to imagine that you are a Gentile (because unless you were born a Jew, you are a Gentile.)

Ephesians 2:11-22
11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. 
[How does it feel good to be called an outsider?]
You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 
[How does it feel to be called a heathen (an uncivilized person who lacks morals, and enemy of God)?] 
12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. [How does it feel to be hopeless?]
13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Where Does God Live?
Throughout the ages, people have built temples for their gods.  They wanted to control them…

The One True Living God the Bible tells us about, cannot be control and He does not need a building.  Acts 7:48 says, “The Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands.”  And Isaiah 66:1 says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  Could you build me a temple as good as that?  Could you build me such a resting place?”

And yet, when God liberated the Jews from slavery in Egypt, they lived in tents as they traveled toward their new homeland.  And so, the God of the Universe, who made Heaven and Earth, humbled Himself and lived in a tent among His people.  God’s tent was called the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle was where the people worshiped God and where God ministered to a guided His people.  God appeared in the Tabernacle as a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Whenever the Spirit of God moved, the Israelites packed up the Tabernacle Tent and moved with God.

When the Israelites settled down in their new homeland in Israel, they built houses.  And God continued to live among His people in a Temple made of stone—like the way His people lived.  People revere their Temple. It was the most impressive building in their city.  People traveled from all over the world to worship in the Temple.

But because people are full of sin, no one could come completely into God’s presence, whether in the Tabernacle or the Temple.  Gentiles, sinners, and women were not allowed to enter either place of worship.  People with any kind of illness or deformity were also not allowed.  Only Jewish men in good standing were allowed inside, close to God.  And of those men, only those who were priests were allowed into the Holy of Holies close to God.  And of those priests, only the high priest was allowed into the Holiest Place in the presence of God—and that was only once a year on the Dy of Atonement after strenuous preparation and purification. 

These exclusions were not because God didn’t want to be near His people.  To the contrary, the fact that the God of the universe would choose to live in a building at all is proof that God did want to be near His people.  However, sin separates us from God.  The presence of God consumes sin like a blazing hot fire consumes dry leaves.  It was mercy that caused God to keep people at arm’s length; it was for their own safety!

But then an amazing thing happened!  God took on human form and came into the world as Jesus Christ—the Son of God!  And God lived among His people as a man! And 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.”  Now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be completely absolved of all sin!  So, there is now absolutely nothing at all that can separate us from God.  As Romans 8:38-39 says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Church – The Temple of God
So as we consider the purpose of the Church, we understand that the Church is where God lives.  The Church is where we meet with God, commune with God, worship and adore God, and receive God's guidance.  The Church is the Temple of God.  However, we must also understand, the Church is not a physical building.  The Church is the people.  Which people?  The Church is those people who have faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).  Remember, in my message last week, we read Matthew 16:17 where Jesus said to Peter, “and upon this rock [i.e. the rock of this faith] I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”

And now is Ephesians 2:20-21, the Scripture says, “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”

And 1 Peter 2:5 says, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.”

Once again, we are not talking about this building—this physical building or any physical structure.  If the church building in your community no longer existed, there would still be a Church as long as Christians gathered for the Lord's purposes.  The purpose of a physical building is simply to provide a convenient space to do the things the Church is called to do.  At my church, Pleasant Grove, they started out in the early 1800s meeting under the shade of a pleasant grove of trees (that's where the name Pleasant Grove comes from.)  As time went on, the congregation decided it would be easier to have church if the built a roof to shelter them from rain.  And as time went on, their building structures evolved to meet the church's ministry needs.  However, it was always about the peoplee and ministry, not the buildings.  Church is the people, bot the building.  Actually, if the physical building ever hinders us from being the Church God calls us to be, we should abandon the building.  

Jesus actually said as much about the holy Temple in Jerusalem in his day.  In Matthew 24, we find Jesus and his disciples walking through Jerusalem and the twelve disciples are admiring the beautiful buildings with sentimental hearts and Jesus says, "A day is coming soon when not one stone of all these wonderful buildings will be left upon another."  And he was blasted by his enemies because he said, "Tear down this Temple and I will rebuild it again in three days."  Now, it had taken decades to build the Temple.  There was no way one man could rebuild the Temple in only three days.  What did Jesus mean?  Well, Jesus was crucified and buried for three days and then he rose from the grave and established the Church--the new Temple of God.   It is not a physical building; it is a people who believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

We will look more at the purpose of the church next week.  But I want to close for now.  And as I close, I want to invite everyone to truly consider:  Are you the Church? Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah (the Chosen One), the Son of the Living God? (You can’t be the Church without this faith.) 

You have been called out of shame, but you have to start walking (by faith) out of that shame into the noble life God has for you—a life where you are the living stones of God’s Holy Temple and you are His holy priest. Do you want to leave shame behind? I pray you do and I'm praying you will.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ekklesia - Rediscovering Church

I’m so very proud of the graduating class of 2020. Our church recognizes graduating students every year and we are always proud of each one.  But I can honestly say, we have never had a year like this one.  Each graduating class is unique and has its own struggles, but your class—2020—has faced a pandemic that has shut down the entire world.  Humanity has faced plagues before—some far deadlier than COVID 19.  However, nothing has ever shutdown the entire globe, all at the same time—from Asia to Europe to Africa to America.  Class of 2020, your year will go down in history as one of the most challenging of all times.  Perhaps one day, when you are old and gray, you will take your grandchildren of great grandchildren in your arms and you will say, “I was in the graduating class of 2020.  They canceled the last 2 months of school, along with proms and sports and all our extracurricular activities.  But we endured and we graduated.”  And I hope, after having some time to reflect upon your experience,  you will also be able to say, “We learned more during that crazy time about what really matters in life than we could have ever learned in our classrooms.”

I hope we have all been reflecting and learning a lot more these day—about life, about death, about the meaning of it all and what’s really important.  I know many pastors and Christians have been reflecting on what church is all about.  It has now been nine weeks since we had a regular onsite worship service at Pleasant Grove.  All our services since March 15th have been “online only”.  In fact, the graduates and their families that joined us for worship in the sanctuary on May 17 (about 60 people spread out for social distancing) were the first “congregation” we’ve had on site in over two months (other than a small worship team that’s helped us lead our LIVE stream service on Facebook).

And so, many pastors and Christians have been pausing to reflect on what “Church” is really all about.  What is the purpose of Church?  If we can’t meet in person, are we really still a church?  Pleasant Grove Methodist is a very active church; our calendar is normally full of activities.  But for the last two months, all of those activities have been canceled.  We've tried to limit our work to only what we've felt had to be done--online worship, managing essential administrative tasks, and some vital mission work that needed tp be done.

High school seniors from this year’s class know what it’s like to have activities canceled.  Your senior year is supposed to be full of special activities.  Yet many of those activities have been canceled.  Does that mean you are not a senior?  Does that mean you won’t be a graduate?  Does the cancellation of these extracurricular activities nullify all the work you’ve done for over a decade in your academic career?  No.  Of course not.  They will still graduate.

Here’s why.  It all goes back to the purpose of your education.  I’m not an expert in public education so I don’t know if I can perfectly distill down the essence of public education.  However, I’m certain what is most central to a high school education is not marching band or football games or prom or baseball or even the graduation ceremony itself.  All of these (and more) have become beloved traditions of high school education and it hurts your heart when they are taken away.  But the cancellation of all these activities does not nullify in any way whatsoever the fact that you are high school educated graduates. 

Therefore, the purpose of a high school education must be something greater than our beloved traditions—something that you have attained.  Again, I’m not a public educator, but I would speculate that the core purposes of a high school education is to teach you the knowledge you need to succeed in life.  To this you might add, the skills you need to succeed in life.  Perhaps, even more important, maybe, is that a proper education teaches you to be a good person who will be a good citizen. (That’s something that’s important to all of us, because the last thing we need is a bunch of smart, skillful people running around doing evil things!)

As I said, I’m not an educator.  I’m a pastor.  So the big questions on my mind through all this craziness has been: “What is essential about church?”  It’s a question I’ve thought about many times over the years throughout my ministry—it’s not totally new.  However, this question—what is essential about Church—has become especially pressing for me during this time when so many of the traditional things the American Church does have been called off.  Does that make sense?

So today, I’m beginning a new series titled “Ekklesia,” because Ekklesia is the Greek word Bible originally used for “church”.  My purpose today is not to give answers.  Today, I want to give questions. I will spend more time in the next two Sundays sharing some answers about the essence of the Church from Scripture.  But today, I want to get everyone asking the question.  And maybe, as part of that, the graduates of the class of 2020 can ask some deep questions about their own lives as well.  Maybe we can all ask ourselves some core questions that get to the heart of our individual lives.

Jesus always had a way of asking the right questions.

Matthew 16:13-18
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

Important Information
Jesus reveals some very important information in this short conversation.  First of all, he reveals that he is the Messiah (Chosen One), the Son of the living God.  These were actually Simon (Peter's) words, but Jesus did not dispute them.  Jesus affirms Peter's statement.  Everyone has an opinion about the identity of Jesus--both today and in Jesus day.  Some say he is a prophet, a religious leader, a revolutionary, or even a fiction character.  But Jesus asks, who do you say I am and Peter replies he is the Chosen One, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus also reveals that God inspired Peter to believe this.  Peter didn't get that idea from any person, but directly from God.  It was divinely inspired.  We ought to pay careful attention to this revelation then.

Lastly, Jesus reveals that the Church (Ekklesia) will be founded on Peter’s kind of faith in Jesus.  This is huge.  For any church to stand and remain legitimate, it must be built upon the affirmation that Jesus is the Chosen One, the Son of the Living God.  Otherwise, it is not really a church and will crumble.

Foundations are Critical
The foundation is the most important part of any structure.  Last Saturday morning, a group of men from my church went to another member's house to help build a porch.  We worked for about 8 hours, but nearly half that time was spent laying the foundation.  We needed to take our time and make sure everything in the foundation was right.  Was it level?  Was it square?  Was it firm?  It was very important to make sure the foundation was firm, because otherwise the structure--no matter how pretty--would not last or be reliable.  Once the foundation was laid, we moved very quickly and the rest of the porch was assembled very fast because it was built on a firm foundation.

Foundations are not just for buildings.  Your high school education  is the foundation you need to succeed in life.  It is only a foundation.  You still need more.  Maybe you  go on to get a college education or job training or you  go to work.  But you wouldn’t be prepared to begin those things without the foundation you built over the first 18 or so years of your life.  And a faulty foundation will give you trouble with everything else you try to build in your life as an adult.

What’s Your Purpose?
Your foundation is built from far more than just your education.  Here’s where the questions come in.  Who are you?  What is your essence?  Remember, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”  Well, who do people say you are?

What you family and closest friends say may be some indication as to what’s most essential about you.  They know you well and may see things you don't  However, if you really want to know the core of who you are, I would recommend looking to God.  God is the One who designed and created you.  He is the One who brought you into this world and has been guiding you all along the way (even if you didn’t know it).  He was there all along.

This is a message especially applicable to graduates as you enter a new phase in life (but it’s also a message we all need to consider during this time when our normal lives have been turned upside down).  Who are you?  What is your purpose?  What kind of life do you want to build?  I would think this is the time for schools and educators to be asking the same things.  What is school all about?  What is the purpose of eduaction?  Now that all the extra stuff has had to be canceled, what is it about school that is essential and cannot be canceled?

Graduates, as you start a new phase of life, you have so much potential and a great amount of freedom to build whatever kind of life you want.  What do you want to build?  More importantly, What do you think God wants you to build?  Because, here’s the thing, what God wants you to build will be so much more fulfilling than anything else.  Believe it or not, God knows you better than you have ever known yourself and His way will always be the better way.

This is a message for everyone, not just graduates.  The COVID 19 pandemic has been awful, but it has given us all a unique opportunity.  Since our normal lives have been so severely disrupted, don’t miss the opportunity to take a good, hard look at what’s most essential in your life.  Now that so much of the fluff is stripped away, ask the question:  Who are you?  What’s your purpose?  What kind of life do you want to build going forward?  Many of us in so many ways will be building something new in our lives in the coming days.  What will it be?

I pray you won’t just opt for the easy, comfortable thing, which is to just go back to the way things were before COVID. (That may not even be possible.  The world has changed.)

I am looking at my own life.  I am also looking at the Church to see what needs to change.  I think that’s what God wants us all to do.  After all, I believe this life is not my own anyway—it belongs to God.  And this church is not ours either—it belongs to God.  So, I want both my life and our church to be what God wants it to be.  How about you?

I invite you all to meditate on the questions God has put on your heart.

Monday, May 4, 2020

God the Holy Spirit

The Trinity
Yesterday was such a beautiful day and I had a chance to enjoy it.  I spent the day working outside.  I'd work for a bit and then sit down and rest for a while.  The sun was out and the temperature was perfect.  A gently breeze blew through the tree leaves making them wave at the crystal clear blue sky while the birds and bees sang their songs.  Trying to describe it to you, words fail.

People have used songs and poems to try to describe a beautiful day and some have come close, but none can perfectly capture it.  Human language isn't capable.  If we struggle to describe a beautiful day, how can we ever hope to use feeble human words to describe God?  It’s impossible.  But God wants to be known and He wants us to try. So we do.

In the sixth century, the Church, trying to describe the Trinity formed the Athanasian Creed.  Part of that creed says:
 …we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
    neither blending their persons
    nor dividing their essence.
        For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
        the person of the Son is another,
        and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
        But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
        their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.

    What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
        The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
        The Father is immeasurable, the Son is immeasurable, the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.
        The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Spirit is eternal.

            And yet there are not three eternal beings; there is but one eternal being.
            So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
            there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.

Do you see how inadequate words are to describe our triune God?  

A Picture of the Trinity
Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Somewhere about the 12th century, someone created a picture that tried to symbolize the nature of God.  It is called the "Shield of the Trinity" or "Shield of Faith" (Scutum Fedei).  In the picture, we see that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God; but the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.  There is One God, three persons, not three Gods.  Still confusing?  I know.  God is infinite and so far beyond the ability of our finite mortal minds to comprehend, but we try.

Today, I want to share a bit about the third person of the Trinity—God the Holy Spirit.  Jesus told His disciples that after He ascended to Heaven to be with the Father, he would send the Holy Spirit.

John 14:15-17
15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

Jesus Promised the Holy Spirit as a Gift to Everyone Who Loves Him.
Do you love Jesus? Well of course, most people reading a Christian blog like this would say they love Jesus.  However, Jesus gave us a way to test our love.  Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”  Love is not a feeling; it's an action.  Jesus gave us commands and says if we love him, we will obey him. 

What were some of Jesus commands?  Well, the most important were to love God and love your neighbor.  Most religious people would say they love God.  Scripture says you can't claim to love God (who is invisible) if you don't love people (who you can see).  And Jesus also referenced the Ten Commandments (originally found in Exodus) that were given my God to Moses on Mount Sinai.  You know these--Do not worship any god's except the Lord; do not make idols of any kind; do not murder, steal, or bear false witness...  Jesus said we should obey these.  But he went further than most.  He said if you even hate someone you have committed murder in your heart.  And if you lust, you have committed adultery in your heart.  And who hasn't done this?  Obviously, we need a lot of grace. And Jesus gives it. But grace is not an excuse.  If we love Jesus, we will do our best to obey his commands.

And Jesus said "Be my witnesses..."  Some people say that religion is a private mater, that you should go around telling people about your faith in Jesus.  That's not what Jesus said.  In fact, he commanded us to "Go into all the the world and make disciples of Jesus, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  (See Matthew 28).  And Jesus said, "If you love me, obey my commandments.

Everyone who loves and follows Jesus will receive the Holy Spirit.

What is the Holy Spirit Like?
The Holy Spirit is eternal.  He was God in the creation as God's Spirit hovered over the water and God created the earth.  The Holy Spirit was with the Israelites during the Exodus as they traveled through the wilderness toward the Promised Land.  The Holy Spirit fo God would descend upon the Tabernacle as a cloud of smoke by day and a cloud of fire by need.  When the Spirit of God moved, the Israelites would pack of their Tabernacle and move with God, following His Spirit.  Through out the Bible, prophets spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, such as Isaiah who refers to the Holy Spirit in Isaiah 63 and how when people disobey God, it grieves His Holy Spirit.  And of course, then the Holy Spirit descended upon the New Testament Church in Acts 2, like tongues of fire above their heads, and filled them with power to preach the Goods News about Jesus our Lord.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit “…leads into all truth.” (John 14:17).  

Jesus said the Holy Spirit is an Advocate.  The original Greek word in the Gospel of John is “Parakletos”.  It means something like “the one who’s called to your side to comfort you and help you and fight for you.”  That’s who the Holy Spirit is.  It’s God’s Spirit who’s on your side.  Isn’t that an amazing idea!

The Holy Spirit is spirit, not physical.  Jesus, while he walked the earth, had a physical body just like you and me.  In other words, he could only be in one place at a time.  We understand this because we are physical beings with physical bodies.  Spirit is another sort of reality that is different from the physical.  During this time of the COVID 19 pandemic, people are taking the necessary precaution of social distancing to help control the spread of the illness.  However, there is also a great spirit of fear that has descended upon many in our world, a fear that drives people to panic and buy all the toilet paper so there's none left for anyone else.  And even if you are not a person prone to fear, if you watch enough hyped up, sensational news programming, the fer can start to permeate you.  A spirit of fear (or anything) can seep through walls and protective clothing and soak right into your soul.  That is the nature of a spirit.

We sometimes read about evil spirits in the New Testament that caused people to foam at the mouth or be violent or act crazy and do terrible things.  These people, it says, were "possessed" by an evil spirit.  These evil spirits seeped inside them and cause them to act out the evil spirit's nature.  I'm so thankful the Holy Spirit is not like that.  The Holy Spirit is “holy” and “good” and “pure”.  God is love and the Holy Spirit is love.  And when God's Holy Spirit seeps inside you, it makes you Holy and good and pure.

Look at how Jesus acted. He did good things and he was holy.  And Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to do everything the Father wanted Him to do.  So we can see how the Holy Spirit is good too and acts like Jesus did.

The Holy Spirit bears fruit in our lives.  And we can perceive what the Holy Spirit is like from the kinds of spiritual fruit He produces.  Galatians 5:22-23 tells us “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  The fruit that any tree produces indicates the character of the tree.  And the fruit of the Holy Spirit shows us the the Spirit is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

And the Holy Spirit is full of power too.  The Spirit empowered the early Christians to overcome incredible odds to spread the Good News about Jesus Christ all over the world.  The very people who started out determined to kill Christians and wipe them off the face of the earth, soon found that they themselves were being convicted by the Holy Spirit and repenting of their sin and turning to Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit has the power to do that--to take an enemy and turn them into thebest of friends.

All who follow Jesus are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Some perform miracles. Some offer healing.  Some speak the truth boldly.  Some lead.  Some have incredible faith.  Some lead.  Some are exceptionally loyal.  All are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  And here’s what Jesus said about those who are led by the Holy Spirit.  John 14:12 - “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”  Isn’t that amazing!  You can do great things than Jesus, the Son of God, did!

The Holy Spirit is not limited by space the way physical beings are.  You see, while Jesus was on earth in the flesh with his disciples, he could only be in one place at a time.  That's why he could not be with his friend, Lazarus, when he was sick.  Jesus was not with Lazarus because he was in another place with his disciples.  He couldn't be in both places at once and Lazarus died.  Jesus had to visit his tomb four days later to raise Lazarus.  However, the Holy Spirit is not limited by the laws of the physical world and can be everywhere at once.  The Holy Spirit is in me and can also be in you and a million other people all at the same time! That’s how we can outdo Jesus, because there are so many more of us and there was on one Jesus.  And when we are directed by the Holy Spirit, we each have the power of Jesus in us and can be working the same miracles as Jesus.  And when we all work together as the Body of Christ it is incredible!

The Holy Spirit is always on the move.  We see this characteristic in the Old Testament as the Holy Spirit led the Israelites by descending on and ascending from the Tabernacle (which was a portable temple).  The Spirit was leading them to move through the wilderness toward a Promised Land.  And in Acts, we see the Holy Spirit leading Christians to spread the Good News about Jesus to the ends of the earth.

Who’s in the Driver Seat?
My grandma was a very devote Christian. She had a passion for sharing Jesus with everyone, everywhere she went. One day when I was a boy, she couldn't wait to show me one way she was going to do it. She took me outside and showed me the front of her car. She was so proud she bought a license plate that said "God is My Co-Pilot". And she was so proud of that; she wanted everyone to know. That is, until one day when the preacher came to visit and she proudly showed him. And he said, "Mrs. Wingo, I've got a problem with that. If God is your co-pilot, you're in the wrong seat. God wants to be the pilot, not the co-pilot." So the next time I saw her, she took me out and showed me the front of her car and she had taken a marker and scratched through the prefix so it read "God is my Pilot".

God the Holy Spirit wants to be the pilot of your life, but he won't push you out of the pilot's seat unless you ask Him. The Holy Spirit never forces Himself upon us. The Holy Spirit only comes by invitation and consent. Do you recall the Christmas story where the angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her that God chose her to bear God’s Son? The angel said in Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” But the Holy Spirit did not force himself upon Mary. The Holy Spirit did not possess her until Mary gave her consent. Luke 1:38 - Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

When my wife and I drive on long trips, we take turns driving. I will drive a little ways until I get tired (or she gets tired of my driving) and then we will switch. Then, Kelly will drive until she gets tired (or I get tired of her driving) and then we will switch again.  Some of you never let anyone else drive.  You won't get in a car unless your hands are on the steering wheel.  Maybe you have to be in control or maybe you're afraid to let anyone else drive.  But I'm here to tell you, when it comes to life, you’ve got to get out of the driver’s seat and let the Holy Spirit take over.  You will never be able to get where God wants you to go safely unless you let the Holy Spirit be the driver.

So if you've never decided to follow Jesus, I hope you will today.  If you love Jesus, obey his commandments.  He will forgive all your sins and make you right with God.  Then you will receive the Holy Spirit and He will never leave you and will lead you into all truth.  Let the Holy Spirit take over your life.  You will never a better life than one directed by God's Holy Spirit.

Monday, April 27, 2020

God the Son

The Trinity
God created the universe.  That sentence is only four words long.  The brevity is misleading.  Consider: it is over 93 billion light years from one side of the observable universe to the other.  In other words, it would take 93 billion years to travel from one side to the other if you could travel at the speed of light, which is 670,616,629 miles per hour.  God created the universe and everything in it.

Furthermore, God created time.  We often fantasize how amazing it would be to travel through time--to either go back in time or forward to the future.  We haven't figured out how to do it.  However, can you even imagine a reality where time does not exist, where there is no beginning or end?  God exist without beginning or end.  People sometimes ask me, “Who created God?”  The answer is a bit unsatisfying:  No one.  No one created God.  He is uncreated.  God has always existed and always will.  “Well, that just makes no sense.” I know.  It makes no sense to the human mind whatsoever because we are created, physical beings, bound by time and space.  God is not.

The nature of our infinite God is unfathomable to the human mind and indescribable by our feeble language.  The best we can do is describe God as the Trinity.  Trinity literally means a state of being three.  Throughout the Bible, we see the trinitarian nature of God.  For example, God visited Abraham in Genesis 18:1-2.  “The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.”  The Hebrew word translated as “Lord” is YHWH and it is the eternal name of God.  It roughly translates to something like, "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be" (notice the timeless quality of His name?)  And there were three men who represented God to Abraham.

Another example is when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.  As he came up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends like a dove and the voice of God from heavens speaks and says, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”  So we see all three persons of the Trinity involved in Jesus baptism:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity boggles the human mind.  We don’t worship three Gods.  There is only One God.  However, God is three distinct persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Now people come sometimes come to me and say, “Pastor, I have a simple illustration that will clear all this up for everyone…”  I've heard many different illustrations offered.  Every example falls short and misrepresents God in some way.  I appreciate people wanting to help, but think about this:  the Apostles and all the saints, theologians, and smartest scholars who have ever lived for the last 2,000 years have tried to break the Trinity down into something simple that everyone can understand and they’ve all failed.  Do you think you are going to come to me with a something that explains it all?  Probably not.  It is the nature of an infinite God.  It is unexplainable by human lips. 

All we can do is explain what we know.  Here is what we know:
  1. There is only one God.
  2. The Father is God, the Son is God, and he Holy Spirit is God.
  3. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternally distinct persons. (The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father, but both are God. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit, but both are God. And... The Holy Spirit is not the Father and the Father is not the Holy Spirit, but both are God.)

Confused yet?  Good.  You are on the right track then.  The infinite nature of God is incomprehensible to the finite human mind.  That is why it was essential for Jesus to come down to earth in human form to show us the nature of God.  Today, I want to talk about God the Son, Jesus Christ.  

Luke 1:34-35
34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 

Did you notice the Trinity in this familiar passage from the Christmas story?  There is:  The Holy Spirit, The Most High (which is God the Father), and the baby (who is the God the Son)--three persons, one God.  Now, let's look at another passage from the Gospel of John.

John 1:14-18
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.
15 John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”
16 From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Jesus Christ was Fully Human
I have kept a brood of chickens for several years at my home (which we affectionately call "Mullis Farm").  We usually keep them inside a secure pen because there are lots of predators like hawks, owls, raccoons, possums, foxes, and coyotes that would love to feast on a nice chicken dinner.  So we keep them safely inside a chain linked pen.  Sometimes, on a pretty day, we let the chickens out to free range while we keep a watchful eye on them.  When night comes, we will usher them all back safely inside there pen.  But every now and then, one of the chickens will decide she doesn't want to go back in the pen.  If you want to see something funny, come watch a 46-year-old fat man trying to chase and catch a chicken so he can put her back into the pen, all the while hoping the other chickens won't come back outside to see what all the commotion is about.  Chickens aren't that smart. Maybe that's why we call them "bird brains".  And a wayward chicken just doesn't understand me when I plead with her, "You dumb chicken!  You've got to go back inside your pen.  You can't stay outside or some viscous predator will come tear you to shreds!"  And sometimes, I have wished I could become a chicken for just a few moments.  Then, maybe, I could go up to that chicken and say, "Buck Buck Buck, BUGGOCK!" (Which roughly translates to "You silly chicken!  It's not safe out here!  Follow me back into the pen where's it's safe so some wild animal doesn't rip you apart!"

That's what Jesus did for us. He became one of us so he could lead us to safety.  Humans have very limited understanding.  And our understanding is hindered even more by sin.  Trying to understand God and what He expects of us is like a chicken trying to understand me.  God knew the only way to show us who He really is and what we need to do was to become one of us.

And so, God “…became human and made his home among us.” (John 1:14).  Jesus was born.  He is also called Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”.  As a human, Jesus knows everything about us and what we experience.  In the New Testament, Hebrews 4:15 says, Jesus “…understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  Colossians 1:15 says, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.”  

If you want to know what God is, look at Jesus.  He was perfect; he never sinned.  He never disobeyed the spirit of God's law.  He was obedient to God the Father, doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way all according to the Father's will.  Jesus is the only man who ever lived who never sinned.  And Jesus loved perfectly because God is love.  He even loved his enemies. Jesus cared for people everyone else ignored because everyone is important to and loved by God.  Jesus searched for people who were lost; nobody get's left behind by God.  Everyone gets a chance to follow Jesus and be saved.  Ultimately, Jesus showed the infinite depth of his love when he laid down his life for us.  Jesus died on the cross for us while we were still sinners (not because we deserved it, but because we needed it).

Jesus was perfect, but he was also fully human and endured all the same trials we do.  He got tired and thirsty and hungry.  He was tempted.  He was frustrated by ignorant people.  Jesus even grieved when he lost people he loved to death.  Since his earthly father, Joseph, disappears from the biblical record before Jesus is grown, most scholars believe Jesus father died prematurely.  If you've lost a father, Jesus knew what that was like.  We also know that he would have lost many aunts and uncles and friends to death and he would have grieved just as we do.

Ultimately, Jesus faced the one thing we all must face--death.  Jesus died.  God the Son's human experience was complete because he was fully human.

Jesus is Fully God
Somehow, mysteriously, Jesus is fully man and also fully God.  How can someone be 100% God and also 100% man?  I don’t know.  It is a mystery.  How do you explain the incomprehensible nature of an infinite God?  Here’s how:  Jesus was totally and completely human and also totally and completely God.

Colossians 1:15-16 says, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.”

Jesus knows all about our pain and brokenness, because he was fully human.  However, because Jesus is also fully God, he has the power to save us.  If Jesus was only human, he would have died and stayed in the grave.  Because Jesus is also fully God, he was able to rise up out of the grave and live again.  And do you know what that means?  It means Jesus has the power to make you rise up out of the grave too!

Jesus has the power to give you new life. No matter how many times you've messed up, Jesus gives you the power to make a fresh start.  When you repent and turn to him, there is grace and power to start again.  And if you mess up tomorrow, there is power to start ove ragain the next day (and the next day and the next day).

Jesus has the power to give you eternal life.  Even if you die, you will live again.  For there is eternal life for everyone who trust in Jesus holy name.  This life and this world is not all there is.  There is eternal life, where there will be no more suffering or sickness or shame  or death.

Jesus has the power to set you free from sin.  You don’t have to sin anymore.  People will often do something wrong and then say, "The Devil made me do it."  However, Christ sets us free from sin so the Devil can't make us do anything anymore.  We have a choice every day to live for Christ or live for ourself (or someone else).  We don't always choose Jesus, but we have the power to.  Our job is to walk closely with Jesus everyday so we choose his way over our own.

Jesus has the power to live in you and through you.  Jesus' actions and words have changed everything and they can change your life.  Even ore amazing, when we follow him, he beings to work through us to make a difference in other people's lives as well.  Something you say or do can change the whole course of someone else's life.  It could even change their eternal destiny.  Now, it's not you, but Christ in you working these miracles.  Jesus has that power.

Jesus has come down from the glory of heaven to our broken world.  He became one of us so he could warn us, "Come, follow me out of the darkness into the safety of the light.  It's dangerous out here in the darkness.  There are predators roaming all around and they will tear you apart if they get the chance.  Come inside where it's safe, before it's too late."  And because Jesus is one of us, we can understand him and trust him.  But because Jesus is also God, He has the power to save us.  Won't you let Jesus save you today? 

Monday, April 20, 2020

God the Father

There are certain times in life when you tend to pause and ponder everything. It may be when you are a senior in high school and about to graduate and start a new phase of life. You may contemplate who you are and who you want to be and what you want to do with your life.  Perhaps it is when you’re nearing the end of your life and you realize you will die soon; you may reflect on all your years and what it was all about—your joys, your regrets.  There are other times too—maybe when you become a parent and hold your baby in your arms or after a divorce or when someone you love dies.

God has given us all time to reflect over the past several weeks. Never in the history of the world has there been a time like this. Oh yes, there have been plagues before, and plagues that killed far more than COVID 19. However, never before has the whole world, all at once, been so affected as we have been in this time, a time when the whole globe has been disrupted all at once.  It is unique in the history of the world.  And this has given everyone a chance to think about things in a way we might not have thought about before.  What insights have you gained?

The Disciples and earliest followers of Jesus had a special time of reflection too. Jesus was arrested and tortured, crucified and buried.  On the third day he rose from the grave in victory!  Jesus spent 40 days with His followers, proving he was really alive. Then, Jesus gave His followers their mission and He ascended to Heaven to be with the Father and His followers were left to contemplate all these things.

One of the most important commands Jesus gave before He ascended in found in Matthew 28:19.  His followers were left to ponder these words as they waited to be filled by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 28:19
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity
This statement, known as the Great Commission, is Jesus instructions to His followers (and to us).  We are on a mission to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Now, there is something for the Disciples (and us) to think about. The mission, though it may be grand and overwhelming—is not hard to understand—“Go make disciples.”  But what about the part: “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”?

Jesus helped us understand God better than anyone else who ever walked the face of the earth.  This is because Jesus is God. In Jesus, God took on human flesh.  John 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus and God one and the same. But wait, I thought Jesus was the Son of God?  John 3:16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but somehow also mysteriously Jesus is God. And who is the Holy Spirit?

You see, the Disciples and earliest followers of Jesus had a lot to think about!  Very early on, they recognized and began to teach the triune nature of God.  We know that there is only One God, for this is what Jesus taught from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”  Christians don’t worship three Gods.  We only worship one God.  However, the One God exists as a Trinity.

Though the word “trinity” is never used in Scripture, we see the Trinity of God expressed throughout the pages of the Bible.  We see God and the Spirit of God at work in the creation in Genesis 1:1-2. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” And John 1:1 tells us Jesus, the Word, was also there. “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Genesis 1:26 even uses a plural form when speaking of God at creation.  “Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” You find this in the NLT, NIV, and KJV as well as the original Hebrew.  And when Jesus was baptized in Matthew 3:16-17, we see all three persons of the Trinity. “After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”  Did you see them?  There is God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus the Son.

So there is only One God, but He is a Trinity of Three Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Still confused? That’s Ok? The Apostles began to teach this triune nature of God as soon as the Holy Spirit filled them at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 (40 days after Jesus ascended to Heaven), but it took several centuries for the Christian Church to work out all the details of the Trinity as a formal  doctrine. How do you verbalize the mysterious nature of an infinite God in feeble human language? The Trinity is the best we can do. There is One God, but He is three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

So pray for me!  My task over the next several weeks is to write about the mysterious, infinite, inconceivable nature of the Trinity.  Pray that God gives me the words.

God the Father
Let’s look at God the Father today.  God is our Father.  Of course, God is Jesus' Father.  His Spirit overshadowed Mary and she conceived a child in her womb who is Jesus.  God the Father is the Father of Christ.

God also created us. In a grand sense, God created us all because He created the human race. Genesis 1 tells how God created male and female in His own image. So God is our Father in the macro sense. However, God is also our Father on the micro level Jeremiah 1:5 gives us this sense as God said, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart.” And as our Father, God provides for and protects us before we even know about Him.  I have three children and each time I held them as newborns, I was struck with the overwhelming sense that I was their father and my job is to protect and provide for them.  I supposed that's the way God designed us to be.  There is something in our DNA that compels us to shelter our offspring.  That's probably a good thing, because it's a lot of work and children (especially as infant) do nothing in return.  They don't even realize what you are doing, let alone show any gratitude.  On the contrary, infants are incredibly needy.  They need you to do everything for them--feed them, clean them, protect them, sooth them, nurture them.  And this is what God does for us; even before we have any awareness of Him, God is our protecting and providing Father.

And like any father, God loves us.  However, unlike any other father, God our Father loves us perfectly.  He always knows what to do, has the power to do it, and loves us perfectly so He does exactly what we need.  Love is not just warm and fuzzy affection.  Sometimes love requires discipline.  Hebrews 12:6 says, “For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

God the Father grieves for us when we turn away.  It breaks our Father's heart when we turn our backs on Him.  If you've ever had a child who disappointed you, you understand something of what God feels for His own wayward children.  If you've ever had a friend betray you or a spouse be unfaithful, you know something of the heartache God feels for His rebellious children.  However, God feels it infinitely more deeply because of His infinite character and perfect love.

Thankfully, God our Father never gives up on us.  Jesus told a famous story called the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).  In the story, a man has two sons and the younger demanded the Father go ahead and give him his inheritance; in essence, he was saying, "I wish you were dead. Give me my inheritance now."  The gracious father gives the son his inheritance and he runs away to a foreign land where he wastes all the money on wild living. Finally, he hits rock bottom and is on the brink of starvation, longing to eat the slop he is feeding the pigs.  He decides to return home and beg his father to take him back as a slave.  He goes home, but his father runs out to see him and embraces him.  The father, puts a ring on his finger and a fine robe on his back and throws a "welcome home" party for him.  And this is what God the Father does for us.  He longs for us to choose to come Home to Him.  And He graciously welcomes us home whenever we repent and turn to Him.  God welcomes us home, cleans us up, heals us of the terrible wounds we sustained while we were running from Him in our rebellion.

There is another sense in which God is our Father.  God adopts us.  Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”  Adoption is a choice.  Society expects us to take care of our biological children.  It's against the law to abandon them.  Even if society didn't enforce this, nature itself testifies that we are obligated to care for our offspring.  The same is not true for a child who is not your own.  We may feel a tenderness for a child that doesn't belong to us, but we are not obligated to provide for them in the same way we are obligated to care for our own.  That is why we laud those special people who adopt.  We understand that they are showing extraordinary compassion by committing to expend tremendous resources to care for a child that is not their own.  It is a choice they make.  And this is what God the Father has done for us.  The Father is under no obligation whatsoever to care for us.  Because of sin, we have turned our back utterly on God.  Sin has effectively severed the parent child relationship.  And yet, because of His great love, God chooses to adopt us as His own children when we accept Christ as Lord.

And so God becomes our proud Father, just as He is the Father of Christ.  When God looks at us, He does not see our sin, our rebellion, our flaws or weaknesses.  Instead, because of what Christ did for us on the cross, God sees Jesus in us.  And it makes God so proud.  So we could apply what God said about His Son to our own lives.  In Matthew 3:17, when Jesus was baptized “...a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”  If you follow Christ, God is proud of you too.  And we can now live in ways that continue to make God the Father proud to call us His sons and daughters.

Have you ever known a father’s love? No matter how special your earthly father was, it was only a glimmer of the Love of Your Heavenly Father.  In fact, your earthly father was good only because he was copying the character of God the Father.  God the Father loves perfectly, powerfully, and infinitely.

Perhaps you have never known a fathers love.  It is an regrettable fact in our broken world that too many fathers do not act the way a father should.  They do not protect and provide.  They sometimes abandon or fail.  And I know many who read these words have never really known the love of a father.  And for you, it may be difficult to relate to God as a good father.  But please don't let that deter you.  Instead, understand that you may have a great blessing; for though you never knew a father's love on earth (or knew it imperfectly), God is your Father in the greatest sense.  You are not an orphan; you are not fatherless.  God is your Father and He s the greatest father of all.

And so, I invite everyone to turn to the Father today.  He created you, provides for you, protects you, loves you, chooses you, and wants to be proud of you.  Won't you turn to Him today?