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Showing posts with label Changing the World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Changing the World. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The Spiritual Power We Need Today - Pentecost 2022

I’ve been looking forward to Pentecost Sunday for many months.  The Story of Pentecost comes from Acts chapter 2.  Jews celebrate a harvest festival seven weeks and one day (50 days) after Passover.  In Jesus’ day, this religious festival drew thousands of people from all over the world to the Temple in Jerusalem for a time of celebration and religious devotion.  Pentecost is also the 50th Day after Easter.  For Christians, it commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to fill Jesus’ followers and marks the official birth of the Christian Church.  Let’s read the story.

Acts 2:1-3
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 

Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 

This traditional picture of Christian saints from antiquity often shows a halo around their head (like the example of saint Thomas pictured here).  This halo was an artistic representation of the Holy Spirit's radiance shining around the believer.  It hails back to this Pentecost story from Acts 2.  It might seem out of place for us to picture Christians today with halos around their heads.  However, it would not be off base.  All believers of Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:4-13
And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”

What is the Holy Spirit?
The Scripture says is verse 4, “Everyone Present was filled with the Holy Spirit…”

People might ask:  "What is the Holy Spirit?"  However, the Holy Spirit is not a What, but a Who.  The Holy Spirit is not a thing but a person.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God.  In Christianity, we believe there is One God, revealed in Three Persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  It is easy enough for us to think of Jesus (the God the Son) as a person because Jesus lived on earth in a body.  We might also be able to think of God the Father as a person, because God often spoke to people in the Bible (and speaking is something a person does).  Unfortunately, God the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, is harder for many peole to think of as a person.  But the Holy Spirit is a person too.  This is a mystery of the Trinitarian God is too complex to tackle in this blog.  However, lets start with the concept of the Holy Spirit as being a personhood of God.  

The Holy Spirit is God's Spirit.

The Holy Spirit of God descended upon and filled the Christians at Pentecost.

Furthermore, every Christian who believes in Jesus Christ and follows Him as Lord is filled with the same Holy Spirit.  So, Christians today are the same in this respect as the Christians we read about in Acts.  We all have access to the wisdom, guidance, and power of God's Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit empowers Christians to be witnesses for Christ.  What evidence of of the Holy Spirit’s power do we see in the believers in Acts 2:4?  The Holy Spirit empowered them to speak in other languages. 

Why did the Holy Spirit empower Christians in Acts 2 to speak in other languages?  Was it just a fancy parlor trick to show off?  No.  It had an important purpose.  The Holy Spirit empowered Christians in Acts 2 to speak other languages because there were people in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival from all over the world—people who spoke all these different languages.  God wanted these Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to share the Good News about Jesus Christ in their languages.  This was the miraculous power of God.

Now, if you've ever tried to communicate with someone who doesn't speak the same language, you know how difficult it can be.  Even if you now a few words of their language and they know some of yours, you end up using broken language and playing a game of charades to try to get them to understand.  It's exhausting.  And even if they understand your language as a second language, they may not truly hear the full heart of your message--especially if you are talking about something as deep and heartfelt as spirituality.  That's why God wanted the people gathered from all over the world in Jerusalem for Pentecost 2,000 years ago to hear the Good News that Jesus came to save the world from sin in their own native tongue.  He wanted them to here the story with their heart as well as their heads.

Speaking in Tongues
Some denominations make a whole thing out of speaking in tongues.  It is often even a regulars element of weekly worship for many Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God.  It may seem weird if you've never heard someone speak in tongues in church.  It sounds like gibberish, but it relies on a tradition that sprang up early in the New Testament.

There are two different kinds of speaking in tongues that we read about in the New Testament.  The first is what we read about in Acts 2.  It is where the Holy Spirit supernaturally enabled some Christians to speak in other earthly languages they had never known before for the purpose of communicating with people who needed to understand.

God Empowers You!
There is also another form of speaking in tongues in the New Testament--speaking in heavenly or angelic languages (a language that is not understood or spoken by people on earth).  Paul refers to this kind of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.  He says that sometimes the Holy Spirit enables people to speak in tongues like this and that the same Holy Spirit will enable another person to supernaturally interpret the language so the rest of the church may be edified by it.  That is why it is customary for denominations today who practice the gift of speaking in tongues during worship will also include an interpreter who will translate what has been spoken in tongues.

I would add that there is another sense in which God's Holy Spirit can enable Christians today to speak in tongues.  God empowers you to speak to the people in your sphere of influence.  You see there are people in our world who only you can reach.  Because of the relationship you've formed with them--whether they are your friends, your relatives, your neighbors, your coworkers--they will listen to what you have to say about Jesus.  They won't listen to me--even though I am a preacher.  They don't know me.  They don't attend my church.  They may not even be a Christian and don't care what a Christian preacher says.  However, they know and trust you.  They will listen and understand what you say.

Furthermore, there are many different professions that have their own way of speaking.  Teachers have their own lingo.  So do medical professionals and construction workers and many other professions.  So if you are a teach or nurse or construction worker, etc., you know the language that may reach people in those professions.  You can speak to their hearts in ways a preacher like me may not be able to.  God has empowered you by His Holy Spirit to be a witness for Christ.

God’s Holy Spirit empowers every Christian to be a faithful witness.  You may not feel able.  You may think, "I'm not a speaker.  I'm too shy.  It's too uncomfortable to talk about my faith."  Or you may worry you might not know the Bible well enough or have concerns that you won't know the answers to people's spiritual questions.  

You know, you sound a lot like other people in the Bible who were reluctant to answer God's call.  I think about Moses when God told Moses to go tell the Egyptian Pharaoh to let the Hebrew slaves go free.  Moses complained, "I'm not a good speaker.  My tongue get's twisted.  I think You've chosen the wrong guy."

God's response to Moses is much the same as it is for us today.  He says, "Who formed the tongue in your mouth and taught it how to speak?"  If God can empower Moses speak to Pharaoh and David to defeat Goliath and Peter to preach at Pentecost, God can certainly empower you to speak about your faith to your friends, your family, or your coworkers.

God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips those He calls. 
God doesn’t need you to be able.  He just needs you to be available.
God can enable anyone to serve.  He can even make a dumb man speak. 
In one place in the Bible, God even made a donkey speak.
He can surely empower you to be His witness & to make a difference in this world for His glory!
The real question is:  Are you available?

Apathy in Our World
There's a serious problem with apathy in post-COVID America.  People just don't want to work.  How many o fyou work for a business that just can't find enough people to work?  Every restaurant and business in town has help wanted signs up in the window.  And even though employers are raising wages to new record levels, they still can't find enough labor.

And churches are struggling too.  Not only is there trouble hiring staff, we can't find enough volunteers either.  In my own local congregation, it's like pulling teeth sometimes to get people to volunteer in the nursery, or teach Sunday school, or serve dinner on Wednesday nights.  And the harsh truth is, the Church's influence will either grow or shrink based on the number and faithfulness of the volunteers we can recruit to serve.  And right  now, my church's ability to minister to people in need is shrinking because we do not have the volunteers we desperately need.

The world needs Jesus now more than ever.  Turn on your TV and what do you see?  Crazy people walking into schools and shooting innocent children and their teachers, shooting up hospitals, doctors, nurses...  It doesn't matter what gun laws you try to pass or what new politician you elect to office, this is not the real answer.  The world needs Jesus and Christians are called to share Jesus with the world.

This is no time for Christians to apathetically stay home and be silent. 
This is no time for us to shirk our responsibilities to serve wholeheartedly.  
This is no time to forget the greatest commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.  And to love our neighbor as yourself.
The world needs Jesus NOW more than ever. 
Kids need Jesus NOW more than ever. 
Youth need Jesus NOW more than ever. 
Adults need Jesus NOW more than ever.
And Romans 10:14 says, “How can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”
Will you be the person who tells people about Jesus by what you say and what you do?

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Beautiful Image

This message series was inspired by a book I read last year by an enlightening book by James Dickson I read last year titled Bullies and Saints.

When the Church is true to Christ, we are His body, the perfect image of God. Our respect for the image of God means all human life is sacred and must be respected equally.  This helped change the way people are treated and is still changing hearts and minds today. 

Unfortunately, the Church has not always represented Christ well.  When we misunderstand Christ’s teachings or use religion to pursue our own selfish ambitions, we distort the beautiful image of Christ.  But we shouldn’t judge Jesus or His teachings by those who fail to follow them.  Instead, let us consider how the Church makes the world radically better when it was faithful to Christ’s teachings.  And let us resolve to set aside our own selfish ambitions, take up our cross daily, and follow Christ. 

The Ancient Value of Human Life
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jeferson penned the beautiful, revolutionary idea that “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  America's founding fathers didn’t pluck these ideas out of thin air.  They actually gleaned them from Biblical Christian teaching.  Jewish and Christian sacred texts hold that all people bear the image of God, and thus, we are all loved by God and sacred to Him. 

In our times, we take for granted that all human life is sacred.  People did not always believe this way.  In fact, ancient societies did not believe it at all.  Kings, Pharaohs, and Caesars were sometimes thought to be the image of God, but not ordinary people and especially not children, the elderly, slaves, or the infirm. 

Here's an example.  In 1 BC, a Roman soldier named Hilarion stationed away from home wrote a letter to his pregnant wife to say if the baby was a boy she should keep it. But if the baby was a girl, she must “throw it out.”[i]  What’s even more striking is Hilarion mentions this in passing.  It’s not even the main point of the letter.  The life of the child—which we hold to be sacred and worthy of all dignity, respect, and protection—was just a thing to be kept or discarded and mentioned as nonchalantly as if it were instructions about throwing out of an unneeded and worn-out rug.

Hilarion's letter seems callous and cruel to us.  We would arrest anyone today who acted that way.  However, people in Hilarion’s day would not have thought he was being cruel or immoral.  This was what was expected of good citizens.  It was actually considered a danger to society to keep unwanted or disabled children. 

It was common practice in the ancient world for families to “expose” unwanted or deformed children.  Exposure meant parents simply left the child outside and let it die of exposure to the elements.  Ironically, people who were too soft-hearted to do their “civic duty” were seen as weak or uncivilized.  Aristotle—the great, Greek philosopher lauded by historians and scholars today—recommended there should be a law "to prevent the rearing of deformed children."[ii] 

This practice seems horrific and evil to us today, but suppose you were somehow transported back in time to Hilarion’s time to convince him not to throw out his unwanted daughter.  What argument would you make?

You might say, “It’s cruel and immoral.”

Hilarion and his neighbors would counter that it was cruel to let an unwanted child live, that it weakened society, that the child had no useful purpose, and that it would be an unnecessary drain on the family and society.  

You see, in the ancient, non-Christian, non-Jewish world, people believed a person's worth was based upon it’s capacity (or potential) to contribute to the family and society.  A person or a child who with little or nothing to offer had no intrinsic value.  Non-religious people today struggle to make an effective argument against this.  Why do people have value if not for what they provide?  Why is human life sacred if someone does not accept the reality of religious sacredness? 

Our outrage in modern times at the exposure of an infant reveals that modern people have a very different fundamental belief that all life is sacred—especially the life of a helpless infant.  We feel compelled to stand up for the weak and vulnerable and voiceless.  Where do we get this urge?

The answer is found in Scripture.  Right back at the very beginning of the Christian story of faith, we see that God instilled sacred value in human life.

Genesis 1:27
So God created human beings[a] in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 tells us that every person is created in the image of God.   And throughout Scripture, we are reminded to respect and protect people because they bear God’s image.  God loves them and we are to love and respect people too.  The reason we don’t murder is because people are made in God’s image and to take another person’s life is an attack on God Himself.  Genesis 9:6 says, “If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image.”  

Thankfully, the civilized world no longer “exposes” unwanted children.  The reason is Jesus came and showed us the perfect image of God and established the Church to carry out His mission on earth.  And for 2,000 years, the Church has been working to transform the way the world thinks.  So many of the blessings we enjoy today started with Christ and came to fruition through His Church.  Consider: 

The Blessings We Have Because of the Church
Because of the Church, we have laws forbidding the abandonment of children.  The Christian Church led the Roman Empire to establish a law forbidding the exposure of the of unwanted children.

Because of the Church, we have orphanages.  The Christian Church founded the first orphanages and foster care systems to take care of unwanted children.  How many millions of people are alive today because the church rescued unwanted children who would have otherwise been abandoned or exposed?

Because of the Church, we have public hospitals.  The early Church invented public hospitals where everyone—rich and poor alike—could receive care because we are all equally sacred to and loved by God.  Christians believed all people should be cared for when they are sick because they are made in the image of God.  Before the Church era, the infirm, elderly, deformed and outcast (especially those that were poor) were disposable and often abandoned because they could not contribute to society.  Christians changed this—establishing the first hospitals, monasteries to care for widows, and rest homes for the elderly.

Because of the Church, we had the abolition of slavery.  Church teaching led to the ending of slavery.  Early Christians frequently purchased freedom for slaves or rescued them by other means.  Eventually, Christians led the fight to abolish slavery in Europe and then America. You can’t own someone as property, because they are made in the image of God.  Their life is sacred to God who made them to be free and only under the authority of One Master—God.  

Because of the Church, we have free legal representation.  Today in America, you have the right to an attorney.  If you can’t afford an attorney, the court will appoint one to serve you for free.  Do you know who started that?  The early Church started this practice because they said “Everyone is equal in the eyes of God and deserves equal justice, whether rich or poor.”  The justice system in ancient Rome was very corrupt and favored the rich who could afford court fees, bribes, and expensive legal representation.  The Christian Church stepped in to level the playing field--paying court fees and advocating for the poor so they would receive equal justice.  Later, the Roman Empire adopted the same practice to ensure equal justice for rich and poor.  This practice has been handed down to America today.

So we see, these are just a few of the example of how Christ’s Church has beautifully transformed our world in countless ways that we take for granted.  Even people who are not Christians today (or who would never set foot inside a church) benefit from these blessings faithful Christians normalized in our world.  

Of course, the Church has not always been faithful to Christ’s example & teachings.  And it is very destructive when people stray from Christ and use religion for their own selfish gain.  We must always be on guard, realizing the image of God in us is broken and distorted by sin.  We do not naturally do the right thing.  That is why Christ had to come—as the perfect image of God—to atone for our sin and set our feet back on the right path.

Colossians 1:15-20

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 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.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.


Join Christ’s Mission to Save the World

When the Church is true to Christ, we are His body, the perfect image of God.  Our respect for the image of God means all human life is sacred and must be respected equally.  This helps change the way people are treated and is still changing hearts and minds today.


We have much work left to do.  Look around at the world and see there is still so much suffering and injustice and oppression.  The answer is not found in human reasoning, a college degree, politics, government programs, or nation building.  The answer is Christ.


We must surrender.  We must recognize we are not our own and cannot live however we please.  We must recognize Jesus is Lord.  We must repent of our sin and pledge our lives and livelihood to Him and Him alone.  Then, we must be faithful and follow Jesus.  We must be the Church He calls us to be—which Colossians 1:18 says in Christ’s body.  Rise up men and women of faith!


And so I plead with you today.  

Turn from your sins and turn to Jesus.  

A world without Christ is a very dark place and a life without Christ ends in eternal death and damnation.  Turn to Jesus and be saved.  Serve the Lord and help save the world.

It’s as simple as that.