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Showing posts with label Holy Spirit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holy Spirit. Show all posts

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Encouragement


Introduction 
We’ve been studying how the power of God transforms all believers through the Holy Spirit so that we in turn can help transform each other and the whole world.  The Holy Spirit everyone who follows Christ as Lord a special gift.  Romans 12:6-8 tells us tells us the Holy Spirit gives some the gift of Prophecy, others the gift of Serving, or Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, or Kindness.  Today, we will consider the spiritual gift of encouragement.  The Word of God tells us how to encourage one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:14
14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

Encouragement
Preaching is so enlightening for me.  I learn so much.  Today’s message is a perfect example.  I’m 45-years-old and in all this time, I never really thought very deeply about encouragement.  But preparing and preaching a sermon challenges me every week to look deeply into things I otherwise would have taken for granted.  The concept of encouragement is a perfect example.

What is encouragement?  The Greek word the New Testament uses is parakaleo.  Some versions translate it exhort.  Exhort is an outdated word people don’t use much anymore.  (I always have to look the word exhort up to remember what it means).  So a lot of new translation use the word encouragement.  But encouragement seems too easy that just makes me think of cheering someone on.  Cheering people on is only part of what the New Testament means when it talks about encouragement.  The spiritual gift of parakaleo (or exhorting or encouragement) is much more broad than just cheering people on and making them feel better. 

Parakaleo/exhorting/encouraging means to invite, invoke, beseech, call for, comfort, or intreat.  It's a kind of encouragement, but it's more like what a good football coach does.  Think of a football team with all the players having different personalities and problems.  Each player needs a different kind of “encouragement” from their coach.  One player is being lazy and needs the coach to bark at them, “Johnson!  Get off your butt and get to work!”  Another player is discouraged because they made a stupid mistake.  The coach says to them, “Shake it off Taylor.  Forget about it.  You’ve got this.”  Another player has a serious injury and is out of the game and the coach kneels with them and comforts them, “Don’t worry about it.  We’re gonna get you fixed.  You’ll be as good as new by next week.” 

A good coach “encourages” each player according to exactly what they need.  But always, a good coach is also thinking about the bigger picture and leading the whole team in their mission.  His words and actions are meant to drive the team forward toward victory.

Well, football is great, but the Church is on a mission from God.  We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the whole world.  And for this purpose, the Holy Spirit has given some Christians the special ability to encourage “the team” (the Church).  The gift of encouragement is the ability to inspire, admonish, embolden, and support others so that they are strengthened in resolve, faith and spirit.  The gift of encouragement is not so much about making people feel better as cheering them on in the right direction to do what God is calling us to do.  It is a motivational type of encouragement.

You want to know something really cool?  In the New Testament, the Greek word for the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete.  It’s the Greek word for Helper or Encourager.  So if you have the spiritual gift of encouragement, you are doing the very work of the Holy Spirit of God!  That’s just cool!  It’s like you’re a little holy spirit walking around getting people fired up to do God’s work!

Slide – Tips for Encouragers
Now let me give a few tips for all the little holy spirits in the room—the encouragers and exhorters. 

First of all, get to work!  We need you!  We need you to offer your encouragement.  All Christians ought to try to encourage one another.  But those who have the spiritual gift of encouragement can have a powerful influence on the Church.  Your words and actions get us fired up.  They motivate us to do the Lord’s work.  So speak up.  Offer your encouragement.  It really makes a difference!

Second, ground yourself in the Word, the Bible.  God gives some people the ability to teach—to offer facts and figures and knowledge about God’s story in the Bible.  (We talked about the spiritual gift of teaching last week.)  But exhorters/encouragers are practical teachers who emphasis getting things done rather than just knowledge for knowledge's sake.  Teachers says, “This is how you should live.”  encouragers says, “I will help you to do it.”  So encouragers need to know the Bible so they can help people live the Bible’s teaching.  (One of the best partnerships is between Teachers and encouragers.  The Teacher shows the deep meanings of the Bible to the encourager and then the encourager helps people put it all into practice to accomplish God’s mission.)

Third, plug in to ministry.  Find ways to put your encouraging gift into practice.  People with the spiritual gift of encouragement make great counselors, Sunday school teachers, pastors, deacons, people who visit shut-ins or people in the hospital.  If your spiritual gift is encouragement, get some training in one of these ministries and then get to work!
  
Lastly, go deep.  Be careful that your encouragement is more than just superficial cheeriness.  You know what I mean?  Yes, sometimes people just need a cheerful word and smile.  But other times, they need a kick in the butt!  And if they need a kick in the butt and you just give them a cheerful word, you’ve not helped.  You might have made the situation worse.  So make sure your encouragement caries the full strength of this remarkable gift.  Let God lead you to be honest and truly helpful as you provoke people to be all that God wants them to be.

Monday, May 6, 2019

"I'm on Fire!" - Things You Can't Say in Church (but you should)


Introduction
I’m preaching a series of sermons called, “Things you can’t say in church (but you should)”.  And I want to emphasize that last little part that’s in parentheses – (But You Should).  You see these are things that a lot of people think or feel you shouldn’t say in church, but you absolutely should.  Don’t ever let someone convince you not to say these things in church.  You must say them.  Even more, you must live them out.  They must be a core part of who you are.  Genuine Christianity is not about being respectable or dignified.  Do you think if the trumpets of Heaven blew with a mighty blast and the roof of this sanctuary were ripped away and the Holy Presence of God descended upon us that anyone would remain dignified, reserved, and respectable?  No.  You would probably turn into a blubbering idiot either fearing for your miserable life or else be overcome with immense love and admiration for your God.  But none of us would be respectable or dignified.  But there are still many who feel going to church means you must be respectable and dignified and that you can’t say certain things in church.  And I say that’s ridiculous. 

Last week, I shared how a lot of people think you can't say, "I'm broken" in church.  But I say, you you should; you absolutely should.  It's essential, because Jesus came to heal the broken.  And if you ain't broken, Jesus can't fix you.  The truth is, we're all broken.  We just need to admit it, repent, and let Jesus heal us.

I’ve got another one today:  “I’m on fire!”  Now what does it mean to be on fire in the church?  I’m talking about people who are full of passion and fire for the Lord.  A lot people are annoyed or afraid of people who are on fire for the Lord.  They just want everyone to come to church and sit down and be quiet—to be dignified and respectable and not stir up any controversy.  Just be a good boy or girl.  But Jesus wants us all to be on fire.  I know this because it’s foretold throughout the Bible.

John the Baptist foretold it in Matthew 3:11.  He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  And Jesus said in Luke 12:49 - “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!"  And then, in Acts 2:1-4 we see how the Church was filled with the Holy Spirit’s fire.

Acts 2:1-4
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The Church on Fire
Pentecost is an annual Jewish festival.  It is also the day Christians celebrate the birth of the Christian Church.  This year, Pentecost falls on June 9.  In this story, the faithful followers of the resurrected Jesus (which is the Church) were all gathered in the Temple in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit set them on fire.  I don’t mean that they were literally set ablaze.  What I mean is the Holy Spirit filled them with passion and power to serve the Lord.  The passion and power were so vibrant it even looked as if tongues of fire were dancing above their heads.  And these people began speaking in other languages so that anyone who was gathered in the Temple from all over the world could hear these “on fire” Christians sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ in their very own language. 

Acts 2:13 says, “Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”  Isn’t that a typical response of many religious people who are frightened or annoyed when they see someone else in worship who has a little too much passion for God?  They start scoffing and say, “They’re just showing off,” or “They’re mentally unbalanced,” or “They’re just a religious fanatic.”  Some people think you can’t say “I’m on fire!” in church.  But I say, you should; you must!  Because the Church Jesus established is filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit!

“Awe come on, preacher!”  You say, “That’s just stuff that happened in the Bible.  That don’t happen anymore.”  Is that so?  Are we not the same Church today as they were then?  Is not the same Jesus still our Lord?  Are not those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior still filled with the Holy Spirit?  Is not the Holy Spirit that fills us the same Holy Spirit that filled these believers in Acts Chapter 2 on the Day of Pentecost?  I say it is.  God has not changed.  The only thing that’s changed is your belief. 

Some think God and power and miracles and real faith was something that happened long ago.  Some think God is some distant deity who lives far away and is not actively involved in our world anymore.  I say, "No sir!  He is here, right here, right now." I say God still pours out His Holy Spirit fire on anyone who does not pretend to be too dignified and respectable or uninterested to receive Him.  We are called to be a Church full of people who gladly proclaim, “I’m on fire!”

What Does It Mean to Be On Fire?
We can see what if means to be on fire in the church.  All we have to do is look at these believers in Act 2.  There are three main things we see.  

First of all, these “on fire” Christians loved God with all their heart, all their mind, all their soul, and all their strength.  They were wholeheartedly and completely committed to Jesus Christ.  And why shouldn’t they be?  The religious leaders in Jerusalem arrested their Jesus, brutally beat him, crucified him, and buried him.  But on the Third Day, Jesus Christ rose from the grave!  And everyone who truly believes Jesus Christ is no longer dead, realizes there is nothing in this world more important than following Jesus Christ with your whole heart.  These believers may have been afraid the religious leaders who killed Jesus would try to kill them.  But they didn’t let that fear keep them away.  Their faith in Jesus Christ was more important than anything else.

Second, we see that these “on fire” Christians in Acts loved their neighbor as themselvesFor as soon as the Holy Spirit set them on fire, they began to preach the Good News about Jesus Christ to everyone around them.  Some might think they would be angry and retaliate.  Some might wonder that they didn’t scream, “You killed my Lord Jesus and you’re gonna pay!”  Some might think they would use the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn up the wicked religious leaders of Jerusalem for their terrible rebellion against God.  But they didn’t do any of that.  Instead, they realized we are all broken sinners who deserved to be burned up by the fire of God, but instead God loves us and sent His Son to save us, not destroy us.  And so these on fire Christians in Acts 2 use the power of the Holy Spirit to speak in all the languages of the people gathered for worship in Jerusalem so that everyone can hear and understand that Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation.  They speak, because they know God has loved them and they offer the same love to everyone—even their enemies—hoping that all will repent of their sins and turn to God and be forgiven and become “on fire” Christians just like them.  And many of them repent and turn to Jesus.  Acts 2:41 says 3,000 new people repented of their sins and started following Jesus Christ that day.  It is incredible what happens when a few Christians get set on fire!

And there is a third thing we see.  Slide – These “on fire” Christians became a family.  Acts 2:42-47 says:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

You see, their fellowship—their being together, learning together, praying together, working together, worshiping together, eating together—became the most important thing in their life.  And their love for one another was proof to everyone, everywhere that there was something special and powerful happening.  And more and more people started turning to Jesus Christ to be saved.

Say "I'm on Fire!"
So don’t ever let anyone discourage you from saying “I’m on fire!” in Church.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would set you on fire—set us all on fire—that we might be filled with passion and power to be true believers of Jesus Christ—the continuation of the Church described in the book of Acts.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Vandalizing Lady Liberty


Introduction
            This is the last in this series of blogs about true freedom as Paul shared in his Epistle to the Galatians.  Christ has set us free! Free from the impossible burden of trying to be perfect so as to please God. Free from the fear that God does not love us, or will not love us, or will ever stop loving us. Free to love others just like God loves us through Jesus Christ.
            The title of this blog is "Vandalizing Lady Liberty".  The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom to people all over the world. But did you know it has been vandalized many times?  Recently, a group protesting Trump hung a banner on the statue saying, “Refugees welcome.”  Others, over the years, have used spray paint to damage the monument—for no good reason at all other than meanness.  Who would do such a thing?
            Well, we have to be careful we do not vandalize the freedom Christ won for us on the cross.  Some have said that because Christ won forgiveness for our sins on the cross, we can live however we want.  I know of a husband who said something like that to his wife when she reproached him for his unchristian behavior.  He actually said, he could do whatever he wanted because Christ had already forgiven him!  Others may not say as much, but they live that way.  We have a term called a "sinning baptist" to describe someone who appears all holy on Sunday morning at church, but sins like the Devil Monday through Saturday.  
             Is this true? Does our freedom in Christ give us a license to live however we please--to sin as much as we like without fear of judgment from God? This is the subject of this final blog about freedom from the letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 5:16-23
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians 5:16 - A Verse Full of Meaning
            Verse 16 is packed full of meaning.  It says: “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”  So what does that tell us?  First of all, it says the Holy Spirit will guide you.  Everyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them.  This is the same spirit that has no beginning and no end--the Spirit is infinite.  And God's Holy Spirit lives inside those who put their faith in Christ and speaks to us and guides in how to live righteously before God.
            However, verse 16 also reminds us we still have a sinful nature.  And our sinful natures craves the wrong stuff.  So, there is a war within us.  The Holy Spirit guides us to do the right thing, but our old sinful nature urges us to do the opposite.  Before we trust in Christ, we are powerless to fight our sinful nature.  In fact, Scripture tells us we are enslaved to it.  However, Galatians 5:16 lets us know that Christ won your freedom from the power of sin.  It no longer has the power to control us if we listen and obey the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, you have to listen to the Holy Spirit instead of your sinful nature.

How Do I Know if I’m Following the Holy Spirit or My Sinful Nature?
            Galatians 5:19-21 says, When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.”
            Notice, these are primarily issues of morality, based on God’s holy nature.  These are not civil codes about how to build a proper fence or what to do if a neighbor is gored by your ox.  Nor are these religious ceremonial laws about how to sacrifice or circumcision or what foods make you clean or unclean.  These are moral laws; some would argue (I would argue) they are universal laws.  Almost everyone—accept those whose conscious is seriously clouded—can agree that the immoral behaviors listed in verses 19-21 are unwholesome, unholy, and harmful to both individuals and the Body of Christ.  Anyone with a basic common sense would not want to go before the throne of God and brag that they had engaged in any of these behaviors.
            Now there is still an immature, sinful nature that lives inside us all that still craves these immoral things.  Now, maybe sexual immorality isn’t your vice (I don’t know).  But how many struggle with jealousy?  How many of you just want to vent your anger and really give somebody a piece of your mind from time to time?  How many of you are full of selfish ambition and feel tempted to compromise your integrity to get something you really want?  How many of us talk about how upset we are that America is so divided, and yet we eat up news stories that fan the flames of quarreling, dissension, and division?  (We might as well make a bowl of popcorn as we sit down to be "entertained" by it all.  You see, there is still a sinful nature in us all.  But you don’t have to follow it.  Jesus gave you the freedom to follow God’s Holy Spirit instead.

What happens when you follow the Holy Spirit?
            Galatians 5:22-23 says,But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”  Now, is there anything in that list that seems out of place?  Do you see anything that you would not like to have as part of your character?  Is there anything here that you feel would not be pleasing to God?  These are all virtues that bring healing and wholeness.  They make our world a better place.  They make our own lives more wholesome.  They draw us close to God—the source of Life. 
            The more you listen to and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit, the more these fruits become part of your life.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but through a lifetime of faithful cooperation with God’s Spirit, you find yourself become more and more like Christ—who exhibited all of these spiritual fruits perfectly and abundantly.

Repent and be Washed Clean of Sin
In closing, I want to return to the question I posed at the beginning:  Does our freedom in Christ give us a license to live however we please--to sin as much as we like without fear of judgment from God?  The clear answer is no! No, because it is not good for us.  No, because it is destructive to our spirit and to the Church Christ established.  No we cannot go on breaking the clear moral laws of God because it is an affront to our Holy God who sent His only begotten Son so that anyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  To take Christ’s death on the cross as a license to sin as much as we please would be worse than vandalizing the statue of liberty.  It would be infinitely worse than desecrating the American flag.  It would be like walking up to the foot of the cross, where the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God, who died to take away your sins hangs bleeding and dying, and pick up another nail and pound it into him while he cries out “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” 
            If that’s how you’ve been living, you can make a change today.  The mercy and love and grace of God through Jesus Christ is so infinite that even you can be forgiven today!  Won’t you fall on your knees before Christ today, say you’re sorry, and ask forgiveness?
            Or perhaps today, you want to start opening you ears to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  You want to let God's Holy Spirit produce more spiritual fruit in you--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness. amd self-control.  Pray to the Lord and ask Him to help you.
            Next week, I will begin a new series that looks at each of these spiritual fruits listed In Galatians 5:22-23.  I hope you will join me for the journey.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Babysitter

Introduction
            Babysitters are some of the most unsung heroes of our lives.  We have Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, even Grandparents' Day; don’t you think we should have a Babysitters' Day?  (Actually, there is!  Every year, the Saturday before Mothers' Day is Babysitters' Day!  Who knew?)
            I have 3 kids.  They were each spaced about four years apart.  That means we have had precious babysitters helping us manage spanning throughout our lives going all the way back to 1998--that's twenty years!  Since our youngest, Abigail, turned 11 this year, we have mostly moved
beyond babysitters (though we still need them occasionally when we are gone overnight).  Abigail is old enough and mature enough to stay at home alone for long periods of time by herself.  Plus, she has older siblings that are mature enough to supervise her (and can even drive her to school or church or other places if needed).
            That was not always the case for our family.  We couldn't have made it through without so many sweet and helpful people who pitched in to babysit our kids through the years.  Sometimes it was our family--grandmas, aunts, and uncles.  However, since we have usually lived to far away from family, it was more often our friends at church who stepped up to watch over our kids when we couldn't.
            Did you know that the Apostle Paul talked about babysitters in Galatians?  As he spoke about freedom to the Galatians, Paul likened the Old Testament Jewish Law to a babysitter watching over minor children.  Listen to what he said. 

Galatians 4:1-7
1Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

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. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

The Babysitter
The Apostle Paul originally used two greek words in verse 2 that the New Living Translation translates as guardians:  Epitropos and Oikonomos.  An Epitropos was a tutor for children.  An Oikonomos was a household manager whose duties would also include watching over children.  Families often used these tutors and managers as guardians or babysitters for minor children.  And, if the parents died, the epitropos and oikonomos would serve as guardians for minor children until they were old enough to live on their own.
            What is Paul talking about?  He’s talking about the function of the Old Testament Law in relationship to Christians.  Before Christ came, the Old Testament Law served as humanity’s spiritual babysitter.  What does a babysitter do?  Many things.  A babysitter keeps kids safe and keeps kids out of trouble.   A babysitter keeps kids safe from each other, keeps the house safe from the kids.  A really good babysitter might help kids with their homework or help them have fun or even comfort them if they miss their mommy or daddy.  Kids can sometime develop strong bonds with their babysitters.  Yet no matter how good a babysitter is, they are only a temporary substitute for the parents.  Children want and need their parents. 

Christ Freed Us for Adoption as God's Children
            There is another theme that Paul is teaching here.  There is the theme of adoption.  Before Christ, humanity was like an orphan with no spiritual Father.  Sin separated people from God.  They could not hear the voice of God's Spirit.   People were spiritual orphans.  The Law of the Old Testament serves like a babysitter in an orphanage to guard people who don't know Christ, to keep them out of trouble, to keep them safe, and keep them from hurting each other (or at least it tries).  But living in an orphanage is never the ideal, is it?  We want to be part of a family.
            What do you think of when you think of an orphanage?  The United Methodist Children's Home started out as an orphanage for children who'd lost their parents and had no one else to care for them.  Millions of children and families have benefitted from their care.  Parentless children is an even tougher problem in other parts of the world.  The Chinese government says there are about 600,000 orphans in their country.  China is filled with orphanages with children wanting and needing to be adopted.
            Whereas parents might hire a babysitter for a few hours, Orphans require guardians to watch over them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  A really good orphanage—like the UMCH—does their best to provide a safe, loving environment.  Unfortunately, even a good orphanage is a poor substitute for being part of a family.
            Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5 – “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.”  Isn’t that amazing!  All who place their faith in Jesus Christ have been adopted as God’s own children!
            Now, I have known several families who have adopted children.  Some adoptions came through mixed families--through a marriage, step children were adopted into a new family.  Other times, children started out in a foster care situation that turned into a permanent adoptions.  Other times, people specifically went out seeking to adopt a child who needed a family.  Some families who adopt already had children of their own, but the glorious truth is the children they adopted are loved and cared for just as much as their natural born children.
            Now if human parents—who are by nature flawed and imperfect—can love their adopted children just as much as their natural born kids, how much more can a perfect God love His adopted children—those who put their faith in Jesus Christ?  Isn’t it an amazing thought that God loves us just as much as He loves His Son Jesus?

Maybe It’s Time to Grow Up
            Young children need a guardian, a babysitter, to watch over them.  However, kids aren’t meant to stay children forever.  They are meant to grow up into mature adults who know right from wrong and choose to do the right thing.  Similarly, humanity was never meant to remain under the Law (our spiritual babysitter) forever.  We were meant to grow into mature spiritual beings.
            Before Christ came, people needed a babysitter to keep us in line.  However now, because of Christ, we can grow and mature.  If we trust in Christ and seek to follow him as our Lord, we don’t need a babysitter to keep us safe anymore.  With God’s help, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can know right from wrong and choose to do right.  We don’t need the Law to supervise us.  Everyone who put’s their faith in Jesus Christ has the Spirit of God living in them.  The Spirit guides us to do God’s will.  And so, now we can live—not as immature children who need a babysitter to keep them safe—but as mature adults who choose every day to follow Christ and love God and love our neighbor. 

How do you need to respond today?
            Maybe, you still feel like an orphan.  Maybe today, you would like to let God adopt you as His very own son or daughter—to know that God loves you just as much as He loves His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
            Maybe today, you realize you are a Christian, but you need to grow up and mature in the faith.  Perhaps, you need to move beyond a faith that merely relies on rules and religion to babysit you and keep you out of trouble.  Maybe today, you need to realize Jesus set you free so you could follow the Holy Spirit and live as mature sons and daughters of God.
            Maybe the Lord has spoken to you in another way.  I invite you to respond however the Spirit leads you.

 

Monday, June 5, 2017

God's Heroes Have Power

Introduction
I used to love Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid.  One of my favorite shows was the Justice League, who were a collection of superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman.  They worked together and used their superpowers to fight the forces of evil. 
Perhaps the reason superheroes are so appealing to children is that children are so powerless.  You know, people are always telling them what to do and they have no real power, even over their own life.  So perhaps it is very appealing to kids—the idea of a superhero who has supernatural powers and can fly anywhere in the world or is indestructible and can do all these amazing things.
Well, we’ve been talking about the characteristics of God’s heroes.  We’ve learned that God’s heroes have a heart and that God’s heroes have courage.  But today, we learn that God’s heroes have power.  But what are the Christian hero’s superpowers?  Let’s see what the Word of God says. 

Slides – Acts 2:1-12, 32-33, 36-41
1 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. 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.

32 “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. 33 Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.
36 “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”
37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away[h]—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.

God’s Heroes Have Power
            We see the Holy Spirit’s power and how it empowered the Christians in this story.  There was sound—the sound of a mighty rushing wind.  There were sights—tongues of fire resting over each persons' head.  There was action—speaking in foreign languages the people had never been able to speak in before. 
            There were thousands of people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world for the Jewish festival of Pentecost.  They all spoke different languages, but the 120 Christians gathered for  together were all from Galilee.  Somehow, the Holy Spirit empowered them to speak in foreign languages so that all those thousands gathered in Jerusalem could hear the Good News about Christ in their own languages.  Interestingly, the Greek word used to describe their language leads us to believe they spoke the languages with  perfect dialects.
            You know, maybe you’ve heard people who come down to Georgia from New York and they don't sound right.  They don’t say “y’all” and “fixin’ to” and all those other southern ways of speaking we love so much down in the south.  You can understand them, but it just doesn’t sound right.  And you’ve heard someone who comes from Mexico and speaks English with a thick Spanish accent.  But when the Holy Spirit enabled these Christians to speak foreign languages, it wasn’t with an accent.  It was perfectly, with the exact dialect of the people they spoke too.  Now that’s amazing power!
            Some people say Christians don’t have that kind of power anymore.  There are even some pastor and theologians who argue that the miracles and supernatural power demonstrated in the Bible was from another age and we cannot do these things today.  But I want you to know, I don’t believe that.  I believe the same Holy Spirit that empowered Christians in the New Testament Church empowers the Church today.  We are the New Testament Church.  Nothing has changed accept maybe the way we think and what we focused on.
            I have seen it with my own eyes.  I was in a church in rural Guatemala.  It was not a fancy church.  There was no air conditioning and the floor were just dirt.  There weren't any stained glass windows and the walls were just concrete blocks.  But after the sermon, near the end of the service, the congregation of about 120 people were all praying and it was as if the very air around me was humming and vibrating.  There was a holy awe and hush over the whole congregation and the power of the Spirit was obviously present and people were being moved and responding to God.  So these kinds of external, supernatural signs still happen, but we don’t experience them as often in our comfortable American churches because we are not rightly focused most of the time.
            I want to also remind you that people look at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart.  We learned this in the story of David.  God warned Samuel not to look at how tall a man was, because that wouldn’t tell him whether the man would be a good king.  God said, “People look at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart.”  And this is also true when it comes to the workings of the Holy Spirit.  People look at the outward signs—the sounds, the sights, the flaming tongues of fire, and the supernatural ability speak in foreign languages.  People want to see cool signs and wonders, but God is more interested in what’s happening in the heart.  That’s what’s really important.
            Romans 8:11 says, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.”  The Holy Spirit lives inside every Christian who believes in Jesus Christ.  We have the same power available to us as the Church of Acts.  Power is “the ability to do.” 
            When we talk about cars, we talk about horsepower.  I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine the term "horsepower" developed when they first made cars and they were still comparing them the most common means of transportation—actual horses.  So they would say back in the beginning when cars were just a simple buggy with a little engine that would go put, put, put, "If you buy this automobile it will have the same power to move things as 5 horses."  We’ve come so far; today a car may have anywhere from 120-500 horsepower.  Or if you have a racecar, it might have over 1,000 horsepower.  That is horsepower—the ability to move something.
            The Holy Spirit gives us a different kind of power—the power to do what God wants us to do.  Jesus gave us a mission—to make disciples—and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do it.  And the main reason we don’t experience the power of the Holy Spirit is we don’t want to do what Jesus asks us to do.  What did Jesus ask us to do?  Matthew 28:19-20, "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you."
            The superheroes in cartoons and movies use their superpowers to fight evil and save the world, but when I was a child I wanted those superpowers for more selfish reasons.  As a child, I just thought it would be cool to do whatever I wanted and no one could stop me!  You know, when my older brother pushed me to the ground and sat on my chest and I couldn’t move, I wanted to be able to use my supernatural strength to throw him off me and fly up into the air and shoot him with laser beams from my eyes!  In my immaturity, it was all about how I could use those superpowers for my own selfish purposes.
            And I think a lot of the time, Christians today are still immature like children.  We want the power of the Holy Spirit for the wrong reasons.  Maybe we want to be able to do cool tricks or feel an emotional high or maybe we want to heal someone we care about or to be healed ourselves.  It’s all about what we want and usually has very little to do with what God wants or the mission of the Church.  Christians today need to grow up and seek the Holy Spirit’s power to do what God wants us to do.

What Does the Holy Spirit Empower to Do? (What are the Christian’s superpowers?)
 
            Let me share three things the Holy Spirit empowers us to do.  First of all, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be born again.  Jesus told Nicodemus in the third chapter of John, you can’t enter the Kingdom of God unless you are born again (or born of the Spirit).  Do you remember how Jesus was conceived?  We say it every Sunday in our Apostles’ Creed:  “…he was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  So the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and she conceived Jesus in her womb.  Do you see we are “born again” as Christians the very same way as Jesus?  The Holy Spirit comes upon us and we are born of the Spirit.  We become a brand new creature with a new beginning and new life and eternal life.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to become sons and daughters of God, citizens of God’s Kingdom.  And the Holy Spirit assures us that we are accepted, forgiven, saved, and loved.  We can live with the same confidence as Jesus and that changes everything.  Now we can start living like Christ and acting like Christ and doing the work of Christ in the world.
            And that’s the second thing, the Holy Spirit empowers us to live like Christ.  Romans 8:2 says, “…the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”  We have the power to live like Christ because we have the power of Christ living in us.  Sin no longer has power over us.  Yes, we may still struggle some with our old sinful habits, but they are no longer in charge.  Now the Holy Spirit is in charge and we can live a new way, a better way, if we cooperate with the Holy Spirit.  Listen to what Jesus said in 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…  Isn’t that amazing!  We can do what Christ did and even more when we let the Spirit empower us to do what God asks.  We can love like Christ and be full of the fruits of the Spirit—joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  We can serve like Christ, because everyone who believes in Jesus receives special gifts of the Spirit that enable us to serve the Church.  Some can sing, some can preach or teach, some can encourage others or be administrators, or show hospitality, or offer healing, or have strong faith…  All of these are special gifts the Holy Spirit gives us to use for the benefit of the whole Church so we can live like Christ, serve like Christ, sacrifice like Christ, die like Christ, and rise to eternal life like Christ.
The third thing (there are so many powers the Holy Spirit gives us, but I only mention 3 today for the sake of time), the Holy Spirit empowers us to preserver.  Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter.  When we are sad or down hearted, or when we are worried, or when we are hurting or struggling or weak or things are stacked against us, the Holy Spirit comforts us.  Romans 8:26 says, “The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.”  When we are sick or in need, the Holy Spirit renews our strength, but there is more!  Romans 8:37 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” 
You know, the Church in Acts seems to have everything stacked against it.  They started out as only 120 Christians in a world that hated them.  They had no political power, no influence, and they were persecuted, beaten, had their property confiscated, were arrested, murdered and executed.  Can you imagine if Christians in America today were persecuted like this?  And yet it amazes me what the Church in Acts prayed for.  You would think their prayers would be filled with people praying for mercy or comfort or for the world to stop being so mean to them, but that’s not what they prayed for.  When we read through Acts, again and again find they prayed for God to make them bold to spread the Gospel despite the obstacles.  For example:  Acts 4:29, “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.”
Perhaps Christians today need to pray less for God’s comfort and healing and protection and make our primary prayer that God would give us—His servants—great boldness in preaching His word. Then maybe we would see that the same power demonstrated in our time that we see in the Book of Acts.
 

 
Closing
            The Holy Spirit dwells inside every Christian who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  The Spirit is like a well of Living Water.  It is always there within us if we believe in Christ, but we need to ask God to make the well spring up within so we can, as Ephesians 5:18 says, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
            How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit as these Christians in Acts 2 were on that Pentecost day?  I suggest you ask Jesus into your heart.  Then I suggest you ask God everyday to fill you with the Holy Spirit.  I think you should go to Church and worship God regularly—every week--with a community of Christians believers.  Be baptized if you haven’t already.  Receive Holy Communion as often as you can, for it is one of the special means Jesus gave us to experience his presence and be filled with his gracious Spirit.  Serve God unselfishly and whole heartedly—pushing yourself beyond what you are able to do on your own (for only then will you realize how desperately you need the Holy Spirit’s power to enable you to do God’s work and He will fill you with His Holy Spirit).  Then go and make disciples of Jesus Christ and Jesus will be with you, through the Holy Spirit, always.