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Showing posts with label Power. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Power. Show all posts

Monday, November 13, 2023

How Did Jesus Teach People to Pray?

I have odd question to ask.  It is an especially odd way to start a sermon on what Jesus said about how to pray.  Here’s the question:  Is there anyone here an expert on Dolly Parton?

I am not an expert on Kenny Rogers nor have I ever met him.  I have never even been to a Rogers concert.  I only know 2 or 3 songs Kenny Rogers sang.  But, I did dress up like Kenny Rogers once.  But do you think that qualifies me as a Dolly Parton “expert”?  Absolutely not!

Well, what does this have to do with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and prayer. 
I’m glad you asked!  Part of the fun of Halloween is being able to dress up like a character and pretend to be something or someone you’re not.  The reason I mention this is pretending to be something you are not is also the definition of a hypocrite.

Matthew 6:5
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 

Actors and actresses portray characters—sometimes so believable it’s amazing!  But just because an actor plays a doctor on TV, that doesn’t mean you should take his medical advice!  An actor takes the stage to play a role to entertain.  Their reward is the crowd’s applause.

In Jesus day, the religious leaders liked to put on a show by praying out loud in public.  It was a great honor to be asked to pray in meetings at the synagogues.  Everyone would see you and know you were a respected member of society.  But you didn’t have to wait until the Sabbath to be show off your amazing prayer skills.  Jews in the New Testament prayed three times a day—in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening.  Many religious leaders would show up to public places and pray out loud so everyone could see just how spiritual they were. 

However, Jesus warned us not to put on a show when it comes to our relationship with God and prayer.  He said, “Don’t be like the hypocrites…”  In ancient Greece, hypocrite was the word for an actor who performed in a theater.  Jesus said our relationship with God is to be real, not pretend and certainly not an act we put own to convince others we’re something we are not.  If your goal is to impress others or earn their admiration when you pray, then that is the only reward you will get.  And the praise and admiration of people is cheap and fleeting.  Ask a real actor or actress and they will tell you—one day you’re a star and the next day you are forgotten.

Matthew 6:6
But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.  Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

When You Pray…
Jesus’ instructions for prayer are very simple.  Go away by yourself, shut the door, and pray to you Father in private.  Notice that Jesus said, “When you pray…”  That means Jesus expected His followers to pray.  It’s not if you pray.  It’s when

you pray.

Prayer is essential in a relationship with God.  It is how we connect with God.  Prayer keeps us focused.  Prayer takes our attention off ourselves and our problems and plugs us into the divine source of all life. 

I saw a video recently that is a wonderful illustration of prayer.  Some construction workers using a corded circular saw to cut some boards on a worksite.  Unfortunately, the word was not long enough to reach from outlet over to the saw horses where they were cutting the lumber (and they didn't have an extension cord).  They thought they were geniuses because they figure out a solution.  They would plug the saw into the outlet and rev the saw up to full speed.  Then they would unplug it and run across the room and let the residual spinning of the blade cut a little bit on the saw.  So little by little, they could cut through the board.  But when I saw it, I thought, "why not just move the saw horses closer to the outlet so you can keep the saw plug into the power source?"

That is how prayer is for so many us.  We do not have the power within us to be all we need to.  God is our source of life and prayer keeps us plugged into The Source of True Life.  Unfortunately, we often are like those construction workers.  We plug into God through prayer and get revved up, but then we unplug and run away to live life.  We run down so fast.  So we run back to our source of power to rev up again and unplug to go live life.  Why don't we just move closer to God through prayer and stay plugged in?  That is what prayer is supposed to be.

And Jesus assumed His followers would pray.  So he said, when you pray, do it privately.

Do It Privately…
Jesus is very clear.  Don’t use prayer as a means to impress others or win honor.  If you do, that’s all the reward you will ever get.  For some, looking good to others may seem pretty valuable.  Is that what you want?  If it is, then go ahead and pretend.  But the applause of people is a very cheap and short-sighted reward.  We are meant for so much more.

Now, does that mean we shouldn’t pray in public at all?  If that’s the case, I’m in big trouble because as a pastor, I prayed in public quite frequently.  A public prayer like a pastor prays at the beginning of a worship service is a different kind of prayer.  The pastor is praying on behalf of the whole community.  The pastor is trying to put the whole congregations' hopes and concerns into words and speak to God.  That is something appropriate to do in a worship service or other public gatherings.  

Our public prayers are part of a communal experience we share once a week in communal worship or at other public gatherings that celebrate what should be happening privately in each of our lives every day.  But if we aren’t praying privately on a day to day basis when no one can see, then our public prayers become hypocritical acts performed only for show that have no real substance.  Jesus said, don't be like that.  he said, when you pray, do it privately, to your Father...

To Your Father…
Jesus gives a very powerful clue to reveal the most important element of authentic Christian prayer.  He said, “When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father."  There’s no magic formula.  You just talk to God the way you would talk to your Father.

How would you talk to your earthly father?  Many are blessed to have great fathers that are easy to talk to.  Some of you love to talk with your father.  Others had a great father, but he has passed away and you miss the meaningful conversations you had with him.  You understand how wonderful it can be to talk to a loving father.  That is how you talk to God.

Not all fathers are easy to talk to.  I understand.  Mine wasn’t.  But that’s because earthly fathers are imperfect humans and sometimes selfish or broken.  Some people struggle with the image of God as a Father because they never had a good father.  I didn’t have a good father, but it never kept me from relating to God as a Father, because I simply know that God is the perfect Father.  So I imagine what it would be like to talk to my Dad if all his shortcomings and failings were taken away and he was made perfect in every way.  

So when you pray, imagine the ideal father, the perfect father.  He would be easy to talk to.  He would always be kind and patient.  He would be slow to get angry.  He would always have time for you and always want to talk with you.  He wouldn’t be self-absorbed and always wanting to talk about Himself.  Instead, He would be keenly interested in you always wanting what’s best for you.  He would love you unconditionally and help you in everyway He could.  He wouldn’t try to bribe you by giving you everything you ask for, but instead would give you the things you really need and guide you to grow as an individual to reach your full potential.  That is what God is like.  He's the perfect Father.

And how would you talk to this perfect Father?  There’s no magic formula.  You just talk.  And sometimes you would have a long conversation about something really deep.  Other times you might make a joke about some silly thing you did that day or some irony you encountered.  Sometimes you might just send him a text message on his cellphone to check in or to pass along a bit of information or to ask a quick question.  Sometimes you may call in desperation and say, "Help!  I'm out of gas!" or "I've got a flat tire!  What do I do?"  Sometimes you might just call and say, "I love you, Dad."

Prayer isn’t hard.  If you talk you can pray.  And we communicate all day long in many ways to many people.  You do the same thing with prayer—only you are doing it with God, who is your Father.

Matthew 6:7-8
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

As far as I know, all religions include some form of prayer.  And there are often elaborate formulas for how to pray.  Many religions have prayers that are chanted over and over again--the idea being the gods will eventually be worn down by the incessant prayers of the supplicants.  It’s sort of like the 4-year-old child who bombards his mom with the endless request:  “Can I have a cookie?  Can I have a cookie?  Can I have a cookie?  Can I have a cookie?”  

Jesus says, don’t be like that.  God cannot be worn down by our incessant chanting, but He does care about you and wants to help you with what you really need.  He knows what you need.  In fact, Jesus says, your Father already knows what you need even before you ask! 

Some people ask, “Well if God already knows what I need, why do I have to pray.”  Well, for one thing, because we need to talk to God.  He’s the source of Life.  Prayer is how we plug in.

Another reason is prayer changes us.  Sometimes we start out praying for one thing, but through the process of praying we realize we’re asking for the wrong thing.  So we grow through prayer.

I can think of another reason.  The spiritual forces of darkness cannot stand to hear our prayers.  You cannot see, it, but Scripture says we are engaged in a spiritual battle.  Demons are all around wanting to trip us up and lead us astray.  Our prayers to God are a loud shrill that pierces their ears and drives them insane until they flee away.  So pray.  Pray, pray, pray!  It doesn’t have to be some fancy prayer.  You just have to talk to your Heavenly Father and the Enemy flees away.

We will talk more about prayer next week when we consider Jesus’ instruction about the Lord’s prayer.  But I challenge you to focus on prayer this week.  Establish a specific time each day when you will spend time in prayer.  And then also pray short prayers throughout your day.

You can study all kinds of materials and formulas about how to pray, but the best way to learn is simply to pray.  So, get out there this week and practice!  Just pray!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

We Are Samson

You know, when I was a kid around 4 or 5 years old, my favorite superhero was the Hulk.  I was the third in my family, so when I was 4 or 5 years old, my sister was 4 years older than me and my brother was 8 years older than me.  So I think the Hulk was the perfect – I didn't think about it at the time.  Now looking back and reflecting on it, I realize I was the weakest in the family, right.  I mean I couldn't do anything and they were smarter than me, older than me, bigger than me, stronger than me.  They could pretty much make me do whatever they wanted, and plus I had a terrible temper at the age of 4 or 5, and they were controlling of me and i couldn't do anything about it and it just frustrated me to no end.  To be able to just get angry and turn green and to have muscles pop out of your body, your eyes turn red, and to scrunch your muscles and have your clothing burst off of you, that would be awesome!  I would've loved to do that when my brother was sitting on top of my chest and tickling me.  It would've been awesome.

In the Bible, there is actually a famous character, a hero of the scripture, who was a real life strongman.  His name was Samson.  His full story runs for three chapters, from Judges Chapter 13 all the way through 16, and he was an amazing, interesting person. He was so strong that one day he was on his way to a party and a lion jumped out of the bushes and attacked him, and he wrestled the lion to the ground with his bare hands and grabbed it by the jaws, and ripped its jaws open and killed the lion.  That's how strong he was.  Now another time, some Philistines in a village made him very angry and in order to get revenge, he went out and he captured 300 foxes, and he tied their tails together and tied torches to their tails, and lit the torches on fire and sent the foxes running through his enemies' farm and destroyed their fields, caught everything on fire.  Now I don't even know how you do that.  I don't even know how you catch 300 foxes to start with, let alone tie their tails together.  That's a fascinating story.  Of course, the people that owned those farms were very angry.  So they came to his village and with an army of 3,000 soldiers and said, "You give us Samson or we're going to destroy you!"  And so, what do you think the leaders of the village did?  Well, they took Samson and they tied his hands behind his back, and they sent him on out there to face the soldiers.  As soon as Samson saw the army, he ripped off the ropes binding his hands.  He didn't have any weapons so he looked down on the ground and there was the skeleton of a dead donkey.  Samson reached down and grabbed the jawbone and he killed a thousand of the soldiers that were coming to deal with him.  The rest of them ran off.  So that's an amazing feat!  I don't know how in the world you do that.

One time, Samson snuck into one of the Philistine cities and he visited with a lady for the evening. Some soldiers came to her house and planned to ambush Samson when he came out in the morning, but Samson knew they were out there.  So in the middle of the night about midnight, he snuck out a back window and he went to go leave the city.  Well, the problem was, it was a walled city and at night, they closed the gates so you couldn't get in or out.   So Samson got to the gates and saw they were locked and closed, and so what did he do.  He's the strongest man in the world.  He just walked up to the gates and he ripped them off of their foundations, and he carried them up a hill and threw the gates down and he went on home.  This is an amazing man filled with God's strength.

Now Samson wasn't strong for no reason at all.  God had a purpose for giving him his strength and Samson was born in a very difficult time in Israel's history.  It was in the period of the Judges.  Judges 17:6 tells us how it was. It says,  "It says in those days, Israel had no king.  All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

Now Israel didn't have a king.  They didn't have a monarch.  They didn't have a king and queen to start with.  The reason was because they didn't need one.  God was their king.  God was directly their king.  So God had given them the law and God had delivered them from Egypt and slavery, and he said you don't need a king.  I'll be your king and you just follow, and you ask Me what to do.  What better king could you possibly have than God?  I mean He's not the kind that's going to let power go to his head.  He's not going to use you or abuse you, or anything.  He's going to be a good king.  But it says they had no king.  And I never thought about this,before studied for this message.  They had no king.  Not only did they not have an earthly king, but they didn't treat God as their king either.  You know, God was their king, but they didn't listen to him.  Now if the king tells you to do something, you better do it, right, because there's going to be consequences if you don't.  So these people didn't do what the king did.  What did they do?  It says they did whatever seems right in their own eyes.  They did whatever they wanted to, regardless of what their king, God, said.  They had no king.  They had no earthly king and they weren't allowing God to be their king.  So they were in a real mess and that sets the stage for the story of Samson.  This is when Samson was born.  The part of the story I want to read today is in Judges Chapter 13 in Verses 1-5.  

Judges 13:1-5
1Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years.
2 In those days a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was unable to become pregnant, and they had no children. 3 The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 So be careful; you must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food. 5 You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines.”

The Nazirite Vow
Now notice this baby (who was to Samson) would be a Nazarite from birth.  What is that?  In Numbers Chapter 6, we read what a Nazarite is.  The Nazarites were a very special, holy order among the people of Israel.  Normally, a person would say I'm going to dedicate maybe the next year of my life to God.  I want to be a Nazarite and so I'm going to do nothing in the next year but serve the Lord and do everything for him.  However, some people, and Samson was one of them, would decide to be a Nazarite for their entire life.  Here we have this baby that's about to be born and God says this child is going to be super special.  He's going to be a Nazarite his entire life.  Now Nazarites had certain rules they had to follow that showed everyone they were holy, that they were specially set apart by God.  Number 6 tells us the regulations.  First of all, they were not allowed to have anything that was produced by the grapevine.  It wasn't just wine, it was anything.  They couldn't have any wine.  They couldn't have vinegar, because vinegar also comes from the grapevine, couldn't have any grape juice, (no Welch's for Samson).  They couldn't eat grapes, couldn't have any raisins, nothing at all coming from the grapevine.  And because Samson was so special, not even his mother was allowed to have any of those things while she was pregnant with Samson.  So none of those elements, molecules, chemicals, whatever went into his body even in his prenatal form.  Nazarites were not allowed to have anything at all that was intoxicating.  And of course, this is the one that you know about Samson if you've heard the stories before:  a Nazarite was not allowed to cut their hair for the entire time of their vow.  So if you were a Nazarite for 1 year, you weren't allowed to cut your hair for a year.  Here's the thing, you couldn't even brush your hair as a Nazarite because if you brush your hair, it pulls out some of your hair, right.  Now Samson was to be a Nazarite for his entire life.  So from the time he was born, he never cut his hair and I assume never brushed his hair.  (Some people think Samson kind of looked like one of those Rastafaris from Jamaica with the dreadlocks because what happens to your hair you don't ever brush it, it gets matted up and turns into dreadlocks.  And that makes sense because if you read it says he had seven locks of hair.  How in world do you have seven locks of hair?  Well, I guess if they've all matted together into dreadlocks maybe you'd have seven of them, and seven is the perfect number.)  And the Nazarite was not allowed to go near any dead body, was not allowed to go to a funeral.  Even if their mother or their father, or their grandparents died, brother, sister, they weren't allowed to go to the funeral because they couldn't be around a dead body.

Nazarites made a promise, a special vow that they were set apart for God.  Samson was set apart to be that way his entire life.  So you would think Samson would be a particularly holy person, wouldn't you?  He would be like a monk, right?  Well, that was what he was supposed to be.  This is the key that you don't need to miss: Samson is a symbol for what Israel is supposed to be.  You know, Israel, the whole nation was supposed to be a holy, royal priesthood.  That's why they had all these funny laws in the Old Testament about what they could eat, and what they couldn't eat, and how they were supposed to live, and all their festivals, because God was trying to make this whole nation to live in such a way that they were strange.  He wanted all the people around them to look at them and say, "That's a peculiar people.  There's something different about them."  Israel was supposed to be God's holy people.  Their whole purpose was to be to point toward the holiness of God.  They were set apart as a royal, holy priesthood for God, and that's what Samson was his whole life.  He was a symbol for the whole nation of Israel.  And here's the most important point today:  if you believe in Jesus Christ, if you dedicated your life to follow him your whole life, we are supposed to be a holy people.  We are supposed to be a royal priesthood and our whole purpose in life is the point people toward our holy God.  Now we do that maybe a little bit different than they did in the Old Testament (and please don't start thinking you've got to not cut your hair!).  But how do you live your life?  The various ways you live should point people to God. 

Samson’s Tragic Shortcomings
Now Samson, you would think, was a very holy person.  However, he had some tragic shortcomings.  If you read those chapters, you will see a man that doesn't look very much like a holy person.  Let me tell you some of his shortfalls.  First of all, he was incredibly spoiled and incredibly rude to his parents.  If you read the way he talked to his parents, if I ever said that to my mom, she would've slapped me until my head turned around backwards!  Samson was disrespectful to his parents.  

He was also a gambler.  You know, the story where Samson killed the lion?  He killed the lion and he went to the party.  A week later, he came back to the another party and as he's on the way, he says "I'm going to pull off and see the dead lion.  now remember, a Nazarite wasn't' supposed to be around any dead bodies, but he says "I'm going to go see this carcass of this lion that I killed".  Inside the carcass, he finds honey bees.  They made a nest inside this lion carcass.  so here's this holy man who's not supposed to touch any dead bodies, not even go to his parents' funeral, and he decides to eat some of the honey out of the dead carcass!  Gross!  he goes to the party and he comes up with this strange riddle about what  he's done.  He tells the men at the party like says, "I bet you you can't answer my riddle."  So he's gambling.  He says, "If you can't answer my riddle, you have to give me 30 new sets of clothes.  If you figure it out, then I'll give you 30 sets of clothes."  Well, the men go to Samson's fiancĂ©e and she tells them the answer to the riddle.  She betrays Samson and he ends up losing the bet.  So he's lost now in his whole gamble.  

Now most people would say all right, I learned a lesson.  I'll never do that again! But instead, what does Samson do?  Well, he's short tempered and violent so he goes out and he says fine.  He goes to another Philistine village and he kills all the people in the village and he takes their clothes and gives them to cover his bet!.  So not only is he a gambler and rude to his parents, he's also violent, he's short tempered, he's a murderer and a thief.  That's your holy man for you.

Another time, Samson spent the night with a prostitute.  That doesn't sound very holy.  Samson had a terrible weakness for women--pagan women.  Although Samson was born into the world to deliver the Israelites from their Philistines oppressors, Samson always seemed to fall for Philistine women.  , He never chose women with good character who loved God.  If he didn't choose women of good character, he must've had something else in mind.  His first wife was a pagan Philistine woman.  We already heard she betrayed him and cost him an expensive bet.  Their marriage only lasted a few days and then she married someone else.  Then he fell in love with another pagan woman, one they made a movie about, "Samson and Delilah."  Another pagan Philistine woman who didn't believe in the Lord God of Israel.  She wasn't a woman of very good character either.  She betrayed Samson for money.

You know and if you read the story of Samson and Delilah (it's in the 16th chapter of Judges), You think: "Samson, you're just not very smart!"  Delilah comes to samson and she says,  "Tell me what's the secret of your strength.  How could people subdue you?"  Well, that ought to be a red flag right there, but he's so dumb!  He tells lies to her and I think he said something like, "If you tie me up with a bowstring that had never been used before, then I won't be able to break it."  She ties him up with these bowstrings and the Philistines come in and Samson breaks loose.  You would think he learned his lesson and put her aside, but he doesn't.  He keeps her and she keeps nagging him to tell her how to subdue him.  That would be your clue this is not the woman for you, but Samson's a fool.  He just keeps right on going.  How many times do you think she tricked him?  Four times she tricks him and finally on the fourth time, he actually told the truth and said, "If you cut my hair, I'll be as weak as any man."  So she cuts Samson's hair and the Philistines capture him.  Fools repeat the same mistake over and over.  Samson was a fool.  He was captured and the Philistines.  They gouge his eyes out and they make him a slave.  They chain him to a gristmill and make him grind the grain in the dungeon.  So the strongest man in the world ends his life chained to a gristmill, milling out grain for the pagan prison.

Now what a tragic story! What a terrible waste of potential!  I mean imagine if Samson had followed God's call in his life.  He could've led the Israelites to freedom!   He could've changed the world.  Instead, he used his great powers for his own selfish indulgence.  God still used Samson despite his failings.  He did kill a lot of Israel's enemies.  He was a constant bother to the Philistines--a thorn in their side.  Even in his death, he killed Philistines.  Because Samson was a slave, the Philistines thought they would make sport of him.  They were having this big feast in the temple of Dagon and they took Samson out of the dungeon and (I guess) they made him dance for them or something.  They're like, "Ha, ha, ha!  You were killing all of us and look at you now!  You're weak and you're blind, and you're in chains, and we've beaten you!"  However, Samson hair had grown back a little bit.  So after he gets done dancing or whatever, he puts his hands on the pillars supporting the roof to rest.  And as he's leaning against the pillars, he prays, "Oh, God, strengthen me one last time."  He presses with his amazing strength against the pillars and the entire roof of the temple collapses in on the party.  It kills 3,000 people!  God used Samson, but can you imagine what God could've done if Samson had cooperated with God?  Who knows?  We'll never know because Samson didn't fulfil his noble, holy, God given from birth calling. 

Now I told you that Samson was a symbol for the holy people of Israel.  They followed the same pattern throughout their entire history.  They never seemed to really fulfill the holy calling God had given them.  Samson is also a symbol for Christians because Christians are called to be holy.  We're called to be set apart and special for God.  We're called to be a royal priesthood.  

Our Connection
The Apostle Peter in 1st Peter 29 says it this way.  For you are a chosen people.  You are royal priests, a holy nation, God's very own possession.  He's talking about those who believe in Jesus Christ; we're incredibly strong.  We are the strongest force the world has ever known.  Of course, we are powerful because we have great influence as we are united in our beliefs and in our desire to reach out and change the world.  When we work together, nothing can stop us.  

The Christians in the New Testament were a tiny minority in a world that was completely turned against God, a world that was so turned against God, they crucified the son of God.  The earliest Christians were a tiny minority and it seemed like everybody wanted to kill them, and yet they were so powerful they were able to change the whole world.  The Roman Empire that crucified Jesus converted to Christianity within 300 years.  That's amazing!  That's more amazing than anything Samson did and we are part of that royal priesthood.  

We have faith and power and influence in our society.  Unfortunately, we are oftens like Samson.  We waste our power.  We don't use our power for good.  We get distracted.  We lose our focus.  We live our lives chasing after our own dreams and our own indulgences.  We use our influence and our power and the freedom that God gave us for our selfish pursuits.  We need to remember.  We need to learn the lesson of Samson and not waste our power, not to waste our God given opportunity.  We need to speak up, not be silent, to share about our loving savior, to encourage our community, to live up to the principles of God.  We need to speak up and be united in our voice, but at the same time, we also have to be careful how we speak because so often those Christians who are not silent speak in a voice that is judgmental and is mean and pushes people away.  So when we speak, we have to be careful that we speak the truth uncompromisingly, but we speak it in love. We are Samson, but let us decide to be a better Samson than the one we see in Judges.

So as I close, I want to invite you to see the power of God.  You don't have have long hair.  You don't have to follow all those rules of a Nazarite.  God set us free from all of that, but He set us free so that we could be holy.  He set us free so that we could make disciples of Jesus Christ and continue to change the world as Jesus started 2,000 years ago.  So I invite you today to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God--the same Spirit that made Samson the strongest man who ever lived and makes you incredibly strong to live your life today.  Perhaps you have never decided to follow Jesus Christ.  You never decided to let him be your Lord and savior.  I invite you today to pray and ask him to be your Savior.  Perhaps today, you have been a Christian for some time, but you have not been empowered.  You never felt the power.  If you have felt the power, you use it for something less than holy.  So today, I invite you to receive the power of the Holy Spirit and to use it for God's purposes.  Use your Christian power wisely.  We are Samson!  Amen.

Monday, June 5, 2017

God's Heroes Have Power

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.

            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.