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Showing posts with label Transformation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Transformation. Show all posts

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Encouragement

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.

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  Exhort is an outdated word people don’t use much anymore.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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Prophecy

I loved the transformers when I was a kid.  The brilliant people at the toy company Hasbro really came up with a winning formula when I was a kid.  Eight-year-old Pastor Chris loved the transformers and so did millions of other kids.  Now, Hasbro didn’t just manufacture toys.  In a bit of marketing genius, they made toys and developed a cartoon TV series featuring their toys, which told the fictional story of the transformers.  So of course, kids all over America where watching these little mechanized robots that could transform in to cars and truck and jet airplanes.  And then they would go to mommy and daddy and beg for the toys so they could play with them at home.  The transformers have been a lucrative franchise every since—spawning seven movies and numerous television series.

The Transformers are definitely, “More than meets the eye.”  But I don’t want to talk about transforming robots today.  I want to talk about how the Holy Spirit of God transforms us and how we in turn can use the special power God gives us to transform our world.  The Word of God tells us some of the gifts the Holy Spirit offers each of us to help transform our world.  Listen.

Romans 12:6-8
In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

All Believers Are Given A Gift.  What’s Yours?
Now this is not an exhaustive list of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it gives you a good idea of some of the special powers God may give you to help you transform our world.  Click here to take a spiritual gifts assessment to help you begin to identify which gift(s) the Holy Spirit may have given you.  It will give you some indications about your spiritual gifts.  Each week, I plan to talk about a different gift of the Spirit.  Today, I want to talk about the transforming gift of prophecy.

Acts 2:17-18
17 ‘In the last days,’ God says,
    ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young men will see visions,
    and your old men will dream dreams.
18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit

    even on my servants—men and women alike—
    and they will prophesy.

Everyone's a Prophet
This is an important and incredible statement. In Old Testament times, God only chose a few special people to be prophets. But now that Jesus, the Son of God has come, the Word of God says the Holy Spirit will be "poured out" on everyone who believes in Jesus. And the gift of prophecy will be found in young and old, men and women. And it seems like everybody's going to be seeing visions and dreams and prophesying. 

Notice it says, “poured out”.  I want you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine the Holy Spirit hovering up above you.  Now imagine the Holy Spirit of God pouring His power down around you and it’s splashing all around and soaking over you.  That’s the image.  If you've decided to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord, you’ve been drenched with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  And Acts chapter 2 indicates prophecy will be one of the most frequent results.

What is Prophecy?
The Word of God is True. Every believer of Jesus Christ has been Spirit empowered to prophesy. But the gift of prophecy is frequently misunderstood.  When most people think of a prophet or prophecy, they think of someone predicting the future.  However, prophecy is not about predicting the future.  Prophecy is simply telling people what God says.  (Sometimes in the Bible, God told a prophet to tell people what was going to happen in the future.  But the main point is not telling the future; it is telling what God says.) 

Prophecy is the Spirit-given ability to determine and proclaim God’s Truth.  A prophet “hears” what God says.  And when I say “hears” I want you to understand it’s not necessarily an audible voice.  Remember, Jesus liked to say, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!”[i]  Well everyone has ears, but not everyone listens.  A prophet listens and understands what God is saying—whether it is an audible voice or (more likely) God’s truth as revealed in the Bible through a sermon or a study or something else.  A prophet perceives what God is saying and shares it with others.

Now, every believer has some ability to prophecy.  If you can read the Bible and understand John 3:16 and then tell someone who needs to know, then you can prophecy.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that who ever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  If What have you done?  You've understood God’s truth, shared it with others, and even foretold the future (which is just a bonus).  (Yes!  You did predict the future!  You spoke about eternal life that everyone who believes in Jesus will receive; that's the future.)

Everyone can prophecy, but the Holy Spirit gives some people a special gift for prophecy.  What are some marks of a person who is truly gifted as a prophet?  Someone the Holy Spirit has gifted with prophecy has an extraordinary knack for hearing and expressing God’s Truth. 

Hearing God’s Word
First of all, a gifted prophet hears God’s Truth.  This is very important.  2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.”

A true prophet is not sharing their own brilliant opinions and ideas.  A prophet is sharing God’s Truth.  We see this again and again in Scripture.  God told the prophet Moses, “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exod. 4:12).  The Lord said to Jeremiah, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9).  To the prhophet Ezekiel, God said, “You must speak my words to them” (Ezek. 2:7).  God tells prophets what to say.  So someone with the extraordinary, Holy Spirit imparted, gift of prophecy today, first has to listen for what God has to say.

God can speak in many ways, but the primary and most important way God speaks is through Holy Scriptures.  So a gifted prophet will be an avid student of the Bible.  They will become familiar with its teachings and discern the deeper meanings of what God says through the Bible, and not just what people say about it or God.  A true prophet will want to know, “What does the Bible say?” because they know what the Bible says is God’s Word.

And I must say a word of caution here, beware of any prophet or prophecy who consistently and fundamentally contradicts what God has already said in the Bible.  God inspired the Apostles and early church leaders to write and compile the Holy Bible.  It’s very unlikely that God is going to tell a new prophet to contradict what God has already said in the Bible.

Speaking God’s Truth
So first, a gifted prophet hears God’s Word.  Second, a prophet speaks God’s Truth.  Someone with the special Holy Spirit gift of prophecy feels compelled to share what God has told them.  The prophet Jeremiah described it “like a fire in my bones.”[ii]  Prophets are often ridiculed or persecuted, because God may lead them to say things people don’t want to hear.  The first Christian martyr, Stephen, said, “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” (Acts 7:52).  But because God has told them to speak, someone with the gift of prophecy candidly speaks the plain truth when God compels them to speak.  They will speak the truth (even at personal risk) and speaks the truth even if it causes pain or hurt feelings. Furthermore, they will speak in such a way that people clearly understand what God is saying and have no one else to blame but themselves if they don’t listen.

The Problem of False Prophets
Now, the Bible warns us to watch out for false prophets.  2 Timothy 4:3-4 warns, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  And 2 Peter 2:1b says, “…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”

In the Transformers cartoon series, it’s real easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  There are the honorable Autobots sworn to fight for good and protect the earth and its inhabitants from evil.  Then there are the evil Decepticons who want to rule the universe and will destroy anyone and anything that gets in their way.  The very name “Decepticons” makes it pretty obvious that they are the bad guys.  Buy if that weren’t enough, they always punctuate their evil schemes with a maniacal laugh. 

Unfortunately, in real life, the Decepticons (or false prophets) don't give themselves away with a maniacal laugh.  But there are some clues to help you watch out for false prophets.

First of all, false prophets will twist or even contradict Scripture.  Now, sometimes there is room for different interpretations of Scripture and not every preacher or teacher will get it right every time.  But there are also many places in Scripture that are plain and easy to understand.  And if someone is consistently contradicting and twisting the plain teachings of God's Word, watch out.  If they're telling you that the teaching of the Holy Bible are outdated and no longer apply, be on guard.  They might be a Decepticon (false prophet).  That's why it's so important for Christians to know the Scriptures so you won’t be fooled.  I understand that not everyone is going to be an expert in Scripture.  However, there's no reason why almost every Christian in America shouldn't at least be familiar with Scripture.  At the minimum, you need to know enough to question when someone says something that might contradict scripture, and then be able to take those questions to a Christian teacher you trust (or a small group for study) and know how to look for answers in your Bible.  This is becoming more and more important in the world in which we live, where there are so many who would seek to lead you astray.

A second way to spot a Decepticon (false prophet) is by their fruit.  Jesus said you can identify a good person from a bad one the same way you tell a good tree from a bad one—by their fruit. A good tree produces good fruit. A bad tree produces bad fruit. Luke 12:35, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.”

I Have a Prophecy for You Today
I have a prophecy for you today.  It's very simple and straight forward.  First of all, if you believe in Jesus and follow him as Lord, you will have eternal life.  His Holy Spirit will live inside you and transforms you and give your a special ability to help transform the world.  And Jesus wants you to know and use your spiritual gift(s) to help him transform our world.  And if he is truly your Lord, you will gladly get to work.  You can use the spiritual gifts assessment here to better understand what gift(s) you may have.

The second part of the prophecy is this:  If you do not believe in Jesus or follow him as your Lord, that's not good at all.  You do not have eternal life.  Something much darker lies ahead in your future.  You will not experience the blessings God wants for you in this life and after you die, you will face God's judgement and eternal punishment in hell where their will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and eternal separation from God, the source of love and live and peace.  The Good News is you can repent and turn to God today.  Through Jesus Christ, you can receive the free gift of God's salvation and eternal life.  Won't you turn to Him today?  All you have to do is decide, close Your eyes, and ask God to save you and then start following Jesus as your Lord from this day forward and you will be transformed.

[i] Matthew 11:15, 13:9, etc.
[ii] Jeremiah 20:9

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Have a NEW Mind!

Copyright April 28, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Romans 12:1-3

           I was in the choir room with the choir warming up for our anthem just a few minutes ago.  Sarah asked if anyone had accidentally picked up her reading glasses from the piano.  Kathy, who'd just been sitting at the piano and was holding a pair of reading glasses in her hand said, "No.  I promise. these are my reading glasses."  Kathy's sister, Sally, said, "Uh, Kathy.  You have a pair of reading glasses on your head!"  Sure enough, she did!  And they were the exact same style as Sarah's!  Kathy Said, "I'm losing my mind!"  We all had a good laugh.
            We use that expression, "I'm losing my mind," as a bad thing.  But the truth is, if we follow Christ, we are losing our old mind and Christ is giving us a NEW mind.  And that's what I want to talk about today. 

Romans 12:1-3
1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Explain the Passage
          The Apostle Paul gives us the image of a sacrifice placed on an altar.  At the time Paul wrote, animal sacrifice was a common religious practice—for both Jews and Gentiles.  A living animal was usually placed on an altar, its throat cut so the blood would drain out along with the animal’s life.  Then the animal would be butchered, cooked over fire, and eaten, or completely incinerated with fire.  As you can imagine, it was a startling thing to behold—something that left a lasting impression.  The point is a sacrifice was complete and irrevocable.  Right?  You can’t make half a sacrifice.  You can’t make a sacrifice and then take it back.  It’s an all or nothing proposal.  (At least for the animal!)
            But Paul turns the tables on us.  He invites us to leave the animals alone.  Instead, he urges us to put our life on the altar.  Give your own body—all that you are—as a living sacrifice.  It’s not human sacrifice he is asking; it’s self-sacrifice.  It’s surrendering all that you have and all that you are to the will of God.  It’s an “all-in” whole-hearted proposition that is true worship—truly pleasing to God—and it changes everything.
            It’s what Jesus did for us, you see.  Christ gave himself completely for us on the cross.  He didn’t just do some good things.  He didn’t just preach some great sermons.  Jesus gave everything.  He was whole-heartedly committed to God’s plan of salvation for you.  He willingly sacrificed his entire life for you—even when it meant dying on a cross.
            And Christ’s sacrifice makes it is possible for us to be made NEW!  We can have NEW desires, a NEW way of thinking, a NEW purpose in life, NEW peace and joy and confidence, and ultimately the promise of eternal life with a NEW heaven and a NEW earth.  But in order for the NEW to come, we have to let the old die.  In fact, we have to trust Jesus enough to place our old self—our old ways of thinking and living—on the altar as a sacrifice.  For when you sacrifice our old life, Jesus will make you NEW!

Thought Transformation
The key verse for us today is verse 2a – Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Most of us grow up copying the behavior and customs of the world.  We do the things people around us do because we think the way they do.  In fact, if we ever see someone who acts or thinks in a way that in noticeably different, we might even call them weird.  I know when I was in high school, I had a few friends who lived out their Christian beliefs very faithfully.  At the time, I thought they were very weird because they didn’t act and talk and think the way most high school students did.  They stood out.  They were “weird.”  At the time, I thought they should just “copy the behavior and customs” of everyone else.  Now I see they were the minority that was really doing what God wanted.  Now I wish I had been part of that minority when I was in high school.  Now, I am—or at least I am striving to be—because I am striving to let God transform me into a NEW person.  So what if it makes me different.  So what if it makes me weird.  If it makes me more like Christ, great!
We all need to let God transform the way we think.  Romans 12:3 says, Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”  So let’s apply this wisdom and think clearly and honestly about ourselves.
First of all, you are not the center of the world.  Regardless of what the unbelieving world insinuates, the world doesn’t revolve around you.  You are not entitled to “Have it your way.”  Your own personal happiness is not the chief goal in life.  In fact, if you faithfully follow Christ and live for God the way He intended for you, you will definitely need to give up some things you want.  It is a sacrifice.  (Remember how our scripture said to sacrifice yourself to God?)  Following Christ means letting go of our selfish desires, our self-centered motives, and serving others instead of ourselves.  This is tough for many people, but we need to let God transform our way of thinking.
Some people think too highly of themselves.  Others struggle with thoughts that they are not important or that they are not good enough.  That’s why I like Romans 12:3 so much.  It addresses both misunderstandings.  It says, “Be honest in you evaluation of yourself.”  And the Truth is, (though you are not the center of the world) you are very important to God.  God deeply loves you.  He has been working out your salvation since the beginning of time.  He cared enough to send Christ to die for you.  God wants you to be part of His mission to save the world.  That’s pretty impressive.  You must be important!  So if you struggle with low self-esteem, let God transform the way you think.  You are precious to Him.
Do you struggle with shame or guilty?  God has promised He will forgive you if you ask.  No matter what you’ve done—how big or how small—God will forgive you.  1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Shame and guilt can cripple us.  It makes us hesitant in our relationship with God and others.  Shame and guilt are constant burdens that weigh us down and slow us down in our spiritual life.  They sap the joy God wants us to have.  They can make life weary and full of worry.  So if you struggle with shame or guilt, let God transform the way you think.  The truth is, forgiveness is available through faith in Christ.  And if you believe, God does not think about your sins anymore.  They have been washed away.  God says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”  If you asked God to forgive you, He has.  Now it’s time for you to let go of your thoughts of shame and guilt.  Let God transform the way you think.
Some of you may struggle with doubt.  The unbelieving world says this world is all there is.  Since science cannot verify the existence of an afterlife, they reject the idea as a fantasy.  Since they cannot see God, they reason He is just a myth.  But faith helps us see that there is more to life than just what you can see and hear and taste and touch.  Faith helps us to know that Truth is more than just facts and figures.  Faith helps us to see there is always hope even when all seems to be lost.  Faith helps us to know that the future is ultimately in God’s hands and so, there is nothing to fear.  Faith helps us to hear God’s still small voice leading us down the right path.  Faith helps us to feel God’s presence when we need assurance that everything is going to be alright.  Even if we lose this life, God has another waiting for us in Eternity.  And all the wrongs of this world will ultimately be made right one day.  It’s OK to have questions.  It’s OK to have doubts.  Sometimes they lead us to deeper understanding and faith.  But if your doubts control you or keep you frozen with fear, maybe it’s time to let God transform the way you think.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  Take hold of the power, love, and self-discipline God wants you to have.  Let Him transform the way you think. 

            As I close, I join with the Apostle Paul and plead with you, give your bodies to God as a holy and living sacrifice.  Don’t hold anything back.  Surrender yourself completely to the Lord and He will transform your mind.