Tag Archives: Acts

Maybe I do need Jesus

given on Sunday, May 18, 2014

Are there times in your life you begin to question your own faith? Here you are Sunday morning and you are at church like you are almost every Sunday, so why would you even ask whether or not you need Jesus? This is a question no one can answer for you, except you.

The words “Lord help me Jesus” started echoing through my reading and thoughts. I had no idea why so I turned to the hymnals to find the song—it was not there. I simply could not get past those four words, so I googled them.   Yes there they were: “Lord help me, Jesus I’ve wasted it. . . “

But how could those words have shown up in the middle of reading the week’s lectionary? Where was the connection?   The first scripture in this week’s lectionary was the story of Stephen’s stoning: not the entire speech he made to the Sanhedrin, just the stoning and his final words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

The second scripture reading was from Psalm 31 which was the connection to the last breath statements from Jesus on the cross and Stephen as he was stoned: “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. (v. 5) All three statements are clearly connected, but how does it develop an answer to why we need Jesus.

The third scripture from I Peter 2 does not connect as clearly, but to summarize, verse 9 provides some clarity:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

 

Clearly the pressure is on to understand the need we have for Jesus in our lives. By the time I read through the fourth scripture from the Gospel of John 14:4-7, the emphasis on needing Jesus in our lives is complete:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.. . . I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

 

If we do not know Jesus, if we do not realize we need Jesus, then we are left outside of our Father’s house—eternally.

Trying to understand how Jesus effects our daily lives is difficult, sometimes completely unexplainable. It is not easy to share our confusing thoughts, our need for Jesus, our relationship with the triune God, or how faith works in our daily lives. Yet, some how we hear God talking to us.

In looking up those four words, “Lord help me Jesus. . .” I found three different artists who are known for their performances of a song titled “Why Me Lord”: Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Pressley. I started with listening to Johnny Cash, then Elvis Pressley. But then I decided to look up who wrote the lyrics—it was Kris Kristofferson!

That sent me back to YouTube where I found an interview and performance by Kris Kristofferson. In his own words Kristofferson described a “profound religious experience.”

[Play the YouTube interview.]

Kristofferson nailed the mystery of faith in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—“I felt forgiveness I didn’t even know I needed. Maybe I need Jesus and did not realize it, either. Maybe you need Jesus, too.

The lyrics Kristofferson wrote are an appeal, a prayer, and even a thank you to God for his unconditional love, for the gift of his son, for the Holy Spirit that resides with us daily when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.

[Play Kristofferson’s version of Why Me Lord.]

The words sum up the unbelievable expanse of God’s love for us. We may not understand all of the story, but if we need God and we are here in church this morning, what do we need to be doing to make sure we do not waste this never-ending relationship with God.

This summer, make a commitment to learn more about God, about our faith, and about sharing our understanding of the blessing God gives us even when we do not believe we deserve it. Maybe we can write our own verse for Kristofferson’s prayer.

[Johnny Cash’s version of Why Me Lord.]

            How can we do this? Attend church weekly. One recommendation the conference has is to make a commitment to attend church at least all but four Sundays a year. When we go on vacation, do we make a habit of attending church while on the road?

Another practice is to read. Read the Bible. Read a daily devotional or books that discuss the various books and stories of the Bible. Try following the lectionary. Find someone who can read along with you and talk about the reading.

Finally, talk with God. Over the summer, practice talking with God. There is no need for a fancy prayer format, not even a greeting and salutation. Prayer is conversation with God. Remember, he knows already what is in your mind, so why not think of sharing them in an open, on-going conversation—just you and God.

And at summer’s end, let’s see what verses we have written.

[Elvis Pressley’s version of Why Me Lord.]

Closing scripture and prayer

I Peter 2:1-3 from the NIV: Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Dear All-knowing, All-present God,

We do not know what we need,

but you do.

We do not even know how to talk with you,

but you do.

We do not understand the mysteries of faith,

but you do.

Guide us to open up our lives to you.

Guide us in conversation with you.

Guide us in discovering the miracles you provide.

Thank you for words written and sung.

Thank you for the sharing of your faithful.

Thank you for assuring us we do need you.

Amen.

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Why the healing? Why the miracles?

given on Sunday, October 20, 2013

         Jesus began his ministry reaching out to the people walking right beside him along the road.  The Sermon on the Mount set the foundation for his teaching, preaching, and healing.  Certainly Jesus had to teach his followers how to shift from living under the Old Covenant to living under the New Covenant.  He had to teach them what the New Covenant was, and he had to prepare them for the journey ahead.

The Sermon on the Mount is the first formal account of the teaching process, and it shifted to preaching as the crowd beyond his Apostles grew on the mountainside.  The curious, the Jews, the Gentiles, the wealthy, the poor, the craftsmen, the sick, the possessed, even the Pharisees were all crowded around listening.

Why did Jesus need to heal the sick, the possessed, and even the dead?  Why did Jesus perform miracles?  He already had this huge following and it was growing daily.  Why the healing and the miracles?

Beginning this study of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 4:23 introduces the story:

Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.

 

That verse lists the three different methods Jesus used—teaching, preaching, and healing.  The study notes from the Life Application Bible spelled out the purposes of each one:

Teaching shows Jesus’ concern for understanding, preaching shows his concern for commitment; and healing shows his concern for wholeness.  His miracles of healing authenticated his teaching and preaching, proving that he truly was from God.  (p.1651)

 

The healing had two purposes.  First he wanted to make sure that each one was whole—mentally and physically.  The healing made sure that those who believed were capable of living full lives demonstrating the Christian lifestyle that God wanted for his children.

The second purpose is to provide the new followers evidence of God’s power.  The people needed to see the work that Jesus could do in order to believe he was God.  The healings were instant, they were miracles that man alone could not perform.

The miracles begin with Matthew 8 as Jesus heals a leper:

8 Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

 

Leprosy was a disease that ostracized the person from the community being forced to live with other lepers in a separate community.  There was no hope, no return to one’s family or community.  The lepers were left alone to die alone.

The fact that Jesus reached out and touched the leper was completely unexpected.  The scripture tell us that the healing occurred immediately.  The leper was told to go to the priest so he could see that he was cured or clean of leprosy, which was required by the Law of Moses, aka the Old Covenant.

The miracle cure of leprosy was clearly an example of how faith cured the man, but more importantly the healing bridged the gap between the people and the priests as well as between the priests and Jesus.  The healing made the man whole and it provided evidence that Jesus was God.

The list of Jesus’ healings and miracles is sprinkled throughout the New Testament.  The four gospels include the stories, but even the earliest disciples performed healings and/or miracles:

  • Acts 2:22, 43—Peter explains the miracles:
    • 22 “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene[a] by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.
    • 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

 

  • Acts 19:11-12—Paul is accredited to have performed miracles, too:
    • 11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.

 

  • Acts 19:13-14–goes on to explain that the Jews who had been driving out evil spirits couldn’t:

 

  • 13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. 15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

 

  • Romans 15:17-19—Paul is ministering to the Gentiles of Rome
    • 17 So I have reason to be enthusiastic about all Christ Jesus has done through me in my service to God. 18 Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. 19 They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit.[a] In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.

 

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians adds more understanding to why miracles were performed:

  • I Corinthians 1:22—who needed to see miracles
    • 18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”[a]  20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.

 

  • I Corinthians 12:10—spiritual gifts include miracles
    • A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[a]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[b] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[c] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

 

  • II Corinthians 12:12—Paul explains what apostles can do
    • 12 When I was with you, I certainly gave you proof that I am an apostle. For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you.

 

As Paul’s ministry continues, his letters to the new churches continue to explain the power of God and how Jesus was sent to teach, preach and heal those who determine to live the Christian life.  He explains how the Holy Spirit is the power of God within each of us.  The Holy Spirit fuels the spiritual gifts within us.

  • Galatians 3:5—the Holy Spirit works through us to perform miracles:
    • I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.
    • 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised[a] Holy Spirit through faith.

The fact that the New Testament has references to healing and miracles in various situations, the closing discussion of why did Jesus perform healings and miracles must center on each one of us individually.  The cynics of 2013 continue to discount the stories of God’s miracles.  The years that have separated Jesus and his disciples and us have caused us to waiver in our belief.  We doubt miracles.  We become suspicious of healings that seem to have no explanation.  Paul was prepared for this and sent out a warning about this in Hebrews.

  • Hebrew 2:1-4—gifts of the Holy Spirit
    • 2 So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.

 

Why did Jesus heal?  Why did Jesus perform miracles?  Healing was to assure that people were healthy or whole.  If a follower was not whole, how could he focus on Jesus’ teachings?  How could he stay God-centered or be able to live a faithful, productive life?  The miracles, the instant healings, the water turned into wine, Lazarus brought back to life all provided authenticity to Jesus claim to be God on earth.  Only God could do that, Jesus was man and God.

In our world right now, do we need proof that God is real?  Jesus knew we needed evidence that God is in control.  Jesus demonstrated God’s love right on earth in front of others, and the word of his work and his compassion spread.  Are we able to spread the word with confidence?  Are we able to see how God works through the spiritual gifts of each and every one of his children?  Can we accept our own gifts and work for the glory of God?

Remember the words of the hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” may it be our closing prayer:

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,

weak and wounded, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you,

full of pity, love, and power.

 

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,

God’s free bounty glorify;

true belief and true repentance,

every grace that brings you nigh.

 

Come ye weary, heavy laden,

lost and ruined by the fall;

if you tarry till you’re better,

you will never come at all.

 

Let not conscience make you linger,

nor of fitness fondly dream;

all the fitness he requireth

is to feel your need of him.

Refrain

I will arise and go to Jesus;

he will embrace me with his arms;

in the arms of my dear Savior,

O there are ten thousand charms. (or miracles)

 

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Where is the light?

given on Sunday, June 30, 2013

Supporting scriptures:

Genesis 1:3Let there be light…

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

  • Psalm 27:1—The Lord is my light…
  • Isaiah 42:1-9–…And you will be the light…
  • Matthew 5:13-16…You are the light…

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

  • Luke 2:22—He is a light to reveal God.
  • John 1:1-9—The Word gave…light…
  • John 3:20-21—All who do evil hate the light…
  • Acts 13:47-49I have made you a light… (to Paul & Barnabus)

47 For the Lord gave us this command when he said,

‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’[a]

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. 49 So the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.

  • I John 1:5-7—God is light, and there is no darkness…
  • Revelations 21:21-25…The lamb is the light…

21 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass.

22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.

Did you see the Super Moon?  What about the lightening the night before last?  Did you notice that even when the electricity went out, there was enough of the Super Moon to help get around the house, not to mention out on the porch?  The natural lights of the moon, the sun, the stars, and even lightening cannot match man-made lights.  God’s light is the best.

In thinking about the changes that our world undergoes, there are constants that remain the same and those are the God things.  God’s lights are one of the constants.  The question we each must ask is where is THE LIGHT in our own lives, or in other words:

  • Where is God in our lives?
  • Are you living your life in such a manner that others see the light as a constant?
  • Do you radiate God’s light so well that others see you as a constant?
  • Does your God-light shine so brightly that even in the darkest moments you can see the way?
  • Can others see the way because of you?

These are the questions that can keep a person awake at night.  Personally I ponder whether or not my life is a reflection of God’s grace.  Sometimes I go back and review, wondering where did I fail.  Other times I feel so good about life, I simply praise God for all the good I see.

Praying hands are simply a must in a world that we have so little control over.  Keeping that open channel with God becomes like breath itself.  At times it is difficult to even know if we are praying, yet at the same time we also know when we are not praying.  Others can even tell.  When we live a prayer-filled life, we shine God’s light so brightly that others recognize it and even seek to follow it.

Keeping God’s light blazing bright in our lives comes down to practicing the disciplines that keep The Light charged up.  If we fail to keep the disciplines, then the light dims and pretty soon looks burned out.  Once the light is gone, it becomes difficult to see, to work, to love, to play, and even to sleep.  It takes work to get that Light back on.

Wrapping up the church year, each one of us needs to check our practices and see if our lights can shine as brightly as they can for the coming year.  The time to evaluate the sources of our spiritual energy is right now, so we can shine for all those we meet.  We cannot, must not, put it off.  Therefore, here are the evaluation questions:

  1. How often do you read the scriptures?
  2. Do you pray daily, hourly, or continually?
  3. Are you actively participating in a small group?
  4. Can you remember the last sacrament you took?
  5. Have you practiced fasting in one form or another?
  6. How often do you attend worship?

For most church members, attending worship and praying regularly are not a problem.  And if the church practices regular days for communion, then in all likelihood, that is not a concern.  The problem spots are the practices of reading and studying scripture, fasting, and participating in small group or Wesleyan-styled class meetings.  Even worship attendance can be an issue if you do not follow the recommended 48 out of 52 weeks of attendance.

These are the acts of piety that John Wesley felt were essential to maintaining one’s faith.  He knew that maintaining God’s light in our life is difficult and with the methods he insisted following, that light became a guiding beam to those who were without hope, without food, without shelter, and without the essentials for daily living.  And, as the light draws in the moths on hot summer nights, the Wesleyan disciples drew others to God.

Are we, right here in our very own community, following the Wesleyan methods we say we believe in a manner that God’s light radiates through and from us to draw others to God’s light?  That is a question we must answer if we are to follow God’s commission.

This is the point when the praying hands get dirty fingernails.  Granted, we realize that this is a metaphor, but Wesley certainly did not separate the two.  An area in which his ministry was well received was the coal-mining region in England.  One of the dirtiest jobs that seemed to deposit a level of grime over everything needed the most. The people needed God.  Now consider our own region.  Isn’t it interesting that at one point this area was once a mining region, too; but since the industry is now gone, does God’s light shine?

Even if the type of economic base switches in a community, there is no reason to think the need for God’s light has changed.  God is available for everybody.   God’s region is not limited by one geographic set of boundaries.  God’s region is global.  This is why Methodists get dirty fingernails just about anywhere they go.  This is why the acts of mercy Wesley encouraged becomes part of the fuel source for God’s light.

Evaluating how dirty our fingernails are getting as a small rural church as well as part of the global church might be challenging.  Well, it is challenging because it is tempered by the economy of a small church.  First, there should be no apologies for the lack of funds available for all the various missions whether it is the Heifer Project, the Ludhiana Medical Mission, the Hydrate Haiti project, the Imagine No Malaria campaign, or the Mozambique initiative.  The list can go on and on.

God’s work is not recorded by the amount of dollars spent.  Rather God’s work is measured by illumination.  Beginning in our own homes, are we being good stewards of God’s resources and the money we earn.  And in our own communities, the light needs shining.  As we evaluate how dirty our fingernails are, we need to begin at the center of our geographical community.  Here we go:

  1. Are the people in the community fed?
  2. Are the neighbors able to afford clothes that they need?
  3. Is the neighbors housing safe and adequate for their needs?
  4. Is the community prepared to handle a disaster?
  5. Does a special need come to mind?

Certainly an evaluation begins with the basic needs for life to be sustained, but it can be broadened to consider the next level of needs—educational, social, community services, and more.

In the pre-conference prayer study, the example of concentric circles was used to demonstrate the various levels of prayer.  The same concentric circle pattern can also identify the levels of ministry for a local church.  The nucleus or center is the physical church itself.  The next circle is the immediate area in the community.  The third circle is outer limits of the town, and then the circle one-mile from the church.  Additional circles needed to be included in rural communities based on how far reaching the members determine.  This may mean a 5-mile radius or a 10 mile-radius, and since our counties pivot around a larger community, an additional circle that bumps up to the city limits of the county seat.

What about the outreach beyond the immediate community, you might ask?  The connectional aspect of the United Methodist Church comes into the picture at this point.  The apportionments that are assessed each church provide the basic foundation for connectional ministry.  It is the choice of the individual churches to determine how involved they wish to become in the global ministries.  This does not mean that the small churches are exempt; it simply means that they can determine the extent of giving beyond the apportionments.

The acts of mercy send out the beams of light so all may know God.  What our small, rural church does adds just that much more to the luminosity of God’s light.  During the next year, we need to keep God’s light shining brightly.  We need to remember that all we do is for the glory of God, and when we keep that as the ultimate goal, we are the light, too.

Closing prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are the source of light:  sun, moon, and stars.

You are the source of love in our lives

         that shines so brightly others see you, too.

Guide us as we learn how to turn on our lights

         so others are drawn to your love.

Guide us as we strengthen our faith

         through the spiritual disciplines.

Guide us as we learn to minister to others

         so the light shines for them, too.

May we determine ways to shine your light

         so others may find the way to salvation.  –Amen

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Easy or Hard?

given on Sunday, June 2, 2013–based on preparing for Annual Conference where the theme will be “Praying Hands and Dirty Fingernails

Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails:  Easy or Hard?

 

Five days from now Annual Conference convenes.  I recognize that the value of this meeting seems distant, unimportant, or maybe even detrimental in some ways.  Yet, as United Methodists, the Annual Conference is a time to review, to be accountable, to renew each church’s commitment to the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission.  The theme this year is “Praying Hands & Dirty Fingernails.”

Stop and think about that combination of images for just a moment . . .(pause) . . .and now put yourself into the picture.  Do you have praying hands?  Do you have dirty fingernails?  Do you have both praying hands and dirty fingernails?  Or, sadly, do you have neither?

John Wesley did not separate these two images; he felt it was one in the same.  He also developed the structure to keep members accountable to their Christian responsibilities.

Annual Conference is all about God’s greatest commandment and his commission.  Annual conference is Wesley’s method of accountability to God.  Bishop Schnase’s leadership keeps our Missouri churches on task, and this year an added element of preparation appeared in our inboxes—“21 Days of Prayer.”

This three-week study came to my attention a little later than it should have because I was closing out the school year.  My focus was simply to make sure the students graduated and then to look forward.  My secular world collided with my spiritual world, even though I believe they work together to fulfill my Wesleyan purpose.

As school wound down and I cleaned up a room and moved into a new position, I began to let go of the school year and look ahead to the new church year—at least the conference’s church year.  I began reading the materials that are sent out and signing up for the various workshops and projects so I could be prepared.  And, I stopped to read the “21 Days of Prayer.”

First, I must apologize for my lack of pastoral responsibility.  The past two weeks, I should have shared this study with you and ready to introduce the final week of the study today.  But, with that aside, let me share some of the phenomenal words that are in this study.  Rev. Jenn Klein, from the Country Club United Methodist Church in Kansas City, wrote the study based on the Bishop’s book, Remember the Future:  Praying for the Church and Change.

All Christians are to follow one simple commandment that I have repeated over the last five years:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’  –Matthew 22:37-39, the Message

Following this commandment should make life so simple, but in our world, it seems nothing can be simple.  And Rev. Klein wrote it in just a slightly more expansive manner for the study:

“The Great Commandment tells us to love the Lord our God with our full selves; with our mind (intellect), heart (emotions), soul (intuition and divine instinct) and body (physical).  We are also to love others as ourselves.”

Her expanded explanation for each element–mind, heart, soul, and body—makes the commandment more than a statement; it makes it an internalized, comprehensive action—a lifestyle.

Over the past several years, I have tried to describe how being a Christian is a lifestyle.  I know you recognize that idea, but I simply must state it again.  A lifestyle is a way of living that comes automatically; there is no need to write out a specific plan of action or to prepare for the day’s event consciously to live as a Christian.  A lifestyle reflects who you are down to your innermost living cell.

Of course, a Christian lifestyle appears out of sync in today’s society, at least on the surface.  We are living side by side with a secular world that demands more and more un-Christian like behaviors.  The demands from our work world push our ethical standards to a point we become bitter, angry, and stressed not only mentally but physically.  We reach a point that we want to just quit everything because it seems we are demanded to live in a manner that does not match our beliefs.

The Bishop’s book acknowledges this, and then provides a Wesleyan viewpoint to help us continue maintaining a Christian lifestyle:

John Wesley modeled acts of piety and acts of mercy and taught that both are essential to our life in Christ.  The words piety and mercy sound curiously quaint today, perhaps even stirring negative responses.  Piety brings to mind self righteous, sanctimonious arrogance.  And no one wants to be at the mercy of anyone else.  Mercy connotes weakness, dependence, surrender.

Personally, I agree with the Bishop.  Today’s world has twisted the concepts we were taught in the 20th century, even clear back to the 18th century when Wesley began his ministry.

Yet we are living in the 21st century.  We cannot change that fact and we seem to have made many adjustments to the secular lifestyle that suits us.  The problem is that we are not making the adjustments in our Christian world to maintain the Wesleyan standards for the disciples of Jesus Christ that we profess we are.

Quoting again from the Bishop’s book:

Sometimes we act as if our living in Christ and leading the church require us to emphasize piety to the exclusion of mercy or to choose ministries of mercy at the expense of congregational vitality.  This presents an unhealthy and dangerous dichotomy.  It forces us to ask ourselves.  “Which kind of Christians are we?”  Are we those who seek a deeper spirituality in the changed heart that comes through worship, sacraments, prayer, the Scriptures and fellowship?  Or those who pour ourselves out through ministries of service and justice, helping people to rebuild their lives, and offering hope to a hurting world?

Is not that true?  His words sting; and I want to feel better.  Unfortunately no one can force anyone else to do something they are unwilling to do.  It takes modeling.  It takes valuing.  It takes understanding.  It takes God to open our hearts, our minds, and our hands to maintain a Christian lifestyle.  It takes God to do the same in non-Christians, too.

Here again comes a quandary:  How can our dwindling, aging populations continue to develop vital congregations?  Acts of piety and acts of mercy may be the actions Wesley demanded, and those same two types of acts are still needed today.  The Bishop quotes Martyn Atkins, the general secretary of the British Methodist church who says,

“Acts of piety and acts of mercy are like two wings of a bird; without either one, we cannot fly.  . . .  Following Christ involves praying hands and dirty fingernails.”

Yes, there is the theme of annual conference.  The Bishop connects Wesley’s images of a Christian lifestyle with this explanation:

We can’t evangelize hungry people without giving them food, and offering food alone never completes the task God gives us.  . . . vital congregations include not only a focus on the means by which people grow in Christ together but also an emphasis on ministries that reach into the community and world to serve in Christ’s name.  We cannot separate the two.  These feed each other.  Every faithful and fruitful congregation practices both acts of piety and acts of mercy.

That last line sets up the accountability tools.  To remain a vital congregation, an honest evaluation needs to be completed.  The checklist is simply the acts of piety and the acts of mercy written down and then logged by the congregation.  What proof does the church right here, right now have to show God that his Commandment is being fulfilled and his Commission is the congregation’s driving force.

Over the next two weeks, I challenge each one of you to create such a document.  List the acts of piety and write down what you do regularly that Wesley would approve.  Follow that with the list of acts of mercy you support or do personally.  Be honest.  I know the economy is often a limiting force, or maybe it is physical health that creates some limit.  But unless we can demonstrate our Christian standards, we must admit we are not a vital congregation and we have work to do.

Here is the first step during the conference week:  Prayer.  Make a conscious decision to pray for the church.  One of the different types of prayers available to us is the Prayer Knots.  Most of us would equate this with the Catholics’ use of a rosary, but there are some differences.  With your bulletin, you have a set of 8 knots on a cord.  Each knot is for a specific question as listed in the bulletin.  Add this prayer format to what you typically do in order to be more focused in your talks with God.

  • Knot One:           The first is this,
  • Knot Two:           You shall love the Lord your God
  • Knot Three:         with all your heart,
  • Knot Four:                  and with all your soul,
  • Knot Five:                  and with all your mind,
  • Knit Six:                  and with all your strength,
  • Knot Seven:         The second is this,
  • Knot Eight:         you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Rev. Klein offers a few other questions to consider after repeating this prayer twice:

  1. What word or image grasps your attention?  This is God’s word for you this week.
  2. What response, thoughts, insights were stirred within?
  3. How have you experienced the love of God?
  4. How might you be able to help another experience God’s love?

For five years, the one concern voiced over and over is how can we do that when we are so tired and so few.  Over these five years, I have seen the congregation’s attendance go up and down.  I know some swells are seasonal, as are some drops.  Some are temporary; some are not.

Over these five years, the acts of piety are maintained during worship, but seldom outside of that one hour.  The acts of mercy follow traditions primarily, but the traditions change.  New acts tried may fail first, but tried again may thrive.  The old acts continue, but do they grow?

During the next two weeks, use the prayer knots or cord and evaluate the vitality of your own faith, but also the vitality of our congregation.  It is not easy, but it is necessary.  In two weeks, let’s have an honest conversation that identifies a purpose and a goal for keeping the healthy balance of the past with the present.  A purpose and a goal that create a vital congregation.

Dear God,

Thank you for providing our congregation

the strength of history and the durability of now.

Guide us as we pray for our congregation,

our community, and our members.

Help us to be honest with our evaluations.

Help us to reflect upon the words

from the Bishop, Rev. Klein, Wesley,

and so many of your other disciples.

Use our time apart to build us up

so we can continue to keep your commandment

and to carry out your commission.  –Amen

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Just who is the Holy Spirit? How do you recognize him, her, it?

given on Sunday, May 19, 2013, Pentecost Sunday.

Opening Scripture:  Judge 3:10

10 The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he became Israel’s judge. He went to war against King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram, and the Lord gave Othniel victory over him.—the NLT

 

Have you ever heard those stories on the news about how someone could lift a car off a victim?  Or maybe how the neighbor runs into a burning house and saves a family?  Every once and a while a news story reports about a heroic feat on the battlefield.  Reactions to these stories range from complete disbelief to a prayer of thanks sent straight to God.              Typically these feats of heroism are credited to adrenalin, a hormone that acts as a full-body alert system.  Pursuing a deeper understanding, I learned that this is the hormone that causes an individual to react in either a fight or flight mode.  How does this fit in with understanding the Holy Spirit?

Reading through the opening scripture from Judges, I found the following statement in the study notes:

The phrase “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him,” was also spoken of the judges Gideon, Jephthat, and Samson, among others.  It expresses a temporary and spontaneous increase of physical, spiritual, or mental strength.  This was an extraordinary and supernatural occurrence to prepare a person for a special task.  (Life Application Study Bible, p. 381)

 

Does that not sound like the definition of adrenaline!  Even the ancient people, the faithful tribes of Israel, acknowledged that something unique worked in extraordinary situations.

Yet, there is a twist to our understanding—the Holy Spirit.  In Judges, this unique force is identified as the Spirit of God.  Reading through the listing of verses relating to the Holy Spirit, the Old Testament inclusions are overwhelming outnumbered by the references to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  The Judges study note adds in one more line for better understanding:

The Holy Spirit is available to all believers today, but he will come upon believers in an extraordinary way for special tasks.  We should ask the Holy Spirit’s help as we face our daily problems as well as life’s major challenges.  (Ibid.)

 

How often does something come up in our lives and we have to decide—fight it or flee it?  Recognizing the Holy Spirit and understanding how it works can help us manage the “fight or flight” response that hits us in difficult times.

As Christians, we are equipped with all that we could possibly need to manage the life issues that are constantly popping up in our lives.  Once we can acknowledge that there is a God, that he did send his Son Jesus Christ to teach us and to die for our sins, then we are linked directly to God’s adrenaline—the Holy Spirit.

Remember the verse I frequently reference, Philippians 4:13: “I can do everything through him (Christ) who gives me strength.”   A new level of understanding leaped out once again—the Holy Spirit is God’s adrenaline that makes it possible for us to manage all the unexpected, often un-Christian, experiences we stumble into during our lives.

God’s adrenaline.  The more science explains, the more I see God.  When God decided to create man and woman, he thought of absolutely everything.  The problem is that humans began using free will to out do, out think, or out maneuver God.  The business of living got into the way and blinded us to God’s power.

Now Christians are faced with a new quandary:  How do I know when the Holy Spirit is available and working?  Obviously one should know because as practicing Christians we go to worship, we believe in Christ, and we live out the Golden Rule.  Or, do we?  Maybe we go through the motions without really connecting to God, you know, by talking and listening to him.

Many days I know that students or family members do not hear what I am saying; therefore, it stands to reason that we do the same type of ‘hearing’ with God.  We are what we do.  This may be why Peter and Paul applied so much emphasis in their ministries to the Holy Spirit.

In Luke’s second book, Acts, he shares how Peter and Paul introduce the earliest Christians to the Holy Spirit.  The first half is Peter’s work of the Holy Spirit, and the second is Paul’s.  But, in Acts 1:4-5, Luke writes what Christ said:

. . . “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with[a] water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  –the NLT

 

Through baptism, each individual is empowered by the Holy Spirit.  We symbolize that with the use of water, but consider the immense strength we are granted once empowered by the Holy Spirit!  There is a problem, though.  How do we know, really know, that we now exist with such a gift?

That is a tough question to answer.  Maybe we need to realize again God supplied these bodies he designed with that special hormone ‘adrenaline.’  Even when we do not consciously think, many times our bodies react with amazing skill, agility, and/or strength.  The fight-or-flight response is beyond our conscious control in many critical circumstances.

Still, there is the concept of the Holy Spirit as an additional presence with us, just not a visible presence.  Mull this idea over:

During that short time [30 years of Jesus’ life] the church was established, and the gospel of salvation was taken throughout the world, even to the capital of the Roman Empire.  Those preaching the gospel, though ordinary people with human frailties and margins, were empowered  [emphasis added] by the Holy Spirit to take the Good News “all over the world” (Acts 17:6).  Throughout the book of Acts we learn about the nature of the church and how we today are also to go about turning our world upside down.  (Ibid. p.1942)

 

The Apostles and the earliest disciples were just the average person like us, working to keep their families fed, sheltered, and clothed.  They were picked by Jesus or called by God to transform the world around them.

Today, we are the disciples.  We accepted God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit when we were baptized.  We joined a particular church because it provided us with a community of believers who wanted to see God in action.  Peter uses the story of Stephen as an example of how the Holy Spirit empowers the faithful:

Acts 6:8-10:  Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. 10 None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.  –the NLT

 

Again the study notes make a point of explaining that Stephen could not have managed all the lies, the imprisonments, the abuse, and the stoning if he had not accepted the Holy Spirit’s presence in his life.  God’s adrenaline provides us the physical, mental, and spiritual strength to manage all the un-Christian influences in our lives.

Just who is the Holy Spirit?  How do we recognize him, her, or it?  There is no simple answer to that question, but remember that science has been able to identify the hormone adrenaline and to explain how it works.  Compare that same understanding to the Holy Spirit.

We may not physically see it, but we know it is there.  We know that when life hands us the challenges, God has given us the Holy Spirit to manage.  The Holy Spirit is God’s adrenaline that makes it possible to do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  You will recognize it when life puts you to the test:

  • Maybe you are diagnosed with an extreme medical condition.  Knowing that God is right there, simply call out to him for the strength to manage.
  • Maybe some fraudulent person or company victimizes you by an accident or a scam.  Rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you through the problem successfully.
  • Maybe you are handed a task at work or even one you choose to take on that others say you can’t do.  Think positively and thank God that he has provided you the Holy Spirit to work through it with you.

Just who is the Holy Spirit and how do you recognize it can be answered much more simply than one could ever expect:  Once you accept Christ into your life, you accept the reality of God’s adrenaline, too.  You know the Holy Spirit whenever you tackle some issue in your life that others might consider too much to handle.  The Holy Spirit will give you the skills and the strength to handle the extraordinary situation in such a manner that others will think you are extraordinary.

Closing  prayer:

Dear God in Three,

We believe in you as one of three.

We believe in your presence

in this universe we live.

We believe that you joined us

on this earth in the form of Jesus.

We believe that Jesus ascended into heaven

but you empowered us with the Holy Spirit.

Guide us daily in modeling your grace and love

to others in our homes, communities, and countries.

Guide us in acting fearlessly to the daily challenges

that pop up around us.

Guide us in serving one another in love,

never tiring because we are empowered.

Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

May we recognize how it gives us the strength

to do all that we can for all that we can

whenever and where ever we can.  –Amen

 

Closing Scripture:  Philippians 1:1-4

3 Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters,[a] rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God[b] are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!  –the NLT

 

 

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What do you mean Holy Ghost? Who is the Holy Spirit?

given on Sunday, July 8, 2012

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make noise?  This is just one of those questions people ask in fun; but also this is a question to ponder and to argue with deep-seeded thinkers.  Questions like this are used in schools to develop higher order thinking skills, to create inquisitive minds, or to stimulate a conversation.  The same type of questions creates long, evenings of debate at social gatherings.

Abstract ideas easily frustrate a person who lives in a concrete world and struggles to understand non-materialistic concepts.  Is it any wonder when someone mentions the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit that debates spring up around it, too?  Even the name creates confusion—Holy Ghost to some while others comfortably use Holy Spirit.  How does one explain this third element of the triune?

The answers to these questions are particularly difficult in a society that is more materialistic, more secular, and more skeptical than it was 100, 200, or even 400 years ago.  Americans celebrated another 4th of July this week, but the society we live in today is vastly different than in 1776.

As Christians, we need to be able to put into words exactly what Christianity is, what the triune God is, and what the Holy Spirit/Ghost is.  Skeptics demand physical proof as clear evidence of Christianity, yet faith is an abstract concept itself.  The evidence is in the outcomes of living a Christian life.  The evidence is in the relationships of Christians to their family, their friends, their co-workers, and their enemies.  The evidence is an intangible quality that draws others to them.

The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, synonyms or interchangeable names, is visible in the relationships as well as in the actions of Christians.  The Holy Ghost is God’s presence within us; it is the tool that we use to act.  Holy Ghost is a tangible being that is proven over and over by the acts of Christians everywhere.

Evidence:  the outpouring of people racing to Joplin, the firefighters working around the clock right now trying to control forest fires, the neighbors pouring out to locate missing children, neighbors, aging seniors or complete strangers, the first responders to accidents, the sole individual who hears the cry of a lost child in a store.  The list of Christians who respond is evidence of the Holy Ghost in action.  It is the tool that we use to do the seemingly impossible as well as the simplest action of a hug.

Remember that looking at the world through God’s eyes allows us to apply that simple law of loving one another whether we know someone personally or whether someone is a complete stranger.  The Holy Spirit exists to provide us the ability, the resources, and the action to serve.  God’s dream of a world of humans who live harmoniously in his garden is our dream, too.

Back to the questions, though:  What is the Holy Ghost?  Who is the Holy Spirit?  Why do we need the Holy Ghost?  As Christians, we know that with the Holy Spirit, we can continue to demonstrate God’s love.  We can do whatever we can for all those we can in as many ways as we can—if we allow the Holy Ghost to work through us.

The Apostles and the earliest disciples had a man, Jesus Christ, to teach them how to live out the New Covenant.  God provided a concrete means of teaching the earliest believers how to live under the New Covenant, under one simple law rather than the volumes of law the Israelites created.  When the society surrounding the first converts felt challenged, the physical being of God was destroyed—Jesus was crucified.

At Pentecost, which was a traditional harvest celebration in the Jewish culture, the Holy Spirit baptized the Apostles and early disciples so that they were equipped to continue Jesus’ work.  The Holy Spirit replaces the second element of God, the human being Jesus Christ.  This third being may not be tangible, but is evidenced by the work of Christians then and now.

According to the Apologetics Study Bible article, “Who is the Holy Spirit?” by Dave Sterrett, there are five answers to that question:

  1. the Holy Spirit is fully God,
  2. the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force,
  3. the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Son and the Father
  4. the Holy Spirit indwells Christians; and
  5. we learn that God gives the Holy Spirit to anyone who believes in Jesus.

Wow!  Not just one answer, but five answers to the question of  “Who is the Holy Spirit?”  Sterrett also references Bible verses from both the Old and the New Testaments to demonstrate that the Holy Ghost has and continues to be part of the triune God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  The Holy Spirit is just as mysterious and complex as God because they are one in the same.

Beginning with just the second verse in Genesis, Sterrett points out the Holy Spirit was included:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.  (the NIV)

He continues with references from Job and Psalms.  Even a review a concordance shows even more references to the Spirit.  Of course, one can expand the research by looking for additional terms:  Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, Counselor, Friend, Tongues of Fire, Breath, Wind, and so on.

Looking at the references in John:14-16, I found the arguments for the Holy Spirit parallels those in Luke’s writings:

John 14:14-18:  15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

John 14:25-26:  25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 15:26-27:  26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

John 16:5-15:  “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt[g] in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

The arguments are all there, in the Bible, so why the questions:  Who is the Holy Spirit?  What does the Holy Ghost mean?  How do we know there is a Holy Spirit?  What evidence is there that the Holy Ghost is a presence among us even today?

We may live in the 21st century, in a society filled with skeptics and non-believers, but the evidence exists all around us.  The Holy Spirit is present.  Take courage in this understanding and step out knowing you are equipped to do God’s work.

In Eugene Peterson’s The Message Remix:  Solo—an uncommon devotional, on day 246 he refers to Acts 4:24-31.

This excerpt primarily is a prayer that we can still use today.  In verse 23 he begins with the connection to the Old Testament, “By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David . . .” Then at the end of the prayer in verse 31, Luke describes the arrival of the Holy Spirit and how it equipped the Apostles and earliest disciples:

While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook.  They were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Words with fearless confidence.

Today we may not feel the church tremble and shake, but I know the Holy Spirit is present and working through us.  I know what fearless confidence is.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We know you have commissioned us

to continue making disciples of Christ,

to transform this world through the New Covenant.

We hesitate all too often thinking we cannot do it.

We fear that we do not have what it takes to do the work.

Thank you, too, for the gift of the Bible.

With these tools and prayer, we know that we can

Fulfill our callings with fearless confidence.  –Amen

 

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Dreaming through God’s Eyes

given on Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hot summer days are traditionally times when we fall into daydreams.  The thoughts of cool vacation spots in the mountains, sitting on a boat in the early morning cool, or lounging on a beach with a book may be the ideal getaway.  Daydreaming lets our minds escape and even gives us some mental relief from the harsh realities existing around us.

Why right now I am daydreaming about one of those summer rainy days when the great big, white, boiling clouds show up and the grey on the bottom intensifies until the bolts of lightening strike out.  The lightening and thunder usher in the rain that tapers into gentle, cooling showers that soaks into the dry-sponge-like ground.

A rainy day filled with relief from the reality of our drought conditions is a not a daydream but a necessity for us watching the crops and gardens struggling to remain productive.  Our daydream must turn into prayers of supplication.  We have no means of managing the weather, we have no control and that makes the reality even feel more demoralizing.  But, we have faith, we have hope, and we have God.  What we forget is to use the tools we have.

Looking at today’s circumstances around the nation, I am reminded of the dreams of the earliest settlers.  The land on which we live and farm were here before we were.  We must remember that others inhabited this land before the European explorers began their journeys into the unknown.  Still, if explorers had not dreamed, would we be living in our homes right now?

Dreaming is a tool.  Dreaming led the Puritans to sail to new shores.  Dreaming led revolutionaries to begin a new country.  Dreaming lead John Wesley to identify methods for developing and growing one’s faith.  Dreaming caused Methodism to grow into an active Christian denomination serving one another in love.

Dreaming is not a dangerous activity especially if we dream through God’s eyes.   As we read Genesis’s creation story, we can perceive God’s dream to have a universe, to have the flora and the fauna, and to have humanity.  As we read through the Old Testament stories, we see how God continually works to preserve the dream.

Imagine the frustration and disappointment even God experiences over and over.  His dream is endangered and he sends Jesus to demonstrate the tools needed to preserve the dream—the universe.  Jesus, God in human form, is love.  Over and over his actions demonstrate how loving one another is the one simple law all people really ever need.  God’s dreams, even our dreams, can be achieved by always maintaining that one commandment:  Love one another.

Dreaming through God’s eyes ideally leads us to repeatedly implement that law.  Loving one another may begin with loving God, loving self, loving family, and loving our neighbors, but it grows.  The very law of loving one another becomes a lifestyle; it becomes the driving force behind our daily activities, our jobs, and even our leisure.

In our daily crisis, we fail to maintain that one law.  We become so filled with anxiety that looking at the problem through God’s eyes is far from our first thought.  We find ourselves panicking as we sense the loss of a dream.  We fail to use the tools of our faith to stabilize the crisis.  We fail to keep in touch with God.  We fail to pray.  We fail to read the Bible.  We fail to work in community.  And, we lose the dream.

As we begin this week, we will take time on Wednesday to celebrate the dreams of our American forefathers.  They dreamed.  They prayed.  And they acted.  We value dreams as Americans, we honor dreams of the past.  Are we ready to continue dreaming through God’s eyes to continue working to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world?

Maybe I perceive the world through a “Pollyanna” mindset, but I dream.  I do not think I could manage the various crisis’s life hands me without my faith.  I do not think I could wake up to another 100 degree day without the hope that rain will cool us down—sooner or later.  I hope I do see the world through God’s eyes.  My dreams, I believe, are ones God’s eyes see.

Yet, I know, too, that I fail.  I fail to use the tools.  I fail to keep my eyes open.  I even fail to dream.  Today begins a new year of service to the church; and the dreams of four years ago seem faded.  Yet, I refuse to quit dreaming.

Dreaming led me to Acts.  Struggling to find a way to renew my dreams, I needed to find the tools to sharpen them.  Acts is a book about transition.  Luke may have been shaken by the crucifixion, but his faith did not quit.  He continued telling Jesus’ story and helped bridge the gap between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

Luke knew the old dreams and even used Joel’s prophecy to reach across the generations:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.  (the NIV)

Even though Pentecost 2012 was celebrated over a month ago, the Pentecost initiated or baptized the Apostles with the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit.  The Holy Ghost is God’s personal tool that exists within us to carry out the dream of a transformed world, a world of believers working in unity.

Dreaming through God’s eyes leads us to use the tools he gave us, especially prayer and the Holy Ghost, to act in making the dream a reality.  The wonderful thing about God’s tools is that they never wear out, never need purchasing, never need redesigning, or anything.           Prayer is always available.  We can talk to God anytime, anywhere, for any reason.  We can cry, laugh, ask, thank, share whatever we have with God.  We also can hear God—if we listen in our prayers.  We can hear God, when we read the Bible or sing a hymn.  We can see God if we watch others who demonstrate loving one another.  Prayer is a tool we have 24/7; it is available in an instant, it never leaves us.  If we dream, we pray.

Dreaming creates the goal.  Prayer is the tool to keep it in touch with God.  But what is next?  Next comes the action.  What tool is there to put the dream into action?  The answer is the Holy Ghost.

Even the earliest Christians did not understand how they were going to continue.  They asked Peter what they should do.  In Acts 2:38, Peter makes one statement concerning how we know the Holy Ghost is with us:  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  (the NIV)

Understanding the importance of the Holy Spirit—or Ghost—may still be a reason Christians do not know what to do.  Every individual has unique gifts, talents to use.  We may be carpenters, seamstresses, artists, farmers, bankers, or businessmen.  Our success is connected to the gifts we have been given.  When we combine all our talents, any dream developed through God’s eyes, can be achieved.  The Holy Ghost will provide the inspiration, the skills, the strength, and the pieces needed to accomplish a God-driven dream.

Look at what happens in the face of a natural disaster.  When the tornado tore through Joplin, or any community, can we doubt the power of the Holy Ghost?  People immediately join in and do what might be considered impossible were it not for God’s role in the work.  God—in three people, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—can work miracles.  We, his children, are able to perform the miracles needed to put the broken world back together again.

Today, dream.  But remember to dream through God’s eyes.  When you see something that needs work, dream a little and then pray.  Talk to God about the dream you have and ask him for his help.  Listen for him, and then act.  The Holy Ghost is with you, and you are equipped. Now you just need to act with all the confidence in the world because you are working to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  This is what God has commissioned you to do, so do it.

Dear God,

May your dream for a transformed world be my dream, too.

Give me the vision that you see through your eyes.

Talk to me so I know what you ask me to do.

Help me to use the gifts you have given me to do my share.

Thank you for the gift of your son so we know how to love one another.

Thank you for the gift of the Holy Ghost so we can act in your behalf.

Today we dream, we pray, and now must act.

Guide us as we work to follow your dream.

Amen.

 

 

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