Category Archives: Sermon Notes

A Father’s Crazy Love

During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell, which was rung to keep down rebellion and crime.

However, the bell did not sound. Upon further inspection, they found that the soldier’s fiance had climbed into the belfry and lung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she was unable to speak but she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

That’s crazy love. Do you know what it takes ‘to climb inside a large bell and hang on’ while someone outside is trying to ring it? What does mind-blowing love look like? A dozen roses? A special anniversary? Paying off credit cards?

Animals sometimes show a remarkable ability to transcend and love in amazing and wonderful ways. In the movie Hachi, based on a true story, Hachi loves his master so much that when the master dies, the dog continues to go back to the train station where his master would arrive after taking trips abroad. Hacki sat waiting for his master outside that station for 9 long years.

The first time young people fall in love they are all in; it is like a really strong addiction.

A 5-year study on the effects of love was completed several age at the University of Technology in Sydney Australia. They wanted to see the ‘effects that passionate love has on the body’. They recorded a surge of body chemicals, like adrenaline, that increased the capacity to think clearly, caused an increase in body temperature, and in most people they saw ‘a calmness come over them when they were around the person they loved and adored’. There was ‘great joy’ and something they said ‘in the nervous system’ like ‘a good electrical charge’ that created a sense of overall well-being.

Our understanding of love is pretty limited. ‘We know it when we feel it’ and can study some of its impact. But love can be confusing and unexplained. It is remarkably complex. There are at least 4 different definitions of love in Modern Greek — and as many as 6 definitions in Ancient Greek. God’s love is more honest, and complete ‘than ours ever will be’.

John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The Bible tells us in Lamentations 3:22 and Psalm 145:8 that God’s love and compassion never fail. And that God has this amazing, crazy love and he wants to lavish it on us. (1 John 3:1) We can only begin to understand God’s love through faith and trust.

His risk and sacrifice is so great, he gave all ‘before we knew him’ or ever thought we needed him (Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:10)

Francis Chan writes in his book ‘Crazy Love’, that a love like that overwhelms us. And if we allow it to – it can define us and transform us. God’s love is so strong, if we give in it will consume us.

A love like that will cause us to fight our own natural desires, in order to please God. If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. Or if God had a computer or iphone, your picture would be on his screensaver!

We are self-centered, thinking more of ourselves- than others – or God. Sometimes we just want to do our own thing. A God so loving, seems … so demanding. What does he want and why doesn’t he just leave us alone!

Now if you are a parent, that response probably sounds familiar during the teenage years. It is risky and at times heartbreaking to love a rebellious teen. ‘It is a time when we are trying to guide and protect them’ and they are trying to break-free. But here is the thing, if you are a parent, “Do you ever stop loving your kids?” No!

We keep praying for them and reaching out to them – like the father in the story of the prodigal son. The dad was waiting and watching for his son. He was hoping and praying and available. And when his son finally came back home, the father ran out eagerly to embrace him. Then he threw a party and celebrated the day his son, who had said his father was dead to him, came back home.

Real love is represented by honesty, safety, caring, protection, guidance, and an outpouring of oneself. That is risky. ‘Real love’ is a father or mother teaching a child to ride a bike. We encourage, we run along side, we guide, we are proud – but we know – sooner or later, we have to let go. Sometimes it goes well. Sometimes the child sails off into the sunset. But other times they crash. And we hate it. But they have to – or they will never learn to go it alone.

Crazy Love is an ‘all or nothing adventure’. It is a love that consumes us, fills us and overflows. God is not satisfied if we just ‘fit him into our lives in small ways’. 

Francis Chan writes in his book ‘Crazy Love’ that he never really understood his father’s love. He writes, “My goal in my relationship with my father was ‘not to annoy him’, so I walked around the house trying not to do anything that might upset him.”

I have to admit, I have met many Christians who see ‘love’ in these terms. They see God as a judge and they worry about his laws. So instead of really loving God, we walk around on eggshells, trying to be unnoticed by God. We hope God will ‘only see us doing something right’ and ‘miss’ the rest.

God’s goal is not to punish us – but to love us. Yet sometimes ‘God does put us in our place’. That isn’t what he wants – but what is best for us. Like a parent who stops a child from touching a hot stove. If He didn’t. He would be considered abusive or unloving!

God, like any parent, has hopes and dreams for us. God created us with purpose. God’s love is well-balanced and has clear expectations and boundaries. God desires more good for us than we can imagine.

God is patient and he waits for us to come around. HE may hold back his blessings but His love will never cease. He is persistent and always watching over us. And he keeps on smiling at us – even while we sulk and complain.

God’s love is electric, like … 

  • It is like a new father coming home from work, who cannot wait to see his wife and baby.
  • It is like a mother baking a cake for her child’s first birthday.
  • It is like that proud day when a son or daughter graduates from school, and they hear a hearty, “That’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl!”

When it all works out according to plan, all the years, all the hopes, all the risk – and all the joy collide and overflow. That is how God must feel when a Christian gets up and sings the ‘heart of worship’ with all their heart, mind and soul. That must be how God feels ‘when all the prayers, fasting, time and commitment – help a new person give their heart to Jesus, for the first time’.

Or when the church really displays God’s love – and they go from being ‘nominal to phenomenal’. And that is what the church needs today. We desperately need more members who immerse themselves in Christ and become new creations. We need people who ‘fall in love with The Father’ and really experience his crazy love; a wonderful, overpowering love that transforms and transcends.

We need Christians who are willing to climb a bell tower and hold onto the clapper for the love of Jesus. Can you imagine how we could change the world ‘with that kind of Crazy Love’?

I want to leave you with this challenge: Two brothers got infected with God’s love. Together they wrote a book, it is called, “Do Hard Things”, it is by Alex & Brett Harris. Get a copy. Read it. It is a challenge we all should embrace.

What if we were all overcome b God’s Crazy Love and did Hard Things? What if we set an example of God’s transforming love and power for others – by having high expectations… Honestly, I get chills just thinking about it. Kind of crazy, wouldn’t you say?

But with God, anything is possible. Happy Father’s Day! Amen

Being Shrewd with Finances

In the Steven Spielberg movie “Catch me if you can”, Leonardo Dicaprio plays the real-life Frank Abagnale Junior, a young man who coned many. He was a check forger, imposter and took on 8 different identities, including: a cook, an owner of a grocery, a movie projectionist a teaching assistant, an airline pilot, a pediatrician, an attorney, and a United States Bureau of Prison’s agent.

He escaped from “police custody” twice (one from a taxing airline – and once from a US federal penitentiary). He served less than 5 years in prison before starting work for the federal government. He now owns a company that teaches the FBI and other police how to catch con men and other frauds, like himself.

In the end, we almost find ourselves cheering him on. We celebrate his ingenuity, his skill and his risk. In a way, ‘we wish’ we could get away with stealing 4 million dollars without getting arrested. But the reality is, most thieves are caught in the end. That is what happens to con men.

That is where our Bible passage in Luke fits in today. Luke 16 is often titled, ‘The Parable of the Shrewd Manager’. It says in chapter 15 that Jesus is speaking to; the Tax Collectors and Sinners, the Pharisees, the crowd and the disciples all at once. What does it mean to us today?

It is clear that the entire 16th chapter dealing with the use of money. Here is the story. There was a rich man who employed a manager to take care of his business. Then, someone complained to the boss saying, that this manager was squandering, wasting, or miss-using the owner’s possessions.

So the Boss called the man in and said, “What is this that I hear aout you? Show me your books and give an account of all your transactions. If there is ‘one error, you’re finished! I will not have an employee ‘who is a cheat’.” Knowing he is cauht, the manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My boss will take away my job.”

So the unscrupulous manager found himself in a bad way. “I am not strong enough to dig – and I am too ashamed to beg”, he thought, “yet I have a plan – that just might save me.” And so, the manager calls the boss’ debtors in ‘one by one’ and slashes their bills, drastically discounting what they owe.

This way, the boss ‘got some debt paid back’ and made a quick trn around ‘to cash in on the profits’. There is a good chance the manager did this by ‘simply cutting out his commission’. So in the end, everyone winds. Then, the boss commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

Then Jesus ‘gave us all’ insight into this parable, “For ‘the people of this world’ are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind – than are ‘the people of light’. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings..”

“Whoever can be trusted with very little – can also be trusted with much, and ‘whoever is dishonest with very little’ will also be dishonest with much. “So, if you have, ‘not been trustworthy in handling earthly wealth’, who will trust you with true riches?”

In this passage, Jesus is recognizing 2 kinds of people; those he calls ‘people of this world’ and ‘people of the light’. People of the world are really good at what they do yet many people of the light still have a lot to learn. Sadly, Christians can be some of the most gullible, naive people around. Jesus told the disciples to be ‘as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves’ in Matthew 10:16. Yet, almost every week, in the news, we hear about Christian folks being scammed.

While money is ‘simply a tool’, we are called to use it and all of our resources well. IN the end, our earthly wealth means nothing to God. But how we condust our lives around money, what we do with it and what it reveals about our priorities and goals in life, matter immensely.

Luke tells us that money reveals character. It is used to build trust, it shows that we understand responsibility and reveals that ‘we take all that God gives us seriously’. Our motive is more important than ‘any quantity of money we accumulate’.

All that we have should be used to glorify God, that includes our use of money and every other resource available to us. Scripture explains in so many words, “Only a fool wastes what could be used for a greater purpose.” (Proverbs 17:16)

James chapter 5 reads, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers ‘who mowed your fields are crying out against you’. The cries of the harvesters have also reached the ears of the Lord Almighty”.

Then, if the message is not clear enough, Luke 16 ends with the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus”. The rich man lived in luxury, was dressed in purple and had fine linens. He lived life to the fullest, ate, drank and had every luxury. But outside, by his gate, laid a beggar named Lazarus. The rich man loathed him. He watched him rot by the gate and never gave him anything. He despised the man.

What is on trial here is our lack of compassion, our selfishness and our waste ‘at the expense of others’.

The Wall Street Journal ran this statement: “Money is an article ‘which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere’ except heaven, and as a universal provider of everything – except happiness.” Money can be a great tool or your downfall.

When we scan the Bible we find, that Jesus talked more about money than any other topic. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing ‘1 out of 10 verses’ (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.

The reason is, Money like power can corrupt us quickly. And it can also be wasted, if we are careless. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism said, “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.”

WEsley wrote, “As riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.” He encouraged believers to take care of their basic needs and the needs of our families; buy food, clothes, housing, take are of your health and education, but never hoard money at the expense of causing suffering for others.

The New York Times had an article in July of 2015 called, “Your Spending Choices Often Reflect Your Values”. In the article, Carl Richards writes, “My top priorities are spending time with my family and serving in my community. In theory, every decision I make, every action I take, should be about meeting those priorities. But sometimes, my statements show I have made other things a priority.”

And Richards finishes this way, “We can flip the equation. We can put our values first and make spending decisions that better align with our true selves. And we can end up with statements that reflect a personal manifesto that we’re proud to call our own.” I think that is what Jesus was trying to say to us.

I want to end with this short story: A teacher of third graders asked her class, “What would you do with a million dollars?” One girl responded, “I would buy new clothes and lots of candy.” A little boy answered, “I would buy a train and a monkey.”

The the teacher asked, “Do you suppose that buying those thins would ‘really be the best use of your money?” “Gee”, said the boy, “You ask what I would do with a million dollars, not what I should do with it.” Even a third grader can get a little insight!

While we, on occasion root for the con man, a good con only gets us so far. And foolishness, the Bible says, only separates us from our hard earned money. (Proverbs 21:20) It takes wisdom and careful planning to take us back home again. So bank on Jesus and ‘use your money wisely’ to build eternal relationships and to point to heaven.

Your assignment is to take account of your fiances this week. Be wise, count the cost.

Amen

The Value of Work

Bumper stickers on work. 

  • Work fascinates me, I can sit and watch it for hours.
  • The worst day of fishing – is still better than the best day of working.
  • Hard work may not kill me – but why take a chance?
  • I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.

Homer, the famous Greek writer, said that ‘the gods hated humans so much’ that they invented work as a way to punish people. Work sounds like punishment to some folks. Retirement is the blessed goal.

Paul wrote, “We gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.'” this passage is entirely concerned with those who should and can work but refuse and instead direct their energies to causing chaos in the community. It is entirely possible and disturbingly common today, to work full time ‘or more than full time’ — and ‘still not earn’ a living wage.

We Christians need to be profoundly careful with our rhetoric ‘about those who depend on welfare for survival’. Instead, we should be fighting for justice and getting help for those in need. And Paul wasn’t talking about cutting people off who can’t earn a living because of sickness, mental instability, age, or infirmity. He wasn’t talking about cutting off widows who have no support, or orphans whose parents have died. WE should never use this verse to hammer the poor or the unemployed because ‘we often don’t know the whole story’.

You see the Church at Thessalonica was struggled with several problems, including, persecution, lax morals, idleness and a misunderstanding of Christ’s coming. Their thinking fell along these lines:

  • Slaves work – ‘not upstanding people’,
  • Pleasure is the highest goal in life. 
  • Life should be easy.
  • If Jesus is coming back soon, why worry or work?

Then because they had nothing else to do, they began spreading panic, rumors, lies and gossip. Their behavior became chronic and destructive. Paul refers to them as busybodies.

These issues were not new for the church in Thessalonica, Paul had been dealing with them from the beginning. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 reads, “Make it your ambition to lead a quite life to mind your business – and to work with your hands, just as we told you.”

The work idle or lazy is translated as ‘someone who does not walk or conduct themselves in the proper way or manner’. Originally, it referred to soldiers marching out of step or going AWOL (absent without official leave).

The picture Paul is painting is one of ‘people who are troublemakers disruptive meddlers and slackers’. They are lazy when it comes to work – but they work at making others miserable.

The truth s, the Bible is filled with passages about not being lazy, especially in the book of Proverbs. For example; Proverbs 21:25 reads, “Despite their desires, the lazy will come to ruin because their hands refuse to work.”

And Proverbs 18:9 reads, “One who is slack in his work, is brother to the one who destroys.”

These are harsh words – but we must understand the mindset of God’s people back then.

To think of one’s self above others – was a sin. People did what was best for the community not themselves. Each person had an obligation to work – and to share with everyone. Work was seen as your unique way of serving others, benefiting the community and glorifying God. Idleness was seen as selfish, an act of stealing and arrogant.

Work, they believed, was not a curse – but a gift from God. The worker who never shows effort, energy, or enthusiasm, they believed, was not living the godly life.

As a gift to Adam, “God gave man work to do” long before the fall. Genesis 2:15 reads, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 reads, “Then I realized, that it is ‘good and proper’ for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun – during the few days of life God has given him for this is his lot. Furthermore, as for every man ‘to whom God has given riches and wealth’, he has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and to ‘rejoice in his labor’ this is the gift of God.”

“Work is ‘the honorable way to live’ and to serve others. That is what Jesus did throughout his entire life.

Remember David’s failure with Bathsheba? What was the problem? He was idle. He was not doing his job as the leader. He should have been out leading the armies of Israel. Instead he let others do his job while he lounged around in the palace. He was not about his Father’s business so he got into the devil’s business.

Some say that, “idleness is the devil’s workshop”. The idea of work ‘is that it is ultimately good for us’. It keeps us out of trouble, keeps us strong mentally, physically and spiritually and most importantly ; our work is also our witness.

Colossians 3:23 reads “Whatever you do, ‘work at it’ with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” And Colossians 3:17 reads, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

There’s a story told about three men who were digging a foundation for a new church. When asked what he was doing, the first man replied ‘that he was earning money to feed his family’. The second man said he was working ‘so he could go out and party over the weekend’. Only the third man captured the architect’s plan for the structure, when he said, “I’ building a cathedral ‘to the glory of God’.”

One day, Francis of Assisi was hoeing in his garden and was asked ‘what he would do if he knew Jesus was coming back that very day’. This was his answer: “i’d keep hoeing.”

Finally, Dr. Ben Carson wrote this reflection on work in his book “Gifted Hands”, “It’s not WHAT you do – but the kind of job you do, that makes the difference.

Our work, what we do for the Lord, speaks volumes about us. And it speaks about who we love – and it speaks to those who come after us.1

Another problem that Paul was dealing with in the churches related to caring for the needy and the elderly. Some men refused to care for the widows, their mother-in-laws and relative’s children – after their parents had died.

Paul made his feelings very clear to Timothy when he wrote, “If anyone does not provie for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

Those men forgot how blessed they were. They forgot that they had received God’s grace and mercy – and they had no mercy for others. How sad. Scripture reminds us, “Don’t eer get tired of doing what is good and right”. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

A woman went with her husband to the doctor’s office. When the checkup was over, the doctor asked the man to wait outside so he would talk to the wife. “Your husband is suffering from ‘a very sever stress disorder’. If you don’t do what I ask, he is not going to make it. “Here’s what I want you to do… “Get up early each morning and fix him a healthy breakfast. Make him ‘a nutritious lunch’ and prepare it really special dinner every night. Be pleasant at all times. Don’t burden him with chores or discuss your problems with him. You will need to do almost ‘all the work around the house’. And, you can’t nag him about anything. If you can do this ‘for a year’, your husband will completely regain his health.” As they were driving home, the husband turned to his wife and asked, “What did the doctor say?” To which she replied, “I’m sorry, he said you’re not going to live out the year!”

Don’t be like her! Take the high road, focus on Jesus and do your work, as if it were for God himself, because it is. Then, allow what you do ‘to be your witness to others’. 

Your assignment is to look up some passages in the Bible on work. It is a sign of our love for God and others.

Amen

Truth Speaks Across All Impediments

Language is a funny thing. Especially when it is translated – sometimes the results are messed up and very humorous. Examples are:

  • In Chinese, the “Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan: ‘Finger-lkin’ good’ was translated ‘Eat your fingers off’.
  • IN Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan: ‘Come alive with the Pepsi Generation’ came out as ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”.
  • When Parker Pen marketed a ball point pen in MExico, its advertisements were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’. Instead the advertisement was translated as ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant’.
  • In Italy, Schweppes Tonic Water was wrongly translated into Schweppes Toilet Water.
  • From English to Japanese, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’ (from Hamlet) ended up being translated as ‘It is it is not – what is it?’
  • The Chevy Nova never sold well in Spanish speaking countries. Why? Because “No Va” means ‘It does not go’ in Spanish.
  • Clairol introduced a curling iron called the ‘Mist Stick’ in Germany only to find out that ‘mist’ in German means manure.
  • Finally, when Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the U.S. with the beautiful baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, since most people can’t read, companies routinely put pictures on the label to show what’s inside – and that is why no one bought the food.

Even when 2 people can understand the same language, there is plenty of confusion. Things get lost in translation. And our words are important, they have power.

Proverbs 12:18 reminds us that “Reckless words pierce like a sword.” Job tells us that words can be like a blustering wind (8:2) and they can crush our spirit (19:2). And Proverbs 10:19 proclaims, “When words are many, sin is not absent.”

It was just a little over 2 years ago, when Cindy and I traveled with a clergy group to Guatemala on a mission trip. It is essential to have a translator. The Holy Spirit is our translator.

I think that is why, what happened at Pentecost in the book of Acts really gets my attention and draws me in. Acts begins with the disciples seeing the appearance of the resurrected Jesus ‘over a period of 40 days’.

Then just before he ascends to heaven, he said to them in Acts 1:7-8, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive ‘power’ when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After this, Jesus was taken up and disappeared in the clouds. Two angels sent them on their way.

They returned to Jerusalem, buried Judas, chose a new disciple named Matthias – and then they remained in the upper room praying and hiding. Ten days later, it was the Festival of Weeks (we know this today as Pentecost – Pentecost means 50).

The Festival of Weeks was a harvest festival for the Jews. It was a celebration of thanks and also commemorated the day when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai. In other words, this was a very important festival for the Israelites, second only to Easter.

Acts 1:15 records they were all together in one place, all 120 followers. When suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Pastor and writer Barbara Brown Taylor described what they heard as “a holy hurricane’.

‘Then they saw’ what looked like ‘tongues of fire’ that separated and rested above each one’s head. And the wind did not blow out the fire.

This event was actually a fulfillment of what John the Baptist preached which is recorded in Matthew 3:11. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with ‘the Holy Spirit and fire’.”

Fire represents purification, enlightenment and ‘a burning away’ of all sin to make a person ready for new growth. It is an emptying that makes room for God’s Spiiit.

Then Luke explains, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4)

Meanwhile, the noise drew a crowd. The Festival of Weeks brought all devout Jews who were required to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. Drawing near, they heard the disciples speaking.

In this crowd, there are Jewish believers from all over the continent. There are ‘well over 17 different language’ and even more regional dialects and accents. Luke writes that the crowd was awed and amazed because ‘every person’ could understand what these disciples were saying in their own language.

Someone asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” Another person asked, “What does this mean?” Others in the crowd made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (Acts 2)

Some scholars have asked, “Is this really a miracle where the disciples are speaking in many languages – or was it a miracle of hearing? I think it was both, the disciples were speaking in different languages and they all hear Peter in their own.

On this particular day, all impediments or hindrances were pushed aside. The barriers of race and culture, of language and religion, of gender and age, and of slave and free were dismantled by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this moment, God created an even playing field and everyone really heard and understood Peter. 

This is the first time this happened, since God divided the people and gave them different languages at the Tower of Babel.

You may recall, in Genesis 13, the people of the world came together for ‘the wrong reason’ – and so God split them up and created many different languages.

But on Pentecost, all the people were allowed to hear the “good News’ and it transformed lives.

Peter spole from the book of Joel 2:28-29 and proclaimed, this is what God said, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” Then he told them about Jesus.

Luke records that over 3,000 people believed and were baptized on that day – and they were the start of the early church. With the coming of teh Holy Spirit, there was a re-creation and a renewal of mankind. All of this began with the work and promises of Jesus.

Jesus told his disciples in John chapters 15 and 16, “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 on my behalf. You also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Pastor and author E. Paul Hovey wrote, “The word ‘Counselor or Comforter’ as applied to the Holy Spirit needs to be translated ‘with strength.’ Jesus promised His followers that ‘The Strengthener’ would be with them forever.”

And Christian evangelist and author David Wilkerson wrote, “When you strip it ‘of everything else’, Pentecost stands for power and life.”

But I think it is important to notice also, that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. If the language of God is love, hearing, understanding and believing ‘the truth of who Jesus was and what he did’ – leads to love and unity.

Jesus prayed in John 17:23 “May they be brought to complete unity to – let the world will know that you sent me – and have loved them – even as you have loved me.”

The early church celebrated Pentecost in many ways, but it is especially important to Methodists because John and Charles Wesley had Pentecost moments in their lives. They wrote 32 Pentecost Hymns. And when the Methodists and EUB’s joined creating The United Methodist Church it was considered a Pentecost Moment. Our Cross and Flame symbolize that!

The great Methodist missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones often said, “Unless the Holy Spirit fills, the human spirit fails.”

If we want transformation, we have to invite the Holy Spirit back in! So I proudly proclaim, “Come Holy Spirit”, you are welcome here.

Your assignment is … pray this week for God to give you a Pentecost moment. Then, if you have one, testify about it. Amen

Ascension

Introduction

In January of 1967, there was a launch pad test of Apollo 1, which was to be the first flight of a three-man Apollo capsule into Earth’s orbit. Somewhere in the capsule’s 31 miles of wiring, a wire had been stripped of its insulation. The bare wire happened to be near a cooling line, and there was a violent chemical reaction between the silver in the wire and the ethylene glycol. Within seconds, flames spread across the cabin ceiling. At 6:31 p.m., astronaut Roger Chaffee said, “We’ve got fire in the cockpit.” A few seconds later, the transmission ended with a cry of pain. All three astronauts died. Two years later, when Apollo 11 got ready to carry human beings to the moon, President Nixon asked William Safire to write a speech entitled, “In Event of Moon Disaster.” If anything went wrong on the moon mission, Nixon would read the speech on TV, the radio communications with the moon would be cut off, the astronauts would be left alone to die, and a minister would commend their souls to “the deepest of the deep.” But that’s not what happened. On July 20, 1969, with less than 30 seconds of fuel left, the lunar module landed in the Sea of Tranquility, and Commander Neil A. Armstrong stepped off the ladder onto the gray, powdery surface of the moon. It was the first time a human had ever gone to another celestial body. After their return to earth, the astronauts had parades and dinners held in their honor in Washington D.C. President Nixon gave each astronaut the Presidential Medal of Freedom. What a celebration! The human race had just accomplished its greatest technological achievement of all time. Kevin Miller, executive vice president, Christianity Today

Read Acts 1:6-14

The great risks of ascending into outer space and reaching for the moon were worth it to those who took up the challenge. In the same way, Jesus’ ascension caused all who witnessed it to take of a risky, high-stakes adventure that would change the world forever. We must understand what the ascension might mean for our knowledge of who Jesus is and our understanding of what Christians are expected to be doing with themselves.

Waiting and Praying

Before Jesus departed to his home outside of space and time, he promised again that his followers “will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come.” Jesus said that God will empower them to be witnesses, beginning right where they were. Eventually, they will spread deep and wide with the good news, even to “the ends of the earth.”

Jesus’ promises affirmed that his ascension was not the end of the story; rather it is the next chapter in the story of God’s salvation. Jesus only made one request, to remain in Jerusalem for the time being. The rest of his words are descriptive, almost matter-of-fact. He told them what God will do, and what their lives will look like as a result. No requests. No orders. No threats. No exhortations.

Jesus’ ascension took him to the right hand of God (Acts 2:32-35). Meaning, Jesus ascended to all power and authority. He is the king, the lord, our leader. Jesus reigns over all creation. It is his. Christ holds it all together (Colossians 1:17). His departure does not put Jesus out of the picture until the end of time. His plan and the kingdom he initiated are not on hold. The Book of Acts assures us that Jesus departed so that he could execute his authority and influence over all things.

When the two angelic figures called the apostles back to their senses, they did not order them to get busy. They simply gave the scene a conclusion and assured them of Christ’s return. With that knowledge, they went back to Jerusalem, waited, and prayed. They thought and talked about what Jesus said; about the kingdom of God, forgiveness of sins, release from sin’s power. After sufficient prayer, rest, and waiting for the guidance of the Spirit they began moving outward to bear witness with the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s easy to overlook the waiting period. But, this little part of the story serves to remind us that even the apostles had to wait and wonder about God’s timing. We know they would eventually witness the birth of the Church through the widespread disbursement of the Spirit. We know that they earliest believers expected Jesus to return very soon after his departure. But God waits. God waited to deliver the full measure of the Spirit and launch the Church. God waits to authorize Christ’s return. We pray and rest and then watch for God to respond, but God often waits.

Waiting builds our character and we learn, or begin to learn. We learn to wait and see what God initiates so that we can join God in it. Waiting has an active quality to it. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the apostles took care of important matters while they watch for signs of the Lord’s movement. The apostles went to the “room upstairs,” where they were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” They set themselves apart in seclusion, but expected God to act. While they waited they obeyed Jesus. Nevertheless, they were ready for whatever came next.

Waiting can cause us to grow impatient with God and dismissive of God’s plans, or it can cause us to be more attentive to God, so that we can be ready to respond when the time is right. We, like the apostles and believers before us, wait amidst enormous expectations – many of which are not easily understood. It is an uneasy time of the new realities and unknown timing. Like the astronauts mentioned earlier we must exercise courage, knowing that we may not survive to see the victory from this earthly perspective. We persevere and wait because we expect great things to come from God; many things that God asks us to take part in.

Conclusion

The ascension of Jesus and the pronouncement of the angels assures us that Christ is alive and in control. The events remind us that we are still waiting for his return. The actions of the apostles inform us that waiting and praying bears fruit, especially when we are watching for God to initiate the process that God intends for each of us to be part of. The presence of the Church today and the long history of its impact upon humanity is evidence of the struggle to wait, seek, and fulfill God’s purposes. Therefore, we are obliged to follow the best examples of the bible and Christian history, or risk repeating the biggest mistakes.