Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2021

The Ministry of Interruption by Matthew Leffler – June 27, 2021

Don’t you just hate interruptions? They can be frustration. I mean, it seems like no matter what type of day I have planned, something interrupts. No matter how many precautions I have made, whether it is early-ish in the morning or late in the evening, something comes up. It seems like whenever I truly get engaged into a project; when I get to that point where creativity is flowing, the interruption comes. The phone rings (usually the dreaded telemarketer), someone knocks on my door, an urgent email or test that has to be answered, or in this new era of distant working the dog barks. Something snaps my concentration. Something makes me put the project “on hold”. When I get back to it, it takes me time to remember where I left off. What was the next thing I was going to do? Interruptions can be maddening. Especially, the closer I am to a deadline.

And yet, not all interruptions are a bad thing. Maybe it is a family member calling or texting to give you a long-awaited update. Maybe it is an old friend stopping by because they were in the neighborhood. Maybe the dog is telling you that a package has been delivered (and maybe it is the missing item that your project needs to be complete). And, while the interruption kept you from the task at hand, it was a worthwhile diversion. Even if it takes a few minutes to get back on track. Let’s face it, interruptions are a part of life, And, as you will see, a part of ministry.

If you read the Gospels, it will not take you very long to see that most of JEsus’ ministry occurred due to an interruption. A great deal of his miracles, of his teachings, happened because someone or something interrupted JEsus. And, maybe one thing we ought to learn is to never let a good interruption go to waste.

The reading from the Gospel of Mark (Mark 5:21-43) is often informally referred to as the miracle on the way to a miracle. Taken from a different perspective, it could also be called an interruption on the way to handle an interruption. When JEsus stepped off the boat, my guess is that neither Jairus’ daughter or the Woman were on the agenda. They were not the reason why he crossed over the Sea of Galilee.

But, what if Jesus had not allowed his itinerary to be adjusted? What if he and his disciples had brushed Jairus off because it didn’t fit into their plans? Of course, we do not know the answer for sure. But, what we do know is that because Jesus was open to the interruption, ministry and healing was allowed to happen.

By the time of this episode, Jesus had become so popular that he could not travel anywhere in Israel without a crowd gathering. No sooner had the boat made it to shore that people had begun to gather around Jesus. And the further Jesus stepped from the shore, the more people who began to swarm around him. They came to hear his teaching, to be healed from sickness, to be in his presence.

One of the first persons to meet Jesus is an influential man named Jairus. Jairus usually commanded respect. He was one of the persons in the community who was responsible for the care of the Synagogue. He had the wealth and the time to support its work. Jairus was used to people coming to him for assistance, to bow to his leadership. This for me, emphasizes the urgency of his request. “Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” (Mark 5:22-23, NRSV) Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come and heal his daughter.

I want you to hear the urgency, the desperation in this man’s voice and actions. He was throwing out all decorum, all pretnese, all his self-respect in order to help his daughter. And, Jesus responds to Jairus’ pleas and begins to follow him home. Whatever JEsus had planned to do would have to wait.

And, as Jesus and the crowd began to move, an unnamed woman does something both boler and more timid at the same time. In her own desperation, she has both the audacity to touch Jesus’ cloak and the fear/humility to not make a scene. She reached out quietly in the hope of not making a spectacle.

This woman had been bleeding for twelve years. This meant that she had been unclean in the eyes of the JEwish religion for twelve long years. Anyone she touched, anywhere she sat, anywhere she laid down, were all unclean. She was an outcast from her society.

On top of that, she was poor. She had spent all the money she had trying to be cured. One doctor after another, one remedy after another, nothing had worked. She had nowhere else to turn. So, out of her desperation, she came with the crowd to see Jesus, the Teacher. Could he heal her?

We don’t know why she felt she had no other choice but to reach out for Jesus’ cloak. Maybe it was because the crowd was moving away from her. If Jesus went with Jairus, whould she lose her chance? Maybe it was simply that se didn’t want to be dismissed as unclean if she approached Jesus openly. Whatever the reason, the woman takes a leap of faith.

“Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.” (Mark 5:29, NRSV) In the midst of the commotion, in the midst of the crowd, in the midst of following through on one interruption, Jesus stops. Jesus turns and wants to address the woman who’s faith had brought her healing.

There is a part of me that truly believes that Jesus’ actions right now are all about restoration. Did he have to stop? No! Did he have to talk with the woman? No! Did he have to acknowledge what had happened in order for the physical healing to be real? No! So, why did he?

Jesus acknowledges the woman’s actions because it is about more lthan physical healing. He wants her to know that her spiritual health, her belief, her relationship with God are important too. She is not an outcast. She is not unclean. In Jesus’ own words: “He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.'” (Mark 5:34, NRSV) This woman was worth more than she realized. She was not an interruption, but a child of God.

Now that the woman was restored, it was now time for Jesus to get back on to the task at hand, the original interruption. But, no sooner had Jesus finished talking to the woman, than members of Jairus’ household arrive with the news that his dughter is dead. These messengers tell Jairus that there is no need to take up any more of Jesus’ time. Let him get back to his plans for the cay. In their opinion, there is nothing more that JEsus can do. Well, at least that is what they thought.

And yet, Jesus knew there was something that he could do. His words to Jairus emphasize the fact that Jesus had something planned. “But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe'”. (Mark 5:36, NRSV) If Jairus would continue to trust Jesus, there was still something to be done. And, it was the belief, the trust, that allowed Jesus to bring Jairus’ daughter back to life.

Two miracles, two faith encounters, two opportunities for God’s grace to be shown, all because Jesus was willing to be interrupted. He was willing to change his plans in order to meet people at their point of need.

What about those of us who are followers of Jesus? Are we willing to minister in the midst of the interruption? or, are we too busy doing God’s work that we fail to see those who are huring when they call, when they knock, when they inadvertently interrupt our days?

Our communities are filled with people who think they are in a hopeless situation. People who our society, our social structures, have cast aside. Those who are on the outside looking in. People who have come to the end of their means and are wondering where they can turn.

Quite frankly, people need us to listen. They need us to care. They need us, when we can, to act on their behalf. Maybe it will be to assist them in finding the help they need. Maybe it is to give them the tools to create something new. Maybe it is to reach out and help them from our own resources.

Many of these opportunities will come when we are busy doing other things. Many of those who are hurting the most will come when it is least convenient for us. Many will come in the form of an interruption. The question we have to answer is: Are you ready to go wherever the Spirit may lead? Where the Spirit may interrupt?

A Time to Celebrate – June 13, 2021

Have you ever experienced something so good, that you did a happy dance? You know what a happy dance is, right? It is when you tilt your head back, kick up your feet and dance crazy, foolishly with no inhibitions. People are doing it all over the internet on Tic Toc, Facebook, and Memes.

Some folks think it is relatively new, but it is not. Happy Dances started back in the 1920’s with the Silent era of films, most likely with Charlie Chaplin. In 1948, Walter Huston did a Happy Dance in the movie “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, and he won a best supporting academy award for it.

The first time I remember seeing the happy dance was when Snoopy did it in the Peanuts cartoons. It was reborn, many years back, when football players did it in the endzone after a touchdown. Since then, it has passed through several sports (basketball, baseball, & soccer); it has been seen in movies, TV shows, music videos, and now, all over the internet.

The truth is the happy dance should probably be credited to King David. After defeating the Philistines and returning the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites, King David stripped down to his undershorts and danced wildly in the streets.

It was a bold, crazy move and an ultimate embarrassment to his wife, but David didn’t care. (not a good sign for a marriage) David proudly proclaimed, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6:22)

Now, I am not advocating you do that, but I do think there is a time to celebrate. Ecclesiastes 3 begins, there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. It specifically mentions a time to laugh and a time to dance. (vs 4)

In his book, ‘Celebration of Discipline’, Richard Foster writes, “Celebration is an essential aspect of one’s spiritual life. Without a joyful spirit of festivity, the disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern day pharisees.” 

God gave Israel many celebrations in the Old Covenant such as the festival of booths, Passover, and the year of jubilee. Festival in Hebrew comes from two words, one that means at the appointed time and the other means ‘to dance’. And the word Jubilee means ‘a horn or triumphant blast for freedom’. When the horn or shophar sounded, everyone was supposed to scream and shout for joy. (Remember how the walls of Jericho fell?)

We are called to celebrate baptisms, weddings, and new believers in faith. Jesus gave us the story of the prodigal son, who left home for a more adventurous life. But when the son hit the hard times, he came crawling back home. How did his father treat him?

His father ran out and embraced his son. After the son confessed his foolishness and showed true humility, the father was overjoyed. He called out to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and scandals on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is now found. So, they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24)

This parable comes closely after Jesus shared the story of the lost sheep. The conclusion of that story was, “Then he (the shepherd), called his friends and neighbors together and said, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” (Luke 15:6)

You see, our God knows how to throw a party! He says, “Rejoice with me.” And, “Come let’s have a feast and celebrate.” In Isaiah Chapter 61, we are called to wear a crown of beauty, put on the oil of gladness, and to wear a garment of praise. (Vs. 3)

In Nehemiah 12, we are called to celebrate joyfully with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. (Vs. 27)            And Jesus promised us in John 10:10 that he came to give us an abundant life. You see, with the Lord in our lives, we are never supposed to live lives in quiet desperation, but instead to live lives that are rich and fulfilling. Christians should never be boring!

The problem is, when people think of celebrating today, they often leave God out. In 1990, famed pastor of youth Tony Compolo titled one of his books, “The Kingdom of God is a Party”.

It is based on Luke 14. Jesus told this story, “The Kingdom of God is like a man who arranged a great party and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the party is ready.’ But they all began making excuses.

“Eventually, the servant returned and told his master. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’

“So, his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. But none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

Imagine missing the greatest party of all time. Truthfully, I have been guilty, at times, of missing the party. I build up walls and keep my head low and keep moving forward, and I forget to stop and celebrate. I thank God and act unworthy – but there is a time to celebrate. Look at all that God is doing and enjoy the miracles and promises fulfilled.

Really, it is ok for us to celebrate. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” And proverbs 15:13 says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.”

Jesus’ enemies chastised him because he liked a good meal and a time of celebration with others. Think about how stiff, self-righteous, and bitter they became. That is not what God had planned!

Psalm 118:24 reads, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

So, today, I want to celebrate. I want to laugh at the silly things and smile at what God has done. Each of us is here by divine appointment. We are here for such a time as this. The timing is God’s – and I don’t want to miss a single moment.

So, let’s remember…

On that first Sunday, July 2, 2017, I woke up early, excited about our first worship service. My sermon was called “Pump up the Volume”, a pretty ambitious title. It was a sermon about building up others by encouraging them in Christ.

I doubt many people remember the sermon, mostly because I walked in late. As I recall, we decided on one service and I had a different time in mind. Paul called and asked if I was coming over. I had just set down for breakfast. I ran over after the opening worship music had already begun.

Paul said that day, he thought you all had a real dandy on your hands, in me! Suzie said she was on her toes, not sure what to expect too. If I had to guess, God had a good laugh as well. But maybe, a little human frailty was needed at that moment!

There are worse things than starting out with a little laugh! But we didn’t have long to reflect on that experience. Within a short time, the basement flooded, and we were all working together tearing out the walls and making needed repairs. Things begin to change when you are working in the trenches together.

Fortunately, we can learn to move beyond first impressions to learn the hearts of others. I good lesson to know when you are working outside the building in the community. People are often smarter and more capable than you might first imagine.

Romans 12:15 reads, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Life becomes real when we walk it together.        When we trust and build one another up. So, maybe we have come full circle. I believe Corinth is stronger and more faithful than ever.

One of my joys is being with adults, youth, and children. I love our men’s group, the small group we attended, Youth events and Children’s time. Church is best when it crosses every generation.

But I have a special place in my heart for the little kids.

I love all the pictures the kids have colored for me. I loved spending story time with the preschool. And I loved hearing the stories, the parents shared about their kids.

Vicky sent me a picture of Harleigh standing in the pulpit. Harleigh said, “Take my picture and send it to Pastor Bill. Tell him I will be preaching!” Later she sent a picture of Harleigh playing the drums. I think she has a place up front in the future.

I also love to see the teens get involved in worship. It was a joy to have Karee, Tony, Tina, Heidi, Vicky, Judy & Dare help encourage and work with the youth. And it was amazing having Jena, Colin, Bryson, Gavin, and others step up to join in and play on the Praise Team. Thanks also to Gavin, who works behind the scenes with our slide show, I am especially proud of him.

Moving on: we filled 236 shoeboxes over the past 4 years. Raised over $14,500 for Muncie Mission Walk-a-Mile. We gave out fresh fruit and produce, added meat and can food, and took it to the next level, by adding community programs that partnered with us.

We held a mission dinner, served dinner at Forward STEPS, worked on habitat homes, and prepared UMCOR buckets. We also provided Bibles for Graduates at the preschool.

Ladies made numerous prayer shawls, baby blankets, and masks during the Covid 19 crisis. We have helped with and hosted VBS under Misty.

Sent over 33 youth to Senior High Camp, 37 to Jr. High Camp and 10 plus to elementary camp. We had the Car show, fields of faith, Christmas Caroling, and Truck or treat…to name a few things.

We received grants to upgrade our sound system and repair the front steps. Thanks to Suzie, Shannon, Ken, and all others who helped.

I am sorry, there are too many people to name and I know I will fall short. And the list goes on. But I want to stop there and ask for your input. What do you celebrate over the last 4 years? Help me fill in the spaces…

(Time for Memories)

All together, we have seen miracles, laughed, hugged, smiled, eat, talked, social distanced, and shared so many special moments together, it has been an honor and I believe, something that God adores. That’s what family is all about. So, never let up and never let go!

Your assignment is…to write down some cherished memories to remember, this coming week. But don’t live in the past! God is doing a new thing. He is always ahead of us – and he has good news for us to share. Have faith. The futures so bright, you ought to wear shades. 

“And all God’s People said, Amen”

Anxious and Worried – June 6, 2021

Howard Hughes Jr. was born in Texas on December 24, 1905. His father was a successful investor and businessman from Missouri.  Howard grew up under the expectation that great things would happen to him, but he needed to work hard to stay ahead of the game.

He did not disappoint. Howard invested well and he loved science and technology. He became an engineer, record-setting pilot, oil magnate, film director, RKO studio owner, and philanthropist. He is still known as one of the most successful men in history.

Like John D. Rockefeller, who was the richest man in US history, Howard Hughes felt pushed to succeed and he was never satisfied. By 18, he was a millionaire, and by some accounts, by the age of 21 he was a Billionaire.  Most of us believe, if we lived a life like that, we would be able to live a life of ease and tranquility.

The truth was, after all the accolades, Howard felt more pressure to succeed. Those around him said he was always anxious and worried about something. In the later years of his life, he was plagued by health issues and a worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder. The walls, literally began to grow closed around him, – because he was worried that people were out to get him.

When Howard Hughes died, he was unrecognizable and living under an alias. He died alone, locked behind doors, living in fear of germs, and terrified of nearly everything. His estate was valued at 1.5 Billion dollars, but he had given much more than that away.

Auto Tycoon Henry Ford once said, “Money will ruin the life of any man who treats it like anything but a tool.” And then he added, “I was happier when I was doing a mechanics job.” And Billionaire Andrew Carnegie once said, “Millionaire’s seldom smile.”

But the lack of money or abundance of it is not the only thing that worries us. In an opinion poll released on October 21, 2020, 62% of Americans said they were more anxious now than in previous years.

When asked what made them extremely or somewhat anxious, Americans said the top issues were: keeping themselves and their family safe (80%), COVID-19 (75%), their health (73%), gun violence (73%) and politics (72%). No surprise there!

Anxiety is a secondary emotion brought on by worry, fear, stress, and general prolonged unease. It can raise your blood pressure, cause sweating, dizziness, trembling, and a racing heartbeat. Played out over a long period of time, it can destroy your physical and mental health.

The national Center for Health under the CDC reported in February of this year that 1 in 4 adults have reported that they deal with increasing levels of unhealthy stress since Covid began. 

I think this adds extra emphasis to what Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew Chapter 6, verses 25-34, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow.

“They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, that not even Solomon in all his splendor, was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Now, let me back up a little. Just to be clear, it is normal to feel anxious occasionally. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t get nervous, afraid, scared, or worry from time to time. But prolonged worry and anxiety can lead to depression, hopelessness, and a possible breakdown.

Ongoing anxiety is real and scary and can also lead to panic attacks, paralyzing fear, and/or addiction. But you are not alone in this fight. I have discussed this topic with many Christians. We are not exempt!

The Apostle Paul was an expert on this topic because it plagued him. Imagine, being a persecutor of Christians and to than become one! Not only that, but to also to become a vocal one in public. Paul not only believed others were out to get him, he knew it for a fact.

In 2 Corinthians Chapter 11:23-28, Paul goes on ‘to list all of his challenges’, “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, and I have been constantly on the move.

“I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily, the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

I think Paul has ‘a pretty fair understanding of anxiety and worry’, don’t you? Yet, to the church at Philippi, Paul writes,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9) 

The same paradox Paul and others in history faced, is the same paradox we face. We do not know what things will come our way today or tomorrow, or the weeks or years ahead.

What is it you worry about?

Your job? Your kids? Your finances? Your own health? The health of a loved one or extended family? I hope you don’t worry about where your next meal will come from, but some do. I get it, I’ve been there; I have lived through tough times and walked with others through them too.

Recently I have been listening to a song that came out in 2007, by the Christian hard rock band P.O.D. called, “It Can’t Rain Everyday”. It deals with the real struggles, anxieties and worries people have in life, and the Chorus goes like this,

“Even though you feel alone,

  It can’t rain everyday,

  It can’t rain forever.

“The sunshine may be gone, but I know,

  It can’t rain everyday,

  It don’t rain forever.

Here are 3 thoughts I found in Paul’s passage on dealing with anxiety.

First, capture your wandering thoughts. Being in control of your thought life is critical. Don’t wander where you have no control. As Paul says in Philippians 4:8, think about the things that are pleasing to the Lord, and you will be filled with more peace.

Second, see anxiety for what it is, then see God for who He is! Prolonged anxiety keeps us from being productive Children of God. It hinders our witness and takes away our freedom. But God enables us. When we trust him, he gives us the ability to see beyond out troubles, to better days ahead.

And third, don’t be afraid to ask for help. When you are struggling and hurting, talk to others. Many of us have already been down this road and we can walk it with you. Don’t suffer alone!

Remember, God will never leave your side. So, pray, breathe, cry out, but know this…nothing can steal God’s glory from you.

When I think of an example of a Christian outside the Bible who lived above the anxiety, stress, and worry, I think of the survivor of the Titanic, ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’. She was dismissed, ignored, looked down upon, and yet she remained unshaken.

Molly was a devote Catholic who trusted in Jesus more than anything else. Like Paul, she survived a shipwreck and came back stronger. She spoke out against injustice, for equality, and refused to step down if someone needed help.

So, don’t sweat the small things or the big things. God is greater than anything this world can throw your way.

Your assignment is…To join me in repeating the 23rd Psalm. Then, I want you to re-read it several times this week. It will be on the screen or, if you have a hymnal close by, it is, #137.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.

Revisit that this week – and Trust the Good Shepherd.

                                                                        “And all God’s People said, Amen”

The Devil went down to Ephesus – May 30, 2021

This last Monday, the R&B singer John Davis passed away at the age of 66. Known as a backup singer for many years, his voice was deep, soulful, and powerful. He was highly respected in the music industry and expected to go far. That is, until he got caught up in a scandal that pretty much tanked his career.

His name probably doesn’t sound familiar, but if you listened to the radio back in the late1980’s and early 90’s you heard him. Founded in 1988, the pop group ‘Milli Vanilli’ achieved international success. With songs like ‘Blame it on the Rain’ and ‘Girl you know it’s true’ they literally took over the airwaves. In fact, the group was awarded a Grammy for best new artist in 1990.

The back story goes like this, the record company was worried that the actual singers were not very good looking. So, they hired two male models to front the band. But during interviews, some questioned their poor speaking skills and their ability to sing. Then, during several live performances, it came to light, that they were only lip syncing the songs.

The two men confessed; they were not the actual singers. They were stripped of their Grammy and Milli Vanilli would go down in history as an ugly mark on the music industry forever. Had the real singers been promoted, who knows how far they could have gone. I do have to admit, they were not artists I cared for, but they were memorable for the legacy of controversy they left behind.

Lip Syncing is moving your lips in time with a pre-recorded music. Sometimes singers do it because they are sick or having vocal issues. But in worse case sceneries, it is a façade, a lie, or a person pretending to be something they are not.

Our scripture from Acts, today, deals with this specific issue. Paul had been traveling from city to city, working and sharing the Gospel of Jesus. He was laying the foundation for the early church by meeting in homes or addressing issues on the road.

When Paul traveled to Ephesus, he met some disciples and he asked them, “Did you receive the power of the Holy Spirit when you came to faith?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So, Paul asked them, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

 “John’s Baptism”, they answered.

Now, I want to stop here for just a moment. Did you know you could have an illegitimate baptism? I am not talking about what denomination you were baptized in; I am talking about whose Name you were baptized in?. 

Jesus gave his disciples clear instructions in Matthew 28:18-20. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

These disciples admitted they were baptized by John not in the name of the triune God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit). So, Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.” In other words, they had missed out on the power and transformation that only comes through the blood of Jesus and the work of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

So, then Paul told them about Jesus. He was the Messiah, the one who gave his life for our sin. Without Jesus, we are not made complete. If you miss that, you miss everything.

Scripture says that on hearing this, they accepted Jesus and were baptized into his name. And when Paul put his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in other languages and prophesied. It was kind of like a mini-Pentecost with the 12 of them.

As Paul traveled further into the city, he also preached and taught in the synagogue, but he was greeted very coldly there. So, he and the disciples left and went to teach in a lecture hall in Tyrannus, where they stayed for two years. Notice, the Word of God was rejected in the Synagogue, the one place it should have been welcomed. 

The Word of God does not conform to us, we must conform to it. We cannot change words, just because we don’t like it or because it is hard. Many people have their own idea of who God is and again, if it is not Jesus, they have missed the boat. Their faith is worthless.

Because Paul had great faith and others believed, God did extraordinary miracles in Ephesus. He, that is Paul, was driving out evil-spirits, healing the sick and lives were saved. All this was done in the name of Jesus. Again, I want you to notice, Paul is just the instrument.  It is God’s work, through Jesus’ name by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, all the people in that area, Jews and Greeks heard the Word of the Lord. All of this was possible because Paul went to the people. He did not wait for them to come to the synagogue, in fact, he was kicked out of it. They were too hard-hearted, sad to say.

Have you ever heard that there is power in the blood? Have you ever heard God is in control? Do you believe in the work and movement of the Holy Spirit? Paul did and so did the people.

Paul did not have authority or confidence in himself, but in God alone. He was not saying, “I, Paul, am the healer”. No, he was acknowledging the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were doing the work.

I imagine most of you have heard Charlie Daniels most famous song, “The devil went down to Georgia’, right? It begins,

‘The devil went down to Georgia; he was lookin’ for a soul to steal
He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind
And he was willin’ to make a deal

When he came across this young man sawin’ on a fiddle and playin’ it hot  –  And the devil jumped up on a hickory stump
And said, “boy, let me tell you what”

“I guess you didn’t know it, but I’m a fiddle player too
And if you’d care to take a dare, I’ll make a bet with you

“Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy
But give the devil his due
I’ll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul
‘Cause I think I’m better than you”

The boy said, “My name’s Johnny and it might be a sin
But I’ll take your bet, you’re gonna regret
‘Cause I’m the best there’s ever been”

Johnny is not exactly humble! You know the song; they both play their fiddle and Johnny beats the devil. And he gets his fiddle of gold. Then Johnny declares that any time the devil wants to try it again, he will battle him and beat him again.

Now, I wouldn’t encourage you to run out and seek battles with the devil for your soul. Many have tried and many have suffered or died. The Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8-9,

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…”

To me that says, don’t go looking for an argument, but be ready if one comes and you cannot avoid it. Know where the power comes from and stand firm in the faith. Some translations say, be of sober or clear mind and on watch. Don’t get caught in the lion’s mouth.

But for some reason, there are folks who like to take the devil’s challenge. I can have a one-night affair, no one will ever know. Right! I can do drugs and not get addicted. Uh huh. I can steal and not get caught. Sure.   But even if you don’t get caught, God knows! And the devil has you, right where he wants you.

Let’s go back to Acts. Along comes some traveling Jews, itinerant exorcists by trade. They were the seven sons of Sceva, a more than likely self-proclaimed Jewish Chief priest. There is no mention of a High Priest by his name in Jerusalem back then. And it wasn’t uncommon for so called frauds or con men to take on lofty names.

These Jews pretended to cast out evil demons and heal people by using magical arts they tied to King Solomon. The Jewish writer Josephus wrote that Solomon had religious leaders who cast out demons by invoking angels for help. So, if these snake-oil salesman had a good reputation, they could get very rich.

There seven men went around declaring they were driving out evil spirits and demons in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preached. One day, as they were trying to drive out an evil spirit, the demon answered them, “Jesus I know and I know about Paul, but who are you?”

Let me just say, you do not want to be in this position. It makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. They were pretending to know Jesus and were trying to imitate Paul’s success. Yet they had no real faith and no real power, and it was about to backfire on them.

Then the man who was possessed by the evil spirit jumped on them and gave them such a beating, that they ran from the house in tattered clothing and bleeding from their wounds. You see, the fate of false prophets is that they will one day they be found out.

I actually think the people learned more by this, than what they did from seeing Paul’s miracles.

Scripture says, “When this became known to the Jews and the Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high regard.” (Acts 19:17)

The devil and his demons went down to Ephesus — and things didn’t turn out as well as the song.

Sometimes I watch certain people around me proclaim Jesus’ name like they are close friends of his, but their lifestyle fails to live up to that standard. They wear their crosses or thank God when something good happens to them. Sometimes they carry around Bibles, they never open. Or they have those fish decals on their cars, which you notice, just before they cut you off in traffic.

Please Lord, don’t let me be like that! You see, it takes only 1 demon or the devil to defeat 7 men. But it only just 3, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to beat the entire army of Satan.

We all better be on the right side of that battle.

Let me just say, knowing about Jesus is not the same thing as having a personal relationship with him. And attending church is not the same thing as worshiping with a family of believers. Can I get an Amen!

Today is Peace with Justice Sunday. Notice, peace comes first. And yet, there are times we must take a stand for what is right. I pray you will do it under the power and authority of the one who stands for real justice, Jesus Christ.

The Bible warns us to never go into battle without the proper equipment. This insight comes from the city of Ephesus, the place these seven men took a beating. Ephesians 6:11-13 reads,

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Your assignment is…to read Ephesians 6:10-18 this week.

Read about the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness and so on. But remember, all that gear still won’t help you – if you don’t have faith in Jesus Christ first!

Believe. Trust and be transformed.

“And all God’s People said, Amen”