6/25/2017 Sermon: “Jesus’ Summer Birthday”

When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind?  The birth of Jesus, of course.  You’re good Christian people – that’s the right answer!  And, it’s a holiday.  Maybe the biggest holiday in our culture?  I think probably so.

Lots of build-up.  Advertising and shopping – an obligation to buy things, and that colors almost everything about the holiday.  There’s a lot of input from our culture to make us feel good about the holiday, and so much of it has an ulterior motive, right?  The stories, the traditions, and okay, the gift-giving – it’s mostly good stuff.  But I think we can agree that lost in the huge volume of Christmas stuff, the Good News of Jesus gets a little pushed to the side.

This morning, I’d like to celebrate the birthday of Jesus without the accessories.  I think that if we listen to scripture “out-of-season, we might actually hear it a little differently; we might hear God a little more clearly.

Luke 2:8-20.  In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

Does that story come to you a little differently in the summer? Maybe just a little more clearly.  Here are some other things to know that might bring it home to you even more clearly….

First, God became human (incarnation).  Stop and think about how amazing this is.

Last weekend, the kids in our VBS watched a skit that went like this:  An outdoorsy character named Sam Spruce is on a mission to find a moose.  He doesn’t really know much about mooses, or moosen, as he calls them.  But he feels strongly that he must find a moose.  He wonders, would this be easier if I became a moose?

You probably have heard a similar story like that goes like this:

A flock of birds gets lost in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve.  They are in trouble.  A farmer sees their problem and opens the door of his barn.  He turns on the light and tries to coax them in, but nothing works.  He can’t communicate.  If there was only a way to show them to safety.  But he is not a bird and can’t help.  He thinks, “If I could only become a bird!”  The church bells ring and he suddenly understands why God became a person.

The invisible, all-powerful God of the universe became a real, touchable person.  God became as physical as the person sitting next to you.

This changes the game of life for you and me – for everyone.  Christ comes to make God accessible, to open a pathway between God and us.  The Paul has the best way of describing what this means:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.  (Colossians 1:15-20)

How does God complete the connection?  Through the cross.  Our very real mistakes, imperfections, and short-comings died a very real death with the very real God who became a very real human.  This is why he came: to save us.

Now let’s think about how we respond to God becoming human, and I’d like to focus on one word from the birth story about Jesus.  I’d like to think about glory and what it means to glorify God.

Angels (messengers from God) come to the shepherds at night while they are out in the fields near Bethlehem.  Here’s some stuff to know about that (I hope it doesn’t mess with your mental image of Christmas too much!)

Palestinian shepherd. CN – 2011

The shepherds are the most common of common people.  For centuries, they have been oppressed – in Jesus’ time and now.  God comes to (and for) everyone, especially the weak and powerless – like us?

The shepherds are living in the fields with the sheep only during warmer weather.  If you line that up with other details from scripture (i.e. the timing of John’s the Baptist’s birth), Jesus was most likely born in the late summer, maybe September.

So the weather was probably warm when an angel comes to them (scaring them half to death!) to give a specific description of how to find God in human form over in Bethlehem.  After calming them down…

A crowd of angels come and begin to say, “‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’  (Luke 2:14)

Glory to God!  That is how people respond when God shows up and does something astonishing, something amazing.

The angels can’t help themselves.

After the shepherds find Mary and Joseph and confirmed this news that they had received straight from God’s messengers, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

Glory.  In the Bible, this word means magnificence, importance, worthy of honor, brilliance.  Giving God glory is the instinctive gut response to the presence of God and the amazing things God does. Glorifying God is an act of faith – the shepherds had a new relationship with God because they glorified God.

Just to be clear – we don’t give God the glory God already has.  It is acknowledging God’s astonishing awesomeness.  Has God ever done an incredibly good thing for you or someone you know?  You knew that this was so out of the ordinary, that there was no way this was a coincidence, except that God was involved.  How did you respond?

I imagine you gave heartfelt thanks to God.  “Thank you, God, for who you are and that you are able to do this!”  You were giving glory to God.  This glory finds itself in places you might not expect and has a deeper meaning in scripture.  Here’s where your connection with God becomes real.

Picture in your mind that night when Jesus sat with his disciples for a last meal, just before they went to the Garden of Gethsemane where he was captured.  After that meal, Judas left the room.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  (John 13:31-32)

Judas is setting in motion a series of events that can’t be stopped.  What happens now is inevitable.  Jesus will be tried and crucified.

It may not fit with your concept of “glory,” but in that moment, God is doing a magnificent, awesome thing.  In that moment, in Jesus, God has started the process of saving us.

When we believe in Christ, that our sins have died with him on the cross, and in his resurrection, God the Holy Spirit begins to live in each of us and all of us, changing us and giving us a unity we never had before.  Look at this prayer of Paul:

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Romans 15:5-6)

When we glorify God together, we’ve got unity!  Together, God needs us to make difference in our world.  God needs us to find ways to be light in a dark place.

The good things of faith aren’t meant to be the Christmas present we keep for ourselves.  Jesus said…

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.   In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:14-16)

See how it works?  God appears, we glorify God (arms up), God lives in us through faith, empowering us to do good works (arms out) that make other people want to glorify God (arms up).  God needs us to do our part to change a hurting world.  This is how God rolls, this is how God loves, and this is how God lives – in us.  All because God cared enough to send Jesus.

Glory to God!  Let’s glorify God with our final song!

6/18/2017 Sermon: “God’s Tent Rules”

[Today’s service had a camping theme]

Let’s describe God.  There are so many things you could say, right?  I’m sure you have your own way of describing God that’s different from everybody else, a few ways in which God is important to you..  And scripture (written over a period of about 1,500 years, beginning around 1,400 BCE) has so many things to say about what God is like and what God has done.

But this isn’t widely known:  Did you know that, at heart, God is a camper?

Psalm 15 – A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Why would God have a tent?  After they escaped slavery in Egypt and the Hebrew people were becoming organized, God gave them a place where God could be found, a place where he could be worshiped.  While they were on their way to the Promised Land, the people lived in tents, so God lived in a tent with them.  Everybody camping!  Thousands of people!

The tabernacle in the wilderness at Timna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins..  https://ferrelljenkins.wordpress.com/tag/tabernacle/

And the place where they could meet with God was a tent called “The Tabernacle.”  That was God’s tent.  That was where people worshiped God and God spoke to the people.  God was worshiped in that tent for about 500 years.

First, can you imagine camping with thousands of people?  You have to realize that they needed to keep moving.  God had prepared a place for them. They couldn’t settle down until they were at the place where God wanted them to go. God needed them to be moveable, so God moved with them.

What’s so good about a tent?  It keeps you out of the rain and sun.  Gives you a little bit of privacy.  The beauty of camping is that you are out with nature.  The downside of camping can be that you are out with nature!

Camping in the Adirondacks. CN – 2004

When you are camping, you learn that you have to have rules.  One is to keep the screen door zipped at all times to keep bugs out. Don’t bring food into the tent for the same reason (keep it in the car or in a bag strung up in a tree).  Another is to keep your stuff in the same place — flashlight in the side pocket, stuff sacks at the foot of the sleeping bag and so on — so you can find things quickly in the dark. Another good rule is to take off your shoes before coming into the tent to keep things clean inside.  It’s okay to be a little compulsive!

Some people like camping alone (for reasons I get!).  One of the things I like about group camping is the way people can learn teamwork.  I used to take groups of youth camping when I could because of the unity it created – especially among the core members.  We would do week-long trips.  Leave-no-trace camping.  No bathrooms or porta-potties.

We take turns cooking.  If you don’t feel like helping, we don’t eat.  We need someone to filter water, or we all dehydrate, which is not good. If we’re hiking or canoeing, somebody needs to read the map and lead (paper map – no electronic devices; the group needs to be tolerant if they make a mistake).  In a few days, the group is working like a machine.  Everybody is doing their part without grumbling.  It’s beautiful.  Talk about unity!  They’ve figured out that we are vulnerable if we don’t learn to work together.

I used to fantasize about taking the church on a camping adventure!  Maybe just the Council.  By the end of the trip, the group understands why we have the rules – it’s so that everybody can get the most out of the experience.  If we do (or don’t do) these things as a cooperative team, we can all grow closer to God and to each other.

Let’s go back to God’s tent.  Thousands of people were moving to the Promised Land in tents.  Camping!  They had to learn to cooperate.  And God was at the center of it all.  The presence of God is just beyond that tent flap over there.  That’s pretty powerful.

While we’re camping with God, you have to remember that God is way more concerned with how the campers are living with each other – more than whether we’re tracking dirt into the tent.  Just to refresh Psalm 15 in our minds, let’s review.  The last phrase of each verse seems to “cut to the heart.”

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?

those who walk blamelessly and do what is right,

those who don’t slander others or mistreat their friends,

those who despise the wicked and honor the God-fearing,

those who keep their word, even when it costs them

those who don’t lend money at interest  (those needing loans were generally the poor, so taking interest from them made their situation even worse)

those who don’t take bribes against the innocent.

When I read that list, I realize that there are some things I might not have a problem with.  Other expectations from God might be more challenging.  But God loves all of us more than we can possibly imagine.  God sent Jesus make us whole, and when we have faith in Jesus, God is so much closer than the flap of a tent.  God the Holy Spirit lives in us to help us become the people we need to be.  We are never alone.  Everybody brings their gift, and God makes us into One Church.

Prayer

Lord, we thank you for this expedition we’re on and for the chance we have to be with you in a new way.  Give us a spirit of adventure that explores the life you give us while we have the time. Help us understand this life as a precious gift from you.  Help us not waste this gift on grudges or fear.   Use this adventure of life to help us all grow, change and become the people you need us to be, for the sake of Jesus.  Amen.

6/11/2017 Sermon: “One Church”

1 Corinthians 12:4-20.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 

If you read the church newsletter or pay attention to the bulletin from week to week, you’ll see that in worship, for a few weeks at a time, we usually are following a theme.  It helps us to lock into a basic thought or idea. Keeps things a bit less complicated.  Helps us focus.

The theme for this summer is “One Church.”  When the leadership and I settled on that theme, it was at least partly out of desire to encourage us to be together.  Most of the time we have two services on Sunday mornings.  For a few months, we’ll have one. You’ll be together with at least a few people you normally don’t see.  If there was one good thing that came out of the one-worship summers over that last couple of years, it was this sense of reunion – that’s what I heard from folks.  That was a good thing.

The challenge to the unity, of course, is that we are not all the same.  We have had different ideas about what worship should be.  We might even have different ideas about what church should be!  This is normal.

What we seek to do during this time is to serve God.  We come together with all the gifts that God has given us, this particular group of people, and we serve God.  This is service that we do.  This worship, then the service, the ways that we serve God radiate outward.  We make a difference through the love of Christ.  We figure out ways to do that through the strength of being One Church.  This is way better than each of us going it alone – which is actually unbiblical and outside the will of God for us.  Believers are meant to be together.

Have you ever felt like you were part of a team?  Part of a group that was doing something together that brought you huge reward? When was that?  Maybe it was…

Sports.  What was great about it? How long did that last?

Work.  Maybe you’ve had the experience of being part of an awesome group of people who accomplished a great thing and actually got paid for it!

Music.  Music has the psychological effect of bringing people together.  It’s why we sing in worship.  God knows this.  Some of us are more talented than others, have more innate ability (e.g., staff chorus).  Unless you’re in a group like the Rolling Stones, the musical team work is also teamwork is also for a moment.

Family.  In our households, there are family times when it feels like there is a lot of unity going on.  But our families change and those times are also for a moment.  Those of us who have had the experience of long marriages know that you have to work at it.

What does it take?  Genuine care for each other.  Tolerance.  A lot of forgiveness.  Willingness to be a team.  Communication.  A willingness to work at it.  When there is failure, to pick ourselves up and give it another try.

Church.  Let’s shift to church.  Have you experienced unity in church?  That sense of being spiritually on the same page with other people?  I think that probably, those moments come in smaller groups.  It also comes and goes and needs to be worked at.  If you have been involved in any church for any length of time, I suspect you know what disunity looks like.  The church has much forgiveness to seek from God for the sin of disunity, over the years, near and far. God, forgive us for the ways we have separated ourselves from you and each other.

One church.  What does it take?  Genuine care for each other.  Tolerance.  A lot of forgiveness.  Willingness to be a team.  Communication.  A willingness to work at it.  When there is failure, to pick ourselves up and give it another try.  Yes, I just repeated myself!

But it all boils down to us lifting a heartfelt prayer to God saying, “Lord, together we trust in your son Jesus.  We believe in his resurrection.  Now send your Spirit and work in us. What you want; not what we want.”

The church has had huge failures of many kinds over the years (we all know that), but we would not be here if God the Holy Spirit had not been able to change lives, to work miracles, to make a difference.

The Corinthians.  In your Bibles, there is a textbook case of a group of believers that was a success story and a huge failure at being One Church.  The new church in Corinth, in Greece was infamous for being awesome and really challenging at the same time.  A pastor’s nightmare.

You heard Paul writing to them about the various gifts they were given – spiritual gifts given by God because of their faith in Jesus.

He wrote those words for a reason.  One of the issues they struggled hard with goes back to the story in Acts we heard last week.  Do you remember how the Holy Spirit came to those first believers at Pentecost?  Flames of fire over their heads and the ability to speak in other languages and be understood when they talked “about God’s deeds of power.” (Acts 2:10)

Many of the Corinthians thought that this was the spiritual gift you want to have.  In fact, to be an authentic Christian, you needed to be speaking in tongues (see chapter 14).  This is why Paul made that list about the parts of the body (pay attention to the order).  There are parts that have…

utterance of wisdom, v.8  – an ability to have good judgement.

knowledge, v.8  – helping others understand.

 faith, v.9  – helping others believe.

healing, v.9  – helping others become whole.

miracles, v.10  – helping others experience the unexpected things God does.

prophecy, (v.10)  – speaking truth to others on behalf of God.

discernment, v.10  – helping others understand what is true spiritually.

tongues, v.10  – hearing the different languages of God.

interpretation of tongues, v.10.  helping others understand those languages.

Did you notice that Paul put the gift of tongues last?  Then he says one of the most important things ever said.  Whatever your issue is,  whatever it is that might drive you a little crazy about relationships in the church; whatever it is that we might not get right, whatever crazy thing the pastor says, whatever the worship music happens to be this summer, this year, or this decade, whatever money decisions get made that you don’t agree with…

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

[Let’s say this part together…]  

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  

8 Love never ends.

13 Now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13)

These are not gifts like a wrapped present to you (although it is pretty cool to have a gift from God), not everybody has the same gift; and the gifts are not for individuals, they are for the good of the group, and they bring people closer to God.  They happen when we are together.  Your gift isn’t meant to make you an amazing believer.  God uses your gift to make someone else an amazing believer!  God’s gifts always get passed along.

There are people who need your gifts – desperately.  People who need hope.  Right here in these pews.  People right here in our town.    You may not think much of it, but your gift can encourage somebody at just the right time.

Everything we need to make a real, lasting difference in our world, is right here.  God is waiting for us to share the gifts.  God will use our gifts together to make us one.

Prayer

O God, much of the time, we follow our traditions without even thinking about what they mean.  But we want life; we want to be filled with life.  We want you to make us new.  Our lives need to change, we need your kind of CPR, and so we come to you.

Send your Spirit into our lives into our church; help us know the habits and traditions that take us away from you.  Give us the faith to know that you will walk with us through the withdrawal as we change direction.  Give us the courage to embrace new ways of living and being together.  And when our friends and family ask us, “What’s new?”  we will know that the change they see has happened because of our friendship with you.  Amen.

6/4/2017 Sermon: “The Forgotten God”

For a few minutes, I’d to do the most basic refresher course on God.  When you look at the big picture of scripture, you can see how God has come to us in three very basic and important ways:

  1.  God created and creates.

 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  (Genesis 1:3)

It’s always fascinated me that God uses words to create.

      2. God has come to us is in Jesus. 

A historical person.  Not fiction.  A human being… and God.  It’s no coincidence that Jesus is the Word.  (John 1:1)

He was present in our history long enough to show he was God in the flesh, to allow our sins to die with him on the cross, and to rise from death.  He lives now.  But here’s a piece of his job description we might have overlooked.  The job of Jesus, from the beginning was to baptize believers with the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist said, “‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’  (John 1:32-34)

Those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus have opened themselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

    3.  This is the third way God comes to us and fundamentally changes life: in and through the Holy Spirit.

In Old Testament times and up until the time of Jesus, God would send the Holy Spirit to individuals and usually for a limited time.  Jesus comes to dump the entire bucket of God’s presence on everyone who believes.  This is where it gets real for people like you and me.  God creates the world; in Jesus God reaches out to the world; through the Holy Spirit, God changes the world.

Acts 2  When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
   and signs on the earth below,
     blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

And with that, the door opens.  The lives of those who believe in Jesus are never the same.  Peter quoted to prophet Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.  New creation.  Jesus opened the door when you believed, but you and I live different lives because of the Holy Spirit.

Without the Spirit, this whole Jesus thing would have died.  Quickly.  Without the Spirit, we are a bunch of frightened disciples hiding somewhere with the doors locked.  Without the Spirit of God, we only have some rules and traditions and a church building.  We need the power of the Spirit to be the church God intended us to be.  We aren’t there yet, you know.  We are always asking, praying, God move us, change us into being the church in Manheim, the people for Manheim you need us to be (or wherever you are).

With the Spirit of God living in us, we see the world and we see each other through God’s eyes.  When we sing about Christ, when we speak about Christ, when we eat together to honor Christ, I believe our eyes begin to open.

Through all these things we grow closer to each other as the Spirit teaches us how to love; how to communicate to communicate with each other; how to care for our church; then how to reach out to our world and communicate the most important person we know.  The Holy Spirit allows you to be Christ to someone in your life who needs him desperately right now.  Just as God used words to create in the beginning, the first gifts of God through the Spirit were words.  God gives us words of power, based on love, expressing God’s love.  And as a body, there is so much more for us.  We are a force.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading a short book by Francis Chan called Forgotten God – Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.

As the Wednesday night Bible study is focusing on the Book of Acts (the Acts of the Holy Spirit) – how the Spirit began to work, I wanted to read something that was asking, “How is the Holy Spirit working now?”  This is a great little book, and I’ll close this morning by giving you a few thoughts from Frances Chan.

When was the last time you experience the hand of God?  Ask yourself. Think about the times in your life that you have been touched by God in a way that no one could convince you was a coincidence.  These may not be “fire from heaven” or “voice of thunder” kinds of experiences; perhaps it was the wordless whisper of hope when you were overwhelmed by depression.  Or perhaps you experienced God through the unconditional acceptance of another human being.  Or maybe you glimpsed some of His character through a sunset that just made you stop and worship.  We experience God through a variety of means, and God delights to communicate and share Himself with His beloved daughters and sons.

 The Holy Spirit is present throughout the New Testament as well as the Old Testament.  I believe in Him because I believe the Scriptures.  But even if you took away what I “know” about the Holy Spirit from reading the Scriptures, my “right answers” about the Holy Spirit, I would still believe.

 I would still believe in the Spirit because I have experienced God the Holy Spirit working in and through and around my life in ways I cannot deny or ignore.  I certainly do not advocate ignoring the Scriptures or basing everything on experience, but to completely ignore experience – including your own personal experience and the experience of the wider body of Christ, both now and historically – is unbiblical.

 If you have not known and experienced God in ways you cannot deny, I would suggest you are not living in a needy, dependent way.  God delights to show up when His children call on His name and when they are fully trusting in him to come through, whether that is in relationships, in battling sin, in strength to make sacrifices, or in endurance to be faithful in daily life.  Are you living this way?  Or are you surviving by your own strength, by your own wits?

 When I read the Book of Acts, I see the church as an unstoppable force.  Nothing could thwart what God was doing, just as Jesus foretold:  “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  (Matthew 16:18)  [I have often thought that we be thinking about how this group of Christians, our church, is attacking the stronghold of evil on the other side of those gates. CN]  The church was powerful and spreading like wildfire, not because of clever planning, but by a movement of the Spirit.  Riots, torture, poverty, or any other type of persecution couldn’t stop it.  Isn’t that the type of church movement we all long to be a part of?

Forgotten God – Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, by Francis Chan (David C. Cook), pp. 151-52, 155.

Let me ask:  what was Jesus doing here in the first place?  Why did God send him?  Jesus was on a rescue mission; he is a rescuer.  And now, through the Spirit, he has passed that mission on to us.

Prayer

God, we pray for our own day of Pentecost.  Fill us with your power, speaking the truth of your love in a language our families, friends, and neighbors understand.  Show us where to go, what to do, what to say, and when to be quiet, the courage to speak up, the patience to wait. Use your Spirit to help us make a deeper commitment to following Christ.  Help us see the world as he sees it, feeling his joy at the good things happening in his church, his weeping at the sight of sick or hungry children, his anger at the injustice of a senseless war.  Use your Spirit in us to bring forgiveness and healing to a world you love.  Amen.