The Holy Spirit comes…then and now…

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Scripture: Acts 2: 1 When the day of Pentecost had come, (the disciples) were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability…  14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed (the many bystanders), “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, 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.”

Observation: In ancient times the Jewish people would descend on Jerusalem, the holy city of God, to celebrate the holy days and festivals each year. One didn’t need to wonder where God might be as God was in the temple in Jerusalem. The day of Pentecost, in which god sent the Holy Spirit into the world, changed all that. As one of my bible resources says, “At its core, Pentecost, like the incarnation itself, is about God coming to us in our fallen condition more than it is about us finally getting to God.”

Application: I’ve mentioned many times in this blog that it was God who sought me out when I was a young man, not the other way around. In our sinful nature we tend to run from God. Yet, by grace alone, our God finds us anyway and draws us in.

This is important because most Christians have friends and loved ones who are far from the Lord. It’s natural to worry about such people, especially when we see them struggling. We want to DO something to help them encounter the Lord in a transformative way. Certainly we can and should pray for them, love them, support them, encourage them – and challenge them when called for. These are all good things.

Our passage for today reminds us that, in the end, it is the Lord who takes hold of people via the Holy Spirit – even those who appear to have ZERO interest in matters of faith. Let this word comfort you today and encourage our prayers for those not yet within the Christian fold.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, by your Holy Spirit you seek people out. Always have. We lift to you this morning our friends and family members who are far from you. We pray as well for ourselves since we too tend to wander away from you. Give us all grace to be embraced by you and transformed by you from the inside out. We ask this in your precious name. Amen.

 

Holiday stress…

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Scripture: Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, (the disciples) were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Observation: It’s remarkable really. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples were hidden behind closed doors. They were afraid they might be arrested and even killed as Jesus had been. How in the world could they fulfill their calling as bearers of good news to the world when they wouldn’t leave the house?! But with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were transformed – as we will read in the rest of the book of Acts. Fear was replaced with boldness and the world has never been the same.

Application: As I write this morning I need some empowerment in the Holy Spirit. There are many demands this time of year – demands of family, work, and more. At times it can be overwhelming. Know what I mean? So this morning I’m praying for the Lord to do a work in me that only God can do. Let’s pray together.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this is a wonderful time of year – and also a potentially stressful time of year. Give us grace to receive your Holy Spirit as the first disciples did, for with you all things are possible. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

Important people you never see…

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Scripture: Acts 1:21 (Peter said to his fellow apostles) So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Observation: When I read the gospels I get the impression that the only persons who were continually with Jesus were the 12 disciples – who later became apostles once Jesus ascended to God the Father. Yet v. 21 above indicates there were others who were present “from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us”. If this is true, these persons saw everything – and yet we know almost nothing about them.

Application: I’m a pastor in a local church, so the things that I do and say and write within the context of the church are fairly well known. I don’t operate in the shadows but in public view much of the time. However, there are many others who labor behind the scenes. They are invaluable. Combined, they do far more to advance the Kingdom of God than our pastors and other key staff – and it’s not close. That said, most of these folks prefer to work unseen. They’re not public people, and that’s just fine.

Our passage for today reminds me that such people have been crucial to the ministry of the gospel since the very earliest days of the church. In fact, I’m guessing some of you reading this blog post fit into that category. You work hard, serve faithfully, give much, but few people know what you do. This morning I want to say thank you for your faithfulness. You may not receive accolades from other persons on earth, but I can assure you the angels of heaven cheer you on each and every day.

Prayer: Gracious God, today we offer our thanks and praise for the many people who serve you in powerful ways that few know about. They operate somewhat in the shadows, yet without them the entire church would come to a screeching halt. Give them an extra measure of your grace to continue giving their best day in and day out. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Me and my stupid pride…

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Scripture: 2 Kings 5:10 Elisha sent a messenger to (Naaman, the famous warrior), saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Observation: Naaman was a big deal in his day as the leader of a great army. He apparently expected a spectacular healing demonstration commensurate with his status. At the very least he expected the prophet Elisha himself to perform the act. Naaman was disappointed. There was no show. A humble servant, not Elisha himself, gave the instructions. But most importantly Naaman was indeed healed – though he almost let his foolish pride get in the way.

Application: I have to admit I can get angry when I feel belittled or disrespected. It doesn’t happen often, but it bothers me more than it should. If I’m not careful, I’ll let someone else’s careless word or gesture ruin my day – which seems dumb when I think about it. Why should I allow someone else to have that much power over me? I can choose to ignore an offense or get angry. More and more I’m choosing the former, but not always.

Prayer: Lord, give us grace to keep our pride in check when others do or say something that might offend us. Life’s too short to walk around angry. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Broken but still useful…

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Scripture: John 21:15 When (the resurrected Jesus and his disciples) had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Observation: Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Jesus. Three times Peter responded in the affirmative. Why ask three times? Scholars believe Jesus’ questions refer back to Peter’s denial of Jesus three times after Jesus was arrested and crucified. In essence, through this exchange, Jesus did two key things. First, Jesus forgave Peter for having failed him in his hour of great need. This was a powerful moment of grace for Peter. Second, Jesus gave Peter a very important job – to be the leader of the other apostles and their followers. Peter, at some level, became Jesus’ replacement after Jesus ascended to the Father.

I love reading about Peter. He was something of a spontaneous person who often failed to think things through before acting. I also suspect Peter was an extravert in that he didn’t filter his words much before speaking. But what strikes me most is that, despite his many flaws, Jesus never gave up on Peter.

Application: I try hard, but I still make mistakes on a regular basis. And, as I suspect may be true for many of you, I tend to see my mistakes much more vividly than my successes. I can beat myself up pretty good if I’m not careful. This passage reminds me that Jesus never gives up on his disciples – even when we fail miserably. He is far more patient with me than I am patient with myself. It’s Jesus’ profound grace and mercy that gives me hope for tomorrow –  mistakes and all.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, have mercy on us. Give us grace that we might overcome our shortcomings to be used by you for your glory. Amen.

Lonely…

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Psalm 139: 7 Where can I go from your spirit (O God)?  Or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 

This passage speaks to the constant presence of God with his people. That includes you and me. We often think of God as being far away – up in the heavens beyond our reach – but the psalmist says otherwise. This comforts me because I can feel lonely at times, even when I’m around other people. This is especially true when I’m struggling.

I have a bad habit of thinking I have to figure things out, or deal with adversity, on my own. This is not so much a reflection of reality as much as it is my state of mind. Slowly I’m learning to let other people in when I have struggles, but it’s not easy. I’ll bet some of you know what I mean. Today we’re reminded that, even when there are not other people around, God is there. Always.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your faithfulness. We may walk away from you, but you never walk away from us. In fact, there is no place we can go where you are not present. Give us grace to remember this. Amen.

Pain and breakthrough…

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Scripture: John 20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb (where the crucified Jesus had been laid). As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

Observation: Like so many of his disciples, Mary was filled with grief over the death of Jesus. His crucifixion must have seemed like an unmitigated disaster at the time. But Jesus knew better. His death and resurrection, though painful at that moment, would pave the way for forgiveness of sins for all people. Jesus would also send the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of all believers rather than just a few chosen ones. In short, what looked like an awful ending to Jesus’ story, was actually the beginning of something more beneficial than anyone imagined at the time.

Application: Life is often like that, isn’t it? We experience great adversity only to realize later that it was merely a painful transition to something better. I hear this sort of thing all the time. Someone loses a job, yet finds their way to another that proves more fulfilling. A relationship comes to an end, yet leads to another that is far healthier. A health scare leads someone to adopt lifestyle changes with enormous long-term benefits. I could go on.

In the moment of setback and loss it’s hard to see beyond painful “now”, yet positive breakthrough may be just around the corner. Some of you are in that place of pain right now. Life has thrown you for a loop and you’re not sure how to respond. Take heart dear brother/sister. You may be down right now, but the Lord will pick you up and move you forward in time. It’s what the Lord does. Over and over. Count on it.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this morning we pray for those of us who find ourselves in a difficult place – personally, professionally, relationally, financially, whatever. Give us grace to endure the painful present that we might soon see the better future you have in store. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.