Mighty Acts of God

Acts 2:1-21

The scene. 

120 of Jesus’ followers were gathered in the Upper Room. What were they doing? Exactly what Jesus told them to do. Wait. But this was not a sit still, do nothing, kind of waiting. No. They were actively praising and worshipping God through Jesus Christ. Why? Because they knew the power of God from Jesus being raised from the grave.

Imagine the scene. Imagine the joy. Imagine the confusion? Confusion because they were told to wait for the coming of the power, of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses of Jesus in all the world. What were they looking for? Anything special? How would they know when the power came in them?

I think this is a question many people ask today: how do you know when you’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit? How do you know when you are supposed to do and go? Will you be any different? Or do you just go by faith? The answer, of course, is yes.

Here’s what happened.

50 days after the Passover, the Jewish custom was to have the Feast of Weeks. This was the day the Jews thanked God for the grain harvest AND to remember God giving Moses the law on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 20 – the end of the book). We know this festival as Pentecost (Penta – 50). So there would have been thousands upon thousands of Jews (and converts to Judaism) in Jerusalem.

Suddenly, the house where the Jesus followers were was filled with the sound of a violent wind and, what looked like, tongues of fire that rested upon each head. Every person, in the room, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages.

Now that would have been a pretty cool scene to witness. Just imagine a loud, violent, sound going through your house, not knowing where it came from or how long it’ll be there. Then, imagine seeing fire inside your house. What would you do? What would your reaction be?

Now, imagine you were on the outside of the house and heard a commotion. You see these people begin acting crazy. Do you call the police? Do you find the nearest mental hospital? What do you do?

You do like people today do. You pull out your phone and video the scene so you can publish it to social media and hope your video of these crazy people goes viral and around the world. Everyone needs to know how out of their mind these Jesus people are. They need to see why following this Jesus makes you act in a weird way.

The crowd stayed. The 120 followers began to speak. Jews, from all over the known world, were present in Jerusalem specifically for this Pentecost festival. Not all of them would be speaking the same language. But when they got the video footage on their phones, and heard about the commotion, they just had to come see for themselves what was going on. Suddenly, an Egyptian yelled out in the crowd, “Quiet! Their speaking Egyptian!” Then Romans here them speak Latin. Then all of the other 13 countries heard their own language. What was going on? What does all of this mean?

Like a good human, people began to make fun of the disciples because the scene wasn’t understood. So some began to say “they’ve been drinking too much wine!” It seems as if some in the crowd thought the disciples were worshipping with wine (as other pagan customs would do).

From out of the observed chaos, this guy comes center stage and begins to speak. We don’t know if he spoke in different languages, or if he spoke in Aramaic. But we do know when Peter spoke that day, all the people heard and understood the message.

So what was Peter saying? He was declaring the mighty acts of God! 

We can sit back, today, and go, “okay? So Peter was telling a large crowd about Jesus. What does that have to do with me today? You’re not asking me to go out in front of people and begin to speak about Jesus. We don’t do that today. It’s impolite and offensive to ‘force’ Jesus’ name down people’s throats.”

I know that sounds a little facetious, but there is truth in that last statement.

So, what does Pentecost have to do with us today?

Remember this was the beginning of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Another term for this is being baptized with the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind when your life belongs to Christ, the Holy Spirit fills your being. So, the Pentecost event (in some shape or form) is still happening today. When people are filled with the Holy Spirit, their entire life focus changes and there is something visibly different about their life. The person is changed and transformed completely, from the inside out.

On that first Pentecost Day, the crowd would have seen something different about the Jesus people. They, especially, would have noticed these unlearned people, who have probably never left their home region, began to speak in different languages. Now, Rosetta Stone software, would not have been that good yet, so this would have been impossible to learn a new language, especially that quickly.

When the Holy Spirit fills us, our communication changes. In Matthew 10, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit gives his people the words to speak when they’re needed. Throughout the historical narrative of Acts, the Holy Spirit empowers the people to speak to the crowds and groups. So what it is the Holy Spirit empowers his people to speak?

The wonderful acts of God. The mighty acts of God.

The Holy Spirit enables his people to speak about and point toward Jesus. That is his mission. So now we have to ask: “what are the wonderful or mighty acts of God?”

We have to be careful of thinking we have to witness something big, we have to see or do something big. So often we stop because we believe our excuses. Know this, “excuses only satisfy the ones who make them.” When this happens, when we think that way, we end of thinking we have to wait to have everything in order and perfect before we can step out “in faith.” But the reality is we have already been give the power (Greek dynamos) which simply means “the ability to do.”

God has given us himself, which means we have the ability to do the works he has given us. The reality is we do not need more machines, more technology, more programs, more or better anything. What is needed are groups of people to step out in faith, people not afraid to pray, people who live fearlessly into their giftedness and do the work of God in this world. The world needs people of faith to trust the abilities God has given them to do things the world thinks is impossible.

There is a sign in the library of Asbury Seminary in Florida that says something I can’t get out of my head: “Attempt something so big that, unless God intervenes, it is bound to fail.” Now that’s a statement. Can you imagine the people of Godattempting anything even though there is a chance of failure? Would you try anything today is there was a greater chance of failure than there was of success?

But that is what happened on that Pentecost Day. Peter, with the great chance of failure, began to speak to the crowd of thousands. Peter had a chance of getting stoned, humiliated, thrown of out town. His reputation, as a laughing stock, wouldhave been sealed that day. Oprah could have done a sob story on Peter.

But Peter had been given the ability to speak to the crowd and he sensed it was the right time, so he just did it. Sweaty palms, mind racing, his notes getting out of order. Peter does the only thing he can think of—he speaks about Jesus. That is a sign of the Spirit. 

The Spirit gives signs of his presence.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the signs of wind(the presence of God, see Genesis 1 as an example), and tongues of fire (fire represents covenant and God’s promises kept (see Abraham covenant Genesis 15).

The point? God uses ordinary things to show his extraordinarypower and presence. If God can use ordinary objects to reveal his presence and his power, imagine what God can do through ordinary, seemingly insignificant, nobodies!

At the end of Peter’s “sermon” that day, 3,000 people accepted faith in Jesus Christ. That means the crowd was large! But there is a number specified as to how many responded. Every time we speak about Jesus, there are always people who do not respond favorably. With this logic, how many people turned down the message of Jesus and just walked away? Think about it.

The mighty acts of God were proclaimed and people still turned it down. What are the mighty acts of God? Life changes and world changers. 

Even when people see this first hand, it is still difficult to believe. But the Holy Spirit still empowers his people to proclaim Christ. We, as his people, just have to be careful not to quench, or put out the fire of the Spirit.

The power that was demonstrated on that first Pentecost is still available today. The Holy Spirit still speaks and empowers his people to do and say the message of Jesus. You have been gifted and empowered with that ability.

What wonderful/mighty acts of God can you communicate today?

Vitality of the Christian Faith

On July 2, 1789, John Wesley wrote a sermon called, “Causes Of The Inefficacy Of Christianity”. Click here for the full sermon.

This is a powerful, convicting, sermon on how Christianity can be more transformative in our world. Here is a summary and application for this important sermon:

Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity

Jeremiah 8:22 “Is there no balm in Gilead: is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?”

​“Why has Christianity done so little good in the world?” Why does John Wesley begin this way? He notices a “failing” of the people who call themselves Christians to bring about real and lasting change in the world. One of the biggest reasons for this is because of the deep corruption of human nature. Humanity is flawed and fallen, so this means there is a vast amount of work to do in the world.

Even with the reality of so much brokenness, all around us, Wesley says Christianity was supposed to be the remedy from our Creator. But he also laments because it is not known well and the Christian faith cannot do good where it is not known. He can say this because of the vast amount of Christians who do not seem to be doing their part to be part of the transformation of the world. The lack of “action”, to Wesley, is an indicator that few Christians know what Christianity means and are ignorant of how they are supposed to live out their faith.

But Wesley also notes there are some people who understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. They have laid their lives down to “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus” This is the key, according to Wesley. Followers of Jesus Christ should pay attention to how their lives are lived so the glory of God will be demonstrated and revealed in the world.

All parts of our life, especially what we do with our money, should serve the kingdom of God. Wesley emphasizes how Christians should be gathered, in community, for worship. He also said how important it is to practice and deepen their faith through prayer and fasting. This, for Wesley, is what it means to be a Bible Christian.

Relevancy For Today

Now we get to the question, “Has Christianity done good in the world today? In some areas, yes. But there are still many issues all around us. According to Wesley, if all Christians lived out their faith, as it says in scripture, we would be able to see and live in a more peaceful place where there are no poor, or problems.

As in Wesley’s time, there seems to be a disconnect between faith and practice. Christianity is more than a status symbol, it is about life transformation. The transformation of one’s life happens when we deny ourselves, meaning we think of other’s interests above our own and we put the work of God ahead of everything else. Even in our day to day jobs, we still do everything for the glory of Christ by doing our best in all we do.

What’s interesting is that the same things Wesley says were the “failures” of Christians as well as how Christians should live, is the same principle that applies today. It seems as if we still have to guard against the notion of Christian being a status symbol to get a certain position. Instead, we should view our lives as humble, obedient servants willing to do everything necessary to be a sigh of relief to a hurting and broken world in separate need of God’s forgiving and healing touch. Christians would need to know this personal presence of God, on a deeper level so we can be his instruments in the world.

Yes, God is big enough (and smart enough) to find ways for his work to go on in the world; but there is so much that we Christians can miss out on by living solely for ourselves, or solely for what “rewards” we’ll receive “in the end.” There is great joy, hope, peace, and love we can experience here and now because of the presence of God working in us and through us. We can bring the healing and the presence of the kingdom of God wherever we go and in whatever we do. But it all begins with taking heed to the commands and guidance of Jesus.

So what should we do today? We should not neglect meeting together for worship. We should be involved in prayer and fasting. We should “earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can” so we do not allow money to become a god in our life. Above all, we should practice what we preach. Then we just might see a change in this world.

Revival Can Come

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” ~2 Chronicles 7:14 NRSV

I see this Bible verse posted on yard signs, in windows, I hear it from the mouths of adults. Generally when I hear this verse, it is about America needing to repent so that God will heal this land from all diseases and troubles.

But I think we are missing something. I believe we have missed how revival and awakening happens. Revival, and spiritual awakenings, do not usually begin in a country, or large group setting. I know, through the grace of God, people groups and nations can turn to God all at once; but generally revival begins with the individual person and it spreads out like a ripple effect.

What is a revival? An event, time period, condition of the heart where people’s lives turn to God. It is a time of realigning our lives to God in the instant we experience his love and grace and begin to trust him completely for his provision and for his presence. This is a pretty cool thing to experience. When the Holy Spirit is palpable and tangible, the atmosphere changes and you can literally taste and see the goodness of the God who created you and who is pursing you all the days of your life.

I love the story of a young pastor who visits his mentor. The young pastor begins to say he is praying for revival and for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit so the community changes. The mentor quietly listens as the young pastor continues to say everything that is wrong all around him. Quietly, the older mentor gets up and walks to his desk and comes back with a piece of chalk. While the young pastor is continuing to speak, the mentor begins to draw a circle, with the chalk, on the floor around the young pastor. The young pastor stops talking and is watching what’s going on. Finally, the older mentor sits back down and says, “If you want a revival in your community, it begins right here, in this circle, with you on your knees, confessing, repenting, and calling on the Name of the Lord to do his work in and through you.”

This is the part of the verse, above, I think we miss. What’s interesting is how literal we take some parts of the Bible and metaphorical we take take others. Yes 2 Chronicles 7:14 was address to the people/nation of Israel. Yes God is speaking of literally healing the land and protecting it, if the people call on God. But what if there is a deeper level here? What if God is continuing to speak through this passage to teach us something today?

How many are drowning in their lives because of hurt? How many have broken relationships, crippled by diseases, grieving significant losses? The point is, land for us today is about our lives. Think about it. If your financially insecure, there is incredible stress. What brought you to the instability? Living above your means and living for yourself. Many diseases we face are brought on by ourselves, through not doing what’s necessary to protect ourselves or acting in a manner of sin that brings the disease on. There is so much brokenness in our world, and in our lives, that we can forget that God really is about healing, restoration, and redemption.

So here’s the deal. What if we took the time to call on God and confessed how we have lived as if he was not enough? What if we called on God and confessed how we don’t completely believe in who he says he is or how he says he is with us or will provide for us? (The root of all sin is unbelief because we begin to act in the place of God because we believe we can do better in some way.)

I am coming to realize how so much pain and brokenness in our lives is because we put we above he. The first step in a revival is realizing what we don’t believe about God, even if we cry out, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” Then we become so full of the Holy Spirit and our land (relationships, emotional well-being, mental well-being, physical self, etc. begin the process of being made healed and whole.

I know many people are broken-hearted about the state of the world. But what if we took the time to be broken-hearted about the state of ourselves? God may not instantly heal everything “wrong” or broken in our lives, but our heart (and focus) is directed toward him and the process of being remade into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ begins to heal us, which works through us to share and show the healing presence of God to all we encounter.

How many of you are ready for a true and lasting revival? How many of you are tired of feeling like your life is broken? How many of you are tired of trying to do everything OT figure everything out on your own? Run to the cross of Christ! Find healing and peace when we die to ourselves. In this process, real joy and peace is found and we can live with the hope that is found in the promises of God.

Rahab: The Past Does Note Define You

How would you describe yourself before coming to faith in Jesus Christ? How is that different from your life now? What do other people think about you? Do your family and friends see something different and new in you since you began to follow Christ? Even if you have be “in church” your whole life, was there a time when you realized that you truly had nothing without the presence of Christ in your life?

Now, there are those people hearing this today and thinking when I’m going to get to the sermon. There are some hearing this that are bored. There are some hearing these questions today thinking, “of course I follow Jesus. Always have. Always will.” But we do have to ask, “do you really follow Jesus? What does that look like for you?” (Don’t think in terms of what you do or how you perceive yourself to be better than anyone else.)

Still others hearing these questions today are having tears well up in their eyes because they know the 180 their life has taken since following Jesus.

Here is the point of the sermon today—Your past does NOT define you. Jesus defines who you are.

Before we continue, we have to understand that it does matter what people think about and see in us because they will be the observers for the life change that Jesus brings us and can hold us accountable when we fall short.

Today we conclude our PEOPLE LIKE US series by looking at the story of Rahab in Joshua 2.

Joshua 2 is, to me, a fascinating story of redemption. Why? Because, like a lot of scripture, the most unlikely person, and their family, is saved from destruction.

If you have read this passage before, and even hearing it today, you know that Rahab was a prostitute. What you may not know is that she was an “inn keeper.” Because she was an “inn keeper,” she was a prostitute. Basically she was someone who ran a brothel, to put it bluntly.

Now, the spies that Joshua sent into Jericho came across Rahab. How they came across her, could be left to the imagination. But they quickly found out there is a stirring in the city gates about the Israelite army that is camped outside that is going to come in and defeat them.

Jericho was enclosed inside a wall. This is one of the first conquests of the promised land for Israel. If Israel could get past Jericho, then they could continue to march in and conquer the land promised to Abraham, by God.

So what happens? The Israelite spies tell Rahab, she and her family would be spared if she placed a red ribbon on her house. This was the Israelite army would know to “pass over” her house and keep her family safe. Notice something of a dejavu moment? On some level, this shows the Israelites have learned how God acted, in the Exodus plagues, and they are demonstrating the same kind of grace for the house that is marked inside the city of Jericho.

Understand this truth…God is NOT interested in anyone’s destruction. God desires ALL people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. God will do whatever means possible so people can know salvation (living in the presence of God here and now AND in the life to come).

So when we look at a biblical character, like Rahab, we see a picture of a way of life that is detestable to God. Rahab did not try to say she was better than anyone else. She didn’t even give the qualifications as to why she and her family should be spared. Instead, she admitted she needed to be saved and could not do it on her own. She had to trust that what the Israelites said was the truth.

Fast forward to the thief on the cross in Luke 23. He was at the end of his life, literally, and simply asked Jesus to be saved. He had to trust that what Jesus said was the truth.

Now notice how we talk about these people today. We talk about them in transformative, changed way. We may mention their old way of life. We do this to be reminded of where they came from and how they were different afterwards.

But really, we focus on the incredible power of God to bring about this kind of change in a person’s life.

So how about your life? How is Jesus Christ changing your life here and now? If this may be a hard question to answer, may we should take time to talk with him about it.

When we know we have the Spirit of Christ within us, we can no longer treat anyone as a non-believer would. We can no longer try to live the life we did before knowing Christ. We can no longer attempt to satisfy ourselves with the things detestable to God. Instead, we seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit each and every day so the presence of the Spirit is known and shown in and through our life.

There is always more to our story. The best days are always here and now and coming up. Rahab is proof of this. How?

No matter where you think  your life and legacy will end up, Jesus always has something really cool for your life and my life. Rahab is one of the few that are listed in the “heroes of faith” in Hebrews 11. Not only that, but Rahab is in the direct lineage of Jesus Christ.

You and I have had a past we are not proud of, but it is how we got where we are now. I’m praying we all trust in the presence and promise of Jesus Christ so our lives can be re-written and bring glory to God through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

All of this is possible because of the work of God in our lives and because of what God sees is possible because of his life lived through us. The only thing we do is not stop the hard work God does in and through us.

As you participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion this morning, take time to praise God for the work he has already done and is continuing to do in your life. Take time to realize the incredible power of God working in your life. Take time to trust in Christ fully and allow his grace to shape you. Not by what you do or who you are. But because of who he is and who he says you are.

Remember, your past does not define you. Christ says who you are!

Let’s pray…

Gracious God, thank you for the work you have done, are doing, and will continue to do in our lives. May we NOT stop the work you’re doing or hinder your plan for us. Even though it may seem difficult, at times, we can trust that you are re-creating us and giving us what we need to thrive so we can share and show your Kingdom and all of your glory in the world. It is in Christ’s name, we pray. AMEN.

RESPONDING TO CHRIST AND THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT HERE AND NOW

NOW IF YOU have never said YES to Jesus by answering his call on you life, now is the time. I pray you get to live into the joy. If you say YES to Christ’s call, let us know and we can help you live your response out. If you say YES again, let us know and we can help equip you for God’s purpose in life.

Gift of Salvation

The date was July 17, 2001. Up until this date, I had always thought I was a person who followed Jesus Christ. This day, something changed my life, for the better. Six to eight months beforehand, I had been having lunch with a friend of mine and his pastor. This lunch turned into a weekly Bible study. During this study, I began to sense a desire to say “Yes” to Jesus Christ and have him save me from my sin. What I have later learned is there have been people God has placed in my path my entire life to show me and teach me about God. I have also had people show me what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Many people have their own story of how they came to faith. I have learned, though, it is not the “coming to faith” that is the crucial thing. I have learned it is what happens after we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ because of the movement of the Holy Spirit.
When a person speaks about being saved, they are communicating they have been set free from sin and have been given life everlasting by the grace of God. It is the hope, desire, and longing of every person to live for something greater than themselves in this physical life. When John Wesley died, “His last words served to not only capture the quality of life he lived but also the kind of life he wished for others. He died saying, ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’” (Harper 13) Wesley was considered a practical theologian. As Wesley was teaching and preaching and organizing new converts into groups, he learned a process for salvation. This is not something new, but he did organize the thinking into what we know as the order of salvation.
How does a person come to be saved and receive life everlasting? Why would a person desire to be saved? Oden writes, “The benefits of salvation are summarized as justification (receiving the pardon of God), regeneration (receiving new life in the Spirit and participation in the family of God), and sanctification (receiving the growth-enabling, completing, maturing, perfecting grace of God that leads toward holiness of heart and life).” (Oden 607) The Apostle Paul writes in the letter to Titus, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7 NIV) Salvation is a gift of God, it is because of God’s grace we have been saved. (Ephesians 2:8)
The first step in the order of salvation is “realizing that something is wrong with the human race.” (Harper 21) In the beginning, God created male and female in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Then, in Genesis 1:31, it says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 NIV) But then, a brief time later, the humans decided to listen to the voice of the serpent and evil/sin entered the heart and lives of the people from that point forward. Humanity was more interested in themselves, from then on, than they were/are about listening to God.
When a person realizes there is something inherently wrong, there is nothing we can do on our own. “We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Grace is essential.” (Harper 28) One can look back on their life and see that God has been working and moving in many ways. Even before people have an idea about God, God is pouring out his grace. Wesley called this “prevenient grace.” This is the act and movement of God to work in our lives to bring us out of a place of hopelessness. Prevenient grace is seeking ways to break through into peoples’ lives to show God has been there all along. Romans 1 demonstrates this, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.” (Romans 1:20 NIV) The Apostle Paul is showing that God is making himself known even before the people realize it.
A person comes to the realization God has been working in their life and has felt a strong sense of conviction about their life in sin. For some, this realization can happen at an instant. For others, it can occur over time. This is the point of justification. “Justification is the acceptance of the sinner, united in Christ by faith, precisely while it remains clear that he or she has done wrong…openly declaring his guilt that acquittal is announced.” (Oden 588) The person has been set free from the slavery of sin and has been given new life in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ has justified. Christ has made right the person through grace by faith. The person now belongs to Jesus Christ. Repentance has taken place, and a new life begins to unfold for the new believer. “When the New Testament speaks of repentance, it uses the basic idea of change. Wesley called it, ‘a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.’” (Harper 44) The idea is the person now desires to live for Christ and has forsaken all sin. A new way of life is now beginning. John Wesley called this converting grace.
The work of the Spirit is not done in the life of the person. The process of being made holy, of being made into the likeness of Jesus Christ is beginning. At this point, the person is being made new. We call this new birth. Wesley called this process sanctifying grace because this is the process of being sanctified, being made holy, and it takes time. We also know this as regeneration. “Wesley called it God’s activity of ‘renewing our fallen nature.’” (Harper 56) Oden says, “Regeneration is the work of the Spirit by which new life in Christ is imparted to one dead in sin. It implies a change in the inward person by which a disposition to the holy life is originated, and in which life begins. It is the acts of God by which the governing disposition of the person begins to be responsive to the reconciling God.” (Oden 612) The person is in the process of being made new, living into a new will, receiving a new heart.
God’s grace has done incredible work in the person and is working to change the person from the inside out. Oden helps to define grace. “Grace means unmerited favor. To affirm that God is gracious is to affirm that God does not deal with creatures on the basis of their works, merit, or deserving but rather out of abundant divine compassion. It is through grace that God’s mercy is free given precisely to repentant sinners.” (Oden 73) Salvation is God’s gift because of his grace.
The gift of salvation means the person has the opportunity to live in the presence of God, here and now and in the life to come. “[T]he kingdom of God is here now. We do not have to put emphasis on some future climatic event outside the bounds of time and space as we know it. As Christians, we affirm and look to the existence of eternity, but we live in the present.” (Harper 95) We have been given the opportunity, here and now, to live in the presence of God and allow God’s grace, through the working of the Holy Spirit to refine us from the inside out. “
The final aspect of the salvation process occurs when this earthly life is complete. Wesley called this glorification. This is when we enter, fully, into the life to come and live in life everlasting with God in paradise. This is the benefit of living knowing and following Christ here and now. The goal of salvation is to save us from ourselves (sin nature) and to align our lives with the ever living God who desires to be in relationship with all people. The goal of the Christian life is to become perfect in love.
The order of salvation is not as cut and dry as it may seem. People take their own path, the path God’s grace leads them. The point is so one can experience incredible love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and live in God’s presence through the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever a person is going through the salvation process, God desires we bring people along with us. We were meant to be in community with one another and what better way to live out God’s love than with others. We are saved from ourselves (sin nature) and we are saved so we can work with God for the redemption and transformation of the world.

Bibliography

Harper, Steve. (2003). The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley. Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Oden, T. C. (2009). Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. New York: HarperOne.

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

Expect the Unexpected

THE RUSH

This is the Pentecost sermon preached on Sunday, June 4, 2017.

Click here to read ACTS 2:1-2.

WRITE “ORDINARY DAY” ON YOUR NOTES

It was just another normal day. Everyone was gathered together. Everyone had been praying for the last 10 days. This was just another average day.

Over the last 10 days, they had been reminiscing. Reminiscing over the incredible things that had witnessed and experienced over the last 50 days. Jesus had defeated death by walking out of the grave, leaving it empty. After appearing to the disciples and even 500 people all at one time, he ascended, was lifted up, into heaven. As he was about to depart, Jesus said these words (that we have come to know as Acts 1:8), “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.”

The disciples gathered together and prayed. I would guess they were bewildered about who/what the Holy Spirit is that is coming. I’m sure they would have tried to recall what their Lord said about the Spirit and what this would mean.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:7-8)

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)

So…sitting around, praying, and talking about what they remembered Jesus said about this Spirit. It was just a normal, run of the mill day.

Sure, the city of Jerusalem was filled with hundreds of thousands of people there to celebrate Pentecost. This holiday fest tradition started with Moses, while the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. We read about this in the book of Leviticus. “‘From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Lev 23:15-16)

Other than the city filled and people were partying, it was really just an ordinary time in the life of the disciples. They were trying as hard as they could to stay on the DL because the Roman authorities and the Jewish Sanhedrin (religious leaders) were on the lookout for them. So they stayed together in one place.

Life can seem like this. We expect the day or the week to go as planned. We like the idea of change but we do not like to change. It seems like it can be more comfortable and easy to live as things have always been. We like to cling to the past because that is what we are familiar with. God does not desire us to live in the past. God does not desire us to play it safe and comfortable. God does not desire us to be the exact same today as we were the year before, or even the day before.

Who-Wants-Change-360x360

Suddenly in the blink of an eye, everything can change! Without warning an illness can occur. Without warning a spouse can file for divorce. Without warning a child can go to their parents and give bad news. Without warning you’ll get feeling to visit or call a friend and find out they needed to talk with you. Without warning, the Spirit of the Living God will come upon you and fill you so full of love and grace that you are different from the inside out which causes your life’s plans to go in a completely new direction.

We have the chance not to view change as negative or bad; but, rather, view change as new opportunities to “declare the wonders of God” to different people and a culture that’s different from how we grew up. God’s Spirit is always at work in and through our lives.

That is what happened on the day of Pentecost 2,000 or so years ago. Nothing was the same after the Spirit came down upon the disciples.

In the classic movie, the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was experiencing a normal day in Kansas. She visited friends, went on a walk, did her chores, and then went back home and laid down to take a nap.

WIZARD OF OZ MOVIE CLIP

  • Things were normal, grumbly, not very happy, until THE WIND came.
  • Picked up the house, Dorothy, Toto and all, and took them to a place where NOTHING WAS THE SAME
  • Little people dancing around
  • Monkeys who could fly
  • Unexpected dangers
  • Friends with unexplainable gifts–Courage, Compassion, Wisdom–without anything to offer a rational explanation for their presence
  • The Emerald City–beautiful, full of promise

That’s how it is with the Holy Spirit.

NOW, CROSS OUT “ORDINARY LIFE”

WRITE “EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED” ON YOUR NOTES

We’ve already established we do not like change. But when the Holy Spirit of God fills us, we are experiencing the power of God dwelling, residing, filling our hearts and our lives for incredible change to occur.

The Apostle Peter took the lead in this moment and stood up to proclaim to the crowd what they were witnessing. Now, you remember Peter, right? He always had his foot in his mouth. He told Jesus what he needed to do on more than one occasion. He denied knowing Jesus. Peter had a lot going against him. However, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood as a superstar, the leader of the disciples to tell the crowd all about God’s promises and about Jesus the Christ.

A favorite question from Charles Wesley, John Wesley’s brother, was “have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?” This was in the sermon “Awake Thou Sleeper”. Nothing is the same after the Holy Spirit washes over you. No longer do you rely on the past to make you comfortable. Now, because of the Spirit, you find your comfort in the unpredictable future and nature of the work God is calling you and I to do right here, right now.

We should never expect to live an “ordinary” life. Because of the grace of God, we are set apart, we are holy. We are the saints of God in today’s world.

The Spirit turns everything we know upside down.

It is not just the young who will have dreams for the future and dreams for the work to bring about the Kingdom of God, it is the elderly people who will also have these dreams because God’s work is never done. It doesn’t matter the age of the person, God can and does incredible feats through each person.

We often go to the older people to get some vision, to get some perspective and wisdom. Because of the Holy Spirit of God being poured out on all people, wisdom will also come from the young, the one people look down upon because of their age.

It is incredible what the Spirit does in each person and as a community! Was Kansas different when Dorothy returned? No. DOROTHY was different! She had seen what life is supposed to be like. Not gray and gloomy; but full of joy, wonder, and unconditional love and grace.

WRITE “NOTHING IS THE SAME” ON YOUR NOTES

My friends, the Holy Spirit is here. Allow this Spirit to wash over you. Be filled with the fire (passion) of God and remember from where you came from and where you’re going.

John Wesley has a great quote we should remember, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

Hold fast and firm to the Spirit and trust that his guiding work is taking you to the paths, places, and people God is desiring you to connect with to proclaim and declare the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. What an exhilarating rush this is when the Holy Spirit fills us and guides us!

Each day, I pray we wake up with an earnest desire to seek the Spirit. May this be our song everyday:

“Holy Spirit You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence Lord”

Rise and Walk

Click here to read today’s scripture: Acts 3.

One of the best lessons I have heard from prayer reminds us to pay attention when we are praying, especially in public. So much of the time, we tend to want to be by ourselves. We’ll have our eyes closed. We’ll try to keep everything quiet. But then, what if the noise is too much to turn off? What if we keep getting interrupted while we’re praying?

There are times, I believe God allows interruptions in our prayer time with him because he is desiring us to connect with other person who is in need. If our prayers are communication with the Creator, should we be surprised when he is asking us to be an answer to another person’s prayers?

Peter and John, in today’s passage, are on their way to pray at the appointed time. They had a schedule. They had things to do. That’s when they got interrupted by someone asking for help.  Granted, this was someone who asks for help all the time by begging for money, for food, etc. We have seen this kind of situation in our day to day lives. The same person asking for assistance. Sometimes we give them the pocket change we have. Sometimes we’ll buy them food. But is this what they are really after?

In the short term, we are all looking for what we need in that moment. We all need food. We all need some sort of currency. But don’t we need relationships even more? Don’t we all have a need, deep down, to know we are valued?

As I am writing this, the day before it’s published, I am convicted. As a husband, as a father, as a father-to-be, as a pastor I am constantly around people who need something from me. Can I give them everything all the time? It is challenging and I would burn out and run out of care quickly. What I can give more generously than anything else is a relationship.

Now, this also means that I can point them to Jesus Christ as much as possible so they have an opportunity to experience grace, to experience his love, to experience being valued. It is through Jesus’ love and grace for me that I am able to go out and share his love with all those I come in contact with.

The apostles had three solid years with Jesus. They had a great relationship with him. It is because of that relationship they were able to go and share the good news of Life. When they came across this man who was begging for food and money, they did not really have any to spare. But they did have something very valuable. The gift of grace. The offered him Christ.

“Rise up and walk.” Go into the world knowing you are loved by the Creator. Get up and realize you have been given gifts and talents to be part of another person’s life. Rise, share God’s love through acts of mercy, yes; but also through compassionate words. Give what you can. Rise up in the strength of Jesus Christ. Go on your way. Since he changed your life, go with him to change the world.

Rise up and walk.

Renewal

Happy New Year to everyone! I pray this is the start of an incredible year for you. It is easy to go into a new year and keep it business as usual. After all, we have our own schedules, our own ideas, our own tasks, and habits that we have to keep doing, right?

Yes and no. At the start of a new year, we have this opportunity to refocus and re-evaluate where our attention goes in our life. We get to see how much we actually focus on ourselves more than we focus on others. Or we get to see how much we devalue ourselves in order to put others above us.

For many, new year resolutions are about losing weight, becoming more spiritual or faithful in their faith, being better spouses, doing better to make sure those we’re in relationship with know they are valued. These are all well and good to aspire to. The main thing I invite you to think about is “why?” Why are these resolutions being made? What is the motivation behind them?

John Wesley encouraged the Methodists to re-committ themselves to Jesus Christ at the beginning of each year. I have found this practice to be incredible because the focus gets back on Jesus Christ, what He is doing in us and how He invites us to participate in His work in the world. We get to be reminded we do not live this life alone, we have the Holy Spirit with us each day.

Leaders are especially susceptible to falling into the trap of believing more has to be done in order to gain more followers or become more productive. The truth is that when we keep our hearts and minds focused on Christ and His mission in the world, we see what is really important and have the chance to reorder our lives for His glory.

So as we begin this new year, I invite you to get with a group of people (you choose the size), and take time to recommit your work, relationships, your life to Jesus Christ this year. Here is a video of the covenant service you can use to worship together:

Here is the outline of the worship service, along with responses, so you can print and use on your own: http://www.seedbed.com/john-wesleys-covenant-renewal-service-for-today/

Happy New Year!

Sin & Redemption 

Sin. Sin is a condition that many people do not take serious enough. Humankind has had to live with and experience the effects of sin throughout human history. In the creation story of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, we can see that God created the world, and it was good. There was an intimacy between God and humans with God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day to be with Adam and Eve personally (Genesis 3:8). God was looking for Adam and Eve after they had tasted and eaten of the forbidden fruit. From this time forward, sin has left a mark of humanity and creation. The intimate relationship between God and humans was broken.
As we begin to look at sin, the Hebrew and Greek words used in scripture help to understand what sin is. One of the Hebrew words is chata (khan-taw’). The New Testament Greek has a word with a similar meaning as the Hebrew word. Hamartia (ham-ar-tee’-ah). Both words basically mean to “miss the mark,” or “failure to hit the mark.” Looking at sin with these two words could make it seem like sin is no big deal. These words show there is a “mark,” a bullseye we are all striving for to hit. Our next question would have to be “what is the mark we are supposed to hit?”

Adam and Eve has a perfect communion with God in the beginning. After the fruit was eaten, we can now begin to look through the scriptures to see how sin impacted and affected every part of creation. This is what is known as “original sin.” Throughout the centuries there have been different understandings and teachings on what original sin is and how we are effected by it today.

In the book, Responsible Grace, Randy Maddox describes a western viewpoint and an eastern viewpoint on original sin. “This term was used to refer to both the event of Adam and Eve using their self-determining power to turn away from God, and to the effects of this ‘Fall’ upon subsequent humanity.” (Maddox 74)

For most people within the Western Church, the teaching has predominantly been 1) all humans have “inherited” the guilt from the original sin and 2) God’s judgement will be upon us because we are depraved to the point that we can do little more than to sin. (MADDOX 74). Eastern churches have had a different understanding and teaching about original sin. Their teaching has been “the true significance of the Fall was our loss of the Spirit’s immediate Presence, resulting in the introduction of mortality into human life.” (MADDOX 74) John Wesley tended to favor the eastern church’s teaching on original sin, thus he began teaching about prevenient grace, grace that God gives to humanity even before we realize God’s presence with us and around us.

Now it is important to examine a couple reasons why people sin today. Two ideas seem to give good reasons why people sin and they come from two different people who lived roughly 150 years apart, Saint Augustine and Iranaeus. These two views also display the differences in the Western and Eastern Church teachings.

Justo Gonzalez and Zaida Maldonado Perez write about the differences in these two early church fathers. “The most common way of interpreting the story of the first temptation is that Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be carried away by ambition when the serpent promised they would be ‘like God.’ In that case, pride is at the very root of evil.” (Gonzalez 69) This teaching is very much in line with the understanding of the Western Church today. This has been a dominate teaching since the time of Saint Augustine (AD 354-430)

Iranaeus (AD 200s) taught something that is in line with the Eastern Church’s understanding on sin. “Adam and Eve were already like God, who had made them after the divine image and likeness. Therefore, sin, is not in ambition, but rather in the lack of faith, in not believing what was already a reality, that they were “like God.” (Gonzales 69)

These two understandings and teachings help show how sin can come about in our day and age. If the root of all sin is pride, then the poor and oppressed people should stay exactly in the state they are in and should not aspire to have or be more. If the root of sin is forgetting the image of God in us, the poor and oppressed should demand respect and justice because they are like everyone else, made in the image of God. (Gonzalez 69)

In either case, the effects of sin are prevalent throughout all of creation. We see this throughout the Old Testament book of Genesis all the way through the last book of the New Testament, Revelation. The very next chapter after the Fall, in Genesis 3, we see the damage sin can do. “Missing the mark” for God’s perfect will for our lives can and does lead people down a path that they would not have gone. Pride and forgetting the image of God in humans is clearly evident when Cain murdered Abel over the offering sacrifice. Throughout the genealogical lines listed beginning in Genesis 4 through chapter 5, we see sin taking a stronger and stronger hold on the people.

The effect from original sin do not take away the free will Adam and Eve had in the beginning. People have had the choice to follow God or take their own path whether based on pride, or forgetting they are made in the image of God. The choice to follow God is evident within the story of Noah and is evident all the way through the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. With each story we read, God is gracious enough to find ways to cleanse the sin and give people chances to follow and know the One True God as their Creator.

The Grace of God came into full fruition through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God made flesh and dwelling among us. It was his life, death, and resurrection that shows us how serious sin is and how loving and gracious God is that our sin would be paid for through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)

His was the perfect life that we should all aspire to live. Jesus lived and loved as God intended us to live and love like from the beginning. Lest we think this life was easy for Jesus, we can read of his life in the Gospels and remember the writer of Hebrews who wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)

Sin does have lasting and damaging effects in our world. All we have to do is turn on the television to witness that. But, the beauty of it is, we do not have the last word on sin, God has the last word. God has defeated and broken the chains of sin and death that enslaved humans and makes us think we lack the freedom to not sin. Because of grace, we have the freedom to follow Jesus Christ and allow his grace and love to transform us.

Bibliography

Campbell, Ted. Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials. Nashville: Abingdon, 2011. Print.

González, Justo L., and Zaida Maldonado Pérez. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002. Print. 

Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville, TN: Kingswood, 1994. Print.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.