Strength to Stand

Click here to read Acts 14:8-20.

The passage today has many things going on. First of all, we see Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who was crippled in his legs and couldn’t walk. Paul heals the man who is able to walk. The people in the crowd see the miracle and call Paul and Barnabas gods. Paul then is stoned by the people. All in a day’s work, right?

For Paul this basically was normal, it seems. Every time he went to a new place, the people would either love him, making him as high as a god, or despising him, forcing him to leave, either on his own or by stoning/lashing him. Sounds like a cool job, doesn’t it?

But pay attention to what is happening here in this passage. Paul and Barnabas come upon a man who couldn’t walk. Now we, in our cities and day to day life, see people all the time who seemingly cannot take care of themselves. Most of the time, people just walk on past. After all, “God helps those who help themselves,” right? Nope. God uses people to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul goes beyond any prejudice for a begging man, and (with the power of the Holy Spirit) heals him. The man is now able to walk and life his life all because someone stopped and gave him what he needed: physical healing which could have lead to his spiritual healing.

The crowd seeing all of this happen, think that Paul and Barnabas have special powers and begin to elevate them into the position of their gods. Paul began to teach the people where the real power comes from and how the man was able to be healed and who the real God is.

After hearing about the one true God, people in the crowd became angry. Makes sense. You don’t like people flat out telling you you’re wrong. Pride becomes and issue here. People in the crowd did not want anyone to “mess with” their beliefs, so they stoned Paul.

Think about how this passage can relate to you today, this week. The man who was crippled needed someone to help him. We all need help at times, and are grateful when someone pays attention and helps. But this is not just about us needing help.

Paul was the person God used to heal the man. You and I get to be people God used to bring his healing power, grace, and presence wherever we are. By the grace of God, we get to be the answer to another person’s prayers, if we’re paying attention to the voice and prompting of the Holy Spirit within us.

There will be things you and I do that people will love and want to tell us how good we are at what we do. Look how Paul did not allow the crowd’s praise to inflate his ego. He turned it back on the crowd, with humility, and told them about the real God of the universe. But, the people were threatened by an outsider coming in to tell them their whole lives were wrong.

Stand strong when someone helps. Accept the help. God may have brought them to you because of your prayers.

Stand strong with the mission that God has given you. Be an encourager, lift people up, bring the message of God’s love and presence wherever you are.

Stand strong in who God says you are. The praise of people will only make us conceited; but when our faith is in God through Jesus Christ, we can keep the right perspective of who and whose we are.

Even when it hurts or you’re being criticized for following Christ, stand strong that he is using you in mighty ways and trust he will continue to lead and guide you each and everyday.

Stand strong.

Can’t Be Contained!

Read Acts 12 here.

Being told to keep quiet when you know the truth should be spoken is challenging. Being told not to do anything you think is right is challenging. For some, it is more important not to ruffle feathers or to disturb the status quo or cause a disturbance in the force. But always remember the truth and grace of God will continue to prevail and will not be held back.

In Acts 12, we read about Herod trying to please the crowd. He was violent with anyone who was affiliated with the church (those who followed Jesus Christ). In fact, he had the Apostle James killed by the sword. Herold saw how much this pleased the Jews, so he had Peter arrested too.

Why would Herod be so angry with followers of Christ and do what he could to please the Jews? His control over the region would be lost and severely threatened if more of the citizens believed in and followed Jesus Christ. This is a scary place to be whenever you are used to having control. Isn’t it amazing how much emphasis on our identity is based upon what we do and what we can control?

To keep his sense of running the region, Herod was doing everything he could to stop the people from following another. His actions would have instilled fear in the people who witnessed his actions. It is human nature to go into a mindset of self-preservation. So, acting pleased, even if you weren’t would have been the thing to do. Also, there would have been religious authorities, of the day, most likely pressuring people to not go against Herod.

The citizens saw that Peter was arrested. In the community, he would have been the one seen as the leader, so some may have thought this business of following Jesus was over. But…You cannot contain nor stop what God is doing.

Peter was released, at night, by an angel of the Lord. No one saw him leave. What Herod tried to contain and squish, God released. Is there anything inside you that is “imprisoned” that needs to be released? I am talking about having fear of talking to others about Jesus, going on the “bad/rough” side of town to spread the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ, being the person willing to stand up for those who have no one?

The power of God’s grace can open up doors and cross boundaries we may feel it’s difficult to cross. When we recognize that God is the Creator and is already present, we also should understand there is nothing that humans can do to stop the power of grace.

Yes, fear does keep people laying low and not doing anything; but if we allow ourselves to live into the joy, hope, love, peace, power that God has given us, there is nothing anyone can do.

1 Timothy 2:7 “God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”

Romans 8:26-39 “26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. 30 Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified. 31 So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them.34 Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us. 35 Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter. 37 But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us.38 I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.”

Rejoice!

Christmastime is such a joyous time of year for so many people. This is the time we celebrate families with gift giving, parties, travel, and much more. We can see the good things in life, when we get together.

Unfortunately, many people do not have this same experience of this time of year. So many have felt loss and this time of year reminds them of this. There are also people who feel they are being punished in life by God.

The first two and a half chapters of the book of Zephaniah speak of pronouncing and impending judgement. His prophecies seem very similar to the prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. But then, the tone completely shifts at the end with a message of hope and joy.

Click here to read Zephaniah 3:14-20.

When I read this short book in the Bible, I am reminded that we should not focus on the difficulties and disasters in our life.

“Rejoice and exult with all your heart…”

“The Lord has removed your judgement…”

“The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;..”

“Don’t fear…”

Then God promises to “deliver,” “gather,” “change their shame into praise,” “bring all of you back,” “gather you,” “restore.”

God was speaking these to the Israelites; but this also speaks to us today. How? Jesus Christ.

We rejoice because God is in our midst through Jesus Christ. He has removed our sin and shame because of the cross and His resurrection. Jesus, our good shepherd, is gathering us in and leading us. We are filled with the Spirit of the Living God.

Christ coming in the world, changes everything. Will we allow Him in to change us once again?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

God’s Invading

Last week, a New York newspaper ran a headline that said, “God is not fixing this,” in response to the shootings that happened in San Bernardino, CA. The article was saying that something has to be done and people can’t “hide” behind meaningless phrases – more specifically, “my thoughts and prayers with with…”

When we read the story of Christ’s birth, we also look at the ministry of John the Baptist. He showed the people, and us today, what God is up to.

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

“God is not fixing the problem; God is invading it!” I love this thought, this truth. As I was preparing to preach, I read an article from the pastor of a church that made that statement. There is a lot of truth, and hope in this concept.

I hear people all the time asking why God isn’t fixing the situation. Why didn’t God stop that terrible thing to happen? Why didn’t God intervene in the sickness? There are many other questions we ask.

An answer came almost 2,000 years ago. John the Baptist pointed to the answer when he was baptizing in the wilderness, calling people to repent. He was pointing people to the person of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

The situation in John’s time was dangerous and people were waiting on God to fix the problem. This is not what God had planned. His plan was to come down in the form of a person (Jesus Christ) to walk around with His creations, show them the Kingdom of Heaven, then die and be resurrected so we could be forgiven and be reconciled to God and receive new life.

God’s answer was, and is, to “invade.” I believe this is His answer today as well. I believe that we can allow God into our lives so we can be changed from the inside out. This is where real change happens – from our heart. If we all Christ to change our hearts, our lives will change and we’ll have more compassion and more God-given direction to make a change in this world by bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Really Ready for Christmas?

This week, we have asked some tough questions, hopefully preparing us and challenging us to embrace the real Christmas event so our lives reflect Christ in this world.

Once more, I invite you to read the scripture focus for this week. Take some time to ponder what we have talked about this week. Most importantly, see what God may be speaking to you through this passage. You can read the scripture for this week here.

The questions we asked this week are:

  • What are we preparing for?
  • Do we take Jesus Christ seriously enough?
  • How different do our lives look?
  • Are we ready to share our faith in urgency?

There are many more questions to ask, and we will ask, that help prepare us for the coming of the Christ child and the return of the Son of Man.

Our challenge is to make the birth of Jesus Christ more real for us, so He is born anew in our hearts this year. This event should deepen our faith and allow God to transform us into new creations.

Are we ready for Christmas?

Christ coming into the world changes everything!

A baby born and laying  in an animal feeding trough is to become King of kings. A Savior is born to live just to die so that we can truly live. His life is not what we would expect someone from the riches of heaven to look or be like. God, Himself, is here with us in human flesh to live the same life we live and experience everything we experience. The Creator of the universe becomes one of the creations. This changes everything!

Are you ready to continue this journey to the cradle which leads us to the cross?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Urgency

Today, we again look at the passage in Luke 21 of Jesus speaking about the end and the glorious return of the Son of Man. This time, I invite us to look at verses 34-36.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

You can read the entire scripture for this week here.

Jesus says to “be on guard,” “be alert at all times.” Other places in the Gospels, Jesus says that we will not know the time when all this will happen. This event is referred to come like a thief in the night. There is urgency to make sure we are ready for the return of Jesus Christ.

Many people become skeptical about the “end times” or the “end of the world,” thinking that this is too much for us to try and understand or it is still in the future. The truth of the matter is the end of the world comes for some people everyday.

Isn’t it heartbreaking when people live in fear and without hope. People around the world, especially in our communities and own homes, need to hear about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that brings good news to all people. We should not think we have plenty of time because we do not know when that person will pass on.

For me, these passages do not really cause me to be worried about the future; but they do help me realize how important it is to share our faith every opportunity we have (in actions and in words).

I invite you today to pray for someone who needs to hear about Jesus Christ and then trust that God is with you as you share your faith. If you find it challenging, there are people who can help: pastors, church, friends, Bible study groups, etc.

Are you ready to give the gift of Christ to another person this Christmas?

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Preparing for What?

We have just entered into the season of Advent. This marks the beginning of a new Christian church year. Advent is one of my favorite times because we have the opportunity to focus on the actions God took by becoming man, Jesus Christ. We are invited, once again, to deepen our faith and allow the message of the Christmas Story – the birth of Jesus Christ to change our hearts so we can work with God to change the world. Let’s make this season come alive with deeper meaning and joy.

As we begin this journey, we begin with a scripture passage of Jesus talking about the end times and the return of the Son of Man in glory. We will be asked some questions this week that I pray will cause us to really think about who Christ is to us and how His birth turned the world upside down.

You can read the scripture for this week here.

Today, we begin our journey by asking the question,”what are we preparing for?” It may seem a little strange to start the season of Advent with a passage about the end times and the Son of Man returning; but this is an ancient tradition that has helped Christians through the centuries to prepare their hearts and lives to fully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

We are preparing our hearts, our lives, our eyes for God’s actions in the world. Think about it, when we talk to God (pray), do we expect God to act? Another way to put it, when we pray for rain, do we pray with an umbrella in our hand or simply wish for it to rain without trusting that it will? God is acting in our world. Jesus said, “let those with eyes see and those with ear hear.” Do we notice all God is doing, even in the midst of turmoil?

We are also preparing for the birth of a Savior. This Savior is different. We do not have a Savior that will make our lives easier; but a Savior that will be with us every step of our life journey. When we need strength and endurance to endure hardships or difficulties in our life, Christ is with us.

We prepare for something new. Births of children are always the reminder of new life. This Advent, I hope we experience the new life God gives us each year, each day. We can trust that, even in the darkest times, Christ is with us in glory. Are we ready to celebrate His birth? Are we ready for His return?

How will we prepare for the birth of Christ in our hearts and lives this year so it’s not something we go through, but rather something we live for.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.