Category Archives: Religious

How To Make Sure We’re Blessed

This is the manuscript from a sermon I preached on November 5, 2017

We who live in the Upper Ohio Valley are blessed. With all the natural disasters that have happened in the last few months, if you don’t feel blessed, there’s a good chance you aren’t paying attention. Five hurricanes, two earthquakes, wildfires, and we’ve been safe. We get very little flooding and tornados and blizzards are rare. Why are we so blessed? Is it because we’re better people? Does God love us more?

I really don’t think so. These hills we’ve chosen to surround ourselves with protect us from the severe weather, and we live too far away from the ocean to get much trouble from hurricanes. I believe we are weather blessed because we have positioned ourselves in a place to be blessed.

And it’s really the same way with the Christian life. Everyone wants to live under the protection of God’s blessings, but very few want to move to a place where they can be blessed. Yesterday when I was reading my devotions by John Wesley, he pretty much said we shouldn’t even tell people about God’s blessings until they are ready to live where God is blessing. He said, Those who “pour out their souls before God . . . these are the person unto whom we are to apply the great and precious promises. Not to the ignorant [those who are knew to the faith] . . . Much less to the impenitent sinner.”

So, our job is to make sure we aren’t “ignorant.” We have to learn how to position ourselves so we can receive all of God’s blessings.

God started telling people how to be blessed from the beginning. Adam and Eve just had to stay away from that one tree. The tree seemed innocent, but God knew it wasn’t good for them. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve didn’t trust that God knew what was best. They didn’t love Him enough to obey and get the blessing.

Over and over God told His people how to be blessed. In the bulletin, I put a list of just some of the Bible verses that tell us how to be blessed. Listen to what He told people about being blessed.

12 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. 14 You will be blessed more than any other people – Deuteronomy 7:12-14

God starts out talking about the Ten Commandments. If we honor Him, worship Him, Trust Him and Him alone; if we don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t murder and more then we will be blessed. And it extends to other commands God gives us. But did you catch verse 14?

14 You will be blessed more than any other people

And God repeated this several more times in Deuteronomy.
Then 100’s of years later King David wrote about what it means to be blessed.

1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the LORD does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit. – Psalm 32:1-2

One of the cool things about King David is that as far as I can tell, He was the first person to truly repent. He was narcissistic and deceitful. He committed adultery and schemed to kill a friend to cover it up. Up until King David, everyone just made excuses for their sin, including Moses and Abraham. David however, was the first to say, “I have sinned against God.” He made no excuses, he repented and God said, “You are forgiven.”

I’m not sure whether David wrote this before or after his encounter with Bathsheba, but either way, the man knew the best way to be blessed. He understood that the one who was forgiven was blessed. The one who has no deceit is blessed. That’s what John Wesley was talking about. “Those who pour out their souls before God are the ones who the promises are for . . . “ When we are obedient and repentant we begin to experience the blessings of God.

But there’s more ! Jeremiah 17:7 says:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. – Jeremiah 17:7

Do you fully trust in God? It’s a difficult thing to do, to just put your life in the hands of Jesus Christ, but that’s what it takes if you want all of the blessings of God.
One way to tell if you are fully trusting God is to see how you handle your finances. That’s one of the most difficult places to trust Him.

But it says in Malachi:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. – Malachi 3:10

Do you trust God with your tithe? Can you bring 10% of your total income into the house of the Lord? Tithing is a measure of trust. We don’t tithe because God needs our money. We tithe to learn to trust God, to show Him we trust Him. And God promises that when we trust Him enough to give bring 10% into His house He will pour out so much blessing there won’t be enough room to store it.

And that’s just in the Old Testament. You’ll recognize these verses from the New Testament

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5: 3-11

That short passage can be a whole sermon in itself. But in a nutshell . . .
You are blessed when you realize you are spiritually poor, when you grieve because of your spiritual poverty and when it humbles you. When you can’t get enough of scripture, prayer and growing in Christ, you are blessed. When you have mercy for people who used to cause you to judge and when you are considerate of others so there’s more peace, you are blessed.

Blessed doesn’t mean problems won’t come. We still have to live on this earth, so we’ll still face troubles. But James tells us:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12

When you keep going even during the trials and trust Jesus to get you through them, you are blessed!
And James 1:25

But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. – James 1:25

James goes right back to what we talked about at the beginning. God needs us to obey the law. He knows that the rules He’s created are for our own good. Everyone whose ever taken care of a child has set down a rule that the kid didn’t like, but it was in the child’s best interest. That’s what God does for us, and when we obey His rules, when we don’t forget the things He’s told us, we have freedom and we are blessed.

There are times you won’t feel blessed even when you’re completely devoted to following Christ. But we can’t trust our feelings and sometimes we have to look for the blessings.
We also have to remember that sin has consequences, and sometimes the consequences follow us. Even King David, the man after God’s own heart, faced the consequences of his sin until the day he died. And his sin effected his children.

Disobedience steals your blessings and it effects those around you. In fact some of the trials you face are the result of someone else’s sin. Sometimes when we feel less than blessed it’s because those we’ve positioned around us aren’t walking in a way that God will bless.

I want to be blessed and I want you to be blessed. One of the things I’ve become convinced of as I read scripture is that if we want to be blessed we have to be obedient. The more I trust Christ, the more I receive blessing. And as John Wesley said, if we’re ignorant about what God’s requirements are, all of those promises Christians brag about aren’t for us. We need to know what the scripture says if we want to be really blessed.

The Bible is clear. Salvation is for everyone who asks, and you can lived the “just saved” life and probably make it to heaven. But it’s still a hard life . . . not the one God intended for us. We were created to walk in the Garden with Him. Sin messed that up, but more than anything else God wants to have a relationship with us. Jesus died so we can have more than just heaven. He came to restore our relationship with the Father.

Whose side is God on?

Joshua 5:13-14a Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

I’ve often wondered about these two verses. The angel of the Lord is on neither side. How can it be the messenger of the Almighty is not by default on the side of the Israelites? They are, after all, the chosen people of the living God!

But the angel is clear . . . he’s not there to take sides.

Yet, if the angels didn’t take sides, how did the walls of Jericho fall so easily? Why did nearly every battle in the book of Joshua fall to the Israelites without much of a fight?

Tonight I had this thought . . .

Ephesians 6:12 tells me my “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” As much as humans disturb me, fight me and seem to be against my Father, my struggle is not against them. God is not “against” any of His creation. How could He be? How could anyone purposely be against something they created in perfection with their own hands? And even if you and I could, does that really fit the description of the perfect, complete and Holy God we’re getting to know more and more every day?

Even in the Old Testament, the place where the “wrath of God” seems so evident, God did not take human sides. Our Father’s battle has always been against the one who set himself up as the enemy, Lucifer, AKA Satan, the accuser, the devil. The Holy Trinity was fighting against Satan even then.

Here’s the thing . . .

Just as in war here on earth, in the Spiritual realm there are unwitting casualties of war. People who align themselves with the losing side out of misguided loyalty, false promises, the quest for power and more are lost in battle while the leader who started the whole thing sits in his comfy war-staging room and watches the battle play out.

That’s what the enemy has been doing all along. The people of Jericho had aligned themselves with our enemy. They didn’t even realize they were on the side of evil. The enemy had spewed lies to them just like he does to his followers today. It sounds good, but they have no idea they’re pawns in his little game.

When Israel took Jericho, it was only because the “evil of Canaan had reached its fullness.” The enemy had taken control of the area, and the spiritual power he wielded there had to be wiped out. We read about the ground battle in the book of Joshua, but I wonder what the heavenly battle looked like. It happened over and over again in the Old Testament. It continues to happen today. Even when the enemy thinks he wins by destroying the human flesh of one of God’s children, he’s lost. Because the only thing he does by taking the human life of someone who loves Christ is to prematurely allow that person to be in the presence of the Almighty. And the beauty of that thought is those who are human casualties on the side of the Lord of the Universe don’t lose! They just get their ultimate reward!

God doesn’t take sides . . . not the human kind. The Creator’s only enemy is the one who continually tries to usurp the Sovereign’s power. God is on your side. Will you be on His?

angel
The angel of the Lord does not take sides

Heaven Isn’t A GPS Location

My mother-in-law recently passed. We appreciated everyone who came out to show love and support. Most offered condolences, but the truth is we lost “Mom” a couple of years ago, so the grieving process had, for the most part, run its course. So, my standard answer when someone assumed we were having a hard time was to say, “She’s so much better now. She knew Jesus.” Because she did. She was quiet about her faith, but my husband can remember the day she gave her life to Christ, and I watched her grow through Sunday School, Bible Study and church attendance and I know she read her Bible faithfully. How can I be sad when I’m sure she’s in the Ultimate Vacation Spot!?!

But one reply to my “standard response” was this, “But what’s important is Jesus knew her.” This troubled me . . .

I can’t help but wonder, does the person who said this think that everyone has a ticket to heaven? Does he believe that all good people get to be with Jesus someday? How many folks think the Kingdom of Heaven is someplace everyone can find, like programming Pittsburgh into the GPS?

It’s not that our friend was wrong. The Bible does say at one time Jesus will someday say to some, “I never knew you.” So obviously having Jesus know you is important; however, check out Matthew 7! He is going to say that to GOOD PEOPLE! Jesus is going to say, “I never knew you,” to people who were doing things in HIS name.

And I believe Jesus is going to say, “I never knew you,” to people who never really knew Him.

There are a lot of people who THINK they know Jesus, but they don’t, they only know ABOUT Him. They know when we celebrate His birth. They know He died and rose again. They may even be able to quote scripture and go through all the motions of a “good Christian.” But they don’t know Jesus.

It’s like the parables of Matthew 25. Bridesmaids should know the groom, but what if the bride met the guy in college or while traveling abroad, and they didn’t get to come home until it was time for the wedding? Those bridesmaids would know all about the guy from letters their friend had written, but they wouldn’t really know him. They wouldn’t know his demeanor or be able to always tell when he was joking. They’d know ABOUT him, but they wouldn’t KNOW him. Half of the bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable didn’t know the bridegroom well enough to know he might be longer than they anticipated. If they’d have really known him, they’d have brought enough oil to wait it out.

Jesus says multiple times, “If you love me . . .” He told us if we love Him, we’ll keep His commands (John 14:15) and feed His sheep (John 21:17). First John 2 says if we claim to know Him but don’t follow His commands we are liars.

And Jesus was clear. He said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Paul, who was the master at following the “commands” before he actually met Jesus, tells us in at least five places that we can not earn salvation. Our place in heaven is not reserved because of any good we do, but because we have faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was God’s answer for Isaiah 64:6 because anything we might try to do that might appear to be righteous looks like dirty rags to God. Without Christ, we have no hope. The Bible is clear.

Yes, my friend was right, the important thing is that Jesus knew Mom. But I am afraid my friend doesn’t understand Jesus has chosen to only know those who get to know Him. He wants to know us all! Peter tells us He doesn’t want anyone to go to eternal death. Yes, Jesus wants to know us, but unless we accept the gift of life He offers by accepting what He did on the cross as payment for our sins, we can’t get to know Him.

Don’t be fooled by those who try to convince people that everyone gets to heaven, you just have to be good. That’s the enemy’s favorite lie. Christ has gone to make a room for us, but those rooms are for the people who’ve gotten to know Him . . . really know Him.

Good . . . when is it good ENOUGH?

There’s a conversation on Facebook right now that started with a friend upset by a pious pastor condemning kids to Hell because they believe in Santa. Seriously, if you are a Christian and you’re doing that kind of thing, stop! Just Stop! Believing in Santa is NOT anti-Christian. It’s not straight from Satan. There was a Saint, a man who followed Christ and did so much good the Catholics canonized him, named Nicholas who lived in the region of Turkey and did kind things for others. He has many legends surrounding him, including putting gifts in stockings hung to dry at a fire. Somewhere, someone, took the legendary Saint and gave him a home at the North Pole, and sometime in the early 1900’s Coca Cola gave him a red suit and made him a heavy, jolly fellow. I don’t have a problem with Saint Nicholas or any of his pseudonyms. We don’t bring him into our church because he already gets enough press, so we try to keep the focus on Christ. It doesn’t mean we don’t like Santa.

However, the conversation quickly turned (my fault . . . completely my fault). My friend assumed that these young ones the pastor was condemning automatically had a spot in heaven because they were younger than 13. I have a problem with that theology and said so (I know, I can’t help myself). And my comments began to stir up some controversy. So I decided to put my thoughts here instead of clogging up that Facebook post.

First, will someone please show me in scripture where there’s an age of accountability? I simply can’t find it. I’ve read the whole book through at least twenty times and been in it daily for close to thirty years. I’ve never seen that magic number or even that phrase. We lie when we tell teens and younger they aren’t accountable for their actions and thoughts.

Second, I need some Bible scholar to show me where God condemns people to Hell. Again, all of those years of reading and it’s not until AFTER Jesus comes again that I can find any record of condemnation on God’s part. In fact in John 3:17, Jesus says He wasn’t sent to condemn the world but to save it! Job said it was his mouth that condemned him (Job 9:20), and Jesus said our own words would condemn us (Matthew 12:37). King David requested condemnation for his enemies in the Psalms a LOT. He even predicted the condemnation of the enemies of righteousness as well as those who plot wicked . . . but there’s no mention of Hell. Jesus said the Queen of Sheba would be condemning those who didn’t believe in Him. Jesus did say that the Pharisees were going to have a hard time escaping condemnation from Hell, but when you read it in context, you find our Savior saddened because He longed to gather them under His wings like a hen gathers her chickens. Jesus wasn’t condemning them. He knew they were not going to be able to escape the condemnation at the last days because of their hard hearts. And the most telling verse about condemnation is John 3:18. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” God isn’t condemning (remember, this is the verse right after the first one in this paragraph). Whoever does not believe stands condemned. Through their unbelief they condemn themselves.

And finally, there’s the issue of the good going to heaven. I used to buy into that theology, but it doesn’t stand up to scripture. There’s no guarantee that the “good” have a place in heaven. If I believe that, then what do I do Isaiah 64:6 “all of their righteous acts are like filthy rags.”? And where does Hosea 6:6 – “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (quoted later by Jesus) fit into the “good equals heaven” theology? Why did Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden for merely eating a piece of fruit if God overlooks those who don’t love Him enough to do what He asks?

In Deuteronomy Moses warned the people they would stray from God, they would seek their own goodness and make their own holiness. He told them when that happened they’d lose the blessing of God, but if they turned their hearts back to their Creator He would rescue them. When we try to set up our own degree of “goodness” we make a mockery of the goodness of God. We can not be good enough!

Romans 3:10 says no one is righteous, yet the scripture is clear that only the righteous will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Romans 3:20 says “no one will be declared righteous by following the law.” And Paul goes on to say righteousness is given to those who believe. It’s a heart thing. Only those who believe in Christ are declared righteous enough for heaven. Paul tells us that everyone is entitled to this gift! No one will be left out. God does not condemn us to life apart from Him. But as Jesus told us in the parable of the wedding feast, some will choose to be left out. By choosing anything . . . ANYTHING . . . good or bad over Christ, we condemn ourselves, we turn down the invitation.

What about children? I don’t find any special dispensation for children other than 2 Corinthians 7:14 . . . the children of a believing mother or father are considered holy. I know that’s harsh. Now, I don’t find anyplace where it specifically says the young children of a non-believer who die end up in hell either, so I’m not going there! That’s up to God, and I prefer to think as long as a child has that innocence he or she is born with that child has a spot in heaven. But let’s face it, when I stack it up against scripture, that’s just what I prefer to think.

I’m not saying I know it all or everything I believe is correct, I’m just asking you to take your thought preferences and hold them up to scripture. That’s what I do. Some of it isn’t spelled out. So I hold on to what I believe with the knowledge that I could be wrong and understanding that God is bigger and knows better than I do.

Our Father has created a perfect heaven, a place we were given a peak into in the Garden of Eden and the book of Revelation. It’s a place with no room for those who aren’t willing to completely obey their Creator (yep, that’s what He was basically saying in Genesis 3). It’s a place for those with a heart seeking God first and foremost. It’s not a place for the good, it’s a place for the righteous. I don’t want anyone left out of heaven! So I certainly can’t tell “good” people, “It’s OK, you are such a kind good person, I know there’s a place for you.”

What if God meant what He said that only the righteous can dwell with Him? What if He meant it when He said no one is righteous without the blood of Jesus? If after all my years of reading and studying scripture I’m wrong, I will apologize to the masses who are in heaven whom I didn’t expect to see there. But I’d rather do that than stand in front of my Savior trying to explain why I helped a man into hell because I didn’t tell Him the good news of Jesus Christ who came to make us righteous if we only follow Him with all our heart.

Punishment or Pronouncement

I was thinking about Genesis 3 today. Most of the time people think of Genesis 3:14-19 as a word of punishment from God. But I wondered today if it was more of just a pronouncement of what was going to happen in the future.

In the NIV and the KJV, only God’s word to the serpent, “I will put enmity . . .” and his first words to Eve, “I will increase you pain . . .” include words that indicate God might be punishing. The rest of the passage makes it sound as if the sin released into the world caused the problem. “Cursed is the ground because of you . . .” Are those words of punishment, or a pronouncement of the consequences of sin?

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Punishment or pronouncement? When I read the first two chapters of Genesis, I get the feeling that God meant for husband and wife to be equal partners, to make one another better. But what if sin unleashed caused men through the ages to use the physical strength God gifted them with at creation to “rule over” the women, created with less physical strength, but different strengths to compliment the men’s strengths.

Much of the evil and bad things that happen today are primarily consequences of sin. Some, consequences for the person who created the evil. For others, their pain is the consequence of another’s sin. God doesn’t need to “punish” per se . . . we bring on trouble ourselves simply by stepping out of God’s will.

Hebrews 12 talks about God disciplining those He loves. Some would argue this means that God punishes, but discipline does not always mean punishment. Discipline more often means learning a lesson or doing a task to improve a skill. Discipline makes us a better person.

So . . . the whole thought process makes me wonder . . . did God tell Adam and Eve they were being punished or did He merely pronounce what He knew would happen because sin had been unleashed on the world?

What is a Christian?

I’m not going to call myself a Christian anymore. Instead I’d rather be known as a “close friend of Jesus Christ.” Everyone who has ever stepped foot in a church calls themselves a Christian, yet I wonder if many of them really know Jesus at all. You see, Jesus called those who do God’s will His brothers and sisters.

It made me think of the show “Blue Bloods.” The show is based around an Italian family whose “family business” is law enforcement. Even though the matriarchs of the family are both gone (mom and grandma have died), the entire extended family, sons, daughters, in-laws and grandchildren, gathers at least once a week for a family meal. They don’t miss unless they are working or on vacation. Nothing takes precedence over the family meal.

My family had a similar gathering pattern. As a child, I spent time with my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents at least weekly before they died. And my siblings and I were well aware we would be going to my paternal grandparents at least two Sundays a month. Grandma Meyer always had at least half a dozen pies waiting because all of the local aunts, uncles and cousins would be there by late afternoon.

The body of Christ is called to be a family. We are to be more than what the modern day church calls “Christian.” Hebrews 10 tells us to make sure we keep meeting together. I don’t want anyone to ever think that “marking attendance” is more important than a relationship with Jesus Christ, but the honest truth is part of the way we can measure how close we are to Christ is the priority we give to meeting with the “family.” If the following list was the criteria for for measuring your relationship, what would your category be?

Close Family or best friend – attends every Sunday plus Bible Study – corresponds to the Bible Apostles
Second cousin or casual friend – attends 75% of the time – corresponds to the Bible disciples
Close enough I should go to the funeral – attends 50% of the time – corresponds to the Bible followers
Comes to the annual family reunion – has a church to call home and goes when it’s convenient – corresponds to the Bible crowd

As you can tell by the third column, a lack of commitment by people who call themselves Christian has been going on since Jesus started His ministry. I’m sure the folks in the “crowd” thought they knew Jesus. They’d heard Him preach and eaten with Him on more than one occasion. These are the ones who lined the streets when they heard He was coming to town, but because they didn’t know Him like they thought they did, they are the same ones who stood in front of Pilate yelling, “Crucify Him!”

In case you’re wondering about the difference in disciples and followers, Mark 10 says that when they headed toward Jerusalem, the disciples were astonished, but the followers were afraid. Both groups knew that Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Jesus to be. Everyone was aware that the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead. So the disciples were surprised that Jesus was walking right into their headquarters, but they weren’t afraid. The disciples knew that Jesus had it under control. They’d not only seen Him work miracles, they believed that He could do things they couldn’t imagine. They weren’t afraid because they knew they were friends with the Son of God.

The followers on the other hand were frightened. What was going to happen to them if someone in Jerusalem found out they were following Christ? Should they keep it under wraps? Would they be better off distancing themselves from this man who calls Himself the Messiah? Following was a fun thing to do sometimes, the company of Jesus was an exciting place to be, but it wasn’t a priority. It is easy for a follower to fall away because the commitment level just isn’t there.

But if you read Mark 10:32 closely you see that the highest level of commitment is where we all should want to be. Jesus “took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen.” They had the inside scoop. The apostles were Christ’s closest friends, His confidants! That is the circle I want to be in. It’s the circle Joshua chose thousands of years before (Joshua 24:15). It’s the circle Moses and Abraham walked in. This is the circle founded by those folks from Hebrews 11.

This is why the leadership of our church (and probably yours) emphasizes church attendance. We don’t care about the numbers. It’s not a notch on our belt or bragging rights. We don’t want you to come because we want your money. We want you to be in worship and Bible Study because we know that’s where the Apostles are. We want you to be in the inner circle, the core, the ones closest to Christ. We want you to be the first ones to get a Word from Him, we want you to be His confidants.
All four of those categories (and even a few who think they are “good people” but don’t even have a church home) call themselves Christian. Yes, I am a Christian, but I prefer that you think of me as Jesus’ closest friend, His confidant, His family.

Sermon from Pentecost 2016

Acts 2:1-21

Today is Pentecost. It’s the anniversary of that piece of history we just read in Acts. Most of you already know it’s my favorite holiday on the church calendar. And a lot of you have already heard my Holy Spirit story, and the rest, if you ever want to hear it, just ask, I love to share. But to give you an idea of why I believe the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is so exciting, let me tell you a little about what has happened since that day.

You see it was the Holy Spirit took a disciple who denied Christ and feared for his life into the very first leader of the world wide church. It was the Holy Spirit that took one of the first and most famous persecutors of the early church, a man named Saul, and turned him into Paul, the most famous Christian preacher of all time, the man who wrote the majority of the New Testament. It’s that same Holy Spirit that took a young shy girl, one who would never stand up in front of a small group, let alone a large one and put her in front of you today.

It’s the Holy Spirit that takes all Christians from, as Oswald Chambers puts it, “Saved from hell to saved for a purpose.” I believe it’s the absence of the Holy Spirit in churches and Christians that is causing churches to die and Christians to lose hope. Without the Holy Spirit Christianity is hard work. Being a Christian without the fullness of the Holy Spirit sometimes doesn’t feel worth it. In fact, my confidence in Christ and my relationship with Him comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to move in my life.

Here at Sycamore Tree, we focus a lot on John 10:10: “The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came to bring abundant life.” A lot of people read or hear that verse and live like it’s the only verse in the Bible. And because they pick and choose which part of the Bible they want to live by, they wonder why they miss on out Abundant life.

Jesus came to give us an abundant, full, rich life. But in order to live an abundant life, we have to reach out and take hold of it. It’s our responsibility to live in such a way that allows the Holy Spirit to live within us so we can take hold of that abundant life.

At least nine times in the New Testament Jesus tells us the things we have to do to live in the abundant life that He promised in John 10:10. This is just four of those places.
Romans 6:63 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
Romans 8:2 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:10 . . . the Spirit gives life because of righteousness
2 Corinthians 3:6 . . . the written law brings death, but the Spirit gives life.

The scripture is clear that if you want the abundant life Jesus promised, you need the Holy Spirit. He tells us that the things we do in the flesh are worth nothing, and trying to work your way to heaven brings death. But it consistently tells us that life comes from the Spirit. Galatians 5 tells us how to get peace and joy, but these are the fruit of the Spirit.

The truth of the matter is that as much as people want abundant life, most don’t really want the fullness of the Spirit. I know it’s a little scary, but it is so worth it.
And just in case you’re wondering what I mean by want it, let me use a couple of illustrations you’ll be more familiar with.

For example . . . I would love to be fit, but I just don’t want it bad enough. I want the benefit of exercise, but I am not really willing to do the work it takes to get fit.
Sylvia can tell you stories of students who WANT good grades, but they don’t want to do the homework it takes to GET the good grades.

It’s the same way with the Holy Spirit. You have to WANT abundant life enough to be willing to put yourself in a place where the Holy Spirit can work in you. But the Spirit, being a part of Christ, will never force Himself on you. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman, so if we want the fullness of the Spirit, we have to want it. Luke tells us we have to ask for it.

It can be a scary endeavor. It makes people afraid to ask for the Holy Spirit. But like me and Peter and Paul, once you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you, you will never be the same. Don’t worry, Jesus seldom changes your basic personality. After all, that’s the way He created you. But like a rock in a polisher, the Holy Spirit will often smooth of our rough edges so that the most beautiful part of you is more visible to the world.

Most of the steps that we have to take to allow the Spirit to work in us Steve has talked about over the last twelve weeks. You see the more we grow in our faith, the closer we are to Christ and the easier it is for us to allow Christ’s Spirit to work in us. Those little plants we took home two weeks ago give us a great example of what to do to make sure we can grow in the Spirit.

Prayer will always be the #1 means to access the Holy Spirit. Steve asked you every week if you’d prayed for your plant. And the truth is, praying for your plant wasn’t that important, but for most of us, if we only talk to God as often as most of us prayed for our plant, our relationship with Jesus will be failing. Luke makes it clear, we have to ask the Holy Spirit to work in our life.

The second thing you have to do is make your faith yours. I’ve found it amusing these last couple of weeks the stories we’ve heard about people who let someone else be in charge of their plant. Most times it didn’t go so well. The same is true of your relationship with Christ, and the ultimate relationship is the Holy Spirit because that is Christ living inside of you. No one but you can make that faith grow. Others can encourage you and help you, but you are the only one who can make room for the Spirit of Christ to grow inside of you. Steve can’t do it. I can’t do it. TEENS, your parents can’t do it. You are not too young or too old to begin to take responsibility for your faith and allow Christ to grow in your heart.

One of the top three things you need to do to experience real life in the Spirit is nourish your faith. Your plant needs water and sunshine and even a little Miracle Grow from time to time. Your faith needs nourishment too. And like your plant it needs it OFTEN and REGULARLY if you really want it to grow. You can’t just give it nourishment when you have time or remember. If you don’t feed the Spirit within you, it will shrivel. Paul compared it to a fire when he wrote to Timothy. In II Timothy 1:6 Paul told the young preacher to “fan into flame the gift of the Spirit.” What happens to a fire when you stop adding wood? The same thing happens to the Spirit within you when you quit feeding it. God’s Word is the food. If you aren’t reading or listening to it every day, you are letting the fire die. And in the 21st Century, there’s really no excuse. Besides the fact that Bibles are easy to come by, almost everyone has a smart phone, and there are at least two free Bible aps that will not only allow you to read scripture, they’ll also read it to you! Nope, no excuse!

Finally, and the most serious problem I see with most people who say they want to grow in Christ, you have to make it a priority. People say they want abundant life in Jesus Christ, but their priorities speak a different message. Just like being fit is not a big enough priority for me, faith is not a big enough priority for most.

A priority is something that is important to you. It’s something you put ahead of other things in your life. And truth is making a list of priorities and putting God at the top doesn’t automatically make it so. Your actions tell the world what your priorities are. I have been told that if you want to see what your priorities are get out your calendar and bank statement and make a list of the things you think about all day. No matter what you WANT your priorities to be, these three things will tell you what they really are.

If growing your faith and having life in the Spirit really are your priority, then it will be reflected in
• Your Church attendance
• Your tithing
• The time you spend in prayer and Bible reading (or listening) and study
• The gifts you give above your tithe to organizations that share Christ
• Your thoughts and the way they change as you grow
• Your language
• The Changes in the way you feel about things
• The people you spend time with

The Holy Spirit was first given to all believers on Pentecost right after Jesus’ resurrection. Before that only a handful of people got to experience the Holy Spirit the way we do now.

If you are a believer then the Holy Spirit has already been planted in you like those seeds Steve planted at the beginning of lent. But whether it stays in the ground or grows past a seedling is completely up to you. You have the opportunity to grow the Spirit into a huge tree that spreads out to comfort others and produce fruit, but what that seed becomes is completely up to you.
To paraphrase Joshua, “Choose for yourselves this day whether or not you want an abundant life through the Spirit of Jesus Christ. As for me . . . I want it all.” I praise God that when I make the effort, His Spirit grows in me and I know life . . . real, true, abundant life.

Jesus is My Lord

The phrase “the Lord” has bothered me for years. I can’t even bring myself to say it. It sounds so patronizing to me. I’ve never understood my hesitation with the phrase. I only know that every time I hear it or see it, it sets off alarms inside of me. Yesterday, I finally discovered the root of my problem.

Now, before you read any further, I want to make sure you understand this is MY problem. I don’t think that those who use the phrase are blasphemous or disrespectful. This is simply my revelation into what makes me “me” and hopefully food for thought for those who might stumble across this blog and read it from time to time.

Yesterday I saw a sign that used the phrase, “the Lord.” I don’t even remember the rest of the sign because that phrase nagged at me. I didn’t think badly of the church that used the phrase, but I have a terrible time with it, and my thoughts were focused on the “why” of my struggle. It didn’t take very long for my decades long problem to finally find it’s source.

I discovered that in my life I am not comfortable using the article . . . Jesus cannot be THE Lord, it’s imperative that He is MY Lord. Obviously my problem can’t have it’s roots in any Biblical sources because the phrase is used at least 434 times in the New Testament alone (gotta love the internet searches). However, on more than one occasion Jesus described Himself as Lord, but seldom used the article (at least in the English – I’m not a Greek scholar, so I don’t have a clue what it might be in the original tongue).

Putting “the” before Lord will be used by much of the Christian world, and it will be perfectly acceptable. However, much like the ancient scribes could not write Yahweh without first washing their hands, I must reserve the word for the times I am talking about a personal relationship. Jesus Christ is My Lord and Savior, and I am grateful.

So you want to hear God’s voice . . .

I get that from folks all the time . . . “If I could just hear God’s voice, if I only knew exactly what He wanted me to do . . . ”

Today as I contemplated that phrase, even in my own life, I sort of heard God’s voice! But what it said won’t be too impressive to most who aren’t hearing Him speak right now. Because what I believe I heard the voice of God say is, “Why should I say more to people who don’t listen to what I’ve already said?”

That really smacked me right in the face. In those times when I feel like I can’t hear God, how many of those days am I ignoring something He’s already told me. He gave us this wonderful book with all kinds of instructions and life lessons. There are stories to show us how NOT to live our life as well as so many that demonstrate the right way to do it. There are bold instructions on living throughout the entire book, how much do I ignore?

And what about those people who don’t even bother reading it? Why does one think they will hear the voice of Christ when he or she doesn’t even bother to read the things our Father has already entrusted us with?

God wants us to have the best life possible. He came to bring life filled up to the top and running over, but we can’t have it if we aren’t listening to the One in charge give us the full plan.

I encourage you to get into the Word this week. Find some of the things in there you aren’t quite living up to and just do it! Then do another one next week. Don’t forget to invite the Holy Spirit to help you with each thing you do (or you’ll be doing it in vain). And remember that the number one thing you have to do to hear God’s voice is to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. Until you do that, that’s pretty much the only message you’ll hear.

The Woman’s Head Covering

Every year I read 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. Most years I read it more than once, and every time it bothers me. As a woman should I wear a head covering. I see those denominations that wear doilies on their head and I wonder, “Do they have that part right?” The thing is, I’ve never felt convicted about it as I pray. Not once have I ever felt the Holy Spirit telling me to cover my head. It’s just when I read this passage or see someone from one of those churches that I wonder.

So today I read it again. But this time instead of stopping at verse 10 and then starting again at verse 11 like it was something new, I read it all together. And today this is the message I saw.

In verses 1-10, Paul is describing the reason that a woman wears a head covering in ancient Israel (and probably the reason they wear the head covering in the middle east today). It’s these verses that make me wonder, “should I cover my head?” In verse 11 Paul start, “But in the Lord . . .” He’s telling us something new, something that would have been foreign to his readers. They were just beginning to learn about what it was like to be “in the Lord.”

Before the Lord, Jesus Christ, the people believed that woman was completely dependent on man, “that is why she should have a symbol of authority on her head.” What if there should be a paragraph break between verses 3 and 4? What if Paul meant for us to know that the man should submit to Christ, the wife should submit to the husband and God is the head of Christ, but verses 4-10 are a description of what was happening during that time?

But in the Lord we are not independent of one another. Everything comes from God, so we are really all dependent on God, and God gave us our natural covering, our hair. Then Paul says that there are some that will still want to argue about this. Bottom line is that the argument would have come from the good “Jews.” They probably had a problem with women coming from other cultures without a head covering. The Jewish leaders were often trying to get Paul and the Twelve to convince new converts to follow Jewish customs. He’s not telling them to change their customs . . . I think that’s why it’s so vague. But he is telling them to pray about it. Each person should decide for themselves if a head covering is important.

It’s definitely not an issue that I anticipate fretting about. It’s a “rule,” legalism. I refuse to argue about anything other than Jesus Christ death being the only payment for salvation . . . and even that I don’t really argue . . . I’d really rather show love, pray and let the Holy Spirit convict those who need to change their views.