Spiritual Strength

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SPIRITUAL - PART 2

Spiritual Strength
Sunday, May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-31

Ananias countered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem. He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name.”

The Lord replied, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.

Acts 9:13-15

Our culture greatly values strength. We put a lot of stock in power, control, and victory. The weak often find themselves on the margins and if someone finds themselves in a low place, the most common advice people will give is to toughen up or grow a thicker skin.

Spirituality, for many people, is a source of strength. There is something empowering when we tap into sources of power and strength beyond our own understanding. The first few steps of any 12 Step recovery program involve admitting that we are powerless and that we need rely on a higher power for the strength to overcome whatever addiction we may be trying to break through.

Yet in our text today, we find two very strong individuals brought to their knees by an encounter with the Holy Spirit. A genuine “spiritual experience” with God may indeed give us strength, but that spiritual strength comes first through vulnerability and humility.

Saul is a great religious leader feared by anyone who would challenge his authority or teach against his understanding of God. He stood over Stephen with approval as the people stoned him for blasphemy because of his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. He was on his way to Damascus to destroy the Jesus movement in that community. He was indeed a strong and powerful man.

Ananias was also a strong man. In spite of such great persecution from people like Saul, he continued faithfully proclaiming the Gospel and following the way of Christ. His understanding of the Spirit’s voice indicates a strong prayer life and a strong faith.

Two strong men with completely opposite beliefs about God and about the nature of Jesus and neither are willing to back down. An unlikely pairing to say the least. The thought of a friendly meeting between Saul and Ananias so soon after the stoning of Stephen might be comparable to Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush sitting down for tea the week after 9/11.

Yet when each encountered the Holy Spirit, they were humbled. Saul was blinded before the Lord and became physically weak and dependent on his servants and even on his Jesus-following enemies. Ananias was challenged in his desire for self-preservation and in his understanding of who could truly be saved by God’s grace. Could there be mercy and forgiveness for one as evil and opposed to Christ as Saul, who even now was on his way to Damascus to kill Ananias and all of the believers?

Both had to admit that they were wrong about Jesus and about God’s will. Both had to admit that they had something to learn from each other and that God’s love was far greater than the hatred and fear that stood as an unbreakable barrier between religious leaders like Saul and the followers of “the Way” of Jesus.

The spiritual strength granted to both Saul and Ananias to humble themselves, set aside their fear and animosity, and sit down at the table together resulted in unprecedented church growth among the Gentiles across the known world along with the writing of nearly half of our New Testament Scriptures. This simple act of spiritual strength, of listening to God and listening to one another’s stories, quite literally changed the history of the world.

Spiritual strength is always about the strength to love… especially the unimaginable strength of loving our enemies. This kind of love demands the strength of humility, vulnerability and risk. At the bottom of this post, you will find a link to one of my favorite books, “Tea with Hezbollah.” While none of the stories in this tale involve the kind of radical conversion that Saul experienced, they do teach us a lot about what it means to sit at the table with our enemies, to humble ourselves and to risk everything just to listen to each other. And out of these humble and vulnerable conversations, the strength of the Holy Spirit shines through.

Click here to listen to entire sermon series - “SPIRITUAL”


A modern day reflection on sitting at the table with our enemies…



Sun

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I arise today...
Through the light of the sun…

The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)

St Patrick died on the 17th of March, 493. In his Confession he writes: “For the sun we see rises each day for us at His command, but it will never reign, neither will its splendor last, but all who worship it will come wretchedly to punishment. We, on the other hand, shall not die, who believe in and worship the true sun, Christ, who will never die, no more shall he die who has done Christ's will, but will abide for ever just as Christ abides forever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the beginning of time and now and forever and ever. Amen.”

Throughout history the image of the sun has represented “God” and in many cultures and religions, the sun itself is worshiped as the highest god. To ancient people who did not have satellites and cameras in space to explain the heavenly bodies, it is no wonder the sun would command such power and awe. Think about it. For life on earth, the sun controls everything.

The sun gives us light by which to see and work and live, and yet it is so bright that no one can actually look upon it. The rhythms of day and night provide our bodies with appropriate rest and awaken us to enjoy the life we are given.

The sun provides warmth to keep animals, crops, and people from freezing to death in colder climates.

Fruit and vegetables tend to grow more hearty when there is plenty of sunlight, and while rain is also necessary, too much can flood the fields and wash out the harvest. The sun is needed to dry things out before it rains again. This cycle of sun and rain is crucial to our survival. Too much or too little of either is detrimental.

Today we have learned far more about the necessity and the power of the sun and through the technology of solar panels, we have even discovered that the sun is a source of tremendous renewable energy, enough to power our entire planet with no drain on our natural resources. There is nothing we as humans can do to burn out the energy of the sun.

In so many ways, the sun serves as both the source and the sustainer of life. No wonder the god of the sun stood above so many other gods in ancient times.

For the people of Ireland in St. Patrick’s day, it was no different, and interestingly enough, Patrick did not try to argue against them. In fact, the circle we see at the center of the Celtic Cross is a way of acknowledging everything the people believed about the sun. Yet when juxtaposed with the cross, it takes on new meaning.

While the sun is indeed great, it is not great in and of itself. Rather, the sun is a gift from a greater source, who is the Son of God who died upon the cross so that we might come before the throne not of the sun, but of the very one who spoke the sun into existence.

So let us arise with joy in the light of the sun. Let the sun’s warmth bring a smile upon our face and the sun’s light guide us through the day. Let the setting of the sun grant us peace and rest through the night and comfort in the knowledge that it will rise again.

But in all of this, let us worship and bow down to the Creator of the sun, who gave us this tremendous gift. “Let there be light,” God said… and before anything else came into being, there was light, and God said it was good.

So let us arise today in the light of the sun and walk by the light of the Son of the Most High.

Reflections:

1. Meditate on a time when you found yourself in awe at the beauty and glory of the sun, perhaps a particular sunrise or sunset. What meaning did that time have for you?

2. How does the sun direct your attention to the Creator and remind you of the Son of God?

3. People will turn their lives upside down just to catch a glimpse of the sun during a solar eclipse. What would it look like if we were as intentional about seeking the face of Christ, the Son of God, in every person we meet?


Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:

... I arise today,
Through the radiance of moon…

Pray along with the full text of St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer

Spiritual Direction

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SPIRITUAL - PART 1

Spiritual Direction
Sunday, April 28, 2019
Acts 5:27-41, Luke 12:11-12, James 3:7-12

God has exalted Jesus to his right side as leader and savior so that he could enable Israel to change its heart and life and to find forgiveness for sins. We are witnesses of such things, as is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:31-32

“Spiritual but not religious.”

While many Christians balk at such a label, accusing this ever increasing group of abandoning the church and their faith, it is nevertheless a label that speaks volumes about the religious landscape of our nation and much of the Western world. For those who fear the decline of the institutional church as we know it, it is easy to blame such “religious vagabonds” for our plight, but perhaps it would be more prudent to examine their motives, the nature of their faith, and their critiques of what we call “Christianity” in an effort to better understand where we have gone wrong.

On one hand, we might say that “Spiritual but not religious” is an easy way out because it requires no commitment or loyalty to any particular organization, religious practices or even beliefs. On the other hand, the fact that there exists such a deep longing for spirituality in the human heart, even among those outside of organized religion, should tell us a great deal about the power and work of the Holy Spirit in our world.

“Spiritual” simply means “of or relating to the spirit” or “sacred matters”, which could of course refer only to the human spirit or soul. From a Biblical worldview, however, the human spirit is given life through the breath or Spirit of God. Few will question that at some level, we are spiritual beings, yet an entirely natural source cannot give birth to a spiritual being anymore than a freshwater spring can produce a saltwater stream. If there is indeed something supernatural or “spiritual” within us, we must explore what it means to connect with this “Divine Spirit” whom the scriptures say hovered over the waters when everything began.

Spiritual Direction as a discipline involves two or more people listening for the promptings of this Divine or “Holy Spirit” in the context of conversation, meditation, memories, and other reflective practices in an effort to seek wisdom or direction from the Spirit of God. In this way, it is not the spiritual director who actually does the directing, but rather the Holy Spirit’s own whisper. Thus, one of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit is to guide and direct our path.

Throughout the book of Acts, we see this kind of Holy Spirit Direction in almost every chapter. It is the Spirit who directs Peter, John and the other apostles how to preach to the crowds, how to respond to various needs through miraculous interventions, and ultimately directs them in how to respond when they are questioned by the authorities. In Acts 5:27-41 as Peter stands before the religious leaders, the Spirit does exactly what Jesus says the Spirit will do.

When they bring you before the synagogues, rulers, and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what you should say. The Holy Spirit will tell you at that very moment what you must say.
— Luke 12:11-12

Rather than resisting the move in our culture toward spirituality and digging our heals deeper into man-made religious rules and traditions, perhaps it is time we religious people seek to live into our own spiritual natures by connecting with the Spirit of God and learning to become more attentive to Holy Spirit’s Direction in every part of our lives.

Click here to listen to entire sermon series - “SPIRITUAL”

Extended clips from Francis Chan on the Holy Spirit

Seek Life

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 7

Live
Sunday, April 21, 2019
Easter Sunday
Luke 9:35, 24:1-8

The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Luke 24:5

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!

So why do we live as though he is still in the grave?

Before you get too defensive and reaffirm your absolute belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, take a few minutes to stop and think about what that belief means for your life? What impact has it had on any part of your day? How about yesterday or last week?

If we sat down with someone who knows you well and asked them if they had encountered the risen Christ this week, would they mention your name and say that whether they believe in Jesus or not, they encountered his loving presence in you?

Even as a pastor, I must confess with grief and sorrow that I often find Christians to be some of the most depressing people to be around. I am not exempt from this. There are many times that the battles in the church overwhelm me with discouragement, skepticism and despair. There are times I wonder if the Holy Spirit has just moved on from what we call “The body of Christ”

As Casting Crowns so eloquently asks,

If we are the body, why aren't his arms reaching? Why aren't his hands healing? Why aren't his words teaching? And if we are the body, why aren't his feet going? Why is his love not showing them there is a way there is a way?

Mark Hall, “If We Are The Body” (2003).

Many religious leaders of Jesus’ day could not accept that the power of God manifested itself in places beyond their reach. The sick were healed and sinners were forgiven all without their blessing or authority. The active work of God’s living presence outside of their boundaries called their own superficial faith into question. Jesus even went so far as to call them whitewashed tombs, dead and decaying on the inside (Matthew 23:27-28). While they saw themselves as guardians of the Law or the Word of God, the true Word was alive and active in the parts of the world they assumed were broken and dying.

Why are we looking for the living among the dead?

We are not exempt from Jesus’ question. Many churches are filled with the death and decay of hurting souls, but as Christians we have invested so much in whitewash that we have forgotten that our beautiful buildings and services are often little more than facades so that nobody will see the brokenness within.

How many Sunday’s do we walk out of church feeling as miserable and overwhelmed with life as we were when we walked in? How often do we wonder where Jesus is in our everyday struggles or in the monotony of our ordinary lives?

Might the Lord’s messengers be asking us the same question: Why are you looking for the living among the dead?

Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

The stone has been rolled away. Let us take off our burial clothes of sin and walk out of our self-inflicted tombs into the light of glory through the resurrection of the firstborn from the dead, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Video clips from today’s service:

Source: Bible Gateway

Source: "Ralph Breaks the Internet" - used for commentary purposes only, no copyright infringement intended.

Easter Sunday

A Reading for Easter Sunday

Luke 24:1-8

Let us join together in worship and prepare our hearts for the hearing of God’s Holy Word.

Readings from the Gospel of Luke based on The Daily Text series: “Listen to Him”. Reflections can be found on the Daily Text Website at https://www.seedbed.com/daily-text/

May God bless the reading and hearing of His Holy Word.

Holy Saturday

A Reading for Holy Saturday

Luke 23:50-56

Let us join together in worship and prepare our hearts for the hearing of God’s Holy Word.

Readings from the Gospel of Luke based on The Daily Text series: “Listen to Him”. Reflections can be found on the Daily Text Website at https://www.seedbed.com/daily-text/

May God bless the reading and hearing of His Holy Word.

Good Friday

A Reading for Good Friday

Luke 22:66-23:49

Let us join together in worship and prepare our hearts for the hearing of God’s Holy Word.

Readings from the Gospel of Luke based on The Daily Text series: “Listen to Him”. Reflections can be found on the Daily Text Website at https://www.seedbed.com/daily-text/

May God bless the reading and hearing of His Holy Word.

Maundy Thursday

A Reading for Maundy Thursday

Luke 22:39-65

Let us join together in worship and prepare our hearts for the hearing of God’s Holy Word.

Readings from the Gospel of Luke based on The Daily Text series: “Listen to Him”. Reflections can be found on the Daily Text Website at https://www.seedbed.com/daily-text/

May God bless the reading and hearing of His Holy Word.