Spiritual Connection

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SPIRITUAL - PART 5

Spiritual Connection
Sunday, June 2, 2019
Acts 16:9-15

A vision of a man from Macedonia came to Paul during the night. He stood urging Paul, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”…

…On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the riverbank, where we thought there might be a place for prayer. We sat down and began to talk with the women who had gathered. One of those women was Lydia, a Gentile God-worshipper from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth. As she listened, the Lord enabled her to embrace Paul’s message.

Acts 16:9, 13-14

Lydia is one of the few named women we have in the early church, and it is generally believed that she became one of the leaders and hosts of the church at Philippi. We know plenty about this church from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, but here in Acts we find the beginning of her story. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, we meet her at a significant transition in her life of faith and perhaps at the moment of her call to ministry.

To understand the beginnings of this new church movement in Philippi, we have to step back a few verses to see how the Holy Spirit was at work in Paul’s missionary journey.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the regions of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit kept them from speaking the word in the province of Asia. When they approached the province of Mysia, they tried to enter the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them.  Passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas instead.

Acts 16:6-8

Don’t you just hate it when travel plans get messed up? Clearly Paul’s mission trip was not going as planned. He and his companions tried to proclaim the Good News of Christ in Asia, Mysia, Bithynia, Troas, and no doubt many other places along their route. But in each case it says the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them.

At first glance this seems absurd. Why would the Holy Spirit not allow them to proclaim the Good News?

Personally, I don’t believe God wanted to withhold the message of salvation from these places. It may be that they were either not yet ready to receive the message or that Paul was not the one God wanted to use to bring this message to these particular groups. Instead, God was calling Paul to answer the prayer of this man from Macedonia.

When Paul responds, he finds Lydia, a woman of means who believed in God and already hosted a prayer-gathering in her home.

This is the key to the work of the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t expect us to simply drop into a new place or knock on a random door, pray a miraculous prayer with a perfect stranger, and expect them to be saved and change the world.

We have a bad habit of practicing what I call “Air Drop” Christianity. Whether it’s a quick in-and-out mission trip, door-to-door evangelism, or a quick handshake on Sunday morning and then we move on, we have a bad habit of sprinkling ourselves here and there as if our faith is a garnish, rather than at the heart of who we are. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I’m sure: INVEST IN PEOPLE. It’s hard work, but it’s the stuff of life when we have the proper perspective

Christian Piatt, Sojourners (https://sojo.net/articles/ten-antidotes-christian-cliches)

The Holy Spirit works primarily by making connections between people. In this case, the Spirit connected Paul and Lydia through the prayers of another unknown third party from Macedonia. When Paul saw how God was already at work in Lydia’s life and incorporated her ministry into the larger work of the Church, the Church grew and a new faith community was planted.

Who might God be calling you to connect with? We were never meant to do this work of ministry alone.


At the last minute this morning, Holy Spirit laid on my heart to share the story of Grace Kids UMC: A Church for Kids. My description did not do it justice so I invite you to check out their website and learn more about how Holy Spirit connected this once tiny church with the kids in their community to be in ministry together.

https://gracekidschurch.com/

Wind

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I arise today...
Through the swiftness of wind...

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

Like lightning, wind offers us another image for speed, and with it, another nuance to explore in our understanding of Creator God.

Swiftness implies something more graceful, like the swiftness of a speed skater on the ice or a deer swiftly darting through the forest glade. While the speed of lightning is sharp, focused, directed and intense, wind tends to flow more smoothly. Even strong sustained winds like that of a hurricane more closely resemble the ebb and flow of ocean waves than a lightning strike or a Formula 1 race car.

Wind functions much differently than lightning. Take the sail of a ship for example. Wind fills the sail and guides the ship, if we point the sail in the right direction. A lightning strike on that same sail would set the entire ship ablaze.

Wind is fluid. Wind blows where it wills. We can harness the energy of the wind, but we cannot create it, control it, or contain it. Perhaps this is why we see the image of wind along with tongues of fire at Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit blows through the upper room and fills the disciples with divine strength, boldness, and understanding.

Wind involves the rapid movement of air from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure, much like the compressed air inside a balloon being released into wide open atmosphere. This image in itself is rich with spiritual implications. How, for example, can we expect the “wind” or “breath” of God’s Spirit to flow into us if we live in a constant state of “high pressure”, always forcing air out rather than being empty enough to receive it?

The beautifully poetic word for wind in Hebrew, “Ruach,” also means spirit and breath. As we arise through the swiftness of wind, the Spirit of the Lord breathes life into our physical bodies and animates our spirits. “In Him we live and move an have our being” (Acts 17:28). While Luke refers explicitly to Christ, we experience the life of Christ through the movement of the Holy Spirit, much like we experience the existence of invisible pressure systems through the movement of the wind.

Sermons upon sermons could be and have been written about the metaphor of wind as it relates to God and to our spiritual lives. I offer only a glimpse of the many ways we might meditate upon this image. May the wind of God’s Spirit fill the sails of our Holy Imagination and lead us where God wills, to whatever dead and dying places within us need to be awakened by divine CPR, as it were.

One final thought on the spiritual significance of wind as I close. Wind often serves as an indicator of greater realities. The strength and direction of the wind helps us determine the location, speed, and direction of approaching storms. When the wind is too intense, we must “hunker down” and weather the storm. When the wind is too still, we might call it “the calm before the storm” or perhaps even find ourselves “in the eye of the storm”.

When the wind blows as a warm and gentle spring breeze, we feel relaxed and at peace.

If wind and breath and spirit are so intimately related, perhaps our own breath can serve as a barometer of our spiritual condition. We don’t pay much attention to our breathing unless we have overexerted ourselves or find ourselves struggling to breathe in some way. Mostly breath, like wind, just happens without our notice.

Take time to notice the Spirit-wind of your own breath. Is it swift and graceful, like that skater gliding with ease across the ice, or does it feel sharp, heavy, shallow, or difficult? Take a deep breath. What do you feel? Does this sensation seem unfamiliar or natural? How does it feel as you exhale? What feelings are you exhaling with this deep breath?

Reflections:

1. How do you experience the swiftness of wind in your own life right now?

2. Which image or description of wind most resonates with your Holy Imagination right now? What might God be speaking to you through this image?

3. How would you describe your own breathing in this moment? What is the Holy Spirit whispering to you through your own breath?


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

... I arise today,
Through the depth of sea…

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

Lightning

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I arise today...
Through the speed of lightning...

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

So many attributes of lightning remained unknown to St. Patrick and his contemporaries. The electromagnetic properties within this strange phenomenon were inconceivable to the Celtic peoples and indeed to all of the ancient world. Yet one simple observation is clear… lightning strikes fast. A flash of lightning tops out between 87,000 and 93,000 miles per second, but they didn’t need to understand the the speed of light or the nature of electricity to recognize this as one of, if not the fastest observable phenomenon in nature.

What is the significance of such speed in relation to our life with God? God may be present everywhere at once, but we do not wake up one day empowered by the Holy Spirit to run like the Flash, nor is God running around from place to place like a squirrel on Red Bull trying to keep up with all of the cries for help sent up into the sky like prayerful bat-signals.

In fact, God’s omnipresent nature makes speed entirely irrelevant. Speed is a measurement of motion, but God is often described as the “unmoved mover” (Aristotle). In other words, God may set creation in motion and move people to action in response to divine promptings, but God is not moved. God simply is. If there is no place that God is not, there is nowhere for God to move, at least not in a physical sense.

Speed also requires a relationship between motion and time. How fast something moves is determined by how much time passes as the object moves from one place to another. Just like space, time is also an irrelevant concept for God. In theological terms, we might say that God exists in the “Eternal Now”. From the creation of the world to the final consummation in the New Jerusalem… even this very moment in which you find yourself reading an obscure reflection on speed and time… each and every moment exists as a “present moment” for God. Time does not pass in eternity. Just as speed requires a starting place and an ending place, so the measurement of time requires a beginning and an end, but God has neither. There was never a time when God was not and there will never be a time when God ceases to exist.

Are you utterly confused yet? Is your brain spinning with this impossible concept?

If so, you are in good company. Our inability to conceive of a reality not limited by space and time reminds us of our mortality and the futility of trying to fully comprehend or explain the nature of God or eternity. We simply do not have the language to speak of such things. God is God. We are not.

So if speed has no meaning outside of space and time and therefore has no meaning for God who exists outside of space and time, what does it mean to arise today with the speed of lightning?

Here is my limited and perhaps foolish attempt at an explanation, or at least what the image seems to imply to me.

A flash of lightning, to a non-scientific eye, is an observable phenomenon that defies time and space. It flashes so fast that perhaps it is the closest we can come to understanding how fast a “day” might be from God’s eternal point of view. For whether we are talking about a day or a thousand years, both pass as quickly as a bolt of lightning through the lens of eternity.

What if to arise through the speed of lightning is simply to arise with an eternal perspective? All of the worries of yesterday, today and tomorrow do not consume us because in light of eternity, even the worst of our problems is a fleeting reality, gone as fast as it came. To be in Christ is to live in the light of eternity, and in this light we find hope. Even when time seems to stop and our suffering seems to have no end in sight, we can arise through the speed of lightning and celebrate in the joy of an eternity free from the power and bondage of sin and pain.

Reflections:

1. Reflect on a time when you just sat and watched the lightning flash in the storm. What feelings or thoughts did it stir in you?

2. How do you understand the “speed of lightning” in your own relationship with God?

3. Meditate on 2 Peter 3:8-9. What is God speaking to your heart?


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

... I arise today,
Through the swiftness of wind…

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

Spiritual Discomfort

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SPIRITUAL - PART 4

Spiritual Discomfort
Sunday, May 19, 2019
Acts 11:1-18

I heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!’” I responded, “Absolutely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”

Acts 11:7-8

We all want to live good, moral, and righteous lives, yet in truth, Paul reminds us that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Yet somehow in our “righteous minds,” we have created our own hierarchy of sins. If someone calls us out when we disobey God’s law, we quickly respond as though our infraction is relatively insignificant on the larger scale. “I’m only human,” we say. “Nobody is perfect.”

Yet when someone else commits a sin that we could never imagine committing ourselves, that sin becomes so repugnant to us that we are quick to condemn. As Jesus says, we rarely notice the “logs in our own eyes” (Matthew 7:3-5).

“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” 

“If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. And if you do truly see it the other person’s way—deeply and intuitively—you might even find your own mind opening in response. Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.” 

― Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

This description of the endless moral, ethical, ideological and political battles in our culture and our world sounds a lot like Peter’s dilemma when he was called to the home of a Gentile, and not just to his home, but to dine with him at a table full of unclean foods.

“Absolutely not, Lord,” he responds.

Notice the irony and the confusion present in Peter’s response.

On one hand, he is saying “Absolutely not” to something which he considers to be a horrible sin, that is, eating unclean foods that go against the Jewish dietary laws.” This is admirable and proves Peter’s desire to remain pure and righteous.

But in the same response, he says, “Lord”. The very Lord and King he is seeking to honor by not eating with the Gentiles is the same Lord and King he is defying by refusing to do so. How can this be? Would God call us to sin?

Of course not.

But as Jonathan Haidt says, morality binds us together but also blinds us to the stories and experiences of others who do not share our moral values.

Consider these words from the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth.

Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up. No one should look out for their own advantage, but they should look out for each other. Eat everything that is sold in the marketplace, without asking questions about it because of your conscience.  The earth and all that is in it belong to the Lord.  If an unbeliever invites you to eat with them and you want to go, eat whatever is served, without asking questions because of your conscience.  But if someone says to you, “This meat was sacrificed in a temple,” then don’t eat it for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience.  Now when I say “conscience” I don’t mean yours but the other person’s. Why should my freedom be judged by someone else’s conscience?  If I participate with gratitude, why should I be blamed for food I thank God for?  So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory.  Don’t offend either Jews or Greeks, or God’s church.

1 Corinthians 10:23-32

Everyone has a conscience, and that conscience or moral code is determined in life by a number of factors including upbringing, culture, education, religion, etc. And because everyone’s experience is different, everyone’s conscience is slightly different. For one person a single glass of wine may be as bad a sin as drunk-driving. For another, a fully stocked wine cellar in their home tells a different story. Has either one sinned? Not necessarily.

God wasn’t calling Peter to sin, but God always puts relationships first. Our conscience should never prevent us from “building others up”. Our conscience should never allow us to “put someone else down”. God isn’t interested in our personal moral values. God is interested in how we treat those whom he loves, regardless of how their conscience may or may not differ from our own.

If we view someone else as morally repugnant and keep our distance, we may just be keeping our distance from Christ. Jesus says, “Whatever you do (or do not do) for the least of these, you have done (or not done) it for me” (Matthew 25:45).

Fire

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I arise today...
Through the splendor of fire...

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

Like the sun and moon, the splendor of fire calls forth images of brightness, radiance and glorious light. Yet just as the softness of the moon’s reflective glow adds another dimension to the glorious light of God, so the warm crackle of a dancing fire further deepens the image.

Imagine yourself sitting before a stone fireplace or perhaps a blazing campfire. It may help to pull up one of the videos below and simply gaze into the flame on the screen for a few minutes. Of course the ambiance and warmth cannot be replicated digitally, but fond memories and imagination goes a long way toward taking us back to a serene moment of our lives when we found ourselves lost in the fire’s dance.

Fire is extremely practical and necessary for life; to cook, to keep warm, to cleanse or purify, an so on. Though we may use fire in so many ways, these functions are not the essence of fire.

Fire is mysterious, beautiful, inviting, though it can become equally dangerous and destructive. There is no exact science to determining where or in which direction each flare will rise from its source. Likewise, we cannot anticipate when Holy Spirit’s fiery tongue may fall upon us and ignite us in ways that our safe and solitary upper rooms can no longer contain.

We cannot anticipate when Holy Spirit’s fiery tongue may fall upon us and ignite us in ways that our safe and solitary upper rooms can no longer contain.

The splendor of fire has a way of both drawing us together and calling us to silence. We begin an evening around a campfire with laughter and storytelling as we roast hot dogs and marshmallows, but in the end, even the most talkative people find themselves gazing quietly into the mystery of the slowly dying embers. Perhaps the life of the fire calls us to reflect upon the splendor of our own lives, once so active and full of energy but in the end, we all slow down to rest.

At a silence retreat earlier this year, the stone hearth at the center of the retreat center invited nearly every participant to simply sit in its warm glow even as frost overtook the ground just outside the window. Some would read, others slept. Some poked at the logs to stir up the embers while other simply sat and stared. Though its strength grew and faded in cycles throughout the day, it kept burning until the doors were locked for the night. It did not speak audibly as the burning bush on God’s Holy Mountain, yet its voice whispered divine mysteries in the language of the heart and soul.

It is fitting that James describes the tongue as a fire and that the Holy Spirit comes in tongues of fire, for fire indeed has a voice. And like the flames themselves, the voice can speak warmth and comfort or it can consume all that is in its path like a raging forest fire. The fire itself is not alive, nor is God contained in the fire, anymore than God is in the rocks or trees or even in the sun or the moon. But there was a reason all of these elements of earth and sky were so sacred to the Celtic people and there is a reason St. Patrick and others did not entirely exclude these phenomenon from Christian worship. If God indeed is the creator of all things, why would we not expect to see glimpses of the divine nature, character and purposes in that which God has created?

We don’t listen to the fire or dance with the flames, but we are invited to hear and to dance with the God of the flames and perhaps, like Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, even to stand with the Son of God in the midst of the fire and not be consumed (Daniel 3).

Reflections:

1. Spend some time gazing at a fire. What do you feel? How do you see yourself? How do you see God?

2. What do you hear God speaking to you through the fire and how might the Three-One God be inviting you to participate in the dance?

3. In your life right now, would you describe the Holy Spirit’s presence more like a blaze, a fading ember, or somewhere in between? Why?


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

... I arise today,
Through the speed of lightning…

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

Spiritual Authority

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SPIRITUAL - PART 3

Spiritual Authority
Sunday, May 12, 2019
Acts 9:36-43

Peter sent everyone out of the room, then knelt and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 

Acts 9:40

Have you ever been in the room with someone in a coma? Sometimes the family is there and we may offer a few words of comfort or a prayer, but there are times as a pastor I have visited hospital rooms where nobody is present and the patient is completely unresponsive. In some cases they are completely brain-dead and will never recover. I cannot imagine walking into a room like this, standing over the hospital bed and saying, “Jim, get up!” or “Ann, get up!”.

Could you imagine the response if the nurses overheard you, or worse yet, a family member. Everyone would think you were crazy.

When I read today’s passage, however, I wonder if I, and we, might be underestimating our spiritual authority.

Peter walked into the room of a person not only in a coma, but a woman who had already died, and he simply had the audacity to tell her to get up, as if she were a child struggling to get out of bed for school in the morning. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t offer a prayer. He didn’t whisper words of encouragement to her family. He walked in with the certainty that Tabitha would get up and walk out of that room with him.

When I was doing my CPE (clinical pastoral education) at the hospital, I loved talking to one of the ICU volunteers. She sat with families in the waiting room and offered them whatever comfort and care she could as they waited and worried about their loved ones. She told me about the time she was in a deep coma for several months. Nobody expected her to live. It was a spiritually dark place for her. She has vivid memories from that time of seeing visions and hearing voices. She describes darkness in her visions, like black smoke and even dragons reaching out to claw at her mind. But she also remembers the voices. I know she was not hallucinating because when she miraculously awoke, she recounted specific things certain people said when they were alone in the room with her. No one else could have known what was said.

Much of her darkness, however, came from what she heard the voices saying. Her own family members would stand over her hospital bed talking about funeral arrangements as if she wasn’t in the room. As the weeks passed, they moved from worry and grief to frustration and hopelessness. There was no way she would ever wake up, the doctors said, and so they treated her like she was already dead. She could not see them, but she heard every word. She tried to reach back with her own voice. “I’m right here!” she shouted over and over again through her tears, but on the outside there were no tears and no sound came from her mouth.

Somewhere deep within her, God’s Spirit breathed new life into her darkness, but part of her darkness always remained because she heard so many heartless things people said about her in their grief and anger and she could never see her loved ones the same again. That’s why she volunteers at the hospital. She wants people to know that even at the brink of death, their loved ones can still hear them and respond, even if we never see or hear a physical response on the outside. She doesn’t want patients to feel alienated by their families in these incomprehensible circumstances.

I don’t know if we will ever see a dead person raised before our eyes, but I imagine the Spirit wants us to speak and live with the kind of authority Christ gave to Peter and his disciples to raise the dead. Whether a person is fighting for their final physical breath or lost in a bottomless pit of emotional or mental death and despair, we have the authority to speak life… not death. We have the authority to encourage them to “Get Up”, no matter how long and painful the process might be. But it is indeed a process. They cannot get up on their own. With our spiritual authority comes the responsibility to walk alongside them for the long haul until they can once again stand and walk on their own.

How are you using your Spiritual Authority to speak life into someone right now?

Moon

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

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

Interesting that the writer of this prayer mentions only the simple “light” of the sun, and yet describes the moon as “radiant.”

Radiance implies more than mere light. It envisions brightness, splendor or brilliance. If anything, this description seems more appropriate for the sun than the moon. After all, the moon shines with a much softer, gentler glow. We cannot even look upon the brilliance of the sun but the moon we can watch clearly from its rising to its setting with no ill effect upon our eyes.

Perhaps the difference is context. It is easy to take the sun for granted because when it shines, all is light and we never look directly at the source. The moon, however, functions more like a candle in the darkness. Rather than simply illuminating all we see around us, it’s glow does draw our eye across the darkness of the night sky to the source of the light. In contrast with the darkness around it, the moon is indeed radiant, especially when it is full or in some special state such as a super-moon or harvest moon.

Unlike the sun, the moon does not produce its own light. It reflects the light of the sun into the darkness. This too contributes to our ability to see its beauty. When the sun shines upon the moon and we are able to look closely enough, especially with telescopes or even camera lenses, we notice even the craters and ridges of the landscape. We cannot see such detail upon the sun without specialized equipment, but the sun illuminates the face of the moon and in turn, the moon shines its face upon us on the earth.

While the sun is a glorious metaphor for the brilliantly blinding light of Holy God, the moon perhaps offers a metaphor for our place as God’s children in the darkness of a sinful world. When God’s light shines upon us, every crack and crevice is exposed. Though we try to hide in the darkness, the world needs to see that even in our brokenness, we are still beautiful to the Creator who shines his light upon our face. Every crack tells a story and every crack we see upon the face of another reminds us that we are not alone and that God has brought us through every meteor impact we have faced throughout our lives.

As we turn our face to the light, so we must reflect that light into the darkness of the world. When we try to shine like the sun, exposing the cracks on the surface of others, people turn away in fear, shame, or even anger. But when we simply reflect the light and allow others to draw near in solidarity, we can bask in the glow of the Son of God and together radiate even more light into the darkness.

One final thought. The moon has little value for us during the day. We do not see its light. Therefore, if we are to reflect the radiance of the moon in a way that will bring light and hope to others, we must enter into their darkness. We cannot hide in well-lit sanctuaries where our scars are so easily washed out by the glare. In the moonlight we find a safe place to be real without being blinded. In the moonlight we discover that even with our all of our craters and scars, we are beautiful and even radiant as we reflect the glory of the Son, in whom all things are created and have their being.

Reflections:

1. Spend some time gazing up at the moon. What do you feel? How do you see yourself? How do you see God?

2. In what specific ways does your life reflect the glory and the love of God in the world around you?

3. In what ways have we turned our face away from the blinding light of the Son and no longer reflect His radiance?


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

... I arise today,
Through the splendor of fire…

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

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