Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wisdom of the Good Book


Dear Friends,

I came home from church one Sunday and found a car parked next to my driveway. A woman was outside the car on her mobile phone and making some odd noises that sounded as if she was crying.  I asked her if she was okay or if she needed any help. As it turned out, she was laughing and talking with her mother and she told her mom that she needed to talk with a priest and she’d call back. 

She was an extroverted Hispanic woman in her late thirties with one of those bright and lively personalities. And she wanted to talk. She had grown up in the San Fernando Valley but now lived near downtown Los Angeles. She’d been raised Catholic but left the church as a teenager because she didn’t like always being made to feel “badly about herself.” She said she was spiritual and believed in God and Jesus but had not found a church liberal and inclusive enough to fit into her religious beliefs. She had friends who were urging her to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but she felt that she had more in common with Buddhists who she’d been hanging around with lately. When I asked her what she thought about the Bible, she said, “Well, everyone has a book they believe in and they’re all good.” 

She was taking the God from the Catholic Church of her childhood, adding a pound of Oprah’s new age teachings, a generous scoop of Buddhism, a bushel of her own feelings and thoughts about how life should be, an ounce of Jehovah’s Witness doctrine and a sprinkling of some Hindu deities. She had invented her own custom religion and was trying to find a church that would support and validate these scattered and unfocused beliefs. She was a very intelligent, highly articulate woman, but she was struggling with her spirituality because it had no foundation based on God’s Word. She had never read the Bible. She longed for God but was at a spiritual crossroads in her life and was paralyzed with indecision. What she needed was “wisdom.”

Without wisdom, our life is an unholy mess. Without God’s wisdom, our life is ordered and ruled by customs, traditions, our friends, and what we see in the news media and our social media. 1 Cor 3:18-19 When our life is a mess it’s because we are rebelliously “doing what seems right in our own eyes.” Judges 21:25 And of course that never turns out well because God’s plan for us is that we do what is right in His eyes. And that leads us right into the biblical definition of wisdom. 

Biblical wisdom is the “ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action, based on knowledge and understanding of God and His will for us.” There are three parts to that definition. Godly wisdom allows us to accurately discern the truth and gives us the ability to judge correctly. Wisdom reveals the best course of action to take. Isaiah 28:29 And,wisdom is the knowledge and understanding we have of God based on His Word to us. Wisdom means acting according to God’s will for us and not looking for an ambiguity or an easy out. Biblical wisdom means understanding the consequences of our actions and words before we act or speak. Wisdom means having the knowledge and understanding to recognize the right course of action and having the will and courage to follow it.

We gain knowledge and wisdom through study of God’s Word. There is no other way. Praying for God’s wisdom without studying His Word is as foolish as praying that you will do well on your DMV written test and never reading the driver’s handbook. Through the grace of God, His wisdom is available to everyone who reads their Bible. Proverbs 2:6

When I asked the confused woman about the Bible she had replied that all the books are good. I said “According to what Mohammad wrote in the Qu’ran, all Jews and Christians must be killed. Based upon what Jesus said and what His followers wrote in the Bible we are to love the unbelievers – the people that Muslims would call the “infidels.” I asked her, “Which would you say is the good book? The Bible or the Qu’ran?” She didn’t answer me. 

I said, “Based upon what a magician named Joseph Smith wrote in the Book of Mormon, all black people are cursed by God because of their skin color. Many Mormons today still teach and believe that blacks are an inferior race that sided with the devil against God.” She looked down at the ground. I told her, “The Bible says that in God’s eyes all are created equal. Would you say that the Bible or the book of Mormon is the good book?” 

I told her, “You’re right that all religions have a book they follow, but not all books will take you to the God that you seek.” I asked her to wait and I went into my house and got one of the easy to read New Living Testament bibles that our church gives to new believers. She said she’d read it. I can only hope and pray that she did because all the wisdom and all the answers that she will ever need for her life are right there in that one good Book. Proverbs 19:8  Amen?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Afraid Of The Holy Spirit?


Dear Friends,

It’s been joked that to a Catholic, the Trinity is the Father, Son and the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. To a Baptist, it’s the Father, and the Son and the Holy Bible. And of course for the Pentecostal, the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost and the Holy Spirit. And we cringe as we smile at those because we recognize that there’s a little bit of truth in each one. This week is bookended by two very important days in our church year. Pentecost Sunday was just three days ago and four days from now will be Trinity Sunday. In many churches, those are the two days that the Holy Spirit can be safely mentioned without embarrassment or hesitation.

It was on the Feast of Pentecost around A.D. 33 that the Christian church was born. It did not exist before then, but the world changed in that upper room when the Holy Spirit came to dwell within that ragtag group of Jesus’ followers and coalesce this tiny community of believers into the “church.” But why then do so many Christian believers today become so uncomfortable with the reality of the Holy Spirit? Many mainline pastors ignore the third Person of the Godhead until compelled to do so by the lesson for Trinity Sunday. According to Baptist theologian and professor, Roger Olson, in Baptist churches, the Holy Spirit is talked about, if at all, in hushed tones and with some anxiety. As I said in my sermon last Sunday, we are afraid of the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t want that “violent wind” of the Spirit Acts 2:2 NASB to blow through our lives because we are afraid that God really will change our life. We are afraid of being truly committed to Jesus. We are afraid of being passionate about God. We are afraid we may become a zealous believer. We are afraid that God will turn us into a bold preacher like He did Peter Acts 2:14-41 and we will become compelled to talk about Jesus to our family members and friends. We are afraid that we will become like “pentecostals” and afraid that we will receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But who is this Person we are afraid of? According to Roger Olson, the Holy Spirit is God. He is a Person. He is not an impersonal force or power. We refer to the Holy Spirit as an impersonal “it” but Jesus says, “You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:16-17 The New Testament tells us that the Holy Spirit speaks, comforts, convicts and can be grieved. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity who has eternally existed with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit was sent to us from God and through the Son John 14:26 but has existed from all time. Jesus said that He was leaving but the good news was that He would send someOne to take His place who would be His presence in and among His followers. And with the power of the Holy Spirit, they would do even “greater things” than He did. John 14:12

The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete. That’s the Greek word used by Jesus that is translated in the King James Bible as “Comforter” but more literal translations use the word “Helper.” John 14:16 That’s more accurate because Paraclete is a word that means a “legal advocate.” When it is translated as “comforter” we think of the Holy Spirit being our consoler in times of distress and He is that. But that is a secondary meaning of the word “paraclete.” The Holy Spirit is not just a consoler, but our counselor. He is our advocate who gives us advice, help and direction. Today there are many Christians who shun the presence of the Holy Spirit and cluelessly follow the ways of the world. God always gives us a choice but why on earth would we not want the power and presence of God in our lives? Why would we not want the Advocate to guide and direct our lives?

What makes many of us nervous about the Holy Spirit is that He brings us to a place of passion for God! Last Sunday I said that we are comfortable with our complacent spiritual calmness. That whole Pentecost thing scares us because we would prefer no movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Nothing to disturb us. No surprises. No upsetting changes. There is something safe and reassuring about sameness. Go to church. Go home. Take a nap. Do it all again next Sunday. Heaven forbid that God would wake us out of our complacency and send a Holy Spirit wind to change our life forever.

But if you’re tired of the status quo, tired of  dysfunction and struggles, tired of religious rituals that leave you feeling spiritually empty, you need the personal presence and the power of the Holy Spirit that is called the “infilling of the Spirit.” Eph 5:18 When you accept the Holy Spirit in your life, you receive the Fruit of the Spirit Galatians 5:22-23 and the Gifts of the Spirit. 1 Cor 12:4-11 And, yes I can understand the fear that your life will never again be predictable or safe! When we are “infilled” or “baptized” with the Holy Spirit, He will break us out of our status quo and lift us to new heights of spiritual blessing. You will be transformed. Nothing will ever be the same again.  Amen?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Holy Communion - God Within Us


Dear Friends,

We call it Holy Communion and are reminded it is through this sacrament that we enter into communion – a oneness – with God and He becomes “God with us” Matt 1:23. We call it the Eucharist and are reminded as we are taken into His Presence that our only possible response is undiminished thankfulness: “thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Cor 9:15. We call it the Lord’s Supper to remind us that this sacrament is God’s grace conveying His spiritual nutrition which strengthens, sustains, refreshens and renews us. The One who feeds us said, “This cup is the new Covenant in My blood which was shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” 1 Cor 11:25; Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20 

It may be difficult to absorb the significance of these words that we have heard so many times. But it was at that very moment that Jesus changed forever the covenant between God and the ones who He created. The old was a covenant of law. The New Covenant is the covenant of grace. All who repent and believe in Jesus Christ will have everlasting life. The blood of Jesus... Shed for you... For the forgiveness of your sins... The apostles that night were astonished and astounded at hearing those words. Are you? 

New Hope Family Church places Holy Communion at the very center of our service. All else that we do – worship..prayers..sermon – revolves around the Eucharist – the Great Thanksgiving. We join our voices in a reading of scripture. We come into His presence with our offerings of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. There are times when we just want to linger in our worship of Him – when the presence of the Holy Spirit is touching us in those places where we need His healing. Then it’s time...

Confession. Forgiveness. Communion. We take His Body given for us. Take His Blood shed for us. God is now within us. The Body and Blood of Jesus mingling with our own body and blood. Communion means sharing and we share now the self-offering of our Savior. We are in His presence.

We are reminded that the various rituals practiced on Sundays look nothing like what took place in the ancient church. And, we have been given a sense of the earliest practice of Communion  when we are at the pastor’s home for Christmas.

Twenty or so have gathered together in the largest room of the house. Talking, laughing, sharing. A worry or concern is mentioned and a quick prayer is said, inviting God into the conversation. Someone is in the kitchen preparing food. A large round loaf of bread dough slides from a thin, flat piece of olive wood onto a 550̊ stone surface. Wheat flour, water, salt, olive oil and herb seasonings used in ancient biblical days have risen and formed into a life-sustaining loaf of bread. The aroma of hot bread ascends and begins to drift through the house. Wine is poured into small cups. The bread is taken from the oven and its very fragrance invites people to gather around the now cooling loaf. There is silence and stillness. An expectation of God’s presence. In anticipation, they bow their heads. As the loaf of bread is broken into pieces, they hear the words of Jesus that have been spoken for the past 2000 years. “This is My Body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Cor 11:24 

This is the moment where our faith, tradition, ritual and reason come together in the mystery of the Communion. The actual presence of Jesus is mysteriously imparted into the bread and wine. We know not how that happens. The apostles were there the night that Jesus initiated the Lord’s Supper. They heard His words and then taught the first century church that His Body and Blood are truly present in the consecrated bread and wine. How can we possibly believe anything different?

The Body of Jesus broken and shared with us. And we must remember that we too come broken before Him. For it is in our brokenness we are refilled and refreshed by His presence. It is only then that we can share with others the God with us and through His grace, the God within us.  Amen?

Edited and republished from a 2014 AMEN Corner

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The #1 Thing That Blocks Our Prayers

Dear Friends,

I have an audio clip on my computer that’s one of the three Stooges (Curly) saying, “I’m trying to think but nothin’ happens.” I laugh every time I hear it because too often that’s how I feel when I sit down at my computer to write a sermon or an AMEN Corner. That’s even how I feel sometimes in my spiritual life when I’m trying to pray and nothin’ happens! Sometimes it’s difficult to pray. Our mind wanders. We find ourselves repeating the same things, using the same words and praying in the same way that we’ve always prayed. Maybe God just feels too far away. When we pray, we want to think of God as bending down to us and inclining His ear to carefully catch every word. Psalm 116:2 NLT But sometimes it feels as if God has His hands over both ears as He turns away. Our prayers are not answered. Nothing is going right. Are God’s ears closed? If you’ve ever felt that way, here’s a Spiritual Truth: If God’s not listening, it ain’t His fault. 

Augustine of Hippo was born in the 4th Century and was a Church Father, a bishop and theologian whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. From St. Augustine’s “Confessions” comes a Latin phrase “onerhi mihi sum” meaning “I have become a problem to myself.” In these days of entitlement and affirmation that we are all pretty and perfect, the shocking idea that we could be our own worst problem is absolutely unacceptable. But the honest realization and acknowledgment of “onerhi mihi sum” is the first step towards repentance and a change for the better. And a truthful self-examination might even lead to an improvement in the efficacy of our prayers because Augustine also said that, “When we pray, it’s not enough for the mind to be in harmony with the voice. A person’s works have to be in harmony as well.” When a person’s sinful behavior is out of harmony with their saintly words, God may indeed be covering both ears with His hands when they pray

Psalm 66:18-20 says: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear. But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, Nor His mercy from me!” Now this doesn’t mean that God turns a deaf ear to sinners! If He did, He’d never hear our prayers. Another translation reads: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18 NLT The prophet Isaiah speaks of this Kingdom Principle directly and plainly: “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore.” Isaiah 59:2 NLT There can be other reasons that God is not answering our prayers, but the first thing we need to do is to make sure that we have not become a problem to ourself. If we have, we need to repent.

Some of us have unsaved loved ones or backslidden loved ones who tell us, “I’m trying to pray but nothing happens.” They’re praying for God’s favor, provision, healing and for His wondrous miracles but it feels like God “has turned away and will not listen anymore.” He probably has. Someone once told me that their adult daughter had loved the Lord when she was younger but stopped going to church and had walked so far away from her faith that she’s now an atheist. The only reason I have ever heard for someone to walk away from God is that either God or the church failed to meet the person’s expectations so I asked what had happened in the woman’s life. Her father told me that she had prayed to God for something to happen and He didn’t do it. She was living a life of unrepentant sin while praying for God’s favor on her life. Then when God ignored her prayers, her conclusion was that God doesn’t exist. It’s what I call “Genie Theology.” If you rub the magic lamp and the genie doesn’t appear, you just need to rub harder and longer. If the genie still doesn’t appear and grant your wish, then obviously the genie never existed in the first place!

It may be difficult to hear this, but the only prayer from an unrepentant Christian sinner that God hears is the prayer that goes, “I repent of my sins, Lord God. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, forgive me.” We can pray fervently for God’s favor and that He gives us our wants, needs and desires, but if we are holding on to iniquity in our hearts, the only thing God wants to hear from us is our confession and repentance. 

And the only thing God is interested in giving to an unsaved person is salvation. That can be a hard thing to tell a loved one. People ask me to pray for family members and friends who are not Christian. They ask my prayers for the person’s healing, financial needs, a job, for their criminal sentence to be overturned so they can get out of jail etc. I always tell them I’ll pray for their loved one and I do. But my prayer is that, “they will come to know and love the Lord God, accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and live their life according to the will of God.” Then as they open their arms in worship to Him, He will bend down and incline His ear to hear their prayers. For “..God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.” John 9:31 Amen?

The AMEN Corner is a weekly devotional for the family and friends of New Hope Family Church. It is intended for this devotional to be strengthening, encouraging or comforting and your comments too should be for the glory of God and reflect the intended purpose of these posts.

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