Sunday Sermon: Hope That Comes With Us

There are some things that frustrate me. You know what I mean? Things just that just make me want to groan in agony.

You want to know what frustrates me? That we spend so much of our time belittling someone, because they do not look like us or share our same opinions, or they go about things in a different way than we would like. That frustrates me.

When I look at all the violence that exists in our world. When I think about the violence that exists in our streets. That frustrates me.

When I think about the drug problem in our Commonwealth. When I think about the struggles families experience trying to make ends meet or get out of debt. When I think about how families spend so much time in the rat race of schedules. That frustrates me.

When I think about the state of the church and the statistics that show the decline of Christianity in the United States. When I think about the fact that for someone to be considered an average attender in worship that they only need to be in church two times a month. When I think about the fact that people think they no longer need God or church. That frustrates me. Continue reading


Never Thirst Again

When I make my way into the kitchen, every morning, to start the day one of the first things I do is to go to the refrigerator. It is there I begin my quest to find the energy to make it through the day by grabbing a nice, cold, refreshing Diet Coke. While some may need the warmth of a cup of coffee to get through the morning, I need the sweet and calorie free taste of a Diet Coke to get things going. It is “Just for the taste of it,” right?”

To be honest, it’s not just in the mornings when I grab a Diet Coke. It seems like I always have a Diet Coke by my side. Come to the office, see me on Sunday mornings before worship, or see me moments before a meeting and chances are I am sipping on a Diet Coke or Diet Dr Pepper. In my mind, I need the caffeine from Diet Coke to get through the day, which ultimately leads me to having more soft drinks than a person should consume in one 24-hour period.

If we were honest with ourselves we all have things that we turn to in order to provide energy or momentum through the day. It could be a morning cup of coffee. It might be a favorite snack in the middle of the day. It might even be a favorite song or album that we listen to through the day. All these things, and many others, we turn to in order to “get us through the day.” Continue reading

Acts 2:1-12: A Spirit-Enabled Life

Acts 2 is a familiar passage. It is Luke’s telling of what took place when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in the Upper Room. The Spirit came like a violent wind that looked like tongues of fire. Luke paints the picture of something revolutionary taking place that would lead the disciples to do some amazing things.

Truly, that day of Pentecost was something revolutionary. It was the day when the church began and the mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ was initiated. The Holy Spirit came and serves as the guide leading the church to being the witness of Christ in the world.

The Holy Spirit’s work doesn’t just involve the church. It also involves each of us. Just as the Holy Spirit came to enable the mission of the church, so did the Spirit come to enable our lives for holy living and faithful discipleship. We need the Holy Spirit’s direction to guide us in our faith and lives.

When we allow the Holy Spirit to enable our lives, we will see the Spirit teaching us, guiding us, leading us, shaping us, and moving us in new and powerful ways. We become the people God has called us to be. The Holy Spirit is the power that leads to transformative discipleship in our lives.

What would it look like if every day we sought to live lives that were enabled by the Holy Spirit? Could you imagine how different our lives would be? Could you imagine how much stronger our faith and witness would be?

Sunday’s Sermon: Breathe in Life. Breathe Out Mission

This morning, we are all doing something that is important to our physical lives. We probably do not realize we are doing it, but it is crucial to our existence. If we were to stop doing it, even if for a moment, we would immediately feel the impact.

Each of us are breathing.

The continuous motion of breathing in and breathing out is important to us. By breathing in, we inhale the oxygen we need for our brain to function properly, our lungs to inflate, and our heart to pump blood throughout our body. A normal breathing rate is about 10 to 15 breaths per minute – a breath every six seconds or so. Most of the time we are not paying attention to the fact we are breathing. Unless you are physically exerting yourself or trying to pay attention, breathing happens quite naturally.

Breathing is analogous to something I would like discuss today. I believe it is analogous to something that is just as important when it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ. God’s breath is the key to life, physical and spiritual. God’s breath is the Holy Spirit, and we are called to breathe it in. As we breathe in the Holy Spirit, we receive God’s love and law in the center of our heart. As well, we are equally called to express outward, to breathe out, that love and what the Spirit has done inside us. We breathe in life from the Holy Spirit and breathe out into our many connectional points our gifts as as a witness of Christ’s love for us and for our world.

Today is the Pentecost Sunday. This is the Church’s birthday. At Pentecost, we believe that something powerful, something breathtaking, something so important happened that it launched the movement of the Church into the entire world. Pentecost comes at the end of the 50 Days of Easter. There are 50 days from Easter Sunday to today, which we call the Easter season, that focuses on the hope of the resurrection. The timing of Pentecost is similar to how the people of Israel originally celebrated the festival. Originally, Pentecost was a celebration that remembered how Moses received the Law from God at Mt. Sinai. This celebration came 50 days after Passover, when the people of Israel were rescued from slavery in Egypt. According to Leviticus 23:15-22, at Pentecost the people of Israel would offer the first part of their grain crop to God. N.T. Wright says it was an act of gratitude of God’s blessings that they had already experienced and an act of prayer that this blessing would be seen with the remaining crop.

Our Scripture passage from Acts takes us to Pentecost, where Luke reports that the Disciples were together in one place. We believe it might have been the same room where a few weeks earlier they shared the Passover meal with Jesus. Wherever it might have been, what is important is this: they were waiting for something to happen. At his Ascension, Jesus told the Disciples to head to this place to wait for the promised gift to come.

What was this promised gift? Jesus tells us in John 14:16-17 that it is the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, they were waiting for. Jesus told us that when he left, we will not be on our own. The Spirit will come and guide us in our walk with Christ. Jesus promised the Disciples, and us, that God would never leave them, because the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is as fully divine as the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit can, in some ways, be an enigma to us. We understand the Father Creator, who is the author of true love. We understand Jesus, who is our Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is unfortunately overlooked. I believe it is because the Holy Spirit can be confusing to us.

When we think of the Holy Spirit, we are thinking of the power of God that works in relationship with each of the members of the Trinity. All three work together as one and not as separate units. The Spirit comes to us as a guide that leads us to a relationship with the Father, by faith in the Son. He also guides us in our witness of Christ by our words, our actions, and our deeds. It is the Spirit who convicts us of our sin and brings us to a place of repentance. Even more, it is the Spirit who writes the love and word of God on our hearts.

There is much more that we can say about the Spirit, but we can summarize it all by this: by sending us the Holy Spirit, Jesus is telling us that we are never alone. God’s presence is with us, shaping us and directing us in what it means to be children of God in our lives and interactions with others.

This is whom the disciples were waiting for in the Upper Room. They didn’t know when the Spirit would come, but they were praying for His arrival. On Pentecost, the Spirit came and it overtook each of the disciples. Luke tells us that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Their entire being was shaped by the indwelling of the Spirit within them. It transformed each of them in ways none of them could have expected. In that moment, the Spirit came and redefined their lives to a deeper relationship with God and understanding of their faith.

God breathed on the disciples in perhaps the same way that he breathed on Adam in Genesis. In that moment, God’s breath (in Hebrew: ruah) created life. In the same way, God’s breath created new lives in the disciples. They were now defined by their life in the Spirit and were set for a new journey. The Spirit came and changed their life to where they would never be the same again.

We are invited to breathe in the Spirit today and everyday. Breathing in the Spirit is the act of recognizing that we cannot live this life on our own. We need God’s help. Even though our basic instinct might be to do it our own way, we need the Spirit’s direction and guidance to work through the difficult situations in our families, to wrestle with tough work situations, or even to walk through another day of life when you really don’t want to get out of bed. The Spirit is there beside us through all of it. All it may take is for us to see this is by simply praying that God will open our eyes to His presence and guide us through our days and moments.

The Holy Spirit isn’t just our guide. The Spirit is also our teacher for each of us. When we breathe in the Spirit, and allow the Spirit to lead us, we are allowing the Spirit to disciple us and shape us. We are desiring the Spirit to transform us into the image, and the person, God desires us to be. This takes place when we ask the Lord to shape us, teach us, and mold us by the Spirit’s direction.

What would it look like if we took in that breath from God? What would our life look like if we breathed in God’s presence instead of the things that we so often allow to dictate our lives, such as money, bitterness, jealousy, our livelihood, or even our own self and desires?

Friends, we cannot just breathe in the Spirit. We also have to breathe out what God has done in us through the Holy Spirit. Breathing, as we said, includes both inhaling and exhaling. The inhaling process is breathing in the Spirit. The exhaling part is the fruit of the Spirit that we share with our communities and those we interact with. When we live by the Spirit, as Paul says, it transforms us into people who are known by our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. There are other fruits of the Spirit. Fruit will look different based on who we are and how God has gifted us. Some will produce some form of fruit and others will produce another. However, whatever fruit we produce, we are called to share it with others as an act of witness of God’s love.

That is what Peter does in our text. When the world mocked the disciples for being drunk, Peter witnessed to the change that had taken place in their lives by proclaiming the truth of God’s love, of the message of Jesus Christ, and the promise of the Holy Spirit. By quoting a passage from Joel and proclaiming about Jesus, Peter is witnessing to the transformation that had occurred in his heart. He breathed out the change that had occurred in him so that others might experience transformation and faith in Jesus Christ in their own life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is what the church has been doing ever since that moment. The mission of the church is the continuation of this breathing out as an act of witness. Our mission – no matter the size of our congregation – is to breathe out into our communities God’s love by our gifts, our presence, our prayers, and our service. We are not too small to participate in this breathing out, nor are we too old or young. Each of us have a part to play in being the living witnesses of God’s transformative grace and love in our communities.

All that is asked of us is that we pray that God will use what he has given us, so that others might know him. It’s a dangerous prayer, as a pastor I heard preach once said, but it is an important prayer, because in that prayer lies our desire, both individually and corporately, to be used by God in the same ways that disciples were used to launch the mission of the church.

Breathe in the Spirit’s transformation and breathe out the fruit of the Spirit as an act of witness. This is a process that doesn’t just happen once, but is a daily receiving and giving.

Friends, breathe in the Spirit and experience the indwelling presence of the Lord in your life. As well, breathe out what God has done in your life in the hope, as Peter had, that others will experience transformation in their life and come to know the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Pentecost or Memorial Day: Which Gets Main Focus on Sunday?

Sunday is Pentecost. It is the day that we celebrate the birth of the church, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in Jerusalem.

Sunday is also the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, a weekend which starts the summer season but is traditional a time of remembrance of deceased veterans and their sacrifices.

Which celebration gets the main focus? Will it be the celebration of the Holy Spirit’s presence and the mission of the church or  will it be civil religion and its desire to honor our nation above all things?

The answer to this question says a lot about a church’s focus and where its heart truly lies. For what we honor and celebrate in worship, as many of my friends will argue, is what we will carry into our lives and our relationship with Christ.

If we focus on Pentecost, then our focus is on the mission of the church and how the Holy Spirit leads and directs us to be the witnesses of Christ. However, focusing on Memorial Day entirely in worship sends the message that devotion nation is more important than our relationship with God. This notion seems to be counter to much of Paul’s argument that we are citizens of heaven first and foremost.

Granted, this is not the only time that the mission of the church and the mission of civil religion would seemingly collide. Worship surrounding the Fourth of July can look too much like a national celebration than a celebration of the Triune God. What is perhaps unique about this weekend is that the differences between true religion of God and civil religion is glaring and hard to miss.

Worship leaders and pastors can certainly honor the memory of our veterans in worship, but the act of honoring must not take away from the act of worship of God. If it becomes a distraction, or even takes over the entire worship, then it is possible that we have misguided priorities for worship on this occasion.

Sunday offers a perfect opportunity to focus on the mission of the church. Let us be careful to not trip up the mission by being too focused on a time of honoring nation above true honoring of the Living God.