Make Me a Blessing

 Brothers and sisters, we are blessed.  God has showered incredible blessings upon us – and quite honestly, sometimes we do not recognize our blessings.  Personally, I have been blessed with an incredible wife – a woman who stands behind me and supports me.    We have an amazing daughter who we never envisioned – yet God knew the plans he had for us.  We sometimes face a tight budget but we never want for food.  And even in the younger days of my life, when I did face want – when at home we did not have enough, or the bills were long overdue, I was blessed.  There were always family members who provided some care.  But blessings are not just about physical things.  I am blessed by God and so are you.  God has seen me through all sorts of bad times, and He has given me an abundance of good times.  When I turned to Him, He provided a path for me, a path filled with blessings and hope.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

 But if we are so blessed by God, why do we put so many limits on ourselves?  Why can’t we “be all that we can be” or better put, why can’t we be all that God wants us to be?  The prophet Jeremiah uttered these Godly words; “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  God has plans for you and for me.  His plans are to build us up, not to harm us.  His plans are to bless us – and in turn we are to bless others. 

In John’s gospel, Jesus says these words: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  Jesus’ vision for abundant life is not about material goods – but a life lived out in service to God.  A life of incredible blessings as we follow God’s will for our lives.  Imagine if we lived life as God calls us, knowing that he has a plan for us, a plan not to do us harm but plans to prosper us, to give us hope and a future.  Imagine life if we actually lived up to God’s expectations for us.  Imagine, or better yet…instead of imagining this, let’s just do it.  Let’s recognize all the blessings God has bestowed upon us, let us give Him all the thanks and praise, let’s live every step of our lives with him and share our blessings with the world. Let’s go forward knowing that when we do God’s work, we can achieve far more than we can imagine.   

 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Pentecost Sunday has past. Often Pentecost has been called “the Birthday of the Church” and celebrated as such in our mainline denomination churches. And I’ve often said that the mainline churches treat the Holy Spirit as the “red-headed step-child of the Triune God”. We tend to lump any and all “manifestations” of the Spirit as non-existent any more. Some theologians of the past have declared that all signs and wonders have ceased with the death of the last of the apostles, and so the work of the Spirit is to guide us in our understanding of Holy Scripture and acceptance of the gospel… and nothing else.

The shame of this is that we neglect the power of the Spirit promised to us by Jesus, and therefore limit the church. We invoke the Spirit’s name often, and even say He is the one responsible for our own pet projects within the church (“the Spirit is moving us to do this thing I want to do”). But we fail to listen for the Spirit.

Recently I read an email calling a group of people to “continue to listen for the Spirit’s guidance in following God’s will about…” What a great way to put this. In school we were taught basic listening skills – skills we often fail to hone. We live in a very busy and noisy world. There is a constant din around us, whether traffic, construction, music and people. Just walk anywhere and you will hear things. But it takes great care to discern the noises. If you walk through a busy mall, you need to concentrate to hear your spouse above all the noise. If you are sitting in a crowded restaurant or in a place with a TV blaring, you must focus on the person speaking to hear them. It is the same with the Holy Spirit. We need to focus and concentrate on listening for God. We need to hone our listening skills and add God’s voice to the other voices we can hear above the din

And when we do this, when we actually listen for the Holy Spirit, we will be amazed at what He says to us.

Pentecost Power

According to the liturgical calendar of the church, the Easter season has ended.  Last week we celebrated as Jesus Christ was ascended into heaven, where he sits on the right hand of the Father.  But the story continues.  This Sunday we celebrate the day of Pentecost.  Some like to call it the “birthday of the church” since it is traditionally the day that the apostles publicly began their ministry, preaching the Good News and gathering new believers together.

But the Pentecost story from Acts chapter 2 is far more than the beginning of a church movement. It is a story filled with wonder, amazement and power.  And it is far more than a metaphoric look at the beginning of the new church.

Acts explains the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.  The Spirit gave Peter the courage to stand up and preach – and the words to say.  The Spirit gave all the people the ability to hear Peter’s words.  The Spirit moves people from one place to another, calling them to preach the gospel all over the known world.  Peter is sent to a group of gentiles, Philip is sent to an Ethiopian eunuch, Paul encounters Christ and goes all over the place planting churches at the Spirit’s call.  And then there are the healings, plenty of healings.  Incredible stories of people healed from physical illnesses throughout Acts.

But we live in 2013 and it is hard to believe some of this stuff.  Does God still heal today?  Do miracles still happen?  Does God actually give us directions like He gave to Peter and Paul (and the rest)?  Or do we just have these words to guide us?

Well I have seen miracles (have you seen my daughter?  We were never supposed to be able to have children).  I have seen healings.  I have been part of incredibly powerful moments of prayer.  I have felt His presence in commanding ways.  And He has led me.  Sometimes it was nothing more than to make a phone call or send a card, other times to show up at the right place and right time.  And sometimes it is to just lift up a person in prayer – finding out later on that they really needed it.

As we celebrate Pentecost together, claim the power.  It doesn’t mean you have to go around praying in tongues (unless, of course, the Spirit gifts you that way).  It doesn’t mean you have to shout amen at my sermons (unless, of course, you are moved to do so).  It just means you are opening yourselves to God and the works He has prepared in advance for you to do.

In the words of Dick Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Congress:  You go nowhere by accident.  Wherever you go, God is sending you.  Wherever you are, God has put you there.  He has a purpose putting you there.  Christ who indwells you has something He wants to do through you wherever you are.  Believe this and go in His grace, love and power.

The Moment

national cathedralI was raised up in the church. We went to church every Sunday as well as the special days (Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and others). I practiced my faith, did all the things I was “supposed” to do, including receiving absolution, communion and being confirmed. I grew up hearing the stories of our faith and knew them well including Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, the birth of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection. I pretty much knew most of the stuff I should know as a Christian and I believed in that God “out there”

Well, I had head knowledge of the stuff and a watered down belief in a supreme being way up in his heavens, but really had no heart knowledge of him. Until God caught my attention.

It was my senior year of high school. My aunt had a cerebral hemorrhage and was in a coma. While I had not attended church regularly, I found myself in a church on a Wednesday night praying for her. In the end, my aunt died and we went on with our lives as people do.

But then, while on a choir trip to Washington DC, I was standing in the National Cathedral taking in the great architecture. There was nobody around me; all the students were wandering around when I felt it. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a real, physical tap. I looked around, saw no one and realized something. God is real. God is alive. God wanted a relationship with me.

I would like to say that I completely got it from that point. I’d like to say I dropped to my knees and asked God into my life, was changed like Paul on the road to Damascus, or something equally earth shattering. But the truth is this one moment in my life was one of many on a faith journey I continue to take. It still took me years to get more of the heart knowledge, but this moment was pivotal in my faith journey. I knew God was real and loving, and wanted me!

So what is your story? When did you first hear from God? What are you experiencing right now that leads you closer to the Lord?