The War Within

Galatians 5:16-26

Paul Harvey tells of being on a ranch in the west and witnessing a riveting story of a cowboy who had a beautiful stallion that he had raised from a colt after he captured him from a wild herd of horses. The horse would follow the cowboy around wherever he went, so much so that the other ranch hands would poke fun at him. One day, the stallion stepped in a gopher hole and injured his ankle, so the cowboy put him a pasture by himself so he could recover at his own pace. One night a herd of wild horses broke into that pasture and when they left the cowboy’s horse followed the wild herd.

The cowboy was miserable . . . for two days he grieved the loss of his horse. On the second evening, another ranch hand told the cowboy he has seen his horse in a certain canyon and sure enough was still hanging out with the wild bunch. The cowboy decided to get a good night’s sleep before heading out in the morning.

Before dawn, he and Paul Harvey rode out to the opening of that canyon and hid behind a rock from which they could watch the herd. They were grazing quietly, so the cowboy decided to play Indian and sneak up close enough so that he could speak to his horse. When he got within earshot, he slowly stood up; all the horses heads jerked up, ears alert, ready to bolt. While the cowboy began talking to his horse for all he was worth, the other horses took off and ran further down into the canyon. The cowboy’s horse stood still, muscles twitching, not sure what to do. He looked toward the wild herd, took several steps in their direction; then he stopped and turned towards the cowboy as he continued talking. He began to prance around in a circle not knowing which way to turn as he looked first at the wild bunch of hoses, and then towards His master.

Paul Harvey said, ‘You could see and feel the tension in that horse; there was his master whom he loved and there was the wild herd which he did enjoy running with; which way to go?’ For a moment it looked as though the cowboy had lost as his stallion ran about 20 yards to follow after the herd. But then he stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and with head up pranced back to the cowboy. The cowboy placed a rope around his neck, the horse nuzzled him the chest and finally, the cowboy led his horse out of the canyon.

Paul Harvey later wrote, “I laid my head down on my arms and prayed, ‘Dear Lord, if I am ever tempted to run with the wild herd, let me listen to your voice when You call.’”

That story illustrates exactly what Paul is discussing with us in Galatians 5:17:

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.

There is a tug of war that goes on in our hearts; in yours and in mine. I call it the war within; where on the one hand we desire to serve and follow the Master whom we love, and on the other, our sin nature encourages us to follow self. + Read More

Safe and Sound

Matthew 22:34-40
Ephesians 4:17-32

Went to the zoo the other day and saw a gorilla holding a Bible in one hand and Darwin’s Origin of the Species in the other and he was sort of looking puzzled. I said, “You look sort of confused, what’s up?”
And he replied, “I’m not sure if I am supposed to be my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”

I titled today’s message ‘Safe and Sound’ because it is the will of God that when we land on the shores of heaven we arrive both ‘Safe and Sound;’ where ‘Safe’ implies the biblical term ‘justification’ and ‘Sound’ the biblical word ‘sanctification.’

As to arriving in heaven safe . . . Jesus has taken care of that. When we became Christians by our faith in Christ’s sacrificial death, the Bible says we were justified, that is, made right with God through our faith. In that sense we will arrive home ‘safe.’

But we have been made safe to also become ‘sound.’ That is, to live lives that please God . . . enabled by the Holy Spirit. Not just safe; God desires that we reach home ‘safe and sound.’

Gail put an illustration on today’s program of a fruit-bearing tree. It roots are symbolic of ‘justification by faith;’ being made right with God which makes us safe. And the fruit hanging on the tree is symbolic of our sanctification.

The point of departure for today’s and the next several week’s messages has to do with landing on God’s golden shores ‘sound.’ That is, we are talking about sanctification which, according to scripture, comes about through the ministry of God’s Spirit.

Sanctification is a fancy theological term for describing the process involved in becoming more and more Christ-like.

Being sanctified is synonymous with being holy. In fact those two words ‘sanctified’ and ‘holy’ come from the same Greek word, which literally means ‘set apart.’ When something is sanctified or made holy, it is set apart or separated from something else for special use.

I remember when my grandparents were going to pick me up to take me to church
my mom would tell me to put on my ‘Sunday clothes;’ which were for me a black blazer, a white shirt, and a red bow tie. Now, did I wear my Sunday clothes to school? No. Did I wear my Sunday clothes to play in the yard? No. Did I wear my Sunday clothes to play to play football or baseball in? No. My Sunday clothes were separated from the rest of my clothes. They were set apart for certain occasions. In other words they were sanctified or holy clothes. + Read More

Thoughts on the Trinity

John 14:15-21
Ephesians 2:8-18

From Reader’s Digest, Life in These United States, Ann Spivack writes, “While our friends from India traveled to California on business, they left their 11-year-old daughter with us. Curious about my going to church one Sunday morning, she decided to come along. When we returned home, my husband asked her what she thought of the service. “I don’t understand why the West Coast isn’t included too,” she replied. When we inquired what she meant, she added, “You know, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the whole East Coast.”

She’s not the only person who is a little clueless when it comes to the Holy Spirit; especially when it comes to talking about The Trinity, our subject for today.

So what are some of my thoughts on the Trinity?

First, the doctrine of the Trinity points to the mysteriousness of God. The doctrine does not make an attempt to define the totality of God. Where would we in our finite humanness ever get off thinking we could even begin to comprehend the Eternal One?

An unknown author wrote: “If God were small enough to be UNDERSTOOD, He would not be big enough to be WORSHIPPED.” The idea of the Trinity is a paltry human attempt to describe what God has allowed us to know of Himself. I am reminded of the words of Paul writing to the Christians at Corinth:

Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Someday, we’ll understand more about God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For now, we will have to be satisfied with what we can glean from God’s word.

And what can we glean? + Read More

Four P’s of Pentecost Power

Acts 2:1-24, 36-41
John 14:1-11

Have you ever read the Book of Acts and wondered why we don’t see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the church today like it was in those early days of the church?

Have you ever read the Book of Acts and wondered why we don’t see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the church today like it was in those early days of the church?

Some Bible scholars explain the apparent difference between then and now by saying that it was necessary to give the early church a jump start, so God gave the apostles the power to do miraculous signs that attracted many folks. But as the church quickly grew by leaps and bounds and the NT came into being, God no longer needed to work His miraculous power in order to reach people. And so the prevalence of signs and wonders diminished over time. In other words, Christ’s disciples haven’t changed that much, rather God did.

Others cite Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” and therefore insist that our churches today should resemble the early church. And the reason it doesn’t, they would say, is that the people of God have become complacent, or grown cold, or . . . you get the picture. In other words, God hasn’t changed; we have.

I believe there’s merit to both views. But it is not my intention to debate them, but rather to share four Biblical ideas that are important about Pentecost Power, which when taken seriously will enable us to resemble an Acts 2 church. + Read More

Promise of the Father

Genesis 1:1-5, 26-31
Acts 1:1-5, 2:1-21

Today we begin a new series focusing on the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit, how do we receive the Spirit and what is the role of the Spirit in our lives? Along the way, we’ll be discussing what it means to be baptized in the Spirit, led by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, sealed with the Spirit, and what it means to walk in the Spirit.

Today’s message is sort of an Overture. You all know that an overture is a selection of music that precedes a symphony and incorporates a slice of music from all the songs in that symphony serving to whet the appetite for what is to follow.

As we begin, I want to let you know that my source for this series will be The Bible; I am sure you wouldn’t want it any other way, right? And so I encourage us to drop all of our predilections and biases about the Spirit and be open to what God wants us to know through His word, the Bible.

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:1-5)

On the day of Pentecost, all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!” Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy. And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below—blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives. But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
 will be saved.’ (Acts 2:1-21)

A children’s catechism class was learning the Apostles Creed; each child had been assigned a sentence to repeat. The 1st one said, ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth.’ The second child said, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son.” When he had completed his sentence, there was an embarrassing silence. Finally, one of the kids from the back says, “Looks like the boy who believes in the Holy Spirit got spooked.” + Read More

Keep Looking Up

Luke 24:36-53
Acts 1:1-11

You don’t have to look too far to see that there’s a lot of hopelessness and therefore, sadness in this old world today! Rather than me reciting hundreds of articles and newsfeeds, allow me to show you a few quotes I found:

‘Sometimes all you can do is lie in bed and hope to fall asleep before you fall apart.’
‘To live without hope is to cease to live.’
‘Due to recent cutbacks and until further notice,
the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.’

Hopelessness is not unique to the 21st century. The 1st century had its fair share . . . even with the disciples of Jesus; especially with the disciples of Jesus.

Ever since they had first met Jesus, they had been living in the midst of a most extraordinary time of hope and joy. They witnessed Jesus calm the sea, rebuke a storm, feed thousands, accomplish many healings, and even the raising of people from dead. They were surfing the ultimate wave! When Jesus triumphantly entered the capital city, they watched as the adoring crowds called for God’s blessings on their leader.

But five days later, after they saw Jesus nailed to a Roman cross, all bets were off . . . all hopes were dashed; their great joy turned to overwhelming sadness. Two of His disciples on the Road to Emmaus spoke for them all, “We had hoped He was the guy.” We ‘had hoped’ . . . past tense. They were on their way home . . . back to the way it was before Christ . . . sadness . . . despair . . . hopelessness.

But then everything changed dramatically! Jesus was alive again!! + Read More

The Land of Beginning Again

Mark 16:1-7
John 21:1-17

In the various accounts of the resurrection of Jesus that appear in the four gospels, I believe the most personal, the most touching, the most poignant words can be found in the first gospel we read, the gospel of Mark. The phrase is so short that we easily gloss over it without realizing the tremendous significance that it had on that first glorious Easter morning . . . as well as this day.

I’ll read the verse again, and emphasize the little phrase of which I speak:

but the angel said, ‘Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.’

See how easily those two words gets lost in the holiness of the angel as he speaks, in the initial incredibility and amazement of the empty tomb, in the shadow of the One who has been raised from the dead.

‘Now go and tell His disciples; including Peter!’ Including Peter? Why Peter? Why not John or James or Andrew or one of the others? Why does Peter get special mention? + Read More

Museum of CrossPointe; Not!

Matthew 5:13-16
Acts 1:1-8

This past week, Gail and I spent 5 days in Sarasota, Florida with her son, Brett, who moved there after Christmas. Sarasota is a wonderful place to visit as there are so many things to do, not the least of which is to hang out on Siesta Keys Beach; voted the # 1 beach in America.

Sarasota is also home to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Museum. It’s appropriate there is a museum because in 22 days that’s all that will be left, as they perform for the very last time in Uniondale, New York on May 21st. Why did this great American icon give up the ghost after 146 years? Plain and simple; not enough people are interested in going to the circus anymore; especially younger people.

Would you believe the same dynamic is affecting the church? Guess how many churches in America will become museums this year? About 3,700 churches will close up shop this year (that’s 71 every Sunday). And why is that? Simply because like the circus, fewer and fewer people are interested in going to church; especially younger people.

Especially the Millennials. 75,000,000 strong, they range in age from 20 to 36 and last year surpassed the Baby Boomers as the most populous of generations. By and large, they are not (at this time) interested in attending church, as they believe that churches are populated with people who only care about themselves. + Read More

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

John 11:1-53, I Corinthians 15:12-22

A pastor’s son and his friends were playing in the backyard when they found a dead robin. They decided that the bird should be given a proper burial, so they put him in a Kleenex box, dug a hole and solemnly placed their feathered friend in the ground. Naturally, the minister’s son was chosen to say something appropriate. Remembering what his father often said at times like this, the young boy sang, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son…and into the hole he goooooes!”

On Feb. 27, 1991, at the height of Desert Storm, Ruth Dillow’s worst fears were realized as she opened her front door to see two army officers standing there with grim looks on their faces. She knew why they were there. It was their job to inform her that her son, Pvt. 1st Class, Clayton Dillow, had stepped on a landmine in Kuwait and was now dead. She later said, “I can’t begin to describe my grief and shock. It was almost more than I could bear. For 3 days I wept, for 3 days I expressed my anger toward God, for 3 days people tried to comfort me, but to no avail, because the loss was too great.”

Then, three days after she received that dreaded message the telephone rang. The voice on the other end said, “Mom, it’s me, I’m alive.” Ruth Dillow said, “I couldn’t believe it at first. But then I recognized his voice, and he really was alive. The army had made an identification mistake! I laughed, I cried, I felt like turning cartwheels because my son whom I had thought was dead . . . was really alive. I’m sure none of you can even begin to understand how I felt.”

It’s probably true that none of us can, but two sisters who made their home in a place called Bethany could and did.

As we join Mary and Martha, we come to a very heavy scene of mourning with all the reality of grief, heartache, and tears. The Bible doesn’t gloss over what we are so afraid to talk or even think about. + Read More

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