PENTECOST

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. [John 14:16-18 (NLT)]

roseate spoonbill

After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples. On the fortieth day, He told them to remain in Jerusalem until they received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Then, with his followers watching, Jesus was taken up in a cloud and ascended into heaven. Bewildered, the disciples stood there until two angels promised that someday Jesus would return. We know the disciples attended to business by choosing a replacement for Judas, but how else did they spend their time? There were twelve apostles and about 120 believers. How difficult was it for this diverse group of people to keep the faith and wait ten days for something which seemed so perplexing? Where was this Holy Spirit promised to them? When would Jesus return? Did they grow impatient or begin to doubt what they’d seen with their eyes?

Yesterday was Pentecost (meaning fiftieth). At that first Pentecost, all of Jesus’ followers were gathered together because the Jewish holiday of Shavu’ot was being observed. Also called the Feast of Weeks, Shavu’ot (or Pentecost) occurred seven weeks after Passover and celebrated both the first harvest and Moses being given the law at Mt. Sinai. It was one of three pilgrimage festivals when all able-bodied Jewish men were required to visit the temple and offer sacrifices.

It was on this fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection that the Holy Spirit, accompanied by high winds and tongues of fire, descended upon Christ’s followers. As every believer was filled with the Spirit’s power, he or she began to speak in other languages. Shavu’ot had brought together Jews from fifteen or more different regions, each with its own language, and yet everyone was able to understand the Spirit-filled Christians as they spoke. The Holy Spirit had empowered the disciples to bring Christ’s message of salvation to all people.

It hardly seems an accident that God chose Shavu’ot for such a miraculous event to occur and not just because Jerusalem was teeming with people from far and wide. On a day when people went to the temple to be in God’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s arrival meant that God could always be present in His people. On a day that commemorated the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai—an external means of keeping Israel from sin—the Holy Spirit descended and believers no longer had to adhere to laws carved on stone. By His power, the law was now written on their hearts and, through Him, believers could live righteously. On a day that celebrated the first harvest, 3,000 people were baptized. That incredible first harvest of souls marked the beginning of the New Testament church. So, in a way, while Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Christian church.

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” [Acts 2:38-39 (NLT)]

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REFLECTING HIS LIGHT

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)] 

super moonDid you happen to see the full moon last week? It was considered a super moon because it came within 90% of the moon’s closest approach to earth. Its nearness (221,772 miles) made it appear about 7% larger and much brighter than a typical full moon. When I saw its brilliance through the window, I stepped out on the lanai to view the glowing orb in the sky. Don’t be disappointed if you missed it, there will be another one, nearly as bright, on May 7!

Saying I saw the moon’s bright light is misleading—the moon itself has no light and doesn’t glow. It simply borrows its light from the sun and reflects it down to us as would a mirror. With the moon’s dark grey surface and bumpy landscape, it’s a poor mirror and only reflects between three and twelve percent of the sun’s light. Even that little bit, however, was enough to brightly light our lanai that night.

Even if the moon were perfectly white, it still wouldn’t appear as bright as the sun because the light would reflect off in all directions instead of straight back to us. Astronomer Roger Sinnott of Sky & Telescope theorizes that, in order to appear as bright as the sun, the moon would need a 2,160 mile-wide flat mirror to directly reflect the sun’s light back toward us on earth.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to let our lights shine so that people see our good deeds. Even if we shine as brightly as the full moon, like the moon, that light isn’t ours; it is God’s Holy Spirit within us and we’re not the ones who should get the credit. Let us never forget that our good deeds are done not to enhance our reputations but rather to glorify our Father in Heaven. It’s His light that is seen and not ours. When people experience our love, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, joy, peace, patience, thoughtfulness, integrity, faithfulness, and self-control, they see God’s beautiful light.

As Christ’s followers, we are to let God’s glory reflect through us. We may not be able to light up a lanai like the moon but we can bring His light to the world around us. Moreover, even without an enormous flat mirror, I think we could do better than the moon’s paltry three to twelve percent when it comes to reflecting God’s glory in our lives!

Poor world! What a faint light it receives from most Christians! The lighthouse, if its light is not burning is a peril instead of a safeguard. [Matthew Henry]

Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.” [Luke 11:35-36 (NLT)]

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CRUCIFIED WITH HIM

I have been crucified with the Anointed One—I am no longer alive—but the Anointed is living in me; and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live by the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me. [Galatians 5:20 (VOICE)]

Our Lady Cathedral - Antwerp

The Apostle Paul wrote that he joined Christ in both death and resurrection. His old sinful life had been crucified with Christ and he now shared in Christ’s resurrected life. When Jesus came to live in him, Paul didn’t become a mindless automaton and their spiritual union didn’t cause the tent-maker to lose his uniqueness or personality. He was still Paul. By dying to sin and adding the characteristics of Christ to his heart and mind, however, the Apostle was a new and far better version of himself. He was still the same brilliant and well-educated man, skilled in making an argument or proving a point, who had set out for Damascus. But, by joining Christ in His resurrection, this single-minded Pharisee became entirely devoted to Jesus. Undeterred by persecution, he was faithful, patient, humble, courageous, filled with the Fruit of the Spirit, and passionate about passing along the gospel message. Indeed, Christ lived in him.

When Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, He changed Paul from a persecutor of Christians into a lover of Christ and His followers. While we probably didn’t experience a conversion as dramatic as Paul’s, when we accepted Christ, we also died to our old selves. Have we experienced that same spiritual death and resurrection described by the Apostle? Does Christ live in us or is He just an occasional guest, invited only on special occasions or when we feel like having company? Does He live in us or is He simply the cleaning service we call when there’s a mess we can’t clean by ourselves? Does He live in us or is He like a salesman who needs an appointment before calling? Does He live in us or is He just a kind-hearted acquaintance, welcome only when He has something we need or want?  Does He live in us or is He a renter whose lease will be terminated the moment we feel inconvenienced? If we say Christ lives in us, can anyone see Him there or do we hide Him behind a wall of self-righteousness? Are our words the words Christ would say? Are our actions His actions? Are our thoughts His thoughts? Can we honestly echo the Apostle Paul’s words?

Last Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection of Christ. Have we been resurrected with Him? Does He truly live in us? If not, then we haven’t yet been crucified with Him.

Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:17 (VOICE)]

Those of us who belong to the Anointed One have crucified our old lives and put to death the flesh and all the lusts and desires that plague us. Now since we have chosen to walk with the Spirit, let’s keep each step in perfect sync with God’s Spirit. This will happen when we set aside our self-interests and work together to create true community instead of a culture consumed by provocation, pride, and envy. [Galatians 5:24-26 (VOICE)]

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UNARTICULATED PRAYERS

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. [Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)]

peony - field bindweedI couldn’t tell if my vague sense of unrest was because something was missing or there was something I needed to do. I couldn’t articulate it but I knew it was there and, as the days went by, the sense of disquiet continued. I simply asked God to reveal whatever was troubling me; perplexed, I didn’t know what else to pray. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit did!

A week later, when I was asked to serve on the church board, I realized my unrest was because I needed to step out of my comfort zone and do something more to grow both as a Christian and a writer. I finally understood Paul’s words that the Holy Spirit will express our prayers for us when we don’t have the words. When the pastor asked me to pray about the offer, he didn’t know that I’d been praying about it for a week without knowing I was. In fact, the board position was the answer to my unarticuated prayers!

Last fall, a young musician in Kentucky felt a longing to deepen his faith through music. While looking for music ministry positions in his home state, he found an opening not far from the Florida town where he frequently performs on weekends. He certainly didn’t ask God to lead him to a new church that meets in a park in southwest Florida but that’s where the Spirit led him. Now he’s leading worship at our church. Was that coincidence or did the Holy Spirit speak for him? His new position answered his unspoken prayers (as well as our spoken ones for a worship leader).

Several years ago, my friend Lynn moved to a town where she knew no one. Away from family, with two active toddlers, and a husband whose business kept him away for weeks on end, she was overwhelmed by motherhood’s demands. While talking to a friend 1,000 miles away about her loneliness and need for a break, the phone call was cut short by a knock at the door. Standing there was the answer to Lynn’s unuttered prayers: a girl who lived nearby and was seeking a mother’s helper/babysitting job!

As it turned out, Lynn was the answer to this girl’s unvoiced prayers, as well. The teen’s mother was gone and she lived with her father and four brothers in a house heavy with testosterone. Sports reigned supreme there and no one talked about things important to teen-age girls or could help her with make-up, hair, or fashion. That, however, was right up Lynn’s alley and she was the perfect surrogate “aunt” to guide the girl through adolescence; Lynn even taught her how to cook and sew. I doubt this teen had prayed about finding a refuge from sports central any more than Lynn had prayed for someone who offered companionship and purpose along with babysitting. Yet, God heard their prayers!

We often are in the dark when it comes to our needs and how to pray but those unarticulated prayers may be the best ones. The Holy Spirit utters wordless prayers on our behalf and intercedes for us according to God’s will. Even when we don’t know what or how to pray, we can remain confident that God will arrange circumstances to work out beautifully in a way that we’d never imagine. He has a wonderful way of knowing what it is we need long before we do!

In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. [John Bunyan]

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

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EXPLORATORY SURGERY – NEW YEAR’S EVE

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. [Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)]

spiderwortThe tradition of New Year’s resolutions goes back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians. During their 12-day celebration of the new year (held in mid-March), they either crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the old one. They also promised to return anything borrowed and pledged the repayment of all their debts. While returning borrowed items and paying our debts are good goals for the coming year, our resolutions usually have something to do with exercise, diet, getting better organized, learning a new skill, spending less money, or reading the entire Bible in a year.

Perhaps, before resolving to floss or eat more vegetables, we should pray and ask God what it is that He would like to see us change. “Search me, O God,” is what could be called a dangerous prayer; when we ask Him to look, we’d better be ready for what He finds. Chances are that it will have nothing to do with developing better dental or nutrition habits. Asking God to examine our innermost being is asking Him to perform exploratory surgery in search of sin. While a surgeon may not find a tumor, God is sure to find plenty of areas in our hearts and minds in need of improvement! If a surgeon does find cancer, we expect him to remove it but, when God finds something offensive in us, He expects us to repent and turn away from it.

Our spiritual goals can fail as readily as the non-spiritual ones and, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, less than half of those who make New Year’s resolutions are successful at keeping them. Perhaps we’d do better if we understood that we can’t change by ourselves. Maybe will-power alone can keep us away from Dunkin’ Donuts or get us to a 6 AM aerobics class but it isn’t enough when we’re combating spiritual enemies. Fortunately, we are powered by the Holy Spirit and, through Him, all things are possible.

Let us remember that Jesus is in the business of transformation. It was at a wedding party in Cana that He transformed water into wine. He then transformed the blind into the sighted, the lame into the strong, and the diseased into the healthy. He changed the churning sea into calm water, a few morsels of food into a feast, and the dead into the living. Jesus’s miracles of transformation continue today. He turns darkness into light, anger into peace, fear into hope, animosity into love, selfishness into generosity, mourning into joy, shame into honor, and sinners into saints.

The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. [G. K. Chesterton]

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. [Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NLT)]

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TRUE CHARACTER

I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. [Romans 7:18b-19 (NLT)]

smooth roseYears ago, we were acquainted with “Henry, dear” and “Mary, darling.” We called them that because we never heard them refer to one another any other way. They always were so sweet and charming in public that halos seemed to hover over their heads. My husband and I often wondered what they called one another behind closed doors and, as we got to know them better, we realized our wariness was well-founded. As noble as they appeared in public, there always seemed to be an ulterior motive behind their kindness and, while “Henry, dear” was patting your back, his other hand probably was reaching into your back pocket. While we never knew what they called one another in private, we knew that what the public saw was not what they actually got.

I thought of them the other day when watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a movie about Fred Rogers. Having read books both by and about him, there truly was nothing artificial or superficial about the man; what you saw actually was what you got. Rogers once said, “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self,” and that’s exactly what he did!

Recently, my day began with bad news and sped downhill from there. In my frustration, my words and actions were not those of a “church lady.” I may write Christian devotions but what you see is not always what you get and the Fruit of the Spirit was nowhere to be found on my tree! Whether in public or private, Mr. Rogers’ faith was evident in all that he did or said. Mine, however, frequently gets obscured by my reaction to circumstances beyond my control. Like the Apostle Paul, “I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” [Romans 7:15]

Both Fred Rogers (and the movie) were clear that, just like the rest of us, he was no saint. The difference is that, while many of us seem to think we can become good people effortlessly, Fred Rogers actually worked at being the very best person that he could be. One of the ways he did that was through self-discipline. He faithfully read the Bible, reflected and prayed every day, and his prayers continued all day long. He was disciplined in the way he cared for his body with healthy habits. He was disciplined about meeting his commitments, remembering his friends, and expressing gratitude. It’s not that he didn’t have emotions; it’s that he was disciplined enough to choose safe outlets for the negative ones. It’s not that he didn’t know any four-letter words; he just was disciplined enough to use words like “mercy, me!” instead of them! Rogers understood that while circumstances may be beyond our control, our reaction to them is not. He was disciplined in his faith, obedient to God, and saw everyone as his neighbor and a valued child of God. He didn’t give lip service to the power of the Holy Spirit; He lived, breathed, trusted and depended on the Spirit.

The difference between the “Henry, dears” and “Mary, darlings” of the world and Fred Rogers is that while they wear masks so they’ll look like good Christians, Mr. Rogers developed the strength of character to be a good Christian! Through self-discipline and the power of the Holy Spirit, he actually became good (or at least a whole lot better than many of us). The church would call that process sanctification. We can’t do it by ourselves and God doesn’t do it for us; rather, it is combining our efforts with God’s power to grow more and more like Christ. Spiritual progress doesn’t happen overnight and sanctification is not a passive process; it requires effort, discipline and obedience. Only then will people be able to say of us, “What you see is what you get!”

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)]

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