Posted in Acts, Captivity, Captured, Christ, Free, Freedom, Healing, Holy Spirit, Human Choice, Johnny Cash, Jurgen Moltmann, Kairos, paul, Prisoner, Relationship, Salvation, Silas, The Son, worry

Freedom

May 29th – 7th Sunday of Easter – Freedom – Acts 16:16-34

This sermon’s titled “Freedom.”  It’s a loaded word.  Songs about freedom from Jon Baptiste “to move your body just like this” to the old school “Freedom” chorus a la George Michael.  Who can ever forget William Wallace yelling, “Freedom” in Braveheart?  Freedom.  Hot button and divisive issues like the freedom to choose and the freedom to bear AK 47’s are taken from our living rooms to social media to protests.  Freedom.  This weekend, as we celebrate the brave men and women who have died in active military service, choosing to fight for this country’s freedom.  As we look at the Ukrainians who actively fight for the freedom of their country right now.  Freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.  Jurgen Moltmann argues that the greatest mystery of human existence is not the reality of evil, or injustice, or hatred. Rather, the greatest mystery in the universe is human freedom — the freedom that God has chosen to give you and me that enables us to order our lives in any way we see fit. We are free to become a Mother Teresa or an Adolph Hitler. We are free to give our lives to God, or free to be the crowd that crucified Jesus.  As we close out this five-part series on the Power of the Holy Spirit displayed in Acts, we get an up close personal look at people in bondage and the glorious freedom in Jesus’ name.

Acts 16:16-34

16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

35 When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, “The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul replied, “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; 39 so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.

Who is actually free?

The slave girl isn’t.  She cries out about Paul and Silas, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  They are free to choose to spend their time proclaiming the way to true freedom. 

The slave girl’s owners are bitter that Paul lost them their money maker and are imprisoned by their evil ways of earning a living.  They certainly are not free of their greediness.

When the owners drag them before the crowd – they’re suckered in by the mob spirit that makes them look like villagers with pitchforks and torches.  They are certainly not free of their assumptions, rush to judgment, mass anger and group think and they begin attacking them.

Then the magistrates who are supposed to maintain order, strip them of their clothing and order them to be beaten with rods.  They are imprisoned by punitive rules that compel them to pronounce a harsh sentence on two people who are simply preaching love and kindness.  The magistrates could have shown mercy, but their pridefulness and holding onto their power, certainly wouldn’t have freed them.

They threw them into prison after giving them a severe flogging.  Although the jailer wears a ring of keys that open any door in the place, the jailer is just as confined as the prisoners. He’s imprisoned by his fear — by a terror so great that he would sooner impale himself on his sword than face the wrath of his superior officers. 

Then the other prisoners themselves.  Who knows what they could have done to end up here.  They are certainly not free of their crimes.

Paul and Silas are the only ones that are truly free.  Surely, they had heard how Jesus told the Jews that believed in him in John 8:31-36, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.  So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” 

If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.  They are free because of the Spirit of Christ that dwells within them — the Spirit which gives them courage to sing and pray, even with their legs immobilized in the stocks.

What do you think the other prisoners thought?  When they heard Paul and Silas battered, bruised and naked praying and singing hymns? 

In Walk the Line (2005), Johnny Cash, who is played by Joaquin Phoenix, is talking to the prison warden.

The Warden: “Mr. Cash? The record company asks that you not play any songs that would remind the prisoners that they are in jail.”

Johnny Cash: “Do you think they forgot?”

In the same film, this is an exchange between Johnny Cash and a record company executive.

Record Company Executive: “Your fans are church folk, Johnny. Christians. They don’t wanna hear you singing to a bunch of murderers and rapists, tryin’ to cheer ’em up.”

Johnny Cash: [pause] “Well, they’re not Christians, then.”

The text doesn’t say whether Paul was a tenor and Silas a bass. It doesn’t mention guitars or other instruments.  The text says: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” The other prisoners were listening to Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns.  The text doesn’t say what the prisoners were guilty of, it only says when there was a massive earthquake all the prisoners’ chains were unfastened and the prison doors were wide open, but none of them left.  None of them left.  When we’re singing in the rain, people are going to stop and take notice.  When we’re singing even through our adversity, when we’re trudging through the valley of the shadow of death, people are going to stop and take notice. 

God acts through the form of an earthquake that effectively removes the chains of all the prisoners, and opens all the doors, while, miraculously, not harming a single person.  I’m always curious what happened to the prisoners after the story leaves them.  I wonder if it was a Kairos ministry moment.  Kairos Ministries brings the life-changing message of Christ’s love and forgiveness to incarcerated individuals.  It is an ecumenical, lay-led ministry that relies on 20,000 volunteers per year to carry out its mission.

“I’m glad I got caught because if I hadn’t been caught and sentenced and sent to this place, I might never have met Jesus Christ, never have known God is real,” says one of the 170,000 incarcerated men and women who have experienced Kairos Prison Ministry International, since it began in 1976.

The impact of Kairos is immeasurable. Whereas an estimated 30 to 70 percent of released inmates will return to prison, Colorado’s Department of Corrections found that only 10 percent of incarcerated individuals who had experienced Kairos ministry returned to prison. Lives are changed and when these individuals are released from prison they are better able to be the kind of spouse, parent and employee they want to be. Many even become volunteers themselves.

One inmate sums it up this way, “I came full of hate and resentment. I’m going out with love, a new Spirit … Christ within me.” 

A new Spirit is what the jailer wanted too.  When we’ve tried everything the world has offered and we’re desperate for an answer that completely satisfies us, we cry out to Jesus.  I can imagine the heartbreaking sincerity in his voice as he asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities contains a famous character known as Dr. Manette. Imprisoned for 20 years by the king, the doctor is finally freed by the revolution. Through his long imprisonment, the doctor has taken on a new trade, that of cobbler. In the gloom of his prison cell, he has lived out his days tapping shoes with a hammer.

Finally, the day comes when Dr. Manette is led out into the sunlight, but the light of day terrifies him. The good doctor has lived too long in the shadowy recesses of his cell. The only way he is happy, it turns out, is for a servant to lock him at night in a tiny attic room. There he spends his time tap, tap, tapping on the shoes, just as he did for so many years.

Dr. Manette’s story  it’s not so uncommon as you may think. How many have been led time and again to an open door through which can be glimpsed the bright sunlight of God’s freedom? Yet how many of us, when faced by such a beautiful scene, have shielded our eyes from the light, and have turned back into the shadows of our cells, retreating into the same destructive habits time and again?

Richard Rohr writes in “Restorative Justice,” “Step Five of the Twelve Steps – “We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

“As any good therapist will tell you, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge, and what you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control of you from within, festering and destroying you and those around you.

Step Five fits the biblical notion of restorative justice — to restore relationships themselves, to restore integrity with myself, and to restore a sense of communion with God. Humanity needs such an honest exposure of the truth, and true accountability and responsibility for what has happened. Only then can human beings move ahead with dignity.

Only mutual apology, healing, and forgiveness offer a sustainable future for humanity. Otherwise, we are controlled by the past, individually and corporately. We all need to apologize, and we all need to forgive or this human project will surely self-destruct. No wonder that almost two-thirds of Jesus’ teaching is directly or indirectly about forgiveness. Otherwise, history winds down into the taking of sides, deep bitterness, and remembered hurts, plus the violence that inevitably follows. As others have said, “Forgiveness is to let go of our hope for a different or better past.” It is what it is, and such acceptance leads to great freedom, as long as there is also accountability and healing in the process.”

Jesus Christ offers us freedom such as the world can never know. In him is healing and wholeness and strength for the living of these days.

The opposite of freedom is captivity.  And aren’t we captured by our fears?  Yes!  They are like old worn, comfy pajamas.  They keep us captured, I mean safe.  Here’s what God’s word says about fear:

Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

9 I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

John 14:27 (NRSV)

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 34:4 (NRSV)

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.

Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV)

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.  It’s that simple.  Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Lay down all the fears.  Lay down all the heaviness this world has put upon you and take on the light of Christ.  Shout a big whopping “Freedom” like Braveheart because if the Son makes you free, you WILL be free indeed.

Posted in Coincidence, Cornelius, Discernment, God-Fearers, Holy Spirit, Hospitality, Jesus, Katy Nicole, Lydia, paul, Sermon, Story, TikTok

Dreams Not Beans

May 22nd – 6th Sunday of Easter – Dreams not Beans – Acts 16:9-15

In 1682 the entire village of Runswick, England, slid into the sea. It was crazy!  The entire town was gone.  The entire town disappeared in an instant.  Here’s the strange thing.  Not a single resident of Runswick, England drowned.  Why?  You may ask.  Every single inhabitant in the small fishing village was at a funeral at the time of the collapse!  That was incredibly lucky!  It was an amazing coincidence!  Or was it something more?  I bet the villagers didn’t thank their lucky stars but thanked God almighty.  As they rebuilt the village, slightly further south, perched on a set of cliffs, they must have given thanks to God.  Their village slipped into the sea, but they had what matters, each other.  Not a single person was lost.

Dr. Steve Land tells about a seminary student during World War II who was preparing himself to enter the war as a military chaplain. One day this student found a used book at a bookstore on the subject of “How to Speak Russian.” This student was somewhat of an introvert. He preferred to remain in his room reading rather than going out to socialize with his friends. He decided that this little book on how to speak Russian would be a nice, quiet way to spend his evenings. From then until his graduation he studied that Russian language book whenever he had a chance.

After graduation the young man was inducted into the Army as a chaplain. He was sent to Europe where his battalion was involved in heavy fighting. One night as he lay on his bedroll, staring up at the stars, he became depressed. Every day and every night he was constantly giving comfort to wounded and dying soldiers. Seminary didn’t prepare him for this. In fact, he did not feel prepared for anything he was being asked to do.

Just then, while those thoughts were troubling him, a medic came running up to him. “Chaplain,” he said, “we have a man who is seriously wounded, he is scared and panicking but we can’t understand what he is saying to us. Can you come help us?”

Upon arriving at the scene, he realized that it was a Russian soldier who had evidently gotten separated from his company. As he knelt beside the man he suddenly recognized he could understand much of what the soldier was saying. For the rest of the night he stayed by the soldier’s side, speaking words of comfort to him in broken Russian and praying with him the best he could until the man died from his wounds.

As he returned to his bedroll and lay down under the stars once again, the young chaplain felt that somehow the stars were brighter and the load he was carrying was a little lighter. He now knew that God was at work even in this awful war. This little Russian language book had fallen into his hands and God used it to comfort a dying soldier through him. 

Was it lucky that he knew some Russian?  Was it a crazy coincidence?  Or the Holy Spirit leading and guiding?  Was it something like Paul is talking about in Romans 8:26-28, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Paul was shaped by his experiences with the Holy Spirit in Acts.  He couldn’t not be.  He was so dependent on the Spirit for direction, comfort and giving him the encouragement he needed to keep going through shipwrecks, imprisonment, and literally for his direction.  Often he would not know where he was going or why or who he would be meeting when he got there so utterly as he relied on the Holy Spirit.  As you can see from our map, he traveled all over the countries around the Mediterranean Sea.  The Holy Spirit for whatever reason said no to Asia and in our text today, the Holy Spirit comes to him in a dream directing him instead to Macedonia.  

My New Testament professor Luke Timothy Johnson used to say we need to use discernment when we think the Holy Spirit is guiding and leading us to do something.  It may just be the beans you had for lunch.  Paul was indeed filled with the Holy Spirit and not just a really bad indigestion.  When the Lord prompted him to go he went, because he trusted God to show him what to do.

Acts 16:9-15 

 9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Lydia is found in the Bible only in two places, both of which are in Acts.  When it says that she was a dealer in purple cloth that was a signal to readers that she was wealthy because purple cloth was expensive.  Purple was the color of the Roman elite.  The emperor, and only the emperor, would wear a toga made entirely of purple cloth. Purple dye was quite expensive. It was made from a juice found in minute quantities in shellfish. It took thousands of these small crustaceans to make a yard or two of purple cloth. Purple dye was rare and purple fabric was worth its weight in silver.

It’s important to note that Lydia was not a Jew, but she did worship God. As Lydia listened to Paul’s message, Luke tells us the Lord opened her heart to the message of Jesus. And right there on the spot, she and all the members of her household were baptized into the Christian faith. Her husband is not mentioned anywhere in the passage, but it says she and her household were baptized, which most likely would have included her children and servants.  She offered hospitality in her home to Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke saying, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.”  And she persuaded them to stay.  It’s interesting that in Paul’s dream that set his course on going to Macedonia was a man, but his first convert was Lydia and her entire household.

Now was it luck or mere coincidence that Lydia was there when came down to the river to pray?  If we could ask Lydia, I bet she would say, “It was the Holy Spirit leading me.  God led me to the exact spot at that exact moment so I could hear eagerly what the Lord Jesus had done for me so I can share it with my household and share it for the rest of my life.  It has changed my life.”

Lydia was a person of faith even before she was exposed to the Gospel of Jesus. This is important. There is a tendency on the part of some religious people to divide the world into the saved and the unsaved, the righteous and the unrighteous. Surprisingly, the New Testament isn’t that narrow. In the New Testament there are Jews and there are Christians and there are people who are known as God-Fearers as Lydia is. Luke refers to Lydia simply as a worshiper of God.  In modern terms, we may call her a “seeker” or someone who is “spiritual, but not religious.   

There’s a man in Acts 10 who also fits the description of a God-Fearer. His name was Cornelius. Last week I preached about Cornelius without ever using his name.  He was an officer in what was known as the Italian Regiment of the Roman army. Cornelius commanded a hundred men whose main job was to maintain order in Caesarea. Cornelius was not a Jew. Neither was he a Christian. Here is how Luke describes him, “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” 

One afternoon about three o’clock Cornelius has a vision. He sees an angel of God. This angel comes to him and says, “Cornelius!”

Whoa, Cornelius is not prepared for this. He stares at the angel and he is afraid. “What is it, Lord?” he asks timidly.

The angel says to him, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have caught God’s attention. He has a job for you. You are to send some of your men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”  This is the other side of the story that I preached on last week.  The Spirit of the Lord is working on all of us at the same time.  Not just Peter, but Cornelius too.

When the angel had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and another devout soldier. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.

Remember from last week, Peter was having his famous dream of God telling Peter that nothing which God created was unclean – like lobster, shrimp, bacon and ham. It was this dream that gave Peter the awareness that it was all right for him to break bread with Gentiles. It was to Cornelius’ house that God summoned Simon Peter. This was a life-changing experience for Peter and it was a life-changing experience for the early church, and it came through this non-Jewish, not yet Christian, man named Cornelius.

In New Testament terms Cornelius was a God-Fearer. Lydia also was a God-Fearer. She was a Gentile but she was a worshiper of God. She was seeking after God. So it was no accident that she was down at the river engaged in a prayer meeting when she encountered the Apostle Paul. Lydia was hungry for God.  They just had to be introduced to Jesus.  Jesus brings the way, the truth, the life.  Jesus sets the captives free from sin and death.  Jesus brings freedom to our world.  This song was posted by Katy Nicole on TikTok with a simple caption “Can I pray this song over you right now?” It’s called “In Jesus’ Name (God of Possible).”

I speak the name of Jesus over you

In your hurting, in your sorrow

I will ask my God to move

I speak the name ’cause it’s all that I can do

In desperation, I’ll seek Heaven

And pray this for you

I pray for your healing

That circumstances would change

I pray that the fear inside would flee in Jesus name

I pray that a breakthrough would happen today

I pray miracles over your life in Jesus name, in Jesus name

I speak the name of all authority

Declaring blessings, every promise

He is faithful to keep

I speak the name no grave could ever hold

He is greater, He is stronger

He’s the God of possible

Katy Nichole created her now viral song “In Jesus Name (God of Possible)” from words in her prayer journal that were written in the midst of the global health crisis and in response to her own story of suffering, hope and healing. The 21-year-old has reached well over 150 million people with the chorus to her debut single on TikTok.  In an interview she shares a common thread of listeners’ reactions.  “But the one thing that I see as a pattern through all these stories is that they are encountering the Lord. They are experiencing Jesus for the first time, or for another time in their life if they already knew Him. But there are a lot of people seeing Jesus. Maybe they haven’t even recognized it yet, but it’s a start and a step in the right direction, which I just think is really cool.”

The Holy Spirit is using her song and lyrics to speak to the Lydia’s and the Cornelius’ of our world.  They are really great people who are seeking God.  They may have been turned off by the church or what they consider to be “Christian” people. They may have even been hurt by the church, but they still hunger for God.  They want Jesus.  They are desperately longing for Jesus.  Will you be the one to introduce them?  Will you let the Holy Spirit guide you when you don’t know what to pray?  Will you show a hurting world the cure for all that ails them – no other name is as sweet when we’ve hit rock bottom chasing the things of the world – we who know the name should shout it out – Jesus!  We, the church of Jesus, need to actively reach out into the world. We need to encounter them where they are and share genuinely and generously what our Triune God has done in our life. If we do that, then we are loudly proclaiming, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long!”

I love a story that Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross tells about a woman she encountered when she was writing her famous book on death and dying. Part of Dr. Kubler-Ross’ research involved interviewing dying patients in the hospital, trying to find out how they felt and what they thought as they faced death. As she went from room to room in the hospital, she began to notice a remarkable pattern. Sometimes she would go into a dying person’s room and the person would be calm, at peace, and tranquil. She also began to notice that often this was after the patient’s room had been cleaned by a certain hospital orderly.

One day, Dr. Kubler-Ross happened to run into this orderly in the hospital corridor. She asked, “What are you doing with my patients?”

The orderly thought she was being reprimanded by Dr. Kubler-Ross. She said, “I’m not doing anything with your patients.”

“No, no,” she responded. “It’s a good thing. After you go into their rooms, they seem at peace. What are you doing with my patients?”

“I just talk to them,” the orderly said. “You know, I’ve had two babies of my own die on my lap. But God never abandoned me. I tell them that. I tell them that they aren’t alone, that God is with them, and that they don’t have to be afraid.”

We all have stories to share of being in the right place at the right time.  It’s not luck.  It’s not coincidence.  It’s God.  If we let the Holy Spirit direct our paths like with Paul.  The Holy Spirit will guide our steps and Jesus is faithful to give us the words to say.  It’s simple.  You just have to be open to sharing your story.  It’s as simple as that.  

I want to close with this prayer from Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century, it’s a real oldie but a goody, “Gracious and Holy God, Give us wisdom to perceive you, intelligence to understand you, diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you, eyes to behold you, a heart to meditate on you, and a life to proclaim you; through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Posted in Acts, Ananias, Holy Spirit, Jesus, paul, Transformation

Ultimate Transformation

The next five weeks are going to take a deeper look at the Holy Spirit at work in the book of Acts.  Last week’s lectionary reading was the resurrected Jesus appearing to the disciples in a locked room and breathing on them the Holy Spirit, the ruach, the very breath of God that ignites, sustains and transforms.  Call this a 5 week special feature:  Ultimate Transformation with Saul and Ananias, A Mighty Woman with Tabitha/Dorcas and Peter, God’s People Expanded with Peter and the Gentile expansion pack, Dreams not Beans with Paul and Lydia, and finally Freedom with Paul and Silas.  All leading us toward Pentecost which for all intents and purposes IS the Holy Spirit’s day.  Blow, Spirit, blow!

You know that we have access to the Holy Spirit right here and right now.  The Holy Spirit is our advocate and comforter, interceding for us when we don’t have the words to cry out, intervening as a hedge of protection, guiding and leading us to where we should go and even giving us the words to say. 

I preached last week upstairs that we serve a show and tell God.  God shows us the ultimate transformation when Saul becomes Paul.  Saul is high on the hog, a big man on campus, a titan of Wall Street, a superstar of the Jewish faith when he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus.  The Lord revealed his plans to a hesitant Ananias who says, yes, Lord, and he gets a firsthand look at what our Lord Jesus can do.  The practical point for today is two-fold – if we think we’re too far gone, irredeemable, not worthy or good enough our Jesus loves home improvement projects and if the triune God is telling you do something, no matter how crazy it sounds, we as members of the Way should hop to it!  If we follow the Spirit’s leading everything that was lost will be found in the sweet name of Jesus.

Acts 9:1-20

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

If we think we’re too far gone, irredeemable, not worthy or good enough our Jesus loves home improvement projects.

Extreme Makeover Home Edition first made the big home reno transformation scene with, “Move that bus!  Move that bus!”  Now it’s common place with Fixer Upper, Home Town, Zombie Houses, Love it or List it, and the list goes on.  We often get sucked into watching those shows because we want to see the great big transformation – the huge reveal at the end.  It’s rare that we see a transformation from sinner to saint as dramatic as that of Saul to Paul.  We know that there are stories out there, however and here is one such story. The story of Cain Lackey from Patrick County, Virginia.

Cain Lackey was known as the Meanest Man in Patrick County. He was rough and tough.  The year was 1892 and Patrick County, Virginia, was a place of dirt fields and mud roads. There wasn’t always enough food. People died because there were no doctors. Some places were almost impossible to get to because of the roads.

For all that, it was still very beautiful. There were the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, and the music of winding rivers racing over the boulders in their streambeds. In the western part of the county were rich fields and long grasses. There were dairy farms, and orchards so plentiful that the smell of the fruit was like perfume.

Two ministers, Brother Dove and Brother Elgin, were standing at the edge of a swamp.  Down below, a tough, wiry man was digging a ditch. Brother Dove was a revival preacher, new in town, and Brother Elgin warned him about the man who was digging: Cain Lackey, the Meanest Man in four counties.

Brother Elgin proceeded to tell Brother Dove about Cain Lackey, how he could carry a railroad tie the way most men carried a two-by-four, how he could out-wrestle and out-fight anyone else who’d ever passed through. And he told him about the famous fight against a man known as Champion Ben, who he’d laid flat with a single punch, and how it had required twelve men to pull Cain Lackey off the former champion.

Brother Elgin also told him about the man’s father, who kept him from school, worked him from dawn to dusk, made him sleep outdoors all summer long, and how Cain had built a working mill by himself at the age of ten.

No one could level another man with his fist like Cain. No one was stronger or meaner.  “Well, he certainly looks like the strongest man in the county,” Brother Dove said, watching the way Cain Lackey thrust his shovel into the swamp, and sent great clouds of mud into the air behind him.

“I’m going to invite him to the revival,” Brother Dove said suddenly.

“He’ll never come,” Brother Elgin said.

“He’ll definitely never come if we don’t ask him,” Brother Dove replied.

Brother Elgin watched as the Brethren minister descended into the swamp. Brother Elgin could see Brother Dove step first ankle deep, then knee deep into the swamp, getting mud and gunk all over him. He watched as Brother Dove stuck out his hand to Cain Lackey. After a moment, Cain took the hand.

A few moments later Brother Dove was walking back to Brother Elgin. Mud clung to his boots and pants.

“What did he say?” Brother Elgin asked. Cain Lackey had already returned to digging. Not much seemed to keep him from work.  “He said he’d come. Is he as good as his word?”

“Yes.  If he tells you he’ll come he’ll be there. He’s just that way. He’ll do what he tells you. But if he tells you he’ll give you a whipping, he’ll do that, too.”

That night at the revival, the church was full. People had come from miles around to hear Brother Dove. There were young people and old people. There were children and mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, and plenty of babies. All the windows were open, and still it was hot, very hot inside, yet no one left. No one wanted to leave, because when someone like Brother Dove came to preach revival it was something special, very special.

The songs were the sorts of songs that everyone already knew. A sweaty man in the front of the church moved his arms up and down, right and left, to direct the singing, but everyone already knew the songs.

Brother Dove looked out over the congregation, and then he saw, in the doorway of the church, a big man standing. It was Cain Lackey, all right, and he had a child in his arms.  He hadn’t thought about it, but he now knew that Cain Lackey was married, and had children. There was a beautiful child in his arms. There was no room for anyone else in the church, but when Cain came in the door, people were afraid of him and made room for him to sit down.

Opening his Bible, Brother Dove began to read, and to talk. It got hotter and hotter in the building, and Brother Dove was dripping with sweat, and so was everyone else. It had gotten dark outside, and it was getting dark in the church as well. He could barely see into the back row, and he wondered, what did Cain Lackey, the Meanest Man in Patrick County, think about what he was saying?

When it was time for the closing song, some were crying in the church, and some were squeezing forward so that Brother Dove and Brother Elgin and all the other Brethren ministers could pray for them.  Many people were coming forward.

Brother Dove could see a dark shadow, a silhouette of a man, standing at the back of the church. Cain Lackey was standing, but he could see there was no way Cain Lackey could come forward, even if he wanted to. The church was too packed.

And then he saw something that surprised him. Cain Lackey was standing on top of a church bench. He was holding a little girl in his arms, and she was fast asleep. This person who was supposed to be the worst person in Patrick County had a little girl asleep in his arms, and he was coming forward by walking on top of the church benches.

The other ministers stood back as if they were shocked, but Brother Dove welcomed Cain Lackey, and hugged him very tightly, him and his daughter. Then Brother Dove invited Cain Lackey to kneel while they prayed together. All along, the singing continued. Then a cool breeze blew in the window, a breeze that brought relief and comfort.

When he was through praying, Brother Dove raised his hands and suddenly everyone was quiet. No one was singing. No one was crying. Everyone was listening.

“Today you have seen a miracle of grace,” he said. “God has called this man to do great things. You will be the ones who will see these things. Welcome this man into our church!”

Cain Lackey went on to learn to read and write. He became a minister and built many churches. He was elected to public office and spent tax money to build roads to improve access to rural areas even though it made him unpopular. He worked to provide social services for poor people who had been ignored by other politicians. He smashed stills where he found them. He changed lives. Most of all, he lived a life of grace and service to Jesus Christ.  A life transformed.

Saul, much like Cain Lackey, had a reputation of being a very bad man, a big bully like I said in the children’s sermon.  Saul was a man to be feared.  Saul was very zealous in the Jewish faith.  He called himself a Hebrew among Hebrews, so fervent in the faith and traditions of his own people that he stood by and watched over the cloaks of the mob that dragged Stephen off and stoned him to death.   Paul himself recalls elsewhere how he was fervent in persecution, determined to eradicate the Jesus movement by any means possible. In Galatians 1:13 he says that he “violently” laid hands on Christians. It was an overall empty life.

Saul’s conversion is the greatest act of transformation in the New Testament. It’s one of those “if he can change I guess I can change” stories that we need to prove that our gospel truly transforms lives.

If the triune God is telling you to do something, no matter how crazy it sounds, we as members of the Way should hop to it!

God uses Ananias, an ordinary Christian disciple to heal Saul.  This is the only time this particular Ananias is mentioned in scripture except when Paul is giving his testimony in Acts 22:12,  “A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well-spoken of by all the Jews living [in Damascus].”  When the Lord called to Ananias in a vision, he answered, “Here I am, Lord.”  After he’s given his instructions, Ananias vocalizes his fears and hesitations.   Word on the street was that Saul was evil and he had authority from the Chief Priests in Jerusalem to bind anyone invoke the name of Jesus. 

Every call from God is a personal call. God’s call comes to us person-to-person. It is not a conference call. Some of us respond by putting God on hold. Others of us use call-waiting and take other calls first. Then there are those of us who try to return the call collect – making God pay for calling us.  And yet Ananias answered Jesus.  He trusted Jesus, even if he may have harbored doubts and fears, and it is to Ananias, not Saul, that the purpose and plan for the new apostle’s life is first revealed. 

Ananias follows Jesus’ instructions.  The text doesn’t say if he had doubts or hesitancies, but the only way I “out” myself to Saul as a member of the Way with his reputation was to hear a voice from the Lord.  And even then…Ananias must have his own real transformation from righteous and respected Jew to faithful follower of the Way.  His was a transformation not recorded within the Bible, but he had to have one because he addresses this fearful enemy of his people as “Brother Saul” — demonstrating with his words his trust in the Lord’s transformative abilities. I would love an insight into Ananias thought process as he does the unthinkable. Outing himself as a follower of the Way and being the Jesus’ instrument bringing Saul healing. And while the vision’s words does not make the source of Ananias’ healing ability clear, Ananias himself knows better than to take credit for such a miracle. The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ presence here on earth, is the source of this healing. Saul is no longer an outsider persecuting the church; he is now a true brother in Christ.

“Here I am, Lord.”  Ananias’ behavior in this story gives us a game plan for what we should do. God wants Ananias, an ordinary man, a simple disciple, in an act of courage to lay hands on Saul – essentially to make a pastoral call on this terrorist. Here is Ananias’ reaction. Step 1: He answered. Step 2: He confirmed the assignment. Step 3: He went. Step 4: He laid his hands on Saul.  Step 5: He affirmed his new family member, when he called him “Brother.”  

Ananias understood and lived as a good Jew, who was now a follower of Jesus, a disciple of the Way. Proverbs 3:5-6 which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  He embodied the hymn “Trust and Obey.”

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word

What a glory He sheds on our way!

While we do His good will, He abides with us still

And with all who will trust and obey

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey

If we follow the Spirit’s leading, everything that was lost will be found in the sweet name of Jesus.

Lee Strobel once knew the emptiness and lack of direction of living without the Triune God – God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit – in his life. Though he was a successful journalist, by his own account he was not a happy man. He describes himself at that stage in his life as “profane and angry.” To prove his point he cites a time when he came home one night and kicked a hole in the living room wall just out of anger with his life. Can you imagine the impression his conduct made on his five-year-old daughter? But Jesus Christ came into Lee Strobel’s life and changed his life radically. He says that five months after he gave his life to Christ, his little girl went to her mother and said, “Mommy, I want God to do for me what he’s done for Daddy.” Strobel says that God changed not only him, God changed his family and changed his world. When true God-given transformation happens it leaves nothing untouched and changes your whole wide world.

It was hard to argue with a testimony like that.  The scales had fallen off Lee Strobel’s eyes and he could now see both physically and spiritually.  Just like Saul.  The text says, “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.”  It was quite the transformation!  A week before he had given himself the task with the Chief Priests blessing to round up believers of the Way and today he’s preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.  What blasphemy! To those Jewish ears.  But what a transformation!  A testimony!  Saul could sing quite literally, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

He who was lost, is found, indeed and he’s ready to preach Jesus’ transforming power far and wide.  Saul was not irredeemable.  Ananias trusts in God’s leading.  The result is revival then and now if we show and tell the world as the Spirit leads in the sweet, sweet name of Jesus – the One who has the power to transform our lives.

Posted in Cross, Jesus, paul, restart, Sermon

Time to Restart

I started with word games, 4 different ones, so when one showed the commercial in the free version, I could go to the next one.  Evy got me into picture finds and I’ve become obsessed with them.  Every time the clock winds down, it turns red and flashing at the 30 second mark, and I have 3 or more left, I get frantic trying to find the silly little pictures.  It’s amazing how frustrated I get.  I don’t want to restart.  They give me that option every time or I could get 45 seconds, if I pay for it, and I don’t want to pay.  I inevitably have to restart.  I don’t want to.  But I have to.  I know the game gets easier, if I restart, because I’ve done it before, but something in me – does not want to.  Or how many of you have mashed the power button on a computer or copier when nothing else works?

Sometimes we HAVE to do a hard restart.  We don’t want to, we sure don’t want to, but sometimes we have to.  Sometimes our lives need a reset because we’ve worn a path pacing back and forth trying to decide whether to make a change or not.  We sometimes don’t want to move on.  We sometimes want to cling to the past like old comfy pajamas.  You know those that have small holes in them and you can’t bear to throw them out.  We dread the changes that we would have to make in our lives, all the work it’s gonna be to let go of the past.  We’re afraid to face the new realities, the new normal.  Paul knew that without God in the mix, we could never make real change on our own.  Paul knew this secret and he’s trying to teach us as well.

Philippians 3:13-14

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

For us to follow Paul’s example, we have to make peace with those around us, with ourselves, and with God.

Paul had a lot of stuff in his past.  Remember who he was.  Before he became Paul.  He was Saul.  Saul persecuted early Christians.  He tortured and stoned them.  He was on the way to do more destruction of followers of the Way, until he has an encounter with Jesus and is blinded for three days. He is saved by Ananias; he is transformed into Paul boldly preaching about Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah and Son of God.  Jew and Gentile alike were puzzled and perplexed by this.  On one hand you had Saul that ultimate enemy and bad guy and then you have Paul – the greatest apostle ever….

When he says, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”  He means it.

Paul definitely has baggage.  Most of us don’t have the label of murderer.  Do you think the new Christians were scared of Saul, I mean Paul.  I would not blame some of them for being apprehensive, giving him the side eye, or being wary.  Paul had to have known it.  Had to have known how people would see him.  Annanias is hesitant as he says, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”  The Jews had commissioned Paul to be the angel of death, but the Lord was teaching Paul about mercy and grace.  The Lord talked to Ananias and Ananias went to heal Paul.  Afterwards, the scripture says Paul hung out with the disciples for a few days in Damascus.  Hung out?  Hung out?  He was sent there to kill them!  God makes a way for us to have peace with others.  God makes a way for us to have lives so transformed that it is obvious for all to see.  It must be God.  God was with Paul.  God was with Ananias.  God was with the disciples.  The Holy Spirit was working all around them in that situation and throughout Paul’s life.  God doesn’t leave us as God finds us.  

God worked through Paul and God can work through you and me.  

We have to believe we are worthy of leaving the past behind.  We have to throw out those comfy, holey pajamas.  We have to stop looking at our lives through the rearview mirror and look at the big, wide open windshield in front of us.  If we constantly are looking back then we can’t move forward.  Paul, I’m sure had some guilt, but he knew what he had to do.  Keep focused on the present goal.  “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Do you hear that?  It’s a call of God in Christ Jesus.  God still calls us even with the baggage, even with our pasts, even through our tears and shame.  We make peace with ourselves by acknowledging our past.  We make peace with ourselves when we say it out loud.  We make peace with ourselves by letting Jesus into our hearts and letting him heal us.  

One of the most powerful and visual images that I have participated in was a time at Camp Pee Dee.  There was a canoe lake and a fishing lake at Camp Pee Dee and we walked this big, giant, life-size cross to the fishing lake.  It took a lot of us kids to carry the huge thing to the lake.  As we took turns, I don’t remember if they told us to be somber or solemn or we were being rowdy camp kids, but I remember thinking about carrying this alone and no wonder Jesus fell a few times.  When we got to the lake, again I don’t remember what was said or who the minister for the week was, but they had little pieces of paper and nails and we were to nail our sins to the cross.  Just that image brings up so many emotions, we were all crying in the pool house after using a hammer to nail our sins into the cross.  That image has stuck with me.  The Triune God knows all about us, knit us together in our mothers wombs, knows when we sit and we rise, knows every thought in our heads and every action that we’ve done – and loves us anyway.  Pursues us anyway.  Died for our sins.  

MercyMe’s “Flawless” comes in to play here:

No matter the bruises

No matter the scars

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt

Or how deep the wound is

No matter the pain

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

When we make our peace with God, God is able to use us.  What Jesus says to Ananius to get him to go to Paul in Acts 9:15-16,“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  We may not have the proclamation power of Paul and we certainly don’t want to suffer like Paul, but Jesus uses us as his instruments, to be his show and tell in the world.

There’s a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette called “Christ You Offer Us Your Welcome.”

You have given us a mission — to invite our neighbors in —

and your call to love and listen is a place we can begin.

We need more than open houses; we need, first, to give our hearts.

By your Spirit, make us servants; that’s the way your welcome starts.

May we set a welcome table, may we find a common ground

where no one will feel they’re labeled, where acceptance can be found.

We don’t need to entertain there, or to do things that impress —

just to hear folks’ joy and pain there, and to love so all are blest.

In much the same way, Rachel Held Evans writes, “I had questions about science and faith, biblical interpretation and theology. I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake. 

“What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or pastors wearing skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.”

When we take this meal, we’re following Paul’s example, making peace with those around us, ourselves and God.  But we’re also following Paul’s example because when we take this meal, it’s like a restart.  Forgetting our sins that lie behind us and pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. In this meal, we take part in this holy mystery that should forever change us if we let it.  And that’s what Jesus wants – that’s what Paul did; he was forever changed from Saul into Paul.  He proclaimed the Word made flesh and dwelt among us!  He had proclaimed hate and was a destroyer AND then HE was the biggest big mouth and planted churches and wrote several parts of the Bible.  If Jesus can transform him, what are we waiting for? 

Jesus came and saved a wretch like me and he wants us to use our gifts, talents, imperfections and peculiarities to find the lost, the lonely, the desperate, the seemingly bad guys and show them the WAY – to show them Jesus – so that he can transform their lives just like he continues to transform ours.  Jesus wants us to be the Church joined together in this common meal, in this Holy Communion, throughout all the world, all sinners, saved by grace, all broken people, put back together again, whole.  It’s time to restart and get out of our own way.  It’s time to restart and let God use us.  It’s time to restart and go ye and tell the world about Jesus!

Posted in Campus Ministry, paul, peter, relationships, Sermons, yoda

Yoda – Who’s Your Peter/Paul?

Maybe I built this up too much in my mind, but I really, really, really was looking forward to the Yoda chapter in Len Sweet’s book 11 indispensable relationships you can’t live without.  To say I was disappointed when Sweet only talked about Yoda for a paragraph is an understatement.  Yoda ihe says is a mentor, a guru, a coach, a spiritual teacher/director.  I was discussing this in the College Room and Carly mentioned she had no idea who Yoda is so I should not assume that everyone has watched Star Wars even once, forget watching it incessantly.  Enoch, my 6 year old, got both trilogies for Christmas, so I’ve watched them REPEATEDLY.  He even watches the offshoots from Lego Star Wars to the Yoda Chronicles. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_QcRPNfUuE

I love that clip.  Because Yoda doesn’t let Luke get away with anything.  And yet he clearly cares about him.  R2D2 is clearly the encourager from last week’s chapter.  The Master is showing the Apprentice how it’s done.  Seeing is believing.  Yoda says, “Always two there are, no less:  a master and an apprentice.”  A master pushes us to help us navigate the way that seems unattainable.  A master can help us move to new levels of perception and experience.  A master KNOWS us.  Our limits.  Our strengths.  A trusted master knows when to push or prod or ask the right question.

Disney movies have rich and meaningful mentor characters.  The emperor from Mulan, Phil from Hercules, Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas, Sebastian from The Little Mermaid, Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio, Merida’s mom in Brave.  They clearly provide the morale compass of the story or the wise sage.  Their all over pop culture as well.  Morpheus to Neo in The Matrix, Mr. Miagi in the Karate Kid, Mother Superior in The Sound of Music….

Mentors often can give a reluctant protagonist a necessary push to get the plot rolling.  Mentors also often personify the moral of the story in the protagonist’s story.  They offer the inspiration to the protagonist to keep going when they would rather give up.  They’re often the voice inside your head urging you on.  Urging you forward.

Sweet actually titles this chapter, “Who’s Your Peter/Paul? You Need a Yoda.”  So I’m going to read to you snapshots of each.  Peter was the one that constantly stuck his foot in his mouth.  He was a fisherman.  He was with Jesus at the Transfiguration, the glow in the dark Jesus, where Jesus’ divinity is on full display.  He was the one that walked on water with Jesus (before sinking).  He was the one who denied Jesus three times.  He’s the one Jesus said he would build his church upon, because Peter means rock.  He was also the one who tore it up in Acts, proving that he was a changed man, preaching at Pentecost. 

Acts 3:1-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Peter Heals a Crippled Beggar

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Let that simmer for a second before we launch into Paul.

Paul was the one who persecuted Christians.  He was the chief persecutor of Christians.  And he had an experience on Damascus Road with the Living God.  He then presented himself to the early Christians and thinking he was going to violently persecute them, they fled.  14 of the 27 books of the New Testament are attributed to him so to say he was a prolific writer is an understatement. 

Acts 16:25-34

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer[a] called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord[b] to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

Acts was nuts!  There were all sorts of things going on.  That’s why you hear people model their churches on Acts.  I don’t entirely agree with Sweet’s simplified explanation of the difference between Peter and Paul.  He says Peter was intellectually and culturally slow, but interpersonally was quick and rich, he was a hands on person when it came to relationships, it took him a while to realize the gospel was for everyone, he had a relational point of view.  In contrast he says Paul was intellectually and culturally quick but interpersonally slow, he was hands off, not relational, Paul understood early on that the gospel was for all, he argumentative point of view.

I would like the opportunity to be mentored by either one!  They were obviously men of God who had much to teach, and they had obviously experienced a conversion experience.  Neither Peter nor Paul was afraid of a fight – but a mentor can tell you which battles are worth fighting and which ones aren’t – a lesson that both Peter and Paul had to learn.

You will be mentored by lots and lots of people in your life.  I hope you will be.  I pray that you will be.  Because one having a mentor, means that we do not have it all figured out.  You remember when Luke says to Yoda “he can’t do it” and Yoda shows him he can if he just believes….You can’t be cynical or jaded for long around a Yoda.

Sir Isaac Newton said, “IF I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

  • Whose shoulders are you standing on? 
  • Who do you see and say, “I want to be like them someday!”
  • Who sets standards to which you aspire?
  • What person are you seeking out to help you find your voice and be true to your own voice?
  • From whom are you learning when to suppress and when to express yourself?
  • Whose blessing do you seek?

 

Those are all good questions as we find our Yodas.

 

We must choose our Yodas carefully.  Sweet writes, “There are as many kinds of ‘Yodas’ as there are heads, minds, and hearts! – don’t hitch your wagon to any single star or listen to any voice that seems to attract a following.”  So be discerning in who you choose.  Do you see Christ in him or her?  Mentors come in all different shapes and sizes, some for only a season and some for a lifetime.  We may not even know our spiritual mentors.  Do you have a favorite author who’s dramatically shaped your life?  Whose books you pick up at just the right time and they challenge you long after you finish reading them.  Rob Bell.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Teresa of Avila.  Brennan Manning.  Donald Miller.  Elisabeth Elliott.  Hannah Hurdard.  Bob Goff.  And countless others.  It’s like a continued conversation when you find an author that engages you.

 

Sweet says we must choose our Yodas based on these three things:  Humility, Honesty and Honor. 

 

Humility.  Peter objects to Jesus’ washing the disciples of feet.  In John 13:7 Jesus challenges Peter back, “You do not realize now what I’m doing, but later you will understand.”  The Great God of the universe humbled himself because he wanted to get in the disciples heads and make clear to his followers that you must serve.  The Master wants to study WITH you, not demand you to study UNDER them.  A true Yoda sees themselves as constantly learning.  As Sweet says “An ideal Yoda is a One-who-knows … but a One-who-knows he/she doesn’t know it all.”

 

Honesty.  The best Yodas will be honest enough to share their secrets with you.  But they will be honest enough to tell you the truth, even to rebuke you, especially when you settle for easy answers.  The best mentors let you see behind the curtain to the man underneath – a la the Wizard of Oz.  They let you see through to their vulnerability.  Their weakness.  It’s not a façade.  I appreciate people who are “real,” “authentic,” and don’t have it all figured out.  Even the Yodas second guess themselves.  But they push you out of that same second guessing….towards the light.  Because that’s innately who they are.

 

Honor.  To be blessed by and to bless a mentor are two of life’s richest blessings.  A Yoda wants to mentor people who will honor them by demonstrating both a love of originality and a love of conformity.  So you being you, is all the thanks they need.  That they had influence on your life is all the thanks they need.  That they see their legacy in YOU is all the thanks they need.  Yodas love questions.  I’m reminded of a seminary professor, Dr. Thomas Thangaraj, who asked all the right questions.  He was from India so he even sounded very much like Yoda.  I had the pleasure of being in his Contextual Education class and taking his Images of Christ class.  And I had the nerves-inducing opportunity to preach in front of him in Chapel upon several occasions because he attended University Worship at Emory.  He would find the one question we hadn’t thought of or engaged in.  He was not afraid to answer our questions either.  Like Yoda, he often answered a question by asking another question.  He modeled the give and take between Master and Apprentice unlike any other.

 

Throughout this chapter I was writing in the margins the names of my mentors.  My parents.  Bridgette.  Susan.  Risher.  Sara.  Ms. Rhodes.  A mentor’s function, according to Sweet, “is to guide and guard us into a living, dynamic relationship with God, to help us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to help us live in a daily relationship with the divine.”  With that definition, who are your mentors, your Yodas, your guides? Have you thanked them for shaping you in big and small ways?  I encourage you during this week to thank your Yodas.  Also, to whom are you a yoda, mentor, or guide?  To whom are you going to pass the baton?  Or leave your legacy?