Be filled with the Spirit

Here’s a transcript of a sermon I gave a few years ago.

I’m going to talk about a special day today. Besides being Mother’s Day, it’s Pentecost in the Christian calendar. Pentecost is a Greek word that means “fiftieth day.” It’s the fiftieth day after Easter, which begins a new season in the Christian calendar, and it lines up with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. There are three big Jewish pilgrimage festivals in the Old Testament, and they are times when all the Jews who can come to Jerusalem and have a big party.

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The Message of the Wise Men

A lot has been made of the wise men who visited Jesus very early in his life, and it seems that most folks are interested in knowing who they are or where they came from, why they brought gifts, what the star they followed actually was, etc. These are all interesting questions, but I want to look at something else. (By the way, fast facts on the wise men: we don’t know how many, we don’t know from where, and there’s nothing which says they were kings.)

I want to focus on the fact that they were not Israelites. What in the world were they doing there? Why did Matthew include them in his gospel? Most of Jesus’ interactions in this gospel were with other Jews, so it seems important when these foreigners are mentioned so prominently.

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Advice from Luther

Martin Luther faced a plague in his own town of Wittenberg, and he was asked the question, “Should we stay or flee?” To sum up his answer, it was:

  1. Take care of your responsibilities.
  2. Take care of your neighbor.
  3. Do as you please.

Solid, practical advice! Now listen to how he describes what our attitudes should be. Here are his words:

Because we know that it is the devil’s game to induce such fear and dread, we should in turn minimize it, take such courage as to spite and annoy him, and send those terrors right back to him. And we should arm ourselves with this answer to the devil:

“Get away, you devil, with your terrors! Just because you hate it, I’ll spite you by going the more quickly to help my sick neighbor. I’ll pay no attention to you: I’ve got two heavy blows to use against you: the first one is that I know that helping my neighbor is a deed well-pleasing to God and all the angels; by this deed I do God’s will and render true service and obedience to him.”

The second blow against the devil is God’s mighty promise by which he encourages those who minister to the needy. He says in Psalm 41, “Blessed is he who considers the poor. The Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble. The Lord will protect him and keep him alive; the Lord will bless him on earth and not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed. In his illness he will heal all his infirmities.” Are not these glorious and mighty promises of God heaped up upon those who minister to the needy? What should terrorize us or frighten us away from such great and divine comfort? The service we can render to the needy is indeed such a small thing in comparison with God’s promises and rewards.

Of course, we aren’t in Luther’s precise situation, but we can minimize the devil’s game and take courage in obeying Jesus.

How can we adapt Luther’s advice for today?

  1. Take care of your responsibilities. If you are working at an essential business or industry, then you have an obligation to keep working. Luther tells us we cannot deny our responsibilities unless there is someone to take our place.
  2. Take care of your neighbor. Are there people in your life who rely on you? For me and my family, my parents are in that category, so we are continuing to serve them by bringing meals and doing things around the house — not easy when practicing physical distancing. Brenda is also a caregiver for a friend’s special needs daughter, and there is no physical distancing possible there!
  3. Do as you please. Luther and his contemporaries had the option of leaving the city to avoid the plague, but we clearly don’t have that option…for us, there’s no place else to go.

So while we shelter at home, we have a choice to make: what do we choose to do? The answer is clear, because our marching orders haven’t changed: love God, and love people. And in this unprecedented time, this is how we can bring honor to Jesus; this is how we can make him look good.

I don’t know we’re different, either

My last post talked about our kids, and how they don’t know we’re different than other families. I had a situation a short while ago which made me realize just how different we are.

I was in San Francisco at a customer event, and went down to the local British pub for dinner. The place was very crowded, but I found a small table — one of those which is about 2 feet in diameter, with high stools to sit on and not much room to eat.

I had just placed my order and was settling in to read my book when a woman came up and said, “You look like a nice man. Could my friends and I share your table?” And before I knew it, four women had gathered around this little table and settled in for the evening.

It turns out they were Teamsters, here for a convention of women Teamsters. Not only did I not know there were women Teamsters, I didn’t know they had conventions! These ladies were employees of the union, not just members, and so they had a lot to say about the organization. But when they started asking me about my life is where I noticed how different that life is.

They asked me where I met my wife. I told them it was on a trip to Guatemala, where we were going to build houses for widows who lost their husbands in the civil wars of the 80s. They asked how many children I have, and were of course shocked when I told them I had eight. But unlike other conversations, where people are shocked and almost offended…these ladies were amazed and almost had a sense of wonder.

They asked if my wife worked. I said she homeschools the kids (more amazement) and also works for a non-profit organization which supports an orphanage in India. That bit of news almost sent them over the edge with awe.

What finally did it for them was when I said one of my kids is going over there to teach English for a few months. I felt kind of awkward as we sat around this little table…four garrulous ladies out for a good time, made speechless (yes, really) by me just telling the stuff my life is made of.

It just seems so normal to me. Why wouldn’t we say Yes when our daughter wants to serve these orphans? Why wouldn’t we serve them ourselves? Why wouldn’t we have lots of kids, and teach them at home so we can spend more time with them? And what better place to meet my future wife than in the act of serving?

But it’s so crazy different, and I had no idea. In fact, if I did know the effect my story would have had on them, I’m sure I wouldn’t have told it. I just didn’t know that it was so different, or that they would react in the way they did.

But it is different. God has done something to our family, something that makes us, well, different. I had no idea.

I started to understand, though, when one of the women around the table — the one who first approached me — began to look sad. She was reflecting on her own life, and said she doesn’t do any of these things. I shared with her that we don’t have to do everything, but we can do something. I said, “You don’t have to go to India, but you probably should support a child there.”

We each have a little corner of the world which God gives us to manage. We don’t have to solve all the world’s problems, but we do need to take care of our corner. Mine happens to have some orphans in it. What’s in your corner?

Demolish things

I mentor some guys via email (sounds weird, I know). One of them, a young man named, Nate, wrote this to me recently:

I have been doing great. I have noticed my thought patterns lately and I feel like those strongholds are really breaking down. I pray that the devil will never be able to build his strongholds in my mind again. I love the feeling of freedom that I have when I am able to demolish impure thought patterns.

Go out today and demolish something.