You Will Receive Power

There are two major commissions that we find in Scripture that really stand out as Jesus’ commissions to his disciples and apostles, and therefore to us. The first one you probably thought of is The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and I will be looking at that one in a few weeks.

The second one can be found in Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

I’d like to focus on that word, “power.” It is translated from the Greek word δύναμις (dynamis), which we get words like “dynamite” from, and it represents the power of God. Spiritual power, Ascension Day power.

I know that during this time of quarantine and isolation, many of us feel weak and powerless. Many things have been taken out of our control – our health and safety, our finances, our relationships. Although I’ve heard that some introverts are thriving during this time, extroverts like myself can feel drained and powerless after being isolated so long. We have all lost so much that gives us energy and power.

However, we can intentionally claim this season as a time of spiritual power, a time to incubate the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:15-23 (emphasis mine)

What Paul is praying for the church is for them to not only understand who they are in Christ, but also to understand what is available to them through him – the immeasurably great power.

I could tell many stories of how I have seen God’s power in my own experience, but I’ll just tell this one. When I was pastoring in Florida, there was a woman in our church named Lisa who became gravely ill. There was a risky surgery that may be able to help her, but it was so dangerous that they had her lawyer come to her hospital room and help her get her affairs in order before they would even attempt it. We had our entire church and the surrounding region praying for her and for God to work a miracle. On the day of the surgery, they again scanned her body and discovered that her veins had miraculously reattached, and her diseased organ was now healthy. God had healed her completely! I was told that the vascular surgeon exclaimed out loud in the room, “That’s impossible! That can’t happen!” And the operating surgeon explained to the observing interns, “This is something they won’t tell you in medical school. Sometimes God does powerful things in the lives of people.”

This is a wonderful and powerful story, but it upsets me sometimes that nobody teaches these things! We are raised in an educational system that teaches all sorts of skills to people who are going to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, businesspeople, but it robs them of the knowledge of the power that can come through knowing the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

That’s where Paul’s prayer above becomes so necessary. We must pray to know that power, and pray for others to know that power as well. How the way we live would be changed if we really KNEW the power of God available to us!

Paul says it in more than one place in Scripture – the same power that raised Jesus from the dead also raises us who believe up with him, and we are seated with him together in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:5-6, Colossians 2:12).

As the eyes of our hearts are being opened to this immeasurably great power, a natural question follows: How can we access this power? Paul explains this, too:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21 (emphasis mine)

If you’re worried about the health of a sickly plant, you need to find out what’s going on with its roots. If you’re worried about your own weak spiritual health, you need to discern whether you are rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ. If you want to see the power of God in your life, you need to be rooted and established in his love.

When you are firmly rooted in Christ, two manifestations of spiritual power will result:

  1. Spiritual Gifts – God pours out spiritual gifts on his people, and you will see his gifts manifest in your life when you are experiencing God’s power.
  2. Spiritual Maturity – As the members of the body of Christ grow in God’s power, they all grow together in maturity, filled with life and the power of God, growing up into the head, which is Jesus Christ. This will become evident in the way we relate to our spouses, parent our children, administrate ourselves in the workplace, and exercise our professions.

The power of God is what is desperately needed in our society right now. I pray that this time of isolation will be an incubation period of the Holy Spirit, so that what is released back into our societies when Christians return to the public sphere is an unleashing of a mighty revival of the Spirit of God. We must use this time as a preparation to go to war against the enemy of God, armed with the spiritual weapons of God’s Spirit.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

May we know that power given to us by God, that same power that raised Jesus from the dead and ascended him to the right hand of God. May we embrace that power and allow God to use it to do mighty works in and through us.

Time for the Good Shepherd

Sermon from John 10:1-15

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7

In the verse above, Peter tells us that times of suffering actually work like a refiner’s fire on our faith. It burns away that which is temporary and unproductive, and it reveals that which is eternal and holy. I believe that this time of coronavirus is acting as a refiner’s fire in terms of leadership—it is revealing the quality of leadership as the challenges of this day are being met. It reveals not only the strength of leadership, but also the motives.

This is in all levels of society—not only government, but also business, healthcare, and even within our homes. Being quarantined with our families is revealing both the weaknesses and strengths of our leadership in the home.

The Gospel passage for today is all about leadership. John records Jesus’ comparison between two entities: thieves/robbers vs. the shepherd. The first comparison is in the way they relate to the flock. Thieves access the flock through illegitimate means: secrecy and stealth. By contrast, the shepherd accesses his sheep through rightful and lawful means. The gatekeeper recognizes the shepherd, and so do the sheep—the sheep know him and follow him.

Verse 6 tells us that Jesus’ listeners didn’t understand what he was saying. I don’t think this means they couldn’t grasp the metaphor of leading sheep compared to leading people. I believe what they didn’t understand was how it applied to themselves. They didn’t want to honestly look at the challenges in their own leadership and discover that they were leading God’s people in a way that was not legitimate or correct.

So as Jesus continues his illustration, he shifts the metaphor slightly to try to help them understand. He says, “I am the door for the sheep” (v. 7). Now this is a little bit unexpected. We would expect him to go straight to “I am the Good Shepherd.” He does get there (v. 11), but he makes an important point about the door first. What he is saying is that he becomes the measure of legitimacy when it comes to the leadership of the people of God—he is the only legitimate way to access God’s people. Jesus is the difference between a good leader and a false leader.

He goes on to flesh out the two defining criteria that determine whether a leader is good or false: intention and impact.

The motivating intention of false leadership is self-interest. “The thief comes only to steal” (v. 10). The prophet Samuel spoke of this in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, when the people rejected God’s leadership and demanded a human king. The gist of his warning was this: “Human kings exist to take. They will take your freedom, they will take your children, they will take control of your life.”

Now, don’t hear me saying that human leadership is always of that ilk. There are good and bad leaders, but we always have to be wary that the intentions behind human leadership MAY be self-serving. False leaders desire to take power and resources for their own benefit. This is revealed plainly during these times of suffering. Illegitimate leadership is always destructive to those being led by it.

On the other hand, good leadership selflessly gives rather than takes. It gives abundant life to those who are led by it. In our day and age, how we need good leadership that selflessly seeks to give rather than take, to build up rather than destroy!

In Jesus’ day, the people of God had been scattered, harassed, oppressed, and dominated by many other nations and powers. Jesus compares them to sheep under a bad shepherd, and he offers them the opportunity to return to safety and security under his leadership. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep.

Jesus gives us the model of sacrificial leadership that we can follow in every aspect of our lives—at home, in the workplace, in the pubic sphere. Jesus says that good leadership gives itself away, and our world desperately needs this right now.

He is not only our example, but he is still the best leader that we could ever follow. All of us are lost sheep who need a strong, loving, sacrificial shepherd:

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:25

Have you given your life to the Shepherd of your soul? Do you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, who calls you by name and offers to bring you to a place of abundant life? During this time of testing and refining, where are you placing your hope, and who are you following? I encourage you to place your confidence fully in the Good Shepherd.

Resurrected Life Brings Living Hope

Sermon from John 20:19-31

The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything for us. He is making us new from the inside out, and, in the words of 1 Peter, he have given us “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3).

People often wonder why Christians usually meet to worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. I’ve heard it explained that it is because the resurrected Christ first appeared to his disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19), and many other resurrection sightings took place on that day. As Christians, we choose this day to gather as a celebration of new beginnings and new life. Every Sunday is the possibility of a new start, a new resurrection that can happen in our lives.

So what is it that is being made new for Christians? How is the resurrection made real in us? Let’s look at how it happened for the disciples.

First, the resurrection is an opportunity for us to say goodbye to insecurity and fear in our lives. In John 20, the disciples are hiding behind locked doors in fear, and Jesus walks straight past those locked doors to bring incredible peace to them. I feel like this has a direct application to our current context. We are stuck in our homes behind our doors because of quarantine due to the coronavirus, out of fear of spreading the illness. Stay at home right now is an appropriate action, but I just want to acknowledge that Jesus can bring his peace straight through those locked doors.

Metaphorically, what fears and insecurities are keeping you behind locked doors? Allow the resurrection of Christ to bring fresh hope and new life to those areas of your life.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

John 20:19

Second, he also commissions them to go out with apostolic authority. Although we cannot physically go out because of our stay-at-home orders, the Gospel is not chained behind locked doors. We have technology that can still allow us to communicate, and we can use all of those media to spread the truth of Christ.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20:21

Third, as he sends them, he also empowers them with his Holy Spirit, and he gives them the responsibility of being the very means of God’s grace and forgiveness in the lives of others.

He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

John 20:22-23

We are ambassadors of his ministry of reconciliation. Maybe this current context can give you the opportunity to think about relationships you have where there are problems that need to be resolved. Is there anyone that you can extend grace and forgiveness to right now?

As the Scripture passage continues, we learn that poor Thomas was the only disciple who wasn’t there at that time, and so he missed the spectacular encounter that the others had with Jesus. I call him “poor Thomas,” because I think he has gotten a bad reputation from this story as “Doubting Thomas.” Yes, Thomas did doubt at first, but who wouldn’t when presented with such an outrageous tale as this? Later, when he does personally encounter the risen Christ, he is one of the first people ever recorded as calling Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” What a marvelous response to the truth of the resurrection! I think a better name for him would be “Worshiping Thomas.”

If you find yourself struggling with doubt like Thomas, please know that God wants to directly address those doubts the same way he did with Thomas. He wants to speak his peace into your heart, to bring new life and confidence to your insecurities, and he wants to commission you to become a means of his grace in this world. He wants to use this trial to test the genuineness of your faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).

John goes on to say:

These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:31

Jesus wants each of us to claim the new life that he offers through his resurrection. He offers us the fullness of his resurrected life.

Into the Father’s Hands

A Palm Sunday Sermon from Luke 23

I found myself emotional as I was watching the online service led by our worship team on the video screen. I’ve been involved in corporate worship for 25 years, and now because of the Covid-19 quarantine, it has been weeks and weeks since we have been able to meet as a corporate body and worship together. I realized the word for what I’m experiencing is grief.

Grief hits us all in different ways at different times, but it always comes in stages. I can see now how I’m going through them all in regards to my grief over the loss of the church body in my own experience right now: anger, bargaining, denial. And now we must come to acceptance, because the reality is that things are probably still going to get worse before they get better.

And so this Gospel passage finds even more significant application on this Palm Sunday as we face these unprecedented times. As Jesus is hanging on the cross dying, he says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). He is surrendering himself totally to the will of the Father. He knows that the will of the Father is his own death, as an act of atonement for the world, a way of expressing God’s love.

This statement from Jesus could be seen as his own acceptance stage of grief. We had previously seen him grieving in the Garden of Gethsemane, truly agonizing over the ordeal he knew was to come. Yet there, on the cross, he comes to acceptance: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

As we consider what Jesus went through, we see that he not only experienced the physical suffering that any person who died by crucifixion would. But Jesus also uniquely bore the spiritual suffering of the punishment for all the sins of the world. And yet he was the only person ever to die innocent. All those who witnessed his arrest, torture, and death could see it (Luke 23:4, 14-15, 22, 47). This is what makes him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world – the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice would reconcile the world back to himself.

Jesus’ death was the will of the Father, and it was the most difficult will anyone would ever have to bear. The good news for us now is that Jesus bore it on our behalf, and so now we don’t have to.

Jesus bore the most difficult will of the Father, and yet in the same way, the Father calls us to bear great difficulties – corporately and personally. We must follow Jesus’ example and surrender ourselves into the loving and trustworthy hands of the Father.

Take a moment to consider whose hands you are entrusting yourself to. Are we placing our trust in the hands of government officials who are making decisions about how we are to weather this crisis? Are we placing our trust in the hands of medical professionals, whose skill and sacrifice are crucial to our survival? Are we placing our trust in the hands of financial planners and banks who can help us weather the financial crisis? We are always entrusting ourselves to other people, and that trust is often well founded – we SHOULD be trusting people who know how to help us get through.

However, our ultimate trust should be in the good hands of God the Father. There is NO ONE more trustworthy and able to control our outcomes.

Like Jesus did, we should commit our spirits, our life, our breath to God the Father. It’s striking that in the current circumstance, the Covid-19 virus attacks our breath – it is the respiratory system that often fails under this disease. Will you entrust your very breath to the Father, even when it is under targeted attack?

The thief on the cross next to Jesus models this very thing to us. Facing his imminent death, he entrusts himself to Jesus by begging him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus shows him favor, love, and kindness, proving that his trust was well-founded.

As we face our own dangerous and uncertain times, let’s commit our own spirits to God the Father in the way Jesus did.

Eyes Healed, See the Light

Sermon from John 9

Corrie Ten Boom was a heroic woman who lived during the time of the Holocaust. She would hide Jewish children in her home, in a place that is known as “The Hiding Place.” After the war was over, she would travel around speaking about her experience, and she used to bring an old tapestry to show her audience. She would hold up the backside, showing lots of knots and loose threads – it looked like a tangled mess. However, when she turned it around, the tapestry revealed that those threads were all working to together to make a beautiful golden crown. She used this as an illustration, saying that often the things we see in our lives and in the world around us feel like a mess, but from God’s perspective, he sees glory. She encouraged her listeners to try to see things from God’s perspective, and this Scripture passage gives us the same message.

In this Scripture passage, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. Continuing the illustration above, this is a single thread, that many people couldn’t understand how this difficult situation was contributing to a good big picture. People looked at this man, and they said that the man’s lifelong blindness must be the result of sin. However, when they asked Jesus about it, he explained God’s perspective.

Jesus said that the blindness was not an evil or a problem or a reflection of sin, but rather it was an opportunity for something glorious.

In today’s circumstances with illness, fear, and isolation, it’s easy for us to focus on the negative, assuming that God is punishing us or that he has lost control. However, if we open our eyes and minds to consider what God might be doing during this time, he is more likely using this challenging time as an opportunity to reveal his glory.

Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5). In the midst of darkness and challenge, a light is shining, and that light is Jesus.

During this time when we are unable to go to church to meet with God and his people, we have an excellent opportunity to step back and recognize that church is not the only place that Jesus can be found! If we have eyes to see, we can recognize that wherever we are is where God can be found. Our homes are to be the dwelling place of God.

One thing to think about regarding this Scripture passage is that many people suffer from blindness. Blindness is not just a physical affliction, but also a spiritual one. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were blinded by their legalism, their skepticism, and their pride.

Their blindness prevented them from accepting Jesus’ healing of this man, because he had done it on the Sabbath, and they focused on his breaking of that rule rather than on the amazing miracle Jesus did and what it meant for who he was (v.16).

Does our own blindness keep us focused on the rules and our own intellects and busyness, and prevent us from seeing what God is doing? He desires for us to focus on a relationship with him rather than on the way we think things are supposed to be.

The Pharisees also expressed their skepticism about what Jesus even did. They doubted the the man actually had been born blind, and so they questioned the man’s parents (v. 18). The parents gave in to their fear of the religious leaders, and they let it prevent them from being courageous in faith, even though they had seen the amazing miracle Jesus did for their son.

Like them, we have allowed our fears, doubts, and skepticism to rule our hearts. In today’s world, we have a common enemy – the coronavirus – and we have an opportunity to unify together in calling on the Lord. Now is not the time to be giving in to doubt and unbelief, but rather to be grabbing hold of our faith and living out the Gospel of Jesus.

The man who had been healed from blindness can be our example, because he stood up in courage and testified to what Jesus did for him (v. 24-34). Because of his testimony, the Pharisees cast him out of the synagogue, which many Jews would have considered to be devastating. However, the man went straight to Jesus, where he found faith, affirmation, and acceptance.

In the same way, the Lord is faithful to us, to always shine his light in the darkness in our lives, and to turn difficult and challenging events in our lives, and use them for good. I encourage you during this dark and difficult time to take a pen and some paper and actually write down all the blessings God is giving you during this time, and the ways he has blessed you in the past.

As you open up your eyes to see what God has done and what he is doing, he will continue to open your eyes to see how he is the eternal and unchanging Light of the World.

Spiritual Warfare – Sending Satan on His Way

Sermon on spiritual warfare from Matthew 4:1-11

In today’s time of division, we often find ourselves at odds with other people – adversaries with flesh and blood. But the apostle Paul reminds us that our real enemy is spiritual, against Satan and his schemes (Ephesians 6:12). Our primary battle is a spiritual warfare. So what are the devil’s schemes and how can we fight them?

Satan’s schemes are very predictable – he has been using them for a very long time. His main tactics are doubt and distortion. We can see this even from the very beginning, when he used these tactics against Eve. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) –The enemy was casting doubt on what God said, and distorting the truth of what God said. And we see immediately that his tactic was successful, because then Eve also distorted what God said, by adding to God’s rule of not eating, saying that they weren’t allowed to touch the fruit either.

As soon as Satan gets us to doubt what God said or to believe a distorted version of what God said, we fall.

The wonderful thing about Jesus is that when we often fall, Jesus never fell for it. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). So we can look at how Jesus defeated these tactics in order for us to learn how we can deal with them ourselves.

There are three areas in which Jesus was tempted, and we face them In our spiritual warfare, too.

1. Satan tempts us to doubt and distort who we are.

Satan kept using the phrase, “If you are the Son of God…” trying to sow doubt in Jesus’ mind about who he is (Matthew 4:3 and 6). He does the same thing with us. Scripture tells us that those who believe in Jesus are called children of God (Romans 8:16), but we often doubt our identity in Christ in times of vulnerability and weakness. Satan takes advantage of those weakened times to make us doubt and distort who we already are!

2. Satan tempts us to doubt and distort what we are called to do.

Satan challenged Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple in what basically amounted to an act of suicide, in order to test whether angels would protect him (4:5-6). The truth is that Jesus actually did come to earth to die, but not this way! It’s a gross distortion of what Jesus was called to do. In the same way, God calls us to make bold choices and do great things for his kingdom, but Satan tempts us to give up, to change course, to doubt God’s calling, to kill our dreams and purposes.

3. Satan tempts us to doubt and distort what we have been given.

Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered to give them to Jesus if Jesus would sell him his soul (4:8-9). But Jesus already possessed not only all the kingdoms of earth, but also the kingdom of heaven! How many of us would throw away the mission of God in our lives because we would rather have the trinkets of this world than the keys to the kingdom of heaven!

Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual enemy in this world. James gives us the key to victory: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8).

Spiritual warfare in a nutshell is simple. All you have to do is repeatedly say no to Satan. He can’t take our refusal and must flee. He cannot keep God’s people down when they know who they are, they know what they are called to do, and they know the incredible inheritance they have already been given.

Read more of The Rev. Charlie Holt’s teachings on Spiritual Warfare in his book The Spirit-Filled Life: All the Fullness of God.

Learn more about the Holy Spirit!

The Transfiguring Word

Sermon from 2 Peter 1:12-21

A phrase commonly heard in our world today is “fake news.” It means we are skeptical when people tell us something is true – we don’t actually believe it. It turns out that “fake news” may be a new phrase, but it’s not a new idea.

Humanity has always had teachers and prophets telling both truth and falsehood, and we have to discern who is telling us the truth and who is telling us “fake news.” It is easy for us to be deceived. We have to make sure to place our faith in what is true.

Peter addresses this issue in his second letter. He says at the beginning, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16). Apparently, some people were accusing Peter of spreading “fake news!” But instead, he says that his testimony is confirmed as true, since he and many others were eyewitnesses.

He was so convinced of not only the truth, but also the importance of his message, that he wrote out his testimony for future generations to have a record of the truth. He referred to the amazing event he was an eyewitness to, the Transfiguration of Jesus (v. 17-18).

Peter saw, with his very own eyes, the shining glory of Jesus as his divinity was revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration (as recounted in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9). It’s not insignificant that, in that moment, he suggested setting up tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. It is reminiscent of when Moses encountered the glory of God in the book of Exodus, when Moses set up a tent to meet with the revealed glory of God and then came out with his face radiant with the reflected glory of God (Exodus 34).

In the same way that no one could doubt the authority of Moses after he encountered God in the Old Testament, Peter claims the same authority based on his eyewitness of the Transfiguration. The prophetic word Peter writes is backed up by the authority of the King of kings.

I can personally testify to the power of the authentic Word when it is preached. I grew up in spiritless Episcopalian churches and at an Episcopal school, where the preaching was so false, boring, and dry that more children walked out of there atheists than believers. But then when I was in college, a friend invited me to his Episcopal church, where the head pastor was someone who actually taught the living and active Word of God. He was clearly proclaiming the truth. I saw for myself the power of the authentic Word of God, and I saw many lives changed through that teaching – including my own.

Every place where the Word of God is faithfully taught, Peter says it is like a “light shining in a dark place.” Peter goes on to say that it is the same as when “the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). The prophetic Word of God is not the word of mere man. It the Word of God, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.

In addition to the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus, that Greek word that is translated “transfigured” is used twice more in Scripture, both times by the Apostle Paul:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed [transfigured] by the renewal of your mind…

Romans 12:2

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed [transfigured] into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

It is by encountering the glorious truth of God, through his Word powerfully impacting our minds by his Spirit, that we are transformed, transfigured, metamorphosed into his image day by day. This is God’s desire for each of us.

Influence as Salt and Light

Sermon from Matthew 5:13-16

Each one of us has some kind of influence in this world. We don’t have to be a CEO or a president or a big-name pastor. We all have influence for Christ everywhere our lives take us.

One time when my son was small, we were riding home from church after hearing a sermon about The Good Samaritan. My son said, “Dad, that sermon was about you… the priest who walked by…” I was surprised and asked him what he meant. He said, “Remember the other day when I asked you to play with me, and you didn’t do it?” Wow, that kid was paying attention! Even in our own homes, we are held accountable for our witness and influence!

We often in our minds make a disconnect between our church lives and our weekday lives. But Jesus is saying that we can’t do that! Who we are on Sunday has to be who we are every other day of the week. This is not easy to do!

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Matthew 5:13

Scholar David Turk believes that the salt Jesus is referring to in this passage is salt from the Dead Sea. In that part of the world, this salt is used everywhere – for healing, for food preservation, for flavor. He says, however, that it’s the sodium chloride in this mineral compound which is what makes it so effective and useful, and the sodium chloride is the first thing to wash out of this compound. Once the sodium chloride is gone, all that’s left is a useless white powder, only good for throwing away.

I suggest that to the degree we see moral decline in our society, Jesus is saying that it is the Christians who bear the responsibility for this. Our societies decline when Christians aren’t being “salty” enough. We have failed to preserve our societies by inserting our integrity into politics, education, business, and social justice.

If societies are to be renewed, Christians must hold the line. If we don’t do it, who will?

We are all surrounded by pressure to conform to those around us, to fit in, to keep up. But Jesus commands us to maintain our saltiness even if we are the only salt in the bowl!

Jesus commands us to shine the holiness of God, the character of God, from the inside out. We must be so firmly rooted in the ways of God that we will not be moved.

The apostle Paul says, ” Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…” (Colossians 4:6). Elsewhere, he says to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Sometimes truth and love feel like opposites, don’t they? It’s difficult to be both gracious and salty! We must resist the temptation to fall too far on either side; we either lose truth in favor of grace, or we lose grace in favor of truth. There is a fine line right in the middle, and Jesus calls us to walk it.

We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place; and the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive elements in human nature. The peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered or “touchy” disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics. The truth is there are two great classes of sins – sins of the Body, and sins of Disposition.

Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World, on 1 Corinthians 13

The righteous tend to struggle with sins of the disposition – we get grumpy and judgmental. Jesus wants us to be at the same time salt (maintaining holiness and truth) and light (loving and brightening all those we come in contact with).

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

When people see you living as salt and light in the world, it will inevitably stir up conversation. People will see a difference in you and wonder why. This is when you need to not be afraid to let your light shine in order to glorify your Father in heaven. It is in these moments, when your salt is at its saltiest and your light is at its brightest, that you have the greatest opportunity to influence those around you for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Everything Rises and Falls

Sermon from Luke 2:22-40, The Presentation of the Lord

On the Feast of the Presentation, we celebrate the glorious moment when the infant Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to be presented at the Temple. This was just the beginning of all the ways Jesus would perfectly fulfill the life of a righteous Jewish man.

In obedience to God’s law, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised at 8 days old, and they also presented him at the Temple along with a sacrifice. These were both signs of obedience and devotion to God.

The presentation of a child would have traditionally been a mundane task. However, the presentation of Jesus became wonderful when Simeon approached the young family, took the baby in his arms, and declared:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32

Simeon instantly recognized that this was no ordinary child – he was God’s promised Messiah!

These words of Simeon have become a traditional evening prayer. One commentator says that it is appropriate to say these words at the close of the day, because the end of each day is like a type of death. Each night when we close our eyes in sleep, it’s like we are “dying” to the day. We can close our days knowing we have met our Savior that day.

What a blessed life to begin each day saying, “Lord, I want to praise you today,” and then end each day saying, “I have seen the Lord today.”

Simeon went on to tell Mary and Joseph that everything would rise and fall on that little One in their arms (v. 34). Every single person on the planet must make their peace with him, or find their lives lacking peace. He alone is the Savior of the world. Many oppose him, even though he is the source of all light, hope, and comfort.

Simeon told Mary that her own soul would be pierced like a sword (v. 35). Imagine how those words echoed through her mind as she stood beneath the cross and saw him crucified!

Jesus is the one who gave his life for our salvation, as proof of the promises and the love of God. Everything rises and falls on him – every day, every life.