Sunday, May 20, 2018

Outpouring: Experiencing Pentecost

Acts 2:1-13, 5/20/2018
           We celebrate the birth of Jesus & all the world pauses to celebrate Christmas with us. We celebrate His resurrection, & most of the world recognizes Easter as a special day on the calendar. But I wonder how many in the world recognize the importance of today? Today is Pentecost, & hardly anyone realizes it. Yet, this day is important, on this day over two thousand years ago an ancient prophecy was fulfilled.
            It was on the Day of Pentecost God poured out His promised Holy Spirit upon a small group of His disciples, giving birth to the world-wide Church of Jesus Christ, of which we are a part. This morning, let’s look at the Biblical context of Pentecost and revisit that phenomenal day which changed the history of the world and find out how Pentecost impacts us today. The   out pouring of the Holy Spirit has been recorded in the 2nd chapter of the Book of Acts.

            What comes to your mind when you hear the word Pentecost? Many churchgoing Christians often mistake it to the Assemblies of God Church or other Pentecostal Churches, so is it then a denomination? No, it is not a particular denomination but it is the manifestation of God’s power. It is a fulfillment of God’s promise that one day He will pour out His Holy Spirit upon all nations. What are the roots of Pentecost in the Old Testament?

            In the OT God commanded all the men of Israel to appear before him three times a year. “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you. Deuteronomy 16:16-17
            In Exodus 19:1, we read, “On the first day of the third month after they left Egypt on that very day they came to the Desert of Sinai.” It was remembered as the moment when Israel reached the base of the Mount Sinai, where God descended in visible fiery glory. God spoke from the mountain to reveal his will to them, which is also coincided with their harvest season. In the Bible, this event is remembered as the Festival of Harvest or Weeks. In Hebrew it is called ‘Shavuot. In the Greek translation, this festival is called Pentecost (“fifty” as this festival is celebrated fifty days after Passover.) We will pick our story from here.
            A brief context to the 2nd Chapter of Acts. After his resurrection Jesus met with his disciples and spoke with them about many things pertaining to the Kingdom of God for a period of forty days. “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. And he went on to say, “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.” Acts 1:4-8
            Taking this command seriously a group of 120 disciples kept meeting in an upper room in Jerusalem, waiting for this promise to be fulfilled. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4.
            Why did Jesus choose this divine moment to pour down the Holy Spirit on His disciples? The festival of weeks required a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Luke notes, in Vs 5, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.
            A rushing wind comes from heaven and fills the house.” The gathered disciples see what seems to be tongues or flames of fire resting on each member of the believing community. They were all filled with the fiery presence of God, yet they are not consumed. Instead they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the utterance. They were declaring the mighty acts of God, and everyone gathered there heard them speak in their own language. That must have caused a great commotion. Many wondered asking, what does this mean?
            Then Peter spoke up to the onlooking crowd from the ancient prophecy of a 9th century BC prophet named Joel. “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18
            On the day of Pentecost Jesus kicked off his world-wide preaching campaign by sending His Holy Spirit on the timid and fearful disciples. The Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit stood up along with the other eleven disciples and gave a powerful message. At the end of his sermon 3000 people got saved and were baptized in water. That was the First the church.
            Let me bring a parallel between the Festival of Weeks in the OT and the Pentecost in the New Testament. In the OT the Israelites worshipped and honored God with the first fruits of their harvest. Whereas in the New Testament we see a different kind of harvest, it was the soul harvest. The people who got saved that day were the first fruits of all who would be saved.
            The small Holy Spirit fire that began in Jerusalem became a wild fire as the disciples went out from there taking the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ wherever they went.  As a result of what happened on that day of Pentecost, according to a new Pew research, Christianity claims to have a third (31%) of Earth’s 7.3 billion people, which amounts to 2.3 billion.
            Hopefully those numbers will increase as the Holy Spirit is still in the business of saving people all over the world.  What does this all mean? Does Pentecost have to remain as a key date in the History of the Church so that we can visit Jerusalem or ponder about it once a year in our churches or does it have any significance for us to day?

            In Acts 1st chapter we read, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. And he went on to say, “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.” This scripture tells us what happens in the life of an individual when he or she is filled with the Holy Spirit and also the purpose for which the Holy Spirit was sent, when he was sent on the day of Pentecost.
            The Apostle Peter who cowardly denied Christ three times, but when he was filled with the Holy Spirit became as bold as a lion and reminded the crowd about the prophecy of Joel. When we hear about what happened to Peter and the other disciples on the day of Pentecost, you may say great, good for them, they were special people so that is why they received that power. But what about me, I am an ordinary, born again, bible believing Baptist Christian. Can I also receive that power which I so badly need in my life?
            The answer is an emphatic Yes! God is no respecter of people. He has no favorites. He wants to bless all people. He wants everyone to experience such power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This is what Peter said to the crowd of people who have heard his powerful message. Vs 38-39“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 
            As this scripture suggests, this promise of God is for you, and me and for our children and for all those whom our Lord would call unto himself. No matter who you are, the criteria to receive the power of the Holy Spirit is to repent of our sins and ask Jesus to forgive and get baptized in the name of Jesus Christ then you too will receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
            In the past I shared with you my personal journey of faith and how I have experienced the presence, the power and the inner workings of the Holy Spirit over and over in my ministry. Just this Friday again as I was driving to Maine, I began to cry out to God for a fresh outpouring of His Holy Spirit in my life. Suddenly, I began to feel a warm sense of God’s overwhelming presence welling up from the depths of my heart.  I sang my heart out and praised God.
            On this Pentecost Day, are you feeling dry in your spiritual walk? How is your witnessing of Christ these days, are you feeling shy, fearful and unable to defend the claims of the gospel before your colleagues, friends and neighbors? Are you feeling a sense of defeat over dilapidating sinful habit patterns? Are you in need of a fresh start of your life?  All you need to do is to appropriate that promise of God for your personal life. Some of you may need to repent and ask God for forgiveness and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
            And others of you, may need to recognize that you already have received that gift of the Holy Spirit, when you surrendered your life to the Lord, and now by faith you need to fan into flame that gift which is within you.  By faith you need to take bold steps in witnessing to others. By faith allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you into all the truth that is there in God’s word. By faith let the Holy Spirit take full control of all aspects of your life. My prayer for all of us is that may God open our eyes and ears to the truth and the innerworkings of His Holy Spirit, so that we might continue to recognize, and receive the Power of Holy Spirit and become powerful witnesses for Christ in our generation. Amen

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread (The Lord's Prayer Part IV)

The Lord’s Prayer Pat-IV, (Matthew 6:9-13) 4/13/2018
            Stress and worry break us down.  They are the unseen source of our headaches, backaches, heartaches and belly aches. They produce everything from obesity to obscenity, from constipation to diarrhea, and from impatience to impotence. They give us knotted stomachs, sleepless nights, high blood pressure, low morale.  They make our tempers short and our days long. Dale Carnegie, in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living notes, “You do not get stomach ulcers from what you eat, you get ulcers from what is eating you.”
            What are you worried about the most today? What is eating you up and keeping you awake at nights? Has worry became a close companion, that doesn’t want to part from you? What do most people worry about any way? What is the antidote for worry? Is it possible to trust God for our daily needs? We have been studying the Lord’s Prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples. The first three petitions in this prayer were directed toward God. It began by establishing a relationship between us and God as our heavenly father. We learned that God’s name is Holy therefore it is to be regarded Holy. We learned that we are not only to pray but also to work for God’s Kingdom to come and for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
            Today, we will look at a very mundane concern. No matter who you are, where you come from, most of your waking time is consumed with this concern. Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Or bread for tomorrow or our needful bread. Why did Jesus include this basic concern for food in this prayer? Is Jesus encouraging passivity? Are we not supposed to work for food rather than simply praying for it? How can we trust God to meet our basic needs? What provisions did God make in the scriptures to meet our daily needs? Before we go further, let’s look at the context in which the disciples were taught to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

            Praying for food was one of the most common prayers in the households of ancient Israel. It was offered regularly inorder to teach their sons and daughters to depend on God for their daily food. I want us to pay attention to the words, it is “Our daily Bread, not “My daily bread.” What would that teach us? The whole Lord’s Prayer was offered in the context of a larger community. Unlike in our highly individualistic western society, there is no individualism in the Kingdom of God.  Citizens of the kingdom are encouraged not only to look after your own interests and needs but also the interests and needs of those who are less fortunate
            We live in a land that is plentiful, a land that flows with milk and honey to give you a biblical comparison, yet millions in our country alone are suffering due to hunger. The 2014 study reveals that each year, the Feeding America network of food banks provides service to 46.5 million people in need across the United States, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. So, when we pray for our daily bread, we are also praying for all those who might be struggling without food here in the USA and around the world.
            This prayer is offered as a reminder to be grateful, lest we forget where everything is coming from. This precisely was the problem with the Israelites after they reached the promised land. God had to remind them to be grateful and not to forget all that they had was from God. Let’s consider these verses in Deuteronomy:  Duet 8:3-4, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.”  Think of the logistics of feeding and clothing over 600,000 people for 40 years? Yet God did it!
This scripture tells us that man needs not only physical bread but also the life-giving words of God in order to survive.  God also reminded them to observe His commands and walk in obedience to him. He further said, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” How are we grateful for what God has given us?
            Another reason for this prayer was to teach the Israelite community then and, us today that God can be trusted for our daily sustenance. Prov 30:8-9, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord? ‘Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” I think this a very healthy way to pray to God. This would keep us from becoming greedy and run after wealth and also from becoming thieves to survive.
            Thousands of years later, a zealous Jew named Paul who became a follower of Jesus Christ taught his young disciple Timothy how to keep himself from the traps of the enemy. I Timothy 6:6-10, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
            Again, in this passage we see what the two most basic needs of all human being are. They are food to eat and clothes to wear. If we have them, we will be content. But we know how many us are discontent, in spite of having plenty of food to eat and fine clothes to wear. That was the core message of the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is about continual day by day dependency on God our heavenly Father, who is loving and mindful of our daily needs.
He is also willing, and more than able to provide whatever our needs may be. Over the years of walking with God I can firmly attest to this truth that God can and is willing to provide the needs of His children. How do I know? Because the Bible tells me so, and also I have personally experienced God’s providential care over and again in my life.  He is trust worthy.

            Let me share a few principles of God’s provision from the passage we read in Matthew 6th chapter, and then I will conclude with a couple of personal stories. After giving the disciples a class room teaching on prayer Jesus took them out on a field trip to show them how this prayer, give us this day our daily bread practically works.  Vs 25-28, “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.
Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds…Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.” (The Message).
            Jesus admonished his disciples to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and learn from them. He taught them a principle of simple trust by saying, “If God could take care of the birds and the lilies in that fashion, how much more he will take care of you.” The key principle to receiving food, water, clothing and whatever other needs from the father is seeking God’s Kingdom and his righteousness first. What does that mean? Seeking God’s Kingdom means to keep God, his kingdom values, and priorities utmost in our mind.
It also means doing the right thing even when it hurts. When we do these in all honesty and earnestness I guarantee you that you will have God’s provision, meeting your needs, sometimes your wants and desires as well. If you could ask any missionary who had been in the mission field serving God in another country about God’s provision, they will have plenty of stories to tell you of how God met their needs.  Here are a couple of my stories.
            Very early in Youth With A Mission I learned this principle of Seeking God’s Kingdom first. You have heard me share how God provided two “Rotis” when I was hungry. This was another food story: Once I was teaching in a Discipleship Training School in the Northern Part of India. That base was going through financial challenges. They didn’t have money to buy meat, and other extra stuff. Our only staple food was rice and beans for five days. I could sense the grumbling in the camp, like the Israelites, “do we have to eat beans and rice every day?
            It was Friday, during my class I said, let’s write on the board all we were thankful to God for. We filled up the entire board with things that we were thankful to God and began to praise God. As we were praising, one of the local church young man came to the class and said, “My mother is inviting all of you for dinner.” Oh, you can hear the shouts of rejoicing. To cut a long story short, that evening we had a feast, we ate to our hearts content. The lesson of this story is, when you grumble perhaps all you get is, “beans and rice,” may be not even that, but when you are grateful and praise God, you will get to your heart’s content. 
Here is another story! As a young Christian I always took great comfort in this scripture, Psalm 37:25, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” This scripture tells us that God will not forsake those who seek Him, and also, He will provide for their children as well. This was when we wanted to send our eldest daughter Joanna to a Christian school in Boston.
The non-refundable admission fee was nearly half of my pay check. We wondered how in the world we will every pay the rest of the school fees. But we trusted God and took a huge step of faith and paid the non-refundable fees. Thank God she got the admission; we were able to pay the school fees during the high school years, not only for her but for both of her sisters as well. We give praise and glory to God, at end of this month Joanna will be graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont. God’s faithfulness endures to all generations
            In closing, what are you worried about today? What is keeping you awake. The antidote for worry and anxiety is trust and gratefulness. Jesus is here encouraging us to ask the father to give us our daily bread and not to worry about tomorrow. When you are down with stress and worry all, you need to do is to look at the Birds, and the lilies, and be assured that you are more precious in the sight of God and your heavenly father knows your need and He will provide.
In James 1:17, we read, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Our God is the same yesterday today and forever, he never changes. Therefore, with confidence let’s pray: ‘Our Father, who is in heaven, Hallowed be your name. ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.!



Sunday, April 29, 2018

Healing the Bent Over

Luke 13:10-17
Introduction: This past week I was in New York attending the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship Summit. It has been a long time since I’ve been to a conference where I was emotionally and spiritually challenged and enriched at the same time. How many of you have either heard or did the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course? Though I have been teaching and applying the principles of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality for the past twelve years God has challenged me a fresh in three areas of silence, solitude and Sabbath keeping. Learned a few skills of incarnational listening (listening with empathy) and Incarnational presence (being fully present in a conversation or with someone) and many more.
            Here are a few pictures from the Summit: Peter and Geri Scazzero who are the architects of this whole movement called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. They would say, “It is impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally Immature.” Let’s hear more about why every Christian in particular need to pay attention to our Emotional and Spiritual Health. Video Presentation.
            In the future I hope to talk more about Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, which I believe help Hope Church to fulfill its mission that says, “Glorifying God by becoming devoted followers (Disciples) of Christ. Today I am talking a slight detour from my series of teachings on The Lord’s Prayer.” Let’s look at the passage we read and see what principles we can learn.          During his ministry on the earth Jesus performed many miracles of healing. And he is still performing miracles by his Holy Spirit. In the passage we read, we see three main characters. We see Jesus teaching in a Synagogue, a bent over woman and a synagogue leader. What was the response of Jesus to this bent over woman? How did the woman respond to her healing? How did the officials react to the healing?
            Vs 11 “and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.” We don’t know much about this woman, all we know that she has been crippled for eighteen years and could hardly stand up straight. Jesus healed several people who were physically sick: like the blind man, leper, paralytic, etc. But this woman’s situation seems to be somewhat different. It was more spiritual and physical.
            Can you imagine what this woman had to endure for eighteen years? Being bent over means, probably she couldn’t work hence she must have come under heavy financial burden. She couldn’t stand up straight means she had to forgo all the things that many of us take them for granted. Such as enjoying the moon and star lit sky, the delightful nature, and the pure joys of playing with children and hearing their laughter etc.  She must have been living in isolation.          Being bent over also means that her vision was narrowly focused. In spite of all that this woman was perhaps a regular attendee of a Synagogue on a Sabbath day. When I read this story I cannot help but wonder, whether this woman ever sought for healing prayers from a Rabbi? Because she was a woman, and crippled was she only allowed in the outer court, hence restricted access? Or did she retire thinking this is my lot in life, and no one can set me free?           
            Vs 12-13, “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity. “Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.” What do we see in these two verses? Jesus took note of this woman’s embarrassing situation. But he didn’t stop there he called for to come forward. Then he said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” In other words, “Woman you are free from your sin. Then he laid his hands on the woman and healed her.
            Immediately this woman was straightened up and praised God. Let’s see how many social customs that broke inorder to set this bent over woman free. Firstly, when Jews conveniently avoided the sick, crippled and women in general Jesus saw this woman and reached out to her. Secondly, men did not talk to the women openly in the public let alone a crippled woman. Jesus called her to come forward in front of every one. Can you imagine what would that mean for that woman?  She would be breaking a custom and enter into the male section of the Synagogue and go to Jesus, but she didn’t care. Thirdly, Jesus gently spoke to her saying, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity. Fourthly, He put his hands on her and healed her.”  Immediately the woman straightened up and praised God.
            We know that this miracle did not go down well for the Pharisees, they began to say to people, if you want to be healed come during the six days but not on the Sabbath, (we are to hear and meditate upon our scriptures). Jesus challenged their rational with these questions, ““You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” With those words, Jesus put the Pharisees in their place and placed the woman right back where she belonged in the community as a daughter of Abraham. Jesus restored her dignity.
            What an amazing story of God’s power at work.  Let me bring this into our context. Before I gave my life to Jesus, I went to Church every Sunday, read the Bible, said my prayers regularly. Though I was maturing chronologically, I was spiritually and emotionally an infant. All I was concerned was with my own sinful desires. In a way I was like this woman who was bound by Satan and bent over for eighteen years. I was not truly enjoying the abundant life and freedom that God has promised and desires to give to anyone freely who would seek him.
            But thank God one day Jesus saw my bent over state, called me to come forward and as I went forward he touched me and healed me. All of a sudden, I became straight and began to praise God, that was the day of my salvation. After that there were many other times I was bent over by my own fears, and my inability to manage my own emotions. But God is committed to straighten up my bent over state so that I would continue to enjoy his abundant life.
            Just like the woman in the story many are bent over and bound by Satan. We see them everywhere. Satan is crippling people physically, emotionally and spiritually. Over the years I noticed many sincere Christians who attend church regularly, get involved in ministry yet bent over with heavy loads of guilt and shame. They are unable to lift their head up and praise and thank God for all the wonders around them. How are you bent over and constricted today?
            Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. He doesn’t change. He is the same today as he was all those years ago in that Synagogue. He wants the same for us as he wanted for that poor long-suffering bent over woman.  Jesus saw her, Jesus called her forward, Jesus said to her, Jesus put his hand on her and healed her and Jesus restored her dignity. Similarly, Jesus sees you. He is calling you by your name to come forward to him. He is saying to you “Woman, and man you are set free from all that binds you today” So that your dignity will be restored.
            Jesus wants to set you free from all that is bending you over and robbing your peace, joy and wholeness. You don’t have remain bent over, you can be healed and be made whole today. The wounded healer Jesus is longing to touch and heal you from everything that is bending you over. But you need to hear his voice and respond to his invitation. Will you listen to his voice and come to Him, so that you can be mad whole and walk away into freedom? Or would you ignore it and remain bent-over all of your life?  The choice is yours. Let us pray now, and if you would like more prayer please meet me in the front. Amen!