Pentecostal People

Pentecost is an ancient Jewish holy day when the custom was for Jews from far and wide to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate together.

On the first Pentecost following the death and resurrection of Jesus, His disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem, praying and remembering all He had told them. When the promised Holy Spirit fell upon them, they began to share their stories with all the people. No matter what language they spoke, everyone understood the disciples’ message. Over three thousand people became believers that day.

Christians today consider Pentecost to be the birthday of the Church. Our mission from that day to this is to share that same message throughout the world.

” 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20 English Standard Version (ESV)

In order to be faithful to our great commission, it is still necessary to speak in words our hearers will understand. While the Holy Spirit helps us, we aren’t given miraculous languages that are automatically understood by everyone in every culture.

Today, we must listen carefully to learn the words that will touch those to whom we speak.

Truly Pentecostal people exist in every denomination, from traditional to fundamentalist. They are the ones who take the time to see and hear those in need of the Savior and speak to them in words and actions they can understand.

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Blessed Assurance

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Anyone in the Baby Boomer generation is familiar with Mad magazine’s goofy, gap-toothed kid and his tag line, “What, me worry?” While, he was never meant as any sort of spiritual icon, I sometimes wonder if Alfred E. Newman might have had something to say to Christians.

Worry is the enemy of trust and the outcome of doubt. How can a true believer ever worry about anything? If we know God is in control, everything He allows is for our good and His glory, what is there to worry about?

It is human nature to worry about things beyond our control and to fear the unknown, the things we do not see. What about the things we do see?

When the Apostle Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus, heard Christ’s voice, and then was restored to sight, his life changed forever. He chose to be content in all circumstances, trusting in the sure knowledge that God is real. He had hard times and suffering, but I think it is fair to say he never worried after his encounter with the living Christ.

The Disciples who met with the risen Christ became the bold foundation of the church because of what they had seen with their own eyes, but what about the other beneficiaries of Jesus’s miracles, the blind and lame? Did they cast aside their worries and cares, or did they allow the naysayers to fill them with doubts about their own experiences. “You were never really blind/lame/dead,” the worldly wise said. “You succumbed to hysteria and hype, that’s all.” Once those doubts wormed their way into the people’s lives, were they filled with worry? Did they drift back into their old ways, convinced that there was “probably a logical explanation,” for what only seemed like miracles?

I ask this because I’ve seen it in my own life. Miracles and answered prayers happen, my faith is strengthened, I feel that blessed assurance the Bible speaks of, and then the doubts begin to nibble away at my joy. Was it really a miracle? Were answered prayers mere coincidence? And the worry begins.

I believe it is time to begin to live as if I had the pure faith of Paul. I may sing, “Trust and Obey,” but if I continue to worry, I put the lie to my song.

When I feel myself begin to worry and fret, I need to cling to the assurance I find in God’s word, and in the proofs experienced in my own life and that of others. There is no benefit in allowing doubts to steal my joy.

“What, me worry?” Not on your life.

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Sowing seeds to harvest the Fruits of the Spirit

Our reaction to news of floods, fires, and other disasters can be confusing. We feel compassion for the victims, but we have our own lives to deal with.

A few years ago when Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, my friend was already in Haiti on a mission trip. Having survived, she remained in the disaster zone to help in the recovery efforts. I was amazed.

All my life I have observed people who seemed to be innately kind, generous, and patient, and I wished that I could be naturally good, like them. I was discouraged because I had to work so hard at it. The Bible calls those qualities I admired the Fruits of the Spirit and tells me I should have those qualities is my own life. I supposed this might be easy for the “good” people, but for me it was a struggle.

It’s taken me years to realize that comparing myself to others and judging myself for not measuring up was just another form of self-centeredness. I used my feelings of inadequacy and guilt as a sort of penance for not measuring up; an attempt to rationalize away my responsibility to others: if I’m so much worse than others (for whom being “good” comes so easily, remember) then I can’t be expected to reach out. 

The truth is just the reverse. If a person reaches out to others in Jesus’ name, despite natural self-interest, it plants the seeds of spiritual fruit. Doing the hard thing, for Christ’s sake, is what makes “goodness” become a natural part of oneself. Christ used the symbolism of fruit to demonstrate how this spiritual maturity comes about in a person’s life.  Most fruit growing in the wild is small and bitter, while the cultivated variety, the result of hard work, is so much more satisfying.

When I look at people like my friend, I remind myself that her beautiful spirit is the result of hard work and sacrifice. I try to admire, rather than envy, such people as I work to hoe out the hard clods of my selfishness and pride, pull the  weeds of conceit and self-indulgence from my life, and pour out the living water of Jesus’ love. My garden is only beginning to blossom… but with some more cultivating I think it may have potential.

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Disappointment and hope

Once, when I failed to get a promised promotion, I was crushed by disappointment.  I felt as if something precious had been snatched out of my hands. While struggling with my negative feelings I eventually saw that I had not really lost anything; I still had everything I had before. All that was missing was the hope of “more.”

Disappointment over unmet expectations can hurt as much as an actual loss, but it is important to acknowledge the disappointment and move past it.

Gratitude is the best antidote for disappointment. However, some people try to protect themselves from disappointment with a shield of pessimism. Their philosophy is, “hope for nothing and you can’t be disappointed.” 

My mother tried to protect her children from the pain of disappointment by admonishing us not to get our hopes up. She didn’t want us to have to deal with failure or disappointment. My sense of hope was resistant to her advice, though, and I still expect glorious things to happen everyday, so disappointment is unavoidable. 

Faith, hope and love are three of God’s sweetest gifts and each one leaves us vulnerable: 

  • If we don’t have faith, we don’t need to struggle with doubts.
  • If we do not love, we are not exposed to grief. 
  • If we never hope, we can’t be disappointed.

Hope, and anticipation, can be as pleasant, or even more pleasant, as possessing what we long for. The reality can be less fulfilling than the dream. 

If we are hoping and praying,  but not getting what we pray for, then our disappointment may be the result of God’s perfect will. Our cherished hope may be for something we are not ready for, or for something harmful to us.

Much has been written about the positive role of failure in achieving success. Failure… trial and error… is a necessary process.  The same is true of disappointment.

Never be afraid to hope. The pain of disappointment is a fundamental step in the process of spiritual growth and learning to accept God’s will.

Enthusiastically and optimistically try new things, even though you might fail. And cling to the hope we have in Christ Jesus, the one hope that will never be disappointed.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.

Psalm 62:5
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Do REAL Christians get depressed?

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2 New King James Version (NKJV)

Although we in the body of Christ do our best to support, nurture, and carry each other’s burdens, when it comes to our neighbor’s depression many of us miss the mark. We may promise to pray and suggest helpful Scripture verses about casting our cares on God, but secretly we may think depression is more of a choice than an actual condition.

Those of us with diabetes are susceptible to bouts of depression, as are people suffering with many other physical conditions. In my case, stress and sleeplessness, either alone or combined, raise my blood sugar and trigger the feelings of overwhelming tiredness and discouragement I associate with depression.

Fresh air and exercise are often recommended for mild depression but the last thing a depressed person feels like doing is going out and doing anything. Lack of desire and motivation are hallmarks of depression.  “If I could make myself get up and get out, I probably wouldn’t be depressed in the first place.”

When I feel the gloom creeping in, I try to meditate on the Word and turn to God in prayer… if I’m not already too depressed, that is. The trouble with depression is that its very nature sabotages attempts to overcome it. While I would love to think that my faith is sufficient to move mountains, I must admit that my faith can be undermined, if not completely undone, by my fickle emotions. Emotions are strong. Emotions are real. Emotions cannot be trusted.

I’m one of the lucky ones. A visit with caring friends and family and a good night’s sleep usually pulls me out of my personal slough of despond.

It’s important to remember that a person suffering from clinical depression can’t just “cheer up,” or “snap out of it,” and while God goes with us through the dark valleys, prayers are not magical incantations meant to sweep away all our struggles, and severe depression is not a case of too little faith.

It’s tempting to advise our depressed brother or sister to simply lean on Jesus, but we are His body, His everlasting arms. We need to reach out to those who are too depressed to reach up.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15
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A Season of discontent, or a lifestyle?

During my prayer walk one morning, after a particularly whiny session of pleading with the Lord, I was inspired to ask forgiveness for my discontentment. I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4, that he had found “the secret of being content in any and every situation,” and also the advice in his letter to the Thessalonians to give thanks in all circumstances.

If I truly believe that God is a loving God who hears and answers prayer, that He wants what is eternally best for me, and that everything He allows in my life is for my good and His glory, how can I be discontented? 

Like Paul, I should choose to be content in every situation. Paul found the strength of will to be content in the harshest circumstances by accepting that it was God’s will and being grateful for whatever God allowed in his life.

Gratitude and discontentment cannot coexist for long. Sooner or later, one will dominate and extinguish the other. The one we feed and nurture will grow strong, while the other will shrivel through neglect.  What begins as merely a transient season of emotion can become a fixed viewpoint, always seeking reasons to take offense or to complain.

Paul chose to adopt an attitude of gratitude, looking always for the eternal perspective in his life rather than dwelling on the various temporary thorns and afflictions that beset us all.

Our culture today seems to be driven by discontentment. The Blame Game is becoming our national pastime.  While a little discomfort with the status quo can be the impetus for improvement and growth, it is necessary to stop focusing on the problems and begin taking stock of the good that exists before we can imagine how to make things better.

We can choose to focus on the irritants and disappointments in life or we can look for the blessings in our very existence.

Paul was an exceptional man and an example to us all. He lived his life to point us to the ultimate example of the life well-lived, Jesus Christ.

I am a Christian who believes all the incredible, wonderful, amazing things God’s word tells me. I know I’ve been granted salvation by grace. How can I not choose to be grateful?

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Would you erase the years?

Reading the Sunday paper one morning, I turned a page to a large advertisement with the amazing headline “Erases Ten Years in Ten Minutes!”  I think it was an attempt to sell a wrinkle remover,  not the sort of thing I’m usually interested in (too late, alas, always too late!) but the phrasing of this eye-catching banner stuck in my mind. 

Would someone really want to erase the past ten years of their life? Or any ten years, for that matter?

Could I select any ten years to eliminate from my past? Not that I don’t have plenty of unpleasant years behind me, years filled with wrong choices, unpleasant circumstances, unhealthy habits, and regrets. If I could wipe those years away, which ones would I choose?

Rather than wiping away a decade, maybe I could go back over my whole life and just eliminate the ten worst individual years, or I could be even more selective and pick the 3,650 worst days, so as to avoid erasing some good times in the process of weeding out the bad. The problem with any of these fantasy choices is that I can’t remember a single day of my life that didn’t either hold moments of joy or teach me a valuable lesson. Some of my worst moments actually led to the greatest blessings.

Even if I could tweeze out the unpleasant hours, minutes, or seconds, how could I be sure that I wouldn’t be eliminating a pivotal moment from a lifetime of experiences which made me who I am today?

I’m not perfect in either form or spirit, but I am comfortable with the woman I am becoming. I am confident that God has used, and is continuing to use, my circumstances, choices, and heartaches to mold me into the woman He wants me to be. Every moment of my existence has held both a lesson and a blessing from God.

I believe God has a purpose for my life, for each person’s life, and that He uses our experiences to prepare us to fulfill His purpose. Life is the great adventure. I wouldn’t want to miss a moment.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV /

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Don’t be a Silent Witness for Christ

I’ve been thinking about the role of personal evangelism in the life of a Christian. 

In our current climate of hostility to Christianity, the most effective form of evangelism takes place within our relationships; witnessing in its most basic form is sharing one’s own faith story.

Do you have a personal faith narrative you share with others? Perhaps, like me, you console yourself with the thought that your life is your testimony of faith, along the lines of “walking the walk, not just talking the talk.” But is this enough?

I’ve been outspokenly critical of what I call “stealth churches” (those who downplay their denominational affiliation almost to the point of seeming ashamed of the association), but by failing to give words to the experiences and influences leading to our faith, are we in danger of becoming “stealth” Christians?

We must consciously prepare our personal narrative and be unashamed in sharing it when the opportunity arises and the Spirit leads.

My story is my personal piece of the Good News and therefore my responsibility to share in response to the Great Commission.

“Silent Witness” is the title of a British TV series and it refers to the forensic clues found on a murder victim that testify against the killer. In contrast, the body of Jesus Christ is alive. His followers are living, breathing evidence of His goodness and grace. We need to not only walk the walk, but we must also testify to everyone we meet just why we walk as we do, and what a difference Jesus has made in our lives.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1 Peter 3:15  NIV

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Gird your loins

Today I worked out to a video on-line. When the instructor was talking about tightening our stomach muscles during an activity, she commented that having that firm support from the transverse abdominal muscles made her feel powerful, confident, and strong.

When we read in the Bible of Elijah “girding his loins” it actually means he tightened his belt, but it sounds very much like a description of the sort of activity that might give us washboard abs. Wouldn’t Gird Your Loins be a terrific name for a Christian exercise club? People could work out to Scripture and tone their bodies while building up their faith.

Being a Christian in today’s culture requires strength: moral strength, strength in Bible knowledge, and physical strength, too, so that we do not falter or grow weary in doing good.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Galatians 6:9 (KJV)

In order to be powerful, confident, strong, and effective Christians, we must tighten our belts. Tighten our abs.

Gird ourselves for the days to come.

And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins…

1 Kings 18:46 (KJV)
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Debts vs Trespasses

Some denominations say the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:4) with the phrase, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” while others say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is a minor difference, to be sure, but it made me wonder about the original text and what word could be translated as both “debts” and “trespasses.”

Everyone understands that a debt is something owed. We are legally bound to repay our debts. This gets to the very heart of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. We are asking God to forgive us this great debt we owe Him in the same measure we forgive people who owe something to us. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? We may consider ourselves fiscally debt-free, but what about the debts of gratitude we owe, or the debt of respect we owe to those we prejudge?

Trespassing is understood as overstepping boundaries into someone else’s territory without permission. We trespass against God when we ignore His Word and attempt to live our lives without regard to Him, stepping into His territory of lordship. When it comes to trespassing against our neighbors, we may avoid tromping through their rose bushes to honor their private property, but have we stepped thoughtlessly on their feelings?

Do we want Our Lord to only forgive us in the same measure we apply to the people in our lives? Have we forgiven those who treat us with disrespect or hurt our feelings?

While both versions of this prayer give us pause to consider how we treat our fellows, they each give a slightly different perspective.

The original word used by the Gospel writers is better translated “sins” and reminds us that God expects us to treat one another with the same mercy, grace, and forgiveness He extends to us.

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