Some months ago, I burned my arm while taking a tray out of the oven! Since it wasn’t a severe burn (in my expert medical opinion), I didn’t perform major surgery nor did I seek medical attention. I decided that since it was just a slight burn (I was only in contact with the hot spot for a milli-second!), I wouldn’t even put a Band-Aid on it; I would leave it alone and see how my body would heal itself.
Now, I’ve had burns, cuts, and bruises in the past and I would normally end up picking at the sore and making matters worse. But this time, I was determined to resist the urge to pick at it and allow the scab time to form and fall off by itself. And do you know what happened? Well, when it initially happened it hurt like the dickens! Then as time went on, it hurt less and less. Then, after some time, a puffy rising formed over the affected spot on my arm. Then the puffy rising went down and a harden scab formed. And then, after some time, the scab came off and while the spot of the burn no longer hurted or was even sore, there was a noticeable discoloration. Finally, the discoloration became less and less noticeable and the color in the spot returned to the point where it “almost” matched the coloring of the rest of my arm!
Now, I’m not telling you this to try to gross you out, but to relate to you that I learned a lesson from my burn. The lesson is that just as our bodies, if all things are normal, have the tendency to heal themselves (The purpose of medicine is not to heal or cure, but rather to assist the body where it is deficient in the process of healing and curing), so it is with life in general! There are a lot of people who think that life is out to get them or that they were “born to lose!” But that is not the case at all! Life is, in most cases, just like the normal healthy human body; when there is an injury, when something goes awry, life is healing and forgiving! Life is bent toward health, happiness, and healing!
But much of the pain we experience in life is not from our injuries, whether they be physical, psychological, or spiritual. Much of our pain comes from our tendencies to pick at the scabs and thus interrupt the healing process! For instance: He’s already made it perfectly clear he doesn’t want you anymore! So why do you keep on pushing yourself on him; trying to make him change his mind? All you’re doing is just picking at the scab and not allowing the healing process! I know you loved your mother and her sudden death caught you and the rest of the family completely by surprise! But mother is gone and there is nothing you can do to bring her back! It’s been five years now; don’t you think it’s about time to pick up the pieces and move on? But instead, you are still grieving like it just happened last night! You’re bitter and angry with the rest of your family because they have moved on with their lives and you interpret their moving on as an indication that they didn’t love your mother as much as you did! No! All you’re doing is picking at the scab and not allowing the wound to heal!
But, even when do we allow time for the scab to form and fall off. And even when we don’t pick at the scab and allow time for the wound to heal, that does not eliminate the presence of the scar! As I am typing this very sentence, I’m pausing to look at the scar on my arm. The wound is completely healed! The scab is gone! It doesn’t hurt anymore! All that remains is the scar! In fact, if it wasn’t for the scar, there would be no trace of the injury! And as I look at other parts of my body, I can see scars, but I have forgotten what caused them!
The lesson in life is that once we have been healed of that psychological or spiritual wound and the scab is gone and all that remains is the scar; if we keep going in the direction of psychological and spiritual health, though the scars will always be present, we will even eventually forget the why and the what of the scars!
My friend, no matter what you’re going through right now; be encouraged! Life is on your side! If you’ve been wounded or otherwise injured by the stuff that happens in life, be encourage! When the scab forms, don’t mess with it; leave it alone! That’s just life’s way of trying to keep the wound from getting infected! And when it’s all over and done, the only thing left will be a scar and if you just keep on going; you will even forget what caused the scar!
“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. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”
Acts 2:1-8 ESV
I choose to entitle this post; A Biblical Pentecostal Experience because much of what is experienced today and labelled as a Pentecostal experience is not the same as what was experienced in the second chapter of Acts! Let me show you what I’m talking about! When we hear of a Pentecostal experience today in church circles, it is labelled as such because usually people are speaking in tongues. And, most of the time, the tongues they are speaking is a language that is unknown to the speaker and the hearers! The speaking in tongues that is equated to Pentecost today is NOT the speaking in tongues that occurred on the Day of Pentecost in Acts! It IS more like the speaking in tongues discussed in 1 Corinthians 12-14.
These were and are two different phenomena. In Acts Chapter Two, the speaking in tongues was the speaking of a language that was unknown to the speaker, but known to the hearer! They didn’t speak in a completely “unknown” tongue; they spoke in “other” tongues! On the day of Pentecost, there were Jews and other people in Jerusalem from many different countries that did not speak or understand Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, or Latin. Greek was the international language of commerce and trade. Aramaic was the language of the contemporary Jew. Hebrew was the “mother tongue” of the Jews, and Latin was the language of Rome. As a side note, Jesus was most likely trilingual; speaking Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. But whatever the case, there were many in Jerusalem on that day that only knew and understood their native tongue. So, for sake of communicating the Gospel, The Spirit empowered the believers to speak in the native tongues of the various people who were present although the believers did not naturally know or had not learned that language. It’s like me being given the ability to communicate the Gospel in Italian even though that is a language I have never learned! The only Italian I know is the word; “pizza!”
The speaking in tongues discussed in 1 Corinthians, Chapters 12-14 was the speaking of an ecstatic language that one could speak only as they were gifted by the Spirit to speak. Note the difference: In Acts, they spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance, or as the Spirit “empowered” them! In 1 Corinthians 12-14, they spoke in tongues only as the Spirit “gifted” them! In Acts, on the Day of Pentecost, they all (The Apostles and the 120 people who were gathered together in the upper room) spoke in tongues as the Spirit empowered them to communicate the Gospel to foreigners who were in Jerusalem. However, everyone was not gifted by the Spirit to speak in tongues the tongues of 1 Corinthians 12-14. When Paul asked the question: “Do all speak in tongues?” in 1 Corinthians 12:30, the context and the Greek syntax of the text suggest the expectation of a negative answer! Paul’s point was: Everybody is not gifted by the Spirit to be an apostle, a prophet, or a teacher. Everyone is not gifted with the gift of miracles, healing, or tongues! But the Holy Spirit gives the spiritual gifts as He wills for the benefit of the Body or the Church.
When people talk about a Pentecostal experience, they cite as the main evidence speaking in tongues, but the speaking in tongues they cite is, more often than not, more akin to what happened in Corinth than of what happened on the Day of Pentecost! So, what would a biblical Pentecostal experience look like today? I don’t think it would be a situation where a lot of people speak in tongues that no one understands, but rather I think it would be a situation where people speak and understand the Gospel in a language that can be understood! As strange as it may seem, often in our modern culture, many people are talking, but few people are actually communicating! We often say the same words, while not realizing the words we say may not mean what they mean to us to the people we are speaking them to! If you don’t understand what I’m talking about and you’re over thirty, just spend some time listening to some teen-agers! They use the same words (sometimes), but they are talking a whole different language! A Pentecostal experience is communicating the Gospel to that age-group in their language! I don’t understand it because I can’t make out much of what they are saying, but I don’t condemn “Christian rap” or Christian rappers just because I don’t understand what they are saying! I praise God because that medium is reaching a segment that may not be otherwise reached! In many ways, that phenomenon could be described as a biblical Pentecostal experience.
You see, the main goal of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not to make the disciples “feel good” or even to lift them to another level of spiritual ecstasy! No! The main goal, the reason the Spirit descended as tongues of fire on the disciples in the upper room, was to endow and empower them with the ability to communicate the Gospel in a language that those foreigners could understand! So, the Holy Spirit gave those disciples the ability to speak a language that was unknown to the speaker, but known to the hearer! That was His agenda then, and that is still His agenda today! The true biblical Pentecostal experience was and is about communicating the Gospel in a language that men and women, boys and girls of all languages, ethnic groups, nationalities, and backgrounds can understand!
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” Romans 7:18-19 ESV
“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV
When we were much younger, we used to be really excited about the new year! Perhaps some of you still are! I mean, after all, it is a time when everybody is on the same page. We are all thinking about making a fresh start! We are all thinking about starting all over again! We are all thinking about setting goals and making this new year better than the last year! But wait a minute! Weren’t we all doing the same thing this time last year? And the year before? And the year before that? Haven’t we all been doing the same thing every year, for as long as we can remember? Perhaps the reason some of us are not as excited about the new year as we used to be is because we have lived long enough to experience the disappointments of countless new year’s resolutions that are never kept! For no matter how excited we were and no matter how good our intentions were, not matter how determined we were, by the middle of January, and if not then, certainly by Valentine’s Day, the thrill, the excitement, the determination, the resolve that was present on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day was long gone! No! Some of us are not particularly excited about the New Year because we have discovered that what is needed is not a new year, but rather a new person! No! I don’t need a new year; I need a new me!
This is exactly the experience that the Apostle Paul shares with us in the Roman text. Now we look at Paul’s experience, I would like to suggest to you that Paul is not relating a pre-conversion experience but rather, this was a post-conversion experience for Paul. Some think that what Paul shares in Romans 7 is the struggle he experienced before he was saved, but a careful look at the text will prove otherwise. Let me prove my point: First of all, when we look at the grammatical structure of the text, we note that Paul does not use the imperfect or the aorist tenses to describe this ordeal, but rather he consistently uses the present tense. Paul is not describing what he used to go through, he is talking about the struggles that he is presently experiencing. Secondly, the person who is not saved, has no real struggles with trying to do the right thing! It is not even on his mind to do right! Doing wrong is so natural, that doing right doesn’t even cross his mind. Now there are some who would appeal to the fact of the conscience. But even the conscience of an unsaved person doesn’t want to do right. The Bible says that there is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death. Paul says later on, in this same letter, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
So, Paul says, I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” Now, the flesh that Paul is referring to is not his physical body, but rather the unregenerate sin-nature that was present within him. You see, when we are saved, God does not eradicate or remove our sinful nature, instead He places His Holy Spirit within us, which is His very own nature. One of the purposes of God’s Spirit within us is to empower us to bring our sinful nature under control. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. “But, walk (live according to) by (the power of) the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Paul said that he died daily. Everyday, the flesh (the sinful nature) has to be crucified. Crucifying the flesh is not something that God does for us, we have to do it ourselves by the power of His Spirit that dwells within us.
Therefore, Paul says, there is a struggle that is going on within me! The will to do is present within me! I want to lose weight! I want to come to Sunday School every Sunday! I want to become more active in my church! I want to be more than just a bench-member at my local church! I really want to; the willingness is there, but the how to and the actual doing of it, is absent! Not only do I struggle to do the things I want to do, but the things I don’t want to do seem to over-power me! I eat too many neck-bones and too much pork! I eat too much and don’t exercise enough! I talk about folks instead of praying for them! Oh! Sometimes I don’t even like myself, because the things I really want to do, I don’t do them and the things I really don’t want to do; I end up doing them! That’s why I’m not really very excited about this new year! Because unless I do things differently, this new year is going to be just like last year and the years before that! I don’t need a new year; I need a new me!
Well, before we get all depressed and give up all hope, there is some good news! Paul said that though it is a struggle, there is an answer to our dilemma! The answer is found “in Christ.” He said, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away: behold, all things are become new.” Yes! That’s the secret to success for the new year! You must be “in Christ!” What does it mean to be “in Christ?” The term, “in Christ” was a favorite expression of Paul used over seventy times in the Pauline writings. It refers to status and position. It’s a good place to be! There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ! We have been justified freely by the grace that is in Christ. God causes us to always have the victory in Christ. We are sanctified in Christ. We are all the children of God by faith in Christ. We shall all be made alive in Christ. The dead in Christ shall rise first. Yes! Everything we need is in Christ! And so, if we abide in him and his word abides in us, we can ask what we will and it will be done unto us. In Christ is a good place to be! Paul says, here in this text, that if any many be in Christ, he is a new creation! That is, if you are in Christ, you are a new you! The answer to the dilemma is to translate the position into experience! I am a new me in my position in Christ and through the power of the Spirit of God that lives within me, I can be a new me in my experience in life!
And, if you are a new you, you really don’t need a new year to start something new! For I heard Paul saying on another occasion that though the outward man is perishing, the inward man is being renewed day by day! Do you see that? The new you don’t need a new year to make a fresh start because the new you is being renewed everyday! Yes! That’s why I don’t really get excited about the New Year, because I get excited every morning! Every morning when I wake up and find myself not dead, that’s like New Year’s Day to me! Every morning that I’m able to get up out of my bed and dress myself; that’s like New Year’s Day to me!
So, if you really want to have life and have it more abundantly, don’t wait until the New Year to start over again! It doesn’t matter what day of the year it is, if you just meet Jesus, and get in him, he will make you a new creation! He will make you all over again! He will fix whatever is broken, he will mend all of the broken promises and dreams! When you’ve met him, you really won’t need a new year because he will make you, a new you!
I have a confession to make! I was on my way home today and I passed a man, walking down the road, who upon my approach, tried to flag me down to catch a ride. But instead of stopping to help him, I passed him by! I did not stop! As I passed him by, something within me wanted to help him, but I just could not bring myself to do it! I said to myself out loud: “Sorry brother, I would really like to help you, but I don’t know you!” It was after I said those words, that I began to have an inner dialogue with myself. What if he really needed help? Would it be held against me because I didn’t stop? After all, there is a passage in Hebrews 13:2 that says: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (KJV) Then I remembered the words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel: “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matt. 25:42-45 ESV) Why didn’t I stop to help that man? It was not because I am a cold and heartless person! It was not because I did not care! I did not stop because, quite frankly, I was afraid to stop! Out of the abundance of caution; I passed him by and I kept on going!
When I got home, I felt compelled to write about what happened because I realized exactly what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 24:12. In speaking about how things would be prior to his return, Jesus said: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Isn’t that just about where we are today? I really wanted to help that young man, but I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard and read about people who stopped to help strangers, but they were assaulted, robbed, and even killed! Because this type of activity (Jesus called it iniquity!) is so pervasive and common these days, it is hard to trust people! It works both ways: It’s hard to trust people who look like they need help and if you’re in trouble; it’s hard to trust people who might offer you help! The love of many has indeed grown cold! Why? Because iniquity abounds!
And so, with that in mind, coupled with my own experience, I think we need to take another look at the story of the Good Samaritan. Now, I know Jesus told the story to illustrate who a neighbor is. But I want us to look at it again from the risk standpoint! It’s easy for us to be “Monday-morning-quarterbacks” and praise the Good Samaritan while at the same time condemning those who passed by on the other side. But when we look at the context of the Jericho road, I think we will have a new sense of appreciation for the Good Samaritan’s courage and the others’ caution!
The Jericho Road was a winding, steep, narrow road that ran from Jerusalem to Jericho. The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho was only about eighteen (18) miles, but in that short distance, the road descended from about 25,000 feet above sea level at Jerusalem to about 800 feet below sea level at Jericho! So, it was more than just a random choice of words when Jesus said in Luke 10:30: “A certain man went ‘down’ from Jerusalem to Jericho.” And with such a steep drop in such a short distance, he most likely literally “fell” among thieves! At any rate, with so many winding turns and steep inclines through the rocky terrain, the road afforded plenty of locations for thieves and robbers to lie in wait to ambush unsuspecting travelers. The road was such a notorious haunt for thieves and robbers, that most people would only travel the road in groups or in caravans.
Taking this into consideration, there are two factors I want to bring into focus. First of all, traditionally, we have been so hard on the ones who passed over to the other side. But if we were in their shoes, most of us would have done exactly what they did! The man was obviously hurt, but who’s to say that the ones who had ambushed him were not still nearby, lurking and waiting to ambush anyone who would come to his aid? Doesn’t that happen today? How many times have we heard news stories of a person, even a pretty female, used as bait? When someone stops to help, accomplices jump out of the bushes or other hiding places to attack, rob, and sometimes kill the “Good Samaritan.” Who’s to say that the man was really hurt? Perhaps they feared that he himself was a robber, faking his injuries to lure them close enough so that he might rob them. When we considered the circumstances in the context of text and even in our own times, I think we are remiss to be so quick to pass judgment on the ones who passed him by! I mean, after all, how many times do we do it, everyday? I did it just today!
Also, when we consider all of the facts and the extenuating circumstances, the Good Samaritan was even more of a hero than what we first thought! Jesus told the story to primarily call attention to the racial and religious tension between the Jews and the Samaritans of his day. Today’s equivalent wound be that of a Black Panther from New Jersey stopping to help a Klansman from Mississippi who got “jacked” on the south-side of Chicago! But aside from the obvious and primary application, we should also praise the courage and bravery of the Good Samaritan! No doubt, some passed by the man because they were racially bias, did not want to get involved, didn’t have time, or just didn’t care, but perhaps some passed him by because they were afraid! Some perhaps, really wanted to help him but were simply afraid to take the risk! You see, it’s costly to be a Good Samaritan! Aside from the money the Good Samaritan paid for lodging and medical care in the parable, he also paid in accepting the risk to help a fellow traveler!
Oh, my friend, it has gotten to the point that it’s difficult for people who really need help to get help because of all the people who fake distress in order to take the advantage. Because iniquity abounds, not only has the love of many grown cold, but even those whose love is still warm are hesitant and afraid to provide the help they know they should!
To the brother I passed by today; I am truly sorry! I really wanted to stop and give you a ride, but I was simply afraid! I did pray that you would make it safely to your destination. I prayed that someone would not stop and take advantage of you! I prayed that if you weren’t truly in need that you would not take advantage of someone who might stop to help you. I prayed that if you were really in need, that the Lord would forgive me for passing you by! I prayed for wisdom, because chances are, even if I saw you again, I would pass you by. . . again! What has this world come to? It is so hard to trust people these days, not just the strangers, but even the ones you think you know! Oh God! Help us to respond in a manner that is pleasing to you when we are confronted with the Jericho Road Situation!
What is your main goal in life? For a lot of people in various parts of the world, the main goal is just to survive! There are many people who, through no fault of their own, are in such incapacitating circumstances that each day is battle for survival! They are struggling and straining just to eke out another day of existence; they are struggling to survive! While there are many who find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own, there are others who are in similar straits because of bad choices and foolish decisions. But no matter how they got there, the fact remains that there is a sizable population in the world who are struggling to survive! Their main goal in life is just to survive!
And then there are those, who through providence, vision and hard work, have risen above the goal of mere existence and have adopted the ideal of success as their main goal in life. The funny thing about success is the fact that it is really an ambiguous idea! A person can be successful in one area of life and be complete failure in another area. For example: Is a person really successful if they have reached the top of the corporate ladder, but yet their family and other personal relationships are torn and shattered? There are many people who are successful financially, but their personal lives and relationships can in no way be characterized as successful. Perhaps these are the ones Jesus had in mind when he said: “For how would a person be better off if he gains the whole world at the cost of his life?” (Matt. 16:26 McDonald Idiomatic Translation) We normally view that passage from the perspective of the term “life” as a reference to eternal life but the principle applies to everyday life also. What good is it if a person gains the whole world (achieves success) and loose their personal relationships, personal happiness and yes, even their own self in the process?
I would like to suggest that while success that is balanced and healthy may indeed be a worthy goal, it is nevertheless so far below the intended goal of life that God has in mind for us! I would like to suggest that the goal of life ought to be more than just mere survival! It ought to be more than just material success! I would like to suggest that goal of life ought to be significance! Significance is making a positive and worthwhile difference in the lives of other people. Significance is working to make the world a better place! Significance is leaving the world better than it was when you came! Significance is leaving a legacy that lives on even after you are dead!
Now, the great thing about significance is that you really don’t have to be successful to be significant! In fact, you can be successful and yet not really be significant! You may not have much money, but you can still be significant! You might be barely making it, trying to survive from day to day, but you can still be significant! Real significance does not come from what you receive, real significance comes from what you give. Even if you don’t have much in material resources, you can still give of your time and your talent. As the great songstress; Mahalia Jackson sang year ago:
“If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they’re travelling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.”
If you help someone as you pass along and make your life about the service you can give instead of just the benefits you receive, your life will not be in vain. You will live a life of significance!
If you walk into any jewelry store, you will notice that most of the jewelry, especially the diamonds, are laid out on black velvet. The store does this because the black velvet or any dark background provides a contrast that accentuates or brings out the brightness and beauty of the jewelry.
Well, I was meeting with a group of clergy the other day and we were discussing what the church’s response should be to the recent racial tension that has gripped our nation because of what happened in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas. As we sat there, it occurred to me that the fact that we were sitting there, discussing what we “should” do was an indictment against us because of what we haven’t been doing! Let me show you what I’m talking about:
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:14-15 ESV) Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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.” (Matt. 5:14-16 ESV) Do you know when light shines the brightest? When it is surrounded by darkness! I used to think that the stars only came out at night. But the scientific truth is that the stars are shining all the time! But we are only able to see their brilliance and beauty at night because of the darkness!
What am I saying? I am saying that the best response for the church and for any Christian in light of what is happening in our nation is not to do anything extra or special, but to just simply be what Christians and the church suppose to be in the first place! Be a city that sits on a hill that cannot be hidden! Be a bright light in a dark place! Shine like stars; brightly lighting up the sky on a dark night! In the midst of the darkness of racism, hatred, and gun violence, those who are truly Christians shine like stars on a dark night! The real followers of Christ are so different from the world that they contrast like diamonds on black velvet!
The problem with the church has been that, all too often, the church has been trying to be “like the world” in order to attract the world! But our calling is to be different! When you “be” like something, you actually become that! While the church is trying to be like the world to attract the world, the world really wishes the church would actually be different because the world is sick of itself and really doesn’t want to be the way that it is! The world is hungry for something authentic and real! The world is hungry for the Living Bread! No! Our calling is to be a stark contrast to the world! Our calling is to be like stars shining on a dark night! Our calling is to be like diamonds on black velvet!