Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

The Spirit Works Amazing Transformation

Posted by on Tuesday, June 19, 2018 @ 11:03 AM

God loves us too much to leave us the way we are.

That’s good news. Most of us are not actively living our best lives or the best versions of ourselves. It’s hard. It takes sacrifice and being humble. It takes saying ‘no’ to our way of doing things and saying ‘yes’ to God’s way.

Thankfully, most of us aren’t actively living our worst lives or the most sinister version of ourselves either. Those impulses to live selfishly and ruthlessly are present in all of us. It’s often a challenge to keep them in check. When we say ‘yes’ to our way of doing things and ‘no’ to God’s way…   we set ourselves up to act on our worst, rather than our best inclinations.

But, God loves us too much to leave us the way we are. So, God continually places opportunities and people and events in our lives to encourage and inspire us to accept Jesus and follow him with our lives. When we do, our lives reflect the grace and glory of God…   our lives make an impact for good and for God wherever we go.

One person who was really, truly living the most sinister version of himself was Saul of Tarsus. Actively hunting down, persecuting and imprisoning Christians. But, even for one so far gone as Saul, God presented an opportunity for redemption: to change, grow, and live a life of powerful faith, hope, and love.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9:10-19)

Paul was a righteous Jew. He was a self-righteous man. As with many of the other religious leaders in the Scriptures…   Paul was saying ‘yes’ to his own way and saying ‘no’ to God’s way in Jesus. He was on his way to commit more terrible acts against the Christians whom he hated. After being struck blind following his encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road, Paul was sidelined for three days. An opportunity for him to change his ways was coming.

God had a different plan for Paul. This powerful opportunity was presented though the faithful disciple Ananias…   that Paul would be healed of his blindness and filled with the Holy Spirit by the authority of Jesus. And…   he would be God’s instrument to reaching the gentiles with the Good News of Jesus. How’s that for a reversal of fortune?!?!

The rest, as we say, is history. Saul becomes Paul and goes on to be one of the most impactful apostles of Jesus and the Christian movement. He was responsible for planting churches all over the region and beyond. His writings make up a significant portion of the New Testament Scriptures.

God loves us too much to leave us the way we are. The difference between a life of faith, hope, and love in the power of the Holy Spirit and a sinister life of selfish, ruthless self-righteousness is in our answers to these questions:

Will we recognize the opportunities God gives us for redemption: to change, grow and live a life of powerful faith, hope, and love?

Will we be humble and sacrifice saying ‘no’ to our way of doing things and saying ‘yes’ to God’s way?

Will we remain the ‘Saul’ version of ourselves…   or will we become the ‘Paul’ version of ourselves?

 

Pastor Erik

The Spirit Leads and Guides

Posted by on Monday, June 11, 2018 @ 12:06 PM

Most people, even some long-time faithful Christians, have got things backward. We wake up each morning and set our own agendas:

- My goal is to accomplish THIS or THAT

- My priority is to do THIS or THAT

- I’m planning my future path to include THIS or THAT

And then we sincerely say and pray, “God be present, be powerful, and lead me through the challenges as I pursue THIS or THAT”.

This is backward!!! It starts with ‘Me’ and concerns itself with ‘My THIS or THAT’. God, in this scenario, is a person and power we call upon in order to fulfill our will and plan.

As Christ-followers, though, we have committed ourselves follow God’s will and plan rather than pursue our own THIS and THAT. We have chosen to start with God and concern ourselves with what God wants to accomplish in and through our lives for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

A sure and certain sign that we are living backward is that we don’t experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. After all, God’s will and plan does not revolve around our own THIS and THAT. But, when we tune ourselves into God’s leading and are ready to go and do what God wants accomplished, the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide shows up and shows off.

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:26-40)

Philip didn’t hesitate. When God called him to go…   he went. What God asked him to do through the Holy Spirit…   he did. His own THIS and THAT didn't get in the way of his top priority. And, Philip’s life was used to accomplish God’s mission in the world: to bring the Good News of Jesus in such a way that provides salvation and inspires faith, hope, and love.

Philip, guided and led by the Holy Spirit, opened the door of God’s grace and salvation to someone that day (and probably on many other days as well).

God wants to lead and guide all of us that very same way today.

Pastor Erik

The Spirit Fills Those Who Serve

Posted by on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 @ 5:56 PM

The Human Rights activist Yelena Bonner is quoted as saying, “just as there are no little people or unimportant lives, there is no insignificant work”.

How true indeed. And we would do well to remember it.

In every job, project, endeavor, or mission there are lots of work to be done. Some of the work is out in front for all to see. Some of the work is behind the scenes hidden from view. Some of the work is esteemed very highly and garners much respect. Some of the work is not esteemed at all and always overlooked. And so, the result is often that some of the workers are regarded with much respect and celebration while others are barely recognized and go unnoticed.

But EVERYONE is needed to accomplish the mission. EVERYONE’S gifts and talents are necessary and worthy contributions to the cause. And, it is reassuring to know that even though, in the ways of the world, this is often forgotten…   God does not forget or overlook.

The early church was coming to grips with explosive and exponential growth. So much so that the ‘glamorous’ work of the apostles (preaching, teaching, healing, evangelizing, and leading prayer) needed to be undergirded and supported by the ‘unglamorous’ work of serving (administering, organizing, logistics, and manual labor)

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7)

Notice that these folks chosen to work ‘behind the scenes’ were every bit as full of the Holy Spirit as any apostle. The work that they were chosen to perform was a necessary work for the continued survival and thriving of the church. And many many people in need were blessed by their efforts.

It’s a shame that for the exception of Stephen and Philip very few Christians though the ages have remembered the names of these first behind the scenes unsung heroes.

It’s a shame that even today (and throughout history) we have heaped attention on the few in the life of the church who are front and center (clergy, missionaries, evangelists, theologians, Bible scholars) while overlooking so many others whose every day faithful work and service is every bit as essential.

Still, what we fail to see God never fails to see. And so, the gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon ALL of those working to fulfill God’s mission: to extend and expand the Kingdom by bringing the Good News of Jesus to the ends of the earth by word and deed so that all will see the glory of God.

Let’s praise God that we all have a part to play. Let’s rejoice in both the visible and hidden work and workers of the church!

Pastor Erik

The Spirit of Courage

Posted by on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 @ 12:00 PM

Confidence breeds courage.

When we are confident in what we know…   in what we can do…   in where we are going…   we naturally act with boldness.

Think about the last time you really felt confident. Maybe it was a project at work, or a job interview, or a sports activity, or a musical performance. What was the result? Success, yes, but probably more so…   you probably ‘knocked it out of the park’ as they say. It probably felt good. Your boldness probably even made other people look at you and take notice.

We regard CEOs, geniuses, superstars, spiritual giants, and other leader-types with immense respect because of their bold, confident, decisive actions.

This must have been how the first followers of Jesus felt as they went out with the Spirit of courage (The Holy Spirit) to communicate the Good News of Jesus to the world. In fact, we read a story of Spirit-inspired confidence and boldness in Acts 4:

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is

‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
    it has become the cornerstone.’

12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.

Those guys were courageous and confident! There wasn’t a doubt in Peter or John’s mind as to the truth and Good News of Jesus! And, their boldness inspired many to believe. Even those who were angered by their message couldn’t help but regard them with amazement and respect because of their boldness.

Sometimes, we as Christians simply don’t act boldly in our daily lives. Maybe, if we are really honest, we lack confidence and, therefore, we lack courage to act. Maybe, if we are really honest, our faith is on shaky ground and, as a result, we have no boldness to inspire anyone...   not even ourselves!

The confidence and boldness of those first disciples (and all faithful Christians of every generation) came about through a life and lifestyle that was courageously ‘all-in’ for Jesus. We cannot be confident and bold when we aren’t ‘all-in’.

Think about, again, that time you really felt confident…   you were ‘all-in’ weren’t you?

God promises a Spirit of courage for all those who are ‘all-in’ for Jesus. And that confidence and boldness will be sure to impact others with the example of faith, hope, and love.

Pastor Erik

Living Spirit, Living Promise

Posted by on Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 1:56 PM

We are built and made for teamwork, team-effort, and team identity. As human beings we yearn for it. Just think about your favorite sport’s team. Do you have their banner hanging in your home? Do you have their jersey? Do you know their statistics, their players, their history?

Do you…   here it is…   wait for it…   do you, in conversation, refer to your favorite team in the first-person plural (even though you aren’t really ‘on the team’)? “WE are going to the championship this year!” “It’s a tough schedule for US on the road this year.”

It’s not just sports of course. Social causes, cities, political parties, cultural expressions, etc. all inspire us to band together as a distinct group that expresses who we are to the world. We are made to gather, share, and identify with a group who hold common value, ethos, and mission. God made us that way.

The fullest expression of ‘team’ we can find in the world is the one inspired by God, initiated by Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit: The Church.

38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:38-47)

The church is born when the power of the Holy Spirit comes upon the first generation of faithful Jesus-followers. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to give direction, purpose, and power to those who had faith, hope, and love. To make a team that will go into all the world and live-out this promise together with God 

Many extraordinary things were done. And, many came to believe through those who had the courage to act in Jesus’ name. It was true then…   and it’s still true now, today!

We have inherited this great mission: to extend and expand the Kingdom of God into all the world.

Let us continue to go and tell the world about healing, forgiveness, and new life in Jesus.

Let us continue to baptize and watch people receive God’s promise of the Holy Spirit.

Let us continue to devote ourselves to learning, acting, and teaching the truths of God

Let us continue to be struck with awe and wonder at what God has done…   and what God is doing.

Let us give, work, and share our resources in common for the good of God’s Kingdom

Let us break bread together with generous hearts and praise the Living God…

   … and let us watch God add to our numbers day by day today.

 

Pastor Erik

 

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