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Installation Sermon for My Husband, Dan: The True Pentecost Church

DansInstallation PakistanisSermon for the Installation of The Rev. Dr. Dan Anderson-Little (my husband!) as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Garland, Texas on Sunday, June 5, 2022, 4:00 pm on Acts 2:1-13. This is a second and different sermon on the Pentecost story (although a similar beginning it diverges from there!)

“When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.” After worshipping by video and on Zoom during the pandemic, just being all together in one place is a great place to start. But then the disciples don’t do much. Jesus has ascended on a cloud up into the heavens, so they go to Jerusalem, devoting themselves to prayer. They elect Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot. Things start out "decently and in good order!" But nine days go by and nothing. This book is the Acts of the Apostles, and it starts out with no acts, no actions, no movement, no testimony, no preaching, no witnessing, no sharing about their amazing experiences of the resurrected Jesus!

The reality is that the disciples have never felt more isolated and alone.

• They have gone through so much trauma and grief—Jesus’ violent death was bad enough. But then to have him back again in such a miraculous way after his resurrection—hoping he would stay—only to have him leave again was truly unbearable. Loneliness of grief hung in the air.
• The threat of Rome’s oppression pressed in around them—they could still be victims of unpredictable violence just as Jesus was. Division and fear clung to their prayers.
• Jesus healed their family members and so many in their community. They too, had some success with that, but not like Jesus—what about the illnesses they could not heal? Anxiety huddled in the room.
• They were separated from their larger community. The Pentecost harvest festival 50 days after Passover is happening right there—people from the whole region, and around the world are on the doorstep—what an ideal opportunity to talk about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but the disciples are enclosed and silent. Isolation drove them apart from their community.

Paralyzed from the overwhelming nature of their fragmented, isolating experiences, the disciples could come together to pray and then, nothing. But “nothing” is not in God’s plan that Pentecost day when the whole world is gathered together to celebrate the harvest and the abundance of creation! “Nothing” is not an acceptable outcome for the God who has power over sin, death, and the devil! “Nothing” is not going to work when Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to make his disciples witnesses to the ends of the earth!

So, God turned “nothing” into “something” with the rush of a mighty wind filling the house where the disciples are sitting. The Holy Spirit lights up the house in a technicolor fire of red, orange and yellow flames that land on each of the disciples, giving them the gift of language and culture and power to speak to each person of every single nation gathered around them. With a swift woosh of the fiery Holy Spirit, the disciples move from

• paralyzed to powerful
• form sedentary to spirit-filled
• from worried to worldly
• form praying to preaching
• from isolated to inviting

The Holy Spirit enables the disciples to speak in the native language of every nation living and gathered in Jerusalem—Parthians and Medes, Elamites and Asians, Libyans and Egyptians, Cameroonians and Pakistanis, Hispanics, and Nigerians. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ wants every single person to hear of God’s deeds of power through their own culture and language.

Everyone who hears God’s deeds of power spoken to them in their own language marvels in amazement wondering, “what does this mean?” It means that rather than fear, isolation and separation, the primary mark and character of the Pentecost church is the “scandal of belonging.”

Everyone belongs—every culture, every language, every nation, and every person that God has made belongs to Christ through the power of the Spirit. This is not the belonging of imperialism, of domination, of being white-washed or of having your culture or your language or your history erased. The history of the Western church has done enough of that. For this we repent and turn back toward the fire of the first Pentecost and the call that every language of every nation is a belonging of full identity, a belonging of full culture, a belonging of full inclusion, a belonging of full diversity.

The Holy Spirit’s “scandal of belonging” continues through Acts and into the missionary outreach of the early church, fulfilling Joel’s vision:

• We hear this fiery Spirit in Peter’s vision of all unclean animals being declared clean as he realizes the Holy Spirit falls on Gentiles as well as the Jews—because who are we to hinder God?
• Then the “scandal of belonging” includes the Ethiopian Eunuch, and female leaders in the church like Lydia, and Prisca.
• The scandal of belonging includes youth, like Timothy, and the elderly like Timothy’s grandmother, Lois.

The fiery church birthed at Pentecost is not one of homogeneity—but of hearing God’s deeds of power as they are experienced through each culture, each language, each person in their particularity, and shared for the upbuilding of our community and discipleship in Christ.

First Presbyterian church of Garland, you are a leader and model for us in living out this Pentecost church and the true vision of belonging that the fire of the Holy Spirit holds out for all of us.

• We need to hear about God’s deeds of power in Nigerian experience,
• We need to listen to the testimonies of Jesus from Cameroonians,
• We need to learn what it means to be a Jesus-follower to a Pakistani, a minority faith in Pakistan,
• We can learn from the God-sightings of the Anglo members who have been here at First Pres Garland for years,
• We get to grow from the mission of Hispanic members and their prayers for Spanish-speaking outreach.
• And we are blessed by the 17(!) youth commissioned today for their mission trip!

When we embody this Pentecost church where nations, languages, cultures and people of all ages and abilities are valued, and we build community together—we grow such strong, healthy disciples of Jesus Christ for the kingdom of God. First, it deepens everyone’s walk with Jesus. As we listen to the witness of each other’s faith and culture, our own amazement at God’s deeds of power grows, giving us hope and courage for what the flame of the Holy Spirit can do in our own lives and communities!

Second, when we refuse to isolate as a homogeneous congregation, and instead, grow to embody the Pentecost church, we call individuals to do the same in their own lives. We help teach people how to build diverse relationships, and we provide opportunities for new and deeper community. This means we can help prevent the kind of loneliness that can lead to illness, rigid thinking and isolation, and even the tendency toward violence as a solution to conflict.

Third, when we embody the Pentecost church of radical belonging, we all learn that our way is not the only way. In diverse community the Spirit of Christ tames our ego and our inward focus. It’s about WE and not just about ME--then we bring these spiritual gifts into all areas of our lives as the light of Christ and the fire of the Spirit, influencing our workplaces and neighborhoods, spreading the message of the blessing of inclusion.

Finally, like the healthy body of Christ the Apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 with all the different parts of the body working together, the Pentecost church of diversity builds antibodies against the diseases of racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

The Pentecost church of radical belonging holds out a vision that Sunday morning does not need to be one of the most segregated hours in America! Rather, it enables us to lean into one another, to deeply listen, and to discover and be amazed by God’s deeds of power in someone else’s experience, and culture, and gifts. Now is the time that our nation needs the Pentecost church to rise up and witness to the “scandal of belonging” that is burning in us and in our church for the sake of the world that God so loves, and for which Christ died and rose again.

So, with a renewed, Pentecost Spirit,

• we want to join the dance in the African offering,
• and we want to sing the Pakistani Psalms
• and we want to pray for Hispanic outreach,
• and we want to build a church that embodies the Pentecost fire—

so that one day, every nation and culture belonging to one another, and worshipping together will no longer be a scandal, or surprise. And until that day the Pentecost Spirit is our fire, the Pentecost Spirit is our power, the Pentecost Spirit is our desire, the Pentecost Spirit is our vision--to be part of the amazing deeds that God can do through all of us together. 

First Presbyterian Church of Garland, the Holy Spirit gives you the power—with celebration, and gratitude—not only to be this Pentecost church, but to witness to the world, that you already are this Pentecost church—for we need your firelight to show us the way. 

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Freed By The Fire of the Spirit

pentecost 9148cpMessage for Pentecost on Acts 2:1-21 given on June 5, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

I have often wondered why God amps up the special effects of Pentecost with fire—it’s so much drama adding a technicolor light show of red, orange, and yellow flames on each of the disciples! Maybe the disciples needed a big wake up call to jump into action. They were, after all, doing nothing. Jesus spends 40 days with the disciples after the resurreciton, then he ascended up to heaven and promised to send them the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. The disciples went to Jerusalem, spent time in prayer, and appointed a new disciple Matthias, to take the place of Judas, but that’s all we know.

Now nine days have passed, and the disciples have done nothing worth writing down. This story is from the book of ACTS, after all, as in actions, as in activities—so I’m assuming that if they were actually doing something, anything—like telling people Jesus rose from the dead, we would know about it.

You would think that the disciples would do something, especially since it is Pentecost, the harvest festival 50 days after Passover. People traveled from all over to bring their grain offering to the Temple. The disciples have the entire world of Jews at their doorstep and it’s the perfect opportunity to talk with others about Jesus’ rising to new life. What have they got to show for their 9 days? Nothin.’ They got nothin’.

What’s holding them back?

• For some it was layers of loss and grief—it was traumatic enough to lose Jesus once to a violent death—then they got him back, now they couldn’t bear to lose Jesus a second time
• For others it was fear—those who desired Jesus’ death were still out there—violence was so unpredictable, and life felt very unsafe with Jesus’ departure
• For some it was insecurity—they didn’t believe that the little bit they could do would make a difference, or even how to get started. Sure, it was easy with Jesus there, but what now?
• And all of them were sure that Jesus was taking his dear sweet time sending that Advocate and all of their doubts about Jesus being real were resurfacing

Maybe it was different for each of them—but whatever the reason, they were paralyzed and isolated so much so, that there were no ACTS of the Apostles as the book is called, on this Festival Day in Jerusalem. Their insecurities became bigger to them than the power of Jesus rising from the dead.

And isn’t that the fundamental issue we all have with living out our faith? Our insecurities, our fears, our burdens, our problems loom larger to us than God’s power over death and the devil.

It sounds a little exaggerated when we say it that plainly—that my fears, my health problems, my anxiety, my problems, my issues at work or with family—whatever it is, is somehow bigger than God’s power to raise the dead, they are greater than God’s power to raise us to new life! It reminds me of the phrase, “stop telling God how big your problems are and start telling your problems how big your God is.” God does need to amp up the pyrotechnics on Pentecost to shake us and the disciples out of our fear and insecurities.

God turns on the fireworks—because fire cleanses, purifies, and burns away impurities.

• The book of Malachi refers to God as the Refiner of silver, who through fire purifies his people, burns away our insecurities and shapes and molds us into who God calls us to be.
• The fiery bush in Exodus was a Refiners fire that burned away Moses’ hesitation about being a leader.
• The pillar of fire by night was a Refiner’s fire, and it led the Israelites out of Egypt and burned away the fear of the unknown ahead.
• And today, the fire of Pentecost purifies the disciples from their paralysis and getting them on their feet and out the door.

Do you know how a Silversmith knows that the metal they’re working with has been burned enough to be cleansed of its impurities? He can see his image in it. The silver or metal becomes a clear, beautiful, shining surface that reflects her maker’s face. When the insecurities and fears are melted away in you, what kind of image of God emerges? Take a moment to imagine yourself free of all your worries, insecurities, and fears—all of them burned away—you’re just your pure self—made in the image of God –what do you see? Close your eyes and picture it.

• How are set you free?
• Who can you become?
• Of what do you let go?
• Is God molding you for a conversation you have been afraid to have
• Or giving you a deeper level of self-acceptance?
• Is there a new way of serving
• Are you willing to enter a new relationship
• Can you pursue different job or some new friends?

Freed from whatever holds us back, the purifying power of Pentecost then gets us moving like those first disciples—when we are freed from insecurities and fears we move from inside ourselves to outside and others, we move from an in-group to new relationships, we move from fear to courage, we move from silence to truth-telling, we move from paralysis to action. The fire of Pentecost gets us moving from closed minds to open hearts, from stale plans to new visions, from the-way-we-always-do-it to dreaming new dreams, from a select few to everyone being anointed by the Spirit and fire of God—the old as well as the young, the women as well as the men, the captive as well as the free.

You see, a doctrine only needs a piece of paper, but the living presence of the resurrected Spirit of Christ needs bodies in the world—Christ needs YOUR body and your freed heart in the world. Christ needs your body—the Holy Spirit needs your fired up body released from anxiety and fear and worry showing up with love and inclusion for people who have been told they do not belong--in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your circle of friends and in our community. Christ needs your body so through the fire of the Spirit you can tell the truth about God’s grace for everyone, love when it’s unpopular, forgive when it’s difficult, hope when despair is easier, see visions of what’s possible, and you can cross cultural boundaries to form new community.

There is no problem or issue that is bigger than God’s power to make new. There is no insecurity or limitation in you, which can prevent God’s Spirit from working through you. That’s the power of fire. That’s the power of Holy Spirit. Author and psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross once said, "People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within."

The fire of Pentecost is our light from within—a flame that is the free gift of Christ, continually given as our source, and strength and stay. The Spirit has given you your body, to show up on fire to light up the world with love. That’s what the fire is all about. Amen.

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Four Stages of Faith

cross 13856cMessage for Easter 7 on Acts 16:16-34 given on May 29, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

As I have been reading the news the last few weeks with so many stories of tragedy, horror and evil, I have been wrestling with a lot of questions: Can we, as Christians, have an impact on those bent on war? Can we make a difference on climate change, which is devastating not only the creation, but poor populations who live in the most vulnerable areas? Can we do anything about the availability of military-style weapons used repeatedly to kill children in school, people of color and other innocents at alarming rates which we now seem to accept as an almost ritual? Do you ask yourself these questions? Do you wonder how you can make a difference?

The truth is our ability to make a difference really depends on the depth of our Christian faith. In our Acts passage, we see four stages of faith that lead us into a deeper relationship with God so that we as the body of Christ can have a real and lasting impact in the world. Paul and Silas move through four stages of faith in this one passage.

The first stage is Simple faith, and we see this in their annoyance at the slave girl’s proclamation about their ministry. This is a self-serving stage—a WIIFM faith—a What’s In It For Me? Faith. The slave girl’s witness was correct about Paul and Silas: They are "men of the Most High God, who proclaimed the way of salvation," and even though they are apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, their first reaction is to focus on themselves. In this stage faith can be reduced to how we feel or to sentimentality—feelings without responsibility. Everything is black and white, right or wrong, I like it or I don’t like it, you’re for me or against me—it’s like a simple social media faith.

We all start out here, with Simple Faith—our children may be here and that’s ok: We ask, “What can I get out of coming here? Do I like Sunday School? Is this worship going to feed me? Do I connect with the music? Who is going to care about me?" These are important questions—and it is a great starting point, but a growing, adult faith does not stop there— we move forward from a Simple, self-centered faith to an Others-focused Faith.

2. Others-Focused Faith: Paul and Silas shifted their focus from the negative effect this slave girl was having on them to her need to be released from this spirit and those who were abusing her for their own financial gain. The question in this second, deeper stage of faith shifts from “what is in it for me? to “How can my relationship with Jesus Christ serve you?” When this shift from self-centered to Others-focused faith happens inside Paul and Silas, healing is the result. Healing is not the only miracle that comes from an others-focused faith—but it is the miracle that happens in this passage.

When we shift the focus from our self, outward to others, it releases the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ to heal and to cast out. Jesus gives us his Spirit so that we can heal, bind up, clothe, feed, and love in his name—and it just did not happen in biblical times—it happens today. When we became others-focused during the pandemic, the Holy Spirit empowered us to start serving a free burrito breakfast and we are getting to know people in our community—people who are homeless, families with children, households with members fighting cancer, people helping elderly neighbors. In many cases we are supporting people who are being others-focused in their own lives. Our women’s group leads us in Other’s focused faith as they reach out every year with quilts, health kits and school kits for refugees here in this country and fleeing Ukraine, letting them know that we notice their need and God loves them.

But there are risks—when Paul and Silas became others-focused it threatened the status quo. Those who were making money off the slave girl dragged them into the marketplace, they were beaten mercilessly and thrown in prison. There were not many Jewish people in Philippi, so they experienced prejudice and suffering. They might have been tempted to give up on this God whom it appeared had given up on them. We can understand the temptation to give up on God when it seems like everything has gone wrong. But Paul and Silas reached down deeply within the depths of their soul to show us yet another level of faith—

3. I call it The Jail House Rock Faith! Jail house rock faith pulls us up when we are about to give up on God. Many people struggle with faith at this stage, when they face adversity, pain and when they are walking through the valley of the shadows and cannot understand a God who allows bad things to happen to good people. In this stage of faith, we come to understand that God does not willingly harm any of us, but that in this fallen world, all of us will contend with evil, all of us will contend with illness, and the vicissitudes of life. For that reason, God sent Jesus to be our strength and stay—not to prevent the valleys, but to strengthen us and walk with us through them to the other side. This is why we are church together—to be the hands and feet and prayers of Christ for each other through the valleys.

That's what Paul and Silas did. Their lips weren’t in the stocks, so Paul and Silas begin to pray and sing and sing and pray. Amazing grace how sweet the sound….. Leaning on the everlasting arms… What a friend we have in Jesus… I’m so glad Jesus lifted, singing glory Hallelujah Jesus lifted me… and they prayed and sang—and soon the whole jail house was lifted up and being witnessed to and believing in this God to whom they sang. Jail house rock faith—is faith that trusts in the providence, the presence, and the power of God in all circumstances, no matter how dire life seems. So, Paul and Silas didn’t have a pity party, they had a prayer meeting! They sought divine instruction and intervention through prayer.  Elvis had nothing on them—the earth shook, the bars broke, and the chains were unfastened. Through the power of the Spirit, not just Paul and Silas, but all the prisoners were released.

Now you would think that Paul and Silas and everyone would bolt as fast as they could—they’re free! But no, they stayed and witnessed to the jailer. Trusting that God would not only provide for them, but also for others, they move to a fourth level of faith,

4.Risk-Taking faith in the face of adversity. Rather than running away—they stayed! Paul and Silas first saved the jailer’s life by not leaving. Then they shared the faith of Jesus Christ with him, offered him new life, and accepted his hospitality. Now this was a truly dangerous enterprise. The angry crowd that came after Paul and Silas could now come after the jailer –the jailer was jeopardizing his life and standing in the community by becoming a Christian; Paul and Silas were doing the same again, by staying in Philippi and going with him to his home. This jailer’s household along with Lydia in our Acts reading from last week become the core of the church at Philippi to whom the letters to the Philippians in the New Testament is written.

Wonderful things happen when we move from a Simple, self-centered faith, to an Others-focused faith where healing and service happens, to a Jail-house rock faith that trusts God to provide for us even in hardship, and finally to a Risk-taking faith that enables us to act for salvation, even in the face of adversity, trusting that Jesus accompanies us and works through us to do great things for the kingdom.

St. Luke’s is a place of risk-taking faith. We have already taken a risk by committing to our future in our capital campaign with a vision moving forward. It’s now time to take the next step in our risk-taking faith and start to make our vision a reality. When we dwell in the deep stages of our faith, we trust we are full of Christ’s Spirit to make the difference in our community that Jesus put us here to make. Our Global Mission team heads to the border in El Paso on June 7—they are all engaging in a risk-taking faith to shape our mission to refugees in our area and in this state. We have taken a risk to be LGBTQ welcoming in a state that is not so friendly to them if you have noticed. We are right down the street from the high school and nearly half of LGBTQ youth have considered suicide this year--God might have a mission for a welcoming church there. I have already talked with two members for whom our children going to school in safety is a vital and issue and they are ready to take risks to help make this happen. If you are also passionate about addressing gun violence as a follower of Jesus and are willing to take risks for the sake of our children, please talk with me after the service so I can get you connected.

What is the issue that breaks your heart and what risk are you willing to take for the sake of making God’s kingdom real and showing Jesus’ love? You can identify one issue you are willing to work on and pray for on the back of your attendance slip –whether I have mentioned it or not—that you have a passion for, so we can move forward in mission.
The entire early church was built by followers whose faith moved swiftly from Simple faith to engage in Others-focused faith and jail-house rock faith, and risk-taking faith. We can make a difference in the issues of our day, because we are filled with the same Holy Spirit as Paul and Silas—whose mission ensured we got the message of salvation in Jesus Christ 2000 years later. If they can do it, we can, too.

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The Peace Only Jesus Can Give

boat 20341cMessage for the 6th Sunday of Easter on John 14:23-29 on May 22, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

I can hear the disciples snickering and mumbling under their breath as Jesus tells them not to let their hearts be troubled and not to be afraid. How is that possible? All he is talking about is leaving—how can this be good news and a reason to rejoice? How are they NOT supposed to be afraid? They barely have peace with Jesus given all the crowds, and the Roman and religious leaders after him—how they are supposed to find peace after Jesus leaves? They live in the midst of economic oppression, illness, poverty, violence from Rome--They do not want some stinkin’ spiritual Advocate—they finally got used to living with Jesus, and they would like to keep him, thank you very much! They changed their lives for him—he could at least have the decency to stick around. Do not be troubled or afraid—and oh, here’s some peace—have you taken a look around at the world, Jesus?

Indeed, have you taken a look around at the world, Jesus? We are still in the Green Risk Level for Covid spread in our area, but cases are up 55% nationally, and the virus continues to haunt the background of our lives. One million people in this country have died—that’s like wiping out both the cities of Boston and Pittsburgh. Globally, there have been well over 6 million deaths. Now we have something called the Monkeypox virus showing up on the east coast. These traumas are enough in themselves, but the disease of racism still infects our nation so much so that it creates the conditions where a white man would go to a grocery store in Buffalo and livestream his violent hunt to kill black people as if it's a sport. And the epidemic of gun violence in this country continues unabated—last weekend saw the 198th mass shooting this year alone. We point the finger at Putin as a man of violence—which he is—yet we refuse to keep our own children, schools, houses of worship, and citizens safe. Add the unpredictable economy, and our divisive political environment, and we indeed feel as the disciples do –we have very troubled hearts and it’s hard to imagine why Jesus would tell us not to be afraid.

But, that is exactly what Jesus does. “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid….Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

Jesus says that if we look for our peace from the world—we will never find it. If we need the world to move toward certain results—for agreement to finally arrive between warring nations to feel good, we will forever be heartbroken. If we wait for our party, candidate, or policy to win, we will never have peace. If we depend on Mr. Jack Daniels, or Ms. Mastercard or Visa for our peace, we will experience momentary satisfaction, but we will always need more. If we need a certain amount of Likes on social media, we will always be wanting. If we look to world leaders or even other Christians to behave properly our hearts will always be troubled. When things go our way, we can enjoy the benefits of good outcomes, but not the deep peace that lasts through life’s ups and downs and traumas. Because the world cannot give the real peace that passes all understanding that calms our anxieties and allays our fears, allowing us to deeply rest in ultimate safety. That kind of peace only comes from Jesus, and the peace that Jesus offers actually has nothing to do with what is going on in the world.

I experienced this peace in a fuller way after the pandemic began. I have never experienced anxiety before—but when it came time to have my annual tests for breast cancer tumor markers, during the pandemic, I began to experience real anxiety. I did not feel safe anywhere. I had so many complications when I had treatment for cancer, and some damage to my lungs from radiation, I thought, if I get Covid, I am just not going to survive it. I also knew a few people choosing not to be vaccinated because they felt it needed more research and this compounded my anxiety. I felt so fragile, vulnerable to everyone else’s choices, out of control of my sense of safety and survival, and almost always on the verge of tears. As much as my family loves me, they do not know what it feels like to be at higher risk in a pandemic.

One Sunday I was driving to church to lead outdoor worship and I was not sure I could get through it—I had never felt that way before. I had to call a friend to pray with me, and that enabled me to go ahead with worship. After that, I knew I needed to do something. I was going to start with prayer and my next step would be to call my doctor. So that afternoon I spent some time alone and I just put it all before the Lord—all my fear and anxiety and feeling unsafe everywhere.

And while I was praying, a Bible verse came to me, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. - Romans 14:8. And I thought, well that’s true: If I stay healthy, I have Jesus. If I get Covid, I have Jesus. If I die of Covid, I still have Jesus. If I get Covid and have complications like I did with cancer—I still have Jesus—just like I do now! And I am just fine! No matter what—I always have Jesus. My safety is in Jesus—not in who has a vaccine or who wears a mask or even in my own health history—my safety, my life, my death, my everything is in Jesus, and that’s mine no matter what!

A peace came over me and the anxiety was completely gone. It has never come back.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. . “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”

Now it would have been fine to go on anti-anxiety medicine, so please do not hear me saying that we should be able to pray away every issue. I still take medicine for migraines and still need annual cancer check-ups and none of that is changed. The point is that Jesus gives us the peace that passes all understanding—a calm and centered heart that knows where our life begins, belongs, and ends so that the troubles of the world do not throw us into turmoil. And is it this peace that enables us to live with well-being even in a pandemic, even with health issues, even with many societal issues that need our advocacy and Jesus’ love; it is this peace that gives us the power to witness to the love and light of Jesus Christ who is the author and finisher of our life and of the whole world. Sin and death will not win in the end, and Jesus give us the peace of this truth.

And even more than that, Jesus does not leave us alone –he is not a “peace -out” kind of bro, but he and the Father send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate to be our constant companion, our source of spiritual sustenance, our power-pack who can provide all that we need to live with peace and hope amid the vicissitudes of life: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

The Advocate the Holy Spirit is literally the one who is “called alongside you”—it is Jesus in the Spirit who is present in all times and places at once—Jesus the person was bound physically in one time and place in history, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit now is unbound—and called alongside all of us in all times and places—with each one of us to accompany us in love and strength.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, he breathed on them his Holy Spirit and power. They too, went from fear to faith, from troubled hearts to peaceful presence, from confusion to courageous action. They proclaimed the Gospel in the midst of Roman oppression, violence and uncertainty, but they knew that their safety, their life, their death, their everything was in Jesus. It is believed that Peter went to Rome, Andrew to Greece, Philip and Nathanael to Asia Minor, Thomas to India, Matthew to Ethiopia, and Thaddeus to Persia. They grew the church and accomplished great things because the peace of Christ ruled their hearts and the presence of the Holy Spirit called alongside and within them, gave them what they needed each day to share his love in a hurting world.

The Holy Spirit is sent alongside you to give you whatever you need –the Spirit is sent to be your guide, helper, intercessor, advocate, companion, comforter, counselor, aid, reminder, encourager—You can ask the Holy Spirit for what you need –and it may be different tomorrow from what it is today. The day I was praying about anxiety, the Spirit came to me exactly as Jesus promised—reminding me what Jesus said—that I belonged to him—and bringing me back to the words of Scripture.

What do you need from the Holy Spirit today? Do you need a comforter? A reminder? A companion? A guide? Do you need power? Courage? Freedom from anxiety? Deeper peace? The Holy Spirit is always alongside you as the Father and Jesus have promised and you can be bold in your prayers--daily and often--asking the Spirit for the guidance, the help, the comfort, the encouragement you need for this day, this moment, for whatever challenge is at hand.

I am going to pause for you to ask the Holy Spirit what you need from her today.

I invite you to make it a practice every day this week and as often as you think of it throughout your day, to ask the Holy Spirit, the Advocate for what you need. With the peace of Christ dwelling in our hearts, and with the Holy Spirit, our Advocate helper, intercessor, companion, comforter, counselor, aid, reminder, and encourager by our side, there is nothing in this world that can steal our peace, take away our Jesus, or separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.