Hold Fast

Have you ever had to take an unpopular position amidst a group of people during a debate? It can be uncomfortable to say the least. Being the lone holdout when a group is making a decision that you feel in your gut is wrong can cause your blood pressure to rise and your palms to sweat. Do you speak out? Do you risk rejection and embarrassment? Do you make your case and work to persuade them to your side?

Some people live for those moments while the rest of us run for the hills. If you are in the latter group, you are in good company.

In the 21st chapter of Luke, Jesus instructed his disciples to be ready to make the case for him against the masses who will reject and disown them for their beliefs. He contends that their parents, friends, and relatives will reject, abuse, and even execute some of them for believing that he is Messiah. He uses the destruction of the temple, which will happen 40 years after his death, as a place to begin the conversation:

Luke 21 (Common English Bible)

Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?”

This is a good reminder to us today to not put our faith or hope in things that are temporal. Our beautiful, bejeweled sanctuaries will all fall away. When we focus our time, resources, and energy into places and things, we betray our mission on earth. Time and monies are better spent making disciples than making places. Moth and rust corrupt buildings but building a community of Jesus followers lasts forever. Where is your church deploying its resources?

Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”

After Jesus died, the disciples and the new church they formed were in great peril. Jerusalem was besieged by hostile forces and each disciple died an ignominious death because they chose to make the case for Christ-crucified. Could you be that bold in a world that rejected him?

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky.12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.

Some may read this today and conclude that we are in the end-times based on Jesus’ prophecy. What do you think?

In any case, remember that we are called to hold fast to our beliefs and stand firm on the word of God. In the end, when it all falls away, this will be the only thing that lasts. By holding fast, you will gain your life. Thanks be to God!

Hold Fast by Michelle Robertson

Pentecost Lament

This Pentecost hit me like a linebacker running full speed. I know it is just a combination of world and personal events, but reading once again about the unifying power of the Holy Spirit as it came upon the disciples gathered together in Jerusalem left me with more despair than I expected.

Pentecost is usually a time of great celebration, as we say “Happy Birthday” to the church. It is usually a time of remembering how the miracle of the flame and wind endowed everyone with the ability to speak and hear each other’s language, which resulted in a common understanding and a common purpose. It is usually a time for us to reflect on the empowering of ordinary people to proclaim the Good News in ways that others could hear, regardless of nationality or race.

It is usually a time of hope.

Let’s go back and remember how it went:

Acts 2 (Common English Bible)

 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

We don’t speak each other’s language anymore. In our country, we watch in horror as school children are murdered under their desks so that an 18-year-old can exercise his “right” to an assault weapon. We watch as politicians make decisions (or refuse to act) based on winning their next campaign rather than what is right for those who elected them. Even in my denomination, we mourn the inevitable separation that is now in motion because we can’t agree anymore. Where is the unity to which we are called? These are dark times everywhere you turn.

Listen to how great a miracle this was:

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 

And then came the inevitable pre-internet trolls:

13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Then Peter set them straight:

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning!

(This obviously was centuries before the invention of the early morning tailgate for a noon college football game.)

16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

And this is where we find our word of hope in the midst of our lament. Peter begins with Joel’s quote about “the last days.” Neither Joel nor Peter were living in the last days. Are we?

God promises that he will pour his Spirit out again and prophesy, visions, and dreams will spring forth. The heavens will produce wonders too terrifying to imagine but then the spectacular day of the Lord’s coming will finally happen.

And the best news of all: everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Hallelujah!

So there is hope after all! Jesus will come to redeem his people and the stupidity of this world will cease when he takes his throne.

Lord, hasten that day.

The Lord Reigns by Shirley Simpkins

Gale Force

If there is one thing we know about here on the Outer Banks, it is WIND. We are famous for it. Remember the Wright Brothers? They came here to try out their new-fangled flying machine because our winds are strong and consistent. That’s great for kite flying on Jockey’s Ridge, but not so great for spray painting a baker’s rack, which I did last week. I ended up with more paint on the grass than the metal.

When the winds hit gale force, we hunker down or leave. That is why I was so amazed this morning to read that in the face of gale force winds on the day of Pentecost, the devout pilgrims in Jerusalem ran TOWARD the sound:

Acts 2 (The Message)

1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were blown away. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
    Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
    Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!

“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

In John 15 we read that Jesus prays that his followers might be one. Here again we see that the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost united the followers in such a way that their languages could be understood by each other. Unity is a theme in the early church. It is God’s desire for his followers. How are we doing?

12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”

13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

The cacophony of confusion was so strong, it appeared as though the people were drunk. But Peter explains that it is only nine o’clock in the morning and they haven’t had time to get drunk. Peter has obviously never been to a morning college football game.

But notice that he stands to speak to the confused crowd with bold urgency. When was the last time you spoke for God with bold urgency?

Peter Speaks Up

14-21 That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

“In the Last Days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit
    on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
    also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
    your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
    I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
    and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above
    and signs on the earth below,
Blood and fire and billowing smoke,
    the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Day of the Lord arrives,
    the Day tremendous and marvelous;
And whoever calls out for help
    to me, God, will be saved.”

This foretelling of what will happen in the end times is chilling. God’s Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people. Visions, dreams, and prophesies will abound. Wonders in the sky and signs on the earth will be hard to miss, as will the blood, fire, and billowing smoke.

All these things will announce that the Day of the Lord is at hand. It sounds terrifying. Are you ready?

Whoever calls out for help will be saved.

Wonders in the Sky by Amy Wrenn