Rejoice

Honest Posts about Everyday Life Where We Learn to Be More Like Christ ~by Elizabeth Smith

Surreal! This situation we are living through right now seems like a movie. It’s really scary for so many reasons. The bible tells us not to fear, but I have moments these days full of anxiety and fear. People are dying, this virus is spreading so quickly, everything is closing and we are faced with…the unknown! We all have so many questions: Will I get sick? Will somebody I love die from this? How long will this last? Will I be able to pay my bills?

My mind keeps going back to the verses my pastor preached several weeks ago:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

 

I get the pray continually part. I’ve been doing that lately! I even get the give thanks in all circumstances part. There is a lot of good going on in the world right now. I love seeing communities come together. I love seeing people making the most of a bad situation. I am healthy. My friends and family are healthy. I have a home and food. I have a lot to be thankful for. But, rejoice? I had to take a closer look at that word because to me that sounds a lot like celebrate and I don’t really feel like celebrating right now. So, I looked at a different translation…

Be full of joy all the time. Never stop praying. In everything give thanks. This is what God wants you to do because of Christ Jesus. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLV

The New Life Version says to be full of joy all the time. Having joy is very different from celebrating. Joy does not always equal happiness. Joy is one of the Fruits of the Spirit and it is the assurance that God will never leave us. It is the peace that God is in control. It is the understanding that He loves us. It is the hope of knowing that He can restore what has been lost. It is trusting that He can take difficult situations and bring good from them.

This is where we need to turn our thoughts right now. We need to rejoice always because we know we can trust this God who is bigger than this virus that seems enormous.

When I messaged my pastor to make sure I had the correct chapter and verses, he said “but don’t forget 19-20!” If we look past the familiar verses, we read (in yet a third translation):

16 Always be joyful. 17 Always keep on praying. 18 No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

19 Do not smother the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at those who prophesy.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-20 TLB

Verse 19 tells us not to smother the Holy Spirit. When we smother (or stifle) the Holy Spirit, we stop the Spirit’s work in us. We don’t allow for the joy and peace that we so desperately need…especially right now. When we try to rely completely on resources other than the Spirit, we are smothering the Spirit. When we look for comfort in other ways and in other individuals, we are stifling the Holy Spirit. In this time of uncertainty, draw your peace from the Holy Spirit. Find comfort from the One who can provide it most.

In verse 20, we are told not to scoff at those who prophesy. We need to hear and listen to our religious leaders because they are going to keep us focused on the truth of WHO is in control. They are going to help us keep our eyes fixed on the One who can give us peace and hope and comfort. We must hold onto what is good and be wise to avoid evil. As we continue to focus on the news of the never ending doom of this unknown new challenge, we really need to balance this with the reminder of the hope of Jesus Christ and the promise of God.

I’m not saying this is always easy. I’m not saying I do this well. Fear creeps in. Worry keeps me up at night. Questions fill my head. I need these reminders too. I need the peace of God at times more than others. We are in this together. Don’t forget 19 -20!

If you are a believer, you will know that we were never promised a life without trouble, but we have been promised that He will carry our worries, He will be our peace, He will never leave us, and that if we believe in Him, we will have eternal life. We need to rejoice. We need to pray. We need to give thanks. Why? Because this is what God wants for us because of Jesus Christ! If you are not a believer, I pray that you can ask Jesus to be the Lord of your life and you can start to experience the joy and the peace that only He can give in these uncertain times.


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AGAPE Love

The Holy Spirit empowers us to grow in our understanding of AGAPE love.  Read Ephesians 3:16-19.  When I graduated from high school at the age of 18, I felt I had learned everything there was to know about school subjects.  I had enrolled in college and was going to go out to conquer the world.  In my first week of college, I came to the realization that I didn’t know very much at all.  I was just beginning to understand how much I really didn’t know.  Everything I was learning was new and unexplored territory.  When I started ministry, I wanted to win the world for Jesus Christ but I did not have the same arrogance as when I was 18 years old.  I did not know my Bible.  All I knew is that God called me to preach the gospel and love people.  Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians and for us is that we may know the vastness of God’s love.  There have been several times during my ministry when I felt I was beginning to understand this love and all its vastness, only to discover I was still only exploring a small part of God’s love.  God’s love is higher and deeper and longer and wider than we can even begin to comprehend, yet we strive toward it.  Paul’s prayer is that we be rooted in the love of Jesus Christ and that as we grow in faith, we also grow in love.  The Holy Spirit is our helper to strengthen us with faith and love.  The Holy Spirit comes into the inner being of the Christian to help transform us into the likeness of Jesus. 

Come Holy Spirit, expand our knowledge of your love.  Increase our faith.  Strengthen our inner being.  Fill us and lead us to be witnesses in this broken world.  Amen.
 
Pastor Tony Alstott

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Regrets

Honest Posts about Everyday Life Where We Learn to Be More Like Christ ~by Elizabeth Smith

I was 20 minutes into a bike workout, when the woman on the screen really started encouraging me to keep going. She had been doing it all along, but at this moment, she knew people like me were going to start giving out. It looked effortless for her, but I was pretty sure I might die. Sweat was pouring off me, my legs were aching, my heart rate was high and it was hard to breathe. The next thing she said was “Come on, give it all you’ve got! You will never regret giving it your all!” She might be right…This will make me stronger and healthier…I might not regret it. But at that moment, I really regretted placing my feet on those bike pedals. My body was not loving what was going on. However, her words stuck with me… “You will never regret giving it your all!”

 

What do you think about that statement? Do you have regrets? We all do. I mean, I regret not sticking with my fitness program last year. Here we are in the New Year, and oh how I wish I were fit and 20 pounds lighter. But, I’m not, and that’s on me. But, I’m not really talking about those kinds of regrets. Those are small regrets – things that we can still do something about if we really choose. I’m talking more about those big regrets. Those choices we have made that have ended badly for one reason or another and maybe have created some big life changes. Regrets are just that – choices WE have made that didn’t turn out so well. Unfortunately, we usually keep ourselves in bondage by continuing to hold onto those regrets…beating ourselves up for a decision we made…wishing we had never gone down that path. Sound familiar?

When we find ourselves in places such as these, we need to remember our first line of defense is God. Pray and then read His word. Here is one thing the Bible tells us:

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

Philippians 3:13 ESV

 

“Forgetting what lies behind.”

We were challenged in church one day about our regrets. “What do you regret?” our pastor asked. My mind started spinning. I had so many hurts from other people that I regretted so much. I spent the rest of that day sorting out my regrets one by one. When I really processed each one, I found an element of good that had come from every one of them. Some of them were tangible – like my children. I could regret ever marrying my first husband, but that path has brought me two wonderful children. I wouldn’t change that for anything. Some of my regrets have brought me closer to God – and that has been life changing. Another regret I had was that I have hurt others with my words and actions. I have asked for forgiveness from those people and have also asked God to forgive me.

Sorting through your regrets can be healing: Process them – find good – forgive yourself – let go. If there is still an opportunity to change something you regret – do it!

Back to my spin instructor’s comment – “You will never regret giving it your all!” My thoughts on this always come back to God! Give HIM your all. Go full force for God. Pursue Him. Serve Him. Worship Him. Talk to Him. TRUST Him. He is good and He has the power to heal your hurts. Let go of what you cannot change. Ask forgiveness. Change what you can.

We all have an end date, and when we get there, we do not want to regret not giving God our all. We want to be able to quote this verse:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:7 RSV

 

Please do not let your regrets keep you from moving forward. Do not live in the past. We cannot do anything about the past except learn from it. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Let God heal you. Move forward with God – giving Him your all!

 


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Come Holy Spirit

In a sermon to the people in Jerusalem, the Apostle Peter promised the Holy Spirit is for you and your children.  Read Acts 2:38-39.  The resurrected Jesus instructed the disciples to go to Jerusalem and pray until the promised Holy Spirit comes to them.  Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were in Jerusalem praying when the Holy Spirit came upon them with tongues of fire.  It was a powerful movement of God’s Spirit.  Many were given the gift of speaking in other languages and began to share the gospel of Jesus.  The commotion drew a crowd and people started questioning what was happening.  In response, the Apostle Peter gave the explanation of how God sent Jesus to sacrifice himself on the cross as a sacrifice for sin.  The people responded by asking what they were supposed to do.  Peter said to repent and be baptized.  Then he said the Holy Spirit is for you and for your children.  The understanding of that statement is that the Holy Spirit is for every generation to come.  Paul also quotes the prophet Joel telling the people that God will pour out his Spirit on all people.  The Holy Spirit is not for a select few, the Holy Spirit is for everyone.  Have you neglected your relationship with God’s Holy Spirit?  The Holy Spirit fills and leads us to be more like Jesus.  The Holy Spirit sets us apart from sin and for service.  The Holy Spirit gives us gifts to edify the church so that we can take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people, just like they did on the day of Pentecost.  Receive the promised Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit, fill us with the fire of your love.  Give us wisdom to make Christ-like decisions.  Give us courage to be a bold witness for you.  Give us compassion to see people as you see people.  Amen.


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The Cloud and the Fire

Honest Posts about Everyday Life Where We Learn to Be More Like Christ ~by Elizabeth Smith
 

I have been studying the book of Numbers lately and reading all about the Israelite’s journey in the desert…that lengthy 40 year journey. You know the one where they were freed from slavery, had a direct 2-week route through the desert into the promised land, had some issues, and then wandered around…FOR A VERY LONG TIME …questioning God…disobeying…fearing…complaining…

Hmmmmm…sounds like us sometimes doesn’t it?

One of the things I love about this story is that yes, they were wandering around a lot, but they had this pillar of cloud during the day to guide them and this pillar of fire at night to give them light. When it moved, they packed up and followed. When it stopped, they camped and stayed. Wow! Can you imagine something that visual showing you exactly where to go?

 

I mean, who here feels like they are wandering in the desert…not sure what God is calling them to do? There are times when life takes us into these dry and dead places. We wonder if we’ve done something wrong…if we’ve wandered from God…if we’re screwing up somehow. OK – maybe that’s just me. But there’s my life…and then there’s God’s plan. I need to make sure I know who’s leading. (That’s why a pillar of cloud and fire would be very helpful – right?)

God’s plan for the Israelites was to cross the desert into the Promised Land in a lot less time, but they did not trust…and they complained…and they were arrogant…and they feared…and God just really wanted them to fully rely on Him. So He kept leading them around and around and around…until they died and a new generation got it right!

YIKES! DON’T DO THAT!

Are we wandering around in a desert place because we are like the Israelites? Take a good look into your soul right now. Do you trust God with where you are, with everything you have, and with where He will lead you? Are you complaining about your current circumstances? Are you boastful? Are you anxious and fearful? I can’t always say that I’m getting all those things right.

However, I know deep down when I’m getting them wrong. I feel it…I sense it…God lets me know. In those moments, I strive not to be like those wandering Israelites. I seek God to change my heart when I cannot do it on my own.

But, also don’t despair when you feel you are stuck in the desert. God may have you there for a reason. Be at peace in the desert because God may be refining you. Maybe He’s helping you find peace. Maybe He’s helping you trust. Maybe he’s helping you find humility. It’s too bad we don’t have a pillar of fire and smoke to lead us to exactly the place where God wants us. Or do we?

Think about that pillar of fire and smoke…it was a GPS for sure…but it was more importantly a sign that God was with them…He did not abandon them. Even though He may have been frustrated with their lack of faith, He did not leave. We have to remind ourselves of that too. God hasn’t left if we feel like we are in the desert. He’s still here.

So maybe we just need to stop. Stop all the noise in our heads and be still. Pray. Listen. Read. Worship. Seek God with all our hearts and trust Him. Be excited and hopeful for what is beyond the desert. Do not allow yourself to stay stuck. Fully rely on God to lead you through. As miraculous as that GPS pillar was for the Israelites…know that God still performs miracles today.

He’s here – seek Him. (insert heart emoji).

You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. Deuteronomy 8:2

 


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Starbucks Lovers

When Taylor Swift released Blank Space, I immediately loved the song.  One of the lines really had my curiosity: “Get along with Starbucks Lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane.”  Five years later I discovered that the real lyrics were “Got a long list of ex-lovers.

They’ll tell you I’m insane.”  Even Taylor Swift’s own mother thought Taylor was saying “Starbucks lovers.”  “Starbucks lovers” has become code for when I realize that what I once thought is not exactly true.  I always thought Genesis 1 was about the creation but after a full examination have come to believe (Starbucks Lovers moment) that Genesis 1 is about God our Creator.  I always thought the Book of Acts was about the birth of the church until (Starbucks Lovers moment) I have come to believe it is really about the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly creation and the birth of the church are stories that are contained in Genesis and Acts, but the main character is God. 

In the fall of 2018, I looked at the calendar and saw 2020.  I decided to make the theme of 2020 “20/20 vision.”  I thought it was perfect and the only opportunity for such a time as this.  I prepared sermon series and titles for the year.  “Blurred vision” from 1 Corinthians 13 and “cross-eyed” from Revelation were just a couple of the creative topics.  I was very excited.  After I was finished there was a nagging in my spirit.  I believe that God was complimenting me on what I had come up with.  I also felt God was prompting me to trash the whole plan because God had a different plan.  I surrendered my plan to God and asked for a new plan.  Weeks of prayer and Scripture reading ensued always searching for what God’s plan might be for Wesley Chapel in 2020. 

I was reading Ephesians 3:14-21.  It is one of my favorite passages.  On a wall in my office hangs a beautiful piece of artwork by Connie Newbanks that includes this passage.  In 2015, Wesley Chapel used this passage to form the first half of our mission phrase, “Rooted in Christ, Growing in Grace.”  I have quoted pieces of it over and over again in sermons.  I have literally read it or quoted it hundreds of times.  Each time I read the passage in my regular Bible reading I get excited.  In early 2019, I was reading this passage and a phrase jumped off the page: “through your Spirit.”  It was a “Starbucks Lovers” moment.  Even though the phrase had been there the whole time, I passed over it as if it had not even been there.  I read it again in context, “He may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”  I read it again, this time reading all seven verses.  I was convicted.  I had neglected the Holy Spirit when speaking of this passage.  I thought about my ten years at Wesley Chapel and realized how little emphasis I had given to the Holy Spirit.  I sensed the Holy Spirit was guiding me to focus the sermons of 2020 on the power of the Holy Spirit.  As I continued to read more Scripture I saw the Holy Spirit mentioned over and over again.  Within a few weeks I had finished the series and titles of 2020.  After two months of sermons, you as the members of Wesley Chapel, have given Pastor Peter and me an overwhelming affirmation for the messages and the topic.  I believe that when we are obedient to the Holy Spirit, it really opens all of us to growing in faith. 

The month of March, we are turning to Forgotten God, a sermon series based on the book by Francis Chan.  We are including opportunities to study Forgotten God in Sunday Schools and small groups.  We believe that the combination of sermon, book, and discussion will bring us closer to the Holy Spirit and deepen our faith in God.  In April, we turn our attention back to Jesus as we remember the death and resurrection of our Savior.  We want you to stay connected to God and to Wesley Chapel as we walk this journey of faith together.

 

Grace and peace,

Pastor Tony


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