In the Old Testament, we learn of a Jewish celebration called the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-21). It is referred to as the Feast of Weeks because it occurs seven weeks after Passover. The Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks derived from the 50 days is Pentecost.
In the New Testament, Jesus becomes the Passover sacrifice. Unlike the blood of an animal, His shed blood has the power to atone for all sins. Fifty days after his resurrection (Easter Sunday), the church celebrates Pentecost. On the Day of Pentecost, the early Christians received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ to empower, convict, sanctify, and seal all believers.
On the day of the first Pentecost, after receiving the Holy Spirit, The Apostle Peter preached a powerful message. When the crowd heard the sermon, they were “cut to the heart,” meaning they were convicted of sin and conscience-stricken. The people were so moved by the message that they asked Peter, “What shall we do?” Peter did not hesitate with his answer, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NLT).
These believers and all believers, after them, receive two free gifts of God. The first gift is the forgiveness of sins (past, present, and future) and then the gift of the Holy Spirit who indwells them and transforms them. Imagine that. The Pentecostal gift was not for the apostles alone but for all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone who receives Jesus Christ receives both gifts.
Today, you do not need to come from the right family or have a perfect record as an upright human being. Instead, Christ died for all sinners, and he forgives all who call on him. This Sunday is Pentecost. If you are a believer, I hope you take some time to thank Jesus for salvation full and free and the amazing reality that His Spirit lives in you. And if you have never decided to follow Jesus, I pray that the truth about Jesus will “cut you to the heart” so that you can turn to Him for forgiveness and peace.
Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God (Luke 24:50–53, NLT).
Today you might notice, particularly among the Anabaptist plain communities, as special worship gathering. These are strange times with business closing due to COVID-19. Still, traditionally, Mennonite businesses would remain closed on this special day in the life of the church.
For centuries, Christians from all denominations celebrated Ascension Day. Forty days after Easter, Jesus ascended or departed the face of the earth by physically taking to the air and disappearing in the sky. Ascension Day reminds Christians that our living Lord is ministering in heaven right now. As a result of His current position, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to empower believers and the church to do his work here on earth. And we retain the promise that He will return to this earth one day to gather those who belong to Him—those who received His redemption.
I want to encourage you to read the full account in Acts 1:6–11 sometime today. I always find it astounding as I relive the ascension scene on Mount Olivet with my imagination. In my mind’s eye, the sight is glorious. One of Ireland’s finest evangelical preachers, Thomas Kelly, apparently shared the same sentiment when he wrote the hymn, “Look, Ye Saints” (The Mennonite Hymnal, 186)
Look, ye saints! the sight is glorious: See the Man of Sorrows now; from the fight returned victorious, ev’ry knee to Him shall bow: Crown Him! crown Him! Crowns become the Victor’s brow.
Crown the Savior! angels, crown Him! rich the trophies Jesus brings; in the seat of pow’r enthrone Him, while the vault of heaven rings: Crown Him! crown Him! Crown the Savior King of kings.
Hark! those bursts of acclamation! Hark! those loud triumphant chords! Jesus takes the highest station—O what joy the sight affords! Crown Him! crown Him! King of kings and Lord of lords!
Yesterday, I got to talk with someone very dear to me. It was quite a while since we last spoke, so there was some catching up to do. During our conversation, he mentioned how God was convicting him to return to Him. God has a way of calling back those who belong to Him, those who will pay attention to His voice.
Isaiah 44:22 reminds us that sins fade away to nothing in the presence of God. By his grace, we find forgiveness for our sins. It is by that grace that God calls us to return to Him no matter how far we stray from Him.
Is God working in the lives of those He loves during this coronavirus pandemic? I think so. I think some of us can see more clearly where we stand on our spiritual journey. For many, if not all of us, God is revealing our propensity to drift away from Him, and now He cries out, “Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
One of the notable qualities of the Psalms is their raw honesty. They aren’t neat and clean; they aren’t whitewashed. So often they put into words what my heart feels, but my head cannot comprehend. This morning, Psalm 56:8 caught my attention. “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”
Maybe “suffering” is on my mind after hearing Keith Weaver’s message this past Sunday. Or perhaps it is because my prayers in the midst of the Coronavirus contain the words, “Do not forget us” or “It seems like you’re not paying attention to our troubles, God.”
Many Psalms, including others by King David, often complain that God is absent or that He fails to notice their suffering. Here in Psalm 56:8, the psalmist expresses confidence that God watches over him, even amid his suffering. The psalmist is unsettled—tossing about in his time of trouble. Yet, he recognized that God did not abandon him.
What a beautiful word picture; He “put my tears in [His] bottle.” God does not miss my anguish or fear. He is the Rock on which I stand! A global pandemic might shake my confidence in myself, the scientific world, the economy, the leaders over me, but God is powerful, righteous, and my Rock in this storm. Not only does He have control of all things, but He keeps track of what causes me troubles.
So, I can walk through this time, not shaken by what I cannot control. I can be honest with what I feel, and then fully rest my concerns on the Rock that supports me.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
The morning started out damp and dreary only to develop into downpours of rain throughout the day. Didn’t God know we were trying to do something good for Him? Didn’t He understand all the planning, negotiations, and downright hard work that went into this event? Now, what if no one shows up?
Those feelings and questions quickly dissolved in the mud puddles as car after car of Blainsport church family members and friends arrived for a time of prayer and blessing. Those involved in the event ignored the rain, only concentrating on the sorely missed faces of the church family.
“Showers of blessings” flowed from beaming, joy-filled faces. Everyone seemed to express a desire to come back together to be the church—a worshipping community of believers. Sure, the time away was a positive experience of personal reflection and prayer. Still, the reality of navigating life alone was unacceptable for them.
Twenty-eight cars, some with individuals, most with passengers, were greeted at the carport by the leadership team. The fact of the matter is that the leadership team came away from the morning more encouraged and blessed than words can describe. Some people shared how they feel so helpless without work or school. Waking up in the morning feels purposeless without performing the work they love, and being with the people, they know so well. Those who kept their jobs find everyday, unlike the previous day. There are new regulations or demands placed on them now.
Interestingly, amid the changes thrust upon them, people were happy and confident. The nightly news reports appear inaccurate after talking with these individuals. Everyone was making the best of these difficult days, and they all pointed to God for their strength and hope.
Let’s keep praying that God will not delay His compassion. Pray that He will remember us, His weak and needy people, according to His mercy. Ask Him not to forget the cry of the afflicted. Instead, granting us recovery and ultimately a cure for this disease. Pray that God will purify His people from our craving for prosperity and endless entertainment. Pray that God will stretch out His hand and awaken this perishing world to our great need for a Savior. And pray that God will receive much honor and glory through this unprecedented time, in Christ’s name.
This was a full week so far. While my schedule is not typical, it remains packed with activity. Sometimes I feel like the man who said to his friend in the passenger seat as they were traveling to their meeting destination, “I have no idea where we are, but I’m making great time.” Maybe you feel that way right now; lots of commotion, but you’re not sure if you are making any progress.
Today, I feel as though I am finally at a place that I can tell you about a special activity planned for this Sunday at Blainsport. Yes, you read that sentence right, “at Blainsport.” After making some arrangements this week, and finally running through the plan with our police department, we are set to have a “drive-thru” prayer and blessing time at our church building. This Sunday, from 10:00 AM—11:30 AM, Jon and Anita, Cheryl, and I will spend some time praying with you. Everyone will need to remain in their vehicles as they form a line to the carport where we will pray with and for you.
Ed and Janet will plan to welcome you and give some instructions when you enter the driveway (closest to the pavilion). You will circle around the back of the building to join us at the carport. You must remain in your vehicle to honor the “social distancing” and guidelines in place by the State of Pennsylvania. The building will remain closed, but it gives us a chance to “be together.” Be sure to greet others with a wave. Also remain patient in line—no horn honking (I guess this is where I insert “LOL” – if you don’t get the initialism, ask your kids or grandkids).
Similar to the government offering phases to reopen the economy, this is phase one of returning to church. If you do not feel comfortable joining us in this way, please do not feel bad about it. We understand that some of us must remain on guard during this time; know your limits, and we will respect you for your choice.
Hopefully, we will see you on Sunday morning, albeit for a few minutes.
This morning I received a wonderful gift from the Miller family. During this time of stay-at-home orders, they decided to try their hand at sourdough donut making. Pretty cool idea if you ask me—especially since I get to eat these. I think that I am supposed to share these with Cheryl, but we’ll see. When we can finally meet again at our church building, I’m sure I will see people a little heavier than they were the last time we were together, and I might get to see their real hair color too!
Have you tried anything new during the isolation period?
It was in April of 1945 that Dietrich Bonhoeffer paid the ultimate price for his faith in Christ. At the Flossenbürg concentration camp, Bonhoeffer became one of the great martyrs of the twentieth century. This year marks the 75th anniversary of his untimely and tragic death.
His life and death drew me into a greater understanding of grace and the necessity of community within the Church. Perhaps you are not familiar with Bonhoeffer; let me take a moment to introduce you to this man who died 75 years ago.
Bonhoeffer’s family lived a life of distinction and prestige in Berlin, Germany, before the First World War. They were Christians, but like so many Christians then and now, they were not very close to God. Young Dietrich, however, became serious about his faith in Christ and set out to serve Him in the Church.
After his seminary studies at Berlin University, Bonhoeffer spent a year as an assistant pastor at a church in Barcelona. Then in 1929, he returned to Berlin for postdoctoral work. Bonhoeffer traveled to Union Theological Seminary in New York as an exchange student. There he learned firsthand about the injustices African Americans faced and began fighting for their cause.
Meanwhile, back in Germany, Adolf Hitler was fighting for a different cause, one that would form the Nazi party and eventually Nazi Germany. The Nazi influence among German Christians was growing. The church leaders were turning a blind eye toward the injustices; even worse, they were participating in this deranged leader’s plans. The Nazis went on to gain government control over the churches in Germany. They placed restrictions on the Jewish people living in their country. As we know today, they began the extermination of an entire people group.
Bonhoeffer learned to value different Christian faith expressions and denominations, especially during his short time in London, England. Known as Ecumenism, Bonhoeffer promoted the idea that Christian denominations should learn from each other and work together in society. This worldview fell far short of reality in Nazi Germany.
Knowing that the Church must resist Hitler instead of giving into Nazism, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany to lead the new preacher’s program at Confessing Church’s seminary. He looked to the Bible passages in the Sermon on the Mount to form his curriculum. Christian community became a focal point for him as he wrote such books as Life Together (1939) and Discipleship (1937). In a short time, the Nazi government closed the seminary. Still, Bonhoeffer continued teaching in secret locations until World War II started in Germany on September 1, 1939.
In time, the German government would admonish Bonhoeffer and stop him from teaching, preaching, and publishing his books and materials. Not fully complying with the government’s orders and under suspicion of mounting resistance against Nazi Germany, he was arrested and imprisoned for the rest of his life. Bonhoeffer was eventually found guilty of being part of the Resistance’s attempt on Hitler’s life on July 20, 1944. This verdict rendered a death sentence. So, on April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was put to death for his crimes against Nazi Germany, just three weeks before Hitler’s suicide and four weeks before Allied Victory in Europe.
This theologian, pastor, activist, and martyr counted it a joy to suffer for the cause of Christ. He would not remain silent in the face of Nazi oppression. His life motivated and still motivates Christians around the world to stand firm against the evils they face. His life challenges me, and I hope with this short essay, he will challenge you too. We must take a stand for what is right—even if we must stand alone sometimes. Whether in the workplace, at school, or within your family, do not turn away from biblical truths. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye toward those who are suffering. Let us be willing to use this one-and-only life that God gives us to make a difference in our communities.
Every day we experience a “new normal.” Channel 27 reports, “Some businesses have had a tough time adjusting as social distancing, and stay-at-home orders become the new normal.” What in the world is a new normal? Everything I do anymore is far from normal. Oddly enough, the “new normal” today will be outdated tomorrow; I usually do not repeat my “new normal” in tomorrow’s daily routines. One day I am laughing at the idea of wearing a homemade mask, and the next day I’m wearing one.
One of the “new normal” activities that I am trying nowadays is attending meetings online through “Zoom.” There, small and large groups can gather to conduct their business. Different internet speeds make conversations interesting at best and frustrating for sure. Still, it is one way of making the best of a bad situation. I hope no one gets too attached to Zoom. After this time of separation, I want to see people face to face. I want to read their body language and see their expressions.
One “new normal” that I can do without is making and watching videos of church services. I want to be with others when I worship the LORD. Yes, I have wonderful times with God by myself, but there is something really missing when I cannot gather with others. And believe it or not, it is not just about me—how I feel, the energy of the crowd, the ability to blend in. No, it is about God not receiving the unity of praise that his people bring him when they are together. Some Sundays, I feel like I am robbing God when we are not together.
In this “new normal,” I will do the best I can to provide content to my church family that can keep us somewhat on the same page. This, however, is far from what the church should be. I pray that we will not be “locked down” much longer. Instead, I pray that we will be free to gather together again, free to serve people face-to-face, and free to be the church once more. Until then, I will allow God to shape me during this “new normal.” I hope you will do the same.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Eric grew up in the little town of Gibraltar, PA with his grandparents. He met his wife Cheryl while working at Good’s Greenhouse in Bowmansville, PA. He has three adult children and values watching them grow into the people God wants them to be.