Burning Hearts

This past Tuesday was the anniversary of the day John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed, an important day in Methodist history. So today I want to talk about the importance of the heart, that it ought to be a burning heart, a heart ignited by God’s power and love.

First, let’s talk about heart disease. We all know that heart disease is a huge problem for the human heart. Heart disease refers to any abnormality or dysfunction of the heart, mainly due to decrease in blood flow to the heart. It’s the cutting off of life from the heart.

But even more dangerous than heart disease is spiritual heart disease. Spiritual heart disease occurs when we cut ourselves off from God, our source of life.

Jesus struggled with people in his day who thought they were right with God, but really had spiritual heart disease: "You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings.’" (Matthew 15.7-9)

God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel: "And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart." (36.26)

There’s a great story in the Gospels about a couple of disciples whose hearts were “strangely warmed.” This event occured on the day Jesus rose from the dead. Read Luke 24.13-32.

Wesley’s Spiritual Journey
John Wesley grew up in a pastor’s home, was raised by a godly mother, and grew up with eighteen siblings. While at Oxford University, John and Charles Wesley and a handful of other students devoted themselves to a rigorous search for holiness and service to others in a group known as "The Holy Club," which  began in 1729. Some of this group’s practices involved fasting until 3:00 pm on Wednesdays and Fridays, receiving Holy Communion once each week, studying and discussing the Greek New Testament and the Classics each evening in a member’s room, visiting (after 1730) prisoners and the sick, and systematically bringing all their lives under strict review.

Later, Wesley failed miserably in his missionary efforts in Georgia. But enroute to Georgia he met a group of Moravians which challenged his spirituality. Out of that experience, he began engaging in theological conversations with his Moravian friend, Peter Böhler. And finally, on May 24, 1738, on Aldersgate Street, John Wesley’s heart awakened to embrace salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

Here’s an excerpt from Wesley’s May 24, 1738 Journal Entry: “In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Characteristics of Burning Hearts

A burning heart leads to love of God (worship)

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart …” (Matthew 22.37)

A burning heart leads to love of neighbors (outreach)

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22.39)

A burning heart leads to love of The Family (fellowship and unity)

“They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love” (verses)
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

A burning heart leads to humility, an an essential ingredient for loving others and the ability to get along with others. Ephesians 5.21 says, "And further, you will submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." As others have said, humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less! (Read Philippians 2.1-7.)

One Accord
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2.1). Interestingly, the phrase, “one accord” (homothumadon) appears 12 times in the New Testament. Eleven of those times it appears in Acts to describe the harmony of the early church.

Homothumadon is a compound of two words meaning to “rush along” and “in unison.” The image is almost musical; a number of notes are sounded which, while different, harmonize. As the instruments of a great concert under the direction of a concert master, so the Holy Spirit blends together the lives of members of Christ’s church.

Protecting the Unity of the Church

"You are joined together with peace through the Spirit, so make every effort to continue together in this way." (Ephesians 4.3)

"Most of all, let love guide your life, for then the whole church will stay together in perfect harmony." (Colossians 3.14)

Rick Warren’s suggestions for protecting the unity (from The Purpose-Driven Life) …

  • Focus on what we have in common, not our differences.
  • Be realistic in your expectations.
  • Choose to encourage rather than criticize.
  • Refuse to listen to gossip. (“Listening to gossip is like accepting stolen property, and it makes you just as guilty of the crime.”)
  • Practices God’s method of conflict resolution (Matthew 18).
  • Support your pastor and leaders.

“The more tightly we are attached to Jesus, the more purely his love can pass through us.” (Max Lucado)

The cure for spiritual heart disease is a heart set on fire by God’s
power and love! People who have healthy spiritual hearts have burning

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (Proverbs 4.23)

Burning Hearts

We’re talking about the Holy Spirit. Two weeks ago (Pentecost Sunday) we looked at Acts 2, and specifically, the symbol of fire.

Luke 24.13-35

We want to continue to look at the work of the Holy Spirit in the life
of the Church, and will do so today by also taking a look at the John
Wesley. May 24, 1738 (anniversary date, last Tuesday) marked a pivotal
point in the life of John Wesley.

Excerpt from Wesley’s May 24, 1738, Journal Entry

In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in
Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the
Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was
describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in
Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ,
Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had
taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and

Wesley had spent years in spiritual inquiry. He participated in the
Holy Club at Oxford, fasted until 3pm Wednesdays and Fridays,
celebrated holy communion at least once each week, studied and
discussed the Greek New Testament and the classics each evening in a
member’s room, and the next year visited prisoners and the sick, they
systematically brought their lives under strict review.

He and Charles went to Georgia as Missionaries where they failed
miserably. Boat ride back in the storm, while fearful, he observed the
peace of the Moravians. Became acquainted with Peter Bohler and they
continued a relationship where they shared in deep theological

1. A personal salvation experience — "I felt my heart strangely warmed."

2. Saving faith through Jesus Christ — "I felt I did trust in Christ,
Christ alone for salvation." Not in works, not in doing good, not in
earning God’s acceptance.

3. Assurance of salvation — "and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins."

Wesley’s immediate response to his "heart-warming experience" was
intercession. "I began to pray with all my might for those who had
despitefully used me and persecuted me."

Wesley also testified. "I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart."

Luke, after Emmaus the disciples immediately returned to Jerusalem to
tell the others what had happened and how they had recognized Jesus. At
Pentecost, in Acts 2, the first response was to tell others of Christ,
of the new life he offers us through his life, death, and resurrection.

Wesley also battled spiritual doubt. "But it was not long before the
enemy suggested, ‘This cannot be faith, for where is thy joy?’ Then was
I taught that ‘peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in
the Captain of our salvation…"

The active work and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is evident in the fruit of our lives.

We cannot live by feelings/emotions. The presence of the Holy Spirit is
more than feelings. The senses (sight, hearing, touching, smelling,
tasting) are important, but God is greater than our human senses. There
is a sixth sense, a spiritual sense.

Discernment. Assurance. Relationships: Love: don’t feel in-love, are
you in love? If don’t feel God’s presence, does that mean he is not
with us? Remember, God said, "Never will I leave you; never will I
forsake you" (Deuteronomy  31:6).

Steven Curtis Chapman asks some great questions in a song, which are good for us today …


  • What about the change?

  • What about the difference?

  • What about a life that’s showing I’m undergoing the change?

Set Me on Fire

2,000 years ago, Jesus walked the earth. He was a revolutionary, and the world doesn’t like revolutionaries. The world kills revolutionaries! And the world killed Jesus. But three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and walked among people for 40 days. Then he ascended into heaven, but just before left, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem to be baptized by the Holy Spirit.

The disciples wanted to talk about the timing of upcoming events, but Jesus reminded them to stay on task, saying that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Christ in the world (see Acts 1.3-11).

“According to the Pentecost experience, the ‘flaming fire’ of the Holy Spirit makes those it touches incandescent in the presence of God.” (Jürgen Moltmann)

But this isn’t the first time Jesus told his disciples about sending the Holy Spirit: John 14.15-17, 23-26

Ten days before the Feast of Pentecost, Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples may have had a sense that something special was about to happen. Several weeks earlier, Jesus was crucified at Passover; he was buried during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and he rose from the dead during the Feast of Firstfruits. And now, Pentecost was just around the corner!

Pentecost (Greek: “50 days”) is the Hebrew festival Shavuot (“weeks,” i.e. 7 weeks after Passover). During this festival, people bring gifts and offerings of grain as well as a number of burnt offerings, beginning at dawn. At 9:00 am, there’s a worship service in the Temple where thousands of people gather to worship God.

It was about that time when something happened that forever changed the course of history. It all started with a sound, the sound of a rushing mighty wind. God was breathing on his people, breathing new life into them and empowering them for the mission, the revolution of God!

When I think of wind and breath as images of God’s Spirit, I think of Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). God took a hopeless valley of dead, dry, disconnected bones. Not only did God reconnect those bones; not only did God restored their flesh. But God also breathed new life into them! And, on the day of Pentecost, God breathed new life into his people!

The Scriptures says, “everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2.4). Miraculously, they spoke about the Good News in the languages the people gathered there — people from all over the world! At first, they were confused, thinking this group of people must be drunk. But Peter, filled with the Spirit, told the story about the new thing what God was doing. About 3,000 people responded to God’s Spirit, surrendered their lives to God, and joined the revolution to spread the Good News all around the world!

We normally emphasize Christmas and Easter (obviously important days!), but the reality is that without Pentecost, we would never had heard of Christmas or Easter. Pentecost was the day that God prepared and empowered a mighty missionary force for mission!

Fire is one of the images of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, Scripture says that “tongues of fire” settled on the disciples. And John the Baptist once said, “I baptize with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I am not even worthy to be his slave. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3.16). The writer to the Hebrews says, “our God is a consuming fire” (12.29, quoting Deuteronomy 4.24).

Other places where fire is seen in Scripture …

  • Moses encountered God at the burning bush.
  • God led Israel in the wilderness by a pillar of fire at night.
  • Israel saw God’s fire at Mt Sinai.
  • Elijah called down God’s fire to show people that the Lord was God, Baal wasn’t!

"Acts 29"
I love the book of Acts. Acts is the history of the earliest years of the church. The book of Acts is commonly referred to as “Acts of the Apostles,” but it’s original name was simply “Acts.” More accurately, it’s the Acts of the Holy Spirit through his people.

One of the things I love about the book of Acts is that there is no solid conclusion; no statement saying, “The End,” or even an “Amen.” The Acts of the Holy Spirit is still being written; it’s work in progress (IOW, we’re in Acts 29)! God is still acting in the world through revolutionary disciples.

What the Holy Spirit means to me …
I am grateful for the Holy Spirit. I cannot imagine life — certainly not the life of following Christ – without the Holy Spirit!

Connection with God: I connect with God through the Holy Spirit. I worship God in spirit and in truth. I communicate with God through the Spirit, and the Spirit intercedes for me.

Being led by the Spirit: (Matthew 4.1; Galatians 5.16-17, 24-25)

Empowerment for ministry: Jesus said “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The Greek word for power is where we get our English word dynamite. If our ministry, our witness, has any power at all, it alone comes from the Holy Spirit!

“I have entered into the ministry of Jesus Christ, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the world.” (Stephen Seamands).

I pray for God’s help and blessing on my ministry. I seek to do what God wants me to do. It’s God’s ministry, not mine. I want to do everything I do for God and with God! And I depend on the Holy Spirit to already be at work in people’s hearts preparing them for the ministry he wants to do through me.

And Pentecost is not a one-time only event, but an ongoing one! In fact, we need empowerment today as much as ever before! We need empowerment to be witnesses. Pentecost is not primarily about an experience; it’s about empowerment, empowerment for mission!

Pentecost is ultimately about mission. One day, Isaiah encountered God in a fresh, intimate way. He saw God, and he saw angels worshiping God, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (See Isaiah 6.1-8).

That experience with God called for action. It wasn’t about the experience as much as it was about empowerment for mission! Isaiah heard God asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?” Isaiah responded, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”

When people respond to God call, God prepares them by giving them his Spirit. He sets them on fire! A common understanding Acts is being “full of the Holy Spirit” or being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” May we respond to God’s call, and may God set us on fire!

Part of that process involves, as it did for Isaiah, being refined by fire: Malachi 3.1-3

“Refine Me” (Jennifer Knapp)
Lord, come with Your fire / burn my desires; refine me / Lord, my will has deceived me / Please come and free me / Come rescue this child / For I long to be reconciled to You

O God, set us on fire, empower us for the mission, and send us out into the world to be witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ!


Acts 2.1-4

is the story of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit in all of his
fullness. The Spirit is present throughout the Bible (Old and New
Testaments). Recently we looked at Ezekiel and the dry bones, as well
as John 20 where Jesus, after the resurrection, breathes on the
disciples, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

And yet, before he ascends into heaven, Jesus tells the disciples,
"Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised,
which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with
water,  but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy
Spirit." (Acts 1.4b-5)

The Holy Spirit comes, filling the whole place where they were, and
filling each believer. There was no room left for doubt that the Spirit
had come. They heard the sound of a violent wind. They saw fire coming
down and  separating and resting upon each of their heads. And
they began speaking in a language that was not their own, that they had
never spoken before.

Most the time we think of fire, we think of
destruction. Buildings burn, vehicles catch fire after an accident, the
forest fires that are common in the west during drought consume acres
of woodland. Fire has the ability to destroy anything in its path.

We have some firefighters among us and they could comment on the
power of fire more readily than I. They have felt the intensity of the
blaze. They have fought back the flames, trying to save what they can
of a building. And some have witnessed how a small brush fire can
quickly get out of hand.

Most vivid in my mind is the fire that destroyed the Fawn Grove UMC,
a church in our conference. A brick building, the photos I viewed
online revealed only a part of the structure intact – it was totally
gutted. And even in the middle of winter, the pictures showed fireman
with icicles hanging from their clothes and headgear.

Why would the God choose such an ominous image for the coming of Holy Spirit?
Actually, fire is a common image throughout the Bible. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush – the
was on fire, but was not consumed, it did not burn up.  When God
freed Israel from Egypt he led them with a cloud by day and by  a
pillar of fire by night.  When Elijah led the contest between God
and Baal, Baal did not come down and burn up the sacrifice. But when it
was Elijah’s turn, he had the trenches dug around where the altar was
and barrels of water were brought to fill the trenches and cover the
altar and the sacrifice. And God came in fire, licking up every drop of
water and consuming the sacrifice.

In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is represented by fire, coming and
resting upon the people of God.  We still use fire each time we
gather to worship. We light the candles on the altar to represent God’s
presence with us. Let’s talk a little more about the coming of the HS
and the image of fire.

Fired up (Fiery zeal)
There is a fiery zeal that comes
over the disciples. They  transform from being frightened and
hidden away to a life of preaching Christ crucified and resurrected; a
life of ministry to the sick, the demon possessed and the poor through
healing, delivering, serving. Sounds just like the ministry of Christ,
doesn’t it?

"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I
have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I
am going to the Father." (John 14.12)

And Jesus goes on to speaking of the coming Holy Spirit …

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and
you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1.8).

This zeal is not just an emotion. It is the power of the Holy Spirit
at work in the lives of believers. It is the Holy Spirit speaking
through them, ministering through, using them. This zeal is the
empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Consuming Fire

Malachi 3.2-4

refiner’s fire was used to purify metal and refine it by melting it and
allowing the dross, which floated to the top, to be scooped off.

Hebrews 12.29 (quoting Deuteronomy) says that “God is a consuming fire.”

The fire of God consumes the impurities of our life, the things that
stand between us and God, that block our relationship with God, that
inhibit our relationship, our witness, our worship.

The Spirit is called “Holy”. The scriptures call God a holy God.
Holy is what we are not. Holy what God and God alone is. And yet holy
is what he is making us.

Too many times we gage our holiness by worldly standards. We look
at our lives and say, “I’m not doing too bad.” I go to church. I give
an offering when I’m there. I even give to charities at Christmastime.
Or we say I’m a lot nicer than that person. I give more time to the
church than that person. Or whatever.

God says look at me. Look at my holiness. And we pale in comparison.
When we truly look into the holiness of God, we must like Isaiah cry,
“Woe to me! I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a
people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord

“Refiner Me” (Jennifer Knapp)
Lord, come with your fire,
Burn my desires. Refine me.
Lord, my will has deceived me
Please come and free me
Come rescue this child for a long to be reconciled to you.

we see God’s holiness, we cannot help but see our shortcomings, the
impurities in our lives, where we have failed God, where we were called
to do more, give more, surrender more.

And yet God in his mercy, as with Isaiah, comes with a live coal
(there’s that fire again). A red hot coal. A fiery coal. You know it’s
hot because he seraph picks it up with tongs from the altar and touches
Isaiah’s mouth and he touches your mouth and he touches my mouth and
God says, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

And like Isaiah, we too, respond, “Here am I. Send me!”

Have you received? See Acts 19.1-6.
you want the power of Holy Spirit in your life?  Do you want to be
empowered for ministry and see God do more through you than what you
can do in your own strength? Do you want to be on fire for God,
consumed by God?

All for God

Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving in 1 Samuel 2

Why the prayer of thanksgiving?
Not only has Hannah has just given birth to a child, a wonderful gift
from God, a gift in response to a prayer of total dedication to God.
Hannah gave all for God!

Samuel, of course, grew up to be one of Israel’s greatest leaders. As a
young boy, growing up in the temple, he was the first to hear God’s
voice in many years! Samuel was not only a godly priest, he was a great
prophet as well. When the people begged for a king, he gave them Saul.
And when Saul was no longer an effective, godly leader, Samuel anointed
David to be king of Israel, Israel’s greatest king!

But how did all of this get started? Let’s go back to the story behind Hannah’s joyful prayer of thanksgiving.

In ancient Israel (around 1100 BC), women were not valued very highly.
In such a culture, women received their value through their ability to produce
children, especially sons. Not being able to have children was a huge

The book of Samuel begins by telling us about a Levite family. A man
named Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Some scholars suggest
that Hannah may have been in her mid to late 30s and Peninnah may have
been in her late 20s. It’s possible that Elkanah married Peninnah
because of Hannah’s barrenness.

Every year the family went to the temple in the city of Shiloh,
probably for Passover. Elkanah, as a Levite, would perform duties in
the temple. Each time he did, he would share the meat from the
sacrifices with his family. He would give some meat to Peninnah and her
children, but he would give a “double portion” to Hannah, his favorite

Peninnah tormented Hannah, especially each year as the family made the
trip to Shiloh, which caused Hannah much pain. In fact, Hannah’s pain
was so great that she was unable to eat, and she couldn’t stop crying.
Elkanah tried to console her: “What’s the matter, Hannah? Why aren’t
you eating? Why be so sad just because you have no children? You have
me—isn’t that better than having ten sons?”

One day Hannah goes to the temple to pray. In great
anguish, she cries and pours out her heart to God: “O LORD Almighty, if
you will look down upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a
son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire
lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the LORD, his
hair will never be cut.”

Hannah makes a vow to God for the child, if he will grant her request.
Like Samson and possibly John the Baptist, Samuel had to live by the
Nazarite vow (well, Samson didn’t do so well, did he?). Nazarites
abstained from any product of the vine, including wine and fermented
drink; they didn’t cut their hair; they weren’t allowed to touch any
dead bodies; and they were completely set apart for God’s use!

In her prayer, she refers to herself more than one time as a
“maidservant” (a female slave). It reminds me of Mary’s response to the
angel: “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it happen as you have said.”

While she was praying, she was crying and pouring out her heart to God.
She was moving her lips, but she couldn’t get the words out. Eli, the
priest, was watching her and thought she must have been drunk. He
confronted her, but she assured him that she wasn’t drunk; she was
broken and felt oppressed.

Hannah gave her all for God. If God would bless her with a
child, she would give that child for God’s use. God granted her
request, blessed her with a son, and in so doing, provided one of
Israel’s great leaders!

Hannah leaves the temple with Eli’s blessing, and the family eventually
heads back home at the end of the festival. Soon, Hannah conceives and
during the next year has a son. She names him Samuel, which sounds like
a Hebrew verb meaning “asked.” Samuel represented to gift that God gave.

Later, Hannah fulfilled her vow to God by giving Samuel for God’s
service. Hannah stays home the following year when the family went to
the temple in order to nurse Samuel. But the following year (perhaps)
she takes Samuel and presents him to Eli, the priest. Samuel grows up
there in the temple. Hannah visits him regularly, bringing him clothes
that she makes for him.

When Hannah presented Samuel at the temple, she said to Eli, “Sir, do
you remember me? I am the woman who stood here several years ago
praying to the LORD. I asked the LORD to give me this child, and he has
given me my request. Now I am giving him to the LORD, and he will
belong to the LORD his whole life.”

The Bible is full of so many great stories. And the people in these
stories – some of them are great people, many of them are scoundrels,
many of them seem to be clueless, but all of them involve ordinary
people just like you and me. In all of these great stories, we learn
about God, and we learn about ourselves, too, as we enter the stories.

Would we have responded like Hannah? When we hear this story about
Hannah, we have to ask ourselves, Would we have done the same? Would we
pour out our heart to God when we’re at the end of our rope? Would we
be willing to give everything to God, even the greatest gift he would
give us?

Viewing this story in current culture, I’ve always been a little sad
that Hannah had to give up her child by giving him to the priest, Eli.
But I think you have to understand the culture and also Hannah’s heart.
It was a huge honor for your child to grow up to be a priest for God.

But more than that, Hannah’s heart was right. This was during the time
of the judges, when the people of Israel were going back and forth in
their allegiance to God. Hannah lived during one of those dry times; it
had been many years since their was a prophet, since anyone had heard
God’s voice. Hannah was willing for her child to become that voice.

I don’t think we take vows very seriously today. We glibly make
promises, and we break them all too easily. But vows are serious
things. In fact, Scripture says it’s better not to make a vow, than to
make one and break it!

What vows have you made to God? Are you living up to your promises and commitments? Are you serving God with all your heart?

What vows do you need to recommit to God today? Maybe you’ve forgotten
about the vows you’ve made? Or, maybe you realize today that you’ve not
taken your vows seriously?

Finally, what vow do you need to make to God today? Maybe like Hannah, you want to give your all for God?

Hagar: Tossed into the Arms of God

The story of Hagar is found in Genesis 16 and 21.

Genesis 21.9-21

We have much history together. One would imagine such great people of God would have been good to live with and work for, but it was not the perfect family. And the Bible does not let any secrets untold. Let me tell you a bit of my story; maybe you can learn something from it.

We started on a very long journey. God had appeared to Abraham and said that we were to go toward Canaan; that God was going to give this land to Abraham’s descendents. Abraham did not yet have any children, but God promised him descendents as many as the stars in the sky. Years passed and Abraham and Sarah did not have any children. In time, with Sarah’s age, she suggested that Abraham take me as his concubine and they could have a family through me. This was the social custom of the day. I was not a wife to Abraham. He did not love me, like he did Sarah. We really did not know one another or talk together. My only function was to birth him a son. Today you may say that I was chosen to act as a surrogate.

When I became pregnant it was glorious. I now had something my mistress had longed for desperately. And pride grew in my heart. Now society would look upon me more highly than Sarah. I would not be seen as just a slave wife. Sarah was worthless – she could not give Abraham a son – but I did. I belittled Sarah and she must have complained to Abraham and she began to mistreat me, even abused me … so I ran away.

But an angel of the Lord appeared to me! And he told me to return and to submit to Sarah. And the angel also promised that my descendents would be too numerous to count, just like was told to Abraham! The angel knew I would have a son and told me what to name him, Ishmael, which means God hears. Everytime I called my son or spoke of my son, I would remember that God hears. I would remember that the God of Abraham heard my cries, the cries of an Egyptian, and that he cared enough for me to speak to me, and appear to me.

I was by a well of drinking water when God appeared to me and I named that well so that I and my family and everyone might remember what God did for me. I named it Beer Lahai Roi which means well of the Living One who sees me; for God is the one who sees me and now I had seen the One who sees me. This is the place God made himself known to me.

So I returned and when Abraham was 86 years old, I bore him a son and we named him Ishmael, God hears.

I watched as Ishmael grew so fast. His first tooth. His first step. Soon he was running and playing, embracing life. He was such a joy to me. I couldn’t believe when it was his 13th birthday!

It was then that God once again appeared to Abraham and reminded him of his promise of a son. Abraham was 99 years old then God said that Abraham and Sarah would still have a son! And they did. I could hardly believe my eyes. Sarah, one year younger than Abraham, was way beyond the age of having children. But just as God has said, they had a son and named him Isaac. Kind of a strange name for a child; it means laughter. But I am told it is because both Abraham and Sarah both laughed when God said that were to still have a child in their old age. I guess age doesn’t matter in God’s book.

The ill feelings between Sarah and I and Ishmael grew more and more intense. I told my son Ishmael the story of God’s appearing to me when I was pregnant with him. I knew God was with us. But I guess we were both threatened by the presence of Isaac. I remembered the angel of God saying that Ishmael and his brothers would not get along.

The day that Isaac was weaned Sarah told Abraham to get rid of Ishmael and me. Sarah did not want to share any of Isaac’s inheritance with Ishmael. I felt so used. I believe Sarah saw the mistake she had made.

She never believed that Abraham and she could have a child, even though God promised them. In some ways Sarah was playing God, manipulating circumstances and people to make what God had said happen. But now that Sarah had a son of her own, they had no use for my son. The angel had
told me that everyone would be against my son. It seems everything that the angel of God had told me and told Abraham was coming to pass.

Abraham came to me sorrowful. He loved Ishmael. Ishmael was his son. But he wasn’t Sarah’s son. He wasn’t the son God had promised Abraham and Sarah. And Abraham loved Sarah. He never loved me that way. I was just a slave girl and I even with Abraham’s son, I was still just a slave girl. And so we were sent away.

Abraham saw that we had some food and water as we set off into the desert. But the desert had nothing to offer. Our supplies quickly ran out. I knew we were sent off to our death! We became desperate. When the water was gone, I placed Ishmael under the shade of a bush. And I walked off into the distance and sat down and just bawled. I could not bear watch my son die!

But then, it happened again; an angel of God appeared. He told me not to be afraid that God had heard my boy crying. He told me to lift up my son and take him by the hand and then he made an even bigger promise than before. He said that Ishmael would become a great nation! That was the
same promise God had told Abraham. I didn’t understand these promises. But I did as I was told and as I lifted Ishmael up, amazingly, right there before my eyes I saw a well of water. I gave Ishmael a drink and he was strengthened. God once again heard and saw our condition and provided for us.

I felt like a nobody. Ishmael and I were unwanted by the world, but God wanted us. Our own family rejected us, but God chose us. When we were all alone – we were not alone. When we thrown away, we were tossed right into the arms of a loving, compassionate God. God was more present with us then than any human being could have been. He appeared to us, he spoke to us, he guided us, he provided everything we needed to survive. We would have perished if it were not for God.

And from that day forward, God was always with us. Ishmael thrived in the desert. He grew healthy and strong and he became a master archer. He would proudly bring in meat for us to cook and eat. And he was able to protect us. We were never for want in that desert place. The desert became a place of solace; a place rich with the presence of God; it became a place of belonging. We were surely tossed into the arms of God.

Go forth, knowing that the God who hears you and sees you, goes before you, behind you and beside you. As life tosses you about, be tossed into the arms of God who leads you, sometimes gently pushes you, and who is a loving companion on the journey. Amen.

World Evangelism

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that  whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3.16)

Genesis 1-3 — The story of creation and rebellion
The first Gospel promise: 3.15b "he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." God  curses the serpent and gives the Gospel promise; then, God places a curse upon woman and the man.

Adam and Eve break relationship with God, but God promises to restore that relationship before he reveals the consequences of their actions. Their actions are not irreversible.

Genesis 12.1-4
Genesis 12 is the foundation of world evangelism — God promises to bless all people through Abraham. There are a number of blessings that Abraham is promised, but the one of most concern today is that of being in relationship with God. Genesis 15 records God making covenant with Abraham,  promising to be his God.

Acts 16.6-10 — Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia
Macedonia was beyond familiar territory for Paul. It was this journey that spread the Gospel westward, ultimately to Europe where most of our ancestral roots lie.

Matthew 28.16-20
Go (Greek, poreuthentes) means “to depart, to leave, to cross boundaries.” Boundaries can be  sociological, racial, cultural, geographic, or the boundaries of our comfort zone.

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to  the ends of the earth." (Acts 1.8)

Another way to view this is with the words: local, regional, national, and world.

Romans 10.14-16

Action Steps

  • Pray
  • Give
  • Be Aware (news)
  • Get involved in ministry

In 1994, Hutu attempted to wipe out the Tutsi. The world stood by and watched. In 100 days 80,000 people were killed. Recently, I heard and African minister, Claude from Burundi; he said the Church failed Rwanda. Prior to the massacre 92% were Christian, but afterward, adherents to Islam has tripled. Christians participated in the slaughter, while muslims did not. The recent movie, "Hotel Rwanda" did a superb job of communicating this story.

Matthew 9.35-38

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24.14)

The Sending 5: Hospitality

Today, we wrap up this series where we have been discovering that we are missionaries to this world — ones who are sent with a mission, the same mission Jesus had — to preach God’s revolution!

"As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you." (Jesus)

Hospitality is hard to teach. Most churches believe they are friendly and welcoming. But what most churches mean is that they are friendly to one another (the insiders). And, for some churches, that’s not even true!

Bishop Middleton shared with us when she visited us a few weeks ago some "vital signs" of growing churches. One of those vital signs, she said, is: "A welcoming and open church committed to spreading their message of invitation."

Hospitality derives from a Latin word (hospitalitem) meaning, "friendliness to guests." Another definition is: "The friendly and generous treatment of guests or strangers." (Compact Oxford English Dictionary).

In the New Testament, the Greek word for hospitality (philoxenia) means "a love of strangers." In those days, strangers were synonymous with enemies. One way to destroy enemies is to kill them. Another way is to make them our friends. Hospitality does that.

"Some folks make you feel at home. Others make you wish you were." (Arnold H. Glasow)

When we go on vacation, we try to visit different churches to worship God, and to see what ministry is happening in other settings. So we’ve visited a number of churches in recent years. Last fall, we visited a church while on vacation. It was a fairly typical congregation, located in a touristy area, so you’d expect them to have a welcoming environment. However, I don’t recall anyone greeting us when we arrived. At the beginning of the service, though, the person opening the service asked visitors to introduce themselves (we didn’t!). There may have even been a "greeting time," but what I really remember is that outside of those so-called hospitality times, there was no hospitality shown!

We’ve also been in other settings where the people go out of their way to provide a welcoming environment. Depending on the size and context, that may include parking lot attendants, greeters at the entryways, greeters in the hallways, greeters at the entrances into the worship space, etc. Beyond that, several people smile, say "hi" on the way to your seat. You could argue, I suppose, "well, they have a bunch of people, so they can do that," but I’d argue, "they have a bunch of people because they do that, because they have a welcoming environment."

"Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." (1 Peter 4.9)

Brian McLaren defined hospitality recently as, "Using my presence, and our space, to help ‘the other’ feel welcome in my presence and in the presence of our community."

Luke 10.38-42

This is a great story. Jesus was a guest in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Mary and Martha had very different ways of showing hospitality: Martha, ironically had the "Martha Stewart" approach (perfect entertaining through hard work). Sure, there’s value in that, but Jesus points out that what is even more important is relationships! Just hanging out and spending time together.

Interestingly, but not coincidentally, this story about Mary and Martha follows another great story about hospitality. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, to show mercy and to care for our neighbor. So, the religious person, the person who wants to please God, but just enough to get by at a minimum of inconvenience, wants to know "who is my neighbor?"

So Jesus tells a story to help us discover who our neighbor is: Luke 10.30-37

"Hospitality reaches out to people wherever they are and welcomes them as they are." (Swanson and Clement)

Practice Hospitality

"The ‘space-feel’ in a church — that intangible, tough to put your finger on ambiance — is the dominant attraction or repellent of people walking into your church for the first time." (Ron Martoia)

From the recent Hospitality Workshop with Diane Salter …

  • Hospitality is going to great effort to help the guest feel welcome.
  • Hospitality is treating the stranger as a friend.
  • Hospitality opens to us the opportunity for friendship and potential relationship between the host, the guest, and God.
  • The responsibility for hospitality is on the host.
  • The smaller the church, the more important invitation becomes:
  • 73% will come because they are invited by a friend (this number goes
  • up, the smaller a church is), whereas in the best of situation (larger churches) 27% will come on their own.

Treat "outsiders" as "insiders" (Deuteronomy 10.17-19; Ephesians 2.11-12; James 2.1-3)

  • Be friendly
  • Smile naturally
  • Initiate greetings (see yourself as a "hospitality host")
  • Introduce yourself ("Hi, I’m _______. It’s good to have you here today!")
  • Greeting time: greet people you don’t know, especially guests.
  • Offer information and guidance to guests, as necessary.

"Continue to love each other with true Christian love. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!" (Hebrews 13.1-2)

God, you have invited us to be in relationship with you, and for that we are so grateful. As your ambassadors, help us to extend  your invitation to others in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and throughout our community. And as people gather with us on Sunday mornings, or in small group settings, help us to offer an inviting and welcoming environment, because you love them! Amen.