Monday, December 4, 2017

Remember - Deuteronomy 6: 4-8

Here we are go at another Christmas season. There is so much fun about it. But it’s also the most stressful time of the year. 

A recent psychological study suggested that prolonged exposure to Christmas music can be bad for your health. Christmas music reminds people of the presents they haven’t bought, the decorations they haven’t put up, and the fun they were supposed to be having, but they aren’t. Our expectations of what the holidays are supposed to be like are very different from our real experience of them.

Christmas comes from “Christ’s Mass”-- a worship service. All the social and family stuff associated with it has nothing to do with the core of Christmas and can be an unwanted distraction. This is why many Christians reject all celebrations at Christmas. In the Seventeenth Century, Christmas was banned in England. It was not celebrated at all in most Presbyterian churches for centuries. The number of Christians not celebrating Christmas today is only about 1.5%, but the number is growing.  A recent article in Christianity Today declared, “Let the Devil Have the Holiday!” 

With all the commercialization of Christmas, why not just give it up? The answer is complicated. 

Set aside for a moment whether we enjoy Christmas. Frankly, I don’t think God cares whether we like holly, carols and mistletoe. It’s a matter of personal taste. If you enjoy giving gifts and putting up a Christmas tree--do it. If you don’t, leave it down. Christmas shouldn’t be required. It isn’t commanded in the Bible. The burdensome, stressful obligations of Christmas come from the demands of family obligations and guilt-driven consumerism. If you don’t want to exchange gifts or go to some Christmas gathering, don’t go. God won’t think any less of you if you don’t. God doesn’t impose the burdens of compulsory family gatherings and social pressure that are enforced by shame.

If we feel obliged to give a gift just because someone gave us one, then we don’t know the meaning of the word gift. A gift is something we give freely with no obligation to return. Feeling an obligation to give a gift back to everyone who gives to us warps our understanding of God’s love, since He gave us Jesus freely without any expectation of return. That’s what grace is—something given without having to give back. If we feel obliged to give back, then every gift becomes a burden of guilt.

It’s also a burden to have to spend when we can’t afford it or have to go when we don’t have time. Christmas has become a time for stressing over presents we don’t want, decorations we don’t need, sweets that are bad for us, and parties that we don’t enjoy. God never requires any of this to celebrate His Son. 

But back to the question—why celebrate Christmas at all? What was the point? For that matter, why do we celebrate other holidays that once had a religious base--Easter, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, or Halloween?

The reason is found in one word—Remember.

One of the hardest things we do is to remember stuff. Our memories are like sieves--we put stuff in, but it doesn’t stick. We’re always forgetting things that are important.

To help us remember, we make habits. Habits are connections between things we think feel and do. For example, when we connect twelve o’clock with lunch. Just seeing noon on the clock reminds us that we ought to be eating. If we hear a song we connect it with a memory or state of mind. Just hearing that song triggers a memory. We see a cross and we think of Jesus.  We see a flag and we think of America. We see a date on the calendar and we connect it with a birthday or anniversary. We automatically remember something important.

Now the main theme of the Bible is this ---remember God. All the things it says about worshiping Him, honoring Him, obeying Him requires that we keep Him always close in our memories. It does no good to say that we will always obey our Lord Jesus Christ on Sunday if we wake up on Monday and forget He exists. Obeying God requires we remember Him and think about Him. 

God gave the Jews the Law to help them Remember Him. Circumcision, not eating pork, the putting of Bible verses on doorways and windows, and the feasts and holy days, reminded the believers of God’s presence in their lives. Without it they quickly forgot Him. Out of sight, out of mind. 

God doesn’t require anything of the Believer except that we remember Him and Jesus. But to do that, we must keep Him before our eyes. The New Testament doesn’t give us a Law but expects us to develop daily, monthly and yearly habits that will remind us of God’s presence. He doesn’t give us a schedule. Instead, we write Him into our schedule. Here’s a few things that help us remember:

1. Blessings over meals remind us three times a day.

2. Prayer in the morning and evening.

3. Keeping Sunday as a day of rest. Not only do we remember God, we also get some rest.

4. Giving a percentage of your income off the top to God’s work—tithing--teaches us to trust God for our daily bread, and not our job.

 All these things help us to remember Him.

What if you feel you can’t do one of these things, or don’t feel you’re doing them right? Well, there’s good news--you don’t have to, and there is no “wrong!”  They’re just ways to help us remember God in all things. But if we don’t do any of them, I doubt if you can remember to put God first, which is what we mean by “Jesus is Lord.”  We can’t remember God without any daily habits of submission or devotion. Even if we had a photographic memory, we can’t remember God all the time unless we include Him in all of our life.

Now, to remind ourselves of the story of Christ’s story of birth, life, death and resurrection, the church developed a calendar of yearly reminders. The Church calendar doesn’t start on January 1, but five weeks before Christmas, at the beginning of Advent. Advent is the period of preparation for the feast of the Nativity, or Christmas on December 25.

 Why December 25? It doesn’t matter. It had to start sometime. However the date was chosen, it was intended to be a time for remembering Christ’s birth. 

To make that time special, the church fathers designated the period leading up to it as a time of fasting and prayer. Imagine that: December was a month for getting thinner, not fatter! 

December 25 was considered the first day of Christmas. The last day of Christmas was January 6.   The time between December 25 and January 6 were the twelve days of Christmas.

After January 6, the main events of Jesus’ life were regularly celebrated up to Resurrection Sunday, or Easter. Forty days after Resurrection Sunday, the church celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit, or Pentecost. In addition, there were special days for remembering saints and martyrs, which is where we get St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween. 

There are many inaccuracies in dates, pointless customs and empty rituals involved in holiday celebration. Much of what we associate with the holidays is nonsensical, and that the rituals associated with them may be meaningless. But isn’t that true of all celebrations? What does a bride wearing white have to do with marriage? If there is no Biblical justification for a Christmas tree, does that mean an annual celebration of the coming of Christ is also meaningless? If customs help us remember, fine. Habits and symbols only when they stir our memory of something important.  
If our Christmas becomes so associated with commercialization and overindulgence that we can think of nothing else when you hear a Christmas carol, then forget it. It’s not required. If you don’t celebrate, then find some way of jogging your memory to think of God sending Jesus. No memory is good enough to remember Jesus daily without having some regular habits.

The pressure and stress of the holidays comes from the world, not Christ. The world puts pressure on us that God doesn’t like telling us to pay our taxes, drive in the speed limit, salute the flag and prepare for tomorrow. Without daily and annual habits of worship you can’t remember what is really important without some habits to help you. But you don’t have habits to help you remember Christ, you won’t remember. Spiritual habits keep our faith so we won’t be buried in trivialities.

Our business in the church is simple, and that is that we help you remember God. The church calendar is one tool we use, but even here, it’s easy for holiday celebrations to become more important than what they’re supposed to remember. We shouldn’t get caught up in secular Christmas.

 We’re not here to remind you to visit your mother, be patriotic, or practice good dental hygiene. 

There are all kinds of good and helpful things to remember in the world, but they are not what we are called to do. We remind you of heavenly things. In a world that has forgotten Jesus to the point that the celebration of His birth has been dominated by Santa Claus, we must put Jesus first, last and always. Making Santa the center of Christmas is like having a kid’s birthday party and making the clown you hired to entertain the center of all attention. This is Jesus’ birthday, and Santa is just the entertainment.

The point of Christmas is to remember Christ—not our family, being nice to each other, being cheerful, or anything else. You think that this is the season for celebrating family, friendship, children, or world peace that’s fine--just don’t call it Christmas. But If you use this season to remember Jesus came to do, that’s Christmas—Christ’s worship service.  

Remember to reinforce the habits that enable you to draw closer to Him year-round. Celebrate by becoming more like Him and closer to Him. Ignore the burdens of celebration the world forces upon you. Try to end this Christmas season less stressed, more at peace, less in debt, thinner, happier, and most of all godlier than you were in November. Use this season to build habits of remembrance that you will keep all year long. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thanksgiving - Phil 4:10-13

This Thanksgiving, when we sit down with our turkeys and pumpkin pies, the odds are that we have some pictures of Pilgrims in the room--not real Pilgrims, but those kids’ versions with black hats and buckle shoes. We will tell children that on Thanksgiving Pilgrims got helped by the Indians and gave thanks. Yet in almost every detail, we get it wrong. The real story is much more complicated.

The story began in England in 1609. The Anglican Church, believed the whole church should worship like them. The Puritans (not the pilgrims) said all churches should be under their version of strict Biblical law. Neither side wanted religious freedom. Both wanted to either convert or destroy the other.

In the middle was the pastor of a little church in Weymouth, England--William Brewster. He believed that English society was too bad to reform, and that believers should leave the country and start the Kingdom of God elsewhere. He and his followers were forced to leave the country. They landed in Leyden, Holland. 

Unfortunately, Holland wasn’t any better. While they could practice their religion, they weren’t allowed to own property or practice a trade unless they were part of Dutch Reformed. 

Brewster and his little flock had an idea. They would move to the New World. Unfortunately, once again they made a huge mistake. You can’t just leave for New England, you had to have the king’s permission, and the king of England hated them.

They thought they found a loophole that would enable them to go to New England. The king gave permission for a group of businessmen to start a new colony. These men were more than happy to have them in New England, for a price. They could go, if they gave half of their money to their sponsor. The Pilgrims reluctantly agreed. 

So, they put their money together and bought a ship for the journey. It was called the Speedwell—a leaky bucket of rust and barnacles, barely able to leave Holland, but they were stuck with it. Pastor Brewster, refused to go. They loaded their belongings on the ship and headed for New England.

It soon became obvious that the Speedwell wasn’t going to make it to America, so their backers hired another ship to go with them called the Mayflower. It was a good thing too, because the Speedwell did not make it past England before it sank. So, the 41 Pilgrims joined a motley group of 61 other settlers and sailors on board the Mayflower for the three month voyage to the New World. They were stuck on a boat with a group of money-grubbing adventurers and profane sailors who thought the Pilgrims were the funniest people they had ever seen.

Over the three months, the other passengers came to regard the Pilgrims with respect, and some even joined them. 
The Pilgrims believed that God would take care of them, but so far, however, everything had gone wrong. Every time they started doing what God wanted them to do, they wound up in a worse mess.

We think if we trust God, then happiness is just around the corner. But sometimes, the only thing around the corner is another corner.

When the Mayflower arrived (at Cape Cod, not Plymouth Rock), they expected to either find an unspoiled wilderness or friendly Indians. But two years before they arrived, small pox had wiped out eighty percent of the Native Americans in New England. Everywhere they saw abandoned villages and empty fields. There were tribes still there, but they were too busy fighting each other to pay attention.

 When they established their colony, to look like an English village. They planted the cash crops that grew in Virginia and Carolina such as tobacco, sugar, and indigo. None of them grew. Tobacco doesn’t grow in Massachusetts. Not only that, the winter was the hardest ever recorded. Over half of the Pilgrims died the first year of cold and starvation.

Then in the spring, a nearly naked man walked into camp and addressed them in perfect English. He was Samoset, a Native American who had spent time as a sailor on an English fishing boat. He welcomed them to the New World. Later, he returned with Squanto, the chief or the Massasoit tribe. They showed them how to plant crops that would grow and how to keep warm in the winter. What they didn’t know was that this tribe was with war with other tribes, and wanted their guns for protection. Later, they would call upon them to fight.

One day the tribe dropped in for dinner. There were about forty colonists and about a hundred and fifty Indians. There were no turkeys, but plenty of wild game. The natives ate them out of most of their supplies, and if it weren’t for the Massasoit bringing wild game, they would have starved. But in the end, they gave thanks and survived.

Was this Thanksgiving? Not really, the Pilgrims gave thanks every day. They praised God regularly even as disasters hit.

Which brings us to Philippians 4: 10-13 Paul wrote to the Galatians that he had been stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, starved, persecuted, and treated with contempt. But like the Pilgrims, he kept praising God. He learned to be content.

How do people like Paul and the Pilgrims learn to be content when awful things happen? They had to learn this kind of peace. We think we can never be content with our life situation, especially if our situation includes divorce, death or illness. We think that our good days are over forever. We never think we’ll love or laugh again. But we can learn contentment, nevertheless.

First, we learn contentment by studying who God is and what He is doing for us. Here’s a few basic facts we need to learn about Him.

1.  That He created heaven and earth, and called all things good. Everything in life that we enjoy in life comes from the hand of God. Satan created nothing. Even forbidden pleasures are pleasures that God created. He gave us the capacity to receive and appreciate pleasure.

You may think your life is miserable, but why? You wouldn’t know misery unless you have sometime experienced its opposite. Even the absence of contentment is a sign that God created us to experience contentment.

2. That we will all die someday. God creates us to spend eternity in heaven, not in these frail bodies on earth. There is only one way to get there, and that is death. All the things we’d rather avoid are part of the ordinary cycle of life and death. They are not bad in themselves, but are part of something that is ultimately good, a journey from birth to heaven.

3.  That God loves us and shares our sufferings. Since suffering must exist until death has been destroyed, God chooses as a demonstration of His love to suffer our pains with us. His incarnation in Jesus proves that. God entered our lives by the Holy Spirit, not just to give us strength, but to assure us that He is alongside us in our sufferings.

When Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he is not promising us super powers!  Instead he’s saying that we can endure whatever life throws at us when we are in Christ. He is not taking us out of the cycle of birth, sickness and death, but is saying that Christ suffers with us.

4.  That sufferings are temporary, but blessings are permanent. Our real joys in Christ are made permanent in heaven. 
We don’t appreciate what God does, because we can’t see life from His perspective. When we see a great tragedy, we ask ourselves, “How could God allow so many people to die?” In heaven they ask, “Why does God so bless these saints so that so many have entered heaven?” Leaving this world is going to God, where suffering has ended.

The more we study and know God’s mind and heart, the more thankful we become for what He brings to pass. 
Learning to be content requires practice as well as study. We must practice giving thanks for everything, large and small. 

Giving thanks is a spiritual exercise well known among the Puritans. They understood that giving thanks turns our hearts from seeing our problems to seeing our blessings. It reminds us all the time that God is in control.

Practice giving thanks daily by making a “gratitude journal.”  Keep a daily list of things to be thankful for. I have begun doing this recently. At the top of my list is always this—that I am personally and specifically loved by God. I may not always feel it, but I always know it. Christ died on the cross, not just for everyone’s sins, but for mine specifically.

Then, I give thanks for the small joys of everyday life—the joys of life, the weather, beauty, the sheer joy of breathing and being alive. I can appreciate the small blessings too.

Finally, I thank God for the big blessings in my life like my salvation, my life, and my joys. A recognition of these blessings lifted me out of temporary funks and frustrations. I try not to compare myself to others, but try to appreciate what God has given me overall, in the full span of life.

Suppose that God suddenly today gave you a gift. Suppose you could step out of time and space and see at one glance the day of your birth through the day of your death. Some would have longer lives than others, but most lives would follow a similar pattern. There would be a few times of struggle and pain. But there would be decades in between of peace and safety. The end of life might be rough, but only after a life of peace and blessings. Is it so bad to endure five years of suffering if before it had fifty years of joy?  Rejoice in what God gives you over time. The more you give thanks, the more you will appreciate the blessings that are yours always.

Blessedness does not come from the outside world. It comes from the heart. It is not an absence of trouble, but an absence of cares in our trouble.

Suppose you were one of those seasick Pilgrims, hanging over the rails of that little Mayflower as those sailors laughed at you. Would you be giving thanks? Probably not. But suppose that God suddenly gave you the gift of seeing time sideways. You saw yourself on the boat, of course, but you could see on ahead. There you were, sitting at the feast with the Massasoit tribe, building a settlement, having children, prospering in a new world. Suppose then, you would see beyond your lifespan, and see the descendants of your children as leaders in the land, prospering more than any nation or people have ever prospered. Do you think if you could see what God was doing in the future, you would have any trouble giving thanks? That is just what the Pilgrims did. 

Paul also had that same vision. That’s how he learned to endure whether he abounded or was abased. He knew that neither state could bring contentment or take it away. He was content as long as he had Christ.

Don’t wait until later to give thanks—learn to start now. When we thank God, we recognize that He is in control, and that the important things in life come from Him alone. The Pilgrims knew this. Paul knew this, too. God’s grace in Christ will help us to endure the worst of circumstances, and give us contentment today. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Just one Name - Acts 4: 1-31

 Acts 4: 1-31 tells what happened after the healing of the lame man in Acts 3. Peter, prompted by the Holy Spirit, used this as an occasion to preach an impromptu sermon. 

Now, this happened at the temple in Jerusalem, which was not just a house of worship, but the biggest tourist attraction in the Middle East. Try to imagine it happening near the front gate of Disney World today. Thousands of people—believers and unbelievers—came to marvel at it.

The temple had its own security guards. They didn’t have the right to arrest, just detain people for a time. Since Peter was talking to a crowd of more than five thousand at the gate of the temple the guards moved in to arrest them. They put him and John in a temporary holding cell until morning.

Ordinarily the security guards would either let them go with a warning or turn them over to the Romans. But they did neither. Instead, they were held overnight and the next morning, let into a room with the High priest and his two deputies. This was intimidating, to say the least! 

That was the point--they wanted to intimidate Peter and John. They couldn’t shut them up, but they might be scared into silence. 

When the Spirit comes, there are people who benefit and those who don’t. Those who submit to Him benefit, those who would rather do things for themselves get nothing. 

If the Holy Spirit showed Himself like He did in those days, would you benefit? If the Holy Spirit could come in to your life and fix all your problems. Would you let Him?  Would you trust Him, or would you refuse to let go of control in your lives?

This story displays two different reactions to the Holy Spirit. One reaction is from the high priest and the security guards. They see the Spirit as a threat to the established order. They maintain the peace by maintaining control. When disorder comes they get nervous, and react with intimidating force. 

The other reaction is that of Peter and John.  They welcomed the Spirit. They recognized the move of the Spirit as a blessing from God. They did not mind that the status quo was shaken.

I remember a conversation with a church elder who said of his church. “We have a very calm church.  We have had peace for years, so God must be with us.” Peace, quiet, and order are great, but they are not a sign of the Holy Spirit. There is not a more peaceful place than a graveyard. The Spirit’s presence is more often felt in the times when we are least in control. Calmness isn’t a sign of the Spirit—it’s more often associated with death.

So why would religious people not want the Holy Spirit? Think about the motivations of the priests in intimidating Peter and John. 

Their most obvious was fear. They lived in an era with more fear of terrorism than our own. 

There are many times and places in history of the world when the threat of terrorism has been greater than our own--- Germany before Hitler, Austria-Hungary before World War 1, America before and after the Civil War, England before the English Civil War and Palestine in Jesus’ day. In every case, these periods of terror have ended in a bloodbath. 

A few years before Jesus preached, the Jews gathered in the streets to protest Roman banners being flown in Jerusalem.  Pontius Pilate ordered the protesters decimated—one out of ten killed. Pilate was so cruel that he was reprimanded by Caesar.  Pilate had a reputation for ruthlessly destroying anyone who stood in his way. 

The Jewish leaders feared their country would be destroyed by the Romans (this actually happened thirty years later), so they cracked down on anyone they thought were troublemakers before the Romans could.  The Jewish leaders feared that Jesus would be a threat to peace, so they had Him killed.  
The same fear grips us today. What will others think of us?  What will our families say? If we are too outspoken about Christ, will we lose prestige or promotions? We are easily intimidated into silence. 
Because they feared they leaned on authority. They expected the order of the world that they had established to protect them.

When we are worried, we find solace in the order we create. Order gives us an illusion of control.  Order is found in authority.  When it’s hard for us to resist temptation, we pass laws against it, taking the decision to be good out of our own hands. We let worldly authority shield us from taking responsibility for our own actions.

When the High priest confronted Peter and John, he sought to use his authority to intimidate them.  He said, “By whose authority do you heal this man?” He knew he was the biggest authority in the country when it came to religious matters.
Peter didn’t heal this man. He was a fisherman, not a doctor.  The Holy Spirit healed him. The priests wanted to intimidate them into silence, but they were not intimidated. 

God’s authority in our lives is not based on the intimidation of some worldly order. His authority comes from His love. When the Devil wants to silence us, he first intimidates. When God’s people use intimidation and threats to get others to behave, they are not imitating God, but the Devil.   

God doesn’t threaten or intimidate. Instead, He demonstrates His love and invites us to follow. He abundantly demonstrated His love to us, so we can know that following Him is in our own best interest. 

Peter and John answered whose authority they followed. They acted in the name of the one true authority--Jesus Christ. They did not follow their fears and worries. They didn’t act, because they were intimidated into obedience. They did it, because they loved Jesus, and knew that Jesus loved them, too.

Right now, there are two powerful forces working in all our hearts. One is fear; the other is love. At any time, one or the other motivates our actions. 

When we operate out of fear, we are guarded and anxious. We hide away and lock our doors. We arm ourselves against vague dangers. No visible enemy threatens us, yet we act as if one does. King Fear keeps us prisoner.  Fear dictates every action—every word we say, every move we make is dictated by King Fear.  We are easily intimidated by imaginary or very remote dangers.  If Peter and John didn’t have Jesus, there is no doubt that they would have been intimidated into silence by the high priest. 

When we operate out of love, fear is still there. Fear is always there. Perfect love casts out fear, but imperfect love like ours must operate always in the presence of fear. Even so, fear is not our master. It need not dictate our actions. If we know that we are loved by God, we may trust that God will keep us and protect us. If we love God, we are not intimidated into silence by worldly threats. Once we have experienced the love of God displayed on the Cross, we know that God loves and keeps us. “Though we walk through the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for God is with us.”

Love and fear are always present in our hearts, but one is always stronger than the other. When we act on our fears, we feed them. When we make decisions based on fear, fear doesn’t go away, but becomes stronger and more demanding. 
When we pay attention to fear mongers or get intimidated into silence by enemies, then fear makes us stronger. 

I don’t say this, because I’m not afraid. On the contrary, I say it because I am afraid. But I fear my fear itself more than anything else. I’ve seen in my own life how fear can keep me from enjoying life, and I no longer desire to be ruled by such a harsh master. Instead, I throw myself on the love and mercy of God, and pray for greater trust. 
In verse 12, Peter answers the high priest, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

 “Salvation” is a big term—bigger than most people think. It doesn’t just mean where you go when you die, but how you can live safely in this life. Salvation is living with God in spiritual and physical wholeness. You can follow your fears if you want, and try to create a safe environment around you, but it will be in vain, unless the Lord saves you. Or you can live a life of challenge and risk in this life, following Jesus as your ruler and friend, and you will live safe. Nothing can ever separate you from Jesus, because He will not allow it. Jesus Christ is the only security you need. 

Caiaphas, operating out of fear of the Romans, sought to control Peter and John. He thought his prestige and power would intimidate them into silence, so he could keep on living in safety and security. It didn’t work. Caiaphas had his day, but Jesus continues to be Lord.

A few years ago, archaeologists made an extraordinary find in a cave southwest of Jerusalem. It was a 2000-year-old ossuary. An ossuary is a box containing the bones of a whole family. The box was marked “Caiaphas.”  It contained the bones of a man between fifty and sixty years of age. If it is genuine, it would be the only time the bones of one Biblical character was ever found. 

Caiaphas is still in his box. Jesus isn’t. Caiaphas died. Jesus didn’t. That name intended to threaten Peter and John into silence is just a name on a tomb.  Jesus’ name is above all names, in heaven and on earth. 

Don’t let the world intimidate you. Pray for boldness, and the Spirit will give it to you.    

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Walking and Leaping - Acts 3 1-10

In 1982 philosopher Frank Jackson proposed a thought experiment called “Mary’s room.”  It goes like this:  There was a scientist named Mary who could only see in black and white. She never saw a color in her life, but she had heard about them. She was fascinated by the idea of color, and learned literally everything she could about color. There was nothing about color that she didn’t know, but she could not see it herself.

Then suddenly one day as she was sitting in her black and white room, the picture of a red apple appeared on her computer screen and for the first time she could see—really see—the redness of the apple.

The question Jackson proposed was this, “Did Mary learn anything new?”  She already knew everything about color, but she had not experienced it. He asked the question—are there some things you cannot know until you experience it?  Most of us would say “yes”.

This is what happened at Pentecost. Jesus told His disciples a lot about Pentecost, but they had not experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit. Even the Jewish culture around them had a rudimentary knowledge of what the Spirit was. But had not experience it either. He was there and working, but had never felt it.

The same is true of many people today. They have knowledge of the Spirit, but they have never experienced Him.

Once we know the Spirit, miracles can and do happen. We don’t even think of them as miracles. They are just the thing the Holy Spirit does.

In Acts 2 and 3, we see a Biblical equivalent of “Mary’s Room.”

Jesus had told His disciples about the Holy Spirit. He told them that when He came he would lead them into all truth, allow them to do great works, fill them with life and joy, and under His leadership take them all over the world. He says that the Holy Spirit—this invisible being—would be just like Him, and lead them in the same way He did while he was among them in the flesh. The Holy Spirit was taking over as their personal leader.

This had to seem strange to the disciples. How could an invisible being, who communicated mainly through the heart, lead them in the same way as a physical being who communicated by words and gestures?  Jesus taught them about the Holy Spirit, but it made no sense. They took it as true because Jesus said it, but they did not comprehend it. But all that changed on Pentecost, when they finally experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.

When the Holy Spirit came, they experienced three signs.

The first was a mighty wind. It filled the room they were in. Many people experience the presence of the Spirit in a room full of believers, but it is not the same as experiencing the Spirit.

The second was tongues of flame on each other’s heads. Many people see the Holy Spirit in other people, but that is not the same as seeing the Spirit.

The third was that they began to speak in tongued. Now, this was different. They did not just see Him in the room, or on others, He came out of their own mouths. The experience of the Holy Spirit is the experience of being yielded to Him and allowing Him to work through us.

Acts 3 shows us another sign of the Spirit—the first healing miracle without Christ being present. It happened like this. Peter and John were on their way to the temple, about a quarter mile from where they were staying. The Jewish temple was held at least seven times a day, based on the verse in Psalm 119:164--“Seven times a day I will praise you.”   Peter and John went every time they could, especially to the one at 3 in the afternoon.

This is the scene they saw as they approached the temple, there were priests changing money, vendors selling sacrificial animals and souvenirs. There were security guards, who were looking out for “dangerous fanatics” like the one overturned the moneychangers in the temple a few months before.
Just outside the temple, there were a crowd of beggars. Most people either ignored them or gave them a few coins out of pity.

To the disciples, this was a very natural--nothing out of the ordinary. It’s just what they did every day.

But there was one difference. They had experienced the Holy Spirit, and once you enter that relationship, you never know how or when He will show up, or what He will expect of you.
So, they were not terribly surprised when the Spirit made Himself known. With no forethought or expectation, the Spirit suddenly pointed out a beggar in the crowd.

Spirit leads us often with promptings beyond word. We suddenly just see something that we never noticed before. We read a Scripture passage a hundred times, and one day there is a new meaning and we say, “Why didn’t I see this before?” The Spirit suddenly speaks in promptings without words.

If you are a Christian and you have experienced the Spirit, then you can feel the prompting of the Spirit in your soul. Suddenly you notice something. When this happens, don’t write it off as coincidence of an idle mood. Pay attention!

Not every prompting is from God. It can be our own prejudices or, even an evil spirit. But pay attention, nevertheless. You’ll learn to tell the difference. If we commit that feeling to God, then we discover that the Spirit can move us to action.

The beggar noticed them, noticing him. So, he held out his hand and asked for money. But Peter and John said, “Look at us.”

Ever notice how rarely people look at each other?  We only see people as something to give us what we want. We don’t see a homeless person, we just see them as someone in our way. Homeless people don’t see us, either, they see us as a meal ticket. Salesmen see us as a customer. Doctors see us as a patient. Churches see us as just potential members. By saying “look at us,” Peter and John invited him to see them as human beings. They had something more for him than just a couple of coins.

Then Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold.”

If you’re a kind person who helps beggars and you don’t have any money, you avoid eye contact. But the Holy Spirit would not allow them to do that. The Holy Spirit told them to look that beggar in the eye.

 Peter continued, “But such as I have, I give.”

What did they have? They had a relationship with God through the Spirit. What they could give him was not money, but God. It’s good to help people financially and materially. But any material help we give will only last for a while. Even if we can educate them and find them a job, but it will not help them permanently unless they find Jesus. The Spirit wants to do more than that. He can change lives forever.

Then Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” What they said and did came straight out of the Spirit’s playbook. God the beggar, not them.

They took the man by the hand and lifted him off the ground. As he did, he felt the strength come back in that leg. He tried his leg. It worked. He began walking, and then he began leaping. Then he walked, leapt danced, and most importantly he praised God for healing him.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Peter and John were at Pentecost. They heard the rushing wind and saw the flames on the heads. Then they opened their mouths and heard God’s words flowing out of them. The Spirit was inside of them, and when they yielded the Spirit came out. Peter spoke, and discovered that God gave him the words to say.  Now he acted, and discovered that the Spirit guided His actions.

It was just the same as when Jesus was with him. Jesus told Him what to do, and he did it. Now the Spirit was telling him what to do, and he did it. He could trust the Spirit the way he trusted Jesus. And when he trusted the Spirit, miracles still occurred.

Now, what does this say to us?  It says this.   We can experience the Spirit when we yield our mouths, hands and hearts to Him. God can speak through you the same way He speaks through us.  He can heal you, just the way he healed the beggar.

Not only is the Spirit in us—He is contagious. As we yield to Him, he enters others. When he does, He saves, heals, and delivers.

How about you? Are you like that Mary in her room, sitting in a black and white room, never experiencing the Spirit that you know about? God doesn’t want you to know about the Jesus—He wants you to know Jesus. God doesn’t want you to know about the Holy Spirit either—He wants you to experience Him. When we do, we experience colors for the first time. We can know a joy and power we never dreamed existed.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Revelation of the Holy Spirit Act 1: 1-11

Did the Holy Spirit come at Pentecost? Yes and no. 

There are passages that indicate that He came much earlier than Pentecost. For example, there’s John 20: 19-23, which happened the first day that Jesus had resurrected.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 2When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

But the Holy Spirit was with them all along.  Look at John 14: 15-17:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
The Holy Spirit was there—they just didn’t know Him. The Holy Spirit can be with us, but not in us also. 

Suppose this church gets a new pastor. He shows up in the church one morning, but none of you know him. He’d be there, but you would still be looking at the old pastor. The new leader would be here, but you were not yet introduced to him. 
The same is true of the Holy Spirit. He’s with the disciples all along, but the disciples did not know Him, because Jesus was still there, right in front of their eyes. It was only in His absence that the new leader, the Holy Spirit, became known.

The problem with the Holy Spirit then and now is the same. We aren’t sure how to recognize the Holy Spirit. It isn’t just a feeling in our heart. Lots of people get feelings in their hearts that are wrong.  It’s not just the ideas in our head of what the Spirit is supposed to do. We can’t be sure if our ideas are right. We need to have clearly identified the Spirit in our lives. Even if we are looking for Him, we have to know what they are.

The church has often been swept away in enthusiasm by false spirits. For example, there was the Children’s Crusade of the Middle Ages. Other times, the Holy Spirit has been among us, and none of us recognized Him. So how do we tell? 

Just like then, it isn’t a matter of Him descending. He’s here! But God has to unplug our senses for us to know Him. We get blind to His presence. At Pentecost God enabled Him to be known.
On the day of Pentecost, there were three symbols of His presence. Each represents one way in which we come to know Him today.

First, there was a sound. It was like a rushing wind, but there was no wind. What does a mighty wind sound like? People who live through tornadoes say the sound is like that of a freight train, so we can use that in our imagination to picture the sound at Pentecost.

This is a play on words. In both Greek and Hebrew, the word for “spirit” and the word for “wind” are the same. So in a sense, the Spirit was speaking its own name. 

Jesus said about the Spirit that it was like the wind, in that we didn’t know where it comes from or where it is going, but that it blows from a place of its own choosing. We don’t have power over the wind, neither do we know how to fathom it. Sailors used the wind to go from place to place, but they could not predict it. They had to learn to bend to it, not it to them.

You don’t control the Spirit. Your best plans are often thwarted by the Spirit. All we can do is to believe that the direction the Spirit is leading is good, and not bad. 

Then there was a sight--the “tongues of fire” Imagine the people in the room suddenly sprouting flames out of their heads, like a giant human candelabra. The Holy Spirit is often referred to as fire. 

Fire both enlightens, purifies and empowers.  Put it in a lamp and it shows you where to go. Put meat in fire and it kills all the bacteria, makes it fit to eat. Put fire under water and it makes steam, which can power a car, a windmill, or anything else. What a great description of what the Holy Spirit can do.

Finally, there was a sensation—the sensation of talking in other tongues. People who never knew Greek or Hebrew or Latin began to speak it. This miracle is the reversal of the Tower of Babel, from Genesis 11. In this story, all the people of the earth were gathered together in a single place and began to build a super-civilization without God. They did not spread out over the earth as they were commanded. So to get them moving, God confused their tongues, so they could not cooperate with each other. The people wandered out over the whole world, seeking their own places. God divided them because of their sin. At Pentecost, the Spirit worked the reverse. God made them understand all languages. Without favoring one language or people over the others, He unites the world in the Spirit.

Speaking isn’t just a means of communication, but a way of revealing what is inside of us. When we start talking, we start revealing what is really in our hearts. As any good counselor knows, if you talk long enough, you will say things you don’t expect. Our tongue reveals the condition of our heart. What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. (Matthew 15:18) When the Holy Spirit is in our heart, He reveals Himself through the mouth. 

Notice the progression. The sounds of the wind revealed that the Spirit was in the room. The sight of the flames revealed that the Spirit was upon each of them. The speaking in tongues revealed that the Spirit was not only on them but in their very hearts. Through the ear, through the eye, and through the mouth the Spirit showed Himself to the disciples.

Where is the Spirit today? The wind is roaring all around us, but because we do not have ears to hear, we do not hear it. 

Listen For God’s voice. Read His word. Listen for his voice. God speaks both through the Word and the Spirit. When read the Bible, don’t just skim it. Listen to it, what is it really saying to you? When you have a dream, don’t just take it as unimportant.  Believe that God’s Spirit is roaring around you. Shut up and listen and you will hear it. And the first thing the Spirit will say is this, “I love you.”
Christ didn’t just die for others. He died for you, and everything that God allows to be that reminds us of Jesus is here to speak His Spirit to our hearts.  Listen foe the Spirit. 

Look for God’s flaming presence upon us. We see the things that happen in our lives, recognize the movement of the Spirit. The circumstances of our lives are not purely accidental. God is in the things that happen to us, calling us away from sin and worldly distractions and towards Christ and His mercy. 

Nothing in our live is an accident, but in everything that happens there is an opportunity for hearing the Spirit. Do you have a cold? Maybe God calling you to rest or to learn how to work in adversity. Do you have disagreeable neighbors? Maybe God is teaching you patience to love people who are unlovely. Everyday things can reveal to us the flame of the Spirit. 

Look for God’s Spirit within yourself. If you are a believer, you already have the Holy Spirit within you. Learn to let Him out.

When I was in high school, I wrote poetry. I think everyone in high school did. Mostly, it was pretty awful stuff—mostly about how bad the world was, and how nobody understood us. Most teenage poetry is pretty depressing. That’s because revealing our inner life is like pumping at a well. The first stuff that comes out is usually full of trash. But if the Spirit is in side of us, then it will come out, too.

God reveals Himself to us through our own speaking. The Spirit is in every believer and when we can believe the Spirit will speak through us, we will see Him speaking from within our hearts. 

Speak and God will speak though you. Open up your mouth and His Spirit will be revealed. 

Peter, being assured of the presence of the Holy Spirit through the three signs, continued to speak to the crowd with confidence and assurance.  There is no record of Peter being eloquent before Pentecost, but when he let the Spirit loose in his talking, He continued to flow.
In my earliest days as a Christian, I served as a counselor in a Billy Graham Crusade. After the invitation, when all the counselors and counselees were down on the field, some of us were talking to a girl from our school. She had a lot of questions. As I spoke, I grew aware that the Holy Spirit was speaking through me, answering questions I didn’t know the answer to. I was a spectator, not a speaker. The Spirit was speaking through me. It was my first experience of something like Pentecost, when God first poured out of the mouths of the disciples.

Once we have come to realize who Jesus is and that He died for our sins, we come to experience the love of Christ. Along with that love comes the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not foreign to you. He has been with you all along. To be filled or baptized with the Spirit is simply to recognize and yield to the Spirit that has been with you, and is also in you. He convicted you of sin. He gave you the faith to believe. He preserved and protected you until this moment. Now He wants to lead you into all truth.

Surrender your life to the Spirit. You will be amazed at what God will do.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Waiting Time is not Wasting Time - Acts 1: 12-26

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come. He would give them what they needed to survive and thrive. After He promised this, the Holy Spirit did not come for ten days--about 270 hours--until the morning on the Day of Pentecost.

For the disciples, those ten days must have felt like torture!

I’m not a patient person. I want things done now! Waiting feels like slow torture to me, so I identify with what it must have felt like waiting for the Spirit to come. Sitting and waiting seems like a waste of time.   

Waiting time is not wasting time. There’s something important about these ten days. God was doing something in the disciples. 

Naturally, they didn’t just wait--they had business to conduct! Judas was gone, so they needed a replacement. They narrowed the choice down to two people—Barsabas and Matthias. In the end they chose by casting lots and Matthias won. 

I’m sure they thought the choice of Matthias was huge, but it turned out to be pointless. Matthias, a relative nobody, did very little. But a few years later, God called Paul without all the organizational procedure. This was the only decision they made before the Holy Spirit came. When left to themselves without the Spirit, they made pointless decisions. When the Spirit comes, he makes the choices. His decisions are the ones that really matter.   

We get excited about surface issues because we are shallow, surface people. But what goes on beneath the surface of our lives is far more important than who gets to be a leader and what programs they start. It’s the Spirit that gives power and makes lasting changes. Worldly decisions are pale reflections of what the Spirit is doing within. It’s not what we decide, but what God decides that makes the difference.

There are many times in our life where God calls us to wait. When we find the one we love, we have to wait for sex until marriage. When we go to the doctor, we have to wait for lab results. When we buy a home, we have to wait for reports, credit checks, and closing. When we have surgery, we have to wait to heal. We plant seeds and we wait for the harvest. We pray prayers and wait for the answer, which almost always takes longer than we think. We think of the waiting as a waste of time. But is it? God uses the waiting times to prepare us for greater things.

So what was God doing in them during those ten days?

We aren’t told how many people were with Jesus when he ascended into heaven, but Paul may give us a hint. In 1 Cor. 15:6, Paul mentions that more than five hundred people saw Jesus resurrected at the same time. Most interpreters assume that this was at His ascension. Yet when Pentecost came ten days later, there were about 120 present. That means that eighty percent of those people—four out of five—did not wait around just ten days until Pentecost.

Eighty percent shows up a lot in studies of the church. In most churches, eighty percent do twenty percent of the work, and twenty percent do eighty percent of the work. Guelich and Hagberg in their book, The Critical Journey, assert that about eighty percent of Christians are content to stay on a surface level of faith, and it is only about fifteen or twenty percent who go beyond the basics. The story of Pentecost seems to bear this out. I believe that the majority of Christians don’t wait for God and therefore miss out on what He has for us. They don’t miss out on heaven—that is a free gift—but they miss out on the kingdom living here. They become content with ordinary life and do not seek for deeper growth in the faith, mainly because they do not know how to wait upon the Lord.

Let’s picture this scene—over five hundred people have met together after seeing Jesus ascend into heaven. Jesus has just promised them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. All they have to do is wait in Jerusalem.

Some of them--the hyperactive ones—say, “We can’t just sit here! We’re supposed to be telling the world! Let’s go post some flyers around town!”

But how do you know where to post the flyers? How much energy are you willing to exert in flyer-posting? When He comes, He will bring all kinds of power, and He will lead you into all truth, including where the posters are supposed to go? Beside we don’t know when the Holy Spirit is coming. Don’t you want to be here when the Holy Spirit shows up?
But some can’t sit still, so they have to go.

Then there are the anxious ones. “We’ve got work to do! We’ve got laundry and ironing! What if the Holy Spirit shows up and we don’t have any clean underwear? Besides, our kids need to be fed. We’ve got to make sure they’re ready for school. We can’t stay here and just wait!”

But isn’t God in charge of our houses and kids?  Isn’t He big enough to take care of things at home while we are waiting for Him here? Besides, do you really want to be waiting in line at school and miss the Holy Spirit, when you could have been there?

Charles Hummel called this, “The tyranny of the urgent.” Little things of little important demand our time and attention, while big things of great importance go neglected. The Holy Spirit is coming, and He comes with little or no warning. We must be waiting and watching, instead of fretting about things that won’t matter in eternity.
But they can’t stop fretting about things, so they leave. 

Then there are the practical ones, “Look, we are just not the praying type. We’re practical. We only understand things of this world. If you want a house built or a ceiling fan put in, we can do that, but the Holy Spirit is for mystical types. We can’t see how sitting in a room doing nothing is going to bring power.

 Once He comes, we’re still going to have to get organized and do the job, so why are we waiting for some kind of spooky, mystical experience?”

Being a Christian means believing in an unseen world. Not everything that is real is practical. God works in an unseen way. Even after seeing miracles like the resurrection and ascension, our practical nature keeps wanting to reassert itself. We understand only what we can see and hear. But just because we can’t see the wind, doesn’t mean it’s not blowing. Just because we can’t see the power of the Spirit doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

But because they can’t see the point, they just go home.

Eighty percent went home. What about those who stayed? What did they do right

They waited in silence. Nothing we can do or say makes much difference. It’s just being there in God’s presence that makes the difference.

People worry too much about what to say to God. What we say doesn’t matter, just be there before Him. We don’t have to know what to ask for, or what we should expect. We just sit down, shut up, and be patient with God.

They waited in prayer. While waiting they thought about God. They probably sang and read Scriptures, too, so they could keep their minds focused on Him. Whenever they started worrying about their jobs or whether their front door was locked, or if their roast in the oven was burning, they kept turning their attention to the matter at hand by reading, singing, or listening.

The waited in submission. When you train a dog, the first command it learns is “sit”. The first thing we must learn as a disciple is to sit, too. Sit and wait for God to speak.

They got themselves ready to meet Him. If the Spirit came to you today, would you be ready to respond? Is there anything in your life that will hold you back?

 Practice anticipatory thinking. Suppose God called you today to leave your country and go to a foreign country, and you had no restrictions due to job, health, or family? What besides outer circumstances would make it hard for you to go?  Those are the things that we must surrender to Him before we can be ready to serve Him. When the Holy Spirit calls we must be ready to go. 

As we wait, we struggle to recognize the voices in our head that call us away from Him.  These voices are things like disobedience, lust, gluttony, impatience, jealousy, fear, discouragement, and pride. To ready ourselves, we must be willing to recognize these voices. 

It’ hard to wait, but well worth the effort. Those who could wait, merely wait, were the ones who experienced anew Pentecost of the heart and the soul. As Isaiah said,

“They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not be weary. They will walk and not faint.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

You Don’t Have to be a Superhero - Acts 1:1-8

Today we’re starting a new study on the book of Acts.

Why do we call it “Acts”? Sometimes it is called “the Acts of the Apostles”, but that name isn’t accurate. The first verse says, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Acts is a sequel to Luke, where we read about what Jesus “began” doing. Acts is the continuation of what Jesus is doing through the Holy Spirit in the church. It is about Jesus, not us. 

Acts is an unfinished book. You and I are living in Acts chapter 29 even now. Jesus is still acting through the Holy Spirit. This understanding is critical to the way we live today. 

In order to see why, let’s look at these first few verses. Before Jesus left, He gave us the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Mark 16:15’s version is “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

He had only a handful of followers, and there were about 300 million people on earth. How were less than a hundred going to convert 300 million?  There’s no way a handful of fishermen were going to make a difference!

Still, they weren’t worried. They had Jesus right in front of them, freshly resurrected! All He needed to do was to show Himself in public anywhere He could be identified, and He would be crowned as king. Who’s going to argue with a man back from the dead? Then they could spread the word to coming to Jerusalem and see the new emperor! Even the Romans would join. They were only a mile away from the temple—a fifteen-minute walk. Jesus could be king in half an hour. The disciples only needed to go tell people to come to Jerusalem and see Jesus.  If he showed Himself in public, the world would be theirs.

But Jesus showed Himself only to His disciples for almost a month and a half. The disciples were getting impatient. They asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  It’s high time Jesus showed Himself, so they could get on with world conquest! 

But Jesus said to wait. Something was going to happen. They were to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. When that happened, they would have power.

 They were puzzled. They knew about the Holy Spirit, but what was the “baptism of the Holy Spirit?” What’s this “power” He talked about?

Political scientists write about five kinds of power to rule others. 

First, there’s physical power— “brute force.”  Think of it as the “Incredible hulk” kind of power.

Second, there’s legal power—This is “Donald Trump” power. He can write an executive order and the military, government and everyone must obey.

Third, there’s persuasive power--This is “Hollywood” power. Whoever controls our minds sets the agenda.

Fourth there’s nurturing power—The power to do favors. It’s “Oprah Winfrey” power when she gives cars to her studio audience. If we do nice things for others, we can get them to do whatever we want.

Fifth, there’s collaborative power—The power of many people cooperating. It’s “the Avengers” power. A team is stronger than someone working alone.

What kind of “power” will the Holy Spirit bring? None of the above. The Holy Spirit brings a different kind of power altogether.

After Jesus says this, He suddenly rises up into the air and disappears, without anyone but the disciples seeing Him. Any hope of a worldly King Jesus is suddenly gone! This must have thrown them into utter dismay. What if before the Normandy Invasion in World War II, General Eisenhower disappeared?  What if just before Gettysburg, General Lee left the field? It’s something similar here. What would have been easy in Christ’s presence seems impossible in His absence. 

So they did what Jesus told them. They waited for whatever the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” was. That was the key to whatever God was planning. So what is this baptism of the Holy Spirit?

The power to fulfill this great commission is the Holy Spirit’s. It can’t be divided from the Holy Spirit.  We don’t control it--we only carry it. We don’t choose how to use it. It’s not our power, but God’s.

A lot of Christians look at the power of the Spirit like a superpower. They think God gives us power, which we use to either do miracles (as Charismatics think), persuade people to follow Jesus (as Evangelicals think), or to change social structures and reorder society (as social action Christians think). Our teaching on “spiritual gifts” is based on this. We have taken a few passages out of context and made a list of superpowers that God might give us. Then we confuse these power with natural abilities and we must be “gifted” people to be used by Jesus. But our emphasis is in the wrong place.

 We focus on this power as some gift we possess and control--quite apart from the Spirit. To use them makes heroes or superheroes out of us, when they are really are the uncontrolled and uncontrollable manifestations of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit hasn’t come to make us Superman or Wonder Woman. We’re more like Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane. We call on Him and He rescues us. The miracles are not ours, but His.  We listen to Him constantly just as the disciples listened to Jesus. The Spirit leads through listening and trusting.  We don’t have to be strong, just open and obedient.
The “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is being washed and hidden in Him. We don’t control Him, we are hidden in Him. He does the working, thinking, and planning.

He said “you will be my witnesses.”  A “witness” isn’t a preacher.  Jesus could have said you will my preachers, but He didn’t.  The world wasn’t won by the preaching of the apostles, but the power of God’s Holy Spirit. 

This should have relieved the disciples from the burden of winning the world for Christ.  Once the Holy Spirit came, and they understood what Jesus was saying, I believe it did.

There are many today who hear the Great Commission and say, “I’m ready to go.  Let me at the world!” Those people are simple-minded and arrogant. Do you really think you—or even all of us together—can convert eight billion people?  Do you think you alone can cure cancer?  Do you think you can solve poverty or bring about world peace?  It’s beyond the efforts of every Christian on earth.

Jesus doesn’t say “evangelize.” He says “witness.”  Being a witness is simply to mean living a changed life in the world.  Is the Mona Lisa a witness to the genius of Da Vinci? Is Hamlet a witness to Shakespeare?  Of course! These are works of genius by the hand of masters.  We witness to Christ by being from being lives changed from human wreckage into vessels of divine glory.

Let’s face it—most of us can’t even manage our lives.  We try to live like Jesus and we fail, over and over. That’s why we need the grace of God.  We aren’t Superman. We aren’t even Jimmy Olsen. 

We are overwhelmed by responsibilities, and tired of trying to carry everyone’s burdens. We are tired of beating our heads against the wall, trying to do what we ought to do. We struggle with our inner lusts and addictions, with our helpless attempts to take care of the world. We struggle to keep our heads above water financially and emotionally. Then someone comes along and says, “While you are treading water, you should be trying to evangelize the world!”

But there is one who is coming who can both keep your head above water and be a witness to the world.  He is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t going to give you superpowers. He doesn’t need to. Instead, He is going to operate in and through you. All you have to do is to hold on to Him. Get to know Him. Let Him carry you.

Here’s what happens with so many new believers. They go to some meeting and hear the Gospel from a powerful, anointed preacher. They are persuaded by that preacher to accept Jesus. They come forward at the altar call, pray a prayer, and confess Jesus as savior. It’s an emotional catharsis, and are temporarily relieved.

In that moment, they declare that they are going to do great things for God—they are going to save the world for Jesus!  We put on our tights and our capes and become Superchristians.

But as time goes on, that emotional moment dissipates, and they are emotionally back to their old selves again. After the preacher is gone and our emotions are settled down, the burst of adrenaline from that divine encounter leaves.  Their insides go back to their original condition. Their life doesn’t permanently change, and the people around them notice.

 They are still talking about Jesus but their old selves are still there. People say their new religion “didn’t take’”
Why? Because they didn’t wait for the Holy Spirit. Or if they did, they took back control. They decided they could take on the world without Him and they failed. Wait for orders. It takes time to be transformed. If we are not transformed by the Spirit we can’t be witnesses for Him.

We live in a time when many are turning away from the Christ and the church. But that isn’t the worst part. What’s worse is that they are indifferent to Christ.  They have seen the people who are supposed to possess the Spirit and they see nothing. The world doesn’t see Jesus in us. We can’t control whether or not the world turns to Him or against Him, and that isn’t our concern. Our concern is that we be vessels of His Spirit. The world will not see Jesus, but we must in the Holy Spirit.  We must seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit for ourselves, to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. He will never be real to the world, but will be real to us.  Only then will the world react. 

Unless we are filled with the Spirit, we are like empty Coke bottles on a shelf.  We can have the logo of a terrific product on the outside, but have nothing of it on the inside. No one wants a Gospel that we represent, unless we possess it ourselves. 

Do you want to transform the world? Then stop right here and wait.  Seek the power of the Holy Spirit, and give Him complete control.  Then, if He chooses, he can use us to make a difference in the world.