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.