Happy To Welcome You To The Hallelujah Chorus

I will exalt you my God, the King, I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and exalt your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2

Monday, January 23, 2012

"The Mysterious, Eternal Holy Spirit"

There is hardly a page in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, that if you look close enough, you will find the presence or some influence of the Holy Spirit. Yet, you can discover a lot more about God the Father and God the Son than about God the Holy Spirit. Maybe that is by the Father's design. Or, maybe that is just how the Spirit operates on his own volition. He will never compete in any way with Jesus because they share a common goal, to bring all the human family to the Father. Jesus said "the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, will testify about me" (John 15:26), and "He will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is to come. He will bring glory to me by taking what is mine and making it known to you." (John 16:13-14 NIV)

The Father sent Jesus to complete a very specific mission and then Jesus went back to be with him in his eternal home. But, he sent the Holy Spirit to continue the Father's mission by testifying about Jesus through whose ministry we are brought into the Father's family. The paradox of all of this is that even though the message of Jesus is simple enough for young children to grasp, there will always be much about it that is mysterious to the sharpest of minds. Such a mystery is the Holy Spirit.

Let these words from Hebrews 9 kind of roll around in your head a little:
"The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing." v:8
"The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean, how much more then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from works that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God." v:13-15
"But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with the sins of many people by the sacrifice of himself." v:26

During my half century of ministry in God's world and his kingdom, I have met more than a few good and sincere folks who confidently affirm they have the Holy Spirit all figured out. I seriously doubt it, after all he is God but he is not God the Father nor is he God the Son. And even though we can read of some of his actions in the Bible, I am sure the little we can know is truly the proverbial 'tip of the iceberg', the overwhelming mass of which is hidden from our view.

Whatever Jesus did to enter the REAL Most Holy Place by his own blood, he did it "through the eternal Spirit." Although I do enjoy the mental exercise of speculating about the rest of the iceberg I can't see, I also want to be very cautious here with something that is obviously way above my pay grade. Just as the Father and the Spirit communicate with a language only they know, I am sure the Spirit has revealed to me only what I need to know in words that I can understand.

From eternity past to right now to eternity future, the "eternal Spirit" has been and will always carry out the will of the Father. He was right there with Jesus to direct and assist him in his ministry and he is with me right now doing the same thing. He still oversees and as Moses put it is "hovers" over it all to make sure it comes out just as the Father intends. What a beautiful, sweet, challenging mystery! HALLEUJAH!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"The Holy Spirit and David"

When God sent Samuel to anoint the new king of Israel, Samuel surely had some mental image of what the new king would look like and be like. Wow, was he ever surprised after carefully inspecting all of Jesse's sons and having God reject them. Maybe he was feeling kind of desperate when he turned to Jesse and asked, "Are these all of your sons?", to which Jesse replied, "No, there is one more, the youngest, but he is tending the sheep." Jesse sent for him and as David walked into the gathering the Lord said, "Rise and anoint him, he is the one. So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and from that day the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power." 1 Samuel 16:12-13 NIV

Turn the clock forward some 40 years and David wrote:
"Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me." Psalm 51:11-12 NIV

For all of his adult life David lived through many challenges, heartaches and failures, always with the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit - until Bathsheba. After turning his back to God for most of a year following his adultery with her and then having her husband executed to try to cover up his sin, David finally came to realize how his attitude and actions had put his and the entire nation's future at risk. I think he also finally came to grips with how he had wounded the heart of God..

David fasted and prayed for the child he and Bathsheba had conceived but God refused to grant his request to spare the baby. I have come to believe he wrote Psalm 51 after visiting Bathsheba to console her upon the death of the child.. I also believe that Psalm 32 should be read after 51 because it is his psalm of praise and thanksgiving for God's forgiveness.

The Holy Spirit had been David's comforter and counselor for almost all of his turbulent life and as he wrote Psalm 51 the very real prospect of life without that huge blessing was foreboding and dark. If God had not forgiven David and through the Holy Spirit restored his joy in God's presence, our world would be missing much that is crucial to our faith.

David didn't know Jesus, nor the beautiful blessing we disciples of Jesus enjoy to have God's Holy Spirit live within us every day. But like David, without that blessed presence, my life would be a meager and futile attempt at life. Over and over again I have come before my Father to plead his forgiveness for one stupid blunder or another and always the Holy Spirit assures me of God's love and forgiveness. HALLELUJAH!

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Learning To March"

"So I say live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (flesh). For the sinful nature is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature, so that you do not do what you want. But, if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law." Galatians 5:17-18 NIV
"Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit." v:25

Paul's encouragement to "keep in step with the Spirit" puts me in mind of a marching band or my company at boot camp in the Navy. The first few weeks we were a sorry lot, but since we marched everywhere we went and practiced many hours on the"grinder" (parade ground), most of us learned pretty quickly to listen to our cadence caller and pay attention to each other. By the time of our graduation ceremony several months later, we had become a single unit able to march forward, backwards, sideways, even double time. At first I thought it was a waste of time and effort, but throughout my naval career, I realized the real world importance of what I had learned doing all that marching. However I cant imagine how well I would do while carrying a bass drum or playing a tuba. 

Keeping in step with the Holy Spirit is really the same skill set. Learning to listen, pay attention and work hard at improvement is what a life of commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord is all about. We have his word and example as a perfect pattern to emulate, we have each other to help us stay on track and the Holy Spirit is always there to point out our mistakes and how to eliminate them from our daily march. He also is constantly working to teach us new skills to practice to perfection.

This year I have begun the most comprehensive study of the Holy Spirit I have ever undertaken. With the aid of a good computer program and a new NASB Hebrew/Greek Key Word Study Bible (a Christmas gift from my kids Michelle and John Sullivan), I have traced the presence of the Holy Spirit through the entire Old Testament. I've always known he was there but have failed to really appreciate just what he was doing in the lives of men and women of God.

I am now ready to begin the same process through the New Testament with a new, fired up anticipation of what I will discover. I plan to share it with my sweet daughter, Felicia, in the journal I am writing for her this year, and with the readers of this blog. You may not agree with some of my thoughts and conclusions and that's okay, just feel free to communicate with me. My ultimate purpose is to glorify Jesus Christ as Lord and learn something I don't already know about His Spirit.

Over the years I have come to realize that without the Holy Spirit's daily, personal encouragement, I would still be stumbling around trying to figure out why my life is out of step with who I can and want to be. I learned that skill in boot camp and now I am learning to do the same with the Holy Spirit. HALLELUJAH!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"In This New Year ....."

During 2010, I was very blessed to spend almost every day creating a journal through the 70+ Psalms of David. He truly taught me much, some of which I regularly shared on this blog. I created that Hallelujah Journal for my very special daughter, Michelle Sullivan, and presented it to her at the beginning of last year.

All of 2011, I wrote a journal for my son, Michael Sutherland, that centered in Solomon's Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. For a very long time I have encouraged young fathers to do whatever is required for them to spend time with their young children and teach them Proverbs, especially their sons. I completed that journal with some personal memories of my US Navy days, which I know Mike will get a kick out of.

Now, in 2012, I am beginning a new journal for my youngest daughter, Felicia Patten, who has requested that I write about the Holy Spirit. She and I have talked a good bit about this subject over the last few years and I am eager to enter into this challenge with her in mind. I had a tiny bit of hesitancy at first because I thought, "Write about the Holy Spirit every day for a whole year? Is there really that much to say?" Then I began to think more clearly about it and quickly realized that I need this more than I thought at first. So I am entering into this new challenge with a heightened sense of anticipation of what the Spirit will teach me.

One thing that has really impressed my own spirit is a kind of 'off-handed' statement Paul makes in his Romans letter at 15:30. He is asking for the prayers of his Romans brethren because he felt a real sense of risk in his determination to visit Jerusalem to deliver the funds he had collected from the churches of Achaia for those in Jerusalem. Their lives had been severely disrupted by a widespread famine that had plagued the area for several years and Paul felt obligated to offer assistance. But, he also knew the probability of a serious rejection by the "unbelievers" and knew his visit would undoubtedly prompt some kind of altercation.

"I urge you brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me." Romans 15:30 NIV

I guess I never really have thought of the Holy Spirit within the context of "love". But the more I consider it, the more I realize that the Holy Spirit is God and since God is love, and Jesus loves me unconditionally, I should not be surprised by the love of the Spirit. Paul gives us a detailed description of one of the greatest acts of the love of the Spirit back at Romans 8:26 by informing us that "the Spirit helps us in our weakness" by interceding for us in prayer to the Father with "groans that words cannot express". 

Its true, we don't always know how to tell our Father what we think and feel but because he loves us, the Holy Spirit somehow takes our feeble prayer efforts to the Father's throne and pleads for us with a kind of language that only he and the Father know. Why? That's his job, at least a big part of it. That's who he is and its what he's always done for God's warriors in this world.

So, off we go on this new adventure into a world of thought and meditation that may be a bit strange for some of us but holds great promise. I pray many will join with us on journey and visit these pages often. There is much to be learned and appreciated about the Holy Spirit's love. HALLELUJAH!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Hope For A New Year"

As I have watched some of the videos this morning of people around the world 'ringing in the New Year' I have been impressed with the optimism most have expressed for a better 2012. For sure, 2011 has brought much to want to leave behind and optimism for the future is always much better than the pessimism of 'same old - same old'. And, as usual on New Year's day, there is no shortage of expert advice about improving one's quality of life by quitting smoking, losing weight, more exercise etc, etc.

I am an expert on NOTHING and definitely not qualified to offer any kind of medical or psychological advice about any of it. However, I do have a few suggestions that I have learned from the greatest of all soul doctors, the Holy Spirit of God our Father. All of us should have the good sense to improve the quality of our physical and mental health through whatever healthy habits are appropriate, but one key to doing so may begin with our spiritual life. If this sounds a bit too "preachy" for your taste, please just consider the source.

Most Christians I have known have some favorite Bible verses or passages that comfort, motivate and encourage them. Me too. One of my favorite chapters has been Romans 12. For me, this great chapter is an eloquent summary of what my Father wants to see in my life. I periodically turn to it and just sit quietly and read it, several times.

From Romans 12 I've learned:
  • That true worship doesn't just happen in a church assembly. Its something I do every day, everywhere
  • That God wants to and will give me a new mind, a completely new way of being with him and seeing the world he has put me in for his own purpose
  • That humility is the essence of being a disciple of Jesus. Although humility isn't my natural context, I've learned the true power of living humbly before God, trusting him always to do his thing in my life
  • That through his Spirit, God has given all of us some specific "gifts" that he expects us to use in his kingdom and his world
  • That the basic, simple things are what we all must work hard at perfecting in our practice of faith:
    1. Love that is genuine
    2. Always choose the good
    3. Love and honor my brothers and sisters
    4. Seek to serve not be served
    5. The absolute of HOPE
    6. Devotion to prayer
    7. Be a giver - a helper to others
    8. Seek oneness with others of like faith
    9. Seek peace with all people whenever possible
    10. Allow space for God to work out whatever he pleases
    11. Treat all enemies with grace
    12. Use good to overcome evil

    Paul's extensive list of what I call "transformative traits" follows his confession back at chapter 7 of the great challenge every true believer must face up to daily. Whining and complaining are the exact antithesis of the changes God will produce in my life, if I allow him that level of control. It all happens through Jesus Christ, as Paul states at the end of Romans 7. But, its always about ATTITUDE. If I can get my attitude lined up with God's intention for me, this journey to a new place of joy, hope, peace, self confidence and love becomes much clearer.

    In my younger years I was way too motivated by pride. I still have pride in myself and in my family, but God has taught me the right place to level it off. Right is always right and wrong is always wrong and like Paul, I too, fall short of always doing what I know is right, but Jesus helps me to not lose sight of him.

    So, here is my bottom line for all of my family and friends for 2012:

    "May the God of HOPE, fill you with all JOY and PEACE as you TRUST in him, so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit"! Romans 15:13 NIV  HALLELUJAH!!