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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"From FOOLISHNES to OH WOW!"

We humans generally don't do "foolish" things, things that just make no sense. But, we've all done and said things that we look back on with some measure of regret. How can both of those statements be true? At the time our "foolishness" made perfect sense in that moment and situation. Maybe our actions have been too impulsive or driven by some self serving motive, but in the moment they seemed perfectly logical. This is the rationale of what Paul refers to as "the natural man", the "man without the Spirit of God".

"We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught us by the Spirit expressing (combining/blending) spiritual truths with spiritual words. The man without the Spirit (the natural man) does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 
But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 NIV

Every person's initial contact with the Spirit of God is probably initiated by him, the Spirit, through his written word, the Bible. But, that is just my own opinion. He may choose to do otherwise on certain occasions and I have learned to refrain from limiting the actions of God or his Spirit to my own opinions. However, through his Spirit, God has revealed what Paul calls his "secret wisdom", the "mystery" he had kept hidden from eternity past. That revelation is Jesus Christ, which has been, is now and always will be "foolishness" to the world of natural men.

Faith can embrace what appears foolish or absurd only with the aid of God's Holy Spirit who translates that spiritual reality into words and feelings that fit together and ultimately convict my own spirit. Trying to quantify that process is pointless because it can and does happen in different ways for different people. Faith is difficult for some people to understand because if it were always logical, it just wouldn't be faith.

Here is where the "man without the Spirit of God" hits a brick wall. Natural reasoning dictates, "If a thing doesn't make sense, if it cannot be studied in a laboratory setting or proven by some logical scientific process, it cannot be real or right and must be rejected," So, the revelation of God through his own Spirit is easily cast aside as myth, legend or outright lie. The true fact is this - Jesus is either a legend (he never was), or he was a liar (what he said cannot be trusted) or he was a lunatic (stone cold crazy), or he is Lord. So, how do we discern the truth about him? Enter the Holy Spirit!

The Spirit of God works in the human spirit/heart, not in a science lab. He takes what is far beyond ordinary merely human comprehension and translates it into "spiritual words" that speak in a special way to the human spirit. Through that Spirit translation, we are able to hear the voice of our Father reaching out to us in love. Consider this from the Holy Spirit -

"We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone."
Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are in the same family. So, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." Hebrews 2:9-11 NIV

It is only through the ministry of the Holy Spirit are we able to "see Jesus" and understand why his death occurred and what it means for us. Otherwise, none of it makes any sense, it is absurd, foolishness to the max!

"Spirit can only be known by spirit - God's Spirit and our spirits in open communion. Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God's Spirit is doing and can't be judged by unspiritual critics. Isaiah's question has been answered, "Is there anyone around who knows God's Spirit, anyone who knows what he is doing?", has been answered; Christ knows and we have Christ's Spirit."
1 Corinthians 2:15-16 MSG             HALLELUJAH!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"The Great Convictor"

Jesus told his Apostles that "the world" could not accept the Counselor he would send because "it neither sees him nor knows him" (John 14:17). A little later he said -

"I tell you the truth; it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he  comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment; in regard to sin because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness because I am going to the Father where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment because the prince of this world now stands condemned." John 16:7-11

 For a long time I have pondered v:7 trying to understand why the Spirit would not come unless Jesus went away. The Holy Spirit had been a key presence in his ministry from Jesus' conception and birth all the way to his resurrection. So, what would be different after his ascension?

I have come to think the "difference" for them would be linked to Jesus' impending absence and the Spirit taking up the mantle of leadership from him. Jesus was about to complete his part in the Father's mission to reach out to all the human family in a very personal way, and the Holy Spirit would step into his own "personal ministry". Up to now, Jesus had been the focus of both Old Testament prophecy and presenting himself to the Jews and his own disciples as the one who came in the Father's name to "make him (the Father) known" (John 1:18). But, that was about to change in a significant way.

The first real public announcement of the "good news" at Acts 2, links the Spirit to God's promise as Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32. Then he makes this statement, "Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear."

Jesus' ministry was virtually limited to the people of Israel, but after his resurrection and ascension, the plan of God which reaches back thousands of years to Genesis 12, was finally complete. Now, the time had come to make it known to all men, everywhere. That part of God's eternal purpose was, and still is, the ministry of the Holy Spirit first through Jesus' Apostles, then through all of us who honor Jesus as our King and High Priest, taking their testimony to the whole world.

Convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment was no small challenge in the first century, nor has that changed from then til now. God's eternal plan is still active and the ministry of the Counselor is still as much needed as then, although in a slightly different way. Ultimately, the success of God's plan for all his human family requires confronting two huge hurdles; (1) Convincing men to embrace the truth about Jesus Christ, including his resurrection, and (2) Helping them to learn to see each other in a very different, new way, as part of a single family.

This enormous challenge has no possibility of success without the ministry of the Spirit of God because we must factor into the process the absolute commitment of Satan to its failure. Only the Spirit of God can give Jesus' disciples the ability, the knowledge and the pure courage to stand up to our already defeated enemy. Every Christian should take some time to read Revelation 12 and be encouraged to realize that we are victorious over the devil because of Jesus' love and Spirit power. HALLELUJAH!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"The Time Is Coming"

If you haven't read my post from yesterday I want to suggest that you do so before you read this new one or you might not be able to make a critical connection. We're walking our way carefully through Jesus' last teaching session with his Apostles before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. John is the only one of his biographers who gives us much detail about Jesus' final meeting with these very ordinary Jewish men and the information we obtain from it is truly remarkable. One more example:

"All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you." John 16:1-4

Now there's a great recruiting poster - put out of the synagogue in social disgrace and ultimately killed in the name of God! If I put myself in their shoes, I'm thinking, "ARE YOU SERIOUS?! No way. Maybe I need to re-think this deal. Think I'm going back to fishing or farming or just sitting in the shade."

As a Christian, far removed in space and time from those men, to me the most remarkable statement here is about the ignorance of those who would treat them in such a way. We're talking about their relatives, former schoolmates, childhood friends, people they had known all their lives turning their backs on them with utter contempt, all because "they have not known the Father or me." That statement surely generated some very difficult discussion among those men because in the theology they had always known, Yahweh was the very center and core of their existence. Jesus' strong statement that they had not "known the Father" had to be quite difficult for those men to process.

My spirit swells with appreciation and gratitude for those 12 men who braved unimaginable challenges and constant life and death threats to carry out the mission of their Lord and ours. Eventually, all of them died a violent death, with the possible exception of John, and today we stand on their brave shoulders. I am very thankful to John for giving us all of this detail found nowhere else in the New Testament. He was there, he saw and heard it all and for me his testimony is sufficient for me to believe.  HALLELUJAH!

Monday, March 19, 2012

"Can I Get A Witness?!"

Jesus always knew his time on earth would be winding down as he reached adulthood, but as he began to reveal this to his chosen twelve Apostles they increasingly reacted with with greater degrees of shock, disbelief, alarm and fear. On his final day with them, he seems to have felt an extreme urgency to make them finally understand. These twelve very ordinary Jewish men had little if any idea what their future held in store, so Jesus assures them that a new voice of authority would be sent to encourage them.

"All this I have spoken to you while still with you. But, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."
"The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me."   John 14:25-26, 31 NIV

The phrase "in my name" means "one who will speak and act for me/in my stead". The Holy Spirit would actually continue to speak and act as if Jesus were still with them and give them the knowledge and the courage to continue to carry out the mission of the Father.

"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify for you have been with me from the beginning."   John 15:26-27
"And you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."   Acts 1:8
"This is the gospel you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven."Col 1:23

A "witness" is one who can provide "eyewitness" testimony to substantiate a claim or proposition, in this case, first hand evidence of what they have personally seen and heard. The Holy Spirit "came on" these twelve working class men to empower them to speak and ultimately to write the truth that Jesus personified. He told them to stay in Jerusalem until they received that power from the Father, then they were to take that "good news" message to all people everywhere! WOW! They must have been excited but overwhelmed by the enormity and the responsibility of that task.

But, they did what Jesus said and he did what he promised and the Holy Spirit fulfilled his part and it all worked out despite Satan's attempts to kill all of them. Although we can't be sure if Paul's statement some 20 or 30 years later at Colossians 1:23 is absolutely true or generally true, those twelve, ordinary, working class Jewish men did their work remarkably. The proof is all over the world today and growing stronger with each generation of disciples of Jesus. The Spirit of God is still doing his thing.

I cannot be a "witness" in the same way as the Apostles because I did not actually "witness" his miracles or his death or his resurrection or his ascension. But, the ministry I have been commissioned to carry out is the same mission Jesus gave those brave men. Through the Holy Spirit's revelation they can still testify through me if I will only be their arms, legs, hands, heart and mouth! Now that is just so cool!  HALLELUJAH!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"The FOREVER Presence"

"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor (comforter/encourager) to be with you (stand alongside) forever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But, you know him for he lives with you and will be in." John 14:15-17 NIV

Over the last twenty or so years I have slowly come to realize that the pronoun "YOU" in this passage includes me! Although I also realize that much of what Jesus says in John 14-15-16 is addressed directly and uniquely to the Apostles, the context always indicates how the personal pronouns should be interpreted. In this passage the word "FOREVER" extends Jesus' promise far beyond the twelve and even the early disciples.

Luke reports at Acts 1 that following his resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with them explaining the details about the kingdom of God and finally instructed them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Father to send them what he had promised, the Holy Spirit. In giving them his final command to "go and make disciples of all nations", he told them "I am with you always, even to the end of the world". To me, "always" and "forever" are the same definition with possibly only a slight variation.

Much later, Paul told some Christians in Rome "The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men". Romans 14:17-18

All of my young and middle adult life I hesitated to embrace the Holy Spirit in the context of Jesus' promise in John 14. As I think back over it now that hesitation was fueled by the teaching I heard from early childhood. The tone underlying all I was exposed to allowed no room for God's Spirit to do anything directly in the lives of Jesus' disciples today, EXCEPT through the medium of the written word, the Bible. I heard that in my local church, in the Christian colleges I attended and in my relationships with fellow preachers and teachers. Slowly, that interpretation has been replaced by the words of Jesus and his Apostles.

We still need that comforting, encouraging presence with us and in us. The brothers and sisters in Rome and Corinth and Ephesus battled with the same enemy the Apostles had to overcome. Nothing has changed. Like those earliest disciples of Jesus, I too serve him with, as Paul said, great "peace" and daily "joy in the Holy Spirit". Thank you my heavenly Father for this abiding gift!  HALLELUJAH!

Friday, March 9, 2012

"GROANINGS"

"The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And, he who searches our hearts, knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." Romans 8:26-27 NIV

 In my imagination, Paul's description, though very brief, of what happens between he and our Father plays out like a dramatic scene from a movie. Even though we are unable to sort of "flesh out" the details, we DO know that whatever occurs is "in accordance with God's will." But what does all of this imply?

If we cast it against the background of something Paul said earlier, we may get a clearer understanding:
"We know that the law is spiritual but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do, for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Romans 7:14-15 NIV

I guess all of us are kind of messed up, some more than others, but all alike in that we truly want to do God's will, even when we fail. The law was intended by God to teach his people to see themselves and their lives in a "spiritual" way rather than simply through the dictates of the "flesh". But, the law failed to achieve that intended purpose because it was lacking two very crucial elements:
  1. Jesus Christ, through whom the grace of God acted on our behalf to actually forgive our sin
  2. The Holy Spirit who trains us to live better, in a more spiritual, holy way
Like all the rest of God's creation (Romans 8:18-25), we "groan" under the weight of our "unspiritual" imperfection and wait in "hope" for our "adoption as sons". Paul's vision of the Holy Spirit's personal intercession on our behalf serves to confirm the desperation and sincerity of our groaning. But I really don't believe that the Spirit's action is meant to convey any hesitation to hear or forgive on God's part. Whatever the Spirit does in the Father's presence is affirmed by Paul to already be right in line with his desire and intention for us. So, I conclude that the Spirit is only doing for me what I am incapable of doing because my sinful nature (the flesh) still creates a disturbing barrier between me and God.

I confess that I still have and probably always will have, many questions that I cannot answer and I wont confuse your mind further by submitting them here. But, I have come to realize that I don't need to have all my questions answered. I just need to know Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord  and the Holy Spirit has been given to me to lead me to a better place than I can get to on my own.

I've also come to realize that there is obviously a whole lot more involved in God's forgiveness and blessing than me simply offering up a hurried, groaning prayer. What I know is truly the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the tiny bit of knowledge that is visible. What is invisible below the surface is a whole continent of reality that only God and the Holy Spirit are privy to, and because of Jesus, its okay.   HALLELUJAH!