Posts Tagged With: Holy Spirit

John 14: If You Have Seen Me, You Have Seen God

If you had known me, you would have known my father.  From now on you do know him!  You have seen him. . . . Anyone who has seen me has seen the father! (14:7, 9)

What a provocative claim!  When you look at Jesus, you are looking at God.  Jesus only makes it clearer the further we read through this chapter:

Don’t you believe that I am in the father, and the father is in me? (14:10a)

It’s the father, who lives within me . . . . (14:10b)

I am in the father and the father is in me. (14:11)

If we have only known Christianity all of our life, maybe we don’t really appreciate how outstanding this claim was.  What other significant religious leader in history has claimed such a thing?  Would Muhammad have claimed such a thing?  Not at all!  That would have been blasphemous and worthy of death.  Would the Buddha have claimed to have been a god?  Though people have turned him into such, the Buddha was clear before his death that he was not a god, did not wish to be worshiped as deity, and did not even want to theorize about divinity anyway as he was simply interested in solving the problem of human suffering.  Would Abraham or Moses or Rabbi Hillel?  This too would have been highly offensive.  The Jews of Jesus’ time were ready to stone Jesus for claiming such.  Maybe one of the 330 million Hindu gods would have claimed to be a god taken human form in order to reveal the nature of the great universal power of Brahman to the unenlightened world.  But what Hindu in recorded history has ever had a run in with these gods of legend?  Besides, the fleshly body is but an illusion that the gods help us escape, why would they want to become flesh?  Marx thought religion and its gods were just an “opiate” for the hungry, disillusioned masses.  Freud would have said a god was just a projection of your superego.  Any good secular humanist would either laugh at the idea that a god even exists, or if one does that god is not at all involved in this closed system we call our universe.  And into that world, those of us who are Christians claim Jesus is God in the flesh.  Truly provocative!  And what a privilege to serve such a god!

And if the claim that God came to this world to reveal himself as a human named Jesus is not scandalous enough, the shock continues.

But you know him, because he [the helper; the Holy Spirit] lives with you, and will be in you. (14:17)

Not only did God condescend to live in the flesh as a human named Jesus, God lives in those of us who are Christians by way of the Holy Spirit.  What other religion in the world claims that the god would come to live in us?  Judaism and Islam are religions of the book; God has done all that is necessary when he gave us a book.  God does not need to come down to our level and it would be unfitting of God to do so.  The eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism would agree that there is divinity in the follower, but there is a spark of the divine in all living things.  This is no special honor.  And this piece of the divine Brahman power has no real consciousness and does not guide us into better living.  A secular humanist is no more convinced that God, if he exists, would indwell us than he did Jesus.  How audacious to believe that our God actually lives within us!  Again, a great privilege!

What do you think?

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2 Corinthians 11: Not So Very “Super-Apostles”

Paul snidely labels those who are opposing him in the Corinthian church as the “super-apostles” (11:5).  Images of Clark Kent with a Bible come to mind.  He tells us a good deal about these people in today’s reading.

  • They have been able to sway some of the church away from true doctrine (11:3)
  • They may have been teaching significantly different things about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the gospel (11:4)
  • They clearly were well-educated, much more than Paul, especially in the area of rhetoric (11:6)
  • Given that much of this book is about the collection Paul is taking up for the Christians in Judea and that Paul repeatedly has to defend his financial decisions, the super-apostles were likely accusing Paul of using the Corinthians for money (11:7-9)
  • They are so flawed as to actually be “false” prophets (11:13a)
  • They transform themselves, chameleon-like, to look pious and orthodox (11:13b)
  • Paul calls them servants of Satan, implying they are a threat to spiritual purity, not simply other Christians with views different from Paul’s (11:15)
  • They are destined for Hell (11:15)
  • They regularly boasted about themselves (11:18)
  • They are enslaving, insulting, and exploiting the Corinthians (11:20)
  • They may be Jewish (11:22)
  • They have not sacrificed as much as Paul for the sake of the gospel (11:23-29)

So who are these people? When you put it all together it makes a lot of sense that these super-apostles were the same Judaizers who followed Paul throughout the eastern Mediterranean undoing his grace-oriented Christianity with a re-binding of law on Christians.  Their air of superiority had much to do with their ethnicity and training in the law.

For Paul these differences are more than surface differences of preference and style.  The super-apostles had eviscerated the very gospel and in so doing they were not to be tolerated at all.

What caught your eye today?

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2 Corinthians 3: Qualified for Ministry

So what makes you think you are qualified for ministry?

That seems like a pretty reasonable question.  In fact, it is the kind of question I would expect to receive if I were in an interview for a sales person job or an opening for a management position at a factory or a job as a crane operator at the construction site down the road.  A person needs to have the appropriate credentials if they are to assume they can do a job.

Isn’t it the same in ministry?

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with pursuing academic training in ministry.  I have two earned degrees in theology myself.  But is a person qualified for ministry if they have a degree in the field?  If they are a dynamic speaker?  If they have the charisma to capture a room and motivate people to achieve a goal?  If they go to lots of conferences and enact cutting edge thinking and technology in their churches?  If they can attract a crowd and grow the membership of a church?  If they can lead a capital campaign that nets millions of dollars?  Now flip it.  Is a person disqualified from ministry if they do not have these traits and abilities?

Think like a Corinthian.  We know their culture.  Wisdom, knowledge and education is good.  The cult of the personality will take you far.  Recommendations from the masses will take you far.  Gather a group of people to you and have them follow your teaching.  Sure, others might call it pride and “being puffed up” but really its just confidence.  We even know that this kind of cultural thinking had seeped into the church in Corinth in various ways.  If a group of people think like this, won’t they want credentials and recommendations?

Does that Corinthian thinking sound that different from everyday American thinking?

So, what qualifies a person for ministry?

Perhaps we need — as some do — official references to give you? . . . You are our official reference!  It’s written on our hearts! . . . That’s the kind of confidence we have toward God, through the Messiah.  It isn’t as though we are qualified in ourselves to reckon that we have anything to offer on our own account.  Our qualification comes from God: God qualified us to be stewards of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit. (3:1-2, 4-6)

Paul appeals to two things as evidence to his qualifications as a minister:

  1. They only had to look at themselves.  How did they come to know about Christ?  Who brought them this far?  Their very lives were reference letters.
  2. They could see the marks of the Spirit in his life.  His power came from the power of the Spirit, not his own power.  His persuasive spirit was not his own, but God’s.  His charisma was the “charismata” (Greek for “gift”) that comes from the Spirit, not a charming personality.

One is qualified for ministry if there is within that person the Spirit who is changing the worshiper into the image of Jesus from one stage of glory to the next (3:18).

What caught your attention in this chapter?

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1 Corinthians 12: Edification, Not Competition

Have you ever met people who can turn anything in a competition?

My two sons are this way.  They race to get to the supper table first.  The race to see who can get in the front seat of the car first.  They one-up each other when tell stories about the day.  Everything is a contest to prove one is better than the other.  I have also watched with frustration the tears and lashing out that comes when one does not win or measure up or gets pushed down so the other can stand tall.

The Corinthian Christians were a whole lot like my sons.  Everything in the church had become a contest for superiority.  Who is the wisest, the most articulate, the most respected in society?  Who has the best education?  Who follows the best leader?  Who is a part of the best group within this fragmented church?  Who can show the most grace?  Who has the best food for the Lord’s Supper (a true meal at that time)?

Now it was the Holy Spirit, this great gift of God, given to us to make us holy and pure.  Yet the gifts of the Spirit were being used to create distinctions and airs of superiority.  How spiritual a person was had even become something that puffed up the Corinthians.

Paul reminds them that the whole point of the outpouring of the Spirit and the gifts that come with the Spirit is so “that all may benefit” (12:7).  They are meant to unify and draw people closer together in dependence, not split apart in competition.  There may be many different parts or “members” but there is only one “body” (12:20).  They together make up “the Messiah’s body” (12:27) and they need each other.  As we often see in the Bible, this point is emphasized by the use of repetition.  The word “all” is used 8 times.  “Same” occurs 7 times.  Ten times the word “one” is used to mean a complete entity.  Last, the word “whole” is repeated 3 times.  Let there be no mistake, Christians exist to be a part of something far bigger than what they can create themselves.

Then Paul ends this chapter in the most unexpected and seemingly contradictory way:

You should be eager for the better kinds of gifts.  Now I’m going to show you a better way, a much better way. (12:31)

Three times Paul uses the word “better.”  But if you say something is better to a bunch of hyper-competitive, pompous, attention-seekers of course they are going to want it.  Maybe this is something else they can use to divide and puff up.  What is this better thing?  What could be better than the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit?

What did not notice in this chapter? 

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1 Corinthians 2: Communication Breakdown

My favorite Chinese restaurant is right around the corner.  I can walk to it.  It is a no-frills kind of place.  You can stay and eat there if you wish, though half the time the air conditioner is broken.  Most people pick up styrofoam containers packed full of General Tsao’s Chicken or Pork Fried Rice and head home to share with family.

They know me there.  They know my voice when I place an order by phone.  They know my favorite menu items.  They greet me by name (I guess that is an indication of the frequency of my visits!)  Recently, when the China-born owner and head cook was studying for his American citizenship test, he would ask me questions about how to pronounce politician’s names or to explain certain things about American life and governance (thankfully never the concept of the electoral college).  Only when he had finally taken the test and earned his citizenship did I break it to him that he had been relying on a non-citizen for answers!  (I am still a Canadian by citizenship, though I have been here over twenty years.)

Though I thoroughly enjoy his effusive presence, talking to my Chinese friend is not easy (and he likely says the same about me).  His accent is strong.  There are whole sounds he doesn’t even know how to pronounce.  His understanding of English grows every year, but just like most of us would experience if we moved to China, it is a daunting task to learn a new language and English is not an easy language to learn (I am sure he is doing better than I would do learning Chinese).  A few days ago it took me five tries to figure out he was saying the phrase “summer break.”  Yes, my summer break as a teacher is sadly coming to an end.  It is not infrequent or surprising that he and I struggle to communicate as well as both of us want to.  We are literally thinking in two different languages.  (Interestingly, two doors down the strip mall is the Italian printer who stamps Bibles with my students’ names and the school crest.  I have the same linguistic experiences with him too!)  I, for one, love a multicultural world!

In today’s short chapter, Paul reminds us that this is somewhat the same experience we will inevitably have with the people around us who have not accepted Christ and are not enlightened by the Holy Spirit:

We do, however, speak wisdom among the mature.  But this isn’t a wisdom of this present world, or of the rulers of this present world. . . . We don’t use words we’ve been taught by human wisdom, but words we’ve been thought by the spirit, interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people.  Someone living at the merely human level doesn’t accept the things of God’s spirit.  They are foolishness to such people, you see, and they can’t understand them because they need to be discerned spiritually. (2:6, 13-14)

It is like we are thinking in two different languages.  Our frame of mind is spiritual.  Our wisdom is spiritual.  Our truth and worldview and value systems are shaped in a fundamentally different way.  It is inevitable that we will not always be understood.  Confused looks will come.  Unspiritual people will naturally feel that their physical and material “language” is superior to our’s and that we should “learn their language.”  Exasperation and maybe even ridicule are destined to come as well.  We should not be surprised by this in the least.

What caught your eye today?

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Luke 3: Baptized with The Holy Spirit

Another characteristic trait of Luke’s Gospel is his emphasis on the Holy Spirit.  Of course, we see this most clearly in Acts, volume two of the set, but there have been several time already where mention of the Holy Spirit has been made when it was not in Matthew or Mark.

The adult John was clearly a prophet, one who spoke necessary words even if they were confrontational, even if they would get him killed one day.  (I noticed today that verses 4-6 were first spoken by Isaiah, who tradition says was sawn in two; then John the Baptist, who was beheaded; then Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I have a dream” speech, who was assassinated.  People don’t usually like prophets.)  John came preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins and offered a water baptism that brought this to one’s life.  Yet he also says Jesus will do more than simply offer repentance and baptism for forgiveness.

To all of them John responded: “I am baptizing you with water.  But someone is coming who is stronger than I am.  I don’t deserve to untie his sandal-strap.  He will baptize you with the holy spirit and with fire.” (3:16)

The thing that was new with Jesus was not baptism, it was the gift of the Holy Spirit offered to all who would follow him and come into Christ through Christian baptism.  Baptism was the ritual; the Holy Spirit was the power and the result.  Even forgiveness was available through John’s baptism; it was the Spirit that was missing.  Remember Acts 19 (also written by Luke) where this was precisely the issue with a group of people baptized by John but who were missing the Holy Spirit?  To punctuate the point, in this chapter Luke includes Jesus’ own baptism in which the Holy Spirit comes upon him.

A life with forgiveness is wonderful, but we are destined to end right back where we were before.  We would be a people obsessed with forgiveness because of our permanent fallen state.  What we need is empowerment to become something better than what we presently are.  That is the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  God not only forgives us, He empowers us by that Spirit to live a life that is progressively more holy and capable than it was before.

I wonder if sometimes we are guilty of still only preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:3).  We emphasize the need to be washed clean of sin.  We encourage each other to turn from sin.  And, yes, we become obsessed with forgiveness because we have missed the part that we can actually become something different than an incapable sinner.  Acts 2:38, a verse ultra-familiar to many of us here, says:

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Have we forgotten about the last part?  And if so, are we missing the most important part?  Are we missing the one unique characteristic of Jesus’ baptism, the one part that is essential to becoming God’s people in a fallen world, the Holy Spirit?

I think so.

What do you think?

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Romans 8: Help In Our Weakness

21

In case we miss the answer we have been looking for since yesterday, Paul gives us the answer twenty-one times in Romans 8: SPIRIT.

Paul left us with a defense of Law; it is not the root of our problem.  But Law is also not the answer to our problem, because it lacks the power to move us past our own powerlessness.  What we need is a power outside of ourselves.  And this is exactly what God brings: the Holy Spirit of God living within us (8:9).

The spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness. (8:26)

Maybe you grew up as I did in a religious tradition too scared to talk about the Holy Spirit lest we be labeled as charismatic, as if that were some great sin.  However, when we neglect the Spirit we are left only with ourselves and we are back in the middle of the mess of Romans 7.

Christians are called to listen with attentive minds and hearts to the Spirit of God within us (8:5-6).  This Spirit will guide and empower the children of God to live in accordance of God’s wishes, as the Spirit is the first piece of the new life already given to us (8:14, 23, 26-27).  All that God intended in the Law becomes possible when we “live according to the Spirit” (8:4).

What verse caught your eye today?

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Galatians 5: Live By the Spirit

Why don’t we need a system of laws and rules to “babysit” us anymore, as Paul said in chapter 3?

Paul gives us an unmistakable answer in today’s reading.

If you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law. (5:18)

In fact, the word “spirit” is used seven times in this chapter, punctuating Paul’s point (though I wish Wright had not chosen to leave “spirit” and “holy spirit” uncapitalized in his translation).

A system of laws, a list of rules, or a handbook of standards and dictates is comfortable for a lot of people.  Everything is stated and known.  It is also a good tool to have when dealing with children.  The problem, though, is that all of these exist outside of the person.  Someone made some laws or rules and published those and now we are expected to adhere.  The handbook is sitting over there on the table.  We can choose to know, learn, and follow it or we cannot.  While these systems of law do provide guidance, they don’t give power to meet those expectations.  And expectations without empowerment usually lead to failure.

Now, with the coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of Christians, there is both guidance and power.  And all of this exists within.  Temptation is still with us, of course.  It was right there with us when we operated by a system of dos and don’ts too.  The difference is that, unlike any system of law, the Spirit is alive and personal.  The Spirit wishes to “make us alive” (remember chapter 2) and empower us past the temptation and on to righteousness (5:5).  That Spirit guides us and if we will choose to “live by that spirit” (5:16) we find that progressively, little by little, the Holy Spirit puts to death the “flesh” (5:17) and truly “makes us free so that we [can] enjoy freedom” (5:1).

Free people are able to make the choices that truly liberate their souls.  It is not that the lifestyle our rules are trying to produce is bad.  Not at all.  The whole law really came down to one principle: love your neighbor (5:14), and that is as good a lifestyle as they come.  True Christian love requires an emptying of self, putting other before oneself (5:13).  It takes true freedom to choose to do that.  Freedom from requirement, from having to love others.  It isn’t love if it is done by obligation.  But when we step out in faith, trusting that the best way to happiness is to serve others, counterintuitive as it is, and that faith shows itself through love (5:6), one more crucifying nail is driven into the self (5:24), and the Spirit is able to produce fruit in our lives (5:22-23).

We don’t need a babysitter when we have the spirit of the Father inside us.

What verse stood out to you in this chapter?

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Galatians 3: No Need for a Babysitter Anymore

Before this faithfulness [of Jesus] arrived, we were kept under guard by the law, in close confinement until the coming faithfulness should be revealed.  Thus the law was like a babysitter for us, looking after us until the coming of the Messiah, so that we might be given covenant membership on the basis of faithfulness.  But now that faithfulness has come, we are no longer under the rule of the babysitter.  (3:23-25)

I had many a babysitter growing up.

There was Debbie from down the street.  She introduced me to Deborah Harry (aka Blondie) right at the height of the punk rock rage.  Then it was Debbie’s sister and several teenage girls from church.  After that, being five and seven years older than my brothers, I became the babysitter.  I remember the time, though, I thought I was too cool to babysit my brothers, so my parents got one of my classmates named Renee to babysit.  I was told that if I were too cool to babysit, then I was also too cool to stay in the house while they were away.  I was exiled to the nearby park.  There was also the summer we had a procession of “nannies,” all college girls from the local Baptist church.  The most memorable of those was the one who was visiting from Zimbabwe for the summer.  She made us hotdogs one day and buttered the buns.  Didn’t toast them or anything.  Just butter right up on the hotdog.  Okay.

Babysitters are great . . . for a time.  But it would be kind of weird, however, having a babysitter when you are 32.  When your children are approaching the teen years you kind of get a sense that if they need a babysitter still, they might be a bit behind the curve.  There is a time for the babysitting to stop.

When maturity comes, parents have faith in their children.  Faith too in their parenting.  They trust that the growing child has the inner guidance to go the right way themselves.  Once you have experienced the freedom of adulthood, you don’t need a babysitter anymore.

What verse really got you thinking?

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Acts 20: Bound by the Spirit

I would love to go to Jerusalem.  What a great trip that would be!  Maybe some day.

Interestingly, in this passage Paul isn’t as enthusiastic about his trip to Jerusalem.  Nor was Jesus in Luke’s first volume (Luke 9:51).  Both had to set their faces resolutely towards the city of David.  Jerusalem meant death.  Jerusalem is the place of loss and separation, in this context.

This is likely why Paul seems more melancholy and introspective in today’s reading.  By the middle of the chapter Paul is in Troas on his way to Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem.  The rest of his party sails from Troas to Assos but Paul, who usually surrounded himself with traveling companions, walks the 25-mile journey to Assos alone instead.  In Ephesus, Paul gathers the elders of the church together to encourage them to watch out for “fierce wolves” in sheep’s clothing and to stay strong in Christ (20:29-31).  Paul knows he is “bound by the spirit” to go to Jerusalem (20:22).  Twice he tells the Ephesian elders they will not “see my face again” (20:25, 38).  Paul’s phrase “after I am gone” (20:29) has a foreboding tone of finality.

These are last words.  The kind of things Jesus said to his apostles in John 13-17 just before he died.  The kind of things you say just before “going to Jerusalem.”

Yet, both Jesus and Paul went.  It was their mission, and they knew it.

What stood out to you?

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Acts 16: Spiritual Discernment

Happy Valentine’s Day

I have always been drawn to the following passage:

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, since the holy spirit had forbidden them to speak the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus didn’t allow them to do so. . . . Then a vision appeared to Paul in the night . . . When he saw the vision, at once we set about finding a way across to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the good news to them. (16:6-10)

I am convinced spiritual discernment is a huge topic I have neglected.  I think that is because I come to passages like this one and I leave confused.  I just can’t see my way forward into the topic.

How do we know the will of the Spirit?  How did Paul know the Spirit had forbidden them from going into Asia and Bithynia?  Was it that sixth-sense “knowing” that many of us feel at times, or was it something more?  Was this knowledge from a prophecy he had received?  The Macedonian Call came through a vision; was that how he discerned the stops on his journey?  Then we come to the word “concluding” in verse 10 and it seems some level of reason and deliberation was involved, but to what degree?

Some are sure that every whim and fancy is a message from God.  Others say God gave us a brain and expects us to use it, and the implication often is to use it to the exclusion of all other options.  I am convinced the way forward is somewhere between these extremes, as we see in this passage.  I would like to learn and experience more on this topic.

Do you have wisdom on this matter you can share?  

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Acts 11: No Need to Argue

Why did you do it? (11:3)

That was the question the Jewish followers of Jesus back in Judea asked Peter about visiting and eating with the Gentile Cornelius and his household.  This sort of thing was not done.  God’s people are Jewish not Gentile, or so they thought.  Why would Peter of all people extend table fellowship to uncircumcised and therefore unclean Gentiles?

So Peter tells them his story.  I am amazed at how it ends.

“As I [Peter] began to speak, the holy spirit fell on them, just as the spirit did on us at the beginning.  And I remembered the word which the Lord had spoken: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the holy spirit.’  “So, then,” Peter concluded, “if God gave them the same gift as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus the Messiah, who was I to stand in the way of God?”  When they [the Judean brothers and sisters] heard this, they had nothing more to say.  They praised God. (11:15-18)

It sounds so easy.  Everything was so clear-cut for them all: We Jews had this experience.  Then those Gentiles did too.  So that confirms God’s will here.  Nothing more to say.  Praise God for His generous grace!

When Christians today argue with each other over who is acceptable to God or not, I am afraid it is rarely that easy to resolve.  Each side has a whole litany of reasons why there is “more to say.”

It seems to me that the best way to explain why consensus was so easily attainable in this passage is that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” mentioned here in Acts 11 was manifested as speaking in tongues.  It did say in 10:46 that Cornelius’ family spoke in tongues after the Holy Spirit “fell on everyone.”  Therefore, this phenomenon was immediately observable and objective.  They must have been thinking: We received this.  They received this.  That is how God works.  So, there is nothing more to say.

I am afraid it just isn’t that easy today.  How I wish it could be.  For many of us the tradition we come from does not believe speaking in tongues is still a common experience at salvation (or that it ever happens anymore).  Maybe we could point to the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life as a testimony to divine election and approval, but that is not completely visible, it takes a long time to develop, and even non-Christians are observably and objectively patient and gentle many times.

What I really want to say is maybe we just need to stop worrying about who is accepted by God and not.  Most of those debates involve groups of people who both claim to have faith in Jesus.  Maybe we should focus our attention on other matters, like those who don’t believe at all.  But there will always be people amongst us who would say like Peter did, “I can’t do that.  I have never done that before.  I don’t think that is right.”  And for those people these debates are very real and important.  I just wish the way to resolution could be as easy as what we are seeing here.

What do you think?

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Acts 10: God Leads the Way

This was not Peter’s plan at all.

Go to a group of Gentiles?  Eat with them?  Even baptize them?  No, this is not Peter’s plan, at all.

But it was God’s.

All throughout this chapter God through His Holy Spirit is leading the way:

  • Long before Peter came along, Cornelius and his household had developed a reverence for God and a life of prayer and giving (10:2)
  • The messengers from Cornelius’ household were sent by God to Peter, not vice versa (10:5-6, 20)
  • God brought Peter the vision of the sheet and animals
  • The Spirit coaxes Peter along: “It’s all right; get up, go down, and go with them.  Don’t be prejudiced.” (10:20)
  • Peter says his change of perspective came because “God showed me I should call nobody ‘common’ or ‘unclean.“” (10:28)
  • Out of the ordinary pattern we see in Acts, the Holy Spirit fell on the household before they were baptized (10:44-48), which is best understood as God showing proactively that these Gentiles were acceptable and baptism should be extended by a reticent Peter

As one of you said in a recent comment, this book is more about the acts of the Holy Spirit than the “acts of the Apostles.”  And yet, it is the acts of the Apostles too, in that they are the vehicles of God’s gospel and grace in a partnership between God and humanity.  They have to obey and go.  Still, this is God’s mission to rescue a lost world.  Like Peter, too often we wouldn’t choose to go where God sends.  We wouldn’t reach out to the people He chooses.  Leave it to God to broaden our horizons!

May we find the places in life where God has already been working.  May we set out to simply play the part that is needed next.

Lord, send us to the Corneliuses of our neighborhoods!

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Acts 7: Spirit-Filled People

Stephen amazes me.  Bloodthirsty men grab him.  The Sanhedrin is no guarantee of justice.  These proceedings can be every bit the Kangaroo Court they were with Jesus.  Yet, Stephen is firmly resolute.  He says what has to be said (v.51), knowing this will only sign his own death warrant.

How can he be this bold, this obedient?

We find the answer in verse 55:

“He, however, was filled with the holy spirit.”

“Being filled” is a major idea in Acts.  Nine times some significant character is said to be filled with the Spirit (the apostles at Pentecost, 2:4; Peter, 4:8; the believers that received Peter and John after they were rescued from prison, 4:31; the seven deacons, 6:3; Stephen, 6:5 and 7:55; the blind Saul, 9:17; Saul turned Paul, 13:9; and the disciples in Pisidian Antioch, 13:52).  To be filled with the Holy Spirit seems to mean having a deep connection to the Holy Spirit, open to the work of the Spirit, known for possessing the fruit of the Spirit, especially joy and faith.  As this Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9) we should expect that a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit will be much like Jesus.

This point is brought home in a special way in the story of the stoning of Stephen.  Stephen is being pelted by rocks.  Death is drawing closer, and Stephen says two things:

Lord Jesus,” he cried out, “receive my spirit.” (7:59b)

Lord, don’t let this sin stand against them.” (7:60b)

Sound familiar?  That’s right.  These are two of the seven things Jesus said while on the cross.  Stephen is truly a man like Jesus, filled with the Savior’s very Spirit.

Five times in Acts, though, we read of other options for “filling.”  Ananias’ heart was filled with “Satan” (5:3).  The high priest and Sadducees who arrest the apostles for preaching in Jerusalem were “filled with jealousy” (5:17).  Bitterness filled the heart of Simon the Sorcerer (8:23).  Elymas the sorcerer from Cyprus was “full of all kinds of deceit and trickery” (13:10).  Seeing the success of Paul and Barnabas, the Jews in Pisidian Antioch were “filled with jealousy” (13:45).

One way or another, we will be filled.  With what do we want it to be?

Lord, fill us up until we overflow!   

 

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Acts 4: Giving to One Another

There was no needy person among them. (4:34a)

Really?

No one among the first few thousand Christians in Jerusalem had material needs?

Christians can’t say that today.  Of course, there are many times more Christians today than there was back then, and in many more impoverished areas of the world.  Still, that is an incredible claim.  Oh, for that to be true today!

How was that possible?  We have part of the answer if we back up a few sentences:

Nobody said that they owned their property; instead, they had everything in common. (4:32b)

This is the thinking that makes the lack of need possible: the realization that the material blessings that come our way are not our own.  We are stewards of God’s possessions.  We are conduits not swimming pools — blessings come in order to flow through us and out, not be collected for our leisure.  I need a new mind in this regard.  The feeling that makes this kind of radical care for the community of believers is in the sentence before this one:

The company of those who believed had one heart and soul. (4:32a)

A solidarity of spirit.  A unified soul.  A deep kindredness that has knit people together as one.  When that happens how could we let our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer in need?  I need a new heart in this area too.

Maybe that is the secret.  In only three chapters since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have seen a sea change in these disciples.  They have a new understanding they did not have before.  They are now becoming known for harnessing extraordinary power to heal.  In this chapter especially we have seen a boldness they certainly didn’t have two months before.  Now they possess a sacrificial love for each other.  How did they do it?

They didn’t.  The Holy Spirit came upon them in a deeply transforming way.  Their new mind and the new heart came from above.

Come Holy Spirit and give us radical, giving love for each other!

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Acts 2: They Begin to Get It

This is such an incredible chapter!

I don’t say that because I have been programmed to by my religious tradition that has exalted this chapter since the beginning of the Restoration Movement almost 200 years ago.  They often championed this chapter as a blueprint for receiving Christ in a particular way.  That is certainly in here, but that kind of reductionism misses the point.

Acts 2 is a sunburst of spiritual power.  The original Great Awakening.  It is the start of something new, though it was spoken of  long ago (Acts 2:16-21).  So many things we have been seeing are coming together here, and so many things will launch out from here.  The Celts would have called this one of those “thin places” where heaven touches earth in an explosion of energy, awareness, ability, and change.  Now that is a reason to exalt a chapter!

Amongst other points, this chapter is so wonderful because the apostles finally begin to get this kingdom Jesus has been talking about.

  • They begin to see that “Death” is the real enemy that has to be vanquished not Rome, and that the battle was waged on a cross and in a tomb not in Judea (2:24, 27, 31-32)
  • They were able to grasp that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to David to have a descendent on the throne, but that this was a different sort of throne (2:30-31)
  • They boldly claimed that “Jesus is Lord” (2:36) instead of saying “Caesar is Lord,” a common cry by the AD 60s when Acts was written if not in the AD 30s when the actual events took place.  Somehow it was possible for Jesus to be Lord even while Caesar was on a throne.
  • They were understanding that the greatest tyranny comes at the hands of Sin, and the greatest freedom is from this enemy (2:38, 40, 47)
  • They were switching from a worldview that said Israel is our most important allegiance to seeing the fledgling collection of Jesus-followers as the Great Community (2:42-47)

Notice, they didn’t really get it in Acts 1.  Now they begin to in Acts 2.  What changed?  What happened?  The only thing that changed was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God.  God is changing them from the inside out.

Let your Spirit come!  Fall upon us now!

What spoke to you anew in this very familiar chapter?  

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