Tuesday, May 26, 2009


On the day of Pentecost, back about 30 AD, dramatic events grabbed the attention of people in Jerusalem. A bunch of men and women in a house, probably near the temple, suddenly heard a sound like a 'mighty windstorm' and saw what looked like fire sprouting out of each others' heads. They were 'filled with the Holy Spirit' and started speaking in foreign languages. All three of those signs -- the wind, the fire and the languages -- were outward signs of what was happening inwardly: they were being filled with the Spirit of God.

The outward sign of speaking in foreign tongues was repeated at least twice more in the book of Acts, although the wind and fire were not recorded again. What's it all mean? Peter, the most outspoken of the apostles, interprets it for us: "What you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel", referring to Joel chapter 2. Peter continues telling people that Jesus, whom many had heard about the last few weeks in Jerusalem, was the Messiah, and that they need to repent and be baptized in Jesus' name (Acts 2:14-40).

Some teach that we need to experience this moment ourselves, to make sure we really have God's grace and power. But the major point that day was that God had brought his message of salvation into the world, and that this message was in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. The dramatic signs of the Spirit's entrance were to create attention for God's new offer in Jesus Christ, not to create a new avenue of relating to God. Jesus himself was that new avenue.

On the other hand, let's not mistake this: the Holy Spirit is important! His job, as Jesus himself said (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:5-15) is to bring glory to Jesus, teach what he hears from God, convict people of sin (first of all, of not believing in Jesus) and teach about righteousness and judgment. The Spirit brings us into fellowship with Jesus and the Father (2 Cor. 13:14), helps us to focus our thoughts on godly things (Romans 8:5-6), pray (Romans 8:26) and be reassured that we belong to God (Romans 8:16). Without the Spirit, we would have none of these.

So as we celebrate Pentecost, we can be grateful that God himself has adopted us as his children (Eph. 1:4-5) and now lives in us (John 14:15-23). The fact that we care about that, and want to know God more and more, is evidence that the Holy Spirit lives in us. The fruits of the Spirit in our renewed lives, and the gifts he gives for the work of the church, are also ample evidence that he is busy among us. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gifts!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Gift for You

Most of us like receiving gifts, whether for a special day or (maybe especially) for a non-special day. Besides God's gift of salvation, given to everyone through Jesus Christ -- see Romans 5:12-19 as one powerful passage -- what is the best gift he could give us? Jesus said that the Father desires to give us Holy Spirit, in Luke 11:13 -- "So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"

God keeps on giving. The Father sends us the Holy Spirit through the Son; the Holy Spirit, in turn, has specific gifts to give every one of us. In 1 Cor. 12, many gifts are listed: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretations, helps, administrations; and appointments to ministries such as apostles, prophets, and teachers.
(Other 'gift lists' are in Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Peter 4:9-11)

That means that God, who knows everything and everyone, has given you -- yes, you -- certain gifts or abilities. He wants each of us to understand which gifts we have and how we can put them to use in the world around us.

How do you know which gifts you have? There are several ways. You can take a 'gifts quiz' that helps point out areas of strength or passion. You can make a list of ways in which you've contributed in your family or community, or at work, and that list would start to show where your gifts are. Your friends and family could tell you if you have the list right, if they've seen you do things effectively (doing something well is a good indicator of a gift; it's like making it through the first round of American Idol, versus being booed off the stage).

And whatever gifts we have are to further the work of God, not for our personal gain. Paul says again in 1 Cor. 12:5, "
There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord." And to make sure we get the point, he follows these lists with 1 Cor 13, the Love Chapter; because loving is a lot more important than being important.

May God lead you to understand and to use the gifts he's given you, for his glory to increase.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Parakletos: Helping Alongside

Most of us have helped someone pick up something bulky or heavy. And when life itself is too heavy or awkward for us to handle alone, it's a blessing to have someone come alongside and help.

Jesus had been walking with the disciples for three years or so. He had been their teacher, encourager, and leader. He had taught them about the Father, about his work on the cross for our salvation, and many other topics. But he was about to leave them, and so he promised, in John 14:16, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you."

Here, to describe the Holy Spirit, Jesus uses the word 'parakletos'. That's a Greek word with no exact equivalent in English, but its usages in Greek literature include 'advocate,' such as in a court of law; 'counselor;' and 'comforter'. Some translations use the word "Encourager" or "Helper" to describe the concept Jesus was using, and those are okay too.

Jesus also used the word "another" here -- and the Greek word he used means "another of the same kind" not "another thing, something different." So even though he had to leave, he wasn't going to leave them alone; in fact in verse 18, he says "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."

Whenever the disciples got confused or afraid, they turned to Jesus for answers and help. Since he wasn't going to be with them bodily from then on, Jesus reassured them that the comfort, help and answers would still be with them. And as we read on in the New Testament, we see many times where the Holy Spirit spoke the mind of God to the church. We see the church gathering to pray and ask for assistance (Acts 1:14, 4:23-31, 12:12, 13:1-3, etc) and we see God answering their prayers by giving them understanding, instruction and encouragement by the Holy Spirit.

That same Holy Spirit lives in Christians today. We have Someone who will come alongside of us when life is too heavy, too bulky and too difficult for us (and that's pretty often, isn't it?). We are led, comforted, encouraged and instructed by His mind in us. We get to have the "mind of Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:16) so we can know "What would Jesus do?" and have the courage and faith to do it.

We don't have to travel the road alone, and we don't have to wonder if God will help us. He already has, and he always will: "...another Advocate, who will never leave you." Isn't that comforting, all by itself?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Flu

This H1N1 influenza, known commonly as the swine flu, has a lot of people worried, even scared. The Centers for Disease Control (US) has put out a lot of information on it, and the World Health Organization has mobilized to fight it. So what do we do? Wear a mask, stay home, shoot traveling salespeople who might be spreading it? (Obviously, at least one of these is an extreme, for the sake of humor.)

One of my colleagues suggested several points that we really can use, and I'm starting from his ideas here.

1. Strike a balance: don't panic, but don't ignore it either. Take prudent steps and then leave it in God's hands. Right now, there's no need to stay at home if you are well; but it would be prudent, when you go out, to avoid people who are coughing and sneezing -- the primary way this flu (like others) is spread. And if you or your child is sick, stay home.

2. Obey your mother's advice: cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing (with a hanky if you can) and then wash your hands. These two points are the main emphasis on the CDC's website. Wash your hands frequently, (I can hear my mom now, "You call those clean? Go back and start over!"). Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also useful. Don't touch your mouth, nose or eyes -- that's how the virus gets into you.

3. Be a calming presence around others. We know of our Father's love and care for us, so we can be confident even when things don't look as good outwardly as we'd like. That calm will be a blessing to those who are fearful.

4. Ask God what you can do to help others, even if they fall ill. Christians love others as Christ loved us, following the command of Jesus in John 13:34. It's said that during the bubonic plague that hit the Roman Empire during the 2nd Century AD, Christians stayed behind to nurse the sick whose own family had abandoned them. Many of those who were struck with the illness became Christians due to the example of their care-givers. We today can love the sick in practical ways, even without exposing ourselves to the illness, and it transmits the love of Christ to them.

Now there's a thought: people can get sick from a germ being transmitted to them. They can get Jesus in their lives from his love being transmitted to them. Which do you think will last longer and have a better effect? Let's give the gift that keeps on giving!

p.s. If you use the internet, you can go to www.cdc.gov/H1n1 for more information. As of today, they'll tell you the same things: cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, wash your hands often, don't touch your mouth, nose and eyes, and stay home if you're sick.