Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This Is God Speaking...

Jesus said the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, will "teach us all things" and "lead us into truth."  So, how does the Holy Spirit communicate?  How do we know what he is saying? 
Let's take a brief (not complete by any means) look.

Luke seems to have a keen interest in the Holy Spirit, as his gospel account has more to say about the Spirit's work than Matthew or Mark, and nearly as much as John. The book of Acts, probably also written by Luke, describes the Spirit about 60 times, leading the new church just as Jesus said he would.  Quite a few times, someone is said to be "filled with" or "full of" the Holy Spirit, and that leads to some kind of proclamation of God's will.  In Acts 8:29, the Holy Spirit communicates very specifically to Philip, "Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”  In Acts 10, Cornelius has a vision of an angel, and the Holy Spirit speaks to Peter, saying "I have sent" the men who came for him.  In Acts 16, the Spirit leads a group in several ways:  he "prevented them" from preaching in one place; "did not allow them" to go another place; and then Paul had a vision calling them to Macedonia (modern Greece).  So we have several different modes of communication in these chapters.  We may safely assume that the Spirit continues to communicate with us in the same ways.  The Spirit also "breathed" the words of Scripture as we read in 2 Tim. 3:16 and we trust the words of the Bible as it has come to us, to be the words of God.

Words, impressions, pictures, the Scripture, and the words of other Christians, are all part of the Spirit's communication to us.  Then, how do we tell if something is coming from God, rather than just an impression, or a false message?  We are cautioned by the apostle John that we should "not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God" (1 John 4:1).  That testing includes a right understanding of the Bible, and comparing the idea or message to the mind of Christ.  Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:13) so any prompting or message we receive from the Holy Spirit will point to Christ (John 15:26) and not encourage strife or division, but work toward harmony. 

This just the briefest overview, and not even a complete one, of the Spirit's methods of communicating to us.  But the point is, the Spirit does communicate, as he is the mind of Christ in us.  So, we should ask God to speak to us, expect to receive direction from him, and be open and receptive to what he has to say.  And then, of course, be obedient!  But that's a discussion for another day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Holy Spirit of the Love of God

Do you live every day with worry and fear over what disaster of money, health, or relationship might happen to you next?  Do you fret over politics, international tensions and the threat of famine, weather or disease?  If so, you've not yet recognized the power of the Holy Spirit to help you live by love.  

Paul's words in Romans 5:1-2 tell us how sure we can be about our place with God:  "Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God ...Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory."  By his grace -- not by our effort -- God has forgiven us our sins, brought us into his household, and given us peace with him.   

But when trials and setbacks come, when plans don't work out, then can I worry?  No, says Paul:  "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation" (Rom. 5:3-4).  Rejoice?  The church in Rome was being persecuted for believing in Jesus.  The saints were often being fed to the lions, and Paul wanted them to think spiritually, to look forward to eternity, and not give up their faith.  

The Christians in Rome -- and we today -- can rejoice and endure and hope only through the Spirit's power.   Romans 5:5 tells us "For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love."  If we are constantly being reminded of "how dearly God loves us," how can we lapse into fear about the next five minutes, or about coming days or years?  If we continue to fear, it's because we are not surrendering to that total reassurance from the Holy Spirit in us. 

If you're still living in fear instead of love, how about setting aside some time to read scripture and ask God, with all your energy, to help you see what Romans 5:5 means for you?  Get away from every other distraction, and let the Spirit teach you to trust that God loves youThat will change you from a worrier to a warrior! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit

I come from a tradition that didn't emphasize the Spirit's work except as extra power we used to avoid sin.  But the more I study, the more I realize that sin-avoidance only one small part of what the Spirit is about.  The "Third Person of the Trinity" as the Spirit is called by theologians, is the mind
and will of God living in each of us.  Notice Jesus' words in John 14:  the Spirit "leads into all truth" (John 14:17), is actually God-in-us (same verse), brings Jesus to be "in us" (John 14:20), presents the mind and will of Jesus to his followers and "he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you" (John 14:26).  That's an intimate, and very important, set of roles. 

If you have a friend or business associate who is this involved in your life, how constant is that relationship?  You'll be communicating many times every day, in every possible way:  phone, fax, email, text, Facebook, face-to-face; and spending as much energy as possible to understand that person, to strengthen that bond (now, read that again in terms of your husband or wife...).  The Holy Spirit gives us that communication with God.  He does not draw attention to himself -- Jesus said the Spirit would not "speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard" in John 16:13 -- but it is the Spirit's work, prompting and reminding and illuminating us, that tells us the heart of God.  So it's natural for Paul to describe this relationship as "fellowship" in 2 Cor. 13:14.  

Romans 8 tells us that "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you...For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children."  There is a non-physical, soul-level connection between us and our Creator.  When the Holy Spirit activates that connection, drawing us to God, we experience a yearning for God, and a growing love for him, that we did not recognize before.  And that connection, drawing us to respond in love, draws us to do the will of God.  James tells us to avoid the spiritual adultery of being a "friend of the world," because God is drawing us like a lover to himself:  "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us."  So we ought to be responding to God's constant call, hearing his Spirit's voice singing to us, and in contrast, turning a deaf ear to the lure of sin.   

So how can we be more aware of this constant communication?  By taking time for silence and stillness; prayer; studying the Bible; by fellowship with other Spirit-led people; and using the other spiritual disciplines to ask God intently for direction at every opportunity.  By daily practice, we can recognize the guidance of the Spirit.  Being guided by him should become habitual rather than occasional.  I need that habit more than I have it, and my guess is, so do you, dear reader.  So let's continue the journey together, following the lead of the faithful Spirit of God. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Freedom of the Holy Spirit

This week, Americans celebrate the official declaration of our nation's independence from our mother country, England.  (For some in England, because of the trouble the colonists were causing and the loss of a certain small amount of tea
in Boston Harbor, July 4 became known as "Good Riddance Day" but that's a discussion for another time.)  They were free!  That freedom, of course, led to setting up a new government with a whole new set of laws, taxes and so forth.  But were they still free?  Yes!  And is there a parallel to spiritual life? Yes!  

Once the new American nation was born, we were no longer under English law but under a new set of laws created for this new country. Many principles were the same, but the source and the expression were different.

By rough analogy, that's the case with Christians.  We are summoned into a spiritual relationship with God. "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death" says Paul in Romans 8, verse 1.  He continues:  God sent his Son to live in our flesh and sacrificially cover our guilt, so that "the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit."  God accepts us because of Jesus, not because we try really hard to obey and only fail most of the time.  We are in a "new land" of grace, set free by Jesus (Luke 4:17-19), and led by the Holy Spirit rather than a list of rules. 

Salvation is like immigrating to this new land:  it's coming to know, accept and live in our Father's love and acceptance of us through Jesus.  Our new spiritual relationship with God frees us to change our thinking and ways:  "For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image" (2 Cor. 3:17-18).  That freedom in the Spirit leads us to love others rather than serve self, as Galatians 5:13 says:  "Don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love."  When we serve someone, we grow in God's love; and as we grow in God's love, we learn to serve others.

Free?  Yes, you really are free -- free from your addiction to self, in all its ugly expressions. Free from guilt and shame. Free to let the Holy Spirit push you into loving somebody without expecting something back. Free to know God loves you and is showing you how to love others. Why not celebrate by thanking God, and asking him who you can love for him today?