Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.PleasantGrove.cc Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Holy Spirit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holy Spirit. Show all posts

Monday, May 4, 2020

God the Holy Spirit


The Trinity
Yesterday was such a beautiful day and I had a chance to enjoy it.  I spent the day working outside.  I'd work for a bit and then sit down and rest for a while.  The sun was out and the temperature was perfect.  A gently breeze blew through the tree leaves making them wave at the crystal clear blue sky while the birds and bees sang their songs.  Trying to describe it to you, words fail.

People have used songs and poems to try to describe a beautiful day and some have come close, but none can perfectly capture it.  Human language isn't capable.  If we struggle to describe a beautiful day, how can we ever hope to use feeble human words to describe God?  It’s impossible.  But God wants to be known and He wants us to try. So we do.

In the sixth century, the Church, trying to describe the Trinity formed the Athanasian Creed.  Part of that creed says:
 …we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
    neither blending their persons
    nor dividing their essence.
        For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
        the person of the Son is another,
        and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
        But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
        their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.

    What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
        The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
        The Father is immeasurable, the Son is immeasurable, the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.
        The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Spirit is eternal.

            And yet there are not three eternal beings; there is but one eternal being.
            So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
            there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.

Do you see how inadequate words are to describe our triune God?  



A Picture of the Trinity
Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Somewhere about the 12th century, someone created a picture that tried to symbolize the nature of God.  It is called the "Shield of the Trinity" or "Shield of Faith" (Scutum Fedei).  In the picture, we see that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God; but the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.  There is One God, three persons, not three Gods.  Still confusing?  I know.  God is infinite and so far beyond the ability of our finite mortal minds to comprehend, but we try.

Today, I want to share a bit about the third person of the Trinity—God the Holy Spirit.  Jesus told His disciples that after He ascended to Heaven to be with the Father, he would send the Holy Spirit.

John 14:15-17
15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

Jesus Promised the Holy Spirit as a Gift to Everyone Who Loves Him.
Do you love Jesus? Well of course, most people reading a Christian blog like this would say they love Jesus.  However, Jesus gave us a way to test our love.  Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”  Love is not a feeling; it's an action.  Jesus gave us commands and says if we love him, we will obey him. 

What were some of Jesus commands?  Well, the most important were to love God and love your neighbor.  Most religious people would say they love God.  Scripture says you can't claim to love God (who is invisible) if you don't love people (who you can see).  And Jesus also referenced the Ten Commandments (originally found in Exodus) that were given my God to Moses on Mount Sinai.  You know these--Do not worship any god's except the Lord; do not make idols of any kind; do not murder, steal, or bear false witness...  Jesus said we should obey these.  But he went further than most.  He said if you even hate someone you have committed murder in your heart.  And if you lust, you have committed adultery in your heart.  And who hasn't done this?  Obviously, we need a lot of grace. And Jesus gives it. But grace is not an excuse.  If we love Jesus, we will do our best to obey his commands.

And Jesus said "Be my witnesses..."  Some people say that religion is a private mater, that you should go around telling people about your faith in Jesus.  That's not what Jesus said.  In fact, he commanded us to "Go into all the the world and make disciples of Jesus, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  (See Matthew 28).  And Jesus said, "If you love me, obey my commandments.

Everyone who loves and follows Jesus will receive the Holy Spirit.

What is the Holy Spirit Like?
The Holy Spirit is eternal.  He was God in the creation as God's Spirit hovered over the water and God created the earth.  The Holy Spirit was with the Israelites during the Exodus as they traveled through the wilderness toward the Promised Land.  The Holy Spirit fo God would descend upon the Tabernacle as a cloud of smoke by day and a cloud of fire by need.  When the Spirit of God moved, the Israelites would pack of their Tabernacle and move with God, following His Spirit.  Through out the Bible, prophets spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, such as Isaiah who refers to the Holy Spirit in Isaiah 63 and how when people disobey God, it grieves His Holy Spirit.  And of course, then the Holy Spirit descended upon the New Testament Church in Acts 2, like tongues of fire above their heads, and filled them with power to preach the Goods News about Jesus our Lord.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit “…leads into all truth.” (John 14:17).  

Jesus said the Holy Spirit is an Advocate.  The original Greek word in the Gospel of John is “Parakletos”.  It means something like “the one who’s called to your side to comfort you and help you and fight for you.”  That’s who the Holy Spirit is.  It’s God’s Spirit who’s on your side.  Isn’t that an amazing idea!

The Holy Spirit is spirit, not physical.  Jesus, while he walked the earth, had a physical body just like you and me.  In other words, he could only be in one place at a time.  We understand this because we are physical beings with physical bodies.  Spirit is another sort of reality that is different from the physical.  During this time of the COVID 19 pandemic, people are taking the necessary precaution of social distancing to help control the spread of the illness.  However, there is also a great spirit of fear that has descended upon many in our world, a fear that drives people to panic and buy all the toilet paper so there's none left for anyone else.  And even if you are not a person prone to fear, if you watch enough hyped up, sensational news programming, the fer can start to permeate you.  A spirit of fear (or anything) can seep through walls and protective clothing and soak right into your soul.  That is the nature of a spirit.

We sometimes read about evil spirits in the New Testament that caused people to foam at the mouth or be violent or act crazy and do terrible things.  These people, it says, were "possessed" by an evil spirit.  These evil spirits seeped inside them and cause them to act out the evil spirit's nature.  I'm so thankful the Holy Spirit is not like that.  The Holy Spirit is “holy” and “good” and “pure”.  God is love and the Holy Spirit is love.  And when God's Holy Spirit seeps inside you, it makes you Holy and good and pure.

Look at how Jesus acted. He did good things and he was holy.  And Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to do everything the Father wanted Him to do.  So we can see how the Holy Spirit is good too and acts like Jesus did.

The Holy Spirit bears fruit in our lives.  And we can perceive what the Holy Spirit is like from the kinds of spiritual fruit He produces.  Galatians 5:22-23 tells us “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  The fruit that any tree produces indicates the character of the tree.  And the fruit of the Holy Spirit shows us the the Spirit is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

And the Holy Spirit is full of power too.  The Spirit empowered the early Christians to overcome incredible odds to spread the Good News about Jesus Christ all over the world.  The very people who started out determined to kill Christians and wipe them off the face of the earth, soon found that they themselves were being convicted by the Holy Spirit and repenting of their sin and turning to Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit has the power to do that--to take an enemy and turn them into thebest of friends.

All who follow Jesus are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Some perform miracles. Some offer healing.  Some speak the truth boldly.  Some lead.  Some have incredible faith.  Some lead.  Some are exceptionally loyal.  All are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  And here’s what Jesus said about those who are led by the Holy Spirit.  John 14:12 - “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”  Isn’t that amazing!  You can do great things than Jesus, the Son of God, did!

The Holy Spirit is not limited by space the way physical beings are.  You see, while Jesus was on earth in the flesh with his disciples, he could only be in one place at a time.  That's why he could not be with his friend, Lazarus, when he was sick.  Jesus was not with Lazarus because he was in another place with his disciples.  He couldn't be in both places at once and Lazarus died.  Jesus had to visit his tomb four days later to raise Lazarus.  However, the Holy Spirit is not limited by the laws of the physical world and can be everywhere at once.  The Holy Spirit is in me and can also be in you and a million other people all at the same time! That’s how we can outdo Jesus, because there are so many more of us and there was on one Jesus.  And when we are directed by the Holy Spirit, we each have the power of Jesus in us and can be working the same miracles as Jesus.  And when we all work together as the Body of Christ it is incredible!

The Holy Spirit is always on the move.  We see this characteristic in the Old Testament as the Holy Spirit led the Israelites by descending on and ascending from the Tabernacle (which was a portable temple).  The Spirit was leading them to move through the wilderness toward a Promised Land.  And in Acts, we see the Holy Spirit leading Christians to spread the Good News about Jesus to the ends of the earth.

Who’s in the Driver Seat?
My grandma was a very devote Christian. She had a passion for sharing Jesus with everyone, everywhere she went. One day when I was a boy, she couldn't wait to show me one way she was going to do it. She took me outside and showed me the front of her car. She was so proud she bought a license plate that said "God is My Co-Pilot". And she was so proud of that; she wanted everyone to know. That is, until one day when the preacher came to visit and she proudly showed him. And he said, "Mrs. Wingo, I've got a problem with that. If God is your co-pilot, you're in the wrong seat. God wants to be the pilot, not the co-pilot." So the next time I saw her, she took me out and showed me the front of her car and she had taken a marker and scratched through the prefix so it read "God is my Pilot".

God the Holy Spirit wants to be the pilot of your life, but he won't push you out of the pilot's seat unless you ask Him. The Holy Spirit never forces Himself upon us. The Holy Spirit only comes by invitation and consent. Do you recall the Christmas story where the angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her that God chose her to bear God’s Son? The angel said in Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” But the Holy Spirit did not force himself upon Mary. The Holy Spirit did not possess her until Mary gave her consent. Luke 1:38 - Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

When my wife and I drive on long trips, we take turns driving. I will drive a little ways until I get tired (or she gets tired of my driving) and then we will switch. Then, Kelly will drive until she gets tired (or I get tired of her driving) and then we will switch again.  Some of you never let anyone else drive.  You won't get in a car unless your hands are on the steering wheel.  Maybe you have to be in control or maybe you're afraid to let anyone else drive.  But I'm here to tell you, when it comes to life, you’ve got to get out of the driver’s seat and let the Holy Spirit take over.  You will never be able to get where God wants you to go safely unless you let the Holy Spirit be the driver.

Closing
So if you've never decided to follow Jesus, I hope you will today.  If you love Jesus, obey his commandments.  He will forgive all your sins and make you right with God.  Then you will receive the Holy Spirit and He will never leave you and will lead you into all truth.  Let the Holy Spirit take over your life.  You will never a better life than one directed by God's Holy Spirit.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Encouragement


Introduction 
We’ve been studying how the power of God transforms all believers through the Holy Spirit so that we in turn can help transform each other and the whole world.  The Holy Spirit everyone who follows Christ as Lord a special gift.  Romans 12:6-8 tells us tells us the Holy Spirit gives some the gift of Prophecy, others the gift of Serving, or Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, or Kindness.  Today, we will consider the spiritual gift of encouragement.  The Word of God tells us how to encourage one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:14
14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

Encouragement
Preaching is so enlightening for me.  I learn so much.  Today’s message is a perfect example.  I’m 45-years-old and in all this time, I never really thought very deeply about encouragement.  But preparing and preaching a sermon challenges me every week to look deeply into things I otherwise would have taken for granted.  The concept of encouragement is a perfect example.

What is encouragement?  The Greek word the New Testament uses is parakaleo.  Some versions translate it exhort.  Exhort is an outdated word people don’t use much anymore.  (I always have to look the word exhort up to remember what it means).  So a lot of new translation use the word encouragement.  But encouragement seems too easy that just makes me think of cheering someone on.  Cheering people on is only part of what the New Testament means when it talks about encouragement.  The spiritual gift of parakaleo (or exhorting or encouragement) is much more broad than just cheering people on and making them feel better. 

Parakaleo/exhorting/encouraging means to invite, invoke, beseech, call for, comfort, or intreat.  It's a kind of encouragement, but it's more like what a good football coach does.  Think of a football team with all the players having different personalities and problems.  Each player needs a different kind of “encouragement” from their coach.  One player is being lazy and needs the coach to bark at them, “Johnson!  Get off your butt and get to work!”  Another player is discouraged because they made a stupid mistake.  The coach says to them, “Shake it off Taylor.  Forget about it.  You’ve got this.”  Another player has a serious injury and is out of the game and the coach kneels with them and comforts them, “Don’t worry about it.  We’re gonna get you fixed.  You’ll be as good as new by next week.” 

A good coach “encourages” each player according to exactly what they need.  But always, a good coach is also thinking about the bigger picture and leading the whole team in their mission.  His words and actions are meant to drive the team forward toward victory.

Well, football is great, but the Church is on a mission from God.  We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the whole world.  And for this purpose, the Holy Spirit has given some Christians the special ability to encourage “the team” (the Church).  The gift of encouragement is the ability to inspire, admonish, embolden, and support others so that they are strengthened in resolve, faith and spirit.  The gift of encouragement is not so much about making people feel better as cheering them on in the right direction to do what God is calling us to do.  It is a motivational type of encouragement.

You want to know something really cool?  In the New Testament, the Greek word for the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete.  It’s the Greek word for Helper or Encourager.  So if you have the spiritual gift of encouragement, you are doing the very work of the Holy Spirit of God!  That’s just cool!  It’s like you’re a little holy spirit walking around getting people fired up to do God’s work!

Slide – Tips for Encouragers
Now let me give a few tips for all the little holy spirits in the room—the encouragers and exhorters. 

First of all, get to work!  We need you!  We need you to offer your encouragement.  All Christians ought to try to encourage one another.  But those who have the spiritual gift of encouragement can have a powerful influence on the Church.  Your words and actions get us fired up.  They motivate us to do the Lord’s work.  So speak up.  Offer your encouragement.  It really makes a difference!

Second, ground yourself in the Word, the Bible.  God gives some people the ability to teach—to offer facts and figures and knowledge about God’s story in the Bible.  (We talked about the spiritual gift of teaching last week.)  But exhorters/encouragers are practical teachers who emphasis getting things done rather than just knowledge for knowledge's sake.  Teachers says, “This is how you should live.”  encouragers says, “I will help you to do it.”  So encouragers need to know the Bible so they can help people live the Bible’s teaching.  (One of the best partnerships is between Teachers and encouragers.  The Teacher shows the deep meanings of the Bible to the encourager and then the encourager helps people put it all into practice to accomplish God’s mission.)

Third, plug in to ministry.  Find ways to put your encouraging gift into practice.  People with the spiritual gift of encouragement make great counselors, Sunday school teachers, pastors, deacons, people who visit shut-ins or people in the hospital.  If your spiritual gift is encouragement, get some training in one of these ministries and then get to work!
  
Lastly, go deep.  Be careful that your encouragement is more than just superficial cheeriness.  You know what I mean?  Yes, sometimes people just need a cheerful word and smile.  But other times, they need a kick in the butt!  And if they need a kick in the butt and you just give them a cheerful word, you’ve not helped.  You might have made the situation worse.  So make sure your encouragement caries the full strength of this remarkable gift.  Let God lead you to be honest and truly helpful as you provoke people to be all that God wants them to be.

Monday, May 6, 2019

"I'm on Fire!" - Things You Can't Say in Church (but you should)


Introduction
I’m preaching a series of sermons called, “Things you can’t say in church (but you should)”.  And I want to emphasize that last little part that’s in parentheses – (But You Should).  You see these are things that a lot of people think or feel you shouldn’t say in church, but you absolutely should.  Don’t ever let someone convince you not to say these things in church.  You must say them.  Even more, you must live them out.  They must be a core part of who you are.  Genuine Christianity is not about being respectable or dignified.  Do you think if the trumpets of Heaven blew with a mighty blast and the roof of this sanctuary were ripped away and the Holy Presence of God descended upon us that anyone would remain dignified, reserved, and respectable?  No.  You would probably turn into a blubbering idiot either fearing for your miserable life or else be overcome with immense love and admiration for your God.  But none of us would be respectable or dignified.  But there are still many who feel going to church means you must be respectable and dignified and that you can’t say certain things in church.  And I say that’s ridiculous. 

Last week, I shared how a lot of people think you can't say, "I'm broken" in church.  But I say, you you should; you absolutely should.  It's essential, because Jesus came to heal the broken.  And if you ain't broken, Jesus can't fix you.  The truth is, we're all broken.  We just need to admit it, repent, and let Jesus heal us.

I’ve got another one today:  “I’m on fire!”  Now what does it mean to be on fire in the church?  I’m talking about people who are full of passion and fire for the Lord.  A lot people are annoyed or afraid of people who are on fire for the Lord.  They just want everyone to come to church and sit down and be quiet—to be dignified and respectable and not stir up any controversy.  Just be a good boy or girl.  But Jesus wants us all to be on fire.  I know this because it’s foretold throughout the Bible.

John the Baptist foretold it in Matthew 3:11.  He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  And Jesus said in Luke 12:49 - “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!"  And then, in Acts 2:1-4 we see how the Church was filled with the Holy Spirit’s fire.

Acts 2:1-4
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The Church on Fire
Pentecost is an annual Jewish festival.  It is also the day Christians celebrate the birth of the Christian Church.  This year, Pentecost falls on June 9.  In this story, the faithful followers of the resurrected Jesus (which is the Church) were all gathered in the Temple in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit set them on fire.  I don’t mean that they were literally set ablaze.  What I mean is the Holy Spirit filled them with passion and power to serve the Lord.  The passion and power were so vibrant it even looked as if tongues of fire were dancing above their heads.  And these people began speaking in other languages so that anyone who was gathered in the Temple from all over the world could hear these “on fire” Christians sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ in their very own language. 

Acts 2:13 says, “Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”  Isn’t that a typical response of many religious people who are frightened or annoyed when they see someone else in worship who has a little too much passion for God?  They start scoffing and say, “They’re just showing off,” or “They’re mentally unbalanced,” or “They’re just a religious fanatic.”  Some people think you can’t say “I’m on fire!” in church.  But I say, you should; you must!  Because the Church Jesus established is filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit!

“Awe come on, preacher!”  You say, “That’s just stuff that happened in the Bible.  That don’t happen anymore.”  Is that so?  Are we not the same Church today as they were then?  Is not the same Jesus still our Lord?  Are not those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior still filled with the Holy Spirit?  Is not the Holy Spirit that fills us the same Holy Spirit that filled these believers in Acts Chapter 2 on the Day of Pentecost?  I say it is.  God has not changed.  The only thing that’s changed is your belief. 

Some think God and power and miracles and real faith was something that happened long ago.  Some think God is some distant deity who lives far away and is not actively involved in our world anymore.  I say, "No sir!  He is here, right here, right now." I say God still pours out His Holy Spirit fire on anyone who does not pretend to be too dignified and respectable or uninterested to receive Him.  We are called to be a Church full of people who gladly proclaim, “I’m on fire!”

What Does It Mean to Be On Fire?
We can see what if means to be on fire in the church.  All we have to do is look at these believers in Act 2.  There are three main things we see.  

First of all, these “on fire” Christians loved God with all their heart, all their mind, all their soul, and all their strength.  They were wholeheartedly and completely committed to Jesus Christ.  And why shouldn’t they be?  The religious leaders in Jerusalem arrested their Jesus, brutally beat him, crucified him, and buried him.  But on the Third Day, Jesus Christ rose from the grave!  And everyone who truly believes Jesus Christ is no longer dead, realizes there is nothing in this world more important than following Jesus Christ with your whole heart.  These believers may have been afraid the religious leaders who killed Jesus would try to kill them.  But they didn’t let that fear keep them away.  Their faith in Jesus Christ was more important than anything else.

Second, we see that these “on fire” Christians in Acts loved their neighbor as themselvesFor as soon as the Holy Spirit set them on fire, they began to preach the Good News about Jesus Christ to everyone around them.  Some might think they would be angry and retaliate.  Some might wonder that they didn’t scream, “You killed my Lord Jesus and you’re gonna pay!”  Some might think they would use the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn up the wicked religious leaders of Jerusalem for their terrible rebellion against God.  But they didn’t do any of that.  Instead, they realized we are all broken sinners who deserved to be burned up by the fire of God, but instead God loves us and sent His Son to save us, not destroy us.  And so these on fire Christians in Acts 2 use the power of the Holy Spirit to speak in all the languages of the people gathered for worship in Jerusalem so that everyone can hear and understand that Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation.  They speak, because they know God has loved them and they offer the same love to everyone—even their enemies—hoping that all will repent of their sins and turn to God and be forgiven and become “on fire” Christians just like them.  And many of them repent and turn to Jesus.  Acts 2:41 says 3,000 new people repented of their sins and started following Jesus Christ that day.  It is incredible what happens when a few Christians get set on fire!

And there is a third thing we see.  Slide – These “on fire” Christians became a family.  Acts 2:42-47 says:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

You see, their fellowship—their being together, learning together, praying together, working together, worshiping together, eating together—became the most important thing in their life.  And their love for one another was proof to everyone, everywhere that there was something special and powerful happening.  And more and more people started turning to Jesus Christ to be saved.

Say "I'm on Fire!"
So don’t ever let anyone discourage you from saying “I’m on fire!” in Church.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would set you on fire—set us all on fire—that we might be filled with passion and power to be true believers of Jesus Christ—the continuation of the Church described in the book of Acts.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Vandalizing Lady Liberty


Introduction
            This is the last in this series of blogs about true freedom as Paul shared in his Epistle to the Galatians.  Christ has set us free! Free from the impossible burden of trying to be perfect so as to please God. Free from the fear that God does not love us, or will not love us, or will ever stop loving us. Free to love others just like God loves us through Jesus Christ.
            The title of this blog is "Vandalizing Lady Liberty".  The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom to people all over the world. But did you know it has been vandalized many times?  Recently, a group protesting Trump hung a banner on the statue saying, “Refugees welcome.”  Others, over the years, have used spray paint to damage the monument—for no good reason at all other than meanness.  Who would do such a thing?
            Well, we have to be careful we do not vandalize the freedom Christ won for us on the cross.  Some have said that because Christ won forgiveness for our sins on the cross, we can live however we want.  I know of a husband who said something like that to his wife when she reproached him for his unchristian behavior.  He actually said, he could do whatever he wanted because Christ had already forgiven him!  Others may not say as much, but they live that way.  We have a term called a "sinning baptist" to describe someone who appears all holy on Sunday morning at church, but sins like the Devil Monday through Saturday.  
             Is this true? Does our freedom in Christ give us a license to live however we please--to sin as much as we like without fear of judgment from God? This is the subject of this final blog about freedom from the letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 5:16-23
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians 5:16 - A Verse Full of Meaning
            Verse 16 is packed full of meaning.  It says: “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”  So what does that tell us?  First of all, it says the Holy Spirit will guide you.  Everyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them.  This is the same spirit that has no beginning and no end--the Spirit is infinite.  And God's Holy Spirit lives inside those who put their faith in Christ and speaks to us and guides in how to live righteously before God.
            However, verse 16 also reminds us we still have a sinful nature.  And our sinful natures craves the wrong stuff.  So, there is a war within us.  The Holy Spirit guides us to do the right thing, but our old sinful nature urges us to do the opposite.  Before we trust in Christ, we are powerless to fight our sinful nature.  In fact, Scripture tells us we are enslaved to it.  However, Galatians 5:16 lets us know that Christ won your freedom from the power of sin.  It no longer has the power to control us if we listen and obey the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, you have to listen to the Holy Spirit instead of your sinful nature.

How Do I Know if I’m Following the Holy Spirit or My Sinful Nature?
            Galatians 5:19-21 says, When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.”
            Notice, these are primarily issues of morality, based on God’s holy nature.  These are not civil codes about how to build a proper fence or what to do if a neighbor is gored by your ox.  Nor are these religious ceremonial laws about how to sacrifice or circumcision or what foods make you clean or unclean.  These are moral laws; some would argue (I would argue) they are universal laws.  Almost everyone—accept those whose conscious is seriously clouded—can agree that the immoral behaviors listed in verses 19-21 are unwholesome, unholy, and harmful to both individuals and the Body of Christ.  Anyone with a basic common sense would not want to go before the throne of God and brag that they had engaged in any of these behaviors.
            Now there is still an immature, sinful nature that lives inside us all that still craves these immoral things.  Now, maybe sexual immorality isn’t your vice (I don’t know).  But how many struggle with jealousy?  How many of you just want to vent your anger and really give somebody a piece of your mind from time to time?  How many of you are full of selfish ambition and feel tempted to compromise your integrity to get something you really want?  How many of us talk about how upset we are that America is so divided, and yet we eat up news stories that fan the flames of quarreling, dissension, and division?  (We might as well make a bowl of popcorn as we sit down to be "entertained" by it all.  You see, there is still a sinful nature in us all.  But you don’t have to follow it.  Jesus gave you the freedom to follow God’s Holy Spirit instead.

What happens when you follow the Holy Spirit?
            Galatians 5:22-23 says,But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”  Now, is there anything in that list that seems out of place?  Do you see anything that you would not like to have as part of your character?  Is there anything here that you feel would not be pleasing to God?  These are all virtues that bring healing and wholeness.  They make our world a better place.  They make our own lives more wholesome.  They draw us close to God—the source of Life. 
            The more you listen to and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit, the more these fruits become part of your life.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but through a lifetime of faithful cooperation with God’s Spirit, you find yourself become more and more like Christ—who exhibited all of these spiritual fruits perfectly and abundantly.

Repent and be Washed Clean of Sin
In closing, I want to return to the question I posed at the beginning:  Does our freedom in Christ give us a license to live however we please--to sin as much as we like without fear of judgment from God?  The clear answer is no! No, because it is not good for us.  No, because it is destructive to our spirit and to the Church Christ established.  No we cannot go on breaking the clear moral laws of God because it is an affront to our Holy God who sent His only begotten Son so that anyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  To take Christ’s death on the cross as a license to sin as much as we please would be worse than vandalizing the statue of liberty.  It would be infinitely worse than desecrating the American flag.  It would be like walking up to the foot of the cross, where the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God, who died to take away your sins hangs bleeding and dying, and pick up another nail and pound it into him while he cries out “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” 
            If that’s how you’ve been living, you can make a change today.  The mercy and love and grace of God through Jesus Christ is so infinite that even you can be forgiven today!  Won’t you fall on your knees before Christ today, say you’re sorry, and ask forgiveness?
            Or perhaps today, you want to start opening you ears to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  You want to let God's Holy Spirit produce more spiritual fruit in you--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness. amd self-control.  Pray to the Lord and ask Him to help you.
            Next week, I will begin a new series that looks at each of these spiritual fruits listed In Galatians 5:22-23.  I hope you will join me for the journey.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Babysitter

Introduction
            Babysitters are some of the most unsung heroes of our lives.  We have Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, even Grandparents' Day; don’t you think we should have a Babysitters' Day?  (Actually, there is!  Every year, the Saturday before Mothers' Day is Babysitters' Day!  Who knew?)
            I have 3 kids.  They were each spaced about four years apart.  That means we have had precious babysitters helping us manage spanning throughout our lives going all the way back to 1998--that's twenty years!  Since our youngest, Abigail, turned 11 this year, we have mostly moved
beyond babysitters (though we still need them occasionally when we are gone overnight).  Abigail is old enough and mature enough to stay at home alone for long periods of time by herself.  Plus, she has older siblings that are mature enough to supervise her (and can even drive her to school or church or other places if needed).
            That was not always the case for our family.  We couldn't have made it through without so many sweet and helpful people who pitched in to babysit our kids through the years.  Sometimes it was our family--grandmas, aunts, and uncles.  However, since we have usually lived to far away from family, it was more often our friends at church who stepped up to watch over our kids when we couldn't.
            Did you know that the Apostle Paul talked about babysitters in Galatians?  As he spoke about freedom to the Galatians, Paul likened the Old Testament Jewish Law to a babysitter watching over minor children.  Listen to what he said. 

Galatians 4:1-7
1Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

The Babysitter
The Apostle Paul originally used two greek words in verse 2 that the New Living Translation translates as guardians:  Epitropos and Oikonomos.  An Epitropos was a tutor for children.  An Oikonomos was a household manager whose duties would also include watching over children.  Families often used these tutors and managers as guardians or babysitters for minor children.  And, if the parents died, the epitropos and oikonomos would serve as guardians for minor children until they were old enough to live on their own.
            What is Paul talking about?  He’s talking about the function of the Old Testament Law in relationship to Christians.  Before Christ came, the Old Testament Law served as humanity’s spiritual babysitter.  What does a babysitter do?  Many things.  A babysitter keeps kids safe and keeps kids out of trouble.   A babysitter keeps kids safe from each other, keeps the house safe from the kids.  A really good babysitter might help kids with their homework or help them have fun or even comfort them if they miss their mommy or daddy.  Kids can sometime develop strong bonds with their babysitters.  Yet no matter how good a babysitter is, they are only a temporary substitute for the parents.  Children want and need their parents. 

Christ Freed Us for Adoption as God's Children
            There is another theme that Paul is teaching here.  There is the theme of adoption.  Before Christ, humanity was like an orphan with no spiritual Father.  Sin separated people from God.  They could not hear the voice of God's Spirit.   People were spiritual orphans.  The Law of the Old Testament serves like a babysitter in an orphanage to guard people who don't know Christ, to keep them out of trouble, to keep them safe, and keep them from hurting each other (or at least it tries).  But living in an orphanage is never the ideal, is it?  We want to be part of a family.
            What do you think of when you think of an orphanage?  The United Methodist Children's Home started out as an orphanage for children who'd lost their parents and had no one else to care for them.  Millions of children and families have benefitted from their care.  Parentless children is an even tougher problem in other parts of the world.  The Chinese government says there are about 600,000 orphans in their country.  China is filled with orphanages with children wanting and needing to be adopted.
            Whereas parents might hire a babysitter for a few hours, Orphans require guardians to watch over them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  A really good orphanage—like the UMCH—does their best to provide a safe, loving environment.  Unfortunately, even a good orphanage is a poor substitute for being part of a family.
            Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”  Isn’t that amazing!  All who place their faith in Jesus Christ have been adopted as God’s own children!
            Now, I have known several families who have adopted children.  Some adoptions came through mixed families--through a marriage, step children were adopted into a new family.  Other times, children started out in a foster care situation that turned into a permanent adoptions.  Other times, people specifically went out seeking to adopt a child who needed a family.  Some families who adopt already had children of their own, but the glorious truth is the children they adopted are loved and cared for just as much as their natural born children.
            Now if human parents—who are by nature flawed and imperfect—can love their adopted children just as much as their natural born kids, how much more can a perfect God love His adopted children—those who put their faith in Jesus Christ?  Isn’t it an amazing thought that God loves us just as much as He loves His Son Jesus?

Maybe It’s Time to Grow Up
            Young children need a guardian, a babysitter, to watch over them.  However, kids aren’t meant to stay children forever.  They are meant to grow up into mature adults who know right from wrong and choose to do the right thing.  Similarly, humanity was never meant to remain under the Law (our spiritual babysitter) forever.  We were meant to grow into mature spiritual beings.
            Before Christ came, people needed a babysitter to keep us in line.  However now, because of Christ, we can grow and mature.  If we trust in Christ and seek to follow him as our Lord, we don’t need a babysitter to keep us safe anymore.  With God’s help, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can know right from wrong and choose to do right.  We don’t need the Law to supervise us.  Everyone who put’s their faith in Jesus Christ has the Spirit of God living in them.  The Spirit guides us to do God’s will.  And so, now we can live—not as immature children who need a babysitter to keep them safe—but as mature adults who choose every day to follow Christ and love God and love our neighbor. 

How do you need to respond today?
            Maybe, you still feel like an orphan.  Maybe today, you would like to let God adopt you as His very own son or daughter—to know that God loves you just as much as He loves His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
            Maybe today, you realize you are a Christian, but you need to grow up and mature in the faith.  Perhaps, you need to move beyond a faith that merely relies on rules and religion to babysit you and keep you out of trouble.  Maybe today, you need to realize Jesus set you free so you could follow the Holy Spirit and live as mature sons and daughters of God.
            Maybe the Lord has spoken to you in another way.  I invite you to respond however the Spirit leads you.