Romans 8:26-27 – The Prayer Helper

praying

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (NLT)

There are times when we are so distressed that we have difficulty forming any kind of words in prayer. There are seasons where our spirits are so sad and angry that our minds cannot focus enough for prayer. And there are events that come upon us unexpected and with such emotional impact that our souls feel pummeled and beat up to the point that all we can do is groan.

In recent days, I have found myself with just such feelings. Feeling the sheer weight of 100,000+ deaths due to COVID-19, as well as the literal weight of a Minneapolis police officer on the neck of George Floyd resulting in death have me groaning both inside and out. I am deeply concerned for my African American brothers and sisters and for the many grieving families, including my own encounters with them, who lament the loss of loved ones.

Yet, I am strangely and mystically warmed with the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence within me – because the Spirit takes my feeble sighs and silent sobs and himself groans before the Father. God feels what I feel and has both the mercy and the authority to do something about it. In my inability to voice prayer with any kind of erudition to the heavenly Father, the Spirit works with the simple grunting of my soul. Like a skillful translator of languages, the Holy Spirit effectively takes every heartfelt muttering and expresses a divine groan to the Father which perfectly expresses my raw and real intentions.

The Holy Spirit is an expert on knowing our concerns, knowing God’s will, and bringing the two in harmony with each other. 

Since the Spirit helps us in our weakness, we possess the confident expectation that we will not always be in this position. Meanwhile, we learn to slow down our breathing to receive the breath of the Spirit. We sit in silence, anticipating the gentle voice and refreshing breeze of the Spirit. We become versed in moving with new rhythms of rejoicing and groaning; praising and grieving; hope and lament; faith and agonizing patience. We discover that the Spirit is our ultimate essential service in an upside-down world. Above all, we tenaciously hold onto our imperfect prayers, confident that the Spirit will groan them in the ear of our gracious heavenly Father.

The Holy Spirit is the One who stands in the gap between where we are and where we need to be and intercedes for us, bridging the chasm and bringing us deliverance from our impatience.

One of the oldest definitions of prayer is this: Lifting mind and heart to God. Too often in our efforts to pray formally (both communally and privately) we fail to actually lift our hearts and minds to God because what is really inside us is not something we generally connect with prayer at all. Our frustrations, bitterness, jealousies, lusts, curses, sloth, and quiet despair are sometimes understood to be the opposite of prayer, as if they are things to be overcome so that we can then pray.

Prayer, however, is a conversation, a dialogue, in which we lay bare our deepest thoughts and emotions to a God who graciously receives them and responds in his good time. The great comfort of prayer is that when you cannot put words to it, God hears your heart. And with the Spirit animating those prayers, they never have an expiration date. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is our personal prayer helper.

So, may you know the merciful presence of God’s Holy Spirit this moment, throughout this day, and every day. And may that presence fulfill you, sustain you, and nurture you now and forever. Amen.

Romans 8:18-24 – Groaning Inwardly

depressed person

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? (NIV)

In the wake of the Day of Pentecost, Christians are mindful of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s power certainly brings strength and courage for witness and ministry. That same power is also found in the travails and tribulations of this life. Spiritual power can be discovered in the dark places of our lives, in the times of loneliness and doubt, and in the constant need for prayerful intercession.

The Spirit is both a mighty wind and a gentle breeze.

Perhaps you, like me, grieve the loss of over 100,000 Americans to the deathly enemy of COVID-19. Our collective lament is an awful groaning expression of our pain. We need the Holy Spirit! The good news of Pentecost is that when we are not powerful, the Spirit helps us in our weakness – that is our hope and our quiet strength.

In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Paul used the experience of childbirth to illustrate what the experience of the Christian life is often like. Growth, wonder, expectation, hope, patience, pain, and joy are all words to describe pregnancy and childbirth. When it comes to the Church and the Christian life, we are in the gestation period. Our salvation has not yet come to full term. Meanwhile, we must remain encouraged and healthy, keeping our future hope always in front of us so that we will not lose heart. When we are limited in what we can do and where we can go, we pray. And there are times when we are flat on our backs, overwhelmed with our circumstances, not able to utter any words in prayer.

As Christians, we are awaiting our complete redemption. If we lack patience and see little hope, we will find it difficult to persevere. In such times it does no good to be like Eeyore and feel sorry for ourselves. Yet, on the other hand, it also does no good to always be smiling, positive, and upbeat as if nothing is worth grieving over.  To take such a posture toward the awful effects of living in a fallen world with disease and death is, at best, to ignore the power of lament, and, at worst, to live in abject denial. We can neither fix nor control most of what is going on in the world around us. To lament is to acknowledge the reality that something terrible happened. Lament causes us to stare down a painful event and face it in all its ugliness.

In such feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, God comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit resides with us and strengthens us with Pentecostal power. We not only celebrate the Spirit’s mighty power to blow a violent wind and upturn history; we are also grateful for that same power in coming alongside us and providing the inner strength to face yet another day of hardship and difficulty as we seek to heal.

We live in an awkward time. Nothing is as it was. And, yet, it has always been this way – a time of spiritual pregnancy in which we possess salvation but do not yet possess it in all its fullness. There is so much groaning going on because we realize there is such a large gap between where we are and where we want to be. If women could have babies without nine months of struggle, limitation, and pain I think they would opt for that instead of the way it is now.

There is a time coming when every tear will be wiped away and unending joy will rule.

All of creation groans because where it is now and where it will be seems like such a long time in coming.  Every creature and every living thing will experience decay and death. The world is not yet redeemed from its cursed bondage. So, the earth produces disasters and diseases because we live in this fallen world that is not yet redeemed.

Pinocchio

Humanity groans because we fall victim to circumstances beyond our control. We also groan because of our own poor choices that give us grief. Although we have been delivered from sin, death, and hell and experience spiritual power… we still must wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. We are keenly aware of the terrible disconnect between where we are as people and where we want to be. It is something of feeling like Pinocchio, not yet a real boy who has to deal with strings and other puppeteers who do not care about him; and, who feels the need to lie because of his situation and pays the consequence of his nose growing.

Yet, a deeper thing is happening under the surface: Our frustrations, longings, lusts, jealousies, and escapist daydreams, things we might be ashamed of to take to prayer, are in fact already lifting our hearts and minds to God in more honest ways than we ever do consciously.

If carrying heavy burdens, it is spiritually appropriate to offload your worries onto the Holy Spirit who is waiting to intercede for you right now. And if there is no immediate relief, we are to persevere and keep engaging in prayer without giving up. Pentecostal power may be available, but it is not cheap; it requires a commitment of abiding prayer and waiting patiently for the Spirit to accomplish his purposes in his time.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Kindle in me the fire of your love. Send me your gentle breeze, and I shall be renewed.  Spirit of the living God, I invite you to wring the death out of my heart and saturate my soul with your life-giving breath of faith, hope, and love through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.

What Pentecost Means for Us

Pentecost

The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ. Christians are given the Spirit.  Therefore, our main responsibility as Christians is to receive. Christianity is distinctive in this sense – it is primarily a religion of receiving. The Christian life is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not in our own strength. The function of faith is to receive what grace offers. We are saved and sanctified by grace alone through faith. God lives in and through us by means of the Spirit. The miraculous and the supernatural cannot be done by any human person. It can, however, be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We may put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be a certain way and to do certain things. The result is that we are tired. Every time we catch our breath, someone else needs something else. Yet, what if Christianity is not chiefly about giving, but about receiving? What if the Christian life was about putting ourselves in a position to receive through prayer and humility? The opposite of receiving is not giving – it is pride.

Maybe this kind of talk causes some uncomfortable feelings with you. This is no adventure into passivity or laziness. This is about receiving grace from God by means of the Holy Spirit and allowing God the Spirit to work in and through us to the glory of Christ. Jesus said we would do greater works than even he himself with the advent of the Spirit! (John 14:12-14). The question then becomes: Will we let God be God? Will we participate with God, and allow the Spirit to work? Will we petition God and let him do whatever he wants to do in and through us?

The Spirit is elsewhere in Scripture described as a gentle and encouraging presence, a counselor and comforter. Yet, not at Pentecost – the Spirit is portrayed like wind and fire (Acts 2:1-21). Neither a gentle breeze, nor a warm campfire – instead, a violent presence! The Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not some gentleman caller entering politely when invited. Rather, the Spirit appears more like a drunken sailor who bursts into the room and causes and big ruckus. There is nothing subtle about the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit is electric and volcanic, causing a huge upheaval. This is a big God with a big Word looking to expand out into a big world.

Pentecost

Because of Pentecost, believers are marked by God’s Spirit. The life of God within them is the life of the Spirit. God wants to pour out the Spirit on all kinds of people. He wants to fill people to overflowing so that what comes out of them is “prophecy.” That is, inspired speech and words coming from a spiritual heart full of the Spirit. Just as an inebriated person says and does things he/she would not typically say or do because they are filled with alcohol, so the person filled with God’s Spirit says things and does things that they would not typically say or do because their inspiration and courage do not come from themselves but is a result of God within them.

God transformed the little band of Christ followers from learners, to practitioners sent out with a mission.  Being on a mission from God is not so much about ability; it is about being filled and sent.  First time parents may read and learn all they can about parenting before their child is born. Yet, when that little bundle comes into the world and the hospital puts this kid in your arms and sends you out, you feel inadequate for the task.  Parenting becomes a kind of supernatural affair where you pray and learn on the fly, finding out that you need something beyond yourself to get anywhere in raising this screaming, pooping, sleeping person who depends completely on you for everything.

God has sent us into the world to make disciples and we may feel largely inadequate for the task. However, this has more to do with receiving the Spirit. The Spirit comes looking to turn our lives upside-down with new life in Jesus Christ.

Pentecost means the Spirit has come to shake things up and accomplish among God’s people what they could never do on their own. The church in the New Testament was not a country club for people to simply enjoy the perks of membership. The church in Acts 2 is more like a place where the people seem drunk because they are all talking with inspired speech from the Holy Spirit.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Maybe we do not need to be saved in the sense that we have already called on the name of the Lord concerning forgiveness of sins in Christ. Yet, maybe we need to call on the name of the Lord to be delivered from our misguided attempts to see the Christian life as a pleasant affair. Perhaps we need deliverance from disordered priorities and misguided loves. We may need to be saved from ourselves so that we are open to the Holy Spirit with palms up receiving from him whatever it is he wants to do in and through us, rather than telling God what we think he needs to do. Prayer, then, is more about receiving the Spirit and God’s purposes for us rather than giving God an earful and expecting him to buy into our plans.

Pentecost is the launching pad of the church’s mission – it was explosive because the Spirit is a kind of wild man who fills people up to overflowing with himself so that what comes out of them is inspired speech and missional actions.  If a language barrier cannot stop the Spirit from operating, then how much more can God transform us and use us in the lives of those around us?

0bab4-pentecost

How we interpret events is important. Peter interpreted the believers of Jesus speaking different languages as the outpouring of the Spirit. This outpouring of the Spirit is a sign that the end is near. This giving of the Spirit will be inclusive – there is room for all kinds of people. And, through the Spirit, God will save all who call on his name.  The way we interpret events is based upon what kind of relationships we have. Peter had a relationship with God that caused him to go constantly to prayer so that when the Spirit showed up, he interpreted that God was up to something.

Next week my wife and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage. How I interpret my anniversary is based upon what kind of relationship I have with my wife. A good relationship means that it will be a day of celebration and joy with the anticipation of more years together. A bad relationship would bring an interpretation of the day with anger or regret. If there is a bland relationship in which two people are married but just live under the same roof, then it is just another anniversary and there is no regret, but also no celebration or any anticipation of the future – it just is another day.

This is not just another day. It is Pentecost! Just as marriages occasionally need a spark and a fire and a fresh wind, so we need the Holy Spirit to breathe on us because God wants to do something within us that results in the church becoming afire with mission! How we interpret this day of Pentecost says a lot about our relationship to Jesus Christ. How we spend our day today says a lot about how we interpret the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let us be filled with the Spirit and with joy as we anticipate what our God will do now, and in the years to come.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes of Jesus

Sermon-on-the-Mount
A Bengali depiction of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, 
    for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, 
    for they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
    for they will be filled. 
Blessed are the merciful, 
    for they will be shown mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart, 
    for they will see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, 
    for they will be called children of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, 
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NIV) 

Just as God’s Law was given on a mountain (The Ten Commandments) so the law was restated on a mountain by Jesus (Sermon on the Mount). I believe that arguably one of the most important and impacting portions of Holy Scripture are the Beatitudes of Jesus, which serve as the foundation to all of Christ’s teaching. These Beatitudes are not simply a random collection of pithy phrases from Jesus on what constitutes approval from God. They intentionally build upon each other and describe true righteousness.  

Blessed are the poor in spirit.   

This Beatitude is the spiritual base to the Christian life.  Most of the original crowd listening to Jesus thought they were on the outside of the kingdom, on the margins of true religion. Instead, Jesus told them they have a place as poor and pitiable people. To be “poor in spirit” means one is a spiritual beggar who recognizes they have nothing to offer God. It is seeing oneself, one’s sin, and one’s life as spiritually bankrupt apart from God. Beggars have no ability to strike deals; they have nothing to leverage with; and, realize they deserve nothing. Beggars do one thing continually: they beg. The proud person would never be caught begging for anything. Yet, the humble spiritual beggar constantly prays because they need God! They discern that without God there is no hope. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the penitent and not the proud. 

Blessed are those who mourn. 

This is the emotional response of acknowledging one’s spiritual poverty.  Grief and lament have a central place in Christian theology and life. To avoid it, work around it, or short-circuit its process is to refuse Christ because there is no righteousness apart from mourning over sin. Crying, weeping, and even intense tears are important and necessary. To experience personal grief over one’s sins and the sins of the church and the world is a Beatitude of Jesus. You neither need position, power, privilege, nor pedigree to be a mourner. All can mourn. This is the door by which we enter the kingdom of God. 

Blessed are the meek. 

A meek spirit is the result of realizing our poverty of spirit and practicing grief and lament. At the heart of what it means to be meek is a spirit of non-retaliation. When we are flat on our backs before God, there is no place to look but up. Thus, there is no ability to look down on others. To be meek is to be broken before God. A meek person takes personal responsibility for their attitudes and actions. The meek have no need to retaliate, even when egregiously wronged, because they fully entrust themselves to God alone who judges the living and the dead. Ironically, brokenness is the path to righteous wholeness. 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. 

Only those who know their poverty of spirit, personally grieve over sin, and are truly humble/meek end up longing for righteousness. This is much more than just desire; this is the recognition that without God I will not make it. I cannot be righteous without Jesus. Simply put, righteousness is a right relationship with God and others. That is what happens when a person is meek. Such a person knows she cannot make things right by herself; she needs help, specifically, God’s help. If we ever have the thought that we can live most days of our lives without God, we do not yet know true righteousness. People who understand their great need for Jesus are easy to spot. They crave and devour God’s Word as their daily food; and they cannot stop blabbering on about Jesus. 

Sermon on the Mount
A fresco of the Sermon on the Mount on the northern wall of the Sistine Chapel.

There are three practices of living that arise from being filled with God’s righteousness.  They are the next three Beatitudes of mercy, purity, and peacemaking. These cannot be conjured up by our own will. They organically grow within us and are freely expressed because of what God is doing in our lives. You cannot force them any more than you can force a stalk of corn to grow on your terms. Instead, you work with the unforced rhythms of God’s grace and allow his righteousness to take root in you. Below the soil the activity of spiritual poverty, mourning, and humility takes place. Then, when the plant breaks the soil and flowers, it produces mercy, purity, and peace-making. 

Blessed are the merciful.  

Mercy begins with a disposition of the heart that seeks to be generous. Mercy is a loving response to someone or a group of people in misery. We accept them and help them because we ourselves have been there. Mercy looks for ways to come alongside others and help, rather than pile expectations and burdens on others without mentoring them in the ways of God. 

Blessed are the pure in heart. 

Purity also results from true righteousness. A stalk of corn might look good, but if you shuck it and it is filled with worms, it isn’t going to be worth much. Legalistic righteousness is concerned to look good, is obsessed with performance, perfection, and possessions. Conversely, the righteousness of God fills our hungry hearts and makes us pure and holy, set apart for his use. 

Blessed are the peacemakers.  

Peacemakers are people who find themselves caught in the middle and want to live righteously with the mercy and purity that God has provided for them. Peace is only realized through peacemakers. It seems we all desire peace, yet, peacemakers are hard to come by. It’s a tough gig. Peacemakers exist through being characterized by the earlier Beatitudes. To achieve peace, one must first be at peace with God and self – which is why we need the cross of Jesus Christ. 

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.  

When a person lives in this righteousness as presented by Jesus, there will be persecution. Folks who are offended by even slight criticisms are usually the ones who are privileged and in power. They have not yet learned the ways of Jesus. Pettiness is nothing more than a sign of unrighteousness. Yoking up with Jesus, following him, and living into his words and ways has always been risky and dangerous. The Beatitudes of Jesus are not characteristics that lead to power, prestige, or possessions, but likely just the opposite. 

The former Pope Benedict XVI, explained Christ’s Beatitudes this way: “The Beatitudes, spoken with the community of Jesus’ disciples in view, are paradoxes – the standards of the world are turned upside down as soon as things are seen in their right perspective, which is to say, in terms of God’s values, so different from those of the world. It is precisely those who are poor in worldly terms, those thought of as lost souls, who are truly fortunate ones, the blessed, who have every reason to rejoice and exult in their suffering. The Beatitudes are promises resplendent with the new image of the world and humanity inaugurated by Jesus.” 

Those who are in Jesus Christ become living beatitudes, walking, talking blessings to the world.  Those who live with Jesus in his kingdom have a destiny to be witnesses to another subversive, yet wonderful, way of life, where the last are first and the greatest are the least. 

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace. 

Exodus 19:16-25 – An Awesome God

Mount Sinai

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared, and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So, Moses climbed the mountain.

Then the Lord told Moses, “Go back down and warn the people not to break through the boundaries to see the Lord, or they will die. Even the priests who regularly come near to the Lord must purify themselves so that the Lord does not break out and destroy them.”

“But Lord,” Moses protested, “the people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. You already warned us. You told me, ‘Mark off a boundary all around the mountain to set it apart as holy.’”

But the Lord said, “Go down and bring Aaron back up with you. In the meantime, do not let the priests or the people break through to approach the Lord, or he will break out and destroy them.”

So, Moses went down to the people and told them what the Lord had said. (NLT)

As Christians await the Day of Pentecost and the giving of the Spirit, the Revised Common Lectionary reminds us of another great anticipation from the Old Testament. The ancient Israelites were amazingly delivered from Egyptian slavery, miraculously walked through the Red Sea, and traveled with wondrous anticipation to Mount Sinai. Now, in today’s reading, they are about to meet with God!

The scene of this meeting is not exactly the romantic highland encounter of the Man from Snowy River (my wife’s all-time favorite movie). The landscape is much more akin to the dark and volcanic Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings. The picture appears more foreboding than loving. The thing about mountain top experiences is that they are not all monolithic one-size-fits-all encounters with bright rainbows and happy skipping unicorns.

Holy Scripture is replete with mountain experiences. Mountains serve as symbols for significant encounters with a mighty God. Whether it is Christ’s transfiguration on a mountain; or, the giving of the law on a mountain; the awesome mountain serves as a tangible symbol of divine majesty, strength, and sovereignty. And, I might add, conversely, valleys in Scripture are symbolic of difficulty and suffering.  Our God is a God of both mountain and valley. That is, the God of the Bible is both transcendent and immanent; he rules with power and might high above us on his holy mountain; yet, he also comes near to us in the valley of the shadow of death.

Leading up to the giving of the Ten Words (Commandments) in Exodus 20, Exodus 19 portrays an awesome scene of God in his transcendent holiness and power. In fact, the experience was so otherworldly that the people were afraid to even come near the mountain. The Israelites needed limits placed on themselves because of God’s holy presence. Just like coming too near the immense power of the sun will destroy us, so getting near God can ruin us if we do not respect his holiness.

Respecting God’s power and transcendence brings the reality of his immanence into greater appreciation. God has gone to extreme lengths to reveal himself to his people. For the Christian, it all culminates through the incarnation of Christ, the sending of the Son. In Jesus, the transcendence and immanence of God meet perfectly to bridge the chasm between humanity and the divine.  Because of Jesus, the awesome sounds of thunder and trumpet do not lead to fear; they announce grace to those who approach God by faith.

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant….

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time, his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:18-29, NIV)

Our God is an awesome God. As Christians anticipate Pentecost, we connect the consuming fire of Mount Sinai with the fire of the Spirit. The divine drama of both experiences has provided God’s people with spiritual power. Both the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery by God and the deliverance secured on Mount Zion from spiritual slavery by Jesus are meant to free us to do the will of God. With God’s Word and God’s Spirit given to us, we are emancipated from an empty way of life to experience the fullness of Christ.

May the Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation breathe life into your spirit.

May the Spirit whose presence on the mountain was a consuming fire grant you a revived spirit.

May the Spirit who overshadowed the virgin Mary at the conception of our Lord overwhelm your spirit with joy.

May the Spirit who set the Church afire on Pentecost aflame every spirit on earth with the love of Christ.

And, may the Spirit who exhorts, encourages, helps, and comforts be your blessing and your life today and always. Amen.

Psalm 33:12-22 – God Is Watching

sunshine of love

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, 
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage. 

The Lord looks down from heaven; 
    he sees all humankind. 
From where he sits enthroned he watches 
    all the inhabitants of the earth— 
he who fashions the hearts of them all, 
    and observes all their deeds. 
A king is not saved by his great army; 
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 
The war horse is a vain hope for victory, 
    and by its great might it cannot save. 

Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, 
    on those who hope in his steadfast love, 
to deliver their soul from death, 
    and to keep them alive in famine. 

Our soul waits for the Lord; 
    he is our help and shield. 
Our heart is glad in him, 
    because we trust in his holy name. 
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, 
    even as we hope in you. (NRSV) 

God is in control of the world, and I am not. Although the myth of self-sufficiency and self-reliance thoroughly permeates individualist societies, this in no way lessens the transcendence of a big God. In today’s psalm, the scene of God looking down from heaven portrays him as above all, firmly in control, yet, attentive to all that is happening on the earth. Individual human creatures subscribing to a narrative of personal independence will inevitably run into the Creator God. 

Our success may give us the illusion that our own strength, intelligence, and/or ingenuity has brought us the good things we possess – not God. “I worked hard for my money and I will do whatever I want with it,” and the even more crass, “It wasn’t God who put food on my table,” are just a few of the power delusions I have heard from others, as if personal accomplishments are unconnected to any other force in the universe. 

In addition, our lack of success may also cause us to pause and wonder if God is really observing all our deeds, or not. Perhaps he is reclining in his La-z-God chair and watching old baseball game replays of the Angels. More likely, we have become so expectant of satisfactory service and immediate results as consumers in a capitalist culture that we fail to discern the virtue of patience – that God is not slow in keeping his promises as some would understand it. 

The bald fact of the matter is that we need God. What’s more, God feels no compulsion from us to be hurried along in his purposes for humanity. Since God is the divine gravity in this world, the only way of realizing the good life is to conform ourselves to him, and not the other way around.  

When we learn to exercise the inherent gifts of hope and patience which a gracious God has fashioned in our hearts, then we begin to discover persevering trust, enduring happiness, a settled sense of gladness, and steadfast love. We awaken to the true passion of God for us. Rather than a capricious or indifferent deity, the Lord God looks upon us with endearing faithfulness. In short, God’s heart is forever drawn to us. Therefore, we need not attempt to take all matters into our own hands, as if we are alone in the world. If we can see a vision of God high and lifted-up, observing us with a gaze of delight, then our spirits open to mercy and we find grace to help us in our time of need. The prophet Zephaniah allows us a glimpse into God’s feelings for us:  

The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17, CEB)

God labors on our behalf. God has our backs. God establishes a safe environment for us. And, we must never forget: God delights in you so much that – this very minute – he is singing songs of joy over you. For trust and hope cannot be coerced by another or willed into being by the mind; it can only be generated through the deep conviction of God’s broad love for you and me. 

The best self-help program I know of is not self-help at all – it is the self-care of opening to a loving God and allowing God’s joy and delight to fill us. God is watching us, and it is the gaze of adoration, not condemnation. 

Dear God, the One who watches all, love comes from you. Anyone who loves is your child and knows you. And anyone who does not love does not know you, for God is love. Thank you for showing me love by sending your one and only Son into the world so that I might have eternal life through him. Dear God, since you loved me that much, I surely ought to love others. May you live in me and may the love of Jesus be brought to full expression in me through the power of the Spirit. Amen. 

John 3:31-36 – Considering Christ

Jesus 6th century mosaic
A 6th-Century Byzantine mosaic of Jesus

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.  For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (ESV)

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left instructions to his disciples to pray and to witness (Acts 1:1-11). Jesus only asks of us what he himself does or has already done. The life and ministry of Christ on this earth was marked continually with prayer and bearing witness. Just as Jesus Christ bore witness to what he saw and heard as the Divine Word, so his followers are to do likewise. The evidence and the veracity of Christ’s witness is the giving of God’s Spirit – the One whom confirms this testimony to us.

I, personally, have found Jesus to be precisely whom he claims to be. I have come to accept his testimony as gracious, truthful, and life-giving. I have wholeheartedly embraced the New Testament Gospel accounts of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. This belief came neither quickly nor easily for me – it resulted from an honest straightforward reading of the Bible; and, the wooing of the Holy Spirit.

It really isn’t my job to convince you of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and trustworthiness. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is my task to bear witness of the things I have seen and heard concerning Jesus. My life has been thoroughly turned upside-down because of Jesus. With Jesus, I have been invited into the life of God. By the wounds of Jesus, I have experienced healing of damaged emotions and recovery from spiritual hurts inflicted by others. Through union with Christ, I have grace and forgiveness of things I have done and left undone. With Jesus as my Friend, I enjoy loving attention and am never dismissed by him.

For those who have not read the Gospel accounts and refuse Christ, then, for honesty’s sake, please have the integrity to give Jesus a hearing before you dismiss him with a slight of hand. It is one thing to genuinely not know much about Jesus, and it is quite another thing to ignore him when you have knowledge about how to find out about him.

For those of us who have read the New Testament Gospels and accept the testimony of Jesus, we come back again and again to his life-giving words and seek continually to follow him in his way of mercy, purity, and peace. We bear witness to how Jesus has changed our lives and offers a life worth living.

Everyone with faith in Jesus has a life-giving connection with God.  Those who don’t, don’t. If you disagree with this, then contend with Jesus himself. Give him a hearing. Watch him in action.  Observe how he deals with people. See if he lives up to his words. Then, bear witness to what you have seen and heard.

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, I pray to you, the God and Father of all:

For empowerment by the Spirit, that I may be a faithful witness

For those who wait on You, that they may find renewal

For all people, that they may acknowledge the kingdom of the ascended Christ

For all who are struggling with broken relationships

I commend myself and all for whom I pray, to Your mercy and protection through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.