Ephesians 2:1-7 – Raised with Christ

Ascension

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (NRSV)

In the wake of recognizing and remembering Ascension Day, Christ’s ascension to heaven, we must linger a bit with the implications of that great redemptive event for us. Today’s New Testament lesson from the letter to the Ephesians is a wondrous place to do some holy loitering.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church and gave them a theological explanation of their true position as Christians. They were once located in the realm darkness, the place of disobedience and selfishness. Now, however, as believers in Jesus Christ, they have been relocated to the realm of light, the place of love and kindness. This major relocation project is the direct effort of God’s merciful initiative. Jesus descended in his incarnation and lived at the garbage dump with us. Christ’s life and death delivered us from that putrid existence. Jesus ascended to heaven. He did not leave us in the dump.

The rich theology which Paul expresses to the Ephesians is so robust that he makes up new words just to try and communicate it. Through God’s gracious action he “made us alive together with Christ,” “raised us up with him,” and “seated us with him in the heavenly places.” Paul took words and smashed them together to create new compound words to try and communicate the amazing reality of the Christian’s position in Jesus Christ. In English, we need to use several words to translate Paul’s original compound words.

Paul used new words because he was expressing a new reality. Ascension is more than Christ’s own – he, spiritually, takes us with him. We belong with him. Our union, our intimacy, with Jesus is so vitally connected that what happens with Jesus happens with us. With Jesus as the Head of the Church, and we as the Body of Christ, there is absolutely no separation between the two.

The implications of this understanding are tectonic:

  • Since God’s action was done out of love, our spiritual DNA has love written all over it. We no longer feel as if we must manipulate, cajole, or twist arms to be noticed and have our needs met.
  • Since God is rich in mercy, we have a new place to live – with Christ – and no longer hang out in the shame lounge drinking cheap wine and smoking nasty cigars.
  • Since God has given us new life in Christ, we are aware of our position and now can deliberately choose to participate with him in a mind-blowing, gut-busting, heart-exploding divine/human adventure beyond what we could ever have imagined. We no longer are in the position to create selfish agendas and ignore the common good of all humanity.
  • Since God has picked us up, cleaned us up, and sat us down next to Jesus, we have a front row seat to the triune God showing kindness to us and so many others. We no longer have a truncated worldview which sees only pain and heartbreak.
  • Since God has orchestrated deliverance from the old life; since Christ has achieved that deliverance for us; and, since the Spirit has awakened us – we now have a new life thoroughly imbibed with the medicine of faith, the healing power of hope, and the elixir of love. With grace binding our lives together with God, no more judging, blaming, shaming, nor hating need occur anymore.
  • Since we belong to God, we enjoy all the love of the Father, the mercy of the Son, and the vigor of the Holy Spirit. We have risen above all the terrible muck of sin and given a new place to live. Since Jesus ascended, we ascend with him. Praise be to God!

As people, we live into who we believe we are. We are the precious children of God, redeemed and adopted into a divine family. May we live up to our position in Jesus Christ.

Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep me, I pray, from returning to the pig pen of an old life. May I be ready in both body and soul to freely choose things which belong to your purposes of love; through Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension of the Lord

Ethiopian Ascension
Ethiopian Orthodox depiction of Christ’s ascension.

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginninguntil the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 

So, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was liftedup, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (NRSV) 

Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate as the “Ascension of the Lord.”  It is hugely important for followers of Jesus because it means that Christ is now presently sitting at God’s right hand offering continual prayers on our behalf to the Father. We have an advocate, a champion who has gone before us and secured deliverance from sin, death, and hell. This is no small thing. On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom which will never end. Yes, it is a big deal. 

So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation garner such little attention from many churches?  Perhaps the clue is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended. The picture that Luke paints for us in the account of our Lord’s ascension is a group of guys looking up into the sky slack-jawed and shoulders hunched.  It took a couple of angels to come along and ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there. Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds, the angels insisted. Jesus will come back when he comes back. You aren’t going to know when.  So, now is the time to get busy with what Jesus just told you two minutes ago to do:  Tell everyone about me. 

The Ascension of the Lord is a deeply theological event; it is freighted with major implications for our prayer lives; and, it means that Christ is the King to whom we must obey. And he is coming again. In the meantime, there is to be no cloud-gawking. Instead, there is to be a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus which proclaims good news that Christ died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven for mine and your forgiveness of sins and a new clean slate on life. 

Believers in Jesus are not to be found standing and gawking at the clouds waiting for the Lord’s return, as if we are in some earthly holding tank until heaven.  Rather, we are to bear witness about the person and work of Jesus. The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with deliverance from the realm of sin, and the hope of Christ’s coming again. The Church everywhere recognizes together the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus. 

The world as we know it shall eventually come to an end. Until that time, Christians since the time of the ascension have been proclaiming Christ crucified, died, risen, ascended, and coming again. This is a day of joy and celebration for us. Jesus is our ascended and glorified king! The fate of the earth is with the benevolent and mighty Ruler of all. Jesus is Lord, and no other human leader is. Thank you, Jesus. 

The Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, states: 

Q: How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us? 

A: First, he is our advocate in heaven in the presence of his Father. 

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself. 

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a corresponding pledge. By the Spirit’s power we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Amen.  

Click Ancient of Days sung by Ron Kenoly for an oldie but goody on this Ascension Day.

John 16:16-24 – From Grief to Joy

Light Shining in Darkness
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” ~ Carl Jung

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So, with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (NIV)

Jesus tended to say things that were neither expected nor wanted. That was even true of Christ’s own disciples who walked and talked with him for three years. Jesus consistently told them there must be suffering before glory. Getting them to buy into such an idea is like trying to get a bunch of Baptists to write their names on a sign-up sheet at church.

Christ was speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room, the last meal he had with them before his death. When they were called by Jesus three years earlier, the disciples were not expecting all the gibberish about leaving and grieving. To put this in contemporary terms, the disciples’ response was akin to saying, “I only think positive. I don’t listen to things that are negative.” Suffering, death, and grief were far from the disciples’ expectations of how things would and should shake-out. They had a hard time understanding what the heck Jesus was saying because his words were out of alignment with their assumptions. Yes, there would be glory and joy. First, however, there must be suffering and grief.

I tend to think in metaphors, so I like that Jesus uses one to bring some context about leaving and returning. And I resonate a lot with his metaphor. My dear wife spent 128 days on total bed rest before our youngest daughter was born. During those four months, we agonized over the health of our little peanut in the womb. I was also in a constant state of concern for my wife’s health. This kind of pregnancy we were not expecting. Those months were hard not only for us but also for our two daughters who needed to step up and participate in family life in new and different ways.

There were months of pain and hardship, not to mention the actual pain of childbirth. Finally, our little girl was born – a bit small, yet, quite healthy. Our grief turned to joy. Nothing could ever take away that joy. We prayed hard back in those days. We asked. We received. And our joy was complete. When I look back on those days, I can remember the anguish. Yet, what prominently stands out is the joy because true unmitigated joy has the power to swallow grief and despondency whole.

In talking through with his disciples about their disappointment of his leaving and their grieving, Jesus graciously gave them the gift of joy. Yes, there can be and is joy in the mourning. Not every story has a happy ending. I can say, however, that the grandest story of all – Jesus Christ’s suffering and death – has resulted in resurrection and ascension. It will all be complete when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Then, the grand narrative of redemption will have its conclusion of no more crying, tears, or pain. There will be only unending joy.

For now, we still experience heartache along with the joy of new life. It can be confusing living in the awkward state of simultaneous grief and joy. Yet, keep in mind that the grief is temporary, and the despair will not last. Joy, on the other hand, has staying power and will be the permanent state of the believer. It is only the smaller stories which may or may not end well. The big story of redemption already has the ending written – joy without grief.

Christ is risen! Therefore, we need not wait to be happy or expect that everything must go our way to have joy. The good news is that there are always fresh opportunities to be happy through asking and receiving. Imagine a Partridge Family kind of bus coming around to all the bus stops of life. Happy times and music arrive around the clock. Chances are the opportunity to be happy has already arrived. Often, it is right in front of us; we just missed the bus because we were daydreaming about a future state of joy.

We are living in the days of the new normal and continual change. Just as there was no going back to a three-year hiatus of the disciples walking with Jesus, so we need to embrace new and different ways of life together here on planet earth. We have the gift of joy. Its just a matter of unpacking it.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

1 Peter 3:8-12 – To Suffer and To Bless

Light and Dark

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For

“Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (NRSV)

Its one thing to give blessing to folks when they seem worthy of it – quite another thing when you have stinkers in your life. Bless the very ones who are abusive toward me? Some might think the Apostle Peter was off his rocker to instruct believers to bless insufferable persons. Peter, however, was only passing on what he had learned from the Lord Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said: You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matthew 5:43-48, CEB)

The instruction to bless the hateful ingrates in our lives only seems strange when the avoidance of suffering and experiencing a pain-free existence is the summum bonum of life. Yet, I get it. We don’t like to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. It hurts! I’m not really into pain. I’m not a high tolerance pain kind of guy. I have no problem taking a pain pill at the first sign of discomfort. Even so, I know there will be times I am going to have pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and there is no way around it.  To live in this broken world is to experience suffering. To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as Christ suffered, we can expect to suffer as his followers, as well.  We are not above our Master. The real issue is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.  When insults come our way, we need not respond with insults.  Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ.  Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason.

God has a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech.

The consistent witness of the New Testament is to bless and do not curse, to love and not to hate, to use our tongues for spreading words of encouragement and not of condemnation. Peter’s instruction and Christ’s teaching also totally jives with the Apostle Paul:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Live in harmony with one another…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21, NIV)

Church Light in Dark

Christians are to us their tongues exclusively for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not bad news laced with insults.  If we suffer because of love, we shall receive blessing from God. If we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.

God has called us to bless the world, not condemn it.  Christians are to be on the front lines of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel. It is no problem showing love and respect to people we like. It is a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate. Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and he listens to their prayers.  God will handle the hate-filled person, not you or me.  Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t.

One of the spiritual practices I occasionally do is to read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting. 1 Peter is not a long letter. Depending on the pace of your reading, it can be done between 15-30 minutes. I encourage you to take some time today or this week to slowly read it. Pay attention to how adversity affords Christians the opportunity for hope and the encouragement to live well.

May it be so. Soli Deo Gloria.

Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf.  It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering.  I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits.  Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I face in this fallen broken world.  Even so, come Lord Jesus, you who lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Genesis 9:8-17 – I Will Remember

Rainbow

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So, God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (NIV)

The older I get the less I remember.  I tell my older parishioners when they have a “senior moment” that they have a lot more to remember from a lifetime of experiences and memories than everyone else does. My memory is now such that, if I do not write stuff down, it likely will not happen. On some level, I’m sure you can relate. We all have the common human experience of being forgetful.

Even though God is old, I don’t believe he has a problem with remembering. Yet, even God puts reminders in front of himself to remember. Most people, whether knowing much about the Bible, or not, are familiar with the story of Noah. You remember the story. The world was evil.  God decided to destroy the creatures of the earth because humanity was rife with wickedness. God sent a flood, but spared Noah and his family. Afterward, God made a covenant between himself and all the earth: He would never again send a calamitous flood, stating, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you.”

Maybe memory has less to do with actual forgetfulness and more with priority, commitment, and keeping something continually in front of us.  God did not set a rainbow in the sky because he was worried about a senior moment someday; he put a sign in the sky because having symbols that point to significant events are important, even for God.  We put pictures of our kids on our desks not because we will forget what they look like, but to keep them in front of us throughout the day because we love them.  We keep tokens from travels or vacations in prominent places at home not because we will ever forget the experience, but because something significant happened or was decided in that time that was important to us.

The objects and symbols we place around us have significance. Our predilection for having objective symbols comes from bearing the image and likeness of God. And, in some sense, we are all living icons, flesh and blood reminders of God’s creative work. When we choose to use our bodies and minds for good, we are living into our original design and tapping into the wondrous image within.

God wants us to remember – the Word of God, divine actions of old, and, most of all, the Son, which is why we have tangible symbols of bread and cup to remember the redemptive events of Jesus. Christ is to be continually in front of us, our priority, and our love as we live from day to day.

Soli Deo Gloria

Gracious God, you have made covenants with your people to remember and be committed to them.  I desire to remember you in everything I do and say, especially the Lord Jesus who loved me and gave himself for me so that my priorities will reflect your goodness, and your mercy will be shown. May I continually remember: churches everywhere throughout your world, that they may proclaim the risen Lord; creation, that the people of the earth may meet their responsibility to care; those in despair and darkness, that they may find the hope and light of Christ; and, those forgotten by others, but not forgotten by you; through Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

John 14:15-21 – On Loving God

Welcome, friends! Simply click the video below and let us enjoy our virtual presence with one another.

You can also view this video on TimEhrhardtYouTube

To reflect on God’s love for us, click You Are My King (Amazing Love) written by Billy James Foote and originally sung by Philips, Craig, and Dean.

To reflect on our love for God, click I Love You Lord written and sung by Laurie Klein.

May your week be filled with love and obedience in the power of the Spirit.

On Loving God

Last Supper Barbados
Depiction of the Upper Room by Unknown artist from Barbados.

This week, as I reflected on the words of Jesus:

“If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (John 14:15) 

my thoughts kept coming back to a dear friend of mine.  In the Fall of 1992, Wesley was on his deathbed in an Iowa hospital.  At the time, I was pastoring a small Michigan congregation and was able to take some time off to go and be with him. I was there for a week, spending my days at the hospital and only leaving his room to sleep for the night. It was my habit to rise about 5:00am and make my way to Wesley’s room where we would spend some quiet unhindered time with each other for a few hours before family members arrived. Wesley was deathly ill and could barely communicate anything above a whisper. Yet, those hours with him were incredible times of spiritual bonding and true Christian friendship.

You see, what was so amazing about my relationship with Wesley is that only a year before, he and I had a strained, difficult, and awkward relationship as he was about as far from God as anyone could be and did not want much to do with a Pastor.  Yet, in a matter of a few months, we had become devoted to one another as brothers.  Through a series of circumstances that I ascribe as God’s gracious hand, Wesley embraced a spiritual life that was as rich and full as I have ever seen (that is a story for another time). Now, as I sat with him six months later, Wesley was at the edge of his life.

During that week, I watched in the background as day after day, friend after friend, and relative after relative came into Wesley’s room to visit him for the last time.  The majority were much like Wesley before he wholeheartedly followed the love of Christ – having made a profession of faith as children, they had long since outgrew their Sunday School belief.  With each person, as frail as Wesley was, barely able to lift an arm more than a few inches, he would grab a hold, pull them close and say into their ear: “Look at me! I am dying. Is this how you want to end up?”  And then he said to every one of them: “If you are really a Christian and love Jesus, obey him and live your life for him.”

Love and obedience – they go together in Scripture like a hand in a glove.  The words of Jesus to love through obedience are part of what we call the Upper Room Discourse, or Farewell Speech. They are the Lord’s final words to his followers before his crucifixion – quite literally being Jesus’ deathbed message to those he loved. These are the words Jesus did not want his followers to forget. The disciples were distressed and troubled over the prospect that Jesus would not be with them, and they needed some focused words to live effectively with encouragement in the days and years ahead.

Upper Room
Pewter art of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. A gift from Wesley.

There are a two truths Jesus said to his disciples (and saying to us) as he was grabbing them and holding them close before his death:

Love is practiced through obedience to Christ’s commands.

Love through obedience is accomplished through the Holy Spirit’s help.

If we are to love Jesus, we will obey him – which begs the question: What are his commands?  There are three summaries of Christ’s teaching and commands in the Gospels that encompass loving him through obedience: The Great Commission; The Great Commandment; and, The Beatitudes.

When Jesus first began his teaching and healing ministry, he sat all the people down who were following him and gave them a summary of the Old Testament understanding of God’s righteousness.  These are the things, Jesus explained, that characterize a person who loves God:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall 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 sons of God. 

Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:12-17, NIV).

Genuine lovers of Jesus are characterized by their: authentic humility; deep concern to the point of tears over sin; gentle and meek spirit toward others; intense desire for personal righteousness and corporate justice; daily life of mercy, purity, and peacemaking; and, willingness to accept adversity for the sake of Jesus. Yes, lovers of Jesus are distinctly and profoundly characterized by grace. To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God is the normal everyday default life-setting for lovers of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus wanted to put all the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament of the Bible) into a summary that would be easy to remember and understand he said:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)

What Jesus requires is an holistic love for God. Humanity is meant for wholeness, integration, and alignment between head, heart, and gut – with the glue of love. We are designed to have all of life in parity and balance – work, play, family, and church – because Jesus is Lord over it all, not just the church part. In the totality of our lives, in every relationship, and in every activity, Jesus invites us to grab hold of the kind of love that seeks a righteous agenda based in grace and mercy.

What is more, Jesus gave clear instructions of how to occupy our time on this earth while he is away preparing a place for us so that he can take us to be with him.  The gracious and pure living of the Beatitudes and the love of the Great Commandment are to be fully utilized with the Great Commission. Jesus stated:

All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.(Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)

Making disciples is at the heart of Christ’s commands. Every Christian is to be Christ’s apprentice learning the ways of Jesus in all of life, being spiritually developed so that we can be characterized by the Beatitudes and the Great Commandment. Jesus wants lifelong students in the faith, continually learning to love God through integrated and aligned selves in the church and in the world.

This is a big job.  In fact, the task is so huge that Jesus left us with the means of accomplishing it – he has given us another “Counselor” to be with us forever (John 14:16). “Counselor” (NIV) is translated in various ways in versions of the New Testament because the Greek term “Paraclete” is a rich word that is hard to encompass with a single English word. Other translations include: “Advocate,” “Comforter,” and “Helper.”  They are all accurate words to describe the Holy Spirit.  I think the best term to portray who the Holy Spirit is for God’s people is “True Friend.”

A true friend is the kind of person who you can call in the middle of the night and they will answer and listen; will drop everything to come and be with you in a time of need; will say hard things to you in love so that you can be a better person and have a better relationship with them; and, maintains a committed and consistent relationship with you.  A true friend is simply a person you enjoy and are deeply thankful for having them in your life.

Upper Room Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit given to the disciples of Jesus.

That is what the Holy Spirit is – the Spirit helps us when we need help; encourages us when we are down; comes immediately to our side when we are in need; and, gives us a good loving kick in the backside when appropriate.  The Holy Spirit is our True Friend in the world.  The Spirit continually speaks truth to us and leads us into truth. The Spirit will come alongside and apprentice us in the faith and guide us in grateful obedience to Jesus.

Because of God the Father’s love in sending the Son; the Son’s sacrificial love through the cross; the Spirit’s consistent loving presence; and, the triune God’s insistence on living a life of love, Christianity is both duty and delight – and they go together in perfect harmony.

Wesley miraculously lived through his deathbed experience. God was not quite finished with him yet.  Wesley’s Christian life displayed that loving assurance and trust in Jesus leads to a no-holds-barred obedience which is grateful and joyous despite the most awful of circumstances.

In the summer of 1993, at 29 years of age, Wesley went to be with his Lord.  Not in my lifetime have I personally seen such a complete turn-around of a person so far away from God to a person whose every thought and word reflected the Beatitudes, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission.  And I enjoyed a relationship that was totally changed from one of animosity to one that could be characterized as “true friend.”  Because of his love for God, Wesley now sees Jesus.

There is only one level of commitment to Christ – the high charge and privilege of duty and delight. A true disciple, a genuine follower of Jesus, loves him and lives an obedient life to the Lord in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we have our lives so planned and pre-determined that when the Holy Spirit shows up to take us to a place of obedience to Jesus, we struggle to realize what’s happening. And we miss what God is doing in this world.  At other times we observe the commands of Scripture and feel the gentle nudging of God’s Spirit, yet we either cannot or will not respond out of fear, busyness, or even grief.  And then there are times when we are attentive to God’s Word and God’s Spirit and seek to obey Jesus – only to mess up so that we are left wondering if God could ever really do anything in us.

The truth is this: Love conquers all. Grace overcomes everything. Mercy never fails. We are here on this earth because of our True Friend. Even though we walk with Jesus in a three-steps-forward-two-steps-backward kind of way, the Spirit accommodates to our weakness.  To be a disciple, an apprentice, means we keep learning the ways of Jesus under the tutelage of God’s Spirit who patiently and powerfully works within us so that God’s kingdom breaks into this world and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven.