1 Corinthians 12:12-27 – The Same Spirit

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“The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does.  Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God’s Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit.” (Contemporary English Version)

As you well know, it’s easy to take things for granted.  For instance, we don’t typically think too much about our toes… until we stub them, drop something on them, break them, or need a podiatrist to operate on them.  Then, we not only know they’re still there, but our entire body (along with the mind and emotions!) feels the need to give a lot of attention to lowest end of our body that enables us to stand and walk without thinking much about it.

The body is an apt metaphor for how to think about humanity and its various systems and institutions.  We might see the face of any church or organization, but there are scads of people behind the scenes doing all kinds of good work.  For example, the golfing profession understands the importance of caddies; lawyers know the need of paralegal persons; healthcare facilities and organizations rely not only on nurses and social workers, but also on cooks and housekeepers; schools need the coordination of teachers, parents, students, volunteers, and the entire community to effectively realize the education of children.

Also, as you well know, it’s easy to take for granted services we receive… until we don’t receive them, or in a way to our liking.  Then, we pay attention.  We want action and resolution.  We want our food now and to our exact specifications.  Sometimes we might even forget that we are dealing with people, not cogs in a machine or parts in a system.  Millions of people labor every single day, sometimes even seven days a week, just to make ends meet and provide for their families.  When we neglect to understand this, or see it right in front of our eyes, we have done our fellow human beings a disservice.

It’s also awfully easy to forget how extremely radical the Apostle Paul’s words were for 1st century folks, especially in religious circles.  Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew community was God’s people.  If you wanted to worship the one true God, you came to Jerusalem and learned from Jews.  But Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit changed things in such a profound and organic way that the world would never be the same again.

It was firmly established by the early church, and preached with fervor and flavor by Paul, that there would not be a separate Jewish church and Gentile church.  They have become one Body of Christ through the redemptive events of Jesus.  Both Jews and Gentiles have the same Spirit – not different Spirits for each group.  Jesus Christ did not die so that people could be fragmented from each other; He was crucified to end once for all the segregation, discrimination, and ostentation of one group of people above another.

The cross was the ultimate radical act of justice against the powers of this dark world that seek to rank people according to their relative importance and worth.

The power of the resurrection is the energy of God raising Christ from death to triumph over the realm and system of evil throughout the earth.  All kinds of people everywhere are to rise with Christ in a great demonstration of God’s power to subvert the status quo of discriminatory racism, extreme individualism, gender inequality, social and economic class-ism, and any kind of “ism” which places one group of people in subjection to another in misguided notions of superiority.

The church is to be a community of redeemed people that reflects the diversity of God’s big world.  No two groups of people could have been more different than Middle-Eastern Jews and Greek Gentiles.  Yet, Paul insisted that they together, not separate, make up the one Body of Christ.  It isn’t easy listening to another group of people who think and act differently than you and me.  But listen we must.  And respond we must.  It is our responsibility as believers in the way of Christ.

“God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.” (Contemporary English Version)

There is no ability to look down your nose on another person if you are already kneeling on the ground in humble prayer at the foot of the cross.  There is only the chance to look up.  There is even the opportunity to allow someone less privileged and fortunate to assist you.  Yes, we all need one another – even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.  It isn’t our job to colonize other people’s culture and society to make it more like our own.  It is our duty to share the Gospel, make room at the Table, extend love in the Name of Jesus, and work together as the one people of God, formed by the Spirit.

Almighty God of all creation, I understand that we don’t struggle merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep separations alive by perpetuating the lie that some members of the family are inferior and others superior.  Create in us a new mind and heart that will enable us to see brothers and sisters in the faces of those divided by human constructed categories of power disparities.  Give us the grace and strength to rid ourselves of stereotypes that oppress some of us while providing entitlements to others.  Help us to create a Church and nation that embraces the hopes and fears of oppressed people everywhere we live, as well as those around the world.  Heal your family, God, and make us one with you, in union with our Lord Jesus, and empowered by your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 – For the Common Good

Pentecost

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (New Revised Standard Version)

A gift is meant to be unpacked.  No one is graciously given a gift, then lets it set unopened.  We dive into the gift and express gratitude for it.  Then, we use it.

It is really no different with the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit has been marvelously given to God’s people.  Each and every individual Christian is given a special gift to be opened, unpacked, activated, and used.  The kinds of gifts we are talking about are for the common good.  And this is where the gift is different than Christmas or birthday presents.

Spiritual gifts provided to us are designed by God to be used and dispersed for the benefit of others.  They are not solely meant for personal satisfaction.  In other words, if a person’s spiritual gift is teaching, he/she doesn’t stand in a mirror and talk at themselves.  Rather, they jump into the fray of learning and explaining, and do it in such a gracious and loving way that the enablement of the Spirit is evident.

If a person’s gift is faith, that person doesn’t merely step out and act with unusual courage for the purpose of personal betterment in a holy belief from God.  Instead, that person shows and demonstrates godly faithfulness to God’s people and to God’s world.  The gift is used for the common good of all persons.

The accumulation of wisdom and knowledge is meant for the strengthening of faith in others.  Spiritual gifts are intended by God to be shared freely for the common good of all people so that souls are buttressed and supported for the rigors of daily life in the world.

Therefore, we are to take the initiative in identifying our gift(s), unpacking them, and indiscriminately using them.  Spiritual health and wholeness can only be truly realized through everyone actively participating in the distribution of their God-given abilities.  Spiritual gifts are neither to be hoarded, nor miserly dealt to only people I like or my own little world of groupies and friends.  Any and every ability comes from God, and is, therefore given for the common good of all persons.  Underprivileged groups need the giftedness of others, as well as discovering their own resources to be used so that everyone is built up in a society of redeemed persons.

Whatever it is you do well, do it well through allowing God to activate it for his glory and for the prevailing needs of a church and a world which is desperately in want of seeing the manifestation of the Holy Spirit among them.

O Lord, you have taught us that without love, whatever we do is worth nothing.  Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.  Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Galatians 5:16-26 – Being Led by the Spirit

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“Be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires…. the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit.  Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.” (Common English Bible)

I’m the youngest sibling in my family.  So, I know what it feels like to be a third wheel with things.  When I was a kid, it always seemed as if everyone thought I was too young to do anything or engage any of the real fun stuff, like watching Mannix, Sanford and Son, or Love American Style past my bedtime like everyone else was doing (I was fascinated with TV as a kid).  Now, much older, I have a larger context for understanding all of that stuff.  Yet, the fact remains that I really was a third wheel lots of times.

Sanford-and-Son

Sometimes I think we treat the Holy Spirit of God somewhat like a third wheel.  We pray to Almighty God; we pray in Jesus’ blessed name; and… what of the Holy Spirit?  Sometimes, even many times, the Spirit gets the short end of the stick.  In fact, I’ve been in some churches where I think their understanding of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible; the Spirit is nowhere to be found.

Maybe, because we can never predict what in the world the Spirit is going to do, we send Him off to some metaphorical bedtime so that we watch and do whatever we want.  Or, perhaps we really are diligent about the Christian life.  We strive, work, and wrestle to live a good life.  But, somehow, we fall short and feel like a failure far too often.  Why is that?

Could be that we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit as the third wheel.  We believe in Him, have faith that He’s there, but don’t have any idea how to relate to Him.  God is big and sovereign; Jesus has a real body and blood; and, the Spirit… well, He’s really out there, man – like, He’s too cool for school and would be one of the characters on The Mod Squad, or something.  How do you have a relationship with someone (and often we refer to the Spirit as some “thing”), that is, with a person (and the Spirit is fully a person) who is so crazy ethereal and seemingly other than you and me?

the mod squad

The Holy Spirit is the power source of the Christian life.  Without him, we can easily degenerate into all kinds of illicit thinking and behavior – including things like “sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that” (verses 19-21).

It is the Spirit who helps us, comforts us, provides strength for us, and enables us to replace old habits with new ones and dead practices with solid “Spirit”ual action.  The Christian virtues which flower and produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control occur through a close intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit helps us in our weakness when we pray and act.  The Christian enjoys such a close affectionate association with the Holy Spirit that it is as if we are a building, like a temple, and the person of the Spirit has taken up residence within.  The person of the Spirit is the person of God the Father’s, and the person of God the Son’s gift to the people of God.  By means of the Holy Spirit, God is always with us and continually at-this-moment working within us to make the redemption given in Christ an actual real-live encounter.  In other words, the Spirit gives us feet to walk among this world armed with the implements of God’s love.

fruit of the spirit

I’m going to make a simple observation about the Galatians text for today.  All of the spiritual virtues expressed are the “fruit” of the Spirit, not “fruits.”  The nine ethics are a package deal.  When you have the Spirit and spiritual fruit, you possess all nine Christian values.  If we look at the list and say something like, “Well, Tim, I’m pretty good at kindness and goodness, but I don’t have much peace or patience.”  What that really means is that you are probably doing kindness and goodness from a different place than by means of the Holy Spirit because when the Spirit manifests Himself in us we exhibit the fruit.  You can’t separate the nine spiritual virtues any more than you can separate the Trinity.  They are all one spiritual fruit cultivated and produced inside you by the agency of God’s Spirit.

Maybe it’s time to back up the truck and take a look at the shadow side of our lives.  It could be that we are, for example, far more driven by our anxiety about most things than about genuine altruism and love.  The same result might seem to appear through our words and actions, but it will not last if it is generated from a place of worry – and it is not of the Spirit.

So, what do you do about it?  You must put to death (mortify) the deeds of the sinful nature.  You have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live but Christ lives in you by means of the Spirit He has given to us (Galatians 2:20).  If you have C-clamped your heart so tight that the Spirit can’t get in, then it’s high time to loosen the grip and enable God to do His gracious and merciful work within you.  It is the only way to go about genuine transformation of life.

two wild and crazy guys

Yes, it is scary.  Letting go of control is very hard for many people, including me.  But the results are worth it.  The Spirit knows what He is doing.  He might work in wild and crazy ways.  He might show up on Saturday Night Live where you least expect him to be.  The way we go with God is by going with the Spirit and being led by Him.  Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29).  The Spirit always points us to Christ, the one who has delivered us from the realm of sin and brought us forgiveness.  This work of Christ sets us up for the work of the Spirit who now makes our deliverance practically and effectively a reality in daily relationships and experiences.

streets of san francisco

The Holy Spirit is not a third wheel.  He’s the real deal.  When you open your heart to Him, you expose yourself to the wideness of God’s mercy which results in the wonderful fruit of the Spirit.  And when you experience the Spirit working inside of you, it makes the car chase scenes in The Streets of San Francisco look not so dramatic.

May the Spirit of the living God be with you now, and forever.  Amen.

Ephesians 1:7-14 – God Is Good

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Ephesians 1:8, Contemporary English Version of the Bible

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” (Common English Bible)

Believe it or not, verses 3-14 of Ephesians chapter one, 12 verses in all, are one single sentence in the Greek language the Apostle Paul originally wrote this in.  Thankfully, and understandably, English translators have created multiple sentences for us so that we can better make sense of the text.  It’s almost as if Paul was so excited to talk with the Ephesian church about who they are in Jesus Christ and what they possess in him that he blurted out with enthusiasm and wrote with fervor without stopping to take a breath.

Paul heaps word after significant word on top of each other in a flurry of provided spiritual blessings the believer in Christ enjoys.  Redemption, forgiveness, insight, protection, inheritance, and salvation are just some of the blessings given.  If that wasn’t enough, God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the one who comes alongside and helps us to live into the blessings we possess because of the person and work of Christ.

redemption

It’s as if we came to Christmas day expecting a package of underwear and found instead a bunch of big boxes with some of the most lavish and expensive gifts we’ve ever seen!  This says much more about the giver than it says about us.  It was according to God’s good pleasure in Christ that believers in Jesus have such privileges.  Like the parent who sits back and watches the unpackaging of presents happen with great joy, so God delights and is pleased with what he has given to us.

First and foremost, in the entirety of Holy Scripture, all the stories and narratives, teachings and writings, are about God.  He is both the subject and object of each book of the Bible.  Every good thing we have in this life is because of God’s grace.  Each positive experience is a direct result of God’s steadfast love toward his people.  All good gifts come from a good God who is pleased to give them.

Not a one of us purchased our own gifts and stuck them under the tree.  God bought them all with the precious blood of Jesus and sent the Spirit to deliver them to us.

Take some time today in a quiet place and reflect on just one of these words in the text.  Think about redemption or forgiveness, salvation or grace, or any of the words which grab you.  Say it over and over, quietly and loudly, thoughtfully and with flavor.  Consider what God did to bring you that gift.  Contemplate the way(s) in which you have received the gift.  Plan one way in which you might share your gift with another person.  Then, give glory and praise to God for his grace to you.

May your meditation lead to a deeper appreciation of what God has done for you; and may that revelation result in praise, honor, and glory to the One who accomplished so much on your behalf.

Gracious God, you have revealed and made known the way of deliverance from the power of darkness and brought me into your marvelous light.  Help me to better understand all the ways you have acted on my behalf so that my life might reflect your grace and steadfast love to the world; through Jesus Christ, my Savior, in the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Ephesians 5:6-20

            “Act like people with good sense and not like fools.  These are evil times, so make every minute count.  Don’t be stupid.  Instead, find out what the Lord wants you to do… let the Spirit fill your life.” (CEV)
 
            If someone walked off the roof of their house we would, at the least, call them stupid, if not completely out of their head.  To think that we could defy gravity and just walk on air is more than ignorance.  And to believe we can live any old way we want and think we can defy God’s Word, Christ’s Way, and the Spirit’s leading with no consequence is plain stupid.
 
            Having some spiritual common sense means reading the Scriptures, looking to God in prayer, and asking for the Spirit’s help and filling.  Find out what God wants you to do.  Actively seek it.  If we don’t, we will end up in trouble, as sure as ignoring gravity.
 
            Every minute we spend in thoughtless routine with no attention paid to what God wants erodes our moral fiber, compromises our integrity, and puts us in a position to ethically fail.  But when we are filled with the Spirit through careful attention to God we submit to one another out of reverence to Christ, and sing without mumbling to each other of God’s inherent goodness.  Would you rather be foolish or wise; morally degenerate or ethically virtuous; vapidly stupid or sensibly smart?  Get in the Word and be filled with the Spirit.
 

 

            Wise God, may your Holy Spirit fill my life in such a way that I live intelligently, ethically, and responsibly.  I turn my back on being as dumb as a cow, and turn to Christ as my model and my Savior.  Amen.

Ephesians 1:17-19

            “I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit.  The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God.  My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and that you will understand the hope that was given to you when God chose you.  Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all of God’s people.  I want you to know about the great and mighty power that God has for us followers” (CEV).
 
            A few observations about this biblical prayer:  praying this makes every Christian a “Pentecostal” believer, whether you are in a Pentecostal denomination or not; and, God wants us to pray that his Holy Spirit will give us spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we will know his great power.  Out of all the things we might pray, we really ought not to fail in praying biblical prayers.  And this is a doozy of a prayer!
 
            Let me lay down a challenge to you:  pray this prayer every day for two weeks, beginning today.  Yes, every single day.  Maybe even multiple times in the day.  Pray it for yourself, your church, your family, your friends, and even for those who do not yet know that they need Jesus.  Pray this prayer for the Spirit and, after fourteen days (up to and including June 1) see if there is any change, any difference in your life, in your congregation, and in your relationships.  There is no need to keep bemoaning the state of religion and the lack of spirituality in this world when we have such a prayer as this to pray.  Let’s you and me have less complaining, more praying, please.
 

 

            Mighty God, give me your Spirit.  May the light of your gracious gospel flood my heart so that I will experientially know all of the blessings of Christ’s redemption and the incomparably great power available to me because of his finished work on the cross.  Amen.

Pentecost

 
 
            Just this morning a group of us guys from church had a large grill session of burgers, brats, and hot dogs in preparation for a Sunday celebration.  This time of year is hugely significant when we attune ourselves to Holy Time because it is Pentecost.  Ten days after recognizing Christ’s Ascension, and fifty days after our Lord’s resurrection from death, the Christian Calendar observes the day of Pentecost (which literally means “fifty” in Greek).  The day coincides with an established Jewish festival, the Feast of Weeks.  Back in the day, Jerusalem would be filled with all kinds of different nationalities and ethnicities during the festival.
 
            Pentecost is often known as the birthday of the church.  It marks the time when the Holy Spirit came upon the fledgling believers in power.  The account is found in the New Testament book of Acts:  “On the day of Pentecost all the Lord’s followers [120 believers] were together in one place.  Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind!  It filled the house where they were meeting.  Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there.  The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak” (Acts 2:1-4).  The upshot of it all was that Peter, once an up-and-down follower, was filled with the Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.  His call to repentance and faith in Jesus led directly to three-thousand persons added to the little band of one-hundred twenty.
 
            But it didn’t stop there.  We live in a tremendous age in which all believers in Jesus have the same Holy Spirit as our spiritual ancestors.  It is an era of the Spirit empowering the church to reach the world with the good news that there is forgiveness and grace through the person and work of Christ.  So, then, the church possesses confidence and security in knowing that the Spirit’s enablement and power is available for the mission of proclaiming Christ to the nations.  It is an immense call, a calling that befits the bigness of God.
 
            There are a wide range of Christian celebrations of Pentecost. Some churches do not recognize the holiday at all. Most churches at least mention it in prayer, song, or sermon. Other churches go all out, with worship focused on remembering the first Pentecost and praying for a similar outpouring of divine power.  Churches that employ liturgical colors generally use red on Pentecost as a symbol of power and fire of the Spirit.
 
            Pentecost reminds us that Christians are meant to live in the presence and in the power of the Holy Spirit, all day, every day, 24/7.  It is a chance to confess our shortcomings and failures because of fear, apathy, and selfishness, and to ask for a fresh infusing and infilling of God’s wonderful Spirit.  Pentecost flings every single believer into a congregational whole, the church, and lets us know that we are not to be rugged individualists acting alone but are part of the Body of Christ.    Thus, we must renew our commitment to the church for whom Christ died and the Spirit is ready to use.  Pentecost throws disparate people together in a unified whole, made up of every kind of language, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and race.  We are all to use the gifts of the Spirit given to us for the benefit of building up one another.
 
            The church is the church because of the Holy Spirit.  We are to do the work of spreading the gospel in passionate outreach using the power of the Spirit, equipping and encouraging each other displaying the fruit of the Spirit, and worshiping the person of the Spirit for always being present with us.
 

 

            Pentecost was and is a watershed event.  Worship, community, and outreach are the logical extensions and the collective responsibility of each and every church around the globe.  In solidarity, let the day of Pentecost be recognized and observed with heartfelt thanksgiving and renewed impulses to exercising our spiritual abilities graciously promised by Jesus and given to us by the Holy Spirit.