John 14:18-31 – I Will Come

16th century depiction of the Last Supper

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us leave.” (New International Version)

Grief Amongst the Disciples

“He’s leaving!? What!? Huh!?” Although Jesus had tried to prepare the disciples for his impending cross and resurrection, they didn’t quite catch on. It was in the Upper Room, in their final meal together, that Jesus made it plain he was leaving – going back to the Father. (John 14:1-17)

There was both confusion and distress amongst the men. Anticipatory grief had suddenly smacked them like a golf club upside the head. Dizzied and dazed with thoughts their Lord would no longer be with them, Jesus then sought to assure them that this would be temporary. He is coming, again. In fact, they will experience more than one.

Christ is Coming Again, and Again

Three comings were to be realized:

  • Rising from death and appearing to the disciples.
  • Sending the Spirit as the continuing presence of Christ on earth.
  • Returning at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus was caring for his followers, including us, by providing future hope.

That is just what happened with the first two comings. Christians everywhere celebrate the rising of Christ from death, his ascension into heaven, and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Christian tradition holds that the Spirit – the Paraclete, Advocate, Comforter, and Counselor – is now presently with us.

Although the world no longer sees Jesus, believers see him with eyes of faith, hope, and love. Christians intuitively perceive another spiritual dimension in which Christ is beside them in the person of God’s Spirit. Some things can’t be intellectually explained. They just are.

Meanwhile, while Christians everywhere await the return of Christ to this earth, they are busy loving their Lord through obedience to his commands. And his command is to love one another as he loved them. Love and obedience go hand in hand. To know the love of God in Christ is to willingly give oneself to obey such a merciful Being.

The Spirit’s Help

We are not left alone to fumble around on this earth, trying to love in our own strength or ability. The Spirit is present, helping us to do loving work. There is real spiritual assistance in applying Christ’s teaching to the practical aspects of life in the here-and-now. Such constructive down-to-earth support gives Christians a sense of peace and integrity of living.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Jesus (John 14:27, NLT)

Unlike worldly peace, which typically uses war to try and end war, has merely the absence of conflict as its goal. However, the peace of Christ is intensely personal. It is his very own peace. Through Christ’s suffering and death, he absorbed in himself the malice and hatred of others and introduced peace – a new harmony through love.

The profound absence of love, the rebellion of humanity against concern for the common good of all, and the shame of selfishness that damns the world is overthrown by the obedience and self-sacrifice of Jesus. The world will learn this – either by discovering the love of Christ now or, at the end of the age, with the return of Christ.

Jesus has come, is here, and will come again. These comings are for us and for our deliverance from all that is unjust and broken in this world. We are not alone. There is ever-present help. This is the basis of the Christian’s confidence.

Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful with divine love. Come as the wind that blows, come as the fire that refines, come as the dew that refreshes. Convict, convert and consecrate us until we are wholly yours, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Galatians 5:16-26 – Let the Spirit Guide You

“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 seemed as if everyone believed 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. Although now, I understand why I couldn’t watch those shows, the fact remains, I was often a third wheel.

At times, we treat the Holy Spirit of God like some third wheel. We pray to Almighty God. We pray in Jesus’ blessed name. And what of the Holy Spirit? Seems the Spirit gets the short end of the stick, getting treated like a younger sibling in the Trinity family. In fact, I’ve been in some churches where it seems their understanding of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible – the Spirit is nowhere to be found.

Truth is, we never quite know what the Spirit might do. Heck, we aren’t even sure what pronoun to use for the Holy Spirit. It? He? She? They?  Because the Spirit seems so mysterious and ethereal, because the Spirit is so unpredictable, we send he/she/it off to some metaphorical bedtime so that we can watch TV 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. Yet, somehow, we far too often fall short and feel like a failure. Why is that?

Could be that we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit as the third wheel. We believe in the Spirit. We have faith the Spirit is there. Yet, we don’t have any idea how to relate. God is big and sovereign. And Jesus has a real body and blood. But the Spirit? Well, the Spirit’s out there, man – like, too cool for school, or like one of the characters on “The Mod Squad,” or something. 

How do you have a relationship with someone or something (many often refer to the Spirit as a “thing”)? How do we relate with a person (after all, the Spirit is fully a person) who is so crazy and seemingly other than you and me?

The Holy Spirit is the power source of the Christian life.  Without the Spirit, we can easily degenerate into all kinds of illicit thinking and behavior – including immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, substance abuse, casting evil spells, hate, fighting, obsessive behaviors, violent anger, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, or living for the party.

It is the Spirit who helps, comforts, provides strength, and enables us to replace old habits with new ones, and dead practices with solid spiritual 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 like a sacred temple with the person of the Spirit taking up residence within. 

By means of the Holy Spirit, God is always with us and continually, at this moment, working within us to make our redemption in Christ an actual real-live encounter. In other words, the Spirit gives us feet to walk among this world, armed with the implement of God’s love.

I’m going to make a simple observation about our New Testament lesson for today. All the spiritual virtues mentioned 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, I’m pretty good at kindness and goodness, but I don’t have much peace or patience,” what that really means is that we are probably doing kindness and goodness from a different place than by means of the Holy Spirit. Because when the Spirit is manifested in us, we exhibit spiritual fruit. We cannot separate the nine spiritual virtues any more than we can separate the Trinity. They’re all one spiritual fruit, cultivated and produced within the inner person by the agency of God’s Spirit.

Maybe we need to consider the shadow side of our lives. It could be that, for example, we are far more driven by our anxiety about most things than about genuine altruism and love. The results of our actions and words might look the same, but the motivation might be far from truly altruistic. It simply will not last if our actions are generated from a place of worry – because it is not of the Spirit.

So, what to do about it?  We must mortify (put to death) 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 we have C-clamped our hearts so tight that the Spirit cannot get in, then it’s high time to loosen the grip and enable God to do some gracious and merciful work within us.  It’s the only way to experience genuine transformation of life.

The spiritual life can be scary. Letting go of control is hard for many people, including me. But the results are worth it. The Spirit is competent. The Holy Spirit might work in wild and crazy ways and might show up on “Saturday Night Live” where you least expect to discover her.

Jesus said that the work of God is to 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 enables the work of the Spirit, who now makes our deliverance a practical reality in daily life.

The Holy Spirit is not a third wheel, but the real deal. Whenever we open our hearts to the Spirit, we experience the wideness of God’s mercy. And when the Spirit is working inside of us, it makes the car chase scenes in “The Streets of San Francisco” look a lot less dramatic.

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

Ephesians 1:7-14 – Even More Blessings!

Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic

We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. 

We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory. (CEB)

Believe it or not, the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church comprises only two sentences in the Greek language for which he originally wrote. Ephesians 1:3-14 are one sentence, and Ephesians 1:15-23 is the other sentence. Thankfully, understandably, and mercifully, 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 believers about who they are in Jesus Christ and what they possess in him that he blurted out in writing with a flurry of enthusiasm and excited fervor without stopping to take a breath or a break.

Paul stacked word after significant word on top of each other to communicate the spiritual blessings believers in Christ enjoy.

Redemption, forgiveness, insight, protection, inheritance, and salvation are just some of the blessings given. If that wasn’t enough, God has graciously given us the 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.

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 the gifts given to us. 

First and foremost, in the entirety of Holy Scripture, all the stories and narratives, teachings and writings, are about God. The Lord of all creation 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 people. All good gifts come from a good God who is delighted and pleased to give them.

Not even 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 the words in today’s New Testament lesson. Think about redemption or forgiveness, salvation, or grace, or any of the words which grab you. Say it repeatedly, 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 the grace lavishly given 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 our 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.

Christmas Eve – All I Want for Christmas is Faith

Luke 1:26-38 tells us what led to the observance of Christmas Eve, the holy night for Christians everywhere. Nothing is outside the power of God to accomplish the impossible. Click the videos below and we will remember and observe the coming of the Christ child…

Josh Groban – O Holy Night
Silent Night – Concordia Christmas Concerts, 2016

May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the Magi, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ child be yours this Christmas. And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always.  Amen.