We Need the Holy Spirit

 
 
Orthodox Christianity holds to the great Three-in-One of God – God is indivisibly One and at the same time a Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Christians typically have no problem expressing their prayers and devotion to the Persons of the Father and the Son.  However, when it comes to the Spirit, this Person of the Holy Trinity is often referred to as an “it” or a “force.”  Yet, the Holy Spirit is as much God and as much a Person as our heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
We absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God.  Without the Spirit’s help, Jesus is merely looked at by people as one of thousands of individuals crucified in history, and only an example of one who was martyred for his faith.  But Jesus was infinitely more than that.  He is the Son of God.  He is the Savior of the world.  Through Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension people can be redeemed from empty lives, saved from destructive life-patterns, and given the kind of security and purpose to life that God intended from the beginning of the world for people to possess.  It is the Spirit of God that takes these redemptive events of Jesus and applies them to our lives.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, we are lost because we are completely unable to see the genuine spiritual truth about the cross of Jesus Christ unless God the Holy Spirit breaks into our lives and does an intervention showing us our denial about how we are really doing and our delusions about who we really are (1 Corinthians 2:1-16).
 
            Admitting that we absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God means that the power of Christianity and the Christian life does not reside with me or you; power rests only with Jesus Christ and him crucified with the Spirit witnessing to us of this truth.  In other words, we are powerless.  I realize that this is not a popular message, especially in Western society.  We Americans are powerless?  That sounds ridiculous to a particularly can-do kind of people.  We have done fairly well, thank you very much; we have a couple of cars, a house, a job, and a family.  After all, we worked hard and we did it.  But the thing is that any worldly success and getting the things we want may lead us to the delusion that we have the power to do what we want.
 
            “Oh, sure,” we might reason, “we have problems just like everybody else.  After all, we cannot control everything.”  But we are not powerless just because we have difficult circumstances and a few problem people in our lives.  “God will step in a take-over where I leave off, right?”  Wrong.  Apart from the Holy Spirit of God, we are totally unable to become Christians and live the Christian life.  If we think we manage our lives just fine, with some help from God, then we may be in denial about how much we actually place ourselves at the center of the world and believe we should be able to deal with whatever comes in life.  When our constant response to adverse situations or the realization that we are not handling something well is to try and fix ourselves, we are living the delusion that we have the power to change.
 
            When our first reaction is to search Google to find answers to our problems; when we persistently deal privately with our personal issues; when we expect that our willpower should be enough; or, when we passively resign ourselves to mediocre lives because we have tried to change or be different; then, we are feeding the delusion that we do not really need the Holy Spirit of God but instead feed the idea that more effort or information is what we need in order to find the power to overcome whatever is in my life that needs overcoming.  What we are left with in this approach is more knowledge, but even more discouragement because what we actually need more than anything in this world is the Holy Spirit of God applying the work of Jesus Christ to our lives so that we can truly live the power of a victorious life.
 
            Unfortunately, it typically takes a tragedy or crisis to break our delusion of power – a bad marriage, a family member’s addiction, a runaway child, a terminal illness, a bankruptcy, or a death.  How bad do you and I need to hurt before we will admit that we are not managing our lives well at all, and that the real power to change resides with the Holy Spirit and not me?  Instead of expending enormous amounts of energy trying to keep up appearances of being in control and having power, let’s admit that we are compulsive about looking good to others and ask for help because we are really powerless.
 
            Power is in the cross of Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit testifying to us of God’s great grace.  The Apostle Paul believed this with all his heart.  Although he was a very intelligent and learned person, he did not rely on his abilities but rather trusted in proclaiming the power of Jesus and him crucified.  The cross of Jesus is not just an historical event, but an ongoing reality for us to experience victory over all the brokenness of this world and all the mess we have made of things putting ourselves at the center of the universe.  We need the Holy Spirit of God to intervene and apply Christ’s finished work to us. 
 

 

            That means that it is not enough for churches and Christian organizations to engage in strategic planning and mission statements, although these are important and have their place.  What all God’s people need is the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit more than anything else.  It is the Spirit that we must rely on to truly do the work of ministry and live the Christian life.  Learning to discern the Spirit’s guidance is not just a nice thing, but is essential for every church and each believer.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Fear Factor


Several years ago I spent about six months working in an assisted living facility.  One of the residents, who still had a house he had not sold yet, admitted to me that he had nearly $100,000 dollars in cash in his house.  It was well hidden, he assured me, within every door jamb of the house!  Having experienced the run on the banks that began the Great Depression, this man had no trust for institutions and was afraid to invest his money.
            Investment is only as good as our level of trust.  When Jesus told his story about three servants whom he gave a pile of money, he was saying something about the servants’ level of trust (Matthew 25:14-30). Two of the servants saw the master as gracious and generous and freely took their talents and confidently used them to create even more money.  They took risks, they invested, they worked, and they acted all with the idea that they were secure in their relationship with their master.  However, the third servant’s view of his master was different.  This servant saw his master as stern and serious and angry, and, so this is why he did nothing with his money because he was afraid.
He was afraid because his view of the master was not accurate.  If we see God as primarily being angry all the time, then we will not use the incredible gifts he has given us for fear of messing up and bringing his wrath upon us.  The truth is:  God is a gracious and generous God.  He has generously and graciously gifted each and every one of us, and he expects us to use those gifts and not hide them away in a door jamb!  He wants us to be like Him:  generous and gracious.  We must address this fear if we want to hear the saying:  “well done, good and faithful servant.”
            Fear is maybe the devil’s greatest tool to prevent God’s people from being productive Christians in serving the church and the world.  Beneath that fear are powerful feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and a low view of self which is really born of a low view of God.  Fear paralyzes a person’s potential to serve God’s kingdom.  Being afraid wastes what impact a person could have for God, and waters-down life so that it is ineffective.

 

Fear destroys dreams and godly desires.  Psalm 37:4 encourages us to delight ourselves in the LORD, and he will give us the desires of our hearts.  We are to enjoy the gracious and generous God, and in our enjoyment of Him He will place within us godly dreams that He will absolutely delight to fulfill.  Our enjoyment of God gives us the security and confidence to act upon those godly desires and produce a wonderful harvest that we can turn right around and give back to God.  
But put fear in the mix, and it dilutes and destroys everything.  It makes you do nothing.    Not only did the third servant do nothing, like his ancestor Adam he went into hiding and didn’t put his life to work.  One of the things that church leaders need to understand is that Christian discipleship is not primarily about getting parishioners to have the answers right on some bible study workbook; it is about action and service and that will only rightly happen as we have a solid robust view of God instead of a wrong view of God that leads to us being immobilized by fear.
In the Old Testament book of Numbers, the Israelites were immobilized by fear.  God had a grand vision and a big dream for his people to enter the Promised Land.  But ten of the twelve spies who came back after checking out the land were paralyzed by fear.  “The land has giants, and we are like grasshoppers” they said.  Caleb and Joshua, however, had a different view of taking the land because they had a different view of God.  They didn’t see giants – they saw a gracious and generous God who could easily take care of whoever might be in the land, and they wanted to act on the faith they had in a mighty and merciful God.  The God of the other spies wasn’t big enough to handle the giants.  Their low view of themselves as grasshoppers betrayed their low view of God.
Pastor David Seamands has rightly observed that “we wrap a lot of our fears in morbidly sanctified self-belittling.  We piously cover this self-despising and call it consecration and self-crucifixion.”  In other words, we feel good about feeling bad.  We use those feelings to make spiritual excuses for not exploring what God’s dreams and vision is for us.  It is high time we have bold God-sized dreams!  It is time for us to get into the world with our witness in a far greater way because we serve a God who sees giants as gnats, and we will, too, if we have a high view of God.
What holds us back?  Fear of criticism; fear of taking a risk; fear of going outside of the way we’ve always done it; and, the crippling fear of what others may think or say.  If you once dreamed something and you think your dream is dead because you destroyed it by your sins and bad habits, you are wrong.  Dreams are destroyed by fear, by being tricked into thinking that we are nothing but grasshoppers and God doesn’t care, and so we do nothing.
Fear ruins relationships, with both God and others.  Seeing God as angry and belittling is right where Satan wants all of us.  Fear ends up isolating us from people.  The most common way of coping with feelings of fear, insecurity, and inferiority is by withdrawing from other people.  You cannot give yourself fully to your spouse, your kids, your church, and to the world without a healthy robust view of and relationship with God. 
 
Fear sabotages Christian service.  “I can’t!” is the cry of the person locked in fear.  Perhaps you have noticed that God isn’t typically in the business of using superstars to do His work.  Moses was tongue-tied, Abraham was really a wimp, Matthew a lowly tax-collector, and the disciple Mark was a momma’s boy.  The less talented a person is the more God gets to show off His power and His ability through him or her.
            So, give God a chance.  Give him a chance to work in and through your life.  Explore the dimensions of church ministry because you have a God behind you that is gracious and generous.  May your mustard seed of faith grow to produce a harvest of righteousness.

The Ministry Legacy of Scrappy

 

 
 
This summer my family has had its share of both highs and lows.  Without question the most difficult experience of the summer for us was watching our nearly fifteen year old cocker spaniel, Scrappy, go from health problem to health problem which finally ended in needing to put him down.  He was very much part of the family, and my daughter, Mikaela, really did not know life apart from him.  As I have reflected on Scrappy, and his place in our family, he really taught me a lot about life and ministry.
 
            Recently I was reading in the psalms and was struck with this verse:  “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land, and befriend faithfulness.  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3, ESV).  I believe that all God’s creation has something to tell us and ways to teach us.  My family has been through a lot in the past fifteen years while having Scrappy as our pet.  I can remember about ten years ago going through a particularly difficult time and not always coming home at the end of the day with a good attitude.  There were times I even wept and wondered if God was even paying attention.  It was in that time that good ol’ Scrappy, no matter how I acted or what I said would be so happy to see me that it seemed like he would wag the tail right off his backside.  Even when I yelled at him, he would just come up and lick me like I was the most important person in the world.  There is no one quite like a dog to embody the words:  befriend faithfulness.  If I could have just an ounce of Scrappy’s faithfulness I think I would be the best Pastor in the world.
 
            Then there is the matter in the psalm about delighting in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Scrappy was happiest and never more in sheer delight as when he was with the family.  I didn’t matter much where we were; he just wanted to be with us.  And that is exactly the thing that he taught me about going through those rough stretches of life – that no matter what was going on around me, no matter what the circumstances and situations I had to face, God was with me, and I could choose to delight in him in the midst of anything.
 
            Over the years we learned to trust Scrappy as the family watchdog.  He was actually the runt of his litter, and was really a wimp.  Any feral cat could have beat him up.  But no one knew that by the way he acted.  Scrappy would bark the living daylights out of any stranger, or make a growling gesture toward the packs of feral teenage boys that would seek to date one of my three daughters.  Yep, Scrappy was a keeper.  You could count on him to secure the perimeter of the house, and guard against any and all danger that might be lurking about.  One day we came home to find Scrappy going nuts.  I couldn’t figure out what set him off.  A few days later I was walking around outside the house and noticed that someone had tried all the basement windows, and damaged some of them, to see if they could get in.  That night Scrappy enjoyed a steak with the family.
 
            I know that I can trust the LORD.  I know it, in part, because a crazy old cocker spaniel that God decided to throw my way for a few years on this earth helped me understand what trust is.  God’s grace can sometimes be found in the most unlikely of places.  Has God taught you things about himself, and about life, in unconventional ways?  Through people you never thought he would use?  In situations you would rather not find yourself in?
 
            May we all learn together the enjoyment of God, as well as the nature of God, through all of life’s ups and downs.