Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Holy Spirit Gives Gifts (#3 in the Holy Spirit series)

What Does The Holy Spirit Do?

Last week we had an intense time of worship, where many of us admitted that we weren’t where we want to be in relation to the Holy Spirit, that there are times when we don’t experience the Spirit’s presence. There was an outpouring of the Spirit as many came forward for prayer. I hope and pray that this isn’t simply a play on the emotion of the day but a time of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking.

One of our problems seems to be that we want control. A long time ago I received a small pamphlet by Robert Boyd Munger, called My Heart – Christ’s Home. He describes his heart as a home for Christ. Toward the end, he realizes that he has been trying to keep his heart clean and available for Christ, but when he gets one area clean, he discovers another area that is dirty. When he cleans it, he finds the first area is dirty again.

Suddenly I asked, “Lord is there a possibility that you would be willing to manage the whole house and operate it for me…? Could I give to you the responsibility of keeping my heart what it ought to be and myself doing what I ought to be doing?”

I could see his face light up as he replied, “I’d love to! This is exactly what I came to do. You can’t live out the Christian life in your own strength. That is impossible. Let me do it for you and through you. That’s the only way it will really work. But,” he added slowly, “I am here as your guest. I have no authority to take charge since this property is not mine.”

In a flash it all became clear. Excitedly I exclaimed, “Lord, you have been my guest and I have been trying to play the host. From now on you are going to be the owner and master of the house. I’m going to be the servant!”

Last week, many of us here determined to finally completely turn over the ownership of our lives to God. But remember, even with the servant language I spoke of a moment ago, we are not servants or slaves. No, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)

We are heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ. Which means we share in the inheritance. This also means we are enabled to speak and act with God’s authority. Does that mean we can do whatever we want? No, but it does mean that our own wills are bowing according to God’s. It’s not like God beats us into submission; if you have ever been in love, you know what I’m talking about here. You are your own person, but you fall in love, and over time, you start to actually enjoy some of the things your partner likes. You do things just because you know someone you love will be happy.

Some people get confused when thinking about our relationship with God. It can be easy to think of God as “up there” and apart from us, as God is wholly other than us. We often remember that God’s thoughts are above ours and his wisdom often runs counter to human wisdom and we can lose sight of God’s immense love for us. We can lose sight that in the Holy Spirit, we have been given God’s own Spirit.

But the Spirit never comes empty-handed. The Spirit comes, bearing gifts. 1 Corinthians 12 is one place where Paul talks about Spiritual Gifts, that is, gifts given by the Holy Spirit.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

Later in the same chapter, he lists apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, behind the scene helpers, and administrators as those gifted and commissioned by the Spirit.

The list he gives in Romans 12 also includes encouragement, generosity, leadership, and mercy. His list in Ephesians 4 also includes evangelist and pastor. As you can see, there are many gifts that the Spirit gives to empower the church.

But then problems arise. We aren’t all given the same gifts, so sometimes people get jealous of others’ gifts. But 1 Corinthians 12:4 tells us that there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.(1 Corinthians 12:4). So this means if you are complaining about your gift or comparing yours to someone else’s, you are really only questioning God. You are saying, “God, you don’t know what you’re doing.” Or you’re saying, “I know better than God.”

I once had a colleague who liked to brag that he had all the spiritual gifts. There are all kinds of problems with this. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 12:3-6a: For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

My colleague who bragged about all his spiritual gifts was certainly thinking more highly of himself than he ought to. He also put down others’ gifts. He wasn’t acting biblically. But if he really had all the spiritual gifts, it would have meant that he didn’t need the rest of the Body. And that’s not how the Spirit gives out gifts!

The Spirit gives out gifts for a purpose – to edify and uplift the church and together to form one body. Some people question whether they can be a Christian and not  be part of a church – the question usually presents itself in a “I can worship God better on the golf course or in the forest all by myself – why do I need to be in church?” This is an individualistic self-centered non-Christian idea, because to do so is to ignore the fact that when the Holy Spirit gives gifts, obedience is required! The Spirit actually expects us to use the gifts we’ve been given. I know someone who I’ve given gifts to, only to later find the gift, still unopened and unused. Guess how I feel about giving that person gifts? And if we don’t use our gifts, how do you think God feels about giving more to us?

So skipping church shouldn’t be an option. Neither should just showing up and not being part of the ministry of the church. Not if you are a Christian. Because the Holy Spirit gives every Christian spiritual gifts, and expects us each to use them. Not using them is pure and simple disobedience.

In most churches, you will find 10-20% of the people doing all of the work. I heard a saying a long time ago: if you want something to get done, ask a busy person. Because that person is likely someone who gets things done. But this unfortunately leads to some Christians not using their spiritual gifts. And others working in their own strength.

As we close this morning I want to ask a serious question. Was there anything different this week than last? Many of you came forward for prayers. I want to hear, was anything different? Did God do anything different in your life? Did you do anything different in anticipation for God to do something different? This drives me mad when it comes to long-time church members. We often ask God to do something new, to do something different, but we ourselves are unwilling to do anything different. The big question is, what will you do differently this week? We came forward last week as the Holy Spirit drew us toward himself. How will we continue that momentum? How will we keep moving toward the Spirit and toward Christlikeness?

Have you been meeting together to study scripture and to pray for one another? Will you do that? Have you been feeding the hungry and clothing the naked? Will you do that? Have you been taking intentional time to listen in your prayers, to listen to that still, small voice? Have you spent time fasting and praying? These are what we call the “means of grace” – in other words, these are the practices that God uses to make us Holy. These are the regular channels by which God pours out his grace. Remember that these are not the goal of Christianity. The goal is Christlikeness.

Remember that the reason we become more Christlike when we follow these “means of grace” isn’t because somehow these acts give us magical powers; these acts have the power to convey all forms of grace precisely because Jesus Christ himself is present in prayer, in the reading of Scripture, and in the Lord’s Supper. 

So may we go together toward sanctification, toward Christlikeness, toward deeper holiness. And may we go, walking in the steps the Holy Spirit guides us into.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Holy Spirit is a Person (#2 in the Holy Spirit series)

Have you ever met your hero? When I was fourteen years old, one of my heroes was American football star, Jim McMahon. In January he had led his team, the Chicago Bears, to the championship, and in March, he came to my hometown to sign autographs. I stood in a long line with thousands of other fans, and bought an overpriced poster. Finally my brother and I were face-to-face with our hero.

I had watched many of the Chicago Bears’ games that year, including the championship. I knew all about Jim McMahon and the disciplinary trouble he’d gotten in. I even knew what kind of treatment he had gotten for his injuries. So how do you expect he greeted me when I walked up the steps to the table where he sat autographing pictures? After all, I knew all about him. If you’re wondering, he didn’t greet me at all. He didn’t even look at me. He just scrawled his name on my poster.

I could tell you that I met Jim McMahon that day, but I really didn’t. And there are a lot of people in our world who have had a similar experience with God. They know all about Him, and they have even been around people who seem to know him, but they themselves don’t.

There is a difference between knowing about someone and knowing someone. We often put great stress on knowing about God – in our Bible studies and sermons, but there is no guarantee that we’ll actually get to know Him through our various activities. Unfortunately it seems like we don’t even get the chance to know that much about the Holy Spirit.

The first thing we need to know about the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is a Person. Not a person, as in a human being, but a Person, as in a Personal Being, not just an impersonal force.

In John chapters 14, 15, and 16, we see some clues to confirm that the Holy Spirit is a Person and not just a force. In John 14:16 Jesus says: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.

Now skip down to 14:26, where Jesus says, “But the Counselor, 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.”

In the next chapter, 15:26, Jesus says, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth whom goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”

And in chapter 16, verse 7, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you: but if I go, I will send him to you.”

There is a world of difference between being indwelt by an impersonal force or a Person. Waves on the ocean are an impersonal force. I tried surfing once and really enjoyed riding the waves, but you have to be careful because the water can slam you down and even pull you out to sea. But waves do not have a mind of their own; they are simply waves. Waves do act, but they are impersonal. They don’t have a goal or opinions. They do not care about you. They cannot counsel, guide, or lead you. They simply crash on the shore and sweep out to sea.

But the Holy Spirit is not an it, but a Person. And this is the One who Jesus promised would live within the believer. When you take this truth into consideration, the next one will be so much more powerful. Not only is the Holy Spirit a Person, but the Holy Spirit is God.

The One who lives within us, who leads us, who purifies us, is God Himself.  Do you want to know God’s will? The Holy Spirit knows God’s will, and lives within us! Listen to 1 Corinthians 2:9-12- As it is written, no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely taught us. Paul sums up his thought in 2:16 where he quotes Isaiah, saying, “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

So, if the Holy Spirit is a Person, a Person who indwells us, why is it that we often do not experience His Presence? We often limit the work of the Holy Spirit to our emotional response. When I ask Christians how they knew the Holy Spirit was present in a church service, the answers include “when we sang the right songs, I felt the Spirit’s presence.” Or “I got that goose bump tingling sensation or felt my heart strangely warmed.”

So you’re saying that if the songs aren’t right, the Spirit isn’t there? Or, more like, if we don’t sing your favorite songs, then Satan has blocked the Holy Spirit? And I get goose bumps when I’m cold. And I feel a warm sensation when I’m embarrassed. So why don’t I always feel the Holy Spirit, especially since Jesus promised that He would be with us always?

There are many reasons why we don’t experience the Holy Spirit, and I want to highlight three:

1.                  There is often too much noise in our lives. We have televisions bringing programming from all over the world. We have the ability to surf the internet, play games, listen to music, check the weather, watch videos, comparison shop, pretty much anything you can imagine, and we can do it all on our phones wherever and whenever we want.  Oh, and we can use them to talk or text as well.

We’re busier than ever, always doing something, always going somewhere. A friend of mine wondered after he retired, “When did I ever find the time to have a job?!” Life is busy, and often we’re busy with really good things. But then we’re falling into the devil’s schemes. If he can’t convert us, he can make us so busy that we don’t notice the Holy Spirit.

Because God usually doesn’t speak to us really loudly. Sure, there is the “holy 2x4” that God sometimes uses to get our attention, but God usually speaks quietly. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is on the run from King Ahab, who is trying to kill him. This is right after one of my favorite Bible stories, the showdown between Elijah and  the 450 prophets of Baal, where God sent Holy Fire down on Elijah’s sacrifice. But immediately after this King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel are trying to hunt Elijah down and kill him. Elijah is hiding in a cave, and God meets him there.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the  Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper… (1 Kings 19:11-12) And this was God’s voice. Are we quiet enough to hear the gentle whisper?

2.                  A second reason we don’t experience the Holy Spirit’s presence is that maybe you have built a wall of sin. God is a holy God, and sin cannot remain in His presence. Listen to Isaiah 59:1-2 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. There’s a problem: God can hear you when you call, but your sins have cut you off from Him.

I want to be clear here, because there can be some misunderstanding here: if you are a Christian and you sin, you are still a Christian. When I was in driver training, I had a classmate who drove through a stoplight when the light was red. The driving instructor right there said, “There goes your waver,” meaning, “Because you missed that stoplight, you aren’t getting your license.” God doesn’t do that. We are covered by Jesus’ blood. His sacrifice is sufficient to cover our past sins, our present sins, and our future sins. But if we continue living with unrepentant sin, meaning you keep on sinning and you don’t care about your sin, this is going to negatively affect your relationship with God.

Think about it in relationship terms – because the Holy Spirit is a Person. If I lie to my wife, what does it do to our relationship? How about if I continue to lie? When I tell that first lie, there goes a brick. Another lie, another brick. Soon, I’ve walled myself off from my wife. Are we still married? Yes. But is there a problem? Yes! And likewise, when we continue in sin, we wall ourselves off from the Holy Spirit.

We can often become hard-hearted or calloused toward the Spirit; we ignore Him for so long until we forget what His voice even sounds like. When Jesus’ disciples asked why He was teaching in parables, he told them that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding, you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused, they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and in turn I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:15) This people’s heart has become calloused. We have every opportunity to see the Holy Spirit at work, to hear His voice, and to understand Him, but our eyes are wide open and staring at nothing. Our ears are attuned only to the buzz of static around us, and we never hear. At times we have taken God for granted and have become calloused to the point where we don’t even realize that we’re not spending time with Him anymore. That has to stop!

3.                  Finally, some people don’t experience the Holy Spirit because they’re not Christians. I don’t like to mention this, and I’m not picking on anyone in particular, but we have to realize that even Jesus said,“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

Here in Zambia, this often takes the form of someone claiming to be a Christian but holding on to other non-Christian beliefs, as if the Holy Spirit were just the stronger hex, so maybe they will hold out and try to hold on to both at the same time. God is a jealous God. He forbids holding on to other gods. He requires that we make a choice.

Maybe this describes you. Maybe you have gone through all the motions, but you’ve never surrendered your life. Realize that you’re not promised tomorrow.  Make the choice to accept the Personal Holy Spirit today.