Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Sermon: Spirit of God

Seven weeks ago, something extraordinary happened in my life, something that rarely ever happens. I can’t remember the last time this happened. Seven weeks ago I intentionally, on purpose, woke up before the sun had risen. This never happens! I drove to Hightower beach just over here off of A1A and along with over 500 other individuals I watched the sun rise and in that peaceful serene moment we all reflected on how the Son of God rose from the grave some 2000 years ago. And here we are seven weeks later. I wonder if the disciples of Jesus knew what would happen seven weeks after Jesus rose from the grave. I doubt it. They knew of course that as they had just celebrated the Passover that seven weeks later would be the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost in Greek. Pentecost means 50 days because 7 weeks of 7 days is 49 days and then on day 50 you have the celebration, a festival in which they would commemorate the day that Israel received the Torah, the law, from God but did the disciples have any idea that this time they would not just celebrate the receiving of the law, but that they themselves would receive the very Spirit of God, that the God of the universe would live inside their bodies. Follow along with me in your bibles as we read about this moment, the birthday of the Church in Acts 2:1-4:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

In a very real sense this day, the receiving of the Spirit is why Jesus died on the cross. We often think of Easter, seven weeks ago, as the pinnacle of the Christian calendar. Jesus died and he was resurrected: that’s what it’s all about and frankly many of us in our Christian lives stay there at that moment. We recognize that Jesus died for our sins, that he was resurrected from the dead but we never move forward to the day of Pentecost, we never receive the Spirit for which Christ died. We never look for the power that Christ promised to live extraordinary, supernatural lives, with the God of the universe living inside our bodies. Galatians 3:13-14 says:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Christ did what he did SO THAT we might receive the Spirit of God. The very same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives inside of us. Jesus promised I’m going to put my very spirit into your body. You’re going to become a new creation and it’s going to change everything. You, yourself, your body is a temple and not in a well-intentioned but misappropriated use of scripture that you say “I can’t have another piece of cake” – body is a temple. No, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit – the God of the Universe resides within you and this has much more profound implications than whether or not you have blue cheese with your chicken wings.

When we read Scripture about people receiving Spirit or being filled with the Spirit we see these supernatural things that happened in their lives. Over and again we read that the Holy Spirit filled and empowered the early believers. The question is why don’t we believe that this should be the case in our own lives? Why don’t we believe he won’t do that in us? In many cases when you look at a group of Christians and non-Christians it is all but impossible to discern the difference – sure maybe the Christians are a little nicer, a little more morally conscientious, but is that all the Spirit of God came to do in our lives? I want to be able to say that I have this power to do things that the ordinary person cannot do. I want people to look at my life and my actions and say “that’s not possible.” I want to live my life in a way that demands a gospel explanation and in order to do that I have to have the power of the Gospel, I have to receive the Spirit of God and if I am to do this daily I have to be filled with the Spirit daily.

How do we begin to do this? First, if you haven’t already, ask! Jesus says in Luke 11:13 “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” If you want to see the Spirit working in your life ask Him and He will give you the Spirit. Secondly, recognize that the Spirit of God is not an impersonal force or a thing. The Holy Spirit is not some high powered fuel that God gives us to enhance what we’re already doing. The Spirit of God is God. The Spirit of God is a person that lives inside you, that slowly teaches us to trust him, and molds us and uses us in greater and greater ways. You could walk away from this sermon knowing more about the Spirit of God or you could walk away knowing a person, knowing the Spirit of God more deeply. Which do you think will change your life? The Spirit of God is a person and we receive Him, are filled with Him, are transformed by Him when we walk with Him and follow His lead.

In Acts 8, there a story about a man named Simon. Simon practiced sorcery and was able to do amazing things. The people were blown away at his magic so much that they called him “The Great Power.” Well when Philip came and preached the gospel in the area where Simon lived, people were baptized and Simon himself believed and was baptized. Later the believers in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to that same area and when they arrived they prayed that they might receive the Spirit of God, because while they had been baptized, the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them. Peter and John put their hands on them, and they receive the Spirit of God. When Simon sees this, he wants the Spirit too. I mean who wouldn’t and remember Simon believed, he was baptized, he wanted the Holy Spirit. Simon offers Peter and John money so that he can receive the Spirit and his reason is so that he would have the ability to lay hands on others and give the Spirit to them. Peter reacts really negatively and says “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

What did Simon do that was so wrong? Simon saw the power of the Holy Spirit as he saw his own magic. He thought of it as something he could control, a power that he could use to do whatever he wanted and Peter rightly realizes that his in the heart is in the wrong place. Simon tries to lead the Spirit rather than being led by Him. Simon tries to walk on his own and get a little Holy Spirit power for his own purposes rather than walking with the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit, not so that we can do the things that we want but so that we can be led by him on daily basis, walking with him.

Galatians 5:25 says “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit!” This means, of course, that we need to constantly be asking this person who lives in us, what you want to do today, allowing the Spirit to step by step, day by day, direct us. Where are we going walk today? Where do you want to lead me today Spirit? Who do you want me to love today? Who do you want me to serve today? What do you want me to do right now? Holy Spirit, if you’re in there, what are we doing this afternoon? Are you Sunday afternoon plans open to input from the Spirit of God that lives within you?

Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us, he died so that we could forget everything else and follow Him. How is the Spirit leading you as you spend time with your family? What might the Spirit be leading you to say to people you work with? How might the Spirit be leading you to shape your budget? Let me warn you, walking with the Spirit, being led by the Spirit will change you. He may ask you to give up some good things, at least for a time, to accomplish his purposes in and through you. He may ask you, even if you run a million dollar business, to hand out bulletins for those coming to worship. He may ask you, even if you’re the pastor of a large Presbyterian church, to dress up like a lunch lady and prepare meals for the hungry. If you were 100% submitted to the will of God at this moment, what do you think He might ask you to do? The answer is not as important as the question. It is crucial to our lives to daily consider and pursue the Spirit’s leading, keeping in step with the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit requires continued action, a lifelong process, and an ongoing relationship with this person, the Spirit of God. It requires also, giving up control and stepping out in faith with the Spirit of God.

I question myself sometimes and ask “Is the Holy Spirit weaker now than He was in the New Testament times? Or have we simply restructured our lives to be safer, more comfortable, more self-dependent? One of the names that describes the Holy Spirit is the Comforter. Are our lives so safe and comfortable that we don’t need the Comforter? That we only experience him when some sort of tragedy happens.  Perhaps we’ve forgotten the Holy Spirit because we don’t need him in our day to day lives the way those in the New Testament did when they stepped out in faith. I remember a number of years ago Texas Hold ‘em became really popular and I watched a number of tournaments on television and I even played an online version of the game. It wasn’t with real money but I remember how exciting it was when someone would go “all in”. They would put all their chips on the line and they’d either lose it all or would win big. When I played this online game you started with a small number of chips and maybe you’ve had this experience before playing games like this, but at first it wasn’t that hard to go all in. I’d put it all on the line because the fall back to 0 wasn’t that bad and in this online game if you hit 0 they’d give you a certain amount to restart with. So you go all in and you win big. Maybe you go all in again, and you win big again! Probably the third time you look down at your chips, and you hesitate a little when you see how much you’ve gathered. The more you accumulate, the less likely you are to go all in. 

The same seems true in my own life with regard to my walk with God. When I first became a Christian, I was single, I had a job that paid around $20,000 a year and I went all in with God. I stepped out in faith in dramatic ways. My first year as a Christian I had conversations that led two people to step out themselves and call themselves Christians for the first time. I gave up my full time teaching job to live in a dorm with teenagers so I could have more time to listen to God through His Word and Spirit. I began a bible study for the teenagers I was living with an in the bible study a few came to call themselves Christians, one who was from China and had never heard of the name of Jesus. As time goes on and life becomes more complicated, as we gather more and more chips, we tend to be more reluctant to go all in to wherever the Spirit may be leading us. I’ve got a wife now. I’ve got two kids now. I have a nice job and live ½ mile from the beach. It becomes harder to go all in, to step out in faith, to say “Holy Spirit lead me wherever you want.” Instead many of us in the Christian faith bunker down and we try to make things as safe and as comfortable as possible for ourselves and our families. We say I’m going move into my gated community, and I’m going make my kids wear helmets everywhere, and I’m going to keep us all inside all day cause sun rays are harmful and we live our lives in the cradle position trying to live this most comfortable and safe lives that we can live until the end. Then at the end we jump off the balance beam and expect to hear from the judge “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

When we read about the Spirit, does God ask people to something safe and comfortable or does He lead us into a life of adventure, a life of pain and discomfort, a life on mission that requires the power of the Holy Spirit, that requires the Comforter. Before the holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, this happened in Acts 1:4

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”

He tells them to wait for the gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit before going to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. They would need the Spirit. The early disciples put themselves in places where the Holy Spirit has to come through for them. How do we live lives radically different, how do we continue the mission? Through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we find ourselves in the midst of overwhelming circumstances, the Spirit has a chance to show His incredible power.

Anyone can show up on a Sunday, sing some, sit still for 45 min, shake a few hands and drive home. When we begin to talk to the hurting people around us , digging deeper to learn how we can love and serve them, that’s when you need the Holy Spirit – that’s when he shows up. You won’t know what God will do until you get out there and follow his leading, stepping beyond your own abilities and out in faith. Where might He want you to go? Who might He want you to talk to or serve? All the power in the world is irrelevant until its put to use. I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn’t be doing this by my own power. I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through. I want Him to say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Wow this is a lot right? How do we find the courage and the strength to go all in and live these unexplainable lives? How do I find the energy and the will to get up before the sun rises on Easter Sunday? Often times in the church we get so caught up trying to live the Christian life, that we overlook the source of life change. Life change and transformation comes from the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 says

            So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

We don’t become acceptable to God by restraining our sinful nature or through our own power forcing ourselves to go to church, to not use curse words, or whatever our sin may be. We’re acceptable to God because Jesus Christ died for our sins in our place and granted us the gift of the Spirit of God. We, like a caterpillar who emerges from a cocoon, then look at ourselves in amazement, in stunned disbelief over becoming a new creation with the Spirit living in us. Then from the inside out, as we live by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature, you will be transformed patiently but steadily into people who transform our corners of the world. Receive the Spirit, keep in step as you walk with the Spirit, Step out in Faith with the Spirit and be transformed into new creations by the power of the triune God.

While I always use multiple sources when researching and preparing for my sermons, I am overwhelmingly indebted and highly recommend Remembering the Forgotten God by Francis Chan.

A Sermon: Become Wounded Healers

For an audio version of this sermon click here

This morning I bring you good news. The good news, paraphrasing Tim Keller, is that you and I are more broken, so much more wounded, and wicked than we ever imagined.  However much you imagine yourself to have broken areas, sin in your life, triple it. We are a broken and deeply wounded people. The good news is also that we are more loved and accepted by God in Christ than we ever dared hope for. The degree to which we recognize and come to grips with these two concepts, is the degree to which we grasp the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the love of God. It means that the deeper we see our own flaws, sins and brokenness, how much more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to us. And on the other hand, the more aware we are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able we are to drop our denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of our sin. To fully grasp the good news and to be good news to others, we as the church must be a hospital for sinners.

The Church is a hospital for the sick, the wounded, and the broken. Imagine for a moment that the United States is conquered by Canada, stay with me, I know it’s a stretch, and we all are under their control. The Canadian military drives up and down A1A keeping us under martial law. In the process of the conquest they brutalized people you know, your neighbors, your friends, your family, let’s say they completely burned down the campus here at Trinity. I don’t say the church because even if this campus gets burned down you will always be the church. Then, in our scenario, let’s say that a person in our community decided that they would work for the Canadians. His job would be to go home to home and demand money to help support the Canadian regime. He has a specific quota he has to meet for the Canadians but any money he can extort from his community beyond his quota he gets to keep and in fact he does that and becomes one of the wealthiest in this community. How would you feel about such a person? If they showed up at your BBQ would you hang out with them? If they wanted to worship with you in the tents erected over Trinity’s burned remains, would you let them?  Probably not, they’d have their wealth, but they would be social pariahs, outcasts. They would be lost to the community.

In Matthew 9, Jesus is traveling and he encounters a man named Matthew, yes the very same Matthew, and he is sitting at a tax booth. He is a tax collector, a traitorous profession in the eyes of the Jewish people. He is working for the Canadians, the Roman Empire. Jesus says to him in his tax booth “Bleep you man! Look what you’ve done to my people for your own selfish gain. You have turned your back on your people and your God!” No, he says “Follow me”. Not only that, but later Jesus goes to his home. The home provided for and supplied by extortions from the people and many other tax collectors, traitors come to eat with Jesus. Matthew 9 says tax collectors and sinners. Traitors and outcasts. Prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, murderers, thieves, rapists, homosexuals, abortionists, traitors and outcasts came to eat with Jesus. And the upright in the community, the righteous, those who didn’t make mistakes, who followed the rules, spoke to the disciples of Jesus and asked “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this (don’t ever talk about Jesus around Jesus, he’s got great hearing)…On hearing this, Jesus said, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick….it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come call the righteous, but sinners.”

Do you need Jesus? Do you want Jesus to call you, to seek after you? If you are righteous, he will not call. If you believe you’re basically ok, you try hard enough, then what need do you have for a savior? The good news is that you and I are more broken, wounded, and wicked than we ever imagined and that we are more loved and accepted by God in Christ than we ever dared hope for.  Jesus, in his own words, “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Later, Jesus, after his resurrection, also said “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you!” We are, as much as the Holy Spirit indwells us, a part of the body of Christ and we are sent to continue Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost, to love, serve, and eat meals with traitors and outcasts. The Church, we as the church, are called to be a hospital for sinners. A place for the sick to gather together and to be healed through each other and by Jesus the great physician.

Too often we view the church as a stronghold or fortress where we gather in the righteous and protect ourselves from others. Just last week, I had this experience. I’m part of missional community of 13 people and one of the many things we do is we have a family meal together once a week because we believe we’re a spiritual family and we need to reconnect, we need to celebrate,  we need to eat, we need to listen to each other’s stories. We invite others to join us as we eat together and last week a person joined us and after the meal was over, he spoke to me away from the others and he said he was looking forward to coming back and sharing more of his story, who he is and what he’s been through. He said though that he was a little wary of telling others about his past. He said “I can’t tell anyone this shame I have in my past.”

First are you having meals or informal gatherings were you would encounter people like this, and if you encountered someone like this, who said “I can’t tell anyone this shame I have in my past”, what do you think is the best way to guide them through the process of healing? I’ll give you three options. 1. You could redirect the awkward conversation and slowly meld into the crowd. 2. You could say “Wow, what is it? I’ve never really done anything shameful. We’re all really good here so we can help you. 3. You could say “You’d be surprised of the shame in my own past.” The answer of course is number three. We can avoid brokenness, we can pretend we’re perfect, or we can empathize with the wound. If we pretend that we are completely righteous, that we don’t make any mistakes, we will actually never fulfill our mission of loving and healing others. The truth is those of us who can identify with a particular wound in our past make the best healers, wounded healers, for those particular wounds in others.

The famous psychotherapist and psychiatrist Carl Jung used this term, the wounded healer, based partly on the Greek myth of Chiron. Chiron, for those of you not up to date on your Greek mythology, was a centaur, part man and part horse. In one story Chiron is accidently injured by an arrow from Hercules. The arrow hits him in the knee, which isn’t that bad because Chiron is immortal, but the tip of the arrow was coated with poison from the blood of the Hydra. His wound would never completely heal, and in the process of searching for a way to heal himself, Chiron became an excellent healer. In fact he becomes known as a healer and source of healing knowledge in other myths. It’s through his wound that his capacity for healing becomes so much greater. He is a wounded healer. Carl Jung pointed out that it is partially a psychotherapist’s personal acceptance of his or her own suffering and imperfection that enhances their capacity to heal others.

There are some things that cannot be merely intellectually grasped or learned in a book. There are certain things that only life teaches you. Healing others as Jesus healed – body and spirit, or being a part of that healing process is one such thing. The wounded healer is someone who is broken so that they can be open, so that the people who come to them can be treated with the soul rather than just the mind. Their pain is more than theory, but something felt and a real spiritual healing connection is made. When we approach others as a wounded healer, we come not as a righteous master, but as a brother or sister who’s been there before.

Marsha Linehan was diagnosed at age seventeen as schizophrenic. She was psychiatrically instituionalzed for more than two years and was described in the medical records of that institution as being perhaps the most severely disturbed, deeply withdrawn and difficult to manage patient on the unit. She would violently thrash about. She burned herself with cigarettes. She cut herself on her wrists, arms, legs, and stomach. When she was unable to burn or cut herself, she would bang her head violently against walls and floors. Then, when she was 23, something happened. 

Marsha Linehan moved forward in life after this pivotal moment. She became Dr. Marsha Linehan with a Ph.D. in psychology and is today one of the most prominent clinicians and researchers in the psychotherapy world today. She says “I decided to get supersuicidal people, the very worst cases, because I figured these are the most miserable people in the world – they think they’re evil, that they’re bad, bad, bad – and I understood that they weren’t…I understood their suffering because I’d been there, in hell, with no idea how to get out.” “I was in hell...And I made a vow: when I get out, I’m going to come back and get others out of here.”

This is the last sermon in a series called Liberating Grace where we’ve examined the steps we take to find healing in our brokenness. As Dr. Linehan pointed out, it’s usually not in a specific miraculous moment that we are healed, but rather it’s a process. As we reach the last of the steps, this process, when we find ourselves far enough out of whatever broken system or habits we’ve been healed from, it’s important that we reach out to others as wounded healers. The best spiritual physicians, are the ones who have been there, the best sponsors are those who have walked the steps. If we are to be a hospital for sinners, I want you and I to be the best physicians available in that hospital. If you’ve already overcome something, like divorce, addiction, anger, materialism, self-righteousness, then ask yourself how might God send me as he sent Jesus, how might I be a wounded healer for others. If you’re in the middle of the steps or just beginning to admit your life isn’t perfect, be on the lookout for someone God might send to you to be a wounded healer in your life and look forward to the day, make a vow as Dr. Linehan did that when you get out, you’re going to come back and get others out of the same destructive patterns.

Before we conclude this series, I’d like to look at our primary passage for today which is Hebrews 4:15. As you turn there, Hebrews is one of the last letters in the back of your bible, let us be reminded that while we are called to be the Church, the body of Christ sent out into the world, to be wounded healers, we have one who said that he will be with us always, we have one who is THE wounded healer, we have one who is the Great Physician, we have one who is our high priest, we have the one, the messiah, the Christ, Jesus. 

Hebrews 4:15 says:

or we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin.

Before the Jewish Temple was burned to the ground, there were many different priests who performed all the different upkeep and functions at the temple. There were priests for offering sacrifices, there were priests for taking care of the articles of the temple, there were priests who played instruments, and each year there was one priest, called the high priest, who on a particular day would actually enter into the most holy space of the temple, the holy of holies and offer atonement for the people by sprinkling blood on the ark of the covenant. The legend goes that before the high priest would go behind the veil into this room, the other priests would tie a rope around his leg in case he made any error in the presence of God and was struck down, so they could pull him out without having to enter into God’s holy, almighty presence. This all changed, of course, with Jesus. The blood of animals, a temporary shadow, no longer needs to be offered on a regular basis because the blood of Jesus is forever and all sufficient. The day he died, the veil which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple was torn by an earthquake, and after his resurrection Jesus ascending into heaven into the real throne room, the very presence of God as our high priest. One of the reasons he’s particularly qualified to be our high priest, the one who stands before God on our account, is because he took on human nature. If he is to represent us, then he must be us. He is a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses. He, as the wounded healer, as the great Physician is able to offer comfort like none other.

“There was a man named Booth Tucker who was conducting evangelistic meetings in the Salvation Army Citadel in Chicago. One night, after he had preached on the sympathy of Jesus, a man came forward and asked Mr. Tucker how he could talk about a loving, understanding sympathetic God. “If your wife had just died, like mine has,” the man said, “and your babies were crying for their mother who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.”

A few days later Mr. Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck. Her body was brought to Chicago and carried to the Citadel for the funeral. After the service the bereaved preacher looked down into the silent face of his wife and then turned to those who were attending. “The other day when I was here,” he said, “a man told me that, if my wife had just died and my children were crying for their mother, I would not be able to say that Christ was understanding and sympathetic, or that He was sufficient for every need. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is sufficient. My heart is broken, it is crushed, but it has a song, and Christ put it there. I want to tell that man that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today.” The man was there, and he came and knelt beside the casket while Booth Tucker introduced him to Jesus Christ.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. The Greek that is translated “sympathize” here means “to suffer along with”. Jesus suffers along with us in all of our sufferings. We have in Him a high priest with an unequaled capacity for sympathizing with us in all the dangers and sorrows and trials which come our way in life. Isaiah 53:3-5 describes Jesus as a man of sorrow:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

Literally by His wounds we are healed and in Him we have a wounded healer, someone who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, able to sympathize with us and heal us as the great physician. The gospel, the good news is that you and I are more broken, wounded, and wicked than we ever imagined and that we are more loved and accepted by Christ than we ever dared hope for. The next verse in Hebrews, verse 16 says “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When we turn to this wounded healer, this great physician Jesus, he greets us with grace, liberating grace that transforms us into wounded healers ourselves who God uses to help others and to point them also to the love and liberating grace of Jesus Christ.