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.

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