Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving and Praise to the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit lives within you as you trust in Christ as your savior as we highlighted in last weeks thoughts. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is a real presence, active in guiding and leading your life. Have you experienced palpable Holy Spirit reality?

Several times in my life I have felt the Holy Spirit very actively working in my life. A little background first. I grew up in a home where although my parents had taken me to church as a little child, social schedules became too busy to continue. Perhaps alcohol, business and dementia also were contributors to a pretty godless upbringing.  It was not until I was 42 years old, married with two sons and actively  pursuing my career as a hospital CEO, did I experience the first such blessing.

I was driving home from my work as CEO of a troubled hospital in the UP of Michigan. It was after midnight and in a typical mid-winter blizzard near Lake Superior. I was exhausted and had not been home for three weeks. My efforts at turning the hospital around some 14-16 hours a day was taking its toll. I was drinking too much and my judgment was getting impaired as well. I knew something needed to change. It was then through the snow that the word of God came through to me on the only radio station I could pick up, telling me of God’s grace and forgiveness. With tears in my eyes, I knelt in front of the car headlights in in a couple of feet of snow, confessed my sin and need to God, and received God’s gift of salvation through his grace. Immediately I felt a warm embracing power throughout my body. I was lifted to a place of great joy for the remainder of my long ride home. My journey had begun.

Nearly 15 years ago, after moving from the front office to bedside in hospitals, while finishing seminary, I experienced my next Holy Spirit immersion. As earlier indicated, I did not have a very warm and loving environment. My mother was an alcoholic and my father was a senior executive also very active in non-profit boards. Achievement was important for him and therefore me. He was only 9 years old when his father, a business leader had committed suicide jumping off the roof of his factory.  He had no modeling. He did most generously provide for my private schooling through graduate school.

One predawn morning as I did my devotions in the basement, I felt an overwhelming presence of God as the Holy Spirit wrapped himself around me. It was as if strong and powerful arms had lovingly embraced and lifted me off the floor, holding me for what seemed more than 15 minutes. I felt the love of God, the Father, intimately for the first time. A love filled me that transcended all earthly understanding and experience.

Perhaps the most amazing experience I describe in my book, “Great is God’s Faithfulness.” In 2000 I lay in my bed, soaking wet with a temperature of 103 for over two weeks. My joints ached torturously, I could not move. I had lost 30 pounds. My whole body and soul writhing in pain, wasted from an unknown illness. I was told that I was dying by the Doctors at the University of Virginia Medical Center, and they didn’t know why or what to do. An empirical (experimental) high dose of the antibiotic Cipro caused an allergic reaction that violently overwhelmed all my senses into darkness. Now three weeks into my illness, unable to eat or sleep or speak intelligibly, lying in my fever-soaked clothes, I felt like the Psalmist in Psalm 22,or even Jesus on the cross, “Why
have you forsaken me?” Then in the middle of the night I cried out Psalm 103:1-4, “Bless the Lord oh my soul and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases, and redeems your life from the pit and fills you with love and compassion...” Darkness was filled with light, trembling ceased, a warm sensation, like hot oil moved from my head to feet, my fever broke as God’s Words were uttered in despair. God had healed me miraculously. Within moments as I lay in awe with the pow- erful presence of the Holy Spirit I knew that I was healed completely. His promises and provision are perfect. Tears of joy filled my eyes as I shouted to my wife and we praised the One who had not forsaken me. Later I was told that the bite of an almost microscopic Deer Tick had brought the deadly combination of Lyme’s Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, and Ehrlichios that would have probably taken my life had not God intervened. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Two years ago a forth wonderful healing experience of Holy Spirit power came to me in the midst of depression and a very difficult pastoral experience helping lead my church. I have previously written on this experience of being a staff pastor when our church imploded and three of the four pastors were forced out.  The trauma of the turmoil was more than I could handle. I ministered to broken people daily and lead in worship and funerals. At a point of despair, on Pentecost morning, a miraculous intervention of the Spirit took place again. During the service as Acts 2, concerning the Holy Spirit was read, I was again embraced by warmth from head to toe. God’s love and healing coursed through me. My body broke out in profuse sweating, right through my clothes.  I was in ecstasy. God had healed me. I was filled with joy, a joy that has not stopped since. I have felt a sense of God’s presence and guidance in ministry as a hospital chaplain when seeing patients. I have experienced special guidance while teaching and preaching at the hospital and church. His counsel and illumination of word and action has made it clear that God is leading me. I am daily submitting to his care and strength.

I do not tell of these miraculous interventions of the Holy Spirit to say that I am someone special, other than being one of his beloved children. No two people experience God’s love and power in the same ways. Yet, he is still actively healing and leading. May He be praised.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Give Thanks In All Things

What, how can I give thanks for all things or in all things? I mean some things are awful, like cancer or divorce or war or famine.  Yet, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to rejoice always, pray continuously or unceasingly and to give thanks in all things. Why or how? Because God is in all things and he is with you in your suffering or pain as well as in your rejoicing.  Yes, he will never leave us or forsake us.  So pray unceasingly with thanksgiving in your heart. He is saying,  that’s having an attitude of prayer or seeking of the Lord in all things.

Paul also tells us that, “We can do all things through Him who gives us strength.” (Philippians 4:13).  Paul tells the Romans in 8:28 that he is working all things together for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. This is a conditional promise, that He is working good in everything in His timing and His way, if we know, trust and have received Him and called him our Lord and Savior.

So what else do we do in trial and tribulation? Paul again in Ephesians 5:20 tells us, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Do you sing when you are having pain or in loss or grief?  He tells us a few verses earlier in v.18, to be filled continuously with the Holy Spirit speaking to one another with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  I think that some things are possible only through God, like singing in the storms of life, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Old Testament Psalms also gives us, “I will extol or exalt the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips…let the afflicted hear and rejoice…I sought the Lord and he answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:1,3,4). There is more in this Psalm, but suffice it to say, we are to keep praising and giving thanks to the Lord regardless of what befalls us. 

Yes, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever (Ps 107:1). AMEN

Friday, November 21, 2014

Broken Vessels

Throughout the Bible, there is a clear theme of God wanting a broken and contrite heart before him (Ps 51:17).  In 2Cor 4 Paul tells us, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. This treasure in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the treasure because with it in us, it changes us and fills us with God’s light and life.  As we look at scripture it is clear that life sustaining liquids were stored in jars of clay.

In John 2 Jesus takes the clay jars of water and changes it into wine. Here in his first documented miracle, Jesus takes the ceremonial water jars of life giving water and changes it into life changing wine. This wine is a celebration of the wedding and of life in him to those who would believe. The parable speaks of saving the best until last, that is the life and sacrifice of Christ Jesus for us.

There are several other stories of broken vessels. In Matthew 26:6-13 we read of Jesus at Bethany in the house of Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. It speaks of a woman taking an alabaster jar of expensive perfume and pouring it over Jesus’ head. The strong fragrance filled the house. It upset the disciples as waste, but Jesus referred to it as a priceless gift pre-anointing him for his burial. The perfume or oil of anointing represents the Holy Spirit of life and wholeness. Jesus in Mark 14 calls it a beautiful thing. It was a great sacrifice as it represented a year’s wages or even all she had.  That is what God wants, all we have. He tells us that we will not always have him, so give our lives to him now while it is still light.

In John 12 we are told specifically that it is Mary of Bethany who pours the expensive oil or pure nard on Jesus feet. In fact in this Gospel, John retells how she even washes Jesus feet with the perfume using her own hair. This woman we are told was one that Jesus loved greatly, had also been greatly changed by him.  Her life had been turned around and she now gave all representing her sacrifice to the One who sacrificed it all for us on the cross.

Jesus brother, in James 5:10 speaks of calling on the elders to pray for the sick and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord that they might be healed. There is power and life in the oil and anointing of Christ offered in faith. David the Psalmist in 23:4 speaks of God anointing his head with oil and his cup overflowing.  Isaiah 61 prophetically speaks of Jesus the Christ being anointed to preach the good news or Gospel to the poor…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and the garment of praise instead of spirit of despair.

Yes, the Lord Jesus wants to anoint you with life and peace and healing. In Hebrews 1:9 we can hear God say, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

We are vessels of clay in the hand of a mighty God. And we must be broken so that God can change and heal us. The old must come out and the new oil of anointing with the sweet fragrance of Christ come in.  Don Moen’s praise song says it well; “Heal me oh Lord and I will be healed, save me and I will be saved. For you are the One I praise.” Amen.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

You are shouting so loud I can’t hear you. This seems to be the sound of today in the harsh reality of traffic jams, blaring music, television and radio. We have the attention spam of seconds, or of a gnat. “ Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a pressing spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for greater numbers of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” (Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster).

In his profound work, Intimacy with the Almighty, Chuck Swindoll speaks of the spiritual disciplines of Simplicity, silence, solitude and surrender. It is the voluntary withdrawal from the Madding Crowd to find quiet and stillness.  The Psalms tell us to lay down beside the still waters (Ps 23:2) and “to be still and know that I am God.” Ps 46:10. But we seem to stampede past these places today. Can we pause do; with God’s help and modeling.  Jesus gave us structure to the discipline. In wilderness and desert he sought His Father in Matthew 4. In Matt 14 he headed to the mountains to pray. Mark 1:25 and Luke 4:42 tell us that Jesus went early to a solitary place to pray.  Corrie Ten Boom, the German survivor of the Holocaust told of the secret place, the closet or desert place to seek God.  Nose and word and frenzied schedules dull our senses, closing our ears to His still small voice as Elijah finally found in 1 Kings 19:11 after running from Jezebel.

Zephaniah 1:7 says, “Be silent in the presence of the Lord God, for the day of the Lord is at hand.”  Yes, the Prophet Habakkuk 2:20 reminds us, “But the Lord is in his holy temple. Let the earth keep silence before Him.” Again, Zechariah 2:13 reminds us, “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for He is aroused from His holy habitation.” These are not often read passages in this activity-addicted world. What value is it? The Prophet Isaiah in the 30th chapter gives us powerful counsel. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” Do we understand this ancient truth that our salvation and strength are in quietness and rest?  Jeremiah the Prophet in Lamentations 3:26 tells us, “it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” God is telling us that we must listen to His still, small voice continuously. Why? Isaiah 30:21 goes on to say, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  God is saying, that He is speaking always and we must listen to stay on the path and be in His will.

So where do you go to find silence and solitude. Jonathan Edwards found it in fields and forests. Anna Wesley, with 13 children, found it by putting her apron over her head. I find it in the basement in early morning for devotions, or anywhere in God’s awesome creation where there are no people. A favorite place is Pier’s Gorge, a torrential rapids on the Menomonee River in Upper Michigan, or in the Rocky Mountains of Montana.  Find your secret places.

Seek the will of the Lord in silence and solitude. There is a time to be silent the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, or as James 1 tells us, be silent and listens for the tongue can sink ships and start forest fires. Listening is hard and a radical discipline as Dallas Willard refers to it.  In his book, People Are dying To Be Heard, my friend and author/ speaker Ben Merens says it well. “Sometimes the best way to have effective communication is to allow for silence between the words. Don’t fear silence in your conversations. Embrace it.”

Well, I’ve said a mouthful, so now it’s time to be silent until next week.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Holy Spirit Life

Do you know the hymn with key verse, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”?  If not I also ask the question, do you have the Holy Spirit within you? These are questions showing saving faith as a Christian. You can be sure you have the Holy Spirit of God living within you. Scripture is very clear about it. I am now borrowing some structure to this thesis of Spirit applied salvation from Pastor James McDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel and a prolific writer.

Paul in his letter to the Ephesians begins telling of being included in the chosen of God in v. 13-14, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession- to the praise of his glory.”  He is telling us that when we listened and heard within our heart and beleived the true gospel message from the Word of God, the Bible, we received the Spirit.  God has revealed his truth to us through his Spirit (1Cor 2:10).  Verse 14 says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

So how do we know for sure that we have the Holy Spirit?  There is a test through scripture:
1.     Galatians 5:22 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” In other words our lives will show or produce the fruit from God in growing and changing measure by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions or desires. We must live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit if we are in Him.
2.     The gifts of the Holy Spirit are delineated in 1 Cor 12, Romans 12,  1 Peter 4 and elsewhere. These are supernatural gifts from God for the Kingdom of God. They are not for us alone but for the edification or building up of the Body of Christ or the church. We all have at least one gift and it will become more and more evident through the Holy Spirit if we are indeed in Him.
3.     There will be a conviction of sin and along side confession and repentance of sin to God. John 16:8 says, “When he comes (speaking of the Holy Spirit) he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”
4.     He, the Spirit will be your guide. “But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you in all truth.” (John 16:13).
5.     He will also lead us. “but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit, are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). Also Romans 8:6 reminds us that the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. That is certainly something to strive for by the power of the Spirit, not in our own power, but weakness.
6.     The Spirit of God will testify or bear witness on our behalf. Incredibly, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
So there is the test. Now Paul in 2 Cor 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you- unless, of course, you fail the test?
I hope you do not fail the test. But if you do, go back to step 1 and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you (Ephesians 5:18).

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Grace Visits

Proverbs is full of sayings about listening to the teachings of the father and that the father whose son listens or follows instructions is glad. Luke 15 tells the stories of lost things, particularly the son who eventually is found with joyful celebration.

Perhaps there is no more wonderful thing than spending time with our own children who return after a long absence. That depends on relationships of course. But for us, these past few days have been such a time as our son from Montana came home to help us fix things around the house.  Project after project: a door now closes; a lamp shine brighter; trees are ready for firewood; cabinet doors hang straight; paths are clear for snowshoeing this winter.  Yes, and our hearts are burning brighter in the glow of good times to remember. A more current proverb, absence makes the heart grow fonder is also true.

Now we wait in expectation of our Oregon son and our three grandsons summer visit.  Water parks are on the agenda. Our yard now also has a seven-foot tree stump ready for totem pole carving and a willow awaiting climbing adventures.

Make the most of opportunities, full of grace and seasoned with salt (Col 4:6). We did, and I think a key is always grace, as there are always reasons to be upset about something, but grace covers all. Salt also heals wounds and seasons bad tastes when necessary.  Scripture also says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18).