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41 Ways the Holy Spirit Works For, In, and Through Us.

Jesus promised that, even though he was leaving earth, he would send the Holy Spirit to be with us and comfort and guide all those who love him (John 14:15-17). For many Christians, however, an understanding of what the Spirit does or why we should depend on him is missing from daily life. So below are 41 ways the Holy Spirit works for, in, and through followers of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit:
1. Speaks for us in times of trial (Matthew 10:20)
2. Fills us with power (Luke 24:49)
3. Gives eternal life (John 6:63)
4. Leads into all truth (John 14:17; 16:13)
5. Lives within us (John 14:17)
6. Testifies about Jesus (John 15:26)
7. Will tell us about the future (John 16:13; Acts 11:28)
8. Will tell us whatever He receives from Jesus (John 16:15)
9. Speaks through the Scriptures (Acts 1:16)
10. Gives prophecies, dreams, and visions (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17)
11. Empowers to preach/evangelize with boldness (Acts 4:31)
12. Directs us (Matthew 4:1; Acts 8:29; Galatians 5:16-18)
13. Encourages the Church (Acts 9:31)
14. Speaks to us (Acts 10:19; 11:15; Hebrews 3:7; 1 Peter 1:11; Revelation 2)
15. Changes our hearts (Romans 2:29)
16. Fills our hearts with God’s love (Romans 5:5)
17. Frees us from the power of sin (Romans 8:2)
18. Gives life (Romans 8:10)
19. Empowers us to put to death our sin (Romans 8:13)
20. Affirms that we are God’s children (Romans 8:16)
21. Helps us in our weakness, especially re: prayer (Romans 8:26)
22. Pleads for us in harmony with God’s will (Romans 8:27)
23. Gives us confident hope (Romans 15:13)
24. Makes us holy (Romans 15:16; 1 Peter 1:2)
25. Gives us love for others (Romans 15:30; Colossians 1:8)
26. Shows us “God’s deep secrets” (1 Corinthians 2:10)
27. Gives us spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14)
28. Guarantees everything Christ promised (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14)
29. Changes us to look more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18)
30. Prompts us to call God “Abba [Daddy], Father” (Galatians 4:6)
31. Gives us holy desires (Galatians 5:17)
32. Produces virtuous qualities (“fruit”) in our lives (Galatians 5:22)
33. Leads us (Galatians 5:25)
34. Gives us access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18)
35. Empowers us with inner strength (Ephesians 3:16)
36. Renews our thoughts and attitudes (Ephesians 4:23)
37. Confirms the truth of God’s word (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
38. Gives us a new birth and a new life (Titus 3:5)
39. Teaches us everything we need to know (1 John 2:27)
40. Empowers our prayer (Jude 1:20)
41. Invites us to drink from the water of life (Rev. 22:17)

Which resonated with you? Which will you depend on the Holy Spirit more for?

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Haiku Prayers

Jesus my true King,

Strike down these gods within me,

Glorious freedom.

Holy Spirit come,

Flood Your Church with new power,

Revive us again.

You the rightful head,

We have decapitated,

Forgive us O Lord.

Plans most practical,

Wisdom gleamed from business world,

Speak Your voice instead!

We busy ourselves,

Distracted by life’s good things,

Remind us what’s best.

This last one is not explicitly a prayer, but what my vision (and prayer for) is for enCompass church, turned into a haiku if I could. Doesn’t quite work:

Passionately pray,

Know, obey, reach out, welcome,

enCompass vision

To be a church that passionately prays (Col. 4:2), knows and obeys the Bible (Rom. 6:17), reaches out into the community with evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20) and good works (Jer. 29:5-7; Eph. 2:10), and welcomes all people well (Rom. 15:7).

or

Passionately prays, knows and obeys, reaches out, and welcomes well.

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Witness as Evangelism: Recap & Reading Recommendations*

Last Sunday at enCompass Church in Winnipeg, I preached on evangelism in terms of witnessing (seeing and hearing) what God was doing in a person’s life or situation, and then speaking about that (or witnessing to that) to them, like a detective discovers evidence and presents it to their clients.

While many Scripture passages talk about evangelism this way, Peter and Paul’s response to the Pharisees trying to get them to stop preaching impacted me a lot: “As for us, we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

detective

Along with a detective, I used the image of a sniper, waiting patiently to speak to those God directs us to in the ways He shows us, instead of using a ‘shotgun’ approach like random evangelism with abstract (yet true) facts about our separation from God and need for a saviour. And I used the image of a tour guide – we don’t just tell people where to go or see, but we join them (or have them join us) on the journey closer and closer to Jesus.

There will always be a need to explicitly speak the Gospel to people (Rom. 10:13-15), but a more effective way of initially bringing people to Jesus in our current culture is to show them (witness to) what Christ is already doing in and around their lives, and to tell of our own experiences of answered prayer and His activity in our lives.

Philip and his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) was a perfect example of these three illustrations: he listened to the orders of the Holy Spirit, he observed that the Ethiopian was reading from the prophet Isaiah and responded by acting on that, and then journeyed with him and explained the Gospel to him using Isaiah as his starting point.

eunuchicon

For those interested, I would like to suggest four books that I found helpful for my sermon, or that I’ve found helpful in the past regarding evangelism:

  1. Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism, by Carl Medearis
  2. Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier, by David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw
  3. Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey, by Rick Richardson
  4. Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation, by Gordon T. Smith

What books or other resources have you found helpful as you think and practice witnessing Jesus and witnessing to Him?

*cross-posted from here.

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Redeeming Instead of Reacting

In a little under two weeks is Easter Sunday, and as I was reflecting on that (read, worrying how I was going to preach it, my first Easter sermon), I was reminded that some in the Christian world began calling it “Resurrection Sunday” a few years ago. I wonder if they’ll call it that again this year.

As I understand it, they started calling it that to combat the commercialism and superficiality the day has become, filled with Easter bunnies and chocolate and painted eggs.

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Obviously the true reason behind Easter

And that reminded me of something I read recently: one of the influential leaders of the Southern Baptist denomination, Russell Moore, is no longer referring to himself as an Evangelical Christian. Instead he wants to be called a “gospel Christian.” Aside from the ridiculous number of things certain neo-Reformed Christians are adding the word “gospel” to so that it’s become almost meaningless or cliche in itself, Moore is doing it to distance himself from the politics-heavy baggage of the word Evangelical, something we in Canada don’t really face.

Having said that, I find his decision to do so more reactionary than anything else.

But that has always been the way of things with us North American Christians. What we fear we vehemently denounce and vilify and flee. We’re so afraid of becoming contaminated by the world (which we practice quite selectively, I would add) that we have forgotten how to love those in the world (which we’ve also forgotten, our 2nd greatest command to do). The Puritans outlawed Christmas trees and other decorations and traditions. We have “Harvest Parties” (or even worse, Hell Houses) instead of Halloween parties. We’ve treated the poor and oppressed in our society terribly, because they were “sinners” and we were such super-awesome holy people.

But all of those are reactionary responses, and not at all like He who we are supposed to be emulating in this world.

So instead of reacting, I would propose we redeem instead.

Call it Easter instead of “Resurrection Sunday,” but then look for ways you can actually practice resurrection in your community. What need can you or your church fill or help rectify? Who do you know that could use a helping hand, or a listening ear, or a meal, or a friend? Then do that, instead. God has already prepared good works for you to do. Go and do them. Redeem what Easter means – not just an event in history (that changed history), but an event that transforms the ways we are meant to live and be, and transfers us from the kingdom of sin and death to the kingdom of the Son of God. An event that redeems us.

empty-tomb

Instead of having a “Harvest Party” at your church as an alternative for your church kids to go trick-or-treating, have a legit haunted house that will be fun for all types of families to come to, and then invite the neighbourhood around your church. Seriously. Just do it to bless them. Say, “we’re doing this because we want to love you and get to know you, because Jesus loves you” and leave your sermonizing at that. Get good treats for it. Don’t hand out tracts (especially like this one). You’ll a) surprise them, and b) maybe make them think they might actually be welcome at your church on a Sunday. It’s not cultural capitulation, it’s Paul looking at the idols around him and using one of them to point to the true God.

Instead of rebranding yourself a “gospel Christian,” call yourself an Evangelical Christian and redeem what people think that means, by getting out of politics and actually living out the teachings and commands of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What do you find yourself or your church reacting to in the culture and world these days? Instead, in what ways can you work to redeem those things instead, for God’s kingdom and glory?

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How to be Perfect in One Easy Step

Do you want to be perfect like God is perfect?

Jesus tells us how to do it, and it’s shockingly easily.

Being good at this game is not what Jesus had in mind...

Being good at this game is not what Jesus had in mind…

 

There’s an interesting section in the Sermon on the Mount that I believe we easily overlook in our reading of it. Here’s the pericope:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48 NRSV)

We readily see “love your enemies” (hasn’t that become something of a catch-phrase?), and then we skip over the rest. Maybe we think “I don’t have enemies,” or “that’s too hard,” or “he/she doesn’t deserve that!!”

And, if we have enemies, we should love them of course (though how many of us in the West truly do?). But Jesus expands this message from “enemy” to everyone, in the proceeding verses. He says “if you only love those who love you… if you only greet your friends…” thereby including those who are strangers to us, or indifferent, or Other. Jesus is essentially saying love everyone, and greet everyone. Reminds me of how he summed up the law and prophets: Love God and love others.

But the way Jesus ends this section is what blows my mind. He says ‘if you do this, you will be perfect like God is perfect.’ How simple sounding, eh!

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The young adults at a church I worked for all saw the need to reach out to new people and visitors, and welcome them and say hi and invite them to join the community, but every week they would still clump together in their closed groups of friends and exclude everyone else (there were exceptions of course). One of them told me that it was hard because they only saw their friends in real life on Sundays, they were so busy during the week.

At my current church one of the guys told me that, as a single late-20’s guy, he won’t talk to new married couples or families, or those who are in an older generation than him.

But this is why I think Jesus says we will be perfect when we do extend our welcome though – God, in the trinitarian oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the most perfect, complete, whole, unified, loving friendship anywhere – sent Jesus to earth to love and welcome us into God’s family. We who were not friends, we who had nothing in common with him.

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So, on the surface this is the most easy thing in the world for us to do (unless you’re an introvert, like I am – but if I can try do it so can you!). Yet in practice it’s hard for us to break out of our patterns, our comfort zones, our friendship groups, our mindsets. But if we do, we will be perfect like our Father in Heaven, who reached out to welcome strangers like us into his Kingdom, and into his union with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

“Be perfect, therefore, like your heavenly Father is perfect.”

 

 

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The Spiritual Discipline of Advocacy

One of the themes that runs throughout all of Scripture is that of the advocate: when someone speaks on the behalf of others.

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  • We see it when Abraham pleads for God not to destroy Sodom (Gen. 18).
  • We see it with Moses going before Pharaoh on behalf of the enslaved Israelites (Ex. 7).
  • We see it when Moses pleads with God not to kill the Israelites after they’ve disobeyed God yet again (Ex. 32).
  • We see it when Esther risks her life and pleads for the persecuted Israelites in Persian captivity before the king (Esther 7).
  • We see it with Jesus praying for His disciples, and those disciples who would come later – the Church universal (Jn. 17).
  • We see it with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, whom Jesus calls “The Advocate” who will testify about Him (Jn. 15) and who intercedes for us (Rom. 8).
  • We see it when Barnabas brings Paul to the Apostles, when the early church is still afraid of him (Acts 9).
  • We see it when Peter defends the salvation of the gentiles (non-Jews) at Jerusalem, after a Roman family is received with forgiveness into God’s kingdom (Acts 11).
  • We see it when the Apostles ask Paul to “remember the poor,” which he was eager to do (Gal. 2).
  • We see it with Jesus, who “always lives to intercede” for those who come to God through Him (Heb. 7).

Not only do we see it exemplified in Scripture, but it’s also commanded for us to be advocates too – Proverbs 31:8 tells us to “Speak for the mute, and for all who are destitute.” We are to “Pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44), and for “all those in authority” (1 Tim. 2:2). A well known biblical passage to social justice workers is Isaiah 1:17:

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

And Jesus commands us to “Beseech [or pray earnestly to] the Lord of the harvest, that He may send out workers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38).

Even these incomplete lists should be enough to cause us to pause and consider what it means for us. It is clear that God is asking us to be advocates – for those who don’t know Him (and for Him to them), and for those who face injustice in our society. And though certain streams of Christianity, such as the Catholic and Social Justice streams, are traditionally better at these than others, the whole Church – Christians in every denomination and stream – must become advocates to the lost (2 Cor. 5:20) and for the oppressed (Is. 1:17).

It Must Start in the Church

But before the Church can effectively call Outsiders to become Insiders, before it can be a light to the nations, it must be an inclusive place to those already inside it.

We must be honest about our failures and shortcomings, repenting for our sins of abuse, or the covering up of abuse, or exclusion, or oppression. We must repent when we’ve said, explicitly or implicitly, to people or other streams of Christianity: “I don’t need you.” We must repent when we’ve thought, even unconsciously, that others weren’t worthy of the Gospel and the freedom it brings, because they looked or acted differently than us, or maybe didn’t speak the same language or eat the same food, or didn’t meet our socio-economic standard of living to be considered friends, or even peers, let alone brothers and sisters in Christ.

Most of us can look around at our church gatherings, whether it be a Sunday morning worship service or a Friday night youth service or a Thursday morning women’s gathering or a whatever, and see people who are left on the outside. And it doesn’t really matter why they’re on the outside. It matters that we include them. That we advocate on their behalf with the rest of our group to be inclusive; like Barnabas did for Paul.

It takes us being aware of our surroundings and being willing to step out of our comfort zones. It means even being willing to leave our group – more than temporarily if need be – so that we can connect with someone who’s been excluded. Because here’s what I’ve noticed: we most often aren’t even aware that we’re excluding others. We just like being with our own friends a lot.

It also means being advocates of God’s grace, love, and hope; being aware of who around us needs to hear a word from Him, and could use a prayer, a touch, or a listening ear.

BeAnAdvocate

Advocacy as a Spiritual Discipline

Why do I call advocating a spiritual discipline? You won’t find it with the disciplines listed in Foster, or Whitney, or Marjorie Thompson. But it’s something we all need to engage in and make a regular part of our spiritual lives. I call it that because it’s not something that comes natural to us. It takes practice. Discipline, if you will. And like the classic disciplines, when we advocate on behalf of someone else we engage in an activity that is profoundly spiritual. When we advocate for belonging, for reconciliation, for relationship, for justice, we touch the heart of the Trinity Himself.

And I can’t help but think that Jesus will one day say to us “when you advocated for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.”

Who in your church can you be an advocate for? Who in your neighbourhood or community? Who in your city? Ask the Lord to open your eyes, and He will show you. Then step out and act.

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The Body of Christ is like a Giant Space Robot

Thinking about the Church can be a bit overwhelming. Also called the body of Christ in the New Testament, a term that Paul favoured, it isn’t just our local church (though it includes that), but is the Universal Church spanning time and geography. And, it’s not just metaphorically Jesus’ body, but actually is. This is mind boggling to me, in part because of the fact that I am a part of it.

One image that I find helpful in thinking about the Body of Christ is a childhood hero of mine:

Image

Voltron, you see, is made up of five robotic lions, and each has their own function and role. In fact, each lion is specifically designed for the role they play. The green lion is the left arm, and was designed to be so. In the same way, God has designed and gifted each of us specifically for our role in the Body of Christ. This includes our temperaments, quirks, talents, and unique personalities (though marred by sin). Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:18 that God has placed each member into the body just as He desired.

  • We have God-given gifts meant to encourage, strengthen, and help each other. Your temperament, personality, and quirks – though marred by sin, are uniquely yours because of God’s design.

Each lion is necessary to Voltron; the red lion can’t say to the yellow lion “I don’t need you,” otherwise Voltron wouldn’t be able to stand (or fly). You and I need each other member of the Body of Christ too. This includes the people in our local church. All of them. It includes the poor, the mentally & physically disabled, those from other countries with different language and culture and skin colour. And it includes those who are just plain annoying. We can’t say to them “I don’t need you,” though in actuality we believe (or at least act like we believe) that we don’t. The challenge for us is to begin (if we’re already not) valuing all the members of Christ’s body as essential and necessary. Not just abstractly, but particularly – the person next to you in the pew, or at the back of the sanctuary. The Christian down the street, or on the wrong side of the tracks.

It also means that one denomination can’t say it to another either. The baptists can’t say to the Pentecostals “I don’t need you,” for example, or the Emergents to the Neo-Reformed. We individuals each have a specific role to play in Christ’s body, and so does each denomination. They need each other despite (or because of) their doctrinal emphasis and differences; otherwise His body isn’t whole.

The Voltron illustration goes deeper too. Each lion is piloted by a human riding inside it. Without the human inside it, it’s just a dead robot lion, and a lame robotic limb. The humans power and operate the robot. They are like the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and the Church (1 Cor. 6:19). Without the Holy Spirit we are dead and lifeless, and useless to Jesus’ body.

  • The Holy Spirit is like the blood that gives us constant and continual life. As we maintain our connection with Christ we ‘keep the blood flowing’.

Finally, Voltron’s purpose was to defend Earth from enemy invaders. It didn’t just sit around in a museum for people to look at; it made a difference. In the same way, as members of Christ’s body, we need to act too. Our purpose is to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” And like the early church, we should be providing materially for the other parts of the body that are in need – both locally and globally.

While the Universal Church (and even the local church) is so much more than a giant space robot piloted by humans, it’s helpful to keep in conscious thought when you meet another Christ-follower, whether you know them well or just met them: “I need you, fellow member of Jesus’ body.”

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