Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Trinity Series - Small Group Notes #8

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Questions about the Holy Spirit, Week of March 15, 2009

Ø Ephesians 5:18: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” The verb “filled” is in the passive voice in the Greek – in other words, it is not something we do, but something that the Spirit works in and through us. Since it is a command, however, we clearly play a role. What is our role, then? To yield to the Spirit and not get in the way with our human efforts to serve God (in the flesh). Think about the contrast of controlling elements (wine and the Spirit) of this verse, and the implications of being filled with the Spirit.

Wine was the drink of choice in the Mediterranean world where Paul’s words were directed. They would find fertile ground anywhere, though. Paul was not condemning the consumption of alcohol, but rather he was condemning drunkenness. Drunkenness leads to impaired judgment which leads to poor decisions that usually have negative consequences. The drunk often experiences a personality change and says and does things he would never do while sober. Rarely is he glad for the actions that the influence of alcohol caused in him. Many times, the drunk not only hurts himself, but those around him.

The comparison between alcohol and the Spirit is made, but is only for the purpose of showing the power of an outside agent that can overtake a person’s life when yielded to that power. In the positive case, the power is a Person – the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The comparison ends here because the parallels between drunkenness and the Spirit’s control are superficial. From here out, there is contrast.

When the Spirit is in control of our lives, power to live in a manner beyond our natural ability creates good works that build and strengthen others in their walk with Christ. Being filled with the Spirit should lead us to worship with other believers and to submit – respect, love, and assist – to other believers, as is seen in verses 19-21.

Ø One of the reasons that the Holy Spirit fills us is to empower us to share the gospel with the lost. Spend time thinking about Acts 1:8 and the Spirit’s role in evangelism.

Spend some time thinking about the importance of sharing the gospel with the lost. This was the last thing Jesus said to His disciples before He ascended to heaven. Ask the group how they are reaching their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Think about creative ways to engage the lost with the gospel. Before you move to the next point, spend time in prayer that God would empower you to share the gospel and that He would specifically bring opportunity to do so this week.

Ø The Holy Spirit empowers people to serve God and fellow Christians. Ephesians 4:7-8 tells us that Jesus gave (spiritual) gifts to men. 1 Corinthians 12:1 tells us that we are given spiritual gifts, and verse 7 of the same chapter indicates that the Spirit unleashes the gifts in God’s people. Without the Holy Spirit’s presence and power, “spiritual” gifts aren’t. Talk about the difference between serving God in the flesh or by the power of the Spirit.

When we are in the flesh, we serve ourselves. When we yield to the Spirit to activate the spiritual gifts that have been given to us, others are served. You may want to read all of the passages about spiritual gifts, emphasizing that they are always given for the benefit of the body. The passages are Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Ephesians 4:9-16; 1 Peter 5:10-11.

Most of the lists contain different gifts with a bit of overlap – 19 or 20, depending on how you count them. It is highly unlikely that these lists are exhaustive, but rather, representative of the way God empowers us with His Spirit to serve others and glorify Him. If questions arise about the miracle gifts of 1 Corinthians 12, tell the group that I will be talking about them next Sunday, March 22.

Christ-followers often expend a great deal of energy defining and discussing spiritual gifts. This is not a wasted exercise – but, it is considerably more than Scripture says about the gifts. They are shared to indicate how important it is to yield to the Spirit in whatever service we render to the Lord.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #7: Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and Baptism of the Holy Spirit

After a break, we return to the series about the doctrine of the Trinity in this spot. This particular study covers two very controversial topics - blashpemy against the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Questions about the Holy Spirit

Today we will resume our study that explores the mystery of the Trinity, or one God in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now, when I refer to this as the “mystery” of the Trinity, I do not mean that the Trinity is unknowable, that He is mysterious and beyond our capacity to comprehend. We would not even be talking about the Trinity if God had not revealed Himself to us as one God, three Persons. While there is much that we can and do know about our awesome God, there is much that we cannot understand or explain to full satisfaction. That is where faith finds its place in our hearts. It is not blind faith, though. God has revealed much about Himself in His Word, which the Holy Spirit makes plain to us. So, when we come to the place that is beyond our ability to comprehend – like, God is one, and He is three with no contradiction – we must simply believe.

Would a God that we could fully comprehend really be God? Most gods that are worshiped in our world are made in man’s image rather than the other way around. Even if those gods appear unpredictable, happy one day and angry the next, they still look very much like humans made large. Our triune God is nothing like any other god. We are a little over halfway in our examination and contemplation of this transcendent, yet imminent, God. He is both far beyond our comprehension, yet near – as near as Jesus and as near as the Holy Spirit.

Thus far we have spent several weeks studying about the doctrine of the Trinity, and then one week studying about God the Father, one week with God the Son, and one week considering the work of God, the Holy Spirit. There is order in the Trinity, thus we call the Father the first Person of the Godhead, Jesus the second Person of the Godhead, and the Spirit the third Person of the Trinity. All three have the same nature and are equally God, yet each has a distinct role. Since there is so much confusion about the role of the Holy Spirit we are going to spend more time thinking about His role in our lives. The goal is to look at several questions that Christ-followers have with regard to the Holy Spirit. While it would be beneficial to spend more time with each question, it is more profitable over-all, I think, to think briefly about as many topics as possible.

Our text today will address the first question, which is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. We will also look at what the baptism of the Spirit is, though we will spend more time thinking about that next week. Next, we will think about spiritual gifts, then we will examine what it means to quench the Spirit. Do you ever think about quenching the Spirit – or, about grieving the Spirit. We are going to talk about them both. Finally, we will spend time contemplating the fruit of the Spirit. We will cover all of that today. And then in three years I will run for the office of President of the United States. And, I will be elected. I am just kidding about that – it is going to take us three weeks to cover all of these topics about the Holy Spirit. That changes the over-all plan for this series, but I knew that would happen anyway. It is the leading, I believe, of the Holy Spirit.

Our text today, Matthew 12:22-32, covers the first topic, which is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. There is a great deal of confusion about the blasphemy of the Spirit, and more than a little fear about the difficult, harsh words of Jesus on the subject. Hopefully today will enlighten your mind and ease your heart a bit. Would you please stand as we read God’s Word together?

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was
brought to Him (Jesus), and He healed him, so that the man
spoke and saw.
23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son
of David?”
24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul (Satan), the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”
25 Knowing their thoughts, He said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.
26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.
30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. I wonder how many of you have wondered if you have committed this unforgivable sin? What does it mean? It is interesting that Jesus said you could speak against Him – against the Son of Man – and still be forgiven. But, if you speak against the Holy Spirit, forget it. You are eternally cursed. Hmm. Let’s think about this for a minute.

Who is God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit? The answer is Yes. Who is more God? Neither, of course. Jesus was not making a statement about the divinity of either Person of the Trinity, but clearly if speaking against the Holy Spirit is an eternal sin, then the Holy Spirit has to be God. But, so is Jesus – the term He used for Himself, Son of Man, referred back to Daniel’s use of this title for a divine one in Daniel 7:13.

It is unlikely that Jesus was saying something akin to when we would say something like, “Mess with me, that’s OK, but you mess with my family, you are in trouble.” Well, maybe there is a correlation, because when I say that, I really don’t mean that it is OK to mess with me – it means don’t mess with me or mine. That’s kind of what Jesus was saying. A little context will help us understand.

If you were here way back on January 18, you may recall (though, probably not) that we were in the 8th chapter of John’s Gospel where we witnessed a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees. The debate was about who Jesus was. Jesus said very plainly that He was God. The Pharisees called Him an illegitimate blasphemer. If you really want to understand the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it would be most helpful to go online and listen to that sermon again. The Pharisees experienced direct encounters with Jesus that are not possible for us today.

I don’t know if you have seen this to be true, but in my experience, almost every time I share the gospel with someone and they understand it, they put their belief and trust in Jesus. Now, there are a lot of times that they don’t understand the gospel when I share it, but when they understand that Jesus was God’s Son who came to die for their sins, they almost always believe. It is clear in those cases that the Holy Spirit is working in someone’s heart to bring them to Jesus.

The Pharisees understood who Jesus claimed to be and they had a lot of evidence at their disposal that would support Jesus’ claims. But, they rejected the truth. If they had acknowledged Jesus as God’s Son, they would have had to repent of their sins and give up their power among the people. They didn’t want to lose that power. So, they said – in the presence of all the people – that Jesus was getting His power from Satan. And, Jesus said, in essence, “You just crossed a line. You know full well that I fulfill all of the prophecies that point to Messiah, even if I don’t appear to be the kind of Messiah you expected. Do you attribute My works to the power of the devil in the hearing of all these people? Not only do you reject Me, but you seek to turn the very ones I came to save against Me. You have blasphemed the Holy Spirit of God, by whose power I heal the sicknesses of these people, and this sin will never be forgiven.”

Does this make sense to you? Here is the point I want to drive home today – it is highly unlikely that you are even able to commit the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. It is possible that when a person rejects opportunity after opportunity to believe truth that God says, “No more.” That may be a modern day version of blasphemy of the Spirit, but I doubt it, and it certainly was not what was occurring in our text. It was a willful rejection of truth that was literally in front of their faces. So, it is highly unlikely that you, or anyone you know, has ever been guilty of the sin Jesus was condemning on the day this debate took place. Once again, if this is not yet clear and you really want to know the truth here, then go back and listen to the second study in this series from January 18. Or, you can go to my blog for the written transcript. What you see in those transcripts is most often strikingly close to what is said here on Sunday morning. I have to stay fairly close to the transcript because I get in trouble when I travel far afield.

Well, that’s the first topic – blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Now let’s take an easy one: the baptism of the Spirit! Have you ever had someone ask you, “Brother, sister, have you been baptized in the Spirit?” Or, they may ask if you have been baptized by the Spirit. But, saying “brother or sister” and “baptized by the Spirit” in the same sentence is redundant. If you are a Christ-follower, thus a brother or sister in Christ, you have been baptized by the Spirit! It happens at the point of salvation. As we go to 1 Corinthians 12, you may well recall us talking about this in the not too distant past. I bring this up fairly often because there is such confusion about the work of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life.

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 12:13: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Now, let’s take a few minutes to consider all the truth found in this one verse. These words are found toward the end of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. What kind of church was this church, a good church or a troubled church? Troubled! Big time! In 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, Paul lamented the fact that he could not address them as spiritual followers of Christ. Instead, he was forced to speak to them as self-absorbed, fleshly, baby Christians, even though that sounds like an oxymoron.

So, this was not a very spiritually minded crowd that Paul was addressing. Yet, he said in our text that all of them who were Christians had been baptized into one body. He was referring to the body of Christ. The specific point that Paul was making was that all Christians are equal in Jesus – Jews and Gentiles, leaders and followers, even to the extent of slaves and non-slaves alike. Slaves were very much a class of people in the first century, yet they were considered on the same spiritual level as their owners when they were believers in Jesus because they had been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ. If all of the Corinthian believers had been baptized by the Spirit, it could only have happened at the point of salvation.

But, what about subsequent times of Spirit baptism in the lives of believers? A lot of people think that there is at least a second moving of the Spirit in our lives that takes us to another spiritual plane where there is victory over sin and power to do great works for God. But, Ephesians 4:4-5 tells us, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

It seems pretty clear to me that we are baptized by the Holy Spirit one time – and the meaning is that the Spirit fully immerses us into the body of Christ with all others who profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Do we always live as if Jesus is the Lord of our lives? I think the Corinthians answered that question – NO! But, we have been, nonetheless, baptized by the Spirit. So, if someone asks you if you have been baptized by the Spirit, you can say YES! If they ask when, tell them you were baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ when you became a Christian – and point to these verses as the foundation for your belief.

You need to be aware, though, that they are going to have a few verses of their own. And almost certainly, they are going to go to the book of Acts, particularly chapter 8, to support the doctrine that salvation comes at one point and the baptism of the Spirit comes later. I want to address that partially now, but more fully next week.

It is extremely important to recognize the nature of the gospels and the book of Acts when forming doctrine and understanding how God works in our lives today. The gospels, of course, tell the story of Jesus’ redemptive work. Much of Jesus’ teaching was not understood, even by His disciples, until after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers. The book of Acts tells the story of how the gospel of Jesus spread to the whole world. This entire period was a period of transition. Remember, it was a time when the Holy Spirit transitioned from coming alongside of people in order to enable them to do God’s work to now permanently indwelling believers once they believed the gospel of Jesus. We will talk next week about how the work of the Spirit was quite visible at every point of transition, with Jews, with Samaritans, and with Gentiles.

Much of the Spirit’s work that was done at these crucial points of redemptive history is misunderstood and misapplied by Christ-followers today, especially with regard to the doctrine of the baptism of the Spirit. That is why it is so important for us to make sure the epistles, or the letters written by apostles to first century churches, back up whatever doctrine we may derive from the gospels and Acts. If this does not seem clear to you today, hopefully it will make more sense next week.

In preparation for next week, I want to read one of the NT passages about spiritual gifts and offer the briefest of comments. I am going to look at a few verses in 1 Corinthians 12, verses 4-7. The first three verses set up this section, but we will stay here for now.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Did you catch Paul’s Trinitarian theology? Remember, when Paul uses the term “Lord,” he is almost always referring to Jesus. So, the Holy Spirit is in verse 4, Jesus in verse 5, and God the Father in verse 6. Verse 7 sums up the purpose for spiritual gifts, and you see this same purpose articulated every single instance in the NT that you see a list of spiritual gifts – they are given to us for the purpose of building up one another. They are not given to build up ourselves or even to improve our relationship with God, but to build the faith of others! Next week we are going to look specifically at the gift of tongues. That particular gift, in my opinion, is often misunderstood and misused in our day. I do think it is a gift that God still gives and that the Holy Spirit uses, but perhaps we need a better biblical understanding of how God used tongues in the first century and what that means to us today.

Well, that is all the time we have today. Two and a half out of six from our list ain’t too bad. We will talk more about spiritual gifts in the Home Fellowships this week, more about the gift of tongues next week, and then we will complete the list on the first Sunday of April. Don’t forget that Mike Calhoun will be here on March 29 – you will not want to miss that Sunday. Let’s pray

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New/Old Site

Wanna see some beautiful pictures? So many of you commented on Michael and Laura's wedding pictures. The photographers for their wedding were our good friends, James and Jenny Tarpley, of Visio Photography. Their website has been updated, and if you have not been there in awhile, it would be worth your time: http://www.visiophotography.com/ Your welcome!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trinity Series - Small Group Notes #7

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
God the Holy Spirit, Week of February 22, 2009

Ø John 14:17 helps us understand the difference between the way that the Holy Spirit worked before Pentecost (OT days and in the gospels) and after Pentecost (when He came to indwell believers as recorded in Acts 2.) Jesus told His disciples, “You know Him (the Holy Spirit), for He dwells with you and will be in you.” In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon men and women for special purposes and specific times. He could leave as surely as He came. In Psalm 51:10-11, David prayed that God would not take His Spirit from him. Would that be an appropriate prayer today? Why or why not? How does John 14:17 and other NT verses about the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives inform our understanding of our relationship with the Holy Spirit?

First of all, it is important to note that David did not understand the Holy Spirit as a distinct Person of the Trinity. In fact, David did not understand the Trinity at all, because it was a secret then, though it is a mystery, now. Remember, a secret, theologically, is something that we cannot know because God has not revealed it to us. A mystery, in the NT, is something that was previously unknown but has now been revealed (see Deuteronomy 29:29 and Colossians 1:24-27, particularly verse 26). David did understand that God’s Spirit had been strong in his life. You will recall that both Samson (Judges 14:19; 15:14, 16:18-22) and Saul (1 Samuel 10:9, 11:6, 16:14) had the Holy Spirit taken from them.

The difference in the NT is that when the Holy Spirit came upon the believers at Pentecost (Acts 2), He took up residence with all who believe in Jesus. John 14:17 says that He is given to us forever. Ephesians 1:13-14 says that once He is given to a believer, He can NEVER be taken back –He is the guarantee of our inheritance (eternal life). See also 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 4:30 – we can grieve the Holy Spirit by our sin (particularly, in this text, with how we treat others in the body), but we are sealed – He will never leave us).

How should the truth of the eternal presence of God’s Spirit in our lives affect the way we live? It certainly should not cause us to take the promise of eternal life for granted and live as we desire – in fact, it should have the opposite effect. It should cause us, with hearts of gratitude, to seek His power to live a life pleasing to God!

Ø Jesus said in John 14:23 that both He and the Father would come and dwell with believers. We know without question that the Holy Spirit indwells believers. Does Jesus’ promise mean that the Father and Son indwell believers through the Holy Spirit, or that all three Persons of the Triune God indwell believers? Augustine leads a group of theologians that say this verse and John 14:25-26 indicate that all three Persons of the Godhead indwell believers, while other theologians think that the Holy Spirit has that role exclusively. Either way, it emphasizes the fullness of the Trinity and our relationship with God.

Our goal, with this point, is not to come to a conclusion – it is to magnify the greatness of God! Talk about the mystery of the Trinity, how great our God is and how much higher He is than us. Is it possible that a God we could comprehend fully could really be God?

It is certainly safe to say that all three Persons of the Godhead are intimately involved in our lives. It also appropriate to say that all of God is in every Person of the Trinity – each Person has the same nature, thus, when we worship one, we worship all because the three comprise one God. See what I mean about explaining it? If one attempts to make too much sense of this, the troubled waters of error are not far away. We have done much to understand the construction of the Trinity, but there is a point when we must simply believe, simply trust. Read, with gratitude, the following quote from Gregory Nanzianzen (4th century) that was shared on Sunday:

“No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of Him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”
Ø Much of what is written about the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives has to do with His work in causing/helping us to get along with one another in the church. Ephesians 4:1-3 is a good example as we are commanded to keep the unity of the Spirit in the body. This section goes through verse 17. We are not commanded to “build” unity in the church, but to “keep” the unity that the Spirit has already built into the body, of which Jesus is the head. Discuss ways we can keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace at Grace Community Church.

Read through verse 17 and reflect on the importance of a solid understanding of Scripture (12-15) which is why we are conducting this study on the Trinity. Also, discuss the importance of church leadership (11) and why everyone should pray regularly for the church leaders! Last, emphasize the absolute necessity of everyone using the spiritual gifts they have been given in service (16) if we hope to have a healthy body. Challenge everyone in the group to find a place to serve at Grace.

Ø The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 is given, not only to improve our relationship with God, but to enable us to give evidence to God’s presence in our lives in the way that we treat one another. Talk about ways that the fruit of the Spirit will help to keep the unity in our body.

Read Galatians 5:13-24. Consider the following: 1) Satan will seek to destroy us if possible (13-15); 2) We will either be lead by the Spirit or by our flesh (16-17). Whether it is the Spirit or the flesh that controls us will determine the spiritual temperature of our church; 3) The Holy Spirit lives inside us – let’s allow Him to control us, for goodness sake (24)! It will require death to self – only the Spirit can accomplish this in our lives; 4) Spend time discussing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, constantly emphasizing the reality that we cannot generate these qualities in our lives – they are the fruit of the Spirit. Thus, let us submit to His work in our lives. Think about times when you know that the Spirit has enabled you to do what you could not have done in your own strength.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon # 6

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
God the Holy Spirit
John 14:15-26; 15:26-16:15

We are in the middle of a three month series about the Trinity. The Trinity is considered by some to be the most important doctrine in Scripture – I agree. We are told in the Bible that God is one – and, He is three. One nature, one essence, but three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are coequal and coeternal. Since God the Father has never had a beginning, neither has Jesus or the Holy Spirit. While all three are equal, there is order in the Trinity with God the Father holding the position of leadership and authority over Jesus, and with the Father and the Son both holding authority over the Spirit. Today’s message is about the Holy Spirit, but before we go there, let’s think for just a moment about the Trinity.

One of the most important figures in church history in helping us understand the deity of the Holy Spirit was a late fourth century priest named Gregory of Nazianzus, which was a town in modern day Turkey. You may recall about a month ago we talked about how important Athanasius was in the early to mid part of the 4th century when the debate about the deity of Jesus was raging. Late in the 4th century, the debate continued about Jesus, and more attention was being given to the Holy Spirit, also.

Gregory of Nazianzus was known, along with his two friends, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, as one of the three Cappadocians. And, I bet many of you just don’t care! But, if you believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, you are indebted to the three Cappadocians! I will not go into great detail about their contributions to our understanding of the Trinity, but I want to share with you a passage about the wonder of the Trinity from Gregory Nazianzen’s book, Oration on Holy Baptism. John Calvin said, “This passage vastly delights me.” I think you will see why. Quote:

“No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one.” Stop right there – does this experience seem familiar to you? Rather than let it frustrate you, let it bless you as your wonder of the greatness of God grows. Let’s start over: “No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of Him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.” You will hear that again at Home Fellowship this week, and in fact, if you would like a copy, there will be some available for you as you leave today.

Well, today we are talking about one of the three Persons of the Trinity – God, the Holy Spirit. There is probably more sloppy theology about the Holy Spirit in our day than with any other doctrine. People are waiting for something that has already happened and they are praying for something that they already have. We will attempt to bring a little light on the Holy Spirit’s role in the Trinity and His work in our lives today. But, today is not going to be enough – we will need at least one more week, probably two, to cover all that needs to be said about the Holy Spirit.

This morning, we will read from several places in John 14, 15, and 16, which covers the teachings that Jesus shared about the Holy Spirit with His disciples on the night before He was crucified. Much of what is in our text will not be covered in the message – there is just not enough time – but I want you to absorb all the truth you can as we read. Some of these truths will be covered at Home Fellowship this week, including the truth about how the Holy Spirit worked differently before He came to the believers at Pentecost than He did afterwards. Today we are going to see the Holy Spirit’s place in the Trinity and His blessings to us in our lives. So, let’s get started.

Would you please stand as we read God’s Word together? We begin with Jesus speaking to His disciples:

John 14

15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,
17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
19 Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live.
20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
21 Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, He it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?”
23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves Me, He will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.
24 Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.
25 These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.
26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 15
26 “But, when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from
the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
He will bear witness about Me.
27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with
Me from the beginning.”

John 16

1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.
2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.
3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.
4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.
5 But now I am going to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’
6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.
7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.
8 And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me;
10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer;
11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.
14 He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.
15 All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

My son-in-law, Ben Price, is quite a talented guy. He can do almost anything. He is quite an athlete, he can fix anything or build anything within reason, he converts used cooking oil into fuel for his van that has a diesel engine, he loves horticulture, he is a wonderful husband to my daughter Liz and a fantastic, fun father to my three grandchildren. He is also a gifted speaker, an avid reader, and can discuss the philosophically nuanced theology of Frances Shaffer at a high level. Whenever something breaks in my house, I count the days until Ben can get here and fix it. He is multi-talented.

My gifts are more limited. If I could no longer make a living in some sort of speaking ministry, I would be in trouble. I barely know the difference between a screwdriver and a hammer. But I do love people, and I especially love to connect people when there is need and also, opportunity. It gives me great pleasure to introduce people to one another when I am almost certain that the relationship that will develop will be beneficial to both. Even though I don’t know how to fix your problem, I know a person who can and I can connect you with that person, and I know the person who helps will be glad he got to know you.

That is a poor analogy for the work of the Holy Spirit, but it is in the right direction, because the Holy Spirit connects us with the Father and with Jesus. He is God, you know, thus the title – God, the Holy Spirit. Oddly enough, we could have titled this message, “It’s All About Jesus,” and not changed much of the Scripture or the focus even though we are talking about the Holy Spirit. Our text included most of what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit on that special night of teaching about the Trinity which was conducted just before He was arrested. Jesus’ comments were said in the flow of the greater context, but because we have time constraints, we will skip around and put the verses into an order that helps us understand the Holy Spirit as best we can. We will look at three truths about the Holy Spirit, beginning with the one to which I have already alluded:

I. The Holy Spirit delights in glorifying Jesus (14:26, 15:26, 16:13-14)

We call the Holy Spirit the third Person of the Trinity. He is every bit as much God as the Father or the Son, yet He takes a less conspicuous role than the other two Persons of the Trinity. He comes to us, in fact, both by the Father’s will and Jesus’ will, not of His own accord. Look at the truth found in our text: Jesus said the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. But, then Jesus also said that He, Jesus, would send the Spirit in the Father’s name and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Jesus made it clear that the Holy Spirit would not speak on His own authority, but that He would speak, or lead us into truth, at the direction of the Father and the Son – you may only see the Father in this verse, but a little later we will see the Spirit pointing Christ-followers to the truth taught by the Son. In John 16:14, Jesus says very plainly, “He will glorify Me.”

Do you remember last week how we saw that God the Father has chosen to exalt His Son, Jesus, above all creation? The Father directs the Spirit to help in this process of exalting Jesus. But, in our day, so much attention is given to the Holy Spirit that the glory of the Son seems secondary. God’s Word, written at the direction of the Holy Spirit, makes it absolutely clear that our exaltation of the Spirit is absolutely not the way it should be. You don’t have to worry about hurting the Holy Spirit’s feelings. He wants to glorify Jesus!

To exalt the Spirit would be akin to stopping a wedding right in the middle of the ceremony and the pastor saying, “Before we go one step further, I think you would all agree that Scott and Lisa make a beautiful couple, am I right? Well, here is what you don’t know. Scott and Lisa were introduced to one another by Janice Roland, so Janice is the real star of this ceremony today – Janice come on up here and everyone give it up for Janice Roland!” If Janice is the kind of friend she should be, she would be horrified at such attention on her – her delight is in the attention being put on the groom and the bride! Bringing attention to Jesus is what delights the Holy Spirit.

So, it sounds like the Holy Spirit is inferior to the Father and the Son, is that right? NO! If you are just getting in on this series about the Trinity, you need to know that we have clearly established from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is every bit as much God as the Father and the Son. Each Person of the Trinity has a role, and their roles involve leadership and following, authority and submission. Since each Person of the Trinity is fully God, there is no bickering or frustration. Every Person fills His role perfectly, and the role of the Spirit is to glorify Jesus.

Another truth we find is that:

II. The Holy Spirit is the agent of truth (14:16-17; 16:12-13)

Jesus told us so. The Spirit gives us truth. If we believe God the Father and God the Son, we can have 100% confidence in the Spirit. We will not take time to read from 2 Peter 1:20-21 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that tell us that the Spirit, or God’s breath, guided all who wrote Scripture. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 tells us about the Spirit’s role in helping us to understand Scripture.

This is one of those days when we need much more time than we have to unpack what I am about to say, but it should be said in this context anyway: The Holy Spirit will never lead us in ways that contradict His Word. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit’s primary purpose and desire is to elevate Jesus, and Him crucified. Why is that significant? Because, in our day, there are a number of people who claim to be led by the Holy Spirit to act and speak in certain ways that are contrary to God’s Word.

For instance, if you were to say that God has led you to steal from someone in order to support missions, that would be contrary to His truth about honesty. That’s an easy one, though. How about someone who says that the Holy Spirit had led him to rebuke someone who disagreed with him over a non-biblical matter, say what color the sanctuary should be painted? That’s just wrong. More dangerous, though, are the kinds of claims that the Spirit is leading me to tell you to sell your house and give that money to a needy family. If you want to point to Jesus and the rich young ruler as your Scriptural proof, may I say that a lesson on biblical interpretation would be in order? Be very careful about taking examples from the gospels and the book of Acts to justify a particular action or doctrine. Also, know for sure that if people are exalting the Holy Spirit, it is being led by the Holy Spirit. I am NOT saying that it is a wrong motive that is inspired by the Devil – it is simply a misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit’s role to point us to Jesus. It is fine to worship Father, Son, and Spirit, but Scripture never encourages us to single out the Spirit for special worship. Do not forget that when we worship the Father, when we worship Jesus, we are worshiping the Holy Spirit, because all three members are God and the essence of the Father is the essence of the Son and Spirit. There is so much more to say about this and I have not defended the point as fully as I would like to, but let’s consider for just a moment:

III. The Holy Spirit is the Perfect Helper (14:26; 16:7-11)

The Holy Spirit is our Helper. Of course, your translation may call Him the Counselor, the Comforter, or the Advocate. So which is it? All of those descriptions would fit the Paracletos. The Holy Spirit is our perfect Helper. Consider the context in which these words were said. Jesus had been with His disciples for three to three and a half years directing their every move. His leadership had been perfect, of course. Now, He tells them that it is a good thing that He is going away, because on earth, Jesus had limited Himself, most of the time, to being where His body was and there only. There were exceptions, but that was the standard. Now that He would be going back to heaven, the Holy Spirit would come and be in every single Christ-follower. And, He would help them.

One of the primary ways that Jesus said the Holy Spirit would help them, and by extension help all Christ-followers, would be to not allow us to live as we want to live. The Holy Spirit will, Jesus said, convict the world of sin. During His entire ministry time on earth, Jesus had pointed out the sin of the world, but His Word had not been believed. The Holy Spirit would now continue this ministry of showing the world its sin through the witness of those who follow Jesus. This is not as negative as it sounds. Indeed, the only hope we have to be related to God is to face, acknowledge, and repent of our sin and put our hope in Jesus. The Holy Spirit helps us to come to this place of repentance.

What about the next two points of conviction? There are a lot of different ideas about that, but since the Holy Spirit often led John to look back to the OT book of Isaiah, there is likely a connection to Isaiah when Jesus said that the Spirit will convict the world of righteousness. There is a good chance that Jesus was referring to the world’s self-righteousness. Isaiah had given the spiritual leaders of his day the message from God that all their righteousness was as filthy rags. Jesus had preached the very same message to the religious leaders of His day. The Holy Spirit continues that message today. Sometimes, as believers who are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, other people don’t like us – for no reason other than the lives that we lead convict them and they don’t want to think of themselves as sinners.

We are also told that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment – of its false judgments and ways of looking at life. Why does the Spirit convict in this way? Because Satan is judged. Remember, just a few hours after Jesus spoke these words, He would die on a cross. The religious leaders would think that their judgment was vindicated. Not so. Jesus’ heel would be bruised, according to Genesis 3:15, but Satan’s head would be crushed.

No matter how you interpret these particular verses, the point is that the Holy Spirit is our helper and He leads us into God’s truth. Aren’t you glad that He will not allow you to live any way you want to live? Aren’t you glad He cares enough to tell you the truth rather than let you be deceived and spend eternity apart from Him in hell?

God, the Holy Spirit – every bit as much God as the Father and the Son, but willingly taking a lesser role and pointing to the Father and especially to the Son. I hope that God continues to grow bigger in your heart and mind as we proceed in our study. More about the Holy Spirit after a two-week break. Let’s pray.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tis Better to Have Loved - Linda Faile Talley: February 11, 1955 - March 3, 2008

I must agree with Alfred Lord Tennyson who said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Love has risks. The greater the love, the greater the risk. Many people refuse to love because of the fear of rejection, the fear of disappointment, the fear of loss. But, in every case, the emphasis is on the fear of what may happen to – me!

The ultimate price that love pays is loss. One year ago today, I lost the love of my life. Now, do not think that I do not consider my children, their spouses, and my grandchildren and the rest of my family to be loves of my life – I do! But, I am not “one flesh” with any of them. Linda and I were absolutely one.

I do believe that God gave Linda and me a love that was rare in these days. Oh, it wasn’t always that way! Both of us wondered in those early years of marriage if this is what love really is. But, God allowed us to figure it out. What we learned was that our frustrations with one another that precipitated arguments were not attacks. There were genuine differences, but they were not attacks, though they were absolutely perceived that way by the other one. We spoke different languages (as men and women are apt to do), and once we were willing to put in the work that was necessary to communicate in a way the other one could understand, the commitment to not only stay with one another through difficult times, but to love the other one during those times, paid off in ways beyond our wildest expectations!

Love has its risks. We both thought that we were paying the price of disappointment for the first several years of our marriage. We were not ultimately fulfilled as we had hoped to be, though we had seasons of genuine happiness. But, maybe that was OK because we learned to protect our own hearts. Neither one of us was going anywhere because we were committed to God’s plan and to one another, we had three phenomenal children – we were doing OK. Life was more than acceptable, even though we had hoped for more. Maybe it was best just not to risk giving our hearts fully to one another, but to love as best we knew how.

It is true that the greater the love, the greater the risk. It is equally true that the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward. The pity of failure to love that comes in an attempt to avoid pain is the failure to be loved as one could be loved. Now, do not read more into that than is intended. I have close friends that are very fulfilled who have never been married. If you are already married though, or if you have full intentions of being married someday, the only thing you protect yourself against by not fully giving your heart to your spouse (or, spouse to be) is the potential of being loved at the level you want to be.

“But,” you protest, “I may get hurt.” True enough. You will also never know the joy of being fully loved. The “self” that you are protecting will never become all that it could be. The irony of true love is that as you give yourself completely to another, you become (often on the basis of the love that is returned from the one to whom you have given your whole heart) so much better as a person, much more fulfilled, much more successful in life. Even if your love is unrequited, you are the unwitting beneficiary of true love. Did not our Savior say that it is better to give than to receive?

The pain of losing Linda has been almost unbearable at times this past year. On my way to the funeral home last week to visit one of our members who had lost her mother, I cried out, impulsively, at the top of my voice, “NO!” It was out of the blue. On balance, the pain is somewhat subdued these days and I do not seek to aggravate the wound. If every day were spent in the pit of despair, though, I would unhesitatingly say, “LOVING LINDA AND BEING LOVED BY HER WAS WORTH THE PAIN!” Without question!

I miss Linda. I miss her touch. I miss the way that she could soothe my troubled soul when I felt that I had made a foolish remark in the pulpit on Sunday morning (which happens more than I would wish to confess!). I miss her sweet, sweet smile and even sweeter, kinder spirit. I miss her desire with every fiber of her being to build me up in respect and to love me unconditionally and to find her greatest joy in this life (outside of her relationship with the Lord) in my love for her. I miss buying gifts for her. I miss calling her when I am on my way home from church or from a movie or from anywhere. I miss everything about my precious wife. Everything.

But, God blessed me with this great love for thirty-one and a half years! And, I am a FAR better person for having been the object of Linda’s love. I realize that God gave me the gift of one of His most incredible creations. And, while I am so glad that she was mine for a long season of my life, I know that she belonged to you, also. We are all blessed, are we not? On this day of grief, let us also give thanks to God for His grace to us in the beautiful, beautiful person of Linda Ruth Faile Talley. Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Remembering Linda - and, Looking to Jesus - at Church

Two days from now - Tuesday, March 3 - will mark one year since Linda left us to go to her beloved Shepherd - Jesus. This morning at church, she was much on my heart and mind as we sang the songs that were sung at her funeral (KJ's idea - you cannot believe how much I love and appreciate the staff at GCC) and I preached from John 10, the passage that meant so much to Linda that told of the Good Shepherds love for her. She had followed Him since she was seven years old, and in the last 13 months of her life, she sensed that He was carrying her in His arms. Here is a transcript of the sermon:

The Beauty of Life
John 10:1-18

A little over three and a half years ago, I was at Wake Med Hospital when it was announced that Dan Brisson had died in surgery. Most of the family was present in the hotel room at the hospital. Becky was there, of course, and the Lanes and their children and spouses and the grandchildren. It was a surreal scene. There was stunned silence on the part of some adults, quiet weeping from other adults, - - and jumping on the beds by the children. Efforts were made to subdue the children, but they were – well, little children. It was a vivid picture of the cycle of life. It was one of those seminal moments when you see the pain and joy of life all at once.

Becky is my second cousin, so this was family. And, it hurt. Of course, I have seen the same cycle of life in my own immediate family. Two days from now, this coming Tuesday, will mark the one-year anniversary of Linda’s graduation to heaven. Even so, my daughter, Autumn, is halfway through her first pregnancy – our granddaughter is expected July 13! As for Linda, preparation for real life ended March 3 of last year. She is experiencing life at a level that the rest of us can only imagine.

But wait – is it fair to say that only those that have left this world are experiencing real life? As painful as these past few years have been for me, I think not. In fact, our text today would argue against such a pessimistic view of this life, pain and all. But, is it fair to go so far as to title the message, “The Beauty of Life?” Is that fair to Rosa Maria Matthews who said goodbye for the last time to her mother this week or to Josh Tate whose face and hands were seriously burned yesterday as he served the Lord preparing dinner for the Grace Outdoors’ Banquet? Is it fair to the Moody’s who live with the agony of cancer in their 2 year old treasure named Cali or to Woody Woodruff who is halfway through chemo treatment, or to those who are still waiting for jobs?

Let’s take some time to answer that question. We will read John 10:1-18 together, but most of our focus will be on the truth found in verse 10. If you had much contact at all with Linda in the last year of her life, you know how very much it meant to her that Jesus was her Shepherd. Would you please stand for the reading of God’s word?

1 “Truly, truly, I (Jesus) say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.
2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of the strangers.”
6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what He was saying to them.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me,
15 just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep.
16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
17 For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again.
18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.”

What does it mean that we are created in the image of God? Does it mean that God looked like us before we were created? There is indication, as we have seen these last few weeks, that God the Father may have some vague form of a human, but certainly nothing like us. We know that Jesus looked like us when He came here because he was one of us at the same time He was God – 100% God, 100% man. Most theologians believe that Jesus appeared in human form in the OT, though some would say He did not. The vague form of a human that God the Father takes in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 may be for our point of reference rather than an indication of His appearance in eternity past. The same would be true of any Christophanies that the OT may include.

In John 4:24, Jesus told the Samaritan woman that God is spirit, and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth. So, we will start defining what it means to be made in the image of God by saying that we are spiritual beings. God is spiritual, and so are we. We recognize that we are far more than flesh and bones. If our physical condition defines who we are, then the last year of Linda’s life was meaningless. It was not meaningless, though, because we are spiritual beings.

And, we are relational. We relate to our Creator, in fact, spiritually. To be made in the image of God means that we are spiritual beings, as He is, and that we have the ability to have meaningful relationships, both with our Creator and with other human beings. One of the reasons that we can meaningfully relate to God and to one another is our ability to reason.

In Isaiah 1:18, the Lord told a wandering nation of Israel, “Come now, let us reason together.” Of course, the ability to think rationally has been used by creatures to reason their Creator right out of existence! That was a risk God willingly took, though, if you are willing to accept that language. I think all of us are grateful that He made us with the ability to think and discern and draw conclusions. It is this ability to reason that many people point to as the primary component in the image of God.

I have heard it said, though, and it resonates with me, that the image of God is most clearly seen in the imagination because when we are creating, we are most like God. True. That is why secular art, secular literature, and secular music are not intrinsically wrong or evil. Much of what secular artists do is exactly what we were created to do. But, as with anything, sin often makes what could be beautiful, ugly. Even if there is nothing specifically sinful in the secular entertainment, education, and activities that we enjoy, to think we can find fulfillment or true life there is to be deluded and to be headed for major disappointment. For the Christ-follower to seek ultimate meaning in this life is to be intentionally deluded.

When we utilize our imagination, we do not create ex-nihilo, or, out of nothing. Any creations that we attempt, including our efforts at engineering life itself, are fashioned out of created substances of some sort. But, just consider how great is the imagination of men and women who are, after all, made in the image of God! Think of our discoveries and inventions just in the last century alone. Our problem, of course, is that we seem to be building another tower of Babel in which man thinks nothing is impossible to him. We seem to have forgotten that we are creatures working with a creation not of our own doing. We are not creators determining our own destinies.

The fall of man, when Adam and Eve sinned, marred a beautiful creation. Can you imagine what this place must have been like before sin? Can our minds conjure even the tiniest image of the beauty of an unspoiled world and only pure thoughts and perfect relationships and not even a hint of sorrow, pain, or death? Not even knowing what disappointment was, in fact! Can you imagine?

Unfortunately, we know “the rest of the story.” Sin entered this perfect world with perfect people and perfect circumstance – and, scarred the land and its inhabitants. Since that time, groaning has been the way of life. Not only do we suffer the consequences of sin, but Satan does all he can to insure that our experience is as miserable as possible. His plan for misery often includes the illusion of success and happiness in order that we might become proud and totally unprepared for the inevitable difficulties of life and for the natural conclusion of the universal principle of sowing and reaping.

After the fall, God brought some order to the world by giving laws to mankind – laws that were initially written only on the hearts of men and women, but were eventually given to His chosen people, Israel, in written form. The law provided a measure of structure and civility in the land, but its primary function turned out to be revealing man’s inability to live according to God’s standards. Our failure to meet God’s standards ultimately brings more intense pain and deeper sorrow. Death will always prevail, regardless of how closely one is able to live to God’s standard, unless that standard is perfectly kept.

But, the law was pointing to something – or rather, to Someone. The law pointed to Jesus! John 1 tells us that the world was full of darkness and death – and Jesus came to provide light and life, even in the midst of the chaos that is around us as a result of sin. To some degree, Jesus redeemed this world and our lives by His perfect life and atoning death. It is an incomplete redemption at present as we wait for the establishment of Jesus as King over the world and the entire universe. Thus, darkness and light, and death and life all coexist in this temporary state.

Theologians speak of common grace that is given to all mankind, and special grace that is given to the elect, who trust Jesus as their Savior. It is true that all men and women benefit from God’s common grace, but for those who follow Jesus – light and life are theirs, even when they suffer because of the curse of sin on this world. When life’s indignities and pain close in, those who know Jesus can rest in His life.

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” That pretty much sums up what we have been saying, doesn’t it? To be more accurate, John 10:10 is the truth and we have been talking about how it plays out. Much of this life is less than wonderful. For Americans, bad news is particularly painful because we think we have conquered difficulties in this advanced age.

But, we are still susceptible to the natural laws of life in a fallen world. The pain that Chad and Sarah Moody are experiencing can be even more intense than it is in other places because their trial is juxtaposed to the “normal” lives of those all around them where vaccinations and superb medical care that is paid for by the ingenious system that gives us insurance companies combine to create an illusion of the idyllic life. Not so, but it seems that way. And, Satan appears to have won.

The thief has no good intention for us. But, he doesn’t have the final say for the Christ-follower! Satan has nothing but destruction planned for us – and, Jesus has nothing but good intentions for us! “I came that they may have life – and have it abundantly!” What does that mean? Does it mean that I have woken up every day this past year with praise on my lips, singing, “This is the day that the Lord has made – we will rejoice and be glad in it?” NO – I haven’t been rejoicing day in and day out this year! I have been crying a lot, in fact. Not nearly as much now as I did for the first six months or so, but it has been painful to lose the love of my life.

But, fortunately, Linda was not the only love of my life. Jesus was, and is. And, in Him, all will be made right one day. There is no need to think only of the future, though – He has promised abundant life now! How is that possible? By recognizing Him as my shepherd, just like Linda did. By believing that He only intends good for me, in spite of the pain of the curse experienced in this world and life as a result of sin. Jesus is the redeemer – and, life is beautiful, no matter how it appears right now.

To believe that life is beautiful is an act of faith. We all recognize that grief is a part of life, and it occurs when we lose something or someone we love. The promise of abundant life that Jesus promises would seem to indicate fullness and consistency. If our hope is in the blessings of life and the ease of circumstances, we will ultimately be crushed and the promise of life will seem like a cruel joke. If we trust our Savior, though, in the face of life’s pain, we will find meaning in Him. We will discover that abundant life is not in apparent success, or in ease of circumstances, or in the absence of pain and trouble. When we trust Jesus, we will find that life is in Him, just like He told us. Let’s pray.