Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Holy Spirit's Work

Despite the chill outside, a late season frost swept the Northland overnight, Pastor Brad welcomed us warmly on this Pentecost Sunday. "Jesus said to His followers, 'You're better off if I go and the Holy Spirit comes,'" which leads into the very heart of today's theme. What is the life that we can expect based on what God has promised to those who follow Him?

But first, announcements.
1. CHIC Banquet will be this coming Friday, June 5 at the church.
2. With VBS approaching, there will be a meeting after church this coming Sunday for all involved.
3. Paula Saxin reminded us to bring our "good stuff" that we want to get rid of to the church any time prior to June 26, cleaned and priced, for the Rummage Sale June 27, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Proceeds will be shared between the ministry "Break the Chains" (dealing with human trafficking) and the Women's Circle.
4. Susie Lane invited everyone to come to John's grad party at the Lane home on Friday, 5-8.

Darlene's intro was very moving, followed by a time of worship led by Brad, Ellie and Pearl. After an offering, the Scripture reading included Acts 2:2-21 and Romans 8:22-27.

The was much enthusiasm expressed when Darlene V. and Judy E. announced their retirements this week. Congratulations!

But there is a lot of pain in the church right now, and many people carrying burdens who need our prayers. Several church family members are battling cancer, and others dealing with difficult situations. We need to keep lifting up one another.

The Holy Spirit's Work

Pastor Brad began by telling us to ask someone near us, "On a scale of 1-10, how was your weekend so far?" This was a lead in to the theme expressed earlier, what kind of life are we expected to have as Christians?

As a starting point we were directed to two passages in Gospel of John, the first in chapter 7. It was the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, a big feast. Jesus shows up and makes a remarkable statement.

37On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

The King James version states, "Out of his belly will flow rivers of living water." The Greek word here means, "the center of your being."

Jesus is essentially saying that anyone who's discontent, dissatisfied, empty, unhappy and who comes to Me, trusts and begins to follow Me, right down to the guts in your belly you will be flowing with energy, hope, joy and power. And He ties this directly to the Holy Spirit.

The second passage is found in John 10:10... "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

Yes, you'd expect Satan to show opposition to this kind of life.

Peter also wrote about the abundant life in Christ. In I Peter 1:8 he writes, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him… and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…”

Unfortunately, for most of us there is a gap between this joyful, abundant life we read about in the Scriptures and our own personal experience, which does not look like this at all. So what do people do when that gap doesn’t get smaller the longer we follow Christ? Here are some of the most typical responses.

1. Try harder. Just keep trying. Unfortunately, these attempts to experience abundant life in the flesh only lead to exhaustion. It is to such as these whom Jesus directed the words, “Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

2. Pretend the gap is not there. These are people who focus instead on managing impressions. Brad told a story of a mother who told her son that fake happiness is better than real depression, so “smile.” Pretending emotions that aren’t really there is not a way to close the gap or experience abundant life.

3. Repeated re-dedication. Many of us have been in churches where people are urged to repeatedly re-dedicate their lives to Christ. Each summer at camp, or at the next revival meeting.

4. Keep switching spiritual venues. Brad said it may be that the problem is not the place you are at, and you will run into the same wall at the next stop. Playing musical chairs still doesn’t close the gap.

5. Some eventually give up. After a while the gap is just too painful. Inside they feel discouraged, even hopeless. They decide inwardly that such a life is not even possible. They may stay in a church, keep being Christians, but inwardly give up believing that life can be different. Truth is, some of you here are probably there.

But what if there’s another way? What if Jesus was right? What if He really meant what He said about rivers of life? What if He really meant it and knew what He was talking about?

Brad then proceeded to share with us a few other verses which spoke about Who is at work within us to shrink that gap.

Paul said this: He who began a good work in you when you were converted will be faithful to complete it. And in the same letter Paul wrote, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.”

To the Christians at Corinth he wrote, “Now the Lord is spirit and where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And we who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness…”

It is only by grace that we can close the gap. Yet somehow we think that we can close the gap some other way, by our own human effort. Dallas Willard notes that grace is not simply for salvation, but for the completion of the Lord’s work in us as well, the renovation of the heart. It’s an illusion that the saints do not need much grace because they don’t sin much. But the reality is that Christians burn more grace than anyone because it is the fuel that they are running on.

The picture Jesus uses is of a river… streams of living water. Robert Redford directed a great movie on this theme called A River Runs Through It. The river equals life. A dry river bed indicates death. The river in this story is a picture of grace.

In Scripture this theme of the river appears from Genesis to Revelations. In the Beginning we see a river runs through the Garden of Eden. In the last chapter of the Bible, we again see a river. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…”

Another passage exclaims, “There is a river that makes glad the City of God…” and Jeremiah 17:8 also speaks of God’s stream which nourishes those who are planted by it that they might bear fruit.

What Brad sought to convey was that this river has been flowing from the beginning of time, and it is flowing through all things, including us. “What if your assignment is just to jump into the river?”

He then talked about surfing. Surfers don’t make the waves, they just learn how to recognize them as they’re coming, and time their moves to get in harmony with what is already there. If they crash and burn, they just get up and take another one, because there is always another wave on the way.

Brad proclaimed, “Surf’s up! Jump into the flow of God’s grace. This is the Gospel.”

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