All Fired Up!

The beginning of the Book of Acts shows the fulfilment of the promise of Baptism of the Spirit when a prayer meeting was upgraded to an outpouring of the Spirit. A motley crew of rugged fisherman, a Zealot, a tax collector and many others were faced with an impossible task – spreading the gospel to the entire world. How were they to do that when even among the Jews, so many barriers existed? They barely even spoke the same language! Enter the Holy Spirit. He is the One that would bring people into the church:

For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. For in fact the body is not a single member, but many.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-14 NET emphasis supplied)

And again:

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
(Ephesians 1:13-14 The Message emphasis supplied)

The language barrier was erected by God at Babel (Genesis 11) in order to put a damper on the DIY religion (trust in myself instead of God) that was developing a centre at that site. At Pentecost, however, God reversed that as a living illustration of the unity that He wanted His people to have. Far from a destructive fire, the Holy Spirit’s appearance as a flames was meant to represent the Presence of God (descriptions of God’s presence almost always include fire), a Presence that would fuse different people of various backgrounds, inclination and baggage into the smooth operating Body of Christ.

Humans struggle with change so the process was gradual. At first, the barrier amongst the Jews was demolished. On that day, Peter addressed Jews from all over the Roman Empire and three thousand joined the body. Talk about exponential growth! The small movement began to grow daily despite the efforts of the authorities to squash it. Those poor religious leaders thought they’d get rid of Jesus but suddenly, hundreds were proclaiming Him, even healing and teaching in the Temples courts itself!

The Body of Christ was not be exclusively Jewish, though, so Peter found himself preaching not only a Gentile but a Roman centurion. Philip baptised not a Gentile eunuch; a double felony by Jewish standards and regulations. The Holy Spirit was on fire but this was only the beginning. Even those with unorthodox theology (they only knew John’s baptism) were included in this breaking down of barriers. The Holy Spirit took a former prodigy of exclusive religion, a Pharisee named Saul and directed him to extend the invitation to the Gentiles.

The Holy Spirit is a facilitator but He is no shortcut. Sin isn’t a software bugging needing a patch, it is a virus that corrupts the operating system so bad that a virus cleaning and system reinstallation are required. Sin is never more dangerous than when it disguises itself as righteousness but presenting itself in the form of religious bigotry. Strife entered the church when Jews found themselves inundated by Gentiles who had precious little time to waste on painful practices like circumcision and ceremonial cleansing. The Holy Spirit didn’t bulldoze His unifying agenda but worked calmly on hearts in the contentious Jerusalem Conference, bringing church members to consensus without even a whiff of a proof text.

Personal differences didn’t magically disappear either such as the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas on the John Mark debacle. Although they did make up, they never worked together again. Being filled with the Spirit was and is no exemption from being human but He guides us to reconciliation with God and each other.

The baptism of the spirit will do for you, what a phone booth did for Clark Kent, it will change you into a different being. (Rod Parsley)

The book of Acts is incomplete. You have a chapter to write as well. Will you choose to go it alone with a DIY religion or will you accept to get fired up for the Kingdom?

Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you. (Corrie Ten Boom )

 

 

 

 

 

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Just How Big are Your Pockets?

Jesus fits so easily in my pocket. He seems to like everything that I like and shares my dislikes. When I’m angry at those in authority, Christ is a rebel but when I’m in charge, Jesus desires order for progress’ sake and nods his head when I lay down the law. Some people love following rules while some can’t see a rule without breaking it and my parents without the slightest hesitation would say I belong to the latter. Perhaps that’s why my favourite stories from the Gospels are those that tell of Jesus’ rule breaking like the Sabbath healing miracles, healing the Gentiles, chilling with Samaritans and having pizza with sex workers and corrupt government officials. Stories of Jesus restoring order in the temple with a whip in His hands (He didn’t strike anybody) and giving instructions to the disciples just fade into the recesses of my mind, subject to only a begrudging assent.

If only He wasn’t such a nice guy, maybe I could take Him more seriously. Imagine the King of the Universe hanging naked on a cross, turning the other cheek and strolling the extra mile! Fancy the King of All washing filthy feet! That was the point though. In Luke’s account of it (Luke 22), Jesus set the record straight about how His kingdom functions:

Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.

“Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves. And you’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregations of God’s people.

(Luke 22:24-30 The Message)

The power of humility is incredible. Jesus is immensely powerful; speaking stars into existence and chatting corpses to life but there’s more to it than meets the power hungry eye! Jesus doesn’t want us to trust in His might but in the love with which He wields that power. The Bible isn’t a buffet meal from which I’m to choose whatever I feel like eating, it is a complete balanced meal I’m to consume in it’s entirety if I’m ever to live. 

From that perspective, Jesus is more than a religious mascot for whatever cause I happen to be in support of. No! Jesus is more than a nail-pierced reflector of my opinions and feelings – that’s my parrot’s job – He is God made man. Christ is God in an accessible (not malleable) form to allow certified sinners like me the chance to see Him as He is (character) and not die but thrive and be renewed in His grace. How dare I try to squeeze Him into my pocket!

If you think, that’s bad, wait till you see how I’ve relegated the Holy Spirit to a celestial Siri whom I ignore until I’m stuck. I guess it’s partly because when I sit in the church pew and listen, He seems little more than some ethereal lotion to be squeezed out of a bottle or insecticide sprayed from a can. Why doesn’t He speak up for Himself and set the record straight? It’s that humility thing again! At the same dinner mentioned above, Jesus spoke about Him:

I didn’t tell you this earlier because I was with you every day. But now I am on my way to the One who sent me. Not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.

When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.

I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.’
(John 16:4-15 The Message)

Far from being merely some ether that leaks out of heaven, the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person, lovingly wielding power to make my feeble mind understand the abjection of my sinful situation so that I may receive the gift of righteousness and then understand that judgement is necessary to depose Satan. The Holy Spirit is the One who quickens me to live up to the lofty ideal set by Jesus. It is His efforts that give me the self control to give up the desire to control others and serve them instead. Christ offers citizenship and the Holy Spirit delivers the forms and guides me with compliance.

If the Holy Spirit were only a power, I would be right in seeking to have more of “it” but His divine personality means that in Him, I have the overflowing cup of God’s presence in my life. It means I don’t need more of Him but I just need to accept more of Him i.e. I need to admit to myself that I can’t do it all. That’s humility. Humility is hard. I don’t know why since I have very little to be proud of. That is the mysterious power of sin but thank God, He is far more powerful than sin yet He so lovingly wields His power that He and Jesus are small (humble) enough to fill my life but a little to big to fit in my pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

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Is God Ever Shy?

How can the Holy Spirit be Divine and yet be content to work in obscurity? From hovering over the waters at creation to filling Bezalel with creative skill, He seems leery of the spotlight and instead, content to turn it on Jesus and the Father. It is because He spurns the fanfare and accolades associated with kingly power that we doubt His Divinity. How could we not doubt when the Bible is filled with odes to the Father and Jesus but only punctuated with terse references where the Holy Spirit is concerned?

Perhaps it is time we realised that our stampeding for the spotlight has less to do with effectiveness than it has to do with pride. Pride is always befuddled by humility and can only either belittle it or reject it as false. Yet the Holy Spirit challenges our belief that the essence of life lies in the spotlight. The Holy Spirit sends a portfolio and testimonials instead of a curriculum vitae because He seeks to attract by inspiring awe and not bedazzle us.

His apparent shyness is shared by the Father and Jesus too. Have you read the rousing hymns of praise sung about Jesus by the Father in Hebrews 1? Do you remember the glorious parables of the Father’s love breathed by Jesus in the gospels? They never tire of heaping praise on each other because of the love that swirls through the very core of their essence. God truly is love, not so much in an overbearing sentimental sense but in a commitment to serve others. True humility can never flourish in bashfulness because it can only thrive in a heart so confident that it sees no need to bask in the limelight.

Satan approached Jesus in the wilderness to tempt Him to prove His Divinity by grasping the limelight (turn stones into bread and jump from the temple) but Jesus chose to prove it by holding to a loving trust in the Father. Jesus came to reveal the Father (He spoke of Him incessantly) and refused to steal the limelight from Him. It is this stubborn confidence in His relationship with the Father and the resultant contentment that gave strong evidence of Jesus’ identity.

The Father too, couldn’t restrain Himself from heaping praise on Jesus at His baptism but could restrain Himself from intervening on Calvary. As sinners jeered at Jesus on the cross, challenging Him to prove Himself by saving Himself, the Father didn’t distract them by attacking them. All eyes were to be on Jesus. Is it any wonder that the Holy Spirit doesn’t spend time attracting attention to Himself?

How different would our lives be if we proved ourselves not by claims or fanfare but by positive results? What strife we would avoid and how sweet our relationships would be, if we were so confident in our identities that we would be content to point attention to others.

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Dead Words, Living Gospel

Does any book have more controversy swirling around it than the Bible? Yet the Bible is not quite a book but a compilation of history (some say historical fiction), poetry and correspondence. It is a compilation that has changed over time with new additions and exclusions. Yet so much is said about, for and against it with believers, sceptics and everyone in between weighing in with their two cents’ worth about it. Love it or hate it, this is one book that leaves almost nobody neutral about it.
 
I am a black African who in his little corner thinks that a lot of the trouble is caused by reading Eastern writings with Western rules (Even Easterners). There is no adequate method of expressing, “Namuhla bengilabo Jason,” in English. Sure, I could come up with various attempts at translation but not a single one would do it justice. What from the Bible has been lost in translation, I wonder. Thank God for raising scholars who expend tremendous amounts of time and effort, digging into the scripture to point out things that aren’t immediately seen. From paying attention to these impressive ladies and gentlemen, I’ve come to realise that there are lots of similarities between the culture and worldview of the people who lived in Bible times and that of my ancestors. I realise of course, that there are differences.

Rigours of translation aside, it appears that the Bible effects change in both the educated and unschooled. Bearing in mind that horrendous deeds have been done in the name of the Bible, I cannot help but notice that vicious men have been rendered meek and mild by letting the Bible read them. I too, have cringed when I recognised myself in unfortunate episodes in those pages. However, it appears to me that this book is more than a self help manual.

Over the years, I a certain Someone has been revealed to me by the dead words of the book. At first, the Bible was an interesting story book, then it became a harsh disciplinarian pointing out my errors in verses that sprang to mind whenever I decided to be a less than exemplary boy. In my teenage years, it became a standard that I could never be good enough to live up to. As I wrung baptismal water from my clothes, it became a manual for achieving perfection. Read in that way, dispassionately, the Bible is just dead words that lead to heaven (at least!) with a few interesting stories and philosophical implications. Somewhere along the line, I found myself scraping the bottom of life’s barrel and suddenly, Someone flipped the light switch. As I read this book and listened to other Christians, I realised the Bible wasn’t dispassionate and thus, I couldn’t be dispassionate about it. It came alive! The people it told of were real people with real struggles. Through the ruckus of the Old Testament, I kept catching glimpses of Someone I saw plainly in the New. I began to be honest with this Someone as I spoke to Him… Trembling became rest as I learnt to open up to Him. I’m still learning to trust Him but I find, that I cannot be cold and dispassionate about the Bible anymore. Everyday it slaughters my sacred cows but I can’t get enough of the One it points to.

Why am I boring you with another testimony? It is because I’ve become less abstract about the Bible and strongly believe that it is all about relationships. It is a compilation telling how God related with people and vice versa. Some of its content was given by direct vision, some by research and some by compilation of earlier writings all in order to reveal God to humanity. Besides all this, it can so easily become a long book of dead words until Someone turns the light on and brings it to life in a receptive mind. Yes, I know I’ve made a lot of claims and all but I’m not interested in arguing about the Bible. It also seems to my mind that the greatest evidence that the Bible is true can only be found by reading it for yourself and trying out what it says. Thus, all I can say is that you should read it for yourself while I hope and pray that those dead words can be a living Gospel in your life by the enabling of the Holy Spirit who inspired them. May God bless you!