The Blessed Stranger

Just once I’d like to have the soul and charisma of James Cleveland. I guess it wouldn’t do for me to break out with Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus next Sunday morning. I guess the congregational choir wouldn’t roll with me. They might, though, take video and put it upon YouTube, and I wouldn’t be as cool as James Cleveland! I watch thousands of enthralled NASCAR fans screaming at drivers who cannot hear them driving around in circles. I see hoards of people cheering their football teams to the next goal. Basketball fans sway back and forth watching superstars place the orange ball in the metal hoop. High-fives abound when A-rod hits his home runs. But maybe we’re more like golf fans. Polite, quiet, well dressed, and speaking in hushed tones about our Tiger Woods. There’s time for every mood, I suppose, but I wonder what God thinks that we get so over-the-top about American Idol but feel restrained in the presence of the Almighty One? I do not question our devotion, love, or enthusiasm for God. Not at all. But haven’t you ever wanted to get in the aisle and do a David dance before the Lord? No? Oh. (I would only do it if you did it, and you won’t do it, so I’m safe!) Well, moving right along…

The Blessed Stranger

Among the precious promises of the first public proclamation of the Gospel is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:38-39) Well-intentioned men who sought to use the Scriptures to defeat their debate enemies would only allow that a gift was given, and that it could not be the Holy Spirit. God forgive us for robbing the believer of the continual presence of His Spirit in our lives. Confined to paper and ink by teachers of the past, the Holy Spirit remains a blessed stranger to many Christians today. Baptized believers in Ephesus were baptized again because they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit and they only knew of John’s baptism. Many today would dismiss lightly the lack of knowledge of the Holy Spirit.

In these pragmatic times we want to simply know that 1 + 2 = 3. The Christian life is boiled down to some small powerless essentials with almost no connection to God at all. Be nice, try not to do anything wrong, and go to church are the three golden rules of modern Christianity. We are focused on what works and what doesn’t work, what feels good and what doesn’t feel good, what I like and what I dislike. We are baffled when we cannot remain united as a congregation. After all, we have done 1, 2, 3 … what else is there? Most of us would affirm that we believe in prayer, yet when pressed many will confess that they do not pray much. Most have had the experience of praying for something and not receiving the answer we wanted to receive. Thus we fear putting too much faith in prayer, which is a lack of trust in God. Even though we know we cannot fix what is wrong in our lives on our own, we do not turn to spiritual answers. We continue in a quest for the practical answer that we can provide to ourselves if we work hard enough.

God has sought to free us from this futility by providing the power of the Holy Spirit. “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19 )

*Through the Spirit’s ministry, we receive inner strength from God’s power. So often we think of the Spirit’s power in terms of miraculous abilities. Why do we want to be super heroes? We are still wanting to be practical and fix everything on our own. What kind of strength are we receiving from the Spirit’s ministry? Is it not an inner strength? God is influencing our will, giving us the ability to have victory over sin in our lives and to walk in His light.

*Through the Spirit’s ministry Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. The emphasis here is not on us, but on Christ in us. “… the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Colossians 1:26-28) Even our faith in Christ is a work of the Spirit.

*Through the Spirit’s ministry we comprehend the great love of Christ. The love of Christ is wide, long, high and deep! How much? We will never know on our own. As we walk in the Kingdom way, we continue to comprehend not only that God has saved us but that He is reaching all men who seek Him. The addict, the criminal, the liar, the gossip, the prostitute, the drunk and the cheater are all being loved and accepted by Christ if they will only come to Him. It is the limited grasp of man that keeps people out of the Kingdom. When we set ourselves free from our own constraints we can learn to love all people … and understand that God’s love for us was not easier. Our own sin was as repulsive as the heroin junkie’s sin. You’re no better, friend. God’s Spirit reveals this to us.

*Through the Spirit’s ministry, our hearts are filled to the fullest with God. Why are we so empty at times? Why do we feel far away from Him? Why do we fall back into sinful habits? Why do we feel confused and unsure where we are spiritually in life? We have not allowed God’s Spirit to fill us with His presence. It is not a knowledge problem, nor a good-deeds problem, nor a moral problem, it is a Spirit problem. We have not allowed God’s Spirit to fill our hearts with God. We are so attracted to other things that fill our hearts with the blackness of sin. We must learn to open up our minds and hearts to God’s Spirit so that He can fill us to the fullest with God.

Even with these affirmations, we are only scarcely touching the surface. Let’s not allow the Holy Spirit to be a stranger to our spiritual walk. What is your experience with becoming more aware of the Holy Spirit? How have you overcome a heritage that largely ignores the Spirit? What would you suggest that may help us make the Holy Spirit a greater part of our journey? Is it a sin to pray to the Spirit? Do you think one must be Pentecostal to appreciate the work of the Spirit? Do you think the Spirit incapable of miraculous works today? What’s on your mind about the Holy Spirit?

Thanks for reading!

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