Confrontational Counseling

Christianity is a life-long walk with Jesus. The One who makes this possible is the Holy Spirit. When Jesus returned to the Father, he sent the Holy Spirit to live in the Christian’s heart guiding him through the teachings of God’s Word. Jesus summarizes the Spirit’s word in today’s text, found in John 16:8-11.

The Holy Spirit has always been here. He is a person of the Godhead. But on Pentecost he came with special power. Had that not been so, the early church would not have had the power and strength to move into the world with the Gospel. The disciples would have returned to their hometown and continued in the work they had been doing before Jesus called them to be His disciples.

We experience the same power of the Holy Spirit today. When the Word is read or proclaimed, great changes take place in the lives of people. Jesus tells us that the Spirit does His work in our lives through the Word. This is often forgotten in the Church. We substitute the abilities and methods of people for the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting to notice that godless emperors and dictators feared the power of the Christian faith. Why was Hitler anxious to close the churches, quiet the voices of the pastors, and burn the Bibles? He knew the Word could capture the hearts of the German citizens, and he would lose their allegiance.

Last week we talked about the Holy Spirit convicting us of our sinful nature. He was facing us up to our sins. This is illustrated in Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Peter confronted his audience with their sin of having Jesus crucified. Their sins brought the Lord to the cross. But Peter, who now possessed a new power, told them, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

The Bible then tells us, “When the people heard Peter’s sermon, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ÔWhat shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37). The Holy Spirit had convicted the audience of their sins. He does the same thing in our lives.

Now, today in our sermon we read, “I am going to the Father where you can see me no more.” What does that mean?

We live in a corrupt society. Someone once described our culture as the “swill pool of immorality.” If that be true, then it is difficult for us to have a good understanding of what righteousness really is. Here in this text the Holy Spirit teaches us to look to Christ. There you will learn what righteousness is.

The Jews saw Jesus as a spiritual heretic, the Romans as a danger to the empire. Consequently, he was unjustly tried and found guilty by Pilate, who pronounced this sentence only because it was politically expedient. Jesus was crucified with criminals as a spiritual felon.

Beneath that cross was a centurion, who had been taught by the Holy Spirit. He confessed, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Righteousness according to the world’s standards and righteousness according to God’s standards are two entirely different manifestations. Only the Holy Spirit, speaking to us through God’s Word, can show us what true righteousness is. In our walk with Jesus, the Christian experiences the voice of the Spirit speaking to us many times during the day. He is telling us something is wrong or something is right. He is teaching us what righteousness is. We need these daily lessons on righteousness, for we have been immersed in a righteousness based on being political expedient, socially acceptable, or convinced that the end justifies the means.

Now the Holy Spirit talks to us about the judgment. “The prince of this world now stands condemned.” We don’t like the sound of that word, judgment.

The world’s prevailing philosophy is to “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” It is in this environment the Holy Spirit speaks through St. Paul, “We will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written, ÔAs surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ÔEvery knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-11).

A common question is Do you believe there is a hell? My answer is the Bible teaches there is a hell. Therefore, as a Christian who takes God’s Word seriously, yes, I believe there is a hell. We know little of what hell will be like. I believe the best description is that it is eternal separation from God. We, as Christians, have been taught that we will stand before God in judgment, and if we have no Savior to plead our case, we will hear His words, “Depart from me.”

Can we explain it any further? I cannot, but I take my comfort in a promise from Jesus. “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). Our refuge is in Christ. He has atoned for our sins. He has taken our sins upon himself. Through Christ, God sees us as spotless and clean.

How can we comprehend all of this? We cannot. It goes beyond the comprehension of the human mind. It is at this point that the Holy Spirit comforts us by telling us to trust Christ, for all is well.

Christianity Is a Life-Long Walk With Jesus

I sat in my study with a person who asked, “Can you, in a few minutes, tell me what Christianity is? I have attended church most of my life, but this Christianity does not do much for me.”

I shared with him the basics of the Christian faith, which he knew very well. Then I said, “If God gives you the strength to receive Christ, you have taken the first step into a personal relationship with God. However, this is only the beginning of life’s greatest adventure. This is not to belittle all the good Christian education we have had or the emotional encounters we have enjoyed with friends in Christian gatherings. It is simply to say that Christianity is a lifelong experience with God. It is not just a lesson we learn or an experience we have.”

Jesus was preparing the disciples for his departure from this world. During the three years of training for their work, they had grown very close. Jesus was aware of this, so he said, “Because I am going to return to the Father who sent me, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Christ, in bodily form, could only be in one place at a time. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, lives in the hearts of all who trust Christ. He speaks to us daily through the Word, which he has inspired.

It is the Holy Spirit’s presence with us that makes Christianity this daily experience with Jesus Christ. In our text, we have an example of the Spirit’s work in our lives when he convicts us of our sins. This is not the message this post-modern society teaches us. People live with the conviction that basically they are good people. We should not be stressed out with the thought of sin, because there are few objective rights and wrongs. Yet, when we say cruel words to a loved one, we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit asking why we spoke as we did. That is one of those disheartening experiences.

St. Paul had those same kinds of experiences. As closely as Paul walked with the Lord, he writes, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me all the time. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God Ð through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21 – 25).

Isn’t that an experience that we have on a daily basis?

What a dreadful experience Peter had the night he disowned Jesus. He went out and wept bitterly. How broken David was when Nathan, God’s messenger, announced to him that committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed were sins. Then David could only say, “I have sinned against the Lord” (II Samuel 12). Another dreadful experience.

How do we handle these experiences? Our culture, not God’s Word, sets the moral standards for the day. The laws, passed in our legislature assemblies and interpreted in the courts’ chambers, are often quite different from the Law of God through which the Holy Spirit speaks. Abortion is but one example.

Well, as humans we have to find ways to live in this cesspool of immorality. So we try to excuse ourselves for our actions. We rationalize why we did or did not do something of which God speaks so plainly. Such convictions created by the Holy Spirit within us lead to guilt. If we let the Holy Spirit lead us all the way, he will bring us to the blessed promise that if we will confess our sins and receive Christ as Savior, we are forgiven. That is grace. We do not deserve to be forgiven, but God loves us and in Christ takes away our guilt.

Daily we hear the Holy Spirit saying to us who are Christian, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8).

Do we ever conquer all these sins?

No, we gain victory over one through God’s strength, and then another sin appears, because we are by nature sinful and unclean. Therefore, a part of our daily experience is to come to the mercy seat of God and ask for forgiveness.

It is the Holy Spirit who shows us what righteousness truly is. What are the rights and wrongs, according to God’s standards? We will experience true righteousness when the Holy Spirit reveals how unrighteous the world really is. We can read the Bible and see how unrighteous Pilate’s court that sent Jesus to the cross really was. We see how corrupt the Pharisees and rulers of the religious orders were when they insisted that one of Jesus’ goals was to overthrow the Roman Empire.

That unrighteousness did not stop at the end of the first century, nor is it found only in government, business, church, and all facets of society. It is also found in our individual hearts and minds.

When we are shown how corrupt some of our thoughts and ways are, it gets quite uncomfortable. Let me illustrate what human nature can be like. At our dining room a lovely salad bar is prepared every evening for those who are registered to eat their evening meal. The hours for the evening meal are 4:30 until 6:00. The cooks want us to have a nice salad, and they provide more than adequate amounts of food for all of us. However, they don’t expect us to take enough home for tomorrow.

I heard an interesting conversation one evening when a person had taken twice the normal portion. With a chuckle she said, “The early bird gets the worm.” Those who came later in the hour had little to choose from. However, the person who took extra was not only satisfied for the evening meal, but also for her lunch the next day. That is human nature Ð self first. It is the same nature that reveals itself in huge business deals that benefit a few and hurt thousands.

Now, does this mean that we are all such terrible people? No. The Holy Spirit has been at work in many Christians and has enabled them to win victory over some of their sinful way. Good manners taught in society also help us to control some of our rudeness. I personally believe that some natural laws of God continue to linger in people giving them a sense of right and wrong. Some of the kindest people I live with are not Christian. However, this does not save them, nor does it wipe out their sinful nature.

Christianity is a daily experience with Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit leads us into his presence. That is what the young man who came to my office has found to be true. It has now been thirty years since we had that first twenty-minute chat. We had another one last week.

The Holy Spirit makes life exciting and sometimes difficult. What is on the docket with the Spirit today? You’ll know when you crawl into bed tonight.

How Does the Bible Become Meaningful?

My wife and I were sitting at dinner one evening with a woman who belongs to a congregation where great things are happening. “I hear that you are having some wonderful experiences in your congregation,” I said.

That’s all it took. She began to tell about the life in their church. “It is so exciting to see people become Christians, receiving Christ as their Savior and watching him change their lives!” she replied.

Suddenly I realized another lady sitting at our table was being left out of our conversation. I apologized and said, “Sometimes we do get excited about our faith.”

The woman was most gracious and told us she was enjoying our conversation. “I like the enthusiasm you have for your beliefs. I am not attending church now, but I want you to know that I am not a heathen. I was raised in the church. Dad didn’t go with us, but on Sunday mother took us off to church and Sunday school. I know the Bible stories.” She talked about Adam and Eve in the Garden, and told of what comfort she received from the twenty-third Psalm.

I wondered if these Bible stories were not just stories for her, and that is where the conversation ended. This leaves us with the big question, “How do these Bible stories become living truths in a person’s life?” This is where our text for today is helpful.

God is triune. That means he is One, but he has revealed himself as three persons Ð Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Father is our Creator. He created all things, and the crowning work of his creation is the human being. We are created in his image. That means we have a mind with which we can think, a will that can make a decision, and a spirit that is eternal. The Psalmist expressed it well when he wrote, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14).

“God created us for fellowship, but humans exercised their right to say no to God, and sin came into the world. A holy God could not be in relationship with a sinful human, so God chose to come into this world as a man and live without sin. Here he died on the cross as a payment for our sins and offered us the forgiveness of our sins and restoration with our Creator. This is the Son of God, our Savior, who said in Matthew 20:28, “I came to give my life as a ransom for many.” He came to let us know that his purpose of walking among us was “to seek and to save that which was lost.” Jesus is the God incarnate, meaning he took on the form of man and became our Savior. He is the second person of the Trinity.

The third person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit. But who is He? Theologians have wrestled with this question seeking to find words that would make it understandable to people like us. However, have done it as well as Jesus in his recorded words, which are the text for this sermon.

Jesus gives the Holy Spirit the title of Counselor. He is the One who will lead us into a deeper knowledge of the Gospel and empower us to believe these many recorded promises of Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit who will change these Bible stories we have learned through the years into living truths, which will direct our lives. Jesus again says, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit . . . will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

It is the Holy Spirit who tells me who I am. I am precious and important in God’s eyes, not because of what I do, but because of who I am Ð created in God’s image. He created me, he redeemed me, and he calls me to be his ambassador in this world. Let the Holy Spirit implant these truths in our souls, and we will not suffer from a low self image.

How can we believe these biblical truths? Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone will open the door, I will come and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

The door is the Bible. Open it! Read it! Study it! The Holy Spirit will not only speak to you, he will create in you a living faith. That is his promise. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Martin Luther put it this way: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel . . .”

We will take a further look into the Spirit’s work in next Sunday’s sermon. In the meantime, open the door, and let the Holy Spirit speak to you in the book of John.

They Came Home Different People

A Jewish family living in Egypt asked their friends at the synagogue if they would watch their house for a few weeks while they went to celebrate the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem. Throughout their married life, they had planned for that trip, and now it was going to be a reality. It was a long, hard trip, but it was important for them to be in Jerusalem on that holiday. Pentecost was one of Judaism’s three primary festivals Ð one where they gave thanks for the harvested crops and commemorated the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Little did they know what would happen on this trip and that they would come home different people. Let’s see what happened to them.

While the Jewish people had celebrated Pentecost for many years, this was the first Christian Pentecost. The people had gathered in one place when a tremendous sound, like the blowing of a mighty wind, came from heaven. Tongues of fire rested on the disciples, and they began to speak in foreign languages as the Spirit enabled them. Each one of the visitors to Jerusalem heard the Gospel being proclaimed by the disciples in their own language. Among that group were the Egyptians. Like the rest of the foreigners, they asked, “What does this mean?”

Some wise guy in the crowd had a quick answer: “They are drunk.”

Hearing their accusation, Peter stood up and began to preach. He related to the people that they were experiencing what had been prophesied many hundreds of years ago by the prophet Joel. Then came the climax of Peter’s sermon when he said to them, “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead . . . Therefore let the whole house of Israel recognize beyond all doubt and acknowledge assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ (the Messiah)” (vs 23-24, 36).

When Peter finished preaching, the people, including the couple from Egypt, asked the disciples what they should do. Peter replied, “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 Ð for all whom the Lord our God will call” (vs. 38-39).

Then three thousand of the Jewish people, who had traveled from Jerusalem and many other places, accepted Christ and were baptized. That day the Church was born as Christ had promised would happen.

A few days later, the Egyptian people started home so excited they could barely wait to tell their friends in the synagogue what had happened! We don’t know what the response was. But one thing we do know, they were different people. They were forgiven children of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, and they were new people.

That is the message for us today. How often people leave home and return different people because they met Christ. I think of college people who leave their homes simply as members of their congregations. They were faithful to the church, but Christ had no prominent place in their lives. While at college, they become involved with some of the campus organizations and meet their peers who tell them of the Savior. It is the same message they had heard at home, but something is different Ð God is speaking to their hearts. Finally, they commit their lives to Jesus, Christ meets them, and they are different people.

When they return home for a weekend, they are anxious to tell their parents of the spiritual experience. The parents are confused Ð their children are anxious to talk about their faith. While the parents are thankful they did not return home with a drug problem, they are reminded of an old aunt in the family who was labeled a religious fanatic because she had gone beyond traditional religion as they knew it in their family. This they are sure of Ð these children came home different from when they left.

How many congregations have not wondered about their pastor. He had always been a traditional minister of their denomination. Then he went to a congress on evangelism and was confronted with questions that bothered him. How many people in the congregation are saved? Do they know Jesus in a personal way? Some of his faithful friends seek to comfort him with the traditional answer: “Leave that to God. They are baptized, aren’t they? They support the church well.”

But isn’t there more than that? His sermons become more confrontational as he talks to the congregation about their relationship to Christ.

Which did the congregation like, the old or the new pastor? They are not sure. However, one thing they do know Ð he came back from that evangelism congress a different person and consequently a different pastor.

Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came and worked in their lives, he would make them different people.

We will talk more about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives in the next few sermons. This is the story of the New Testament Pentecost. This was the day the Holy Spirit came in a new and powerful way.