But Who Is the Holy Spirit

Most of us find it exciting to be with a group of young people. This winter my wife and I attended a concert presented by our high school symphony orchestra. It was thrilling to hear their beautiful music. Driving home my wife and I talked about a concert we had attended when many of these same young people were just starting to play an instrument. We wondered if they were all playing from the same music book.

What patience their teachers had! Those sour notes must have hurt their ears, but they knew how much potential these children had and six years later proved the point. Good instruction and practice paid off, and the music was beautiful.

Commencement exercises have always been exciting for me. As these graduates receive their diplomas, you know that some great minds in America are taking their next step to enter a world where one day they will be leaders in government, science, business, church, and many other parts of our society.

Some might wonder about those who are not gifted enough to be recognized. While there are those who have extra talent, greater personal initiative, and are often found in the right place at the right time, let us never forget that all of us have a contribution to make. Remember Jesus’ parable of the talents? Some got five talents, others got two, and one talents. We have all been created with potential.

But for me, there is an experience that is even more exciting than going to a concert, athletic event, or a commencement. That is standing in a pulpit Sunday morning and realizing the potential in that audience for doing something great for God’s kingdom. Just think, if those 1,800 worshipers would bring a strong witness for Christ during the coming week, how many lives could be changed! What if? What if? What if? If this would happen, America would change.

I have been schooled in reality, and Satan finds me thinking this is just not going to happen. But it could. The potential is there. We sometimes say, “What an athlete he could have become had he only applied himself. He just would not pay the price of disciplining himself and practicing.” Yes, it is sad, but it is even more tragic when committed Christians will not live up to their potential in witnessing for the Lord Jesus.

Look at what happened on that first Pentecost Sunday. Then remember that nothing has changed. Human nature has not changed. We are just as sinful now as people were back then. The Gospel has not changed. It is just as powerful now as it was then. And the Holy Spirit, who worked through that Word as Peter was preaching it on the first Pentecost, can change lives now as he did then.

Read the text. After Peter preached and the Holy Spirit had worked in the lives of those listening to his sermon, 3,000 people were converted, and the Church was born.

Now I would not end this sermon by leaving you with the thought that nothing great is happening in the Church. Every time the Gospel is proclaimed from the pulpit, taught in the classroom, or shared in a personal way, the Holy Spirit is at work. The fruits are not always seen, and the recipient of this marvelous message can walk away. Yet no one knows what will happen years later when the experiences of life have broken this person and they do not know which way to turn. It is then that the voice of the Gospel may have his chance with them.

We must remember that lost souls can be changed into great people of God. All He asks of those who trust him is to yield to his leading and spiritual awakenings will come.

On Pentecost Sunday 3,000 people were converted to Christ. How many around our world today will be converted and come to Christ? Isn’t that an exciting question! What about your life? Where do you stand in relationship with the Lord Jesus? If you are God’s child, have you shared him with someone today?

I close with a word from Lloyd Ogilvie, who always has a unique way of saying things. “God is promising wonders that he has never done before.”

It was a wonder when God, on Pentecost Sunday, brought 3,000 people into the fold. However, I believe that Dr. Ogilvie is correct when he says that greater things are happening. Those of us who are children of God by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, are the ones to carry that message and through whom the Holy Spirit will do his work. It will bring enlightenment to your church, new joy to your home, peace and comfort to your own life.

We praise God for the Holy Spirit, who does all things well.

Bind Us Together, Lord

From the beginning of civilization people have experienced serious divisions. The Old Testament stories tell of families that were so divided they killed each other. Nations were continually at war.

Jesus said that man’s relationship with man was not going to get any better. “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6-7).

Living in this divided world, does it not catch your attention when Jesus says, “I pray, Father, that they may be one?” He is saying that, in this world of division and hate, there can be a people who are united in Christ, and they can experience a oneness that is unknown to any other place in the world.

In John chapter seventeen, Jesus talks about the unity experienced in the Church. This chapter is divided into three parts. In part one (vs. 1 – 5), Jesus talks about the oneness that he and the Father have had since before the world began.

In the second part of the chapter (vs. 6-19), Christ Jesus shows a loving concern for his disciples when he prays for their protection and oneness: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name Ð the name you gave me Ð so that they may be one as we are one.”

In the third part of the chapter (vs. 20-26), He prays for his Church. This includes the Church today Ð you and me as believers in Christ Jesus. This is Jesus’ prayer for us: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Those of us who trust Christ as Savior and Lord have many common experiences. We have all entered into a personal relationship with Him. We are convinced of our sinfulness and realize the need for a Savior if we are to be God’s forever. We hear His blessed words Ð I forgive you; you are mine Ð many times in a day. These great experiences make us a part of the body, which is the Church. It is in this body that we experience a oneness while we live in a divided world.

No matter where we go in life, a brother or sister with whom we share our oneness is always with us.

In 1984, I was invited to give the opening prayer at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. I was introduced to the assembly by Senator Howard Baker. I had never met Senator Baker, but when I concluded my prayer, he grabbed my hands and said, “You are my brother in Jesus Christ.” How unexpected, and what a thrill to sense our oneness!

One day my wife and I were flying to California, and I occupied the center seat. I was reading the book, Left Behind. It is a novel in which the author is describing the day when Jesus comes back to receive the believers who are on this earth and the rest will be left behind. The scene in the book is on an airplane. The pilot is overwhelmed when he finds many of the passengers are not there, but their clothing is lying on the seats. The rapture has come.

Because the part of the Church in which I had been trained had a different interpretation of this part of the Bible, this scenario was strange to me. I found it rather humorous and began to laugh. The passenger sitting to my right asked what was so funny, so I told her what I was reading.

She became interested in the book and told me that she was a Roman Catholic nun. We both agreed that we were not sure of the details. Nevertheless, we believed that Jesus is coming back to this world to judge the living and the dead, and at that time every knee will bow and every tongue will confess him as Savior and Lord.

High in the sky, going five hundred miles an hour, a nun and I discovered our oneness in Jesus Christ.

May I say that unity does not necessarily mean uniformity. In Jesus Christ, we are united. The Church is one, but in the words of the Augsburg Confession, “It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies instituted by men should be alike everywhere.”

William Barclay writes, “What was that unity for which Jesus prayed? It was not a unity of administration or organization. It was not an ecclesiastical unity. It was a unity where people love people because they love Jesus Christ. It was a unity built on relationships between heart and heart. It will never be that Christians will organize their churches all in the same way. It will not be that they will believe precisely and exactly the same things. But Christian unity is a unity that transcends all these differences and joins people in love.”

It is heresy to teach that we must agree on everything to have unity. It is enough to be united in Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One. I may differ with my Christian friends on the teaching of baptism, but it does not destroy our unity if Jesus Christ is our crucified and risen Lord.

Your granddaughter may prefer the contemporary praise song, and you may enjoy the traditional hymns. She may go to one service and you attend another, but you are still united in Jesus Christ. Sometimes we need to use our common sense in these matters.

I like what Bishop J. C. Ryle has written, “There may be uniformity with unity and unity without uniformity as between godly Presbyterians and godly Episcopalians. Uniformity might be a great help to unity, but it is not unity itself.”

And so we pray, “Bind us together, Lord.” When Christ unites us, we are one, in spite of our many differences.

The Day Our Home Changed

This is Mother’s Day, and our thoughts turn to the home.

What are some experiences that have brought lasting changes to your home? Was it the birth of your first child or the day your last child left home? Was it the day a member of your family departed because of death or divorce? These are emotional experiences that leave the home different from what it was before they happened.

Let me change the subject for a minute and ask you a question that might add to our discussion on changes in your family life.

In your thinking, where does Jesus Christ live? Would you answer that He lives in heaven? That would be a correct answer, for the Bible tells us that he had gone to prepare a place for us, and he will meet the believers when they die. Might you say that Christ lives on the pages of the Bible? That too would be a correct answer for Jesus speaks to us in his inspired Word.

Now let me ask you a very personal question: Does Jesus Christ live in your heart? The reason I ask this question is that Jesus tells us the heart is where he would like to live Ð in your heart and mine. This is what He says: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. ÔMy Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.'”

Let us return to our original question: What are some experiences, or who are some of the people who have brought lasting changes to your home? If Jesus Christ lives in your home, He is the one who makes the most lasting changes. His influence is felt often during the day. His spirit sets the atmosphere and his voice is the continual counselor.

Have you ever dreamed about what your life would be like if you had been born into a family who had many possessions Ð such as wealth and prestige Ð but no living faith in Jesus Christ? I have. Now I do not mean to infer all people who have wealth and education do not have Christ living in their home. Nevertheless, let us imagine that Christ had no place in these homes.

A man in our town of 11,000 people was one of our most educated citizens. He had a PhD in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a highly respected scientist. Wow! My parents, like most of their peers, finished school when they completed the eighth grade. Life would have been different in that home. Without a doubt, the conversations would have been on a higher intellectual level with a greater appreciation of the arts, and more academic plans for their children’s education.

What if your parents were very wealthy? The lifestyle would have been different than if your father was a wage earner and your mother did housework for people who were more affluent. You probably would not be out delivering newspapers at 6:00 a.m. no matter what the weather was like.

I have to admit that it would have been an interesting experience. Nevertheless, I am sure that after the first couple of days I would have been anxious to get back to my home where money was tight, yet I always had a warm bed, plenty to eat, parents who were raising me in the Christian faith, and we enjoyed real spiritual values each day.

What would it have been like to be a child of Albert Einstein? The April 16 issue of TIME Magazine had an article entitled “Einstein and God.” After reading that article, I concluded that it would have been interesting to spend a week with this great scientist, but I soon concluded that I would not have wanted to be his son.

When Einstein was asked if he was a religious man, he replied, “To sense that behind anything that can be experienced is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity teach us only indirectly, this is religiousness. In that sense only, I am a devoutly religious man.”

When asked if he believed in immortality, Einstein answered, “No, one life is enough for me.”

When questioned about a personal God, Einstein said, “I do not believe in a God who is concerned with the fate and doing of mankind.”

On April 17, 1955, Einstein died at Princeton Hospital at the age of 76. He was cremated and his ashes scattered. A pathologist removed his brain for preservation in the hopes that one day scientists could discover what made him so intelligent.

I thank God that Jesus Christ lived in our home and brought us the blessings of his presence every day. The Christian home is not a perfect home by a long way. However, it is a home where we live together as sinful people daily experiencing God’s grace. Jesus is the One who continually forgives us and teaches us to forgive. He counsels us when our spirits are foul and empowers us to say from our hearts to those we have offended, “I am sorry.”

Many friends tell me how different their homes are today from when Jesus Christ did not have a place in their families. The day He assumed the role of head of the home, life was different. One small child sensed that things had changed in her home, and at devotional time she prayed, “Thank you God for giving me a new mommy and daddy.” That home has experienced some difficult times since Christ came to live there. The Lord is still waiting for some of the children to receive him, but meanwhile mom and dad continue to grow in their Christian faith, and the children are willing to admit that Christ has made a difference in their parents’ lives.

On this Mother’s Day, thank God if you have a home where Jesus Christ is present. To those of you who are still struggling to have a good environment for your family but realize something is missing, may I suggest that the some thing is some one and that someone is Jesus. Remember what Jesus said in our text today: “If anyone loves us, we will come to him and make our home with them.”

Loving Those You Do Not Like

Jesus teaches that we should love one another as He has loved us. Does this mean that we have to like everyone?

Listen to these words of our Lord: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). This is a difficult command.

We have learned from Jesus’ teachings that love means being willing to sacrifice for another, being sensitive to his needs, always willing to forgive the wrongs of another. The list continues. Loving and liking are not the same, and they should not be confused. My dictionary defines liking as feeling an attraction for a person and enjoying their company. Here are a couple of examples.

I have a person with whom I do not like to play golf. He takes the game too seriously for me. When things do not go right, he will throw his clubs and become terribly irritated. I love that man in the biblical sense of the word, but I don’t like him according to the dictionary’s definition of like. I am not attracted to him, nor do I want him in my foursome.

You have neighbors with whom you have become good friends. You enjoy being with them. These neighbors move to the west coast, and you miss their company. So you plan that one day you will visit them in their new home. That time comes, and you are on your way, driving 4,000 miles to spend a week with these dear friends. Wouldn’t it be easier to become good friends with the people right across the street? The answer is no. The reason is that you don’t like them, and it is difficult to spend time with people you do not like.

Why is it that we don’t like some people?

Our personalities conflict. We have different convictions about life and certain beliefs that are very important to us. Why spend a lot of time getting emotionally upset and arguing with people who think differently than we do? I have a very difficult time liking a person who has no time for Christianity and thinks that Jesus was just another man and not our Savior. Do I have to go on a vacation with this man?

For several years I served on a community board. The members related to each other very well. As we say, the chemistry was right. We had differences of opinion but respected one another’s opinions and saw how each was making his or her contribution for the good of the community. Then the board changed. A lady became a member of our group and told us at one of her first meetings that she had her own agenda, which she would be pursuing. This was fine as long as it was presented in a kind and professional way. In my thinking I believed she not only had her own agenda but was at times rather obnoxious. Did I have to like her? Is that what Jesus is telling me? I don’t think so.

Jesus loved all people, but he did not like all people.

Remember the day Jesus chased the money changers out of the Temple? Now he loved those people and had come to save them, but He did not like them. This is what Jesus said to them, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of your heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

On another occasion Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees when he said, “You whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:25). Pretty strong words, don’t you think? Did he like them?

Jesus was not too fond of Pilate. Here was a man who had Jesus in his court and concluded he was innocent of any accusations the Jews were bringing against him. “I find no basis for a charge against him,” he said (John 18:38). But when Pilate saw it was politically expedient to send Jesus to the cross, he sentenced him to death. Did Jesus like him?

You might say that Jesus liked the people but did not like what they did. How do you separate people’s actions from the people themselves? Isn’t this double talk?

I have not met many people in my life who I honestly do not like but there are some and I am pretty sure that those same people do not like me. I have experienced, however, that loving these people over a period of time can bring me to like them. That has not always been the case for me, nor do I think that Jesus expected this to happen.

This is a different type of sermon, and you might wonder why I have written it. Sometimes I get the impression that I am being told that I must like everyone because liking is a part of loving. I am convinced that to like everyone can be very dangerous when it is clear that what they are doing is wrong according to the Bible. We cannot sweep wrong under the carpet where God has spoken clearly in His Word just because we like the people involved. I love my colleagues who are working hard to have our denomination accept the practice of homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle, but I do not like what they are doing, for God’s Word has spoken.

Jesus told us to love others as He has loved us, but never did he say that we have to like everything that we hear or see.