God’s promises

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: the Power of the Promise

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Read along with this series here. 

The Power of the Promise

For many, there is a disconnect between the stories of the Bible and everyday life. We read stories in the Bible that are supernatural, unbelievable when compared to our own experiences. However, amidst these stories we also read God’s promise to never change his nature, although time passes and people change. Repeatedly God promises that he was, is and always will be the same:

Your word, LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Psalm 119:89-93

If we are to actually take the Word of God seriously, and believe in it with our whole hearts, these promises should not feel fantastical or far-fetched. Rather, if our experience with the living God is real, it stands to reason that our experience with the promise of God must be real as well.

Now, that is not to say that since God separated the waters of the Red Sea for Moses, he will respond in precisely the same way for us today. However, it does mean that the personal and intimate experiences that Moses experienced with God in person are there for us to experience as well. In Acts, while gathering in the Upper Room, the Apostles experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs— we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Acts 2:1-13

Their experience was unique in that it found them speaking in various tongues as a sign of the Holy Spirit moving among them. While the act of speaking in tongues easily becomes the focus of their baptism, it is not the act of speaking in tongues that marks their experience as being baptized by the Holy Spirit. They were being personally introduced to the living God that knew them at their most personal level. In that moment they became powerfully aware that God knew them, that the God of old who made promises throughout the ages had always known them. Thus it is for anyone today who is baptized in the Holy Spirit. Upon being baptized in the Holy Spirit we realize that the promises in the Word are not simply words to hope in, but are words intent on being found, experienced and fulfilled in us.

The Impossible Religion: Trust

trust

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This reflection series,  “The Impossible Religion,” reveals five specific problems that people have with the gospel of Jesus. These impossibilities arise when Christianity is a religion to achieve, rather than simply the “good news” of grace and redemption that will naturally transform us. Christianity outside of Christ’s redemption is in fact impossible, but with God nothing is impossible. For the next five weeks, we’ll go through Scriptures from five different areas of the Bible in order to confront these impossibilities:

Impossible Trust (Malachi 3)

In studying the Bible with people of various levels of faith, I encounter various levels of opposition to the Gospel and to God.  One of the main reasons people resist the Gospel is that they don’t trust God, and thus don’t trust the Gospel.

The Bible is clear about what God desires, and what he desires is echoed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He is not interested in a two-hour block of your Sunday schedule to accommodate worship, fellowship and Bible study.  He wants everything.  When most people hear that, their eyes widen in suspicious disbelief.  This is an understandable reaction to such a request. To feel this initially is not wrong by any means.

Imagine yourself walking down the street. A stranger approaches you and says, “I want everything you own right now! I want your family, your possessions, your dreams, your deepest thoughts, your time, everything!”  Our natural reaction to that person would be similar if someone were trying to rob us in broad daylight.  Interestingly, robbery is what God is charging us with in Malachi 3.  Where we feel that God is demanding everything, leaving us with nothing of our own, God views our stubbornness to give back what was his in the first place as equally unjust.  However, only one of these perspectives views the other as a stranger and not an ally.  We view God as a mysterious figure demanding more than we want to give him, but he views us as children whom he has provided for who refuse to acknowledge his provision.

We humans are extremely protective beings.  We know what belongs to us and we know what we have to do to protect our possessions.  We also know that it is wrong for someone to take something that does not belong to them.

The reaction to God’s demand for “everything” is determined by whether we view God as friend or foe. The more we come to see God as he truly is, as a friend and not a foe, the more willingly and naturally we will allow him access to all of our belongings without hesitation or suspicion.

We don’t trust strangers because we know nothing about them, or about their interests and intentions. With this perception of God, the suspicious reaction to the request for “everything” is then quite natural.  To react otherwise would be naïve and dangerous and rather unnatural.  One of the first lessons that parents teach their children about going out in public is, “Don’t talk to strangers!”  Is this because our parents want us to grow to be anti-social and reclusive?  Hopefully not.  On the contrary, it is to protect us from being harmed. It is no surprise that we instinctively react with suspicion when we read that to follow Jesus means to deny ourselves and find ourselves in him alone by committing everything to him.

Many people have self-created ideas of God, perhaps formulated from their experiences of “Church” and “Christians.”  Perhaps they have mistakenly followed the path of least resistance that, to our current culture, is the online landscape of blogs and websites where everyone is an authority.  Perhaps they read one passage of the Bible dealing with gardens, snakes, sacrifices, etc. and concluded that Christianity was not for them.  Regardless of the influence, everyone has an idea of God that leads each person to relate to God in different ways.  The danger or our self-created ideas that come only from experience is that in forming them we often disregard the source of our understanding of God’s character.

In the Bible, one finds the uncompromised nature of God. With this portrait of God one can confidently and fairly arrive at the truest picture of who God, and not others, says he is.  Unfortunately, to do so leads down the undesirable path of actually sitting down and reading the Bible, which is long and often difficult to understand.  However, it is only by this method that one can finally meet the “stranger” personally and understand his interests and intentions.

By reading the scriptures we can come to realize the identity of this stranger who requests “everything,” and what he wants to do with our “everything.” What we find might surprise some.  The reality laid out in the Bible is that this stranger is no stranger at all.  He is a father who has known us longer than we have even considered him.  He always has our best interests in mind.  He specifically designed every aspect of our characters.  He is a father that delights in us and delights in our existence, and always desires to give us more.

In Malachi 3 we learn that God does not want to take from us, but rather desires to give us more than we ask for.  In fact, we learn in this passage that he actually wants to shock us with how much he plans to give us.   We read that he simply wants us to test this promise and then experience the realities of the promise fulfilled.  God doesn’t need your money for himself.  He doesn’t need money.  He doesn’t need your time because he is bored or lonely.  He doesn’t need your dreams because he wants to deprive us of satisfaction. The only reason he desires everything from you is because only when he has full access to your heart will he be able to release the potential of your existence that he created from the beginning.  Only upon receiving your “everything” will he know that you trust him with “anything.”

We are like an addict who feels totally fulfilled, yet to the outside is completely in need of care, incapable of helping ourselves efficiently.  God wants us to be free to experience a life of pure satisfaction that we cannot possibly fathom given our current state.  In the gospels, Jesus echoes this promise when he tells the disciples that none who left everything would not receive one hundred times more in return.

Jesus told his disciples that he does not give as the world gives.  So to understand God’s promise as a guarantee of financial or material exchange is to completely misunderstand the teaching.  What Jesus promises us is that when we give him access to our entire being, he will unleash desires of the heart that go beyond a one hundred dollar bill in the wallet.  He will release desires of the heart that we try each day of our life to satisfy.  He is the bank that we deposit our life savings in, that promises to yield an interest that is unparalleled and unfathomable.  He is the promise that will always be fulfilled.  What we learn from Malachi 3 is that it is up to us to test him on this radical promise.