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BRINGING GOD’S WORD TO LIFE: PENTECOST CONTINUES​ The Power of Pentecost series, Part IV

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The Power of Pentecost series, Part IV

BRINGING GOD’S WORD TO LIFE:

PENTECOST CONTINUES

Last Sunday we celebrated Jesus' Ascension into heaven. We heard readings that pointed the way to the Holy Spirit's descent on the disciples who were gathered in Jerusalem in the upper room.

Now we look ahead to Pentecost Sunday, on May31st, 2020, as we present the last part of our series on the Power of Pentecost. We also connect to the following weekend’s Holy Trinity Sunday as we honor the Father and the Son along with the Holy Spirit.


COMING TO THE LIVING WORD OF GOD

As we explored our response to the Holy Spirit in Part III, we spoke about the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing scripture to life with new power.

“The Bible, of course, is a revelation by the Holy Spirit. We need His help to have His words come to life in our own lives, so we need His presence with us (with His faith, hope and love) as we read, discern and apply the written word of God.” 1 Additionally, there are books written on the accumulated and traditional wisdom and references through which the Holy Spirit has spoken.

God speaks to us in so many ways. He can speak mightily—in thunder and lightning—as on Mt. Sinai when He gave the Ten Commandments to His people Israel, and as Revelation mentions several times. In everyday life, the Spirit of God often speaks in a still small voice. That means that we need to be determined to seek His guidance and quiet enough to hear His voice. Thus it was with Elijah, on the mountain, listening for the Lord.

After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing..." [1 Kings 19:12 New American Standard Bible (NASB)] "a still, small voice... [RSV] 2

We also spoke of going deeper into God’s love and taking Him at His word…

“Even in the spiritual or religious realm, there are many who remain disengaged with their hearts*, while learning—very well—the superficial and expected words and behaviors. Our God—Being Love Himself—is a relationship God. Our God is straightforward, trustworthy and honest. He asks for our love—toward Him and towards one another.” 3


TAKE HIM AT HIS WORD … ASK 4

Jesus said: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" [Luke 11:13] The Father desires to give the Holy Spirit (with His gifts, blessings, empowerments, and fruit-in-formation) as we continue to seek Him. 5

In the gospel of John and the gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus say:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. 24 Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive so that your joy may be complete… 26 On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. 27 For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” [Jn. 16:23-28]

Jesus also said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; Seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you, then… know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” [Mt 7:7-11]


NEW POWER 6

The Holy Spirit, then, comes with His power—as we ask, receive and believe. It’s more like receiving an 'in-house' power-source, only He is the real Person of God, Himself—third Person of the Holy Trinity. We can become more aware of His presence and His availability—particularly as we hear and read about Him in the scriptures and put into prayer and practice what we read and believe.

“Knocking, asking, seeking” can result in a new experience of God's wisdom, strength, inspiration, guidance, encouragement, understanding of scripture… healing, joy, enabling, miracles …like being immersed in the stream of the Holy Spirit’s power.

The last thing that Jesus said to his apostles (after the resurrection) before he was ascended into heaven was in regard to the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth…” (Acts 1:8) 7

MINISTERING WITH GOD’S POWER OR… OUR OWN?

Human nature is such that we can get so, so, so very accustomed to doing things—even, yes, everything—by our own power and strength—that we fail to ask God for the (“easy yoke, light burden” [Mt 11:30]) kind of help that He so gladly wants to give. We create our own low ceiling of understanding (when God says in His word to “ask” for wisdom!) and our own ‘low-finite-ceiling’ of power for living and being and DO-ing… doing for and with and through the Lord’s available power.

It is too easy to focus so much on researching and explaining scripture that we 'forget' to follow and obey it. We can 'explain it … away'. Then we miss some of the “fruit that He wants to develop in our lives. We believe and receive His truth into—not only our minds—but our hearts*.

*As we described in more detail in previous parts of this series, the scriptural meaning of the word “heart” is much broader and fuller than our English/American assumed meaning connoting emotions and romance. It involves a mind-heart-soul-spirit connection and includes our desires, motivations, thoughts, affections, preferences, conscience, mind, etc.—our innermost being.

As we believe and seek the presence of the Holy Spirit with [this broad heart concept of] our hearts, we find the Holy Spirit acting in our behalf. He helps apply the word of God that we hear or read, and then helps us fulfill it in our lives. What a blessing.

Additionally, when we fail to ‘take Him at His word’, we may even miss being an instrument in some of the harvest that the Lord so dearly desires and has planned.


LEARNING AND INTIMACY

It is good to study. It is good to learn as much about God’s word and Bible days as we can. However, this is not the same as getting to know the One Who is the author and inspiration behind the book(s) of the Bible. Learning and study can genuinely help aspects of our understanding, but it in no way substitutes for getting to know Him, person to Person.

The point here is that we can limit God greatly when we just settle for merely intellectualizing God. This not only makes it easy to minimize our daily, intimate relationship with this very real, 3-Person God. It also makes it easier to fail to believe and trust and ('biblically') “know” Him, and relate from deep within our spirits and souls to these Divine Persons, Three in One. Lastly, merely intellectualizing our search in God’s word keeps us insensitive to that “still small voice” [I Kings 19:12]

His love and power enable us to be intimate with Him. We just need to keep our focus, and our hearts seeking Himabove all. (To do the opposite is to let “idols” and idolatry set in.) We risk losing a great deal of wisdom, applied knowledge and literal ‘presence’ of God Himself if we treat scripture more (and focus on it more) as an ancient document ‘for them in their time and place’ rather than for us in our time and place.

Our God is eternal (in and for all time), All-mighty (Almighty) and Creative Creator. (‘Creative’ also in the sense that He has endless answers and solutions to every need, which He always foresees.) He saw, from the beginning of time (although He is ‘timeless’) the needs of all His people for all time. Jesus is also the Living Word [Jn 1:1]. The Bible also tells us that God’s word is “sharper than a two-edged sword” [Hebr 4:12]. It would seem more than plausible that He is sharp enough to figure out how to speak to us—now—from those words in the Bible, for as long as we need to hear them. He has infused power and meaning into those words. When we add the ‘water’ and the ‘breath’ of the Spirit, they can come to life. Let’s let them.

The last thing we would want to choose is to minimize or nullify the manifestation and experience of all the effects and benefits that the Lord Jesus Christ died to give us. That includes what we would come to receive and know individually, in our personal lives—with all its effects on our relating and ministering to those around us, and on every group, community, and body of believers of which we are a part.


PASSIONATE APPROACH TO GOD’S WORD

We just spoke about reading and studying the Bible—there is so much to hear, read and learn there. Learning involves the mind—of course. But—if we only engage our minds when coming to God’s word, we miss a great deal.

We can be avid readers of the Bible and even study it over time. As many avid readers (of anything) would understand, we can easily recognize this fact: Rarely can we have the author of any book present to us as we read. On the other hand, we can be grateful that the Holy Spirit is both willing and able to do so for those who believe and follow Christ. The One who knows the heart and depth, the intention and purpose, and the fullness of meaning in each word, phrase, line and portion of the word of God… can be actively present to us as we read or hear His word.

That’s a privilege. It is rare that we get to speak to the author of a work. Readers may sometimes find ways to gain access to an author that they really appreciate. For instance, they may follow a favorite on social media, or they may go to a book signing or a lecture by that author, and better understand what they read. But… For God’s people who love His word—this is a privilege that is already and consistently available to us, as we can both speak to and hear from the Holy Spirit.

As we approach scripture, it helps to come with a seeking heart, eager to hear what our One True God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has to say to us. It helps to come with a heart open to learning more of Who the Father is and what He desires for His children. It helps to come hungry to hear, and willing to obey. It helps to come with a heart glad to get to know Jesus, and open to encounter the more ephemeral—but very real—Person of the Holy Spirit.

It helps to come as eager as a loved one waiting for a letter from a father or a brother or a spouse away at war, fighting for our freedom. We hunger for a word from them, whom we personally long to see.

It helps to remember that God our Father, and God the Savior-Son are still working hard on our behalf—to help provide, to heal, to bless and protect from evil as we endeavor to seek, ask, receive, follow and obey. We have the Holy Spirit, Who IS, in a sense, the primary and very real presence of God available to us on this earth. God the Father… “art in heaven” [Mt 6:9]. The Father is continuing to draw sons and daughters to Himself even now. God the Son now “sits at the Father’s right hand”… “ever interceding” for us [Rom 8:34]. And the Holy Spirit has been given and continues to be accessible as a loving help.


“ALL”

God asks us to love Him… from the Ten Commandments to the New Testament. Jesus said, 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment…” [Mt. 22:37,38]

We need to speak to this from two seemingly opposite (but both true) directionsone very serious, one very gentle.

One necessary approach to this verse is to get extremely serious about what it says. Then, as we realize just how far we are (actually) from embodying the fullness of that verse, we need to look at the extremes of God’s grace. His mercy and help are available to enable us to obey this command to love “with all… all… all…” The point is strongly made to love God first… above all… before all… with all… remembering that this is the “first” and “greatest” “commandment” (not just a ‘nice idea’ or ‘suggestion’).

“All” is a powerful little word. It means the “whole amount”… “every part”…”entirely consumed” 8… Clear enough… From these extreme words, we could get the impression that such a love is so total that we may think it impossible to measure up to this command. But God gives us help…

“Loving God” can become like some kind of mechanical and rote religious behavior. We find out more from I Cor 13, which puts flesh on “love”, and answers the question beautifully, “What is love?” What we usually do not realize is that this kind of love (described in chapter 13) also applies to loving God Himself. But even in loving Him, He gives us help.

So now we get to the “gentle” part, the other important approach to this “greatest” commandment. We repeat a comment from Part III that applies to our understanding here:

“In natural life and living, we human beings grow and mature. We take more and more steps to do what our parents used to do for us—from feeding us, to carrying us, to making choices for us when we couldn’t talk or have the wisdom or power to decide for ourselves. The same is true in our spiritual life...” 9

One wonderful aspect of God’s loving kindness is that He loves as a good, good Father—something not all of us have experienced on a human level. As a good parent, we would not mind ‘filling in the gaps’ for our children—more for the 5 year old than for the 16 year old, and much more for the 14 month old. We don’t expect the newborn to change his own diapers, or the 4 year old to pay the mortgage. We gladly and lovingly cover these things. It wouldn’t occur to us to think, ‘I wish that 7 year old would go out and get a job!’

Likewise, as God’s children (and “Yes”, we still are, even if we are already off of the “milk”…” of the word” and now on “solid food” as Eph 5:13,14 tells us) we can rest in the fact that He does not expect us to ‘have arrived’ from the beginning. (See footnote below. 10) We come to Him seeking, hungering, thirsting to know and to love Him and others. We come honestly, humbly, sincerely, remembering that God is the always Faithful Father. He doesn’t mind taking that role, in fullness of love and mercy, with each one of us. That’s why He so much desired to send the “Helper”, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is there to work to develop good fruit in us (it’s His job, and His fruit endures) and to enable us to “rest in the Lord”—resting from our own works and, more often than we think of it—resting on His good work that was accomplished on the cross and is continuously made available by grace from His saving act. For it is only His perfect righteousness that gains us entrance into heaven—His saving act (signified by the white wedding garment in the parable of the wedding banquet [Mt 22:1-14]).

So, let’s begin--or continue-- to receive all the help that God wants to give. Let us come hungry to hear; willing to obey; eager to receive and get to know God better-- trusting that His word is true.

We can affirm our belief outside of (and even without our full) intellectual understanding or agreement, in the same way that we can expect our children to trust and obey us, at times (and do what we tell them, for the most part), whether they understand or agree completely or not. The Lord will shed light on the wisdom of the scriptures He has given to instruct us—step-by-step as we need it, in any phase of our life --when and as we need to understand. 

Seeking to believe, honor and obey scripture—God’s word—has often been found to be a prerequisite to greater understanding. In the meantime, when we do not fully understand, being children who trust the Father, we operate as that child that trusts the Father with the greater knowledge. A loving Father sifts what load of knowledge he  lays on his children, according to what he considers loving, timely and wise. We can still believe and obey without full understanding.

God will not fail to give us wisdom, where it is needed for our good, yet still keep to Himself some knowledge not yet good for us to receive.

Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to gently light up the scriptures with understanding, and enlighten our minds-- and, somehow, by grace, lighten our hearts as we hear His words.

Again, we say: Let’s truly seek this third Person of the Blessed Trinity. Let us be willing to let the Divine “wind” blow—the very breath of God— and receive what He has to offer.


CHECK OUT THE ENLIGHTENING POSTSCRIPT BELOW ON

SYMBOLISM, TRADITION AND REALITY. IT TIES INTO THE MESSAGE HERE, AND  IS FOUND BELOW THE FOOTNOTES.

This series is based on our blog articles published on the Holy Spirit, Pentecost and Confirmation in previous years, and on the Pentecost series in posted in May of 2018 by Kathy Boh on this blog site at: trinitychurchsupply.com/blog


FOOTNOTES:

(Please note that any part of a scripture quote in this article that is in bold type has been put in bold print by this author.)

1 THE POWER OF PENTECOST: A four-part series, PART III, THE HOLY SPIRIT SPEAKS: HOW SHALL WE RESPOND?, by Kathy Boh, published June 22, 2017, trinitychurchsupply.com/blog

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 CONFIRMATION AND BEYOND: LIFE IN AND WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT, posted by Kathy Boh on March 2, 2017,trinitychurchsupply.com/blog

6 THE HOLY SPIRIT SPEAKS: HOW SHALL WE RESPOND? Part III in the series, THE POWER OF PENTECOST, posted by Kathy Boh on May 15, 2018, trinitychurchsupply.com/blog

7 Ibid and CONFIRMATION AND BEYOND...

8 Mirriam-Webster online dictionary

9 CONFIRMATION AND BEYOND...

10 Paul spoke about this in Philippians, very clearly." ...Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus has captured me. I can assure you my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and strain ahead for what is to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus." [Phil. 3:12-14, The Jerusalem Bible]

11 THE HOLY SPIRIT SPEAKS: HOW SHALL WE RESPOND? Part III...

12 Ibid.


POSTSCRIPT

SYMBOLISM, TRADITION AND REALITY

When we speak of Pentecost, some Bible scholars have described the event and associated details as “symbolism” and “tradition”. Most other scholars through the ages have taken God’s word (through several New Testament writers) as real, true and actual. We do the same. Jesus spoke often in parables. Similarly, it can be helpful to find patterns and symbols in scripture that enable us to better comprehend the message and even give us some visual pictures to help us understand. But let’s not let any symbols become the main object of comprehension or a substitute for real events and works of God on this earth. We can get so focused on symbols that we can miss the reality of what God has done, or wants to do, as it can apply to our own realities in life as His “followers”.

A word or concept can represent a real thing and symbolize something at the same time. This may seem obvious, but we will give a couple of examples to clarify.

The fact that the number “7” symbolizes “perfection” doesn’t cancel out some factual realities. It is a fact that there are 7 days in our week.

The fact that “water” is a symbol for life does not mean that water is not real. That very real symbol that we call “water” is actually one of the minimal requirements for human (and other living) bodies to survive and live. The fact that water is a religious symbol for “cleansing” does not mean that we do not use it—practically, really—to actually, physically cleanse our bodies, our faces and our dishware. How that is done—the actual ways and means—vary from culture to culture. Hebrew scriptures, for example, specify details for the religious Jewish culture—from which Jesus originated and the Father had chosen and formed as a “people” for His own from ancient times.

The fact that “wind” and “fire” are both general and religious 'symbols' does not negate the reality of their presence at such an important event as Pentecost. We could go on and on with analogies, here. And yes, they can be helpful, vivid word 'pictures' that aid in understanding. They are meant to illuminate—both in symbol and in reality—to draw us closer to the Lord, Himself and to the truth.

For some religious people, it is easy to look at the symbols more than we look at the very real Person(s) of our glorious (generous, humble and patient) Triune God. We too often seek to understand intellectually more than we seek Him to come, to move, to fill us with His holy fire and His unpredictable wind.

All this talk about symbols points to this: Our mind and our hearts are meant to be touched by the symbols, but let us even more be captivated by the reality of the life-giving power and the fiery love of our God.

Wouldn’t it be better to truly seek this third Person of the Blessed Trinity? …To be willing to let the wind blow… let the fire come… without looking for a (figurative) 'box' to put Him in? We may think we can box up the Divine “wind”, the very breath of God. Of course, we cannot. Nor can we totally contain the fire of the Holy Spirit. We forget that the Lord said, “My thoughts are high above your thoughts; my ways high above your ways.” [Isa 55:9]. We seek to box—contain—what we do not fully understand. Who can box up the wind? And to put (any kind of) “fire” in a box would be downright dangerous.

The truth be told, we cannot find a box big enough. So instead, over time, we may actually do the opposite. We may find ourselves putting the Holy Spirit in smaller and smaller boxes… so we can feel like we’re in control. We may work hard to make the box as beautiful as we can— even decorate the box with richly appropriate and fitting symbols. Do we feel more comfortable with symbols and boxes than with the unpredictable reality of His presence?


THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT—DO WE WELCOME HIM?

Our eternal, all-powerful and omnipresent God—The Almighty God of all the ages, Who can see the vastness of eternity in a flash—provides all of our needs. He sent the Holy Spirit to be with us always. He has both the power and the vision to make pro[active]vision (provision) for His followers. Is it reasonable to believe that He would be unable or unwilling to provide for ALL of His followers throughout the ages to hear and know the truth of His word… along with the power to receive, obey and accomplish it? 11


IN CONTROL AND COMFORTABLE… or THE HOLY SPIRIT COMFORTER?

It is widely recognized that we human beings like to feel comfortable and in control.This fact remains true too often in the religious realm. We can more easily control what we can quantify, or measure, or precisely define. That includes God. When we state this so abruptly and directly, it seems to be ridiculous. How could we try to control the Sovereign God Who is above all things—Who is ever and always eternal? When described this way, it is easier to see that the Creator of our vast and continually expanding universe cannot be contained in our mental/ verbal/ religious/ figurative boxes. But… we still too often prefer them. Then… we realize…then… we wonder …why … the “breath of God/ wind” dies down.

We recall the scripture:

Do not quench (suppress or subdue) the [Holy] Spirit [Eph 4:30]

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God [do not offend or vex or sadden Him], by Whom you were sealed (marked, branded as God’s own, secured) for the day of redemption (of final deliverance through Christ from evil and the consequences of sin). [I Thes 5:19, Amplified]

Do we want to fail any of God’s purposes for this world, for His people, for ourselves and for the harvest by choosing to box God in, or take down the sails and just row our own boat? (For more on this analogy, please see the description given in Part 3, near footnote #14.)

Let’s remember, once again:

God is endlessly giving. He cannot help it. He is Love, Itself… Himself. He is so generous, creative and higher in thoughts and ways than we are [Isa. 55:9] that the Holy Spirit cannot be contained, predicted, confined… This is sometimes difficult for organizational, self-directed human beings to grasp, receive and understand... or co-operate with. Unfortunately, we sometimes have trouble letting God be God… and not limiting Him to our near-sighted expectations. 12

Instead, again:

Let’s truly seek this third Person of the Blessed Trinity.

Let us be willing to let the Divine “wind” blow—the very breath of God— and receive what He has to offer that we need in so many ways—particularly as we face troubled and confused times..


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