THE HOLY SPIRIT, SO...WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?
“So…What’s the big deal?”
I was in a conversation with a young pastor who was struggling with the subject of the Holy Spirit and the idea of speaking in tongues in particular. My first reaction (unspoken, thank God) was, “How dare you! Who do you think you are to question the ministry and expressions of the Holy Spirit? You’re a pastor and you want to know what the “big deal” is?”
When I aborted my little inner tirade, I realized this was an important question which deserved a reasonable answer. Really now, what is the big deal? When you consider all the foolishness and extremes that have swirled around it, a case can be made for abandoning the subject to neutral generalities. No loving pastor wants to lead his congregation down the path to excess or fanaticism. As a serious Christian I certainly want to receive everything Christ intends, but I sure don’t want to be strange or goofy.
I have been a pastor for 50 years; half a century. (And I’m so young!) I have seen excesses come and go in every conceivable format. I must admit, however, at times even I am shocked by some new twist on an old theme. My position often has simply been, “This too shall pass.” But, my young friend doesn’t have the benefit of the longer view. Perhaps he has seen out of control behavior and odd “manifestations,” attributed to the Holy Spirit, which were shocking and distasteful to him. The good, the bad and the ugly were all jumbled up together and spit out in the name of the Holy Spirit. Yes! Absolutely! He must be given a clear sensible and Biblical answer. That answer is the intention of this book.
Here is a short list of what not to expect:
Ok. Now what can you expect?
You bet it is “a big deal” and this book tells why.
“The Holy Spirit, So…What’s the Big Deal?” is available for ordering here.
THE REVELATION OF CHRIST: MORE THAN HUMAN VISION
To those who want to know what Christ is like, having never seen him, we must point to more than human speculation or even the sublime “I ams” of Scripture. We must point to a spiritual revelation from God himself.
Take the case of Peter. When he expressed his ringing conviction about Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus said, "Blessed are you…for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 16:16-17)
Paul also wrote about the need to see Christ with more than human vision. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Cor. 5:16)
You see, even if you had been on earth when Christ was here, you might not have seen God in him. Many people didn’t. They crucified him as a blasphemer precisely because they didn’t accept his claims of deity.
So, then, Christ is the true and adequate revelation of God, but you will never know what Christ is like, even by reading the Scriptures, as important as that is, unless the Father reveals Christ to you by his Spirit.
The revelation of Christ to us, or God’s disclosure of himself to us, is tied to several things in Scripture. Three that are consistently mentioned are:
A Seeking Heart
This matter of seeking God is easily misunderstood and misapplied. For many it conjures up the image of a poor sinner on a spiritual pilgrimage to some shrine. To others the image is that of entering a religious retreat to isolate oneself from the world in order to “seek God.” Another image is that of committing oneself to a period of fasting and prayer. I suppose those actions could be helpful, but they are not the focus of Scripture when it urges us to seek God.
What is the biblical focus? Take someone who believes that there really is a God. Let this person form the conviction that the true and living God can be known. Let the sense emerge: I will know him. The result is a person who seeks God.
Seeking God is Paul interrupting his writing with the exclamation, “O that I might know him!”
Seeking God is a young man sitting with me describing a new and deep hunger: “I’ve recently become aware that there really is a God. I want to know him. Can you help me?”
Seeking God is my sons and me looking through our telescope at Jupiter and its beautiful moons and murmuring, “There has to be a God, but what could the Creator of such a wonder be like? I want to know him.”
Seeking God is the deep conviction that no matter how much we learn of him, we will have only begun to understand him. Each discovery lays the foundation for the next.
Like seeking God, obedience can be, and often is, misunderstood. God deals with us first, last, and always by grace. That means our relationship with him is not based on works or performance. God is not grading us to determine whether our obedience qualifies us to know a little more about him today. He is not training us as we would train a dog. “OK, you obeyed; good boy! Here’s another doggie biscuit of revelation about me.”
There is, however, a connection between our having an obedient heart and the Lord showing himself to us. Jesus said “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)
Why is it that the person who obeys God because he loves him seems to perceive more about God? That is the question Jesus was asked at the time. “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (v. 22) Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (v. 23)
We get to know people by spending time with them, and we really get to know people by living with them day in and day out. A couple may be in love and spend as much time together as they can. They may think that they know each other well, but when they live together each learns many things about the other that before were unknown.
Jesus said that he and the Father would move in and make their home with the person who loves and obeys him. As a rule, the “world” neither loves nor obeys Jesus, but it is possible to obey him without loving him. We can try to manipulate God, to put God under obligation to us.
We think, “He has to bless me; I kept the commandments.” This may creep into our thinking, and we hardly realize it. Someone said to me recently, “I have gone to church for years and done what Christians are supposed to do. Frankly, I’m more confused now than I have ever been. Why doesn’t God help me?” He assumed God owed him something for doing good and right things.
Loving obedience is not a mechanism for controlling God. Loving obedience is the psalmist saying, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long … I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your promises to my taste!” (Ps. 119:97, 102-3)
Loving obedience is George Beverly Shea looking at tempting offers that would compromise his faith and then writing, “I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.”
Loving obedience is the girl with shining eyes who has but one overriding concern about any choice she faces: “Would this please the Lord Jesus?”
Jesus said, “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children.” (Luke 10:21) He also said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)
The thing about children is that they are obviously dependent. How dependent we are upon God! Not only do we enter his kingdom with the humility of a child, but we can keep learning of him only by maintaining that same spirit. When it comes to God, nobody knows it all, but he delights to reveal himself to those willing to be children in his kingdom.
An excerpt from “A Few Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew it All.”
HELLO...THIS IS GOD CALLINGThe greatest issue we face in being Christian is not one of ability, but of identity.
Recently I have had a number of fascinating conversations on the subject of “calling”. As a Christian, what does it mean to be called? Isn’t everyone called? Whats the difference between a call and a career? Isn’t the important thing what your gifts are? Won’t your gifts lead you to your calling? These intriguing questions tend to heap up on one another as we talk.
One thing seems to keep coming through…we have a pretty good idea of what calling is in general. We don’t have much of an idea of what it means specifically. Calling is often thought of as investing my gifts in some Christian or church endeavor. “Gifts” and “passion” are words often heard in the discussion.
When people are called in the New Testament, they are not called to do something, but to be someone.
• Paul was called to be an Apostle – Rom. 1:1
• The Roman Christians were called to be saints – Rom. 1:7
• The Corinthian believers were called to be holy – 1 Cor. 1:2
• The Galatians were called to be free – Gal. 5:13
These are not assignments to be done but identities to be embraced. Some of these identities were shared by all (saints, holy, free). Apostle was given only to 12 of which Paul was one. In describing Paul after his conversion, the Lord told Ananias that Paul, “is my chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15). This is identity.
Now, here’s what I am saying. God’s call is what He sees you to be. He calls you Free. He calls you Forgiven. He calls you “dearly loved child”. These are “the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
But for some there is a more specific identity beyond this. For Paul, Apostle. Paul did not do certain things to be an Apostle. He did everything as an Apostle, therefore everything he did was Apostolic. God related to him through this specific identity. He was an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
This specific call is not the result of identifying a certain complex of gifts and then finding a place to apply them in Christian service. That has its place, but not in this unique sense.
A Case in Point
I remember clearly when I understood unmistakably that God was calling me beyond my identity as His child to be a pastor. In my inexperience I thought He was calling me to pastor. I thought he was offering me a job and I really didn’t want it. However, over time I came to see that He was explaining who I was and how He intended to address me. Along with all the other things that identified me as His child, I was also, Pastor. He was telling me it was a fact of my identity that my influence would be pastoral wherever I was and He would place me where He wanted me whenever He needed that influence. I respond to His assignments from within this identity. As I do nothing to be Jerry, I am Jerry whatever I am doing; so I do nothing to be pastor. As I respond to His understanding of my person, I am pastor, whatever I am doing.
In this call, there is no vote or negotiation. It is His call and my identity no matter what I may want to call myself. He addresses me as pastor. If I choose to hear him as though he is calling me by my own preference, i.e. Engineer, I will never get His message quite right. I will only hear clearly when I hear Him through His identity for me. Furthermore, if I am calling myself Pastor when He is not, the message will be garbled and wrongly interpreted.
Now, I want to ask the question I have been setting up in all of this. Are you hearing Him call you? Do you hear Him call you Free; My beloved Child; Blessed and Forgiven? Or, are you trying to talk Him into calling you by the name and identity you have chosen for yourself?
And, even more to the point: Is He calling you with a more specific identity? Pastor? Missionary? Any one of many influential identities within His Body? Something you can’t negotiate? Something that will impose itself on you and wield majority control over your choices for the rest of your life? It isn’t for everyone. It isn’t a reward for being spiritual nor an acknowledgement of his pleasure or your giftedness. It is simply and completely His choice; His Call. If it is not there, you will never be able to manufacture it nor talk Him into it. If it is, you will never get away. You might as well say yes, tell someone who is spiritually significant in your life and see where He takes you.
It is the recovery of this profound sense of calling that is essential if the church is to be led and equipped to express the presence and person of Jesus in our world.
THE IDOLATRY OF FORMALISMOver-preparation on our part always paralyzes us. This is true because we then depend on our preparation and are terrified of anything that does not fall within its parameters. We force the moment through our grid of preparation. In this sense we formalize our living and speaking and responding. This dependence on our forms is what I call “formalism.”
When I say this, you may wrongly interpret my meaning to be that we should become totally chaotic and formless; floating mindlessly through our day, bumping from one event to another as though life was a huge pin-ball machine.
Spirit-filled and Spirit-led living is not careening through life, baptizing every random thought and emotion as the “voice of God”. Rather, it is living in the constant awareness of His presence; recognizing His unique voice and promptings and responding to them.
We must understand this! We must resist all temptation to compartmentalize our spiritual journey. No activity is more spiritual than another. Our work, our homemaking, our recreation…are all lifted to Him as worship. They have a different form than our singing and praise on Sunday, but they are no less worship. Because I am a worshipper, my life, my day, my response to every event is presented as worship to Him.
Isn’t this what living “to the praise of His glory” has to involve? How else can we “present our bodies as living sacrifices to Him”, and understand it as “our reasonable worship”?
This seamlessness extends into all of our life. It is the indwelling of the Spirit that defines me as a Christian. There are no Christian acts, there are only Christians acting. My actions cannot define me. I am not a Christian because of the way I act. I act the way I do because I am a Christian.
Does it matter, then how I behave? Of course it matters. There are entire passages of Scripture dedicated to our life-style. This is without question. However, Scripture never hints that these behaviors make us Christian. Our life-style always results from who we are, never the other way around. It is this inner transformation, this “metamorphosis” of Romans 12 that transforms our external actions. It is this person who is being “transformed by the renewing of (his) mind”, that we take into all of life. Any effort to formalize this process or force it through legalistic expectations or practices is to paralyze and ultimately kill it.
EVERYDAY EVANGELISM: CHRIST IN YOU
You are called not so much to do great things, as to be a great person--and that person is Jesus Christ. The Church is the resident presence of Jesus in the world.
No matter how big church attendance is on Sunday, it will never penetrate the culture with Jesus. The reason is clear: The church on Sunday is experienced by the church community; it is only observed by the unbelieving community.
However, Monday through Saturday, the church operates in the experience of non-believers. It lives on their turf, moves in their society, and operates in their culture. On Monday Jesus becomes incarnate through you. And because He can be seen and touched, He can be received or rejected. True evangelism is possible.
Your Strategic Placement
Most Christians have been trained quite well to be the church on Sunday. But what does it take to be the church on Monday?
The first step is to recognize your strategic placement. “Strategic placement” means this: each redeemed, Spirit-filled Christian has been strategically placed by Jesus, the Lord of the church. Where each believing man or woman lives and works is part of that strategy. Christians are people of destiny, purposely placed deep in our culture. We are God’s points of penetration. Because of us Jesus is present at the very heart of society. And it is this strategic presence of Christ that opens the door for his revelation as Savior to man.
Incarnational Christianity doesn’t try to get people to God. Many men and women don’t want to get to God. Others are unaware there is a God to get to! The incarnation was God coming to us; in a similar way, incarnational Christianity brings Jesus to man.
That’s the basis for true evangelism: in the believer the presence of Christ reaches out to others. It’s also the basis for true discipleship: in the believer the presence of Christ walks alongside the new believer. Thus, the two main activities of the church–conversion and discipling–are wed, as they were meant to be. The Great Commission, after all is not simply to go into all the world and make converts; we are to go and make disciples.
Jesus said simply, “I am the way. If you have found me, you have found God.” Unfortunately, the church often adds a debilitating step to the divine program. We say, “Jesus is the way to God, and the church is the way to Jesus. Come to the church and find Jesus, then Jesus will take you to God.” We must never allow the church institution to be the way to God. Jesus himself is the Way. The goal of the church on Monday is to make the Way present and visible in the world.
Open for Business
Of course, it does no good to have a strategic force in place if the people don’t know they are strategic, don’t know they are a force, and don’t know they are in place.
Most Christians give mental assent to this idea of strategic placement, but they have no concept of its implications. Some think of inviting hurting people to a church program, others think of using some type of soul-winning gimmick to make a convert. Most, however, don’t do anything with the idea at all. It simply floats around, untapped, in the background of their experience. They’re strategically placed, but they’re not “open for business.”
“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27) means you are filled with the Holy Spirit and Jesus is present wherever you go. You are capable of responding to the needs of others exactly the way Jesus would. The gifts of the Spirit are how Jesus works through you to touch people’s lives.
Our time on earth is about being Jesus in our world. Jesus didn’t come to our planet on vacation; He came on assignment. Likewise, you and I have not been born here and now accidentally. We don’t just happen to bump into hurting people. There’s divine strategy at work. You are where you are because God strategically placed you there.
I’m convinced that if more Christians were open for business, then more business would show up. Evangelism as a primary goal is often artificial and powerless. But when it’s a serendipity of spirit-filled believers being Jesus in their world, it is natural and unstoppable!
Excerpted from The Monday Morning Church by Jerry Cook.