The Holy Spirit and the Church (Wide Angle)

(Reading time: 3-4 minutes)

The life-giving Spirit has come upon the people of Christ, and on the Day of Pentecost, Peter claimed that this blessing was not just for the original disciples, not only for his hearers that day, but (verse 39) “for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” For the first time in history, we have a varied group of people, people of different heritages and races and ethnic backgrounds, united by one life, one Spirit. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, baptizing people into Christ, created something new in the world: the Body of Christ, the Church.

Wherever you find the people of Christ – in Coldwater, Michigan or Selma, Alabama, or in Darjeeling State, India, or Canton Province, China; whether they be yellow, black or white, speak English, German, Urdu, Wolof, Russian or Spanish – you find people who share the same Spirit. They are Christ’s body – his eyes and hands and feet – in the world, united by his Spirit and sharing his life. This is God’s wide-angle plan. They are the one new man. Christ is their head, and the Spirit is their life—their soul.

This one new man is becoming “mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). This new cosmic, glorious person is growing up into Christ, the head of the body, even as we speak. This is God’s salvation at work, the undoing of the curse and the hope of mankind.  

At Pentecost the Spirit brought to life a new creation which we call the Body of Christ or the Church. Pentecost is the birthday of the church! In the Church the life of Christ is now expressed not just through individual Christians, but through the corporate body of Christ. Salvation is not a purely personal issue. The Catholic Church has created a great deal of controversy, but is surely right, when it says, “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus – “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” That is because no one outside the church is inside Christ. If you have Christ, you are in the church! Eternal life is the church’s life!

What I’ve just written needs clarification. Being inside a church building on Sunday morning is not being in the church. Being on a membership roll is not being in the church. Taking part in rituals, attending worship, or sitting on a board is not being in the church. You can do all these things and still be extra ecclesiam – outside the church. The Spirit alone can place you in the true church. When you believe in Jesus who died and rose again, the Holy Spirit extends Jesus’ eternal kind of life to you. You are united spiritually to the body of Christ. (And when I say spiritually, do not do what many people do and mentally substitute the word “metaphorically.” This is as real and concrete as any physical act – delivering the mail or serving a meal – but it is spiritual, not physical.)

If this is true, then it is silly – and dangerous – for people who have trusted Jesus to stay away from the local church. They may have their reasons. They may have been neglected, hurt, passed over, or misunderstood. These are real reasons – but if it keeps them out of the church, they are reasoning their life away. You and I, if we have believed on Jesus, are not whole if we are detached from the church. Of course, the local church is not perfect. You and I – I alone, for that matter – are enough to guarantee that! But when a person is separated from the church, he is spiritually dislocated. His ability to serve Christ is compromised. He or she is like an injured shoulder or a broken finger. In such a state people need care and rehabilitation. But neglecting the problem until the pain subsides is not the answer.

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Family – Blessing or Curse

Viewing time: Approx. 27 minutes

(Excerpt) And this is a message for all us children whose parents did it wrong—and whose didn’t? I realize that, in some cases, parents did it horribly wrong. The parents who were given you to protect you, have harmed some of you terribly. It may be that you need to go to them and tell them how they’ve hurt you. It may be that you need to stay away from them and receive God’s grace to love them from a distance. It may be that the distance is so great that you cannot go to them. (They may have already died.) However that may be, go to them or not, you need to go to God. While every other father fails, he does not. He will be with you to love you, help you, heal you, and change you. You need God.

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Biblical Theology Class #15: The Kingdom Is Near

In this class, we explore what Jesus meant when he said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The Bible cannot be understood apart from “kingdom.” It is the lens through which so many other things come clear.

Enjoy this class. Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

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God Speaks Your Language

(Read time: approximately 4 minutes.)

The Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – provide a remarkable look into first century life on the shores of the Mediterranean, and in Israel particularly. They offer fascinating insights into family and village life, religious and political aspirations, and interpersonal relationships.

What the Gospels do best, however, is offer a captivating portrait of Jesus. Albert Einstein, when asked about Christianity’s influence in his life, answered: “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.” He went on to say, “No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

One of the many inspiring portraits of Jesus in the Gospels concerns an early meeting between Jesus and the commercial fisherman Simon, whom we know as St. Peter, the leader of Jesus’s apostles. After a long and unproductive night on the lake, Simon and the other commercial fisherman were cleaning their nets and getting them ready for the next night’s operation.

As they worked, they listened to Jesus teaching the people who were crowded around him at the water’s edge. Jesus then got into Simon’s boat and asked him to put it out a little from the shore. Sitting in the bow, Jesus taught the crowds edging the shoreline while Simon and his fellow fisherman worked and listened.

When Jesus was finished teaching and Simon was putting his nets away, Jesus told him to put out into deep water and let down his nets. Jesus had first asked Simon to do a small thing: put the boat out a few feet from shore, which Simon willingly did. Now, Jesus told Simon to do a bigger thing: to put out in deep water and let down his commercial fishing nets for a catch.

This seems to be a pattern with Jesus, who operated by the principle: “Faithfulness in a few things leads to responsibility over many things.” Because this is the way the spiritual life works, people who are always looking for big experiences to sustain their faith end up undermining their own efforts. Faith only grows as it is acted upon, and it is acted upon in small things first.

The text makes it clear that Simon Peter was not anxious to comply. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night. . .” I can imagine that he paused at this point, waiting for Jesus to say, “Oh, I didn’t know. Really, never mind.” But Jesus remained quiet. “ . . and haven’t caught anything.”

Simon wanted Jesus to know that he was tired and that he thought this was a bad idea. He didn’t want to say no, but he was hoping that Jesus would change his mind. But Jesus did not change his mind. Simon sighed and continued, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

The result was an enormous catch. Simon would not have understood a lecture on phenomenology or an Athanasian-type explication of the divine nature, so Jesus gave him something he did understand: fish.

This was the wrong time of day to catch fish. Simon understood that. He and the other fisherman were likely using a linen “trammel net.” These nets were visible to fish during the daytime, which is one reason commercial fishermen worked nights. It made no sense to try to fish with a linen net during the daytime. Yet, because of Jesus, these fishermen had their biggest catch ever. That was also something Simon understood.

Jesus speaks to people in ways they understand. He speaks to the poet in meter, to the architect in blueprints, to the child in games and laughter, to the wise in wisdom, to the fool in folly. He speaks to Einstein in mathematical formulae, and to Francis Collins in ribonucleic acids. He speaks to fisherman in fish.

When he speaks to us, it is in a language we understand. This is one of the beautiful lessons the Gospels teach: God comes to us where we are and speaks to us in a language we can understand—and we don’t need to be Einstein to understand what he is saying.

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Is the Holy Spirit Optional? (Wide Angle)

(Reading Time: Approximately 3 minutes)

Sometimes Christians get the idea that the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives is an option, something we can take or leave, like heated leather seats and dual zone climate control. It’s well and good for Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians, but ordinary people should just stick with God the Father and Jesus. They shouldn’t concern themselves with the Spirit.

Nothing could be further from the truth. A. W. Tozer put it this way: “The Spirit-filled life is not a special, deluxe edition of Christianity. It is part and parcel of the total plan of God for his people.” There is no salvation apart from the Holy Spirit.

It is the Spirit that gives life. Apart from the Spirit no one has the eternal – that is, heaven’s – kind of life (John 6:63; Romans 8:11; 2 Cor. 3:6). The eternal kind of life that is in the Father and in Jesus is now in the people who believe in Jesus, but only because of the coming of the Spirit (John 5:21-26). It is the Spirit of God who shares the spiritual, eternal, undying kind of life with us.

Think of it this way. That eternal kind of life – God’s kind, powerful and undying – was embodied in a man, Jesus. But evil did away with him. Killed him and crucified him. Death triumphed over life, evil over good.

Or so it seemed. But even this was part of God’s plan. God knew that death could not hold his life. St. Peter said: “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 Greek translates something like this: “God raised him by freeing him from the birth pains of death.” The grave was a womb – as it is to this day for God’s people – and hidden within that womb was the life of the world. The earth quaked on that first Easter morning because it was in labor! Acts 2:24 again: “because it was impossible for him – the one with God’s own life – to be held by death.” Death lost its grip, and eternal life was born into the world.

Do you see what is happening? The curse is being undone! Our first parents were warned that the disobedience of unbelief would bring death, but the obedience of Christ The life-giving Spirit has come upon the people of Christ, and Peter tells us that this blessing is not just for the original disciples, not only for his hearers that day, but (Acts 2:39) “for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

For the first time in history, we have a varied group of people, people of different heritages and races and ethnic backgrounds, united by one life, one Spirit. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, baptizing people into Christ, created something new in the world: the Body of Christ, the Church. brought forth life. And now the Spirit has come to share that life – the life that destroys death – with all who believe in Jesus.

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Storms of Doubt (Sermon: John 20:19-31)

Viewing Time:28 minutes (approx.)

A hopeful sermon to share with doubters, deconstructors, and those who care about them.

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20 Years Later: Peter and John Reminisce About Jesus’s Resurrection

Skit lasts approximately 24 minutes.

Enjoy this skit that takes us back to that first Easter Sunday!

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Four Ways that Reading the Bible Helps

I have a picture of baseball great Mickey Mantle. It had been my brother’s, but he died at age 14. After my parents passed away, the picture came into my possession. Mickey Mantle pictures are a dime a dozen, but this one was valued at hundreds of dollars many years ago. The reason? Mickey wrote a note on the picture, signed it, and had it sent to my brother.

The Bible is valuable for a similar reason. It came from God. St. Peter argued that Scripture “never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Likewise, St. Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed.”

Over the centuries, millions of people have found the Bible to be a remarkably helpful guide for living a good life. It opens up new paths, ones that society has forgotten or never known, that lead to a fulfilling life now and forever.

Some people think of Bible reading as a religious duty, as if heaven is a kind of grad school and Bible reading is a requirement for admission. But Bible reading is not a requirement for getting into heaven any more than map reading is a requirement for going places one has never been before. In fact, not reading the map will almost certainly lead you into places you’ve never been (and wish you hadn’t gone). But like map reading, Bible reading can save you a lot of trouble.

Just exactly how does reading the Bible help a person? If it is not an admission requirement, what is it – an emotional-pick-me-up? A rule-book? Is it a spiritual grace-infuser?

St. Paul mentions four ways the Scriptures provide help. First, he claims that the Bible is useful for teaching – but don’t think of that in terms of lectures and pop quizzes. Think rather of the kind of instruction an apprentice receives to become an electrician. He is going to be wiring 220 volts soon, and so he really wants to know how this works.

The Bible teaches us about important things: loving, forgiving, trusting God, praying, using financial resources, dealing with anxiety, and much more. Teaching is about learning to do such things in a way that works. Teaching gives us the right way.

The apostle also says that the Bible is useful for rebuking. The Bible lets us know when we are doing things the wrong way. But who wants to hear they’re doing something wrong? The electrician’s apprentice certainly does. Getting it wrong can get him flattened. Likewise, when the followers of Jesus, whose actions are going to make a difference for eternity, are getting it wrong, they want to know it.

We often don’t know when we are wrong. The Bible mercifully tells us. Like the electrician who shouts at his apprentice, “Don’t touch that!” the Bible says things like, “Don’t judge!” “Don’t worry!” “Stop trying to impress people by your religious practices!” It’s not saying those things to hurt us but to save us from harm.

The Bible is also useful, the Apostle Paul says, for correcting us. It not only warns us when we are doing something wrong; it tells us how to do it right. The Bible is the story of the God who makes right what has gone wrong, the God who straightens out what is crooked. The word Paul chose, often translated “correcting,” means “to make straight.”

None of the biblical writers wore rose-colored glasses. The Bible honestly portrays the failures of even God’s best people. But it also shows us how those people got their lives straightened out. It shows us how to correct what has gone wrong in our own lives.

After teaching, rebuking, and correcting, the Bible also offers training. Training involves the development of habits, such as prayer, assuming the best of others, and giving, that free us to focus on the important things. Gretchen Rubin calls habits “the invisible architecture of daily life” and adds, “Our habits are our destiny … changing our habits allows us to alter that destiny.”

The Bible helps people train in habits that can alter their destiny.

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The Birth of the Messiah (Biblical Theology Class #14)

Viewing Time: 47:20.

In this class, we look at the biblical birth narratives and at the major Old Testament prophecies that speak of the Messiah’s birth.

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“What Does This Mean?” The Gift of the Spirit (Wide Angle: Acts 2)

(Reading time: approximately 3 minutes.)

In Acts 2, St. Luke tells us that the sound of a mighty wind came from heaven and filled the house where Jesus followers were staying. What looked like “tongues of fire” separated and rested on each person. They began to speak in other tongues.

Luke relates these details so that we will understand that the life-giving, sin-consuming God has come among his people. Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

It seems they were speaking foreign languages, without having learned them. They were speaking in the native tongues of the festivalgoers who had arrived for Passover from various countries around the Mediterranean. And what were they talking about? They were (verse 11): “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” When the Holy Spirit enables a person to speak (or as the original language has it, “as the Spirit gave them to speak out”), that person speaks out about God, his wonders, and the wonders of his salvation.

People from far-flung lands heard these Spirit-filled men and women speaking out in their own languages. Here we need to think wide-angle: because of evil, God had once divided the people of the world and confused their languages (Genesis 11:1-9). But now God was undoing the evil, as he promised Adam and Eve, and as he promised Abraham. Pentecost is a sign that the blessing through Abraham to the nations of the earth has begun!

God’s intention – as we have seen repeatedly – has always been to bless all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3), and the coming of the Spirit was necessary to that end. The coming of the Spirit had already empowered these first Christians to begin the task of witnessing to Christ even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It was happening just as Jesus said it would.

Whenever Jesus’ followers are filled with the Holy Spirit, people start asking questions. We see it here (verse 12): “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” We see the same kind of thing again in chapter 4. “They began to question Peter and John, ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’” (Acts 4:7 PAR). In his first letter Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Paul writes, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders. Make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5-6). Again and again, when Christ’s followers are filled with Christ’s Spirit, people ask questions. If no one is asking, something may be amiss.

In Acts 2 the question is “What does this mean?”, and to that question Peter gave a two-part answer. The first part is wide-angle, ultimate answer stuff (verse 16): “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel, ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. . .” Now skip down to verse 21, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Acts 2:16-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32).

This was what God promised long ago. His salvation was breaking into human history. It was the sign that the last days have begun.

Along with the wide-angle cause, Peter also gave a more focused, immediate cause, starting in verse 22. All this is happening, he says, because God’s messiah Jesus has come. “You, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” But God foreknew what would happen and made it part of his plan. He raised him to life, verse 32, and exalted him to his right hand, the place of authority over heaven and earth. And from heaven he has taken the next step in God’s rescue plan. He has, verse 32, poured out the Spirit.

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