Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sunday Sermon Notes - 9.23.07

Holy Spirit Who?

Even with the proliferation of the charismatic and pentecostal Christian movements, there is plenty of ignorance and uncertainty amongst most of the Christians I know about who is the Holy Spirit and what kind of work he does.

I distinctly remember many times while in high school praying very earnestly that the Holy Spirit would come into my life. But I never knew if the prayer was answered. So the prayers became less earnest and uttered less often. I may have heard many clear and compelling sermons about the Holy Spirit, but my dense head didn't make sense of it. Even now I feel confused about the identity and role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity and amongst the Church.

Today I scanned through the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, looking for mention of the Holy Spirit to provide clues to his work and purpose. I also scanned through Romans 8, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians to get clues from St. Paul on his articulation of the Holy Spirit. Finally I did a concordance search for the Holy Spirit and Spirit in the whole Scriptures; Holy Spirit shows up over 100 times, and Spirit over 400 times - I've not yet scanned through those verses yet.

Some observations already: the Holy Spirit of the Gospels and Acts comes across different in Paul's epistles. The first four chapters of Luke are full of activity by the Holy Spirit; Elizabeth, Mary, John the Baptist and Jesus are all filled with the Holy Spirit in a way that is not the same as being saved; their being filled is an issue of power/ability; energy/capacity; life. The Holy Spirit of Acts comes across as a source of power for service within believers, and as a sign of salvation. Paul writes about the Holy Spirit in a variety of ways, usually focusing on his work in us to produce moral purity and ethical righteousness.

My friend Donnie Gentry urged me to pick up some books by R.A. Torrey on the Holy Spirit. I finally received them in the email the other day and have greatly benefited from them. He writes in a clear and straightforward manner, as one who has real experiences with the Holy Spirit. I am looking forward to learning more about the Holy Spirit from what is revealed in Scriptures and what other wise believers have experienced in the past.

I'm not trying to decide whether to be charismatic, pentecostal or dispensational in my view of the Holy Spirit; I just want to come to a clear understanding of who he is and in what way am I to be obedient to him. My gut sense is that the vibrancy and dynamism of Anchor is deeply connected to our understanding and obedience to the Holy Spirit. And considering Anchor is in a refocusing phase, I want to make sure that out of all the things we focus on, the Holy Spirit is in the center.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sustain Me According to Your Promise


Fifteenth letter of the Hebrew Alephbeth

The poet introduces two interesting, intertwining themes: God "rejects all who stray from [his] decrees", yet God is the one who "sustain[s] me" and "uphold[s] me". Of course keeping the commands of God is vital to going His Way, of experiencing the blessings of His Covenant, but the only way to not stray from the decrees is to rely on the LORD's help to stay obedient. This pious poet pleas with the LORD: "do not let my hopes be dashed; uphold me and I will be delivered."

There is something to be said for wanting to go God's Way in everyday life, there is also something to be said for the man or woman who actually does it through ongoing and expectant reliance on Him. It strikes me - both in myself and most of the Christians I know - that there is a disconnect between doing their life and doing their life God's Way. There is the Christian stuff they do, and then there is everything else. But it would seem that God's Way ought to permeate every relationship, every schedule, every task, every concern, every burden.

This songwriter shouts: "Away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commands of my God!" Have you ever read through the commands of the LORD? They are very much concerned with the everyday stuff of life: how to purchase stuff in the marketplace, how to treat your animals, how to relate to your family and friends, how to pray and worship, how to treat your neighbor, how to work, etc. The evildoer is the one who goes about their week driven by their own whims and worries, with no actual reliance on the LORD for help to keep his commands in everyday life.

This psalmist ends his song with: "My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws." I just don't know many Christians who fear/revere God in Christ; and that nonfear/respect of God is evident in how they spend their week/energies - disconnected from God. There is no or little input from God on how to spend the day, who to contact, what to say in a conversation, how to respond to someone in need. It seems that people just respond to their gut - which is another way of saying that their belly is their god?

My hope is that I and so many other of the Christians I know would take up this psalm: You are my refuge and shield; I have put my hope in your word."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sunday Sermon Notes - 9.16.07

Ruth 3-4

Sunday we wrap up our brief sermon series based on the Story of Ruth. Never having preached through this book before, it has been an enjoyable and challenging experience. Last summer for my Hebrew language classes we translated the first two chapters or Ruth, thus we did extensive word studies, grammatical and syntactical analysis, as well as exploration to the different themes of the story. Since then I've been eager to preach through the book, and I've not been disappointed.

One of the main themes of the story focuses on the relationship between the LORD and Naomi: the story of Ruth is about the LORD providing for Naomi through Boaz and Ruth. I know that some preachers and commentaries focus on the role of the kinsman-redeemer, but I don't think that it merits the primary focus. There are parallels to Boaz and Jesus as kinsman-redeemers, but just because of that connection, it doesn't make the concept of kinsman-redeemer the primary issue of the story of Ruth. That said, the story beautifully illustrates what a righteous kinsman-redeemer is to be like.

In short, a kinsman-redeemer is a Hebrew male who has the privilege or opportunity to rescue/help a near relative that is in distress, danger or in need of vindication due to some injustice. This could include paying off the debts of a near relative to prevent their land from leaving their family inheritance, or purchasing the land itself to keep it within the family name. The kinsman could also be called upon to care for a widow and produce a son through her to preserve the family name and inheritance. If a family member was killed, a kinsman-redeemer could be called upon to track down the killer and bring him to justice.

Naomi was delighted when she discoverd that Ruth had befriended Boaz, for he was a kinsman-redeemer. The question was whether or not he was the closest one, and if he would be willing and able to redeem the property. Naomi began planning out a way for Boaz to purchase the property that belonged to her dead husband Elimelech; along with that purchase would be Ruth as widow of the deceased son Mahlon who was to inherit the land. Thus Naomi would have Boaz as a redeemer, as a son-in-law, and possible father of a grandson for whom she would receive as her own son to carry on the family name of Elimelech.

Boaz was willing and able to redeem the property, he was willing and able to wed Ruth and produce a son through her; and Ruth and Boaz were willing to give their son Obed to Naomi to care for him as her own, to renew her life now and sustain her in her old age. Jesus is willing to redeem our lives now, and he is willing to renew our life now, and sustain us in our life now. Just as the LORD provided for Naomi through the righteous deeds of Ruth and Boaz, so the LORD provides for us through the righteousness of Jesus and all those who follow His Way.

If you need the LORD to provide for you, consider the righteousness of your own Way, as well as that of those who surround you. By placing yourself in a community of righteous men and women, you help yourself become more righteous, which makes you more willing and able to receive the help the LORD is ready to give you. Commit to righteousness, which is the Way of Jesus. You need it, and others need the goodness that comes from what God can provide through your righteousness.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Your Word is a Lamp to My Feet


Fourteenth Letter of the Hebrew AlephBeth

Your word is a lamp to my feet,
a light for my path.
The Torah as a lamp is not of much use when the sun is out, the sky is clear, the clouds have rolled away, and the brightness of the day fills my eyes. It still has its uses, but not as a lamp. Ah, but when dusk comes, and the stars do not come out, and the wind picks up, the chill sets in, and darkness prevails - then the Torah has its use as a lamp. When the heart is dark, when the soul has lost its light, and it needs to know which way to go; when it can't rely on its own common sense of direction, then the Torah as a lamp is the perfect tool. There is so much that is uncertain to me about the Scriptures themselves, and thus any theology derived from them; yet I choose to believe that the Word is a trustworthy lamp. Because I choose to follow it, it will direct my feet along the path of wisdom and life. I don't have to understand it all, but I do need to trust it...even if it is mixed with some doubts.

I have firmly sworn
to keep Your just rules.
Ha, if only I had that much integrity and character. It's not that I'm in favor of keeping unjust rules, but to firmly swear to keeping all of the LORD's just rules...well that seems so definitive. Where is the wiggle room? But if I'm not vowing to keep God's way, whose way am I upholding? Anything else is tainted and corrupted. So what keeps me from knowing God's rules and vowing to abide by them?

I am very much afflicted;
O LORD, preserve me in accordance with Your word.
This ought to be my prayer every morning. Pastoral life, lately for me, has been a crucible of affliction. I suppose it is an affliction of the mind, the anxious uncertainty of not knowing how a decision is going to play out. I want so much to succeed as a pastor, but I won't settle in my mind what "success" looks like. I want so much to see lives changed, but then I don't seem to know how to go about contributing towards that, since it doesn't seem to be happening much around my church. Where are the conversions? Where are the baptisms? Where is the life-turn-around? Where is the radical committment? The absence afflicts my soul and faith. Am I a failure? Am I in the wrong profession? Did I misread my calling? Do I still believe? The doubts are so treacherous and overwhelming, yet the teachings of my Lord preserve me. Jesus, I believe; help me in my unbelief.

Accept, O LORD, my freewill offerings;
teach me Your rules.
There is much I am thankful for, much that I thank you for; when I open up my soul to you in praise, continue to illuminate my mind about your Way.

Though my life is always in danger,
I do not neglect Your teaching.
Fear can have a crippling effect; my life is not in danger of death everyday - unlike our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Sudan, India, Pakistan and other sites around the world. I don't fear death, but I do fear failure, and sometimes in a weird way I fear success. My life is in danger of succumbing to fear; yet I continue to read and study and apply Your teaching to my life. May my fear for You overcome my fear of me.

Though the wicked have set a trap for me,
I have not strayed from Your precepts.
Always there is the temptations to buy into the materialistic, secular, deterministic values of our culture. There are those that pump out the fumes of this pollution that they may sway and confuse, that they may distort truth and lead astray. Don't let me buy into lies, but help me to join those millions who seek the truth. May those who desire truth find the Way. I have tried to not stray from Your precpts, though I am full of doubts of what others have articulated as our teaching.

Your decrees are my eternal heritage;
they are my heart's delight.
May this come to be true for me. May there be a day when the Torah, the Writings, the Prophets, the Gospels, The Epistles are my heart's delight. Now, for me, they are a challenge to understand, a locked up mystery box of truth; may there be a day when they are a delight to me and not a text of doubt.

I am resolved to follow Your laws
to the utmost forever.
Deep down, this is the way it is for me; as a doubter, as one who is unstable in my ways, as one who seeks wisdom and doesn't seem to get it, I am still resolved to follow. Someday the doubts may drift away, someday wisdom will take its place. In the meantime, I'll keep my resolve, even if it is by a thread; I will follow Your Way.