The Role of the Holy Spirit in Transformation

Acts 23:10-11 (NIV)

The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Whenever we talk about Christian outreach and transformation, we tend to think in terms of budgets, strategies, or methods of presentation.  One of the pitfalls of some Christian workers is to think that evangelism is primarily our job—that it is about what we do. But we need to know that we are not the ones who take the Holy Spirit to the world. He is already there. He is already working. At the very beginning, the Word of God tells us that the Spirit of God was active in the work of creation. Like a bird, He brooded above the waters (Genesis 1:2).

Let’s let us do a brief survey of the book of Acts to look at the role of the Holy Spirit in changing people’s lives. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit breaks barriers between the different people who were gathered in Jerusalem. The essence gift of new “tongues” (which were actually human languages), was to facilitate the hearing of the gospel. Everyone who was gathered in Jerusalem heard the message of the Gospel in their own language (Acts 2:7-11).

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In Acts 8, the Holy Spirit leads Philip to the road that leads to Gaza. When Philip gets there, the Spirit again leads him to a chariot in which an Ethiopian official is traveling. Meanwhile the same Spirit has already prepared the official to receive the gospel. Philip is simply following the Spirit’s leading.

In Acts 10, God instructs Peter to go to Caesarea to preach to Cornelius, a Roman official, who had been earnestly seeking for the One true God. As Peter is still processing the implication of vision he had received, the envoys from Cornelius arrive at Peter’s house requesting him to take the Gospel to this official. When Peter gets to Cornelius’ house, he finds a full house with Gentiles (non-Jews) non-believers who are eager to hear the gospel. Peter starts preaching but the Holy Spirit interrupts his sermon; the Holy Spirit comes upon the listeners—before they have even said the “sinner’s prayer”—and they all start speaking in tongues (Acts 10:44-46). God is orchestrating everything.

In chapter Acts 23:11 Apostle Paul has been arrested, some Jewish leaders are plotting to kill him but God reassures him not to fear because he would also testify for Jesus in Rome. While the circumstances under which Paul will be testifying for Jesus are less than desirable (no one would want to be in jail for any reason), God still uses them to accomplish His purposes. God is sovereign. He is at work. We are co-workers with Him.

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Turn the Other Cheek?

Acts 22:22-28

22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”

 

The soldiers are about to flog Paul in order to get a confession out of Him. But he immediately raises a protest because he is a Roman citizen who has certain privileges and protection according to their Law. It was illegal to scourge Roman citizen before he was tried. This scourging was so brutal that it could easily lead to death. Paul, who was born a Roman citizen, had a higher status than the one who simply bought his freedom.

This passage raises a question of how believers respond in cases of injustice. Are there issues of injustice in your community—neighbourhood, church or workplace—that you think need your attention and action? How can your faith in Jesus Christ help you to respond to such issues?

As I read Paul’s protest to the Roman soldier, one question that comes to my mind is, “aren’t Christians supposed to ‘turn the other cheek?’” How should Christians respond in cases of persecution and injustice? Are we supposed to protest, resist and fight for our rights? Or should we keep silent, hoping that our suffering will highlight our Christian witness. What is the best way to honor Christ? Certainly, there are no easy and straightforward answers to these questions. We, however, can find some pointers from the scriptures.

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In the above passage, Paul puts it to the Roman soldier whether it is lawful for a Roman citizen to be flogged before they are charged. Paul is aware of his rights as a Roman citizen. Although Paul is under arrest, he knows what his rights are and he is not afraid to stand up for them. As Christians, we have an obligation to keep the laws of the land. But if such laws are repressive or inconsistent with God’s Word, we should use whatever legal ways available to us to challenge such laws.

We, however, need to ask God for wisdom. There are times when the right thing to do is to keep silence and endure suffering for the cause of the gospel. There are other times when our faith in God demands that we speak up for our rights and of those who are marginalized. The ultimate goal of every decision we make should be to honor Christ with our lives and actions.

I would like to conclude this devotional with Paul Tripp’s rather uncomfortable questions. “How balanced has your gospel been? Have you been an advocate for grace, but silent in the face of injustice? Have you been comfortable with the segregation of the Christian community or with subtle personal prejudice?”

 

The Shepherd’s Heart

 2 Corinthians 12:14-18

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?

 

One of the widely used Biblical metaphors for spiritual leadership is that of a shepherd. Ezekiel talks about good and bad shepherds—referring to Israel’s kings and religious leaders. David is described as a shepherd of the people of Israel; Jesus described himself as a “good shepherd” and charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In these analogies, there are underlying qualities of a spiritual leader. For instance,
shepherds provide for the sheep. They are supposed to ensure that people under their leadership are fed on the Word of God. The Word of God provides spiritual nourishment and the basis for discerning God’s will for one’s life. Just as a parent wants the children to appreciate healthy food over junk food, the pastor’s role is to train the believers to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

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Leaders should also have genuine interest in the welfare of their people. The parable of the lost sheep reveals the heart of the Shepherd who risks everything, including His own life to bring the wayward sheep back to the fold. The pastor has an unenviable responsibility of rebuking and disciplining believers who do not live according to God’s Word. But at the same time pastors should also comfort and restore those who have been bruised by the consequences of sin. All spiritual leaders are under-shepherds who should emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

Grace for the Least Likely

Acts 22:1-11

Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.  I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify…“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. “‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.  My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. “‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 

A Former Persecutor (1-5)

God’s Grace is amazing! Grace actually makes more sense to the least likely—the underdogs, those considered to be dregs of the society, the irreligious lot, and many other misfits.  The famous hymn sums up the nature of grace: “Amazing grace…that saved a wretch like me.” Every believer in Jesus Christ has in one way or another experienced this prodigious grace. Of course every story is different. In today’s passage, Apostle Paul is re-telling his story—for completely different reasons.

He stands trial before the Jewish religious leaders. These were, most likely, his former colleagues before he gave his life to Jesus. In fact his religious credentials were better than most of them. As a young Pharisee, he had been mentored by an outstanding religious expert, Gamaliel. Before his conversion, he was at the forefront of persecuting followers of Jesus Christ but now his life has been transformed.

Every believer in Jesus Christ has in one way or another experienced this prodigious grace.

He has found the better way. The former persecutor of the church is now on the receiving end of the wrath he once meted out to those who followed Christ. God’s grace is truly amazing. If someone like Paul can now unapologetically stand for his faith in Christ, we can all be encouraged to pray for those who now fiercely persecute the church.

Are there people you hesitate to pray for, maybe because of their hostility towards the Gospel? No one is out of the reach of God’s love.

The Turning Point (6-11)

Paul now shares how he came to believe in the Person and the message of the One he now uncompromisingly proclaims. His encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ was as dramatic as his life would eventually turn out to be.  If there is anything that ever happened to him, it was a realization of his utter worthlessness without Jesus Christ. He, who once was powerful, was blinded and needed the assistance of his guards to get to Damascus.

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All of us who believe in Jesus have had our turning points. Some of them were dramatic while others were ordinary. In all this, it was the Lord who drew us to Himself. Now that we have been saved by His grace, we have an obligation to live for Him.

 

How did you come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior? How has your life changed since then? Take time to thank Him.

Unmet Expectations

Luke 19:41-44 (NIV)  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine over ministry expectations. He was not comfortable with my philosophy of ministry and the way we ran stuff at church. Every relationship revolves around expectations. The more these expectations are mutually met, the healthier the relationship. Some expectations may be expressed while others may not. Some are realistic, others aren’t.

It is always fulfilling when our expectations are met. But it can be disappointing or even devastating when our expectations remain unfulfilled. Unrealistic expectations can hurt both us and others, especially those whom we care about. Some people have expectations of their friends and colleagues that only God can meet. This of course puts a strain on their relationship.

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If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace…

It is also possible to have unrealistic expectations of God. The Jewish people during the time of Jesus had a faulty understanding of the person and mission of the Messiah. They were waiting for a charismatic, political and militarily powerful liberator. It’s no wonder that the Jesus Christ of Nazareth could not fit into their frame of reference. He was too ordinary to be the “savior” they had been waiting for. When He came to them they did not recognize Him. They missed the “time of God’s coming to [them]” (Luke 19:44). And their rejection of the Savior had far reaching ramifications. That’s why Jesus wept. They rejected the One who could give them peace—the Prince of Peace. They rejected their King; they One they had been waiting for all along. But that was not all. 40 years later, the city of Jerusalem would be besieged and later destroyed together with six hundred thousand of its inhabitants.

What are your expectations of God? How do you respond when things seem not to be going your way? Could you be in a resisting God’s will because you have misconstrued God’s will and His ways?

What about your expectations of the people around you—your spouse, siblings, colleagues, etc? Are they realistic and contributing to building a healthy relationship?

My prayer is that God may help us to have realistic expectations in whatever relationships we are involved in.

 

Our Humanness and God’s Purposes

1 Kings 19:1-4 (NIV)   Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”  3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,  4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Fleeing for dear Life

After a powerful demonstration of God’s power (by fire), defeat of Baal’s prophets, and the end of three and a half years of a dry spell which had been pronounced by him (chapter 18), Elijah now faces a death threat from Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife. Jezebel’s reputation for being a nasty and deadly queen is unmatched. Not wanting to take chances, Elijah flees for his life.

1 Kings 19:5-6 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

This story reveals Elijah’s humanness. He is a fiery prophet, powerfully used of God but he is also human. It is easy to underestimate our humanness, especially when God is powerfully using us. Elijah’s life is threatened precisely because he is doing God’s will. This story also reveals God’s concern and care for his servants (vv. 5-8). Elijah was tired; he need to rest. He was hungry; he needed to eat—a lot of food. God provided all that he needed (vv. 5-9).When we find ourselves tired, discouraged and depressed, God is right there to help us. His grace is available for the weak, and tired and desperate.

Serving God and being in His will does not necessarily insulate us from life’s challenges and threats. Yet God cares for us even in the most difficult experiences.

A Gentle Whisper of God

1 Kings 19:11-12 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

At mount Horeb, Elijah has many things to complain about: Israel’s worship and religious systems are dead. There has been severe persecution and killing of God’s prophets. Elijah feels alone, rejected and perhaps suicidal. Here is a stark contrast between the Elijah at Mount Carmel: confident, bold, in charge (chapter 18); and the one at Mount Horeb: distraught, unsure, and desperate (vv. 10, 14).

Elijah encounters God, not in the spectacular phenomena of powerful wind, earthquake and fire, but in “a gentle whisper” (v. 12). The God of Mt. Carmel who answers by fire is the same God of Mt. Horeb who answers in a gentle whisper. God works in and through ordinary people like Elijah (and you and me for that matter) to accomplish His purposes (cf. James 5:17-18).

The Transition

1 Kings 19:15-16  The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.

Elijah has been faithful to God; it is now time for a transition. He is to anoint other kings— Hazael and Jehu, and his successor—Elisha. Elijah also needs to know that he is not alone. There are “seven thousand in Israel– all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (v. 18). One of the strategies that the enemy uses to discourage us is to make us feel and believe that we are alone; that our experiences are unique and no one really understands us. The truth is that you are not alone. When you feel abandoned ask God to lead you to people who can be of encouragement to you.

Have you ever realized that God’s purposes are bigger than you; than your accomplishments or even your failures? As His servants, we are not in charge; He is.

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The Centrality of Worship

In the beginning…

God is Holy and demands that the people He created worship Him. Simply put, we were created to worship the One living God. When God created mankind, Adam and Eve, he put them in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). This was their act of worship. There was neither temple nor altar in the Garden of Eden because the fellowship between God and people was unbroken. But because of sin, mankind could no longer have direct fellowship with God. As a result altars, temples, sacrifices and priests became necessary. You see, the heart of worship is obedience. We cannot worship God on our terms. God has set the terms and conditions for those who worship Him. To worship God is to acknowledge Him for who He is and what He does.

Let my people go, so that they may worship me (Exodus 10:3).

The encounters between Moses and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus highlight the centrality of worship. God’s purpose is delivering the children of Israel from Egypt was “that they may worship [Him]” (Exodus 9:13). “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go” Pharaoh asked Moses (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh’s response to Moses signifies how the devil’s primary mission is to stop or distract us from worshiping God. So, in this sense, worship is spiritual warfare.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22 22).

Jesus Christ reiterated the centrality of worship when He told the Samaritan woman that the Father seeks for worshipers who worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). In the Book of Revelation, the worship ideal is restored. There will be no temple in the new earth and new heaven because God’s presence will be with His people (Revelation 21:22). This is the ultimate goal of life—the sommum bonum; to find pleasure in the presence of God. May we all strive to make worship the center of our lives.

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