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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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.

The Shepherd’s Heart

Acts 20:28-31 (NIV)  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

 

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.” He also charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” And Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In all 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 believer to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

Be shepherds of the church of God.jpg
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 that emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

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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Death Demystified

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NIV)  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

A few months ago my mother died. She was the sweetest woman I ever knew. She faithfully served the Lord for over 70 years. As a way of honoring her life we chose a celebration theme for her funeral. We sang songs of praise to God. We even danced. A friend of mine who watched a video clip of the funeral commented that it was a funeral of a different kind.

But even with all the testimonies and celebrations, facing the reality of my mother’s death was the hardest thing I have ever dealt with. A day before her death, my wife and I agreed that we would pray and surrender our mother’s life to God’s will—and that was the hardest prayer we ever prayed. Although we knew in our minds that it was time for our mother to go to the place she had always longed for, we were not emotionally ready to let her go.

Death is perhaps the scariest experience on the face of the earth (if you doubt, just google “death” and checkout the images that show up). It is a grim reality we have to deal with. The reality of death is very painful, whether it is the death of a loved one or us facing it due to a terminal illness. Death is an intruder. It is unnatural. It is something we can never get used to because we were not created to die.

What scares you most about death

However, death this is not the end. Just like sin, death has no place in heaven. Therefore, our faith in Jesus Christ makes a great difference in how we deal with death. Satan’s victory in the Garden of Eden was temporary but Jesus’ victory on the cross was decisive and final. On the cross, Jesus demystified death. We can encounter death with confidence. There is hope beyond the grave. For a Christian, death is an irony. It is a moment of pain, especially when we lose a loved one. But is also a moment of victory, because those who die in Christ will certainly live again.

What scares you most about death? Even the scariest thing on earth has been defeated by our Lord. We can, therefore, say with confidence, “Where, O death, is your victory?” We have victory over death because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (VI)

Simplicity

Nehemiah 5:14-16 (NIV) Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year– twelve years– neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors– those preceding me– placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. Click here for more

Simplicity is one quality of leadership that is perhaps not rated as highly as the other qualities. Some people erroneously think that simplicity is about shunning material things—that’s akin to asceticism. True simplicity is premised on viewing all life from the perspective of God’s kingdom. Simplicity is refusal to live by the standards of the god of this world, which is materialism. Here are some lessons we can learn from Nehemiah’s simplicity:

Down to earth

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain” (verses 1-2). A leader who possesses the quality of simplicity is not afraid to associate with all categories of people—whether mighty and sophisticated or lowly and simple. By all standards, Nehemiah was no ordinary citizen. His service in the palace as a king’s “cup bearer” meant that he rubbed shoulders with the king quite regularly.  But he was also very approachable and listened to the concerns of the ordinary people and gave them an appropriate response. When the spiritual leader’s identity is in Christ, they are not afraid to associate with any category of people. They are not bossy but rather, they work with and for the people.

Living Justly

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them (verses 6-7). Nehemiah had the audacity to call the “priests…nobles and officials” (verse 12) to order because of the exemplary life he lived. The rich were giving out loans to the poor at very exorbitant interest rates. Consequently, the poor would fail to pay—losing their land, houses or whatever else the owed the rich. Although Nehemiah too was lending money to the people, he and his people refused to charge excessive interest.  He refused to exploit the poor like everyone else did. When we live simply, we have the freedom and authority to stand up for the justice of those who are marginalized in our societies.

Generosity

But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land (verses 15-16.) A leader is marked more by how much they give out (literally and not metaphorically) than what they amass for themselves. Leaders know that although their positions may attract privileges, those privileges should be used for the betterment of the people they lead.  In Nehemiah’s case, he noticed that the previous leaders had put a heavy levy on the people in order to subsidize their lifestyle. Nehemiah refused to follow suit; instead he invited his fellow leaders for a sumptuous banquet every ten days (verses 17-18).

True simplicity

How do you exercise this quality of simplicity? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.