Sunday, April 19, 2015

Empowering the Church: Spiritual Immersion

This is part four of empowering the church, a key principle for the church as a whole and individual Christians in particular.

Key Principle #1: EMPOWERED part 4

"...for John truly baptized with water,
but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit
not many days from now."
Acts. 1:5

The Power of Being Immersed By His Spirit

        We often are not empowered as a church and as individuals because we don’t understand what it means to be immersed with the Holy Spirit. I like the translation of “immersion” better than the word “baptized” in verse 5 because the word baptized is not actually translated from the Greek, it’s transliterated. What I mean is, the Greek word, baptizo, was not translated into an English word when the Bible was put into our language hundreds of years ago. When the Bible was first put into English, the most common form of water baptism was not immersion (that is, totally putting under water) but rather by sprinkling or pouring water over, in many cases, a baby as a form of Christening.

        In fact, the Anabaptists were persecuted not because they were against baptism, but they were against the practice of sprinkling or pouring water over babies who were not at an age to understand and become Christian believers. These Anabaptists practiced total immersion in water and it was only those who had truly professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.

        The persecution of these believers was so severe that if anyone ever chose to get immersed, the established church would even condemn the believers to death by drowning. They essentially said, “So you want to be immersed, do you?”

        So in that historical setting, imagine the translators rendering Acts 1:5 like this: “For John truly immersed with water; but ye shall be immersed with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Rather than face the wrath of the established church, the translators opted to simply transliterate the word and thus coined a new English word, but it obscured a central doctrine not just on the Biblical mode of water baptism, but the theological truth of Immersion with the Holy Spirit.

        Whether you believe that water baptism should be through sprinkling, pouring, immersion, or should be taken figuratively, the church today has lost the understanding that the Holy Spirit of God is to be immersed in the believer.

        When a person is immersed in his work, or a person is immersed in a book, it means to be absorbed. A ship that sinks into the sea is absorbed by the sea and a person who is immersed or baptized in the Holy Spirit is a person who is absorbed and saturated with God’s Spirit. That’s what is so special about the second chapter of Acts and the Day of Pentecost. For the first time in human history, God’s Spirit became fused into the very body, soul and spirit of a human being. Prior to that, the Holy Spirit came upon people, only to leave when God withdrew His empowering presence from that person, generally because of sin in the life of the person.

        Since Pentecost, the immersion of the Holy Spirit is permanent. Paul said that Christ in you, Christ’s Holy Spirit immersed in you, is the hope of all glory. You can no more un-immerse God’s Spirit within you any more than you can unscramble an egg or unmix your sugar and cream from your coffee. Some people think that salvation is like vinegar and oil, you have to keep it active or else it will separate. That’s not immersion, that’s cohesion; that’s not salvation, that’s salad dressing.

       So ask yourself. Are you a friend, a lover of God, so much so that you want to be a "Theolphilus" type person? Are you waiting, even actively tarrying, for God's presence and power? Are you obeying God in all things? Are you immersed in God's Spirit? If so, God’s power will abide in you.

Empowering the Church: Obedience

This is part three of empowering the church, a key principle for the church as a whole and individual Christians in particular.

Key Principle  #1: EMPOWERED part 3
Acts 1:1-8
The Power of Being Commanded By God

        We are empowered by God not only because when we wait on God, but also when we follow His commandments. Look at Acts 1:2, “He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles. Again in verse four, “Jesus commanded them...”

        If there is anything the church and we Christians hate more than waiting, it is being told what to do. Most of the conflicts within churches are from conflicts over power and who is going to “run the church.” Excuse me, but Christ is the head of the church, not the pastor, elder board, deacon board, or budget committee. And certainly not the majority rule of a church conference. I happen to be a Baptist (a Southern one at that) and oftentimes of late it has become a litmus test on church allegiance to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message, whether it be the 1963 version or the 2000 version, as if every jot and every tittle was inerrant and was fallen out from between Revelation and the maps as the 67th book of the Bible. I cannot affirm either version as being infallible because both contain the non-Biblical word, “democratic.” Now I’m an American through and through and was in Baptist church nine months before I was born. As one person said it, “You can call me Southern Baptist born and Southern Baptist bred, and when I die, you can call me Southern Baptist dead.” But I defy anyone to tell me where the word democracy is used in the Bible. A democratic vote kept the children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years. And after that, a majority wanted to go back to Egypt. A majority of the disciples thought Judas was trustworthy enough to keep the money bag and when he left to betray the Christ, all but Jesus thought to themselves, “Good ole Judas, he must be going off to give some money to the poor.”

        Who runs the church? Jesus. But when the church doesn’t submit to His commandments, who runs off the pastors? The church. Who runs off people who disagree with him? The pastors. Who runs off the new believers? The crotchedy old ones. Who runs off the faithful old saints? The young impudent ones. And who runs headlong into hell because the church refuses to submit to the commandments of Christ? The lost.

        When anyone in the church is empowered more and Christ, the head, is empowered less, the church itself becomes powerless. But when Christ and His commandments are affirmed and submitted to, that’s when power comes to church and its members. There once was a man who proudly proclaimed, “There ain’t anybody but Jesus going to tell me what to do!” and I applaud him for saying that, but it struck me, how do I know what Jesus is telling me what to do? Whatever it is, it sure better not contradict the clear and apparent commandments contained in God’s Word.

        When I was mentioned friendship and the John 15 passage at the beginning of the chapter, I almost didn’t want to include what John 15:14 says. But it is totally relevant on the issue of power in our lives as individuals and as the church. Look back again at the whole passage.

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

        John 15:14 almost makes it sound conditional on whether Jesus will be our Friend. But that wonderful passage of John 15 is not on conditional friendship or conditional love, but rather it’s on abiding and obeying the commandments of Christ as a result of His love. He spoke about showing love to others and the joyful benefits of remaining in the love of Christ. Why is the church often powerless? It is because we fail to follow God’s commandments even though John clearly says that His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

        Jesus is the one who takes the initiative in calling us friends. He laid down His life for us and by His grace alone are we saved in response to that salvation. We aren’t forced into obeying His commandments like a slave or a servant, but out of love we respond to His initiative.

        When we fail to obey or when we fail to wait, we in a sense disown our friendship with Jesus Christ and we lose our power. What is also true is when we fail to act in response to His grace and love, we also lose our access to His power. The disciples weren’t impatient; from all appearances they waited in faith, in prayer, and in anticipatory expectation of a great and mighty move of God. They waited in obedience to His greatest commandment to love one another by being of one accord.

        They were not disappointed.

Empowering the Church: Waiting

This is part two of empowering the church, a key principle for the church as a whole and individual Christians in particular.

Key Principle #1: EMPOWERED part 2

The Power of Waiting For God
        When was the last time you called upon your Ultimate Friend in the highest place to give you power? As you read the first chapter of Acts, you’ll see that power is not automatic, it is not guaranteed or unconditional, and neither is it instantaneous. In fact, there are times when the church has power and sometimes when it almost seems impotent.  But there are some prerequisites for the church to have power and the first one is one of the hardest for Christians to do: Wait.
        “And, being assembled together with them, (Jesus) commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father..” (Acts 1:4a). Put your finger in your Bible in Acts and check out the cross reference that ties this book back to the end of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24 and verse 49. “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” The King James Version uses the word “tarry” in Luke and the Greek word is often translated as “to sit.” Now isn’t that a picture? The church has often been accused of “sitting on the premises” instead of “standing on the promises of God.” But to tarry doesn’t mean to be lazily and idly sitting around, but rather an active type of waiting, busily preparing for something great and might to come about.
        I am blessed to be married to a wonderful woman, who, at this writing, I’ve known for right at 34 years. If she’s ever left at home alone, she is hardly ever just “sitting,” she is “tarrying.” She is actively cleaning, doing a creative memory scrapbook, busily doing something. She is a Martha, constantly working and getting ready for the upcoming day, week, month or whatever. That’s what Jesus called the church to do, actively wait on the Lord for power from on high.
        The Acts passage uses a different word, unique in the New Testament, “wait for the promise of the Father.”  It combines two words, one meaning “abide, remain or stay in one place” and the second word means “around.” So in other words, Jesus said to “wait around.” While Acts 1:4 is the only place where the word is used in the New Testament, it is used in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. Check out Genesis 49:18, “I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!” There’s a longing for salvation and Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to just hang around but to sit and expectantly await the Promise of the Father. That promise was the Holy Spirit.
        God’s promise was the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit brings with Him power from on High. Does it ever seem to you that the church is powerless? Do you feel powerless in this world? We see the advancement of the secular world, encroaching on the morals and direction of our society, in our economy, in our politics, and all the while the church becomes less and less influential in the world. Where is that “dunamis” power? The Greek word for power is of course dunamis and is the basis for the English word “dynamite” but not many churches and not many Christians could be described today as dynamic. Why? It could be that our modern church is so influenced by society that we no longer waiting on God, expectantly anticipating His power, but instead we strike out on our own.
        Waiting on God is difficult because it requires patience. I like the King James word for patience, “long-suffering,” which is what the compound word in the Greek literally means. There once was a grandmother who stood to pray before her children and numerous grandchildren at the Thanksgiving meal. She gave a long and heart-felt prayer of thanksgiving for all of her little blessings she had gathered around the table, praising God that the fruit of the womb was the gift of the Lord. No sooner than she said Amen did all of the children start clamoring and clawing for the food around the table. After a raucous roar, soon everyone noticed that Grandma was still standing with her eyes clenched tight and her mouth moving slightly. “Grandma, Grandma, what’s the matter?” the children called out. “Oh, nothing, I’m just praying for the patience to handle all the blessings He’s given me.”
        God’s blessings take patience and sometimes even long-suffering to see but they will only come if we wait patiently and with assured anticipation that God will come through. Samuel Beckett was a playwright and most famously the author of the play “Waiting for Godot.” Godot (not pronounced as I heard a radio announcer say one time as “Go-Dot” but rather it is French and pronounced GO-doh). Beckett refused to say definitively who or what Godot represented but the main man in the play waits and waits for the man who never arrives. Some people have felt they have waited and waited on God and He never arrives. I wish I could say that God always comes, like the cavalry from the old westerns, over the hill just in the nick of time. If Beckett, an admitted skeptic and agnostic, wrote his play  to mock those believers who aimlessly and errantly wait on God, only to be disappointed, he probably has a lot of people in his corner. There have been times when I’ve waited and waited on God, as a train comes barreling down the track. Sometimes I’ve jumped left when I should have jumped right, sometimes I did just the opposite and sometimes I’ve been run right down by that barreling train.
        In context to Acts 1, Jesus appeared to the disciples for 40 of the 50 days prior to Pentecost and after His resurrection. This command to wait may have been given twice, first after the resurrection, as indicated by Luke 24, and again just prior to His ascension to heaven, as indicated in Acts 1. If that’s the case, then Peter and John and a few other disciples needed that second reminder but they went back to fishing in Galilee (see John 21). Sometimes we think we are obeying and waiting on God, but we aren’t really. We know Jesus appeared to the disciples, minus Thomas, the evening after the Resurrection and again a week later with Thomas present. He made other appearances undoubtedly as Paul says Jesus appeared individually to Peter and to his own half-brother, James, the future leader of the Jerusalem church. I would think Jesus would have appeared to his earthly mother, although the Scriptures don’t explicitly state that. She was among the 120 waiting in Jerusalem when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came. But the John 21 fishing trip may have come about when the disciples grew tarry-weary.
        In most cases, it is not us waiting on God, but God waiting on us to be obedient. We don’t have the power we need because we act like we don’t need His power from on High. We aren’t anticipating the Holy Spirit, we antagonizing the Holy Spirit by living like God doesn’t see our secret sins, hear our petty gossip, our cutting words, or our promiscuous language; we grieve the Holy Spirit by acting like He cannot see our carnal television shows and movies, or know our wicked thoughts or discern our selfish motives. We aren’t waiting on God, He is waiting on us.
        I wish I could say that ten days (the time from his last appearance and ascension into heaven) was the longest God ever calls us to wait. But do you remember how long it took for Abram to conceive Isaac? Or Joseph to see his brothers bow down to him and vindicate his being sold into slavery? How many years was it until Moses was used by God to draw the people out of Egypt? How long have we waited for Christ to return? How long has Israel been waiting for Jesus to restore their Holy Land to them? (See the end of this chapter for the answer to those questions). Paul says in Romans 8 that all of creation groans, awaiting the redemption of creation.
        Our family went through a struggle recently and a daughter of a missionary, Rhonda Smith, said that her saintly mother often would ask her during her rough years of her life, “Is Jesus not enough for you? If nothing ever worked out for you the rest of your life, would Jesus alone be enough for you to have faith?” Compared to eternity, our waiting on God is a miniscule portion of the smallest part of the proton of the Hydrogen atom in the midst of trillions of galaxies of vast creation of the universe. C.S. Lewis challenged us to imagine an endless sheet of paper, stretching out to eternity from the left to the right, from the top to the bottom, and then to take a pencil and mark a tiny line on that infinite sheet of paper. The beginning of that line would be the beginning of time and creation and the end of that line would be when time should be no more.
        And all the while, the guy behind us at the stoplight honks in the millisecond it takes for our foot to get off the brake and onto the gas.

Key Principles for the Church: #1 Empowered

      The following devotionals based on the book of Acts were originally written to be used as a workbook in preparation for mission trips. However, as I wrote it, I discovered that many of the lessons and the key words are not only practical and applicable for mission trips but for the church as a whole and individual Christians in particular.

Key Principle #1: EMPOWERED (part 1)
Acts 1:1-8
“Who am I that You are mindful of me? That you hear me when I call
“Is it true that You are thinking of me? How You love me/ It’s amazing
“I am a friend of God / I am a friend of God / I am a friend of God
“He calls me friend”
Phillips, Craig, and Dean
            Do you remember having friends as a kid? It seems that having friends (or even just having one really good friend) was one of the biggest needs we had as children and even into our teenage years. But somewhere along the way, the importance of friendships goes by the wayside. Many people often say that they have never been able to establish the kind of friendships they had as children. If  you saw the 1986 movie “Stand By Me” you’ll undoubtedly remember at the very end of the movie, the writer is reflecting over his childhood, even as he watches his own son spending time with his friends. The writer, played by Richard Dreyfess, types onto his computer, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
            Yes, Jesus calls us friends. “I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you,” (John 15:15). Christ demonstrated the ultimate proof of true friendship in pledging to lay down His life for His friends, and then He fulfilled that pledge on the cross. To be a friend of God is one of the greatest gifts of salvation. And Jesus wasn’t exclusive in his choice of friends. In Matthew 11:19, one of the deriding labels that the enemies of Christ attempted to pin on Him was that He was a “friend of publicans and sinners.” Wow! The social outcasts of Jesus’ day were His friends. It’s also interesting to note that not only did Jesus hang out with prostitutes, tax-collectors, and people with less than stellar reputations, he also hung out with the religious leaders. 
The Power of Being A Friend Of God
            Luke was the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles and he wrote both of the books of the New Testament to “Theophilus,” whose name means “Friend of God” or even “Lover of God.” We are told in the writings of the Apostle Paul that Luke was a physician and in the Gospel of Luke, we learn he was someone who sought to write things accurately and in order. His attention to detail is noteworthy and in portions of Acts, it is evident that he was an eyewitness himself to many of the events in the latter part of the book.
            Isn’t it amazing that when we read the Bible, we have in our very hands stories written down by eyewitnesses to some of the most amazing events in history, and here is Luke writing to you and me, and all who are God’s friend. Now we don’t know if Theophilus was a real person or a name that Luke gave to all who would read his two books. We’re never given a reason why Luke would write to a person otherwise never named in Scripture. So since we don’t know for sure, I rather like being called a “friend of God” and having a book entitled to me. So I want to invite you to curl up on your couch, turn on the reading lamp by your bed, or don your reading glasses at your desk and join with me in reading this personal and practical history lesson Luke is presenting about the early days of the church, written to us friends of God.
            Now remember, Jesus called us friends and the popularity of the Phillips, Craig, and Dean song indicates that I’m not the only one who likes being called God’s friend. And as I recall, my friends as a child, just like the ones in “Stand By Me,” weren’t perfect. We had our share of fights growing up. And as adults, my friends weren’t always there for me, and I know I’ve not always been a good friend myself. But as God’s friend, we have empowering privileges.
            The phrase of “I have friends in high places” (as opposed to that country ballad of “I have friends in low places”) conjures up an idea that having influential friends brings with it a certain degree of empowerment. The church today needs to remember that we have power from on high through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
        Some people get offended by the plethora of jokes about heaven, God, and Saint Peter at the pearly gates. If you are one of those people, I give you permission to tune out at this point. Three golfers were on a particularly difficult course which had both a hard bend and water between the tee and the hole.
        The first golfer took his shot and sure enough it landed right in the water. The golfer went up, put his club over the water hole, which immediately parted in two and the golfer went and hit his ball onto the green.
        The second golfer took a swing and the ball again went straight to the water, but stayed afloat long enough for the golfer to walk out on the water and hit the ball to sink it in the second shot.
         Finally the third golfer went to the tee, hit the ball right to the water, when a fish jumped up and caught the ball in its mouth. Immediately, an eagle swooped down, caught the fish and began to fly across the green. Suddenly lightning flashed from the clear blue sky, obliterating the eagle and the fish, but left the ball intact which then fell directly into the hole.
         With that, Moses looked at Jesus and said, “You know, I get really tired of playing Golf with your Dad.”
          You want talk about power? Now that’s power, but it's not on the golf course that we need that kind of power. We need supernatural power in the church and in our lives today. We need today to tap into that power Jesus promised would be ours in Acts 1:8,  “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” We get that kind of power by remembering that we are, like Theophilus, a friend of God.