God’s Gift of God – Pentecost Meditation

Pentecost

What are we given when we are given the Spirit?  We are given everything.  As Peter Leithart has said, Pentecost is God giving God.  The Spirit of God is God Himself, God’s gift of God.  While the Spirit is called the 3rd person of the Trinity, He is the first we meet as it is by and through the Spirit that we receive all things from the Father and Son.  The Spirit was at Creation and has been with God’s People since the beginning.  But at Pentecost, God’s gift of God came to fill and be within His People.

This Sunday is where Christians have traditionally remembered the Day of Pentecost.  As with all special days, they are not special in themselves.  The realities of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and even Pentecost are such that they should be with us every day.  So the day is not special in itself.  But a day can give us opportunity to do specific reflection upon a certain spiritual reality.

Pentecost was a pre-existing Jewish festival to remember the giving of the law to Moses at Mt Sinai.  That, though, is not why Christians remember it.  On Pentecost, God did something profound.  He sent His Holy Spirit to fill and empower Jesus’ disciples.  Those small group of disciples became the new-born Christian Church.

The entire story is spectacular and almost impossible to imagine what it would have been like (although it’s fun to imagine!)  Noise like rushing wind, tongues of fire on their heads, speech in foreign languages they would have never been able to know naturally.  But then the true purpose of Pentecost happened.  Whatever was happening in that room burst out into the public realm, the ethnically diverse crowd from many nations around the world heard them tell the mighty works of God.

This was not the only filling of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts – being filled is a continual command and joyously repeatable! – but it was the first.  And it shows what the great purpose of the Holy Spirit is.  Not to give gifts and experiences to God’s People so they can enjoy them like toys.  But to cause them to burst out into the world and make Christ and His Gospel known.

Making a strong case, Graham Cole recently said that the filling of the Spirit is never for it’s own sake in the New Testament.  Experiences are given and should be enjoyed and testified of.  Spiritual gifts should be sought and used.  These, however, always are in service to the greater purpose – the expansion of the Gospel into all the earth.  The Spirit fills, and empowers, and gifts, for that grand purpose.

Pentecost is the Anti-Babel.  To reverse the sin caused division and confusion of the peoples of the world.  It is God’s People filled and empowered to let all peoples hear of God’s mighty works.  It is to bring the Good News of Jesus Messiah to all those who need to hear.  God’s Spirit gives power for God’s Mission.

It’s Pentecost – drink deep, be filled, and let us get to work.

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The Danger of the Good

What are we more in danger of?  Idolizing something bad?  Or idolizing something good?  Where does the biggest danger lie for us?

Bronze SerpentThere’s an interesting story in Israel’s history that warns us of the danger of the good when it is lifted up over God.  Hezekiah was a decent king in a long string of mostly crappy ones.  We’re told he made a lot of efforts at reform.  He destroyed many idols of foreign gods but he also destroyed one thing that was once precious and good in the eyes of God.  He [Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).  2 Kings 18:4

That bronze serpent was made according to the instructions of God.  Israel had saved it since the time of Moses.  Jesus even positively refers to it.  But in the 1,000 years between Moses and Hezekiah, something had happened.  God’s People had started to worship it as an idol; they had exalted it over God.  So, for the reform-minded Hezekiah, it had to go.

In this we see something important.  It’s not the bad things in our lives (the outright disobediences, the gross sins, the obvious idolatries) that are the sneakiest.  It is the good stuff that is most dangerous.

The Bronze Serpent was what God-had-done-for-us-back-then.  It was something good and should have been held up as something to remind them of God and His goodness.  Instead, valuing the good gift over the Giver, they worshipped it instead.

The good stuff for us (the-last-thing-God-did-for-us, our work, our family, our comfort, our ministry), even these can be lifted up over God and become idols.  The danger not being that they are bad, but precisely that they are so good.

Be Still

Be Still

Be still, and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10

Praying my way through the Psalms I came across this well-known verse.  It’s often viewed as an encouragement to inner serenity.  Or it is a spiritual posture to take in the Presence of God.  If applications are made along those lines I certainly don’t wan to take that away from anyone.  To seek God’s peace, to balance one’s inner storm before Him as we spend time in His Presence is a wonderful thing.  In fact, one of the main objectives in prayer may well be to do just that.  And yet, while Psalm 46 doesn’t say less than that, it also says more.

Be still and know that I am God serves as a conclusion to the entire Psalm.  The lead up tells us a lot about.  God is a present help in trouble verse 1 tells us.  The earth will feel like it’s giving way (v 2), the sea is stormy and the mountains are trembling (v 2-3).  Nations are raging and kingdoms are in tumult (v 6).  The world seems as though it is chaotic and the circumstances of God’s People, from their perspective, don’t look cheery.  It is into this reality that the command to be still comes.

Why this matters is that it is saying something much larger than finding inner peace in prayer time.  It is that in times of great upheaval, we must never forget that God is God, and we are not to be moved.  God’s People (both Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians) have faced the tumult of their times.  As Christians today, we face shifts in the our culture and troubles in the world.

When we read the news from North America we’re told from many sources:

That our culture is getting less faithful all the time.  (this is very Western centric but I’ll let that slide for now).

That our children won’t follow in our faith once they hit university.

That the world is getting worse and worse.

That Christianity is going to die unless it changes certain moral beliefs or gets “relevant”.

And so on…

But it is in face of all that, that God’s People are told to be still.  Be still and stay put, stay faithful to God’s great work no matter what this decade brings, or that century.  “The  Church must learn to think in centuries” it has been said, and that is a good maxim.  God is a in control over all history and not on e of His promises will fail.  That’s what is meant by the command to know that I am God.

To be still is to not be moved from the faith once delivered to the saints.  Decades come and decades go, centuries also come and go.  Public opinion goes this way, public opinion goes that way.  It may seem to the faithful that the world is shaking and rocking but we’re told to be still and know that I am God.  To stay where we are in terms of faithful witness and not forget that God is in control.