Who is the Holy Spirit?

“We’ve got spirit, yes, we do! We’ve got spirit how ‘bout you?”

That cheer used to bounce back and forth across the gym during high school basketball games. The cheer comes to mind as we talk about the Holy Spirit, because there are those who confuse “spirit,” that is, the emotion or enthusiasm talked about in the cheer, with the Holy Spirit who is spoken of in the Bible. Still others think of the Holy Spirit as an impersonal power or energy flowing from God.

The Bible, however, teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person, not merely an impersonal force or emotion. It shows this by ascribing to the Holy Spirit intelligence, emotions and will; the key components of personality.

  • In Romans 8:27, for example, the apostle Paul speaks of “the mind of the Spirit,” and adds that the Holy Spirit “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” Such a description fits a personal being, but does not fit an impersonal force.
  • The prophet Isaiah says that when the people of Israel rebelled against God they “grieved his Spirit” (63:10). Paul also describes the Holy Spirit as a personal being with emotions when he warns Christians not to “grieve the Spirit of God” by their behavior (Ephesians 4:30). Paul also speaks in Romans 15:30 of “the love of the Spirit.” A person can have emotions, but we could hardly talk about an emotion having emotions.
  • In speaking of spiritual gifts given to God’s people by the Holy Spirit, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit “gives them to each man, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11). In other words the Holy Spirit is a being with a will, who distributes spiritual gifts as he decides to or wants to. Being able to make decisions is a characteristic of a personal being.

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity—true God with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is called God in the Bible; when the apostle Peter accused a man named Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit, he told him that he had lied to God (Acts 5:4). The Holy Spirit does things only God can do. The Bible says the Holy Spirit was active in the work of creating the universe (Genesis 1:2).

It’s good to know who the Holy Spirit is, but it’s also important to know what the Holy Spirit does. The special work of the Holy Spirit is to create faith in Jesus in the hearts of people who could not and would not believe in him on their own. Paul writes: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

The Holy Spirit does his vitally important work of creating faith in human hearts through the Gospel, the good news that Jesus lived a perfect life on earth, died a terrible death on a cross and rose from the dead to take away the sins of the world and give eternal life to all who believe. In fact, right now the Holy Spirit is at work through these words, inviting you–yes, pleading with you–to believe in Jesus as your Savior and giving you that faith as a free gift.

There was a group of believers in the city of Rome in Paul’s day. When that apostle wrote to them, he reminded them that the Holy Spirit had made his home in their hearts, and gave them this wonderful promise: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

School spirit is great, but the Holy Spirit and his work are absolutely essential. May God grant us a rich measure of his life-giving Spirit!

Life is empty without Jesus

 …you were redeemed from the empty way of life… – 1 Peter 1:18

To live in certain parts of Siberia means to live in some extreme conditions. Over the years, observers of people who live in those extreme conditions of Siberia have described an unsettling phenomenon. The phenomenon has come to be known as “Siberian Hysteria.”

A Japanese author has described Siberian Hysteria in this way. He says, “Try to imagine this: You’re a farmer, living all alone on the Siberian tundra. Day after day you plow your fields. As far as the eye can see, nothing. To the north, the horizon, to the east, the horizon, to the south, to the west, more of the same. Every morning, when the sun rises in the east, you go out to work in your fields. When it’s directly overhead, you take a break for lunch. When it sinks in the west, you go home to sleep. And then one day, something inside you dies. Day after day you watch the sun rise in the east, pass across the sky, then sink in the west, and something breaks inside you and dies. You toss your plow aside and, your head completely empty of thought, begin walking toward the west. Heading toward a land that lies west of the sun. Like someone, possessed, you walk on, day after day, not eating or drinking, until you collapse on the ground and die.” That is a description of Siberian Hysteria.

It is also a description of your life and mine without Jesus.

Think about that for a moment. Isn’t it true that the worst part of living as a lost soul in a broken world is just the sheer emptiness of it all? I can do things to occupy my time. I can find enough to eat. I can find a place to sleep. But if I am doing all this in a vacuum, if I am doing all this surrounded by emptiness–emptiness of meaning, emptiness of hope, emptiness of anything that matters–isn’t it true that I am just a case of Siberian Hysteria waiting to happen?

That’s why God chose to invade my emptiness. He invaded my emptiness in the Person of Jesus. Where once was the awful nothingness created by my own sin, there now is my Savior. His perfect life and death on my behalf destroyed the chasm that had surrounded me, isolated me, made me so alone.

Then he rose from death, just to assure me that my days of emptiness were over; to assure me that I would never be alone again. Ever.

And he has done the same for you.

The word is very near you

The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. – Deuteronomy 30:14

Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union in the earlier 1960s, declared in regard to Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who was first human to journey into outer space, “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.”

No matter how high we go, we will not find God. No matter how deeply we delve into the mystery of the human psyche or dig into the wonders of particle physics, we will not find God.

Yet he is not far from any of us.

Where do we find him? He reveals himself in his word. “The word is very near you.” It is no farther away than the Bible.

How does his word come into our hearts? As it is spoken and read. Notice how the passage lists the mouth before the heart. We don’t find God by delving into our hearts. Rather, he makes himself known as our mouths read his word. That’s how the Holy Spirit opens our minds to understand and writes his word on our hearts.

What does the Spirit teach us through the word? First, no matter how good we are, our hearts have failed to obey our God. We have failed to truly love our neighbor as ourselves and to love God above all. You and I have no excuses for failing. We can’t plead ignorance. The word is very near you.

But what good news the word reveals as well! We could not ascend to God, so he came down to us. He did not come to condemn but to save you and me. He came near to us not only in his word but also in person. Jesus is God with us, Immanuel. His mouth always spoke God’s truth in love. His heart reached out with unselfish compassion. His perfect record of obedience counts for you. His sinless life covers your failures and mine. Believe this with all your heart, because that’s what God’s Word promises.

The word is near you. Unbelief rejects what the word says. Then only guilt and hell remain. But faith cherishes the word, for it brings us Jesus, our only Savior.

Will I Rise from the Dead?

Christians say:  “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  Christians believe Jesus when he says:  “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear my voice and come out.”  Essential to Christianity is the belief that every man, woman and child who has ever lived will rise from the dead on the day Jesus returns.  We call that day Judgment Day.

Right about now you may be asking yourself: “How in the world can Christians believe all those unbelievable things?”  I’ll agree with you.  The thought that all people will rise bodily from their graves someday, wherever and whatever those graves may be, is “unbelievable.”  But the God who tells us this is not in the business of only doing things that fit into the framework of our way of thinking.  In fact, Jesus once said: “With God all things are possible.”  If God brought the universe into existence out of nothing, as the Bible teaches, he certainly has the power to pull our bodies back together from the dust of the earth on Judgment Day.

So, the answer to “will I rise from the dead?” is a simple “yes.”  Perhaps the more uncomfortable question is: “What’s going to happen to me when I rise from the dead?”  The fact that it’s called Judgment Day sounds ominous.  You and I are going to be judged on that day.  When you consider that God, who is holy, demands that you and I be holy and sinless in order to escape his judgment in hell forever, then Judgment Day really sounds like bad news.

But there’s more.  The one who will come to call us out of our graves, the one who will judge us, is the same one who came to save us!  That’s Jesus.  About 2000 years ago he came to live in this world and give his perfect life in your place.  When he died on the cross he covered you with his holiness.  When he rose from the dead he proved that you, too, will rise from the dead.  He makes the same promise to you that he’s always made: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”

And there it is.  There’s the way a person can approach Judgment Day with confidence, not fear.  Jesus has taken away all your sins. Clothe yourself in his holiness and enter everlasting life when you are called forth from your grave.  Believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved.

Power of the Gospel

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.Romans 1:16

Crucifixion was a most shameful way to die. The condemned individual was stripped of both clothing and dignity, nailed to a wooden cross, and left there to die slowly over the course of hours or days. It was an execution reserved for only the very worst of criminals.

With all this in mind, you might expect the early Christians to have been ashamed or even embarrassed about what had happened to Jesus. Instead, from the very beginning, the message of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross has been at the heart and core of Christianity.

As he addresses a group of Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul even calls Jesus’ suffering and death “the gospel,” which means “good news!” He writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

How could Paul and other Christians be so positive about the shameful death of Jesus? The answer is that by Jesus’ death, God was accomplishing something wonderful for all people.

The prophet Isaiah put it like this: “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” The reason Jesus died that shameful death on the cross was to take away all our sins—our lust, pride, selfishness and greed…every cruel word we have said to hurt other people…every wicked action for which we are ashamed and wish we could take back. All these sins, for which we deserve to be punished, were placed on Jesus and he took the punishment in our place.

Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross means that we are saved from God’s punishment for our sins. It means that relying on Jesus as our Savior we can look forward to eternal life in heaven that our Savior has prepared for us.

Thank God for the message of the gospel, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Powerful enough to wash away our sins. Powerful enough to bring us home to heaven one day. Powerful enough, and important enough, for us to rely on Jesus alone for salvation.

What is My Purpose in Life?

“What is my purpose in life?” is a question that gets replayed over and again at every stage of life. College students rack their brains trying to determine their purpose in life as all sorts of philosophies are spread out before them like food at a restaurant buffet. Empty nesters restart the quest when their children have moved out. As their health and abilities decline, the elderly often wonder what purpose they still have.

Have you found your purpose in life?  It is a question that is always demanding an answer.  It is always there haunting us, confusing us, bewildering us.  For many it is a painful question because the answer has eluded them.

The reason why so many of us struggle to find purpose in our lives is because we keep looking to the wrong person for the solution.  While it seems to make sense to look inwardly for our answer, we won’t find anything more than a mirage, a grasping at the wind.

Jesus helps us look beyond ourselves to find our purpose.  You see, our purpose in life is a combination of “out of this world living” and “living our lives for others.”  Jesus states our purpose for us in a book of the Bible called Matthew.  In Matthew 22:37 and following, Jesus unveils that purpose.  He removes the smoke and mirrors.  He states our purpose with crystal clarity.  He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  He then goes on to say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  With these words Jesus directs us to live for God and for others!

Do you want contentment in your life?  Then discover or rediscover God by getting to know him and love him personally through the good news of the Bible.  Be strengthened through his means of grace, found only in his Word of life (the Bible) and his sacraments of Baptism and Communion.  Safeguard your soul as it yearns for the one who loves you more than you can imagine (Jesus).  Use your mind to seek out ways to serve God and to serve others.  Living with God’s purpose as your reason for living is living a life of amazing adventure!

Darkness Pierced

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. – Romans 8:15

For a young man by the name of Andy Nieman, the darkness in life had become complete. “I lived in a place of total darkness,” he later said. Given his life history up to that point, perhaps you and I would have felt the same way.

He grew up in a violent home with alcoholic parents. His earliest memory was that of waking up in a cold house during the winter. He was alone. He remembers screaming in panic because no one was there.

At age ten he was placed in a boarding school. For the next three years he endured abuse. By the time he left, he said, shame covered him “like a cloak.”

In the years that followed, Andy staggered through a haze of alcohol and drugs. He ended up on the streets of Vancouver. The sheer misery and loneliness of his life had now reached a point where he just wanted it to stop. On what he described as “one of the loneliest days of [his] life,” Andy purchased enough cocaine to give himself a fatal overdose.

Before he acted on it, however, something happened. Somewhere along the line, someone had told him about Jesus. And so in that moment, on that day, in the total darkness of his life, Andy simply prayed, “Help me, Jesus.” And Jesus did. An old friend of Andy’s came and carried him through that terrible day. Soon after, the message of God’s Word refreshed Andy in what Jesus Christ had done at the cross to embrace him and forgive him and wash him clean. And the darkness went away.

Today Andy Nieman serves as a Christian pastor, reaching out to those who are still in that “place of total darkness.” To pierce that darkness he has the light of Jesus Christ—the same light that can pierce your darkness too.

Give Thanks to the Lord

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. – Psalm 118:1

Maybe you’ve heard these words spoken at the end of a dinner prayer. Maybe you’ve heard one of your “church” friends say them, and thought: “Good?!? Enduring love?!? Oh really! Show me.”

Oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico like water over Niagara Falls. Anarchists revolted at a meeting of the world’s leaders and set police cruisers on fire. “God is good? He has enduring love? Show me.”

Children are born with birth defects. Convenience store clerks are shot. The economy is uncertain. Unemployment threatens the stability of millions of families. People still die. I am lonely. “God is good? He has enduring love? Show me.”

Has anyone, or anything, ever let you down? Plenty of times. Has your love ever gone unreturned? You’ve stopped counting. Many times you’ve probably wondered where to turn; you’ve asked, “Who can I trust?”

This psalm calls out to you, to me. It’s an “Hallelujah” psalm, meaning “Praise the LORD!” Long ago, God’s people sang the words of this psalm toward the end of their Passover meal. That special occasion was a time for the people to remember how God rescued their nation from slavery in Egypt; it was a picture of God’s rescue of all people from their slavery to sin. The Passover meal was a way that God showed each generation how much he truly loved them.

Would disaster continue to interrupt their lives? Would prosperity be withheld? Would earthly death continue to pick away at their loved ones? Yes, yes, and yes. Yet the people sang out praise and thanks to their merciful God for deliverance from all these trials of life. . . and more: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4,5).

Give thanks to our Savior God for his mercy and deliverance from death through Jesus. Jesus shows us that God is good. Jesus proves that his love for us endures forever.

Human Wisdom versus the Gospel

The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. – 1 Corinthians 1:25

Author David Platt, in his book, Radical, tells the story of what happened when he was standing outside of a Buddhist temple in Indonesia.  As he stood there, he got into a conversation with two people—a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader. Both of them embraced what seemed to be very reasonable belief.  They believed that, while there were superficial differences among the major religions, all of them basically taught the same thing.  Then they asked David Platt what he thought.

He said, “It sounds as though you both picture God…at the top of a mountain.  It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.”

To this the Buddhist and the Muslim said, “Exactly! You understand!”

But then he leaned in and said, “Now let me ask you a question.  What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are?  What would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?”

They both thought for a moment and then responded, “That would be great!”

David Platt then replied, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.”

Current human wisdom believes that all forms of spirituality are essentially the same.  Such a belief seems logical.  Without question it’s very convenient.  And it’s dead wrong.

Never forget how radical the message of the Gospel really is.  It’s not about our getting up to God.  It’s about God coming down to us.  It’s not about making ourselves holy before God.  It’s about God living a holy life in our place.  And it’s not about cleansing ourselves of our wrongs.  It’s about God going to the cross to wash our sins away.

When it comes to human reason versus the Gospel, the Gospel wins every time. Thank God.

Why do bad things happen?

In this world, why do bad things happen at all? One would have to agree that bad things do happen to all people. War, poverty, disease, sickness, accidents, pain, sorrow, death occur everyday to people around the globe. The rich, the poor, the intellectual, the illiterate, the strong, the weak, the old, the young can all be stricken and afflicted by that which we might define as bad.

This is not how God envisioned the world he created. When he was done creating the world, God looked over his creation and we read his evaluation in Genesis 1, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” What happened to this world that was very good? The answer again is found in the Bible, just a few short pages away from Genesis chapter 1. Adam and Eve, the first humans created by God, listened to the temptation of the devil, chose to go against God’s command and so sinned. Sin entered this perfect world. The effect of this sin was felt not only by Adam and Eve, but by all of creation. God told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”

About 4000 years after Creation, the Bible gives us an evaluation of the status of the world with these words: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” All of creation is tainted by evil. The ultimate evil that sin brought into the world is death, which awaits all living things on earth.

What good is there in this world that is so steeped in evil? On this side of eternity, the bad things keep happening. Evil will continue to happen until the end of time. God has not left us without hope. God in his love sent his one and only son, Jesus, into this world to live as our brother and to suffer the sorrows of this life, including a horrible death in our place. In exchange he guarantees us a place where we might enjoy goodness and mercy forever. There will be no more sorrow, or crying or pain. As believers in Jesus, the bad things of this life will pass away and we will be able to experience paradise in heaven.