Tag Archives: Apologetics Bible

What do you mean Holy Ghost? Who is the Holy Spirit?

given on Sunday, July 8, 2012

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make noise?  This is just one of those questions people ask in fun; but also this is a question to ponder and to argue with deep-seeded thinkers.  Questions like this are used in schools to develop higher order thinking skills, to create inquisitive minds, or to stimulate a conversation.  The same type of questions creates long, evenings of debate at social gatherings.

Abstract ideas easily frustrate a person who lives in a concrete world and struggles to understand non-materialistic concepts.  Is it any wonder when someone mentions the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit that debates spring up around it, too?  Even the name creates confusion—Holy Ghost to some while others comfortably use Holy Spirit.  How does one explain this third element of the triune?

The answers to these questions are particularly difficult in a society that is more materialistic, more secular, and more skeptical than it was 100, 200, or even 400 years ago.  Americans celebrated another 4th of July this week, but the society we live in today is vastly different than in 1776.

As Christians, we need to be able to put into words exactly what Christianity is, what the triune God is, and what the Holy Spirit/Ghost is.  Skeptics demand physical proof as clear evidence of Christianity, yet faith is an abstract concept itself.  The evidence is in the outcomes of living a Christian life.  The evidence is in the relationships of Christians to their family, their friends, their co-workers, and their enemies.  The evidence is an intangible quality that draws others to them.

The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, synonyms or interchangeable names, is visible in the relationships as well as in the actions of Christians.  The Holy Ghost is God’s presence within us; it is the tool that we use to act.  Holy Ghost is a tangible being that is proven over and over by the acts of Christians everywhere.

Evidence:  the outpouring of people racing to Joplin, the firefighters working around the clock right now trying to control forest fires, the neighbors pouring out to locate missing children, neighbors, aging seniors or complete strangers, the first responders to accidents, the sole individual who hears the cry of a lost child in a store.  The list of Christians who respond is evidence of the Holy Ghost in action.  It is the tool that we use to do the seemingly impossible as well as the simplest action of a hug.

Remember that looking at the world through God’s eyes allows us to apply that simple law of loving one another whether we know someone personally or whether someone is a complete stranger.  The Holy Spirit exists to provide us the ability, the resources, and the action to serve.  God’s dream of a world of humans who live harmoniously in his garden is our dream, too.

Back to the questions, though:  What is the Holy Ghost?  Who is the Holy Spirit?  Why do we need the Holy Ghost?  As Christians, we know that with the Holy Spirit, we can continue to demonstrate God’s love.  We can do whatever we can for all those we can in as many ways as we can—if we allow the Holy Ghost to work through us.

The Apostles and the earliest disciples had a man, Jesus Christ, to teach them how to live out the New Covenant.  God provided a concrete means of teaching the earliest believers how to live under the New Covenant, under one simple law rather than the volumes of law the Israelites created.  When the society surrounding the first converts felt challenged, the physical being of God was destroyed—Jesus was crucified.

At Pentecost, which was a traditional harvest celebration in the Jewish culture, the Holy Spirit baptized the Apostles and early disciples so that they were equipped to continue Jesus’ work.  The Holy Spirit replaces the second element of God, the human being Jesus Christ.  This third being may not be tangible, but is evidenced by the work of Christians then and now.

According to the Apologetics Study Bible article, “Who is the Holy Spirit?” by Dave Sterrett, there are five answers to that question:

  1. the Holy Spirit is fully God,
  2. the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force,
  3. the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Son and the Father
  4. the Holy Spirit indwells Christians; and
  5. we learn that God gives the Holy Spirit to anyone who believes in Jesus.

Wow!  Not just one answer, but five answers to the question of  “Who is the Holy Spirit?”  Sterrett also references Bible verses from both the Old and the New Testaments to demonstrate that the Holy Ghost has and continues to be part of the triune God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  The Holy Spirit is just as mysterious and complex as God because they are one in the same.

Beginning with just the second verse in Genesis, Sterrett points out the Holy Spirit was included:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.  (the NIV)

He continues with references from Job and Psalms.  Even a review a concordance shows even more references to the Spirit.  Of course, one can expand the research by looking for additional terms:  Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, Counselor, Friend, Tongues of Fire, Breath, Wind, and so on.

Looking at the references in John:14-16, I found the arguments for the Holy Spirit parallels those in Luke’s writings:

John 14:14-18:  15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

John 14:25-26:  25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 15:26-27:  26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

John 16:5-15:  “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt[g] in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

The arguments are all there, in the Bible, so why the questions:  Who is the Holy Spirit?  What does the Holy Ghost mean?  How do we know there is a Holy Spirit?  What evidence is there that the Holy Ghost is a presence among us even today?

We may live in the 21st century, in a society filled with skeptics and non-believers, but the evidence exists all around us.  The Holy Spirit is present.  Take courage in this understanding and step out knowing you are equipped to do God’s work.

In Eugene Peterson’s The Message Remix:  Solo—an uncommon devotional, on day 246 he refers to Acts 4:24-31.

This excerpt primarily is a prayer that we can still use today.  In verse 23 he begins with the connection to the Old Testament, “By the Holy Spirit you spoke through the mouth of your servant and our father, David . . .” Then at the end of the prayer in verse 31, Luke describes the arrival of the Holy Spirit and how it equipped the Apostles and earliest disciples:

While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook.  They were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Words with fearless confidence.

Today we may not feel the church tremble and shake, but I know the Holy Spirit is present and working through us.  I know what fearless confidence is.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We know you have commissioned us

to continue making disciples of Christ,

to transform this world through the New Covenant.

We hesitate all too often thinking we cannot do it.

We fear that we do not have what it takes to do the work.

Thank you, too, for the gift of the Bible.

With these tools and prayer, we know that we can

Fulfill our callings with fearless confidence.  –Amen

 

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The Big E(vangelism): What is the good news that we are to share?

given on Sunday, March 4, 2012:  the second in a series about evangelizing in the 21st century

Okay, last week we tackled what the word evangelism is and why it makes us so uncomfortable.  Evangelism is the good news that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, Jesus Christ, so that we could have eternal life, John 3:16.

That one verse serves as the foundation for almost all conversations concerning ‘the good news.’  Yet how in the world can the birth and death of one individual—man and God—be good news?  If we are to spread the good news, we need to know the good news in words that make sense to us and to others who are skeptical or non-believing.

Face it.  We have all heard the same platitudes repeated throughout our life.  Parents scold their kids that if they continue doing wrong they will not get to heaven.  Schoolteachers ominously tell us that we are being bad and that will lead us down the wrong path.  The older generation shakes their heads and says what is this world coming to.  Everybody seems to know what happens if evil wins, but nobody is able to give a concrete account of what happens next—next being after our bodies die here on earth.

Is that the good news?  We have to live a good life here on earth to reach heaven after death?  The skeptics ask how do we know.  We have no concrete proof.  We have the promises of the Bible.  We have the teachings of the disciples and theologians who have used all the methods that Jesus demonstrated while he was living.  Yet, we do not seem to have the words that are needed to convince or to assure others just what the good news is.

Surprisingly, though, I think we do have the answers.  We just have never been able to confidently state exactly what the good news is.  The Apologetics’ Bible article, “If There is Such Good Evidence for God, then Why Don’t More People Believe?” convinces me that I should be able to define the good news in ways that people can understand.

The article uses the contemporary arguments against smoking as a metaphor for understanding the good news.  Scientists have researched the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and even complications of pregnancy and are overwhelmingly convinced that smoking is directly related to these life-threatening conditions.

Researchers have tried to confirm the existence of Jesus throughout the last 2,000 plus years.  The evidence continues to prove that this man did exist.  The analysis of the scripture—Old and New Testaments—connects and reconnects with the secular evidence of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and theologians.  The more in-depth I search for answers, the more solid my understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The article poses the question, “Why don’t more people believe?”  The next statement is “The basic cause of all unbelief is a sinful heart.”  The article continues:

One reason may be ignorance of the evidence.  This is why it is important for Christians to study the evidence and be prepared to present it in a logical, gracious way.  The Bible commands us to “always be ready to give a defense” (I Peter 3:15) as you “go . . . and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)

Therefore, we must study the Bible in order to be comfortable in discussing it confidently with others why may not know it so well.  This is a lifelong process.

Yet the article continues:

. . . When told about the gospel, some people realize that a life given to Christ will result in sacrifice and serving others.  The idea that they have to give up their sin compels them to reject God no matter how good the evidence is.  Still others say they reject God because they’ve seen Christians act sinfully.  This amounts to using the sins of others to justify your own sins and unbelief.

These descriptors sound familiar to me.  Others have talked abou them before.  I have felt inadequate to address their disbelief.  And, I have also used the sins of others to justify my poor decisions.  Now I must focus on God and not fall from grace.

Here is the clencher in the article:

Belief is like a two-sided coin:  on one side the evidence; the other side is the will.  Just as some people continue to smoke despite the evidence, some refuse to believe in God even when they know the evidence.  Others remain skeptical, because they are steeped in a worldview that does not allow them to evaluate the evidence properly.

A two-sided coin:  you can believe or not.  As one who does believe, I think telling the good news, or evangelizing, is primarily living a God-centered life.  We live a life that models the behaviors that Jesus taught us.  We see this world through God’s eyes.   What better way to learn the concrete proof needed so unbelievers can see God in our lives!

The Beatitudes describe the behaviors that God asks from us.  The first scripture reference for today is Matthews 5:3-5:

3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.  (the MSG)

These are the first verses of the beatitudes Jesus first shared in the Sermon on the Mount.  He outlines in the beatitudes the behaviors needed to reach the kingdom of heaven (which sound more familiar in the NIV translation):

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These behaviors are concrete.   These are ideas that are real to us in the 21st century.  Still there is that phrase again:  kingdom of heaven.  What makes that term so impossible for us to explain in a comfortable manner that others can understand?

One issue is we do not understand the concept of kingdom.  Since the colonies separated from England, kingdom has become an archaic word, an outdated word.  We do not use the term kingdom to mean a specific, geographical location on this earth.  Kingdom is not a word we use in casual conversation and to connect it to heaven creates a whirlwind of images in our minds.

During ancient times, kingdom was a common reference to a region that was ruled by a specific family.  The size widely varied, but the ruling family gave the people the law of that kingdom.  Today our society is not subject to one ruling family; rather we are all involved through the democratic principles of this republic.

With all the confusion over the term “kingdom of heaven” one can certainly understand how skeptics and non-believers are not convinced that the “kingdom of heaven” or the “good news” exists.  After reading a few articles, reading the scriptures referenced, and stopping to reflect and talk to God, I think I have some concrete evidence of the kingdom of heaven:

  • a baby’s hand automatically wraps around your finger,
  • the robins sing when snow is still in the air (not the ground this year),
  • the bite of the summer’s first tomato off your very own vine,
  • the peepers first song on a spring evening,
  • the smell of honeysuckle wafting through the breeze,
  • the sight of a small calf trying to stand for the first time,
  • the excitement of completing a crossword puzzle,
  • receiving that first paycheck,
  • the sound of a child calling for mom or dad,
  • the toe-tapping sensation when the music comes on,
  • the thrill of wind racing past your face on a bike or in a convertible,
  • the tug on the line as a fish takes the bait,
  • the thrill when pushing off for a downhill run on the skis
  • the sunset or the sunrise across the ocean,
  • the smell of supper when you open the door after a long day,
  • the joy of blowing bubbles and watching them float upwards,
  •  and …………………………. fill in the blank.

 

We have the proof of the kingdom of heaven.  It is right here with us and provides us with that inner joy that defeats the evil that exists around us.  It places good as the priority in our lives.  We see the world through God’s eyes.

The Big E, evangelism, is the gospel, the good news, and we are to spread the good news.  How many times do we react to some tiny little thing that gives us joy—these are the times we experience the kingdom of heaven.  How often do others say that it certainly does not take much to make us happy—we are modeling Christian life in the kingdom of heaven?  How many times do our thoughts turn to prayer when we hear a siren—we are part of the kingdom of heaven?

Evangelism is easy.  All we have to do is to see God in our lives today.  All we have to do is model God’s teachings.  All we have to do is accept God’s grace and find the joy it brings into our hearts.  Is not that easy to do and to share with others?  The good news is good living even when surrounded with evil.

Share the good news and you will be evangelizing.  In the last verses of our scripture, Jesus again tells the disciples how to reach the kingdom of heaven:

. . .  19-20“Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.   (the MSG)

Keep it simple, and you will know the kingdom of heaven.  Live it and others will soon know the kingdom of heaven, too.  The disciples did it, so can you.

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for such a sparkling day filled with hope and promises.

Thank you for making our lives much easier than it was in ancient times.

Thank you for loving us so much that you sent your own Son to guide us.

As we begin a new week, help us to keep centered on You.

Remind us to look at the world and all that we do through your eyes.

Help us to use the Lenten season to re-evaluate our lives.

Help us to make the corrections in our lives

So others may see the kingdom of heaven in their lives, too.

–Amen.

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Telling the story: Daniel in the Lion’s Den

given on Sunday, February 5, 2012

Telling the Story:  Daniel & the Lions’ Den

Do you know your lions’ den?

 

Today’s Old Testament story is not as difficult to believe as the others we have reviewed, but figuring out how it fits into the New Testament much less into our 21st century lives is a challenge.  Why should we continue to tell the story?

That is how I began thinking about this story.  Why should we tell it to our family and friends much less others who do not have God as part of their lives?  As I turned to my Bible assortment and references, I began searching for an answer.  There it was:  a question:  “Do you sometimes feel like a misfit?”

Daniel was living in exile.  He was making his life away from his large faith family.  He did have his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but they were certainly tested.  Why Daniel’s friends were even thrown into a fiery furnace, but they were delivered because they refused to give up their faith in God.

The people followed pagan practices praying to various gods, golden images and even the king.  They could not understand the faith of the Jewish exiles who were not following the practices of the culture in which they were living.  Much less, these men were finding favor in the king’s eyes.  Jealousy developed and the distrustful local leaders began plotting against the Jewish exiles.

Daniel maintained his own Jewish faith and practices.  These very practices are what lead him in his daily life.  He applied the principles in all that he did, he performed his job so successfully that he continued to outshine all the other government figures.  The king, much less three kings, found that his work was far better than anybody else’s.  The kings learned that he could be trusted, that his superior work led to more success, and even his own demeanor was something to be respected.

Undoubtedly Daniel did feel like a misfit.  He was in an unfamiliar culture, working with pagans, living through one king’s rule after another, and yet he maintained his own faith, his own lifestyle, and his own character.  Even though Daniel was the misfit in the local community, he remained faithful to God.

Here we live in a culture where our faith does not isolate us, and yet we may feel like misfits, too.  How, you ask?

Well, consider our daily lives today.  We live in communities that are filled with problems.  We step out of our homes and go to work where all too often we find our personal ethics challenged.  We get involved in our hobbies—sometimes to excess.  We decide to spend an evening out and are easily swayed to drink too much or to gamble too much, why we even eat too much.

Do we sometimes feel like misfits in any of these situations or do we “join the crowd” and begin doing what everybody else is doing?  Sometimes we do it because we do not see the danger in the behaviors.  Sometimes we do it because we do not want to seem different from the others.  Sometimes we do it because we forget to apply God’s rules.

The result is that we may not feel like a misfit for the moment, but as we review the events we may begin to feel uncomfortable with our choices.  Maybe we even feel guilty and ask God for his forgiveness.  These are the reasons we tell Daniel’s story of being thrown into a lions den.

Daniel did not turn away from God.  Despite living in exile among pagans, and despite working a job where others did not practice ethics, Daniel lived an honest, faithful life.  His work was exemplary.  His interpretations of the dreams were accurate even if it was hurtful.  He was trusted.  He was promoted to the top of the other governors because he was that good.  The kings were able to look past his faith and focus on his work and his personality.  He was not a misfit by the kings’ evaluations; he was a model of integrity.

Today we tell the story of Daniel and the lions’ den as a way to make sure our children and even ourselves remember the importance of remaining true to God.  We all are thrown into a lions’ den.  We all become misfits at some time or another.  Daniel’s story is a model to us of how to keep God-centered.

Living in the 21st century when all the media, all the workplaces, and all the society around us screams at us to follow the crowd.  Do whatever it takes to make a buck.  Take care of yourself only.  We may live in a society that was established on individual freedoms, but we are living like we are slaves to the materialistic culture around us.

Daniel may have been tossed into an actual lions’ den, but I propose that we are all living in a lion’s den—even if it is allegorical.  Can we identify our personal lions’ den?  I believe that maintaining my faith protects me from the lions in today’s culture.

My first professional job after college was to work for a newspaper.  Even though it was just a local paper rather than a nationally known publication, I was proud to be a journalist.  The role was interesting and I did enjoy it until the principles taught in journalism school were challenged.

In 1976, our country’s bicentennial year, I entered the work force firmly believing that I could save the world as a journalist.   I jumped at the chance to work on a local newspaper.  I had been taught the canons of journalism at one of the most reputable journalism colleges in the nation—MU.  I was confident that those principles along with my faith would make it possible to change the world.

At least that is what I thought until I faced the cruel truth of business.  Newspapers can survive, as all forms of media can, based on circulation.  The more subscriptions a newspaper has, the more it can charge for advertising.  The more subscriptions, the more likely businesses will buy advertising.  Even journalism, the fourth branch of government—after legislative, executive and judicial—was dependent on numbers!

Sad to say, after almost a year I discovered that my personal ethics as a journalist were challenged.  I was asked/told to sign a document that verified the subscription count for the newspaper.  The numbers on that document were greatly inflated.  I felt trapped.  Either sign the paper or risk being fired.  Signing the paper went against all my training and my personal standards.

The requirement of a job forced me to reconsider my own career.  I chose to leave the job and changed to teaching.  Surely in teaching journalism I could make a difference in the world.  In teaching, I would not be at risk of being a misfit.

The boss was my lion.  A person who did not follow God’s law was devouring me.  He was lying in order to get more money.  He was placing me in a position of jeopardy, too.  My idealistic world was challenged, and I felt like I had been tossed into the lions’ den.

Each of us is a misfit in today’s society.  Each of us must handle a den of lions at some point in our lives.  Daniel is our model.  We need to tell Daniel’s story as a method to reinforce our teachings.  Our children need to learn how to maintain their values even when living among others who do not.  Our young workers need to learn that being honest and trustworthy on the job is more important than playing games with other workers.  Business leaders need to remember that operating a successful business depends on honest dealings and great customer service rather than shortcuts or shoddy workmanship.

The Apologetics Bible includes four lessons from the book of Daniel.  They may seem simple, but think about what a difference these four lessons would make in today’s culture:

  1. Don’t be surprised when you encounter opposition to your beliefs.
  2. Don’t take what belongs to God and give it to anyone or anything else.
  3. Don’t let the world seduce you away from what you know is right.

Daniel was thrown into a lions’ den after Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a furnace.  All were misfits, yet they lived by their faith.  God is by our side all the time.  His commandment is our overriding principle under which all decisions should be made.  If we truly live our faith and practice, we are rewarded.  Others can reward us in our earthly lives for jobs well done, but most importantly God rewards us with eternal life.

Jesus, himself, knew Daniel’s story.  He was thrown into the lions’ den after just three years preaching, teaching, and healing.  His lions were even his own people—the Pharisees and the priests.  He was thrown away on a cross, but even then God lifted him up into heaven beside him.  Are you able to keep your faith among all the lions of today?  The reward is priceless.

Dear Loving Father,

We know lions are living all around us,

     help us identify them.

Once we identify the lions,

     help us stay strong in our faith.

Guide us daily to develop our practices

     so we can testify to others

     the rewards of loving one another.

May we be 21st century Daniels

     working to transform this world.

Amen

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