Jesus introduces the coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples in John 14.15-31 by referring to the “Advocate”, a translation of the Greek term transliterated ‘paraclete’, which means ‘one who comes alongside’, usually in a legal sense. What’s involved in all this? Why does it matter? That’s what I address in this Sunday’s worship gathering, which you can watch below. The message itself begins at 29:17.
This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’ll be talking about a passage of Scripture that includes these verses:
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14.12-14, NLT)
Now, your reaction to these few verses may be heavily dependent on the tradition from which you come. If you come from a skeptical tradition, you’ll likely doubt that anything miraculous was ever undertaken. If you come from a charismatic tradition, you may believe this is a name-it-and-claim-it kind of proof text. And if you come from a more mainline tradition, it probably either scares you or baffles you.
When Jesus said these words to his disciples in the context of the beginning of his farewell discourse, he was encouraging his disciples to embrace the power that would be theirs by the Holy Spirit. See, after Jesus died and rose again, he hung around his disciples for 40 days, and then ascended into heaven. And 10 days later, God sent the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name so that his followers could experience the same power that he had – and, if you read that passage carefully, even greater works could be done than Jesus did!
But what does it mean to “ask me for anything in my name”? Doesn’t that just make Jesus seem like a genie in a bottle?
Well, it can if you don’t read with understanding. When we ask for anything “in Jesus’ name”, what’s implied there is a desire that his will be fulfilled. Praying in Jesus’ name is not some sort of guarantee our prayer will be answered our way; if anything, it’s a humble request that it be answered Jesus’ way.
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit and submit ourselves to God’s will for us in Christ, we will have power to do great things in his name. Two contrasting images come to mind here: plugging in a lamp, and letting a dog off the leash. One is stationary, one is free; but each is doing what it’s designed to do – one with staid brightness, the other with reckless abandon.
Spend a few minutes today, holding that passage before the Lord, asking how he wants it fulfilled in your life.
The mass shooting in Las Vegas last weekend is a terrible tragedy. Many lives were lost, many more people were injured, and emotionally, a lot of people are going to need help to resume some semblance of normality – not just the injured and the families of those who died, but also the bystanders and the people who work at the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooting took place. Long after the news stops talking about it (news channels always find something new and shiny on which to focus), people will still be struggling.
Of course, in this era of social media where everyone seeks to share an opinion, lots of folks are talking about the need for greater gun control, tighter immigration policies, or tougher screening to weed out terrorists. But there is something else that can be done.
Parents can raise their children.
That might sound like an incongruous non sequitur, but think about it: if parents raise their children – not just give birth to them, not just feed them, not just provide for their wants and needs, but raise them – we will have a generation of people who become adults who don’t have a hankering to kill people. That sounds simplistic, but I know too many moms and dads who have engaged in the hard work of raising their kids whose children turn out to be kind, loving adults to believe it can’t be done.
To be sure, there are countless outside influences that work against what conscientious parents are doing, but that only raises the level of the challenge.
It seems like an insurmountable job, and it is. Parents can’t do it on their own.
Parents need God’s help, and they need God’s agents to help them: the church.
When parents acknowledge that the job is too difficult for them to do alone, and they submit themselves to the Lord who knew their children before they were formed in the womb (Psalm 139.16), they give their children to God, recognizing that even parenthood is a form of stewardship; children are ours to raise on God’s behalf.
Then, the community of faith can partner with the parents to help kids grow up to be good, law-abiding citizens, yes, but also to love and serve the Lord. When we introduce God into the lives of children, the Holy Spirit becomes an invisible player in the game of child-rearing – that unpredictable, love-engendering, tongues-of-fire-giving Spirit supports the work of diligent parents and churches. And the result is a generation of adults who in turn raise their children the same way.
Will this work perfectly? Undoubtedly not; because of sin, there will always be challenges to God’s plan for families. But while we pray for those affected, while we work to bring change where change is needed in society, let’s start with our own families. We can bring change; we can be change.
“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth” (Jesus, John 15.16, NLT).
Never one to underestimate the potential of Hollywood to influence how we think, I’d like to have a word with you about a movie that’s just come out called “A Dog’s Purpose”. It’s about a dog that teaches people how to laugh and love, and is reincarnated multiple times, making a special connection with one individual over the course of 50 years (or thereabouts).
Having pets can be a great way to help parents teach responsibility to kids (though I’m not sure it worked with me, despite my parents’ best efforts!). Having pets can be a great way to learn any number of things, though I think it’s iffy that the pet actually teaches any of these things, even though it can be taught to model things like loyalty and obedience.
My greater concern with the movie is the promotion of the idea of reincarnation. This is a philosophical and religious belief held today by many eastern religions. It is not and has never been espoused by the Christian faith; rather than reincarnation, Christ followers believe in eternal life – a life spent in God’s eternal presence when we die. In fact, while some of the eastern traditions base reincarnation on works (the more good you do, the better kind of creature you come back as), the Christian faith bases eternal life on grace.
Rather than having to look over your shoulder to ensure you’re “doing it right”, those who follow Jesus simply have to trust in his grace and love. There’s no fear in following Jesus, no need to be concerned that, for whatever reason, you might “come back” as a mule or a Brahman. No; in the Christian understanding of the world, the only “coming back” will be done by Jesus!
So if you want to enjoy a schmaltzy movie, just go and enjoy it – but don’t let it affect how you think or what you believe.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14.3-4, NRSV).
Happy new year! I hope that 2016 has gotten off to a great start for you.
This past week seems to have been a big week for the passing of famous people. I must admit that I don’t pay a lot of attention to famous people, but one’s use of the Internet seems to make them a trifle hard to ignore.
I was especially intrigued by a quotation from David Bowie, who died this week, who apparently said this: “I don’t know where I am going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”
I’m sure many people found that humorous, in that in this life, David Bowie made sure it was never boring. What saddens me is that he had no sense of what his future destiny was. “I don’t know where I am going from here.” Isn’t that sad?
The whole of the Christian life is not just about “knowing where we’re going”, but the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ certainly includes that. In fact, “knowing where we’re going” is, in part, our impetus to share our faith, and to make a difference as Jesus would have us make in the world.
“Knowing where I’m going” is a big reason I’m not afraid to die. That’s probably true for you, too. But not everybody understands this. Let me encourage you to live your life in Christ in a way that makes others long to have the same confidence you have in where you’ll spend eternity. Because eternity is a long time, and I want everybody to experience ‘forever’ in the presence of the Lord. Don’t you?
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”
“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14.1-7, NLT)