“Mercy, Not Sacrifice”

Stethoscope 2

Matthew 9: 11-13 “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Pharisees proposed a question aimed at deflating our joy and defeating our faith. The problem is not so much in the reminder that we who follow Jesus are lowly sinners. We know we are. There’s no use denying it.

No, the problem with the question is that it plays on a bigger fear we have to fight. “Why should Jesus, the Holy Son of God, want to be so close to me?” Does he really want to? Do I need to be better first? Those questions can only send us down the road of doubt.

Our options seem sorely limited at first. We can pretend to be something we are not, just like the Pharisees. Then we add hypocrisy to all our other sins. We can despair that Jesus really loves us. Maybe his friendship is all a sham. We can conclude that Jesus has misrepresented himself. He’s not the Son of God he claims to be. In any case, we can expect the world to keep attacking our faith by pounding the slogan, “God loves good little boys and girls.” In response, we must follow Jesus closely, and hear him often, to hold on to the truth that God loves all little boys and girls.

That’s where Jesus led with his reply. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus had not come to Matthew’s house to approve of Matthew’s sins, or the sins of his friends. That should be clear enough. That’s not the life we find when we follow him, either. Those who want an excuse to continue to indulge their favorite sins aren’t going to find it by following Jesus.

The secret to understanding how Jesus could fraternize with Matthew and his friends was found in the words of the prophet Hosea: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Far more than God is interested in seeing people go through the motions of religious ritual, he wants to see his people treat each other with love and mercy. That’s not to say that worship is unimportant. He himself commanded the sacrifices mentioned by the prophet. But worship and sacrifice are not ends in themselves. They are intended to work a change in us. He wants them to fill us with faith and move us to the same mercy on others that he has had on each of us.

That is what Jesus was doing here. He was here for mercy. He was the Good Doctor bringing the spiritual cure for sins. And when you know the pain of your sins, there is nothing you want from him more. I once dislocated my left elbow playing softball. Ordinarily, I don’t relish going to the doctor. They poke and they prod. They sometimes find problems where things seemed to be working. They don’t leave well enough alone.

But when the upper end of my forearm was removed from the elbow joint by about an inch, I couldn’t get to the emergency room fast enough. No matter how I moved my arm, no matter how I positioned my body, there was simply no relief from the pain and discomfort until the doctor saw me and put it all back into place.

Every one of us is thoroughly sick with sin. The pain is unrelenting. But follow Jesus, and this is what you will find: Life with a merciful Doctor who relieves you of your painful guilt by taking your sins away. He hasn’t come to call the righteous. But he does come to declare you righteous through the forgiveness of your sins.

“Follow Me”

Follow Me

Matthew 9:9 “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”

Matthew had paid a horrible price to have a life of ease. As far as his fellow Jews were concerned, he might just as well have sold his soul to the devil. He had sold it to the Romans to get rich off of tax money. Now Jesus’ call “Follow me!” meant leaving the tax collector life, with its easy money and shabby reputation, behind.”

You may be faced with the same kinds of choices Matthew had. The question then will be, “Will I follow the path of faithfulness, or will I compromise myself to follow the path of pleasure or success?” Maybe it’s money that would lead you to sell out like Matthew. Maybe it’s something else. It could be power. You don’t have to become a dictator in some third world country to abuse power. You can throw such a fit when you don’t get your way that you control the members of your own family instead of serving them in love. You get your way, but look at what it does to others.

It can be love. “How can there be anything wrong with love?” we wonder. It’s true that it’s hard to have too much of the kind of love that selflessly serves others. But the kind of love celebrated in popular songs, love for a man or a woman, can be a very selfish thing. It has led more than one person to compromise their morals for a few moments of pleasure. And that path leads to a whole host of problems– disease, premature parenthood, broken hearts, poverty, and lost respect– besides the spiritual wreckage it has caused.

In the end, it’s a question of who will lead, and who will follow. You can put yourself first, and hope that Jesus will trail behind. But I can tell you that path never leads to heaven-ever. Jesus still calls you, like he called Matthew, “Follow me.” That means leaving your self-directed and sin-directed life behind. Nothing else can be number one. Nothing else can be your first love. That’s the life we leave behind.

Do you think that Matthew regretted the change? That’s not the impression he gives “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples.”

Look at the dinner Matthew held at his home that evening. Luke’s gospel tells us it was more than just another supper. “Then Levi (Matthew) held a great banquet for Jesus at his house.” Matthew’s new found life of following Jesus was a gift worth celebrating! They feasted. They celebrated. He and his friends and Jesus and his disciples enjoyed good food, good company and had a good time.

Albert Nolan comments on the meal at Matthew’s, “It would be impossible to overestimate the impact these meals had upon the poor and the sinners. By accepting them as equals, Jesus had taken away their shame, their humiliation, and guilt. By showing them that they mattered to him as people he gave them a sense of dignity and released them from their old captivity. The physical contact he must have had with them at the table…must have made them feel clean and acceptable. Moreover, because Jesus was looked upon as a man of God and a prophet, they would have interpreted his gesture of friendship as God’s approval on them. They were now acceptable to God.” This joyful meal in Jesus’ presence was a happy application of the forgiveness he would soon purchase for them by his death on the cross. This was the life they found in response to his invitation, “Follow me.”

This is still the life we find in response to his invitation to follow him. If you are following Jesus, you are doing more than learning, though you are certainly learning. You are living in the joy and blessing of Jesus’ presence. Where two are three are gathered in his name, around his word, he still promises, “There I am with them.” He still meets with those who follow him in a joyful meal where he comes to us in bread and wine to apply the forgiveness he purchased for us by his death on the cross. We still feast and celebrate that he came to live with us at Christmas, that he gave his life and rose for us at Easter. This is the joyful life we find because Jesus still calls to us today, “Follow me.”

Heirs…and Sufferers

Depressed

Romans 8:16-17 “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

As God’s sons, we are heirs. As good as it is to be God’s children now, there are better gifts waiting in our future. But like most heirs, we don’t know all the details about what is to come.

Are you an heir in someone’s last will on and testament? As far as I know, I am included in the will of my earthly father. I assume that about one fourth of what’s left when my parents die will be mine. I have some vague ideas about what that will include, but time can change things, and I don’t know the specifics of much of what they have or plan.

There is no doubt that you and I are included in the will of our heavenly Father. He has been very specific in promising us a piece of heaven, a resurrected and perfected body, and life that never ends. This inheritance isn’t an exclusive gift for a few special saints who have lived distinguished lives. As believers in our Lord Jesus we are all God’s children, and we all share that sacred status that makes us heirs of God and coheirs with Christ.

Paul also reminds us of a sobering truth now that we are God’s children. While God loves us deeply, in this life we also share our Savior’s suffering. Paul slipped that in when he said, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

If we are God’s children and heirs of heaven, why should we have to suffer? If my dad owned the grocery store, I wouldn’t expect to go hungry. If my dad owned the factory, I wouldn’t think it would be hard to find a job. If my dad ran the universe, wouldn’t you think my life would be easier?

But it’s not easy. We suffer. Whether we like to think about that or not, at least Paul is being real. He spoke from personal experience. He himself had been imprisoned, flogged, pelted with stones, and beaten by the enemies of the gospel. He knew what it was like to suffer, and he knew that he wasn’t alone.

Our own suffering as God’s children may take different forms, but it hasn’t ceased. I can name a half dozen men who worked for major corporations, who weren’t allowed to rise as high as their skills could have taken them because they refused to compromise their personal morals. They lived as God’s children and they suffered for it. I could walk you through the membership list of my congregation, and for each active family I could mention at least one serious tragedy they have endured. They are God’s children, but they suffer, and that’s hard for us to understand.

Individually, why any of us suffer this particular way, or this much compared to everyone else, is information our Father hasn’t shared. But this much he has revealed: Our suffering helps us to realize how helpless our sin has made us. Over and over again it rehearses us in our utter dependence on our heavenly Father for all things. It leads us to repent of the pride that thinks, “I can do this all by myself.”

In the twelfth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians Paul says that God uses suffering to make us weak so that we won’t become conceited. But then something wonderful happens. We discover God’s sufficient grace. We find the love that justifies us and forgives our sins sustaining our faith. We experience his steady, quiet power resting on us and supplying our needs. We are God’s children, who share our Savior’s suffering. Since the Spirit convinces us we are God’s children, we can be certain our suffering will bless us in the end.

The Spirit of Sonship

Father Son

Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

As children of God, we don’t live as slaves to fear. That is not our status, though it once was. From time to time we may find ourselves returning to that view of life. It is the product of our sinful nature. We live as slaves to fear when we view God mainly as the enforcer, an other-worldly task master who will let us feel the lash of his whip, and ultimately demand our lives, if we do not keep in line and behave ourselves.

You know what that is like. When we think that the heartache of today is God’s repayment for the sins of our past, we are living as slaves to fear. When we resist the urge to indulge ourselves because we might get caught, or we might catch some disease, or we might be shamed, we are living as slaves to fear. Siegbert Becker tells the story of such a man he knew when he was in graduate school. “Do you mean to tell me,” the man asked one day, “that if you knew that you could get by with it, there’s nobody in the world you’d want to kill?” When Becker replied he didn’t think he could do something like that, the man continued, “If I knew that the police wouldn’t catch me, there are six people on this campus that I’d kill right now.”

That’s living as a slave to fear, and it can be effective at controlling behavior. But we should not think obedience like that pleases God. Even if it gets us to obey, it reflects a bad relationship with him, not a good one. God is no more pleased with obedience like that than parents are pleased when the threat of a spanking or a grounding is the only thing that gets their whining children to do their chores.

What the Lord seeks more than obedience are sons. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.” The sacred status we share as children of God is sonship. Being sons is more than being children. All of us, men or women, male or female, are sons. That means that we have a recognized, legal status in God’s family. All the rights and privileges of membership belong to each one of us.

That involves a striking change for people who once were slaves to fear. That change was possible because the one and only Son, Jesus Christ, was willing to trade places with us. By his death on the cross he removed the sins that disqualified us for a place in the family. By sending us his Spirit, and calling us to faith, he adopted us into the family. Now we all share this sacred status with him.

That means we enjoy a Father’s tender affection. “And by him (that is, the Spirit of sonship) we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ God doesn’t want some distant and formal relationship with the children he has adopted. He doesn’t hold us at arm’s length. He wants us to know deep affection and closeness. The sin that once kept us apart has completely been removed. We don’t have to be afraid.

In order to impress this on us, he uses some of the most intimate family relationships to illustrate. In other places he compares it to the love between husband and wife–sometimes in terms that might make us blush. Here he speaks of the love between a Father and his child. That is more than a written fact. His very Spirit impresses it on our hearts.

Think of what it means to call him Father. I call most of the people to whom I am closest by their first names: my brothers and sisters, my children, my wife. But I don’t call my father, “John,” or my mother, “Mary Elin.” In the case of parents, there are titles that express our shared affection more intimately, terms of endearment that reflect the care they have always had for me, and the trust (at times even dependence) that I have had in them. Whether you say “father or mother,” “mom or dad,” “mommy or daddy,” “mamma or pappa,” these terms describe people who love you unconditionally. They would give their lives to help you. They have sacrificed and denied themselves so that you could succeed. They have always been on your side, even when that meant laying down the law to keep you out of trouble.

At least, that’s the ideal. But even if human parents fail, we are God’s children who enjoy a divine Father’s love and affection. It’s one of the privileges of former slaves the Spirit turns into sons.

The Spirit’s Secret Wisdom

Bible Dim Light

1 Corinthians 2:11-13  “Who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”

So many people want to find God by looking inside themselves. Looking inside yourself is a fine thing to do…if you want to find yourself. No one knows you better than your own spirit inside of you, Paul says. But don’t be surprised if you don’t like what you see. C.S. Lewis wrote at the end of his book Mere Christianity, “Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay.” He might just as well have said, “Look inside yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.” That’s what the natural self looks like. Lusts I can’t get rid of, anger I am not proud of, stinginess, impatience, pride all run around deep down inside. It’s not a pretty picture.

But I’m not God, and neither are you. If we really want to know God, it’s his Spirit we need. And by calling us to faith, that is what God has given us: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” When Paul says “understand” he does not mean it in the sense that we have God figured out according to the rules of logic. The Spirit does not give us a new mathematical formula to make sense of the Trinity. He doesn’t take us through a dissection of communion wafers, like high school students dissecting a frog in biology class, so that we can see how “This is my body” works. He doesn’t give us some new kind of telepathy, so that we can sense exactly what good God has in mind for every cross and every burden he lays on us. He doesn’t give us balance sheets or spread sheets that illustrate how the sacrifice of one person, Jesus Christ, accounts for the uncountable sins of billions of people. But he makes it possible for us to know all these things, and to believe that they are true, even though we cannot begin to explain them. This wisdom of God, his grace freely given, has been revealed to us by his Spirit.

That Spirit reveals such things to us, not when we are trying to find the Spirit hidden in the deep recesses of our hearts, but in his word, his message, which is the wisdom of God: “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” The word and the Spirit always go together. Jesus taught us, “The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life.” Paul urged the Ephesians to take up “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Paul didn’t expect the Corinthians, and he doesn’t expect us, to channel all these truths by channeling the Spirit. He doesn’t expect us to wait until the Spirit directly drops the knowledge into our heads out of heaven. He spoke and wrote words, words taught by the Spirit, words expressing spiritual truths because they are spiritual words. Paul’s message is now our message. But it is really neither his nor ours. It is God’s own wisdom revealed by his Spirit.

This is why we preach and teach. The wisdom we need to get along as citizens and employees, the wisdom of math and science and history and literature, is taught in the schools, and they do an admirable job by and large. But there is only one wisdom that saves, one wisdom that can lead us to God. That is the Spirit’s wisdom, the wisdom of God’s word.

The King Supreme

Crown Moss

Colossians 1:17-18 “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

Why do the heavenly bodies continue in their orbits instead of crashing into each other like a box of ping-pong balls poured out on the floor? Why does the chair on which you are sitting continue to support you instead of collapsing in a pile of splinters? Why do the laws of physics keep order, and everything doesn’t fall apart in utter chaos? It is because God’s Son is King. Creation’s Maker continues to hold it all together as part of his ruling work.

Doesn’t this part of his ruling work touch our lives as well? Each morning I eat a bowl of cereal and drink a glass of orange juice that my body is processing at this very moment. It is drawing the energy with which I am able to live and function. When I get up, I inhale a medication which helps keep my lungs open so that I can draw my next breath. None of that happens by chance. Jesus is our Maker whose ruling power is still making all of it work. None of this depends upon my faith in him. It would all still be happening if I rejected him, even if I had never heard of him at all. Whether we acknowledge him or not, God’s Son is the King whose power makes us and sustains us today.

We, however, do acknowledge him. And by faith we enjoy a special relationship with him as our Head. “And he is the head of the body, the church.” As with the Creator-Creation relationship, it is natural for us to think of the head of a body as ruling and directing the body, isn’t it? I don’t mean to be too graphic, but have you ever literally seen a chicken with its head cut off? I used to help my aunt and uncle butcher chickens. I can tell you that without the heads, those bodies literally ran and flapped all over the place. Missing the head, the bodies had no rule, they had no direction. The head rules the body.

But the connection of a head with a body is ever so much more intimate than telling the body what to do. Life flows from the head to the body to which it is directly attached. The head observes the body and directs the proper care to each of the parts. The head is deeply concerned about the health and survival of the body to which it is attached.

So our spiritual Head, who rules and guides us as King, also died and rose again from the dead to promise his body life. “…he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Do you spot the promise to us in this description of Jesus? If he is the beginning of those who died and rose again, if he is the firstborn of those who have risen from the dead, then others will follow. As our Head, our King does so much more than rule. He gives us life, life that will never end.

This is not a King who taxes his people into poverty so that he can live in obscene luxury. He holds their entire world together. He gives them direction. He gives them life. Then he gives them life after death. There is a long list of religious hucksters trying to offer us a better deal than the one we have in Jesus–previously undisclosed secrets for a fuller life, religion that lets you feel good about yourself, easier rules to follow. The Apostle Paul wants us to understand that nothing is better than what we already have in Jesus. He is the King supreme.

Rescued from the Dominion of Darkness

Cave Light

Colossians 1:13-14 “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Once, every one of us was under the “dominion of darkness.” Even after God’s word enlightens us, the darkness finds ways of intruding into our lives. It clouds our ability to discern between good and evil. If something is easier, or makes us feel happier, we are inclined to believe this is good. Often this is the darkness blinding us to the truth. If something requires sacrifice on our part, or makes our lives harder, we tend to see this as evil. The darkness doesn’t want us to see that it is good to be patient with others, to practice self-control, to endure hostility without lashing back.

The dominion of darkness presents an even deeper danger, however. Under its dominion, I don’t know who I am. I wouldn’t accept the truth if it were shown to me. We think we are okay just the way we are. We see little or no need to change. If not altogether perfect, our few faults may be easily excused. If we do perceive that there is a serious gap between God’s demands and our performance, we think that we have it within ourselves to close the gap. Just try harder. As someone once put it, we are like the naive plumber looking at Niagara Falls with a pipe wrench and saying, “I can fix this.” Under the dominion of darkness, Scripture passages such as, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature,” or “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” are speaking a foreign language. We can’t see how lost we are, unable to save ourselves.

But now, God himself has rescued us “and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” Where we stand now, God’s Son is King. In his light, we can see again. We can see that God has made us safe, not because we are good, not because we have improved, but because in God’s Son “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

In Paul’s day, “redemption” was part of the legal language for dealing with slaves or people trapped in inescapable debt. They could be released if a proper payment was made–either purchasing them out of slavery or paying off their debt. Then they had redemption and were free to go.

God’s Son, our King, is our Redeemer. In him we have redemption. Ordinarily we would think this means he dipped into the royal treasury and handed over a bag of gold coins, jewels, or something valuable. I have bonded people out of jail a few times in my ministry. It meant going to the bail bondsman and writing a check, or handing over the cash, or letting them swipe my credit card. Of course, I’m just a poor minister. A King would be in much better position to fork over the necessary dough to make this happen.

If that is what he did for us, we would have every reason to love and thank him, and follow him faithfully as our King forever. But that is not what he did. He didn’t redeem us with cash or trinkets or a credit card. He became the payment. He let himself be killed on a cross so that our debt would be paid, and we would be free to go. Abraham Lincoln described the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers at Gettysburg as “the last full measure of their devotion.” Though our King lives again, the life he gave for our redemption, and the unimaginable suffering he endured in the process, most certainly expresses the full measure of his devotion to you and me. Is there anyone else we could possible prefer as our King?

Just in case we don’t understand the nature of this redemption, Paul defines it this way: the forgiveness of our sins. We have been released from any and all of the claims against us because of our sins. The penalty has been paid. Our guilt has been removed. We are free from God’s condemnation and free to live in the kingdom of the Son he loves. That is why, as our Redeemer, God’s Son is our King.

Ruling Everything For the Church

Christ King

Ephesians 1:22 “And God has placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”

When an ancient emperor or conqueror invaded new lands, defeated their king, and claimed the territory, he often demonstrated his complete control in a very vivid way. He would stand on the neck of the defeated king, literally putting him “under his feet,” as a way of showing that he had total domination.

Not everything that is under Jesus’ complete domination and control was fighting him. The forces of nature have always served him. Nor does he humiliate those whose hearts he has conquered by faith. He led those hearts to surrender through love, not violence. Nevertheless, Paul’s picture makes an emphatic point: all things are under Jesus’ power. He has complete control of the universe and everything in it from where he sits in heaven.

But many things challenge our faith in this, don’t they. Every day it seems as though the forces of evil are gaining the upper hand. Do any of us really believe that we can hold back the flood of changes the so-called “sexual revolution” has brought on our country? Around the world fundamentalist Islam is said to be growing faster than Christianity, spreading its message of oppression and violence faster than Christians can spread our message of forgiveness and love. Sometimes Christianity itself seems to be crumbling from the inside as church after church caves in to our secular culture and gives up its Biblical heritage. Does that look like everything is under Jesus’ power?

Look more closely at our own lives, and we run into real challenges to our faith. It might be easier to believe that Jesus has all that power, if we could believe that he chooses not to get involved or doesn’t care about the details and just lets things go their own way. But if he is actively running the show as the head, and he claims that he loves me, would he let my son land in the hospital and the starter on my car die right in the middle of the wedding-confirmation-graduation season of the year?

The answer to our trial of faith is not found in greater demonstrations of Jesus’ power. Power alone doesn’t win converts. Rather, we find our faith, our joy, our peace in his promises and in his love, like the promise that he wields all this power for his church: “God has placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Don’t think of the Church here as an impersonal institution Jesus wants to succeed for reasons of personal pride, or to please the shareholders, or to pad his resume. This is his people, his family, you and I. For a moment, look away from how he has been running our lives. Look at how he ran his own. Jesus has always been for the church, hasn’t he? Why did he leave heaven and become one of us? He wasn’t improving his own living conditions. He did it to save us. Why did he expend so much of his time and energy healing the sick? He didn’t pad his own pockets like the so-called faith healers today. He did it out of genuine compassion. Why did reach out to the outcast and the sinners and the poor? It didn’t do anything for his social standing. He did it because he sincerely wanted them to be his people, too. Why did he let his body be used as a punching bag, and let them rip the skin from his back with whips, and die an agonizing death on a cross? He owed no debt to society that needed to be paid. He did it to redeem us, the church. Jesus has always been for his people.

That hasn’t changed now that he has returned to heaven and secured the universe under his power. I may not understand why he runs the world the way he does. But then, I don’t have to. I don’t understand why he suffered hell for an unappreciative, self-centered sinner like me. It is enough to know that whether he is making the ultimate sacrifice, or securing and running the universe, he does it for me and for you and for everyone else who belongs to him by faith.

You Will Receive Power

power

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When you hear a promise of power here, don’t think just “miracles.” Certainly the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to do miracles when he came to them at Pentecost. They could speak in foreign languages they never studied. How I have wished for that ability in my ministry! Many times my work as a pastor has led to conversations (or attempts to converse) with Spanish-speaking people. For almost a decade I worked with congregations in Scandinavia. I know just enough Spanish and Swedish to give people the impression I can speak the language, and then say something that makes me look foolish.

Sometimes the Spirit gave healing abilities. Even so, Paul couldn’t get rid of his thorn in the flesh, and Timothy was supposed to drink wine for his stomach problems, not ask the elders to come and lay hands on him for miraculous healing.

When you hear “You will receive power,” also think “abilities.” Think “can-do.” Why would the disciples receive power from the Holy Spirit? Because “you will be my witnesses.” So are we. Though not eyewitnesses, we are still witnesses of the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us on the cross and the never ending life he guaranteed by his resurrection from the dead. The flame in our heart can’t keep these things to itself. The gospel light shines from that heart to bring light to everyone around us. “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says. “…people (do not) light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” God’s Spirit lights that lamp and makes us shine for the people around us to see.

Sometimes that light comes in the form of words. Paul once said, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” Talking about faith is one part of the new life many Christians find most intimidating. It still gives me butterflies. But even if you haven’t been gifted with a silver tongue, you can look to the Holy Spirit to help with the words you need.

Sometimes our light shines by the simple power of living a life of love. That, too, is the Spirit’s work in us. As he grows the new life in us, our love and kindnesses make it easier for people to see the change the gospel makes. It helps them become more interested in finding out about the gospel for themselves. The growth in faith and love empowering our witness may be subtle, but don’t underestimate what it can do.

A man named Hector Avalos has published a book entitled The End of Biblical Studies. He doesn’t think God’s word has any relevance to our world today. It is just a remnant of the way people thought thousands of years ago. That doesn’t change the value of the gifts Jesus gives through his Spirit. It just means that the gospel is a gem this man doesn’t own for himself. Thank God for giving us his Spirit and the gifts that empower a new life each day.