Posted on| May 21, 2013 | Leave a Response
by Ron Smith
It fascinates me that if you pick up any copy of USA Today you will find a view of the American system of thought. What Americans think about most, accordingly to this newspaper, probably are: 1) public and political life, 2) entertainment and leisure, 3) sports, and 4) money. A fifth category, religion, makes the news many times as well but certainly not consistently enough to be a high priority. I would suggest the top two categories could be: power and pleasure.
Aristotle’s view of life was that one may discern what makes a human being “tick” by observing his pursuit of happiness. Whatever one pursues, one loves. I wonder if Aristotle knew he was to become the ideological leader of an American newspaper!
During Pentecost, we’re reflecting on the idea of power in the Christian life. The American mind is absorbed in it, so we thought it fitting to challenge Christians to study the public conscience. After all, what Christians think about these categories of thought may determine whether we have anything to talk about with our peers, right?
Checking Daniel Webster’s definition of power captures my intrigue on the subject: power is possession of control, authority, or influence over others (Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary: Merriam Co., Springfield, Mass., 1970). FAS wants to assure all Christians that we have a great hope in our salvation that God gives power to triumph over our flesh. “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11, NIV). It is the God who saves us who has control. The Apostle Paul understood this when he asserted that “the love of Christ controls us” (II Cor. 5:14). Peter says: “His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3, NRSV).
The Christian definition of power is for control, but as authority over ourselves and any part within us that would be enmity with God, not as authority over others. That definition seems foreign in our culture. While being absorbed with the idea of power in society, our Christian culture repudiates the idea that Christ has saving power enough to give us self-control over flesh. And so we dis-believe that we no longer owe the flesh anything, which Romans so clearly delineates (8:12).
We want to challenge you to read and reflect about the power of God to bolster His witness in His way in and through us, that His Kingdom would come and His will be done in us as it is in heaven. (You may want to start with this article by Dennis Kinlaw, or this one by Stan Key.) Enjoy reflecting with us, and may you be endued with power from above.
Posted on| May 21, 2013 | Leave a Response
Language is a great gift that God has given to us. The ability to converse or write is the particular mark of what it means to be a person. Animals neither write nor converse as such. The Bible seems to confine the power of language to God, angels and human beings. So, biblically, it is human beings and divine beings that enjoy the privileges of language. I have even come to believe that this is at the very heart of the Imago Dei that Genesis 1:25–28 tells us about. But language is complicated. There is an ambiguity about it that means we have to be very careful that we interpret it accurately. We can know the meaning of every word in a sentence and yet misunderstand the sentence because a common word may be used in such a way that the same expressions may yield opposite meanings.
Perhaps the expression that has brought this home most sharply to me is the one used in the New Testament when it speaks of “the love of God.” We all know what love is and we also know who God is. The little preposition ‘of’ is another matter. For years I understood that expression in Romans 5:5 to mean that the Holy Spirit would enable me to love God. When I read about the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, I was confident that it meant that the Holy Spirit could come into my heart and quicken and direct my natural power so that God became a special object of affection in my heart. Then I read Wesley and a completely new concept broke across my consciousness. According to the grammarians, the little preposition ‘of’’ can be used in two different ways. The word that is the object in this prepositional phrase can be either the object or the subject. I had understood the phrase “the love of God” in the former way, with “God” as the object of “love.” But if the preposition ‘of’ were functioning in the other way, God would be the source of love. What I mean is that the phrase “the love of God” may be speaking about divine love, love that originates in the heart of God, rather than love that originates from my quickened heart.
When I began to consider this possibility, I noticed that the NIV reads the phrase in this latter way: “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” So very possibly ‘the love of God’ here may be a divine love, a love that originates in God through the Holy Spirit, rather than one that originates in me. I immediately thought of the passages where Jesus commands us to love our enemies as ourselves. That does not come easily from a natural heart, but if God can put the very love in me that was in him when he gave us his Son to be crucified, the love that Jesus demonstrated in his passion, possibilities of grace open up that could never find their origin in me. As I read more carefully the Old and New Testament the conviction has deepened within me that this understanding is the correct one.
Since the recent Easter season with its report of the resurrection of Jesus, his last days with his disciples, and his ascension back to the Father, I have been wondering about another phrase: “the gift of the Spirit.” There has come to me in a fresh way the insistence of Jesus that his disciples must wait in Jerusalem until they receive the gift of the Spirit. But what exactly was he saying?
One of the characteristics of the evangelical Christian Church in my lifetime has been a deep interest in what it has spoken of as gifts of the Spirit. We went through a succession of them. They were presented as manifestations of the power of the Spirit, such things as the gift of healing, of miracle working, the gift of tongues, the power to slay in the Spirit. The drama of it all caught the attention of a great host of the American evangelical television audience. The biblical basis for all of this was sought in chapters 12 and 14 of I Corinthians and the opening chapters of Acts. There were some who picked one gift as the supreme evidence that one had received the gift of the Spirit, like glossolalia. There were others who were impressed by the fact that Paul in the first Corinthian letter insists that there is a diversity of gifts so each individual believer should seek the individual gift that God has for her or him so that each of us can use our special gift in service to God and the church. Many began to dream of the possibility of this being a means to revival and a great strengthening of the Christian witness in our world. The position of the Christian church in our present society as we move into the twenty-first century does not give a lot of confirmation of those dreams. All of this has made me wonder if we do not need to look at the biblical data more carefully.
As I have tried to do this, I have found myself thinking more seriously about the grammar of it all, particularly that phrase “gift of the Spirit.” A conviction has deepened with me that we have found in that phrase the meaning that we wanted or expected to be there much as many of us have done at one time or other with that phrase “the love of God.”
So, as I thought, the question came to me as to whether this ought to be seen as having two distinct meanings with a distinct theology resting on which way anyone goes with it.
Let me put it this way. When we speak of the gift of the Spirit, are we speaking about a gift that the Spirit gives to us for us to use or are we speaking about the gift by someone else of the Holy Spirit to us so that he, the Spirit, can use us. Or, as the grammarians say, is this an objective genitive or a subjective genitive? To use different language, what is the gift about which we are speaking? Is it a “thing” or is it a person, a divine Person, the third Person in the Triune Godhead, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father to the Son who promised the night before the cross that he would give the Spirit Himself to his disciples as a gift? This gift, of course, was fulfilled at Pentecost.
There is a difference between receiving a spiritual gift and receiving the third Person of the Triune Godhead. I suddenly realized that Jesus had given spiritual gifts to his disciples long before Pentecost, but the spiritual gifts never cleansed them of their self-centered concern for their own well-being. Matthew, in his 10th chapter, tells us in verse 8 that they were to go throughout Israel and heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out the demons. This is remarkably similar to the picture that Paul gives in I Cor. 12:27–211 of what we speak of as the charismatic gifts. Yet it was after this that the apostles all forsook Jesus, and the leader of the apostles, Peter, denied any association with Christ. The gifts never cure the self problem in the Christian. Only the Person of the Spirit can do that.
This all suggests that unless a person has received the Holy Spirit as a gift from the Father, one that has cleansed him or her of the all-pervasive self-problem, the gifts that the Spirit gives may well be tainted with self—and potentially as destructive as constructive. The example of the disciples above seems to indicate that such a thing is possible. This merits careful thought.
Posted on| May 20, 2013 | 2 Responses
By Stan Key
Many years ago, late on a November evening, a 31-year old French mathematician had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that changed his life forever. Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) wrote about what happened that night on a single sheet of paper and sewed it into the lapel of his coat. He wanted the memory of that sacred experience to be kept near his heart wherever he went. Though he had been soundly converted over six years earlier, Pascal’s “Night of Fire” was a dramatic deepening of God’s work of sanctifying grace in his life:
The year of grace 1654, Monday, 23 November… from about half past ten in the evening until half past midnight: FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars. Certainty, certainty…. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy… Sweet and total renunciation. Total submission to Jesus Christ….
Pascal would have identified readily with Jesus’ final words at the end of Luke’s Gospel. There, the risen Jesus spoke to his followers about the importance of being filled with the Spirit of God. Though they had been following Christ for three years, Jesus knew they were not yet ready to face the challenges that lay ahead. Without the fire of Pentecost, they would be impotent and ineffective. So he gave them an incredible promise: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49 NIV).
Something was missing in the lives of those disciples even as something was missing in the life of Blaise Pascal. Though they had turned from their worldly ways and put their trust in Jesus, they yet lacked the ability to live as Jesus lived. Their spirits were willing but their flesh was weak. They had the “want to” but not the “know how.” Meeting behind locked doors and still troubled by nagging doubts, the disciples were hardly ready to be sent on a mission to change the world. So Jesus put his finger precisely on the thing that was missing: they had no power.
The first two chapters of Acts (also written by Luke) tell the story of how Jesus fulfilled the promise he had made. On the day of Pentecost, he poured out the Holy Spirit upon his waiting disciples so that they fully received the promise of the Father. Just as Pascal was transformed by his night of fire, so the disciples experienced a transformation that caused them to burst out of closed doors and take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The gift of the Spirit meant that the disciples not only experienced signs and wonders, more importantly, the promise of the Father enabled them to live their lives even as Christ had lived his. The Holy Spirit empowered them to change the world:
Jesus said to them, “…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 (Acts 1:8).
Who Needs the Holy Spirit?
Jesus was crystal clear about who most needed to be filled with the Spirit: his own disciples! His concern was not for the pagan Romans, the legalistic Pharisees, or prostitutes and tax collectors. The ones who really needed power from on high were the very ones who had already committed their lives and put their trust in him. Far from hiding the needy condition of the apostles, the New Testament highlights it! The disciples had been following Jesus for three years yet were still characterized by selfishness, ambition and pride. Still controlled by their fears and doubts, these rascals needed a work of grace in their hearts that would mend what was broken, purify what was polluted, straighten what was twisted, and bring to life what was dead!
Many in the church today imagine that the great need of the hour is for those outside the church to get converted. As important as that may be, Jesus is urging us to think differently. Pentecost is God’s eternal reminder that the greatest need of the hour is not the salvation of the lost but the sanctification of the found! This is the key that unlocks the floodgates of heaven’s blessings. Before revival can come to those outside the church it must begin inside as believers become combustible and burn with the fire of God.
What Happens when the Holy Spirit Comes?
Many get nervous about what would happen if they asked God to fill them with his Spirit. “Will it make me weird?” they wonder. “Will I fall on the floor and babble incoherently?” Though it would be presumptuous to try to predict how God should behave in every situation, we can be sure of this: whenever God moves in power, he comes to do us good!
There is a wonderful scene in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Lucy learns about Aslan for the first time. She is enchanted as Mrs. Beaver describes his character but becomes alarmed on learning that this King is a lion! Lucy wants to know if Aslan is “safe.”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Our God is not “safe” either. He is sovereign and his actions cannot always be predicted. And yet the Scriptures help us to understand that when it comes to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, some things are vital and should always be expected and other things are of secondary importance. Listen again to Jesus’ words as recorded by Luke:
- You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:48–49).
- But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… (Acts 1:8).
Jesus is emphatic. The coming of the Spirit in power is specifically for the purpose of enabling his disciples to be witnesses. This is the essential work of the Spirit. Spiritual phenomena are of secondary importance. Note that he did not say the purpose was to “do witnessing.” Jesus put the accent on who we are, not on what we do or say. Frankly, I know some followers of Christ who do witnessing but who are lousy witnesses! What makes the difference? The sanctifying Spirit!
In the Greek, the word for witness is marturos, from where our word “martyr” is derived. In the New Testament, to be a witness for Jesus was to be willing literally to lay down your life. This is what happens when someone is filled with the Spirit of God. One has the power to give up one’s rights and lay down one’s life for others. A self-absorbed, arrogant little egotist like Peter (or like me—or you!) suddenly begins to think of others more than he thinks of himself. He cares more about their welfare than his own. He is willing and ready to give his very blood for others. You can be certain that it takes a supernatural work of sanctifying power to bring about a change like that!
When Does this Happen?
Theologians have debated for centuries about whether we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit at conversion or whether it is a “subsequent work” that comes later. Is there one work of grace or two? Or for that matter, three or four? The debate has its place but certainly will not be resolved in a magazine article like this. The safe path is to examine the context of what Luke is saying and simply put the emphasis where Scripture does.
Luke wrote a two-volume work. The Gospel is Part One and the book of Acts is Part Two. Between that final passage in the Gospel where Jesus told the disciples to wait in the city for power from on high (Luke 24:48–49) and the passage in Acts 2 that describes the coming of that promised Spirit, there is one event that is of paramount importance. It is this event that makes possible the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. I’m talking about the ascension and exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord over the entire universe (Luke 24:51–52 and Acts 1:1–11). It is simply impossible to miss what Luke is saying about the timing of the Spirit’s coming. When does the fullness of the Spirit happen? When Jesus is exalted as Lord and King.
The earliest creed of the Christian Church was the simple affirmation, “Jesus is Lord.” To recite this creed and mean it (!) indicates that Jesus is the sovereign ruler over every area of one’s life—not my will but his be done. It’s all about him! He is the center, not me. The ascension means that Jesus is Lord, not just over the universe but also over me. And when Jesus reigns over all, look out! He is about to pour into your life the promise of the Father: power from on high so that you can pour out your life for others.
Just What the Doctor Ordered
Today, if your life is characterized by impotence, barrenness and self-centeredness, perhaps Dr. Luke has just the prescription you need. Exalt Jesus as Lord over everything you are and everything you have. Worship him and surrender your will to his. Then let him fill you with his sanctifying power so that you can live as he lived, laying down your life for others.
Posted on| May 17, 2013 | Leave a Response
Dear Friend and Supporter of FAS:
During the next year, the Francis Asbury Society will be experiencing a transition in presidential leadership. Very simply, our President, Dr. Ron Smith, feels the Lord leading him to move to New Jersey in order to provide personal assistance to his aging parents in their time of need. We honor Ron and his wife, Dorena, for making this significant commitment to Biblical family values. While there, Ron plans to return to the pastorate in the New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church. Current plans are that Ron will phase his transition to New Jersey over the next year, while continuing to serve as President of Francis Asbury Society through May 2014.
In the months ahead, the Board of Directors will be considering and developing plans for the Presidential leadership of the Francis Asbury Society. In that regard, we solicit your continued and specific prayer support for our leadership transition and your financial support that enables our Society to promote an unwavering commitment for believers “…to live more to God today than yesterday, and to be more holy this hour than the last.” (Francis Asbury)
With warmest regards,
Charlie D. Fiskeaux
Chair, Board of Directors
Posted on| May 1, 2013 | Comments Off
What an honor to proclaim the Good News of hope to Honduras’ beautiful and receptive people, yet hurting because of the unrest that prevails throughout the country. Lives were touched by God’s Spirit and many responded! On this trip, I was accompanied by Charles Winters (retired missionary) and Vladimir Prokulevich (building contractor), who did a great job on carpentry and mechanical projects at “El Sembrador,” a Christian farm/school. Charles was also instrumental in sharing the Gospel in different churches.
The Lord also made it possible to give His Word to tender-hearted boys at the farm/school, to attentive and receptive university students, to a spiritual hungry audience at an open-air crusade in the city of Catacamas, to viewers on two TV stations, to chosen men and women at a church leadership conference, and to open-hearted congregations. As a result of this outreach, over 90 people sought Christ or were spiritually reconciled. God be praised! Follow-up is now underway to conserve the fruit and disciple the new believers in Christ.
My deepest thanks to World Gospel Mission, the Honduran pastors, and to the Honduran coordinators who did a splendid job in organizing these events and work projects. Again, Karol and I are grateful for prayers and financial support that makes this ministry possible.
In His service,
Dave Harrimankeep looking »