KNOWING HE’S THERE

And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. [Acts 13:52 (NLT)]

zebra longwing butterfly
Zebra Longwing butterflies (Heliconius charithonia) live in hammocks and damp forests. Unless they are resting on a plant, however, they are often difficult to spot. Unlike most butterflies, they don’t stay in the sunlight for long. I may see their shadows on the boardwalk but, when I look up, they quickly vanish into the shade they prefer. With their yellow and black colors, shallow wingbeats and languid flight, they float through the woods and often seem to be little more than flickering sunlight glimmering through the trees.

Oddly, I think of the Holy Spirit whenever I get a glimpse of these beautiful creatures. Just as I’ll probably never hold one in my hand, I have difficulty grasping the concept of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, I know they both exist and bring me joy. There are times it’s difficult to catch sight of the winged zebras and, unfortunately, there are times I have difficulty detecting the Spirit. Nevertheless, just as I know the butterflies are in the woods, I know that He is present. Some days are better than others when it comes to spotting the Longwings and some days are better than others when it comes to sensing the Holy Spirit’s presence. If I’m jogging down a trail, I’ll never spot the butterflies and, if I’m rushing through life, it’s just as easy to overlook the Holy Spirit.

While I can blame the season, weather, light, or location for not seeing a butterfly, I have only myself to blame when I fail to perceive the Spirit. The times I feel devoid of His presence are when I neglect Scripture and prayer—the times I become so busy with the “me” and “my” of life that I don’t leave room for Him. They are the times I refuse to accept God’s control of my circumstances, ignore His direction, or don’t want to hear His conviction of my unacceptable behavior. Most often, however, I can’t feel the Holy Spirit because I’ve done something that grieves Him. Things like anger, resentment, jealousy, guilt and pride serve as barriers to feeling His presence. Fortunately, unlike the butterflies that disappear as they float through the woods, the Spirit will never leave me, even when I’ve disappointed Him.

In perfect unity with God the Father and God the Son, the Holy Spirit is the power of God that dwells within every believer in Jesus Christ. Just as it’s likely that I’ll catch a glimpse of Zebra Longwings on a certain boardwalk through the mangroves, I’m sure to feel the Spirit’s presence when I walk in His ways throughout the day.

You might as well try to see without eyes, hear without ears, or breathe without lungs, as to try to live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit. [D.L. Moody]

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. [John 14:26 (NLT)]

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GOD THE SON

The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). [Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)]

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:14 (NLT)]

It was the whole Trinity, which at the beginning of creation said, “Let us make man.” It was the whole Trinity again, which at the beginning of the Gospel seemed to say, “Let us save man.” [J.C. Ryle]

African iris
When reciting either the Apostle’s or Nicene Creeds, we express our belief in God, the Father Almighty, who created heaven and earth, and in His Son, Jesus Christ. When thinking of God as the Father and Jesus as His son, however, it’s easy to think of Jesus as sort of a God, Jr. As the son, He’s a smaller, younger, novice, or apprentice version of God the Father—sort of like the son who’s learning the business so He can take over when His father retires. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When we read the first chapter of Genesis, God refers to “us” and “our image,” so the plural nature of God didn’t just happen two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. The Apostle John tells us that Jesus (the Word) existed with God in the very beginning. Our triune God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) exists beyond time—He always has been and always will be. Having no beginning, He will have no end. Although it was thousands of years between creation and Jesus’ birth, God the Son always existed. In the same way, the Holy Spirit wasn’t born on Pentecost; like the Father and the Son, He always has been!

That night in Bethlehem, Jesus didn’t come as an assistant God or as a lesser version of God the Father. Look at His names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Immanuel. Those are powerful names given to a baby boy but that baby boy was God Himself. He didn’t come as a god who looked like a man nor did He come as a man who looked like God. Both fully God and fully man, He was co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit—they were one in nature, power, action, and will. Rather than God, Jr., Jesus was wholly God—only He was in clothed in flesh and chose to live as a man.

Let us never forget that it was God who came to be born as a man that night in Bethlehem. It was God who was baptized by John and called “the Lamb of God.” It was God who preached the Sermon on the Mount, threw the money changers out of the temple, and called Himself “the bread of life” and the “good shepherd.” It was God who spoke with the woman at the well, healed the lepers, gave sight to the blind, and raised Lazarus from the dead. It was God who was tempted by Satan in the wilderness and it was God who lived a sinless life as a man in a sin-filled world. It was God who was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, sweat blood in Gethsemane, and condemned to die between two thieves. Mocked, whipped, and nailed to a cross, that was God who suffered and died a criminal’s death. And it was God who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. It was God, in the form of a man called Jesus, who did it all just for us!

Our triune God is one in essence and yet three distinct persons. Understanding how each personage of the Trinity can be fully God while there is only one God is beyond my pay grade. Then again, I can’t understand things like quantum physics, the theory of relativity, string theory, or black holes. I can’t even fathom how I can be body, soul, and spirit in one person, so I shouldn’t be surprised at my limited understanding of the Trinity. As John Wesley aptly said, “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.”

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. [Nicene Creed]

Jesus said to them, “For sure, I tell you, before Abraham was born, I was and am and always will be!” [John 8:58 (NLV)]

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HOW WILL THEY KNOW US?

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5:22-23a (NLT)]

pomegranateThe culture of the 1st century was agrarian in nature so the analogies used by Jesus and the evangelists often were those of agriculture – seeds, soil, fruit, and vines. For example, when writing about the characteristics in the lives of those who follow Jesus, Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit. But, if Paul were writing to modern industrial society, he might have used a different metaphor. Instead of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we might have the Spirit’s toolbox. Rather than fruit, we’d have God’s tools to help us to build His Kingdom. The saw in the box would be God’s peace that cuts worry and fear out of our lives. The sandpaper would be kindness as it smooths out life’s rough edges. Protective gear like safety goggles and steel-toed shoes would be the self-discipline that protects us from sin. Duct tape and WD-40 would be as essential as love, a flashlight would shine our joy, and we’d have clamps to hold us tight to the faith. God’s word would be our blueprint and, instead of being connected to a vine, the power tools would be plugged into the Holy Spirit’s power. Regardless of the metaphor, the Holy Spirit provides us with what we need to be more like Christ.

My son has a variety of fruit trees on his property but, when he moved to his new home, he wasn’t sure what they all were. It wasn’t until the large tree with the pretty red-orange blossoms and shiny green leaves bore fruit that he knew it was a pomegranate and, until the bushes with the oval leaves and small white flowers bore their fruit, he didn’t know he had lemons. Just as a tree is identified by its fruit, a good builder can be identified by his house. Someone could claim to be a master builder but, if the shutters on his house are hanging from the hinges, the windows shattered, the roof tiles missing, the wooden steps broken, the paint peeling, and the walls collapsing, we’d know his claim was false. Just as trees are identifiable by their fruit and builders by their work, it is our behavior that should identify us as Jesus’ followers. The fruit of the Spirit should be evident in everything we do and say and in the attitude we have when we say or do it.

If you were a fruit tree, would anyone recognize the fruit you bear as coming from the Spirit? If you were a builder, would your work resemble that done by a Jewish carpenter’s son from Nazareth? Whether we think of the characteristics of a Christ follower as fruit or tools, the important thing is to let His Spirit make those characteristics a part of our lives so that we end up looking more and more like Jesus! That’s the way we can build His Kingdom!

You will know them by their fruits. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. … Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. [Matthew 7:16,18,20 (NLT)]

 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. [Matthew 7:20 (NLT)]

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BONUS GIFT

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” [Acts 2:38-39 (NLT)]

dubbele late tulips "Freeman"

From the toy we found in the cereal box as kids to the televisions and cruises once offered by a car dealership north of here, everyone loves a bonus gift! When we were newly-weds, my husband and I collected glassware the gas station offered as a bonus for a fill-up. Those green glasses graced our table for many years as did the stainless-steel flatware we purchased with the S&H green stamps we’d gotten as a bonus from the grocery! I always wait until my favorite cosmetic brand offers a free bonus gift with a minimum purchase before restocking my moisturizer and DSW just offered a bonus tote bag with a minimum purchase. Restaurants like Outback Steakhouse frequently offer a $10 bonus card with the purchase of a $50 gift card. Even banks offer bonuses and Citibank recently offered up to $1,500 to customers opening a new checking account (to get that much, however, you had to maintain a $200,000 balance)!

I know of a bonus gift that is far better than glassware, a tote, or $1,500. No minimum purchase is required and we don’t have to spend money, go the mall, or change banks to get it. Although many bonus offers are exclusive for special customers, like those who’ve signed up for emails or spent a certain amount of money, this bonus offer is available to any who desire it. Unlike those restaurant bonus gift cards, there’s no expiration date on the benefits and there’s no fine print as there is for Citibank’s offer.

Since day one, mankind’s history hasn’t been good. It’s ranged from disobedience to deception, murder to theft, rebellion to jealousy, pride to cruelty, anger to revenge, and idolatry to avarice. Jesus was fully God but He also was fully human. Having encountered temptation, He knew the allure of sin and how tough it is to live in this fallen world. He had firsthand knowledge of disappointment, opposition, pain, loss, and betrayal and knew the dangers, pitfalls, and suffering of human life. Knowing how flawed we all are, Jesus didn’t want to leave us alone without a helper and so He gave us a bonus gift—the Holy Spirit.

The cereal toys of childhood were lost, the gas station glasses broke, S&H green stamps are no longer offered, and the kids took the stainless to college. Although the bonus lipstick and mascara are gone and the restaurant bonus gift cards are no longer valid, the life-changing Holy Spirit is forever! Like most bonus offers, however, Jesus’ offer comes at a cost but He is the One who paid the purchase price when he suffered and died on the cross.

We’ll often see an asterisk by the offered bonus and, if we bother to read the fine print, we’ll find there is a limited supply of gifts available. The Holy Spirit, however, is unlimited—there’s enough of Him to go around. Moreover, while most bonus offers have an expiration date, Jesus’ offer doesn’t. Instead, we are the ones with the expiration date which means we have a limited but unknown time in which we can claim His offer! The Holy Spirit is one bonus offer none of us should miss. Will you take Him up on it?

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.
[Augustine of Hippo]

But the helper, the holy spirit, the one the father will send in my name, he will teach you everything. He will bring back to your mind everything I’ve said to you. [John 14:26 (NTE)]

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A NEW HEART

pigsAnd I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. [Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NLT)]

Last Friday, doctors in Maryland made history when they transplanted a genetically modified pig’s heart into a human in a last-ditch effort to save the life of David Bennett, Sr. A medical first, Bennett was too ill to qualify for a routine heart transplant or an artificial ventricular assist device. The 57-year-old’s prognosis is uncertain and it will be months before doctors know whether the transplant can be deemed a “success.” As with any organ transplant, the main risk is that of organ rejection and Bennett will need potent immunosuppressing drugs for the remainder of his life.

I remember how astonished the world was back in 1967 when Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first human-to-human heart transplant. The news that a surgeon had cut open someone’s chest, lifted out a diseased heart, and successfully replaced it with a healthy one from a dead donor was astounding. Although that first heart transplant recipient lived only eighteen days, today’s recipients have an 85% chance of living one year and a 69% chance of surviving five. The survival rate continues to decrease through the years with only 50% of heart transplant recipients living ten years and just 15% making 20 years. In spite of the risks, last year over 50,000 transplant candidates worldwide vied for the 5,000 hearts that were available. Sadly, there just aren’t enough hearts to go around.

54 years ago, the medical journals were wrong when they credited Dr. Bernard with the first heart transplant; God has been replacing hearts for ages! He takes our damaged hearts of stone, hearts unwilling to respond to Him, and replaces them with a new heart and spirit. After accepting His new heart, we have no need for immunosuppressive drugs because the new heart won’t be rejected. Unlike transplant candidates, we don’t have to meet specific criteria or put our names on a waiting list. Everyone qualifies and all we have to do is repent! The best news is that there’s no heart shortage and we don’t have to wait for someone to die; Jesus did that for us 2,000 years ago!

Even with a pig’s heart, Mr. Bennett won’t to want to live in a sty, cool off with a mud bath, snuffle in the soil, or start eating a mix of corn, soybeans, sorghum, and wheat. While his new heart will give him a new lease on life (at least for a short time), it will not change him. He will be the same man with the same favorite activities, world view, media preferences, attitudes, likes and dislikes, morals and principles he had before surgery. On the other hand, the new heart God gives us will make a huge change in us. We will have a new mind, new preferences, new spiritual gifts, new beliefs and morals, a new love for who and what we may have hated, and a new aversion to things we once might have loved. Rather than getting immunosuppressant drugs, we will receive an infusion of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control! Getting a new heart in God’s hospital also yields a far better survival rate—no death, only eternal life!

O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams. [Augustine]

Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel? I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live! [Ezekiel 18:30b-32 (NLT)]

I will give them hearts that recognize me as the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly. [Jeremiah 24:7 (NLT)]

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METAMORPHOSIS

monarch metamorphosisJesus said to him, “For sure, I tell you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the holy nation of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? How can he get into his mother’s body and be born the second time?” [John 3:3-4 (NLV)]

The being “born again” concept in Christianity isn’t an easy one to understand, yet we see it demonstrated whenever we look at a butterfly. Take the monarch, for example; it starts out as a tiny egg that hatches about four days after being laid. That’s its first birth. The caterpillar actually eats its way out of the shell before munching on the leaf where the egg was laid. Over the next ten to fourteen days, it eats and grows, shedding its skin every time it gets too tight. The full-grown caterpillar then spins silk and attaches its hind end to a leaf, hangs upside down and sheds its skin for the fifth and final time. When the new skin forms, it hardens and takes the form of a chrysalis. The monarch’s chrysalis is a beautiful jade green with little specks of gold and looks like a case that could be used to hold a jewel. Over the next ten to fourteen days, the caterpillar undergoes a metamorphosis. During this stage, the DNA that makes wings is switched on and something almost miraculous happens. When the transformation is complete, the chrysalis bursts open and out emerges a full-grown butterfly. It is born again! The new butterfly hangs onto the chrysalis for a bit, drying its wings and getting stronger, before taking flight and becoming the thing of beauty God meant it to be.

The monarch caterpillar looks and acts nothing like the monarch butterfly and it’s hard to believe they are actually the same creature but they are! The DNA sequence of the caterpillar is identical to that of the butterfly it becomes. The caterpillar, however, no longer exists—it has to die to become a butterfly, much as a person’s old self must “die” when he becomes a follower of Jesus. When we’re “born again,” like the butterfly, we have the same DNA of the person we once were and yet we’re an entirely different creature.

Unlike the butterfly, however, the change is internal not external. Moreover, caterpillars have no choice about whether or not they will become butterflies—they just keep eating and growing and shedding and nature takes its course. On the other hand, people do have a choice about whether they will experience their metamorphosis. They can choose to remain wrapped up in the dark chrysalis of unbelief, a hidden jewel than will never reach its potential, or choose to be reborn in Christ. While there is a scientific explanation for the near-miraculous transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, science can’t explain the miraculous transformation that occurs when we are reborn, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts, and we become the things of beauty God created us to be.

We know that our old life, our old sinful self, was nailed to the cross with Christ. And so the power of sin that held us was destroyed. Sin is no longer our boss. When a man is dead, he is free from the power of sin. And if we have died with Christ, we believe we will live with Him also. [Romans 6:6-8 (NLV)]

You have now become a new person and are always learning more about Christ. You are being made more like Christ. He is the One Who made you. [Colossians 3:10 (NLV)]

I have been put up on the cross to die with Christ. I no longer live. Christ lives in me. The life I now live in this body, I live by putting my trust in the Son of God. He was the One Who loved me and gave Himself for me. [Galatians 2:20 (NLV)]

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