Saturday, September 20, 2014

"For this purpose I have come forth..."

"But He said to them, 'Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth." - Mark 1:38

The Gospel of Mark was the first of the four gospels to be written. There were probably bits and pieces written about Jesus' life before but this gospel is very likely the first thing the early church had to read that covered the full ministry of Jesus. Later Matthew and Luke are believed to have taken Mark's Gospel as a starting point when they wrote their own, expanded accounts of Jesus' life and ministry. With that in mind Mark jumps right into action describing multiple events right in the first chapter. He writes about John the baptist and how Jesus came to him to be baptized. Then how Jesus was tested by Satan in the wilderness and then immediately jumps into several miracles and deliverances performed by Jesus.

In verse 35 the story takes a slight turn. Up until then we see that Jesus helps everyone who comes to Him to the point that the whole city was gathered together and he healed many and cast out many demons. But in verse 35 Mark records that Jesus rose long before daylight and found a quiet place by Himself to pray. In the midst of all this action, the entire city is coming out for Him to minister and Jesus sneaks away to be by Himself. Even His closest disciples didn't know where He was as in verse 36 it says that Simon and the rest of the disciples had to search for Him. Once they did find Him they immediately reminded Him that there everyone was looking for Him. 

Many times I feel that pastors and ministers today are looking and waiting for just this kind of moment. We strive to get to the point where people are seeking them out for their ministry and we feel that once people do seek us out we have to oblige because it is an 'opportunity from God'. However Jesus' response is very different.

"But He said to them, 'Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth." - Mark 1:38

Can you imagine? Jesus had multitudes, the entire city, seeking Him out; people were in need, there were sick people and probably still people possessed or oppressed by demons trying to find Him to help them and Jesus says, "Okay let's move on." And His reason? Because of His purpose: "...for this purpose I have come forth." He recognized that His purpose was not to be stuck in one town but to move and travel and preach. Notice He didn't even limit Himself to singular 'town', He said let us go into the next 'towns'. He knew that He was there first and foremost to deliver a message to the people of Israel, all the people of Israel, and His healing and deliverance ministry had to work itself around that purpose.

I don't think it is an accident that this revelation came after Mark records that Jesus found Himself a place alone to pray. This is where we find our purpose, in our alone time with God. We need to regularly make it a point to find quiet, alone time with God. Regardless of how many kids we have, or how busy our schedule is we need that time. Sometimes we have to get up "a long while before daylight". Jesus found the time to do it and He literally had an entire city pressing Him to minister to them. 

Once we find our purpose we need to make it our priority, even if it means turning down great opportunities to minister. We need to keep our focus on what God has called us to. What does He want me to do? Sometimes it takes faith because we can't see how that purpose is going to be fulfilled but we can trust that if God called us to do it then it will happen.

When I was reading this scripture I felt a confirmation in my spirit that this is also the purpose that God has called me to. God has called me to preach to "the next towns", He has called me to travel and preach. At this point I don't know exactly how that is going to happen. I don't have entire cities or churches seeking me out, but I believe that God will work it out.

What is your purpose? Have you neglected it to take care of other needs?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Holy Spirit - updated

Before we can walk in the regular manifestation of the Holy Spirit we need to understand a little bit about Him and how He works. The problem is the Holy Spirit is the most misunderstood member of the trinity. When we think of God we think of the Father, we know Jesus because He was the member of the trinity who came to earth and died and resurrected for us, but the Holy Spirit often seems a bit mysterious. Then to complicate matters there has been so much attributed to the Holy Spirit which was very likely not Him. There have been so many Christians, especially in recent times, who have gone to such extremes that the other Christians have been scared to even mention the Holy Spirit. The enemy tricked one group into one extreme which then led the rest into the opposite extreme and effectively hid an extremely important truth from all. So as you read this section try to put aside all that you have heard regarding the Holy Spirit as I take you through some of the most important scriptures for helping us understand Him.
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” - John 14:16
Here in John we see Jesus announcing that the Holy Spirit will come. He calls Him the Helper. Looking at the context of the verse we can specifically see that He is coming to help us “keep [Jesus’] commandments” (v15). In other words the Holy Spirit has been sent to us in order to help us live the way Jesus wants us to live. That means He is here to help us with all that we have already been talking about; ie. knowing Jesus, being like Him, giving our lives as a sacrifice, etc. But it also means that He came to help us live the mission as we see in Acts 1:8:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
It is the power that comes from the Holy Spirit which allows us to be witnesses of Jesus to those around us, to testify as to what Jesus has done in our lives and to share the Gospel with others. That is the purpose for the power of the Holy Spirit, that is the reason He came to dwell in us.
So the first question we need to ask is how do we get the Holy Spirit to come upon us? This is where many denominations and churches are split. Many denominations say that this is something that happens automatically whereas others say that it is a separate event. This issue is one of the points of theology where the church has been most split and yet I believe that both sides, to a degree, are correct. In 1 Corinthians 12:3 Paul states that "no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit". This implies that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives from the moment that we claim Christ as our Lord. We see similar implications in Romans 8:9, Ephesians 1:13-14, and John 7:38-39, all of which discuss actions made by the Holy Spirit immediately after we believed. These scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit seals us, makes us Christ's, and makes rivers flow out of our bellies, when we believe. So it seems pretty clear that the former group is right, we do have the Holy Spirit in us the moment we believe and accept Jesus as Lord. However I believe that there is truth in the latter's beliefs as well. I believe there is a separate event called the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist prophesied the following in Matthew 3:11:
"As for me, I baptize with water for repentance, but He who comes after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Pretty much the same prophecy is recorded in Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; and John 1:33. Then Jesus tells the disciples in Acts 1:5 "...for John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Peter also refers to the statement again in Acts 11:16 when recounting his experience of bringing the Gospel to the house of Cornelius. When something is repeated this much in the Bible it is clear that it is important. But how do we know that this baptism isn't the same as receiving the Holy Spirit with salvation?
Our first evidence towards these being separate events is that the disciples had received the Holy Spirit before the events of Acts 1. In John 20 starting in verse 19 Jesus visits the disciples as they are hiding after the resurrection and in verse 22 Jesus breathes on the disciples and tells them "receive the Holy Spirit". It was a later visit that Jesus tells them "you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts1:5). So in John 20 Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto His disciples. It seems that this is the moment that the disciples are officially 'saved'. It is after the death and resurrection but before the ascension. However they are not baptized in the Holy Ghost until Acts 2 after Jesus ascended into heaven.
Another example showing these as separate events is in Acts chapter 8. Verses 4-13 of chapter 8 describe to us how Philipp goes "to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them." (v.5) Verse 12 tells us; "But when they believed Philipp as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized." So we see that they believed in Jesus Christ and were even baptized sealing their inward belief with an outward act. In verses 14-17 we then see the apostles responding to this event:
"Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had not fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." - Acts 8:14-17
We already established through several scriptures that the Holy Spirit is present at the moment of salvation however in this passage it is clear that they were saved but had not yet received the full measure of the Spirit. I believe that this passage is specifically referencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Assuming this is true, this passage shows us a couple of things about this baptism. First it shows, as we have been discussing, that the baptism of the Holy Spirit does not necessarily happen at the moment of salvation, it is a separate event. Second it shows that this baptism was important enough in the eyes of the apostles that they sent Peter and John after Philipp to pray for the people of Samaria to receive it. Lastly, we see clearly one way in which the baptism of the Holy Spirit is received, through laying on of hands. Is this the only way that we can receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? I believe the following scripture is also referring to receive ping the baptism of the Holy Spirit:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” - Luke 11:9-13
Jesus teaches us through a parable that if we want the Holy Spirit all we need to do is ask. He says that if we as humans know how to give good things to our children how much more will God give us good things when we ask for them. How much more will He give us the Holy Spirit when we ask for Him. So it’s that simple. Many teach that you have to speak in tongues in order to truly be baptized, or they say that you have to feel something. I believe that some people do experience things like that and the Bible shows numerous examples of there being an 'evidence' that the baptism was received however, ultimately I believe the Holy Spirit is received in the same way as our salvation; we ask the Father and simply believe that we have received. As we continue to seek greater revelation of the power of the Holy Spirit we begin to operate more and more in His gifts, but we are baptized the moment we ask for Him with a pure heart. So then we just need to go out in faith that the power of the Holy Spirit is in us to help us be witnesses.
In what way does the Holy Spirit help us to be witnesses?