The Holy Spirit and the Bible Reader

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I don’t mean to get “denominational” on you but when I became a Methodist, I began to study the “accidental”* founder of Methodism, John Wesley. I had a natural curiosity about what the man believed and felt it made sense to know his stand on various issues.

One such foundational issue had to do with his position on the importance of the Bible for the Christian. I soon found that Biblical Scripture was his primary source for Christian life, but he also used traditional understanding of Scripture as a basis for his belief. In other words, what had been interpreted in the past need not be discarded. He held reason in high regard as he was a highly educated man and felt that human intellect should be applied to Bible study. Lastly, he felt that human experience helped enlighten the Scripture, “experience is the individual’s understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life.”**

It is that focus on experience in my opinion that allows human beings to understand God’s Word through the utilization of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His Disciples that “when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” [John 16:13]. God is the ultimate guide in our understanding of His Word, He removes obstructions to our understanding, He opens our minds to clear understanding and makes His words plain.

Even though many Christians know that God’s Word should be their inspiration, their guide, their source of wisdom, they act like God’s Word is written in some form of secret code. Someone with decoding ability must come and tell them what it means. For many, it is just a combination of stuffy old stories, ancient history and irrelevant rules. It is written in archaic language; the only people who understand it are seminary trained pastors and theologians.

What flies in the face of all this negative thinking?

God wants us to read His Book. He did not intend for us to put it on the shelf, deposit it in a drawer or put it on the coffee table to gather dust.

Years ago, I read a little book entitled How to Study the Bible and Enjoy It, written by Pastor Skip Heitzig. It was a plain-spoken approach to reading the Bible. Heitzig wrote about how to decipher the Bible by opening our eyes, our minds and our hearts. He had practical sections about how to find the right tools to help with understanding, but his overall approach was that we can all do this if we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and ask Him for help.

I remember a prayer he wrote that he recommended we say before reading God’s Word. The third word of the prayer was “submit”. As I have stated, many feel the Bible is beyond them but some who want to read it feel they can understand it on their own. They are smart. They need no help. “I can muscle through this just like I muscle through everything else in life.”


Admitting our limitations and asking for help is key to getting help from the Lord in understanding His Book. I have found in my life experience that many things are beyond my control, beyond my ability, and I have to admit weakness. I have to admit my dependence on The Father. Some of the greatest periods of growth in my walk with Jesus have been triggered by letting Him lead, guide and direct me through amazingly complex, impossible tasks. In my weakness is His strength.

He will do that for your Bible reading too if you ask.

Proverbs 2: 1-5 states “My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

Pastor Graham*** writes that “every area of our lives is to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And that means that searchlight of Gods’ Word must penetrate every corner of our lives.”

We cannot live by God’s Word if we don’t open God’s Word. We can’t adequately understand God’s Word if we don’t enlist the help of the Holy Spirit.

Ask Him for help…

He will deliver…

*Wesley was an Anglican cleric and theologian who wanted to reform the Anglican Church in the 18th Century. He did not know his efforts would start a new church.
**from the United Methodist Church Website
***Pastor Billy Graham from his book The Holy Spirit.

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The Holy Spirit and the Canon…

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The canon.

In Billy Graham’s book The Holy Spirit, he discusses the Holy Spirit in the world, the Holy Spirit in The Church and the Holy Spirit in the believer.

As Christians, we can see evidence of Holy Spirit references in the Old Testament and certainly the New Testament [see some of my previous posts or much better yet, read the Bible]. We think of the Holy Spirit that was unleashed in Acts 2 and we believe that that same Holy Spirit is at work in us today, in our everyday lives. I certainly believe God is at work in my life through the Holy Spirit.

But I would like to write about some seminal events in the history of The Church and how the Holy Spirit manifested itself in those events.

The term “canon” is used to describe the books that are divinely inspired and therefore belong in the Bible. We have a Bible that was written over the course of 1,500 years by about forty authors. God did not provide a list of what went into the Bible or what must be left out. There was no ancient instruction book for the construction of the Bible. The canon came about due to serious work done by Jewish rabbis, scholars and early Christians. Graham states “contrary to the opinion of many, the question of what books were included in the Bible was not settled simply by the human choice of any church council. The Holy Spirit was at work in Spirit-filled believers who selected the sixty-six books we have in our Bibles. And at last, after years and years of discussion, prayer and heart searching, the canon of Scripture was closed.”

The complete canon of the Old Testament was not completed until the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.* The process of recognizing and selecting the books of the New Testament began in the first centuries of the Christian church. What is not known by everyone are the principles that were established for determining the canon of the New Testament. Early church leaders had standards. One principle had to do with the author of the book. The author had to be an apostle or have close connection to an apostle. Another guideline was that included books must be accepted by the body of Christ at large. Consistency of doctrine and orthodox teaching were a must and finally an included book must have evidence of high moral and spiritual values that reflect the work of the Holy Spirit and the divine Author [note the A means God as ultimate Author].

The first New Testament canon was called the Muratorian Canon which was compiled in AD 170. The Council of Laodicea in 363, the Council of Hippo in 393 and the Council of Carthage in 397 all affirmed the same 27 books of the New Testament. By AD 397, the canon was established.

This was serious stuff folks. Most believers see the construction of the canon as a God-breathed process brought about by people of faith, determined to carry out the work of the Lord. That is why we see statements like “It must be recognized that it was God and God alone who determined which books belonged in the Bible. God, via the inspiration of the Spirit, imparted to His followers what He had already decided.”* Humans met and decided the canon and they were flawed [all humans are, but God overcame the limitations of sinful man]. He brought the early religious leaders to a learned consensus despite their differences.

Why is all of this important?

I have conversations with people who doubt the value of God’s Word. They think that The Bible is just an “important” book, a compilation of stories that many people read. I encounter people who make blanket statements like the “Bible means what it says and say what it means” and that is as far as they go. They accept every jot and tittle, without question. There is nothing wrong with that; maybe it is wonderful evidence of great faith.

Jesus said, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle** shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” in Matthew 5:18. He was stating emphatically that God’s Word is true.

Whether you feel every part of your Bible is perfectly God’s work or whether you feel that God worked through man, most believers can agree on one statement.

God is reliable, and so is His Word.
* “What is the canon of the Bible and how did we get it?”
** For the curious, a jot is the smallest letter in the Jewish alphabet; a tittle is how an alphabet letter is extended which makes it even smaller than a jot.

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Holy Spirit and the Bible…

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I have read the Bible from beginning to end a couple of times but like many Christians, I have primarily been a reader of the New Testament. Christians think of the New Testament as “their book,” not giving much thought to the value of the Old Testament, maybe not acknowledging that it was the Bible that Jesus read.

As a Methodist, I have always known of a Christian education class called Disciple Bible Study but my church never offered it. It is a thirty-four week study and it requires at least four study periods per week in preparation for the weekly meetings, which usually last at least one and a half hours. Quite a commitment.

Finally, we had a pastor who decided he would lead a Disciple study and I enrolled. I will never forget when we got to the book of Isaiah. Here you have a Hebrew prophet foretelling details of the suffering of Jesus Christ more than 700 years before the suffering took place.

I was flabbergasted and immediately changed my view of the Old Testament. I can’t think of a better word than flabbergasted to describe me when I read passages like those from Isaiah 53, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

How could this be? I had had some very important personal experiences where I felt God intervened in my life but now I could see the special nature of His book for the first time. Maybe I should have believed in the power of The Book before this time, but I just wasn’t sold. Suddenly, I could see solid evidence of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, in the words of the prophet Isaiah. Suddenly for me, the Bible became a God-breathed, Holy Spirit-inspired book.

The truth is that when one is looking for daily Holy Spirit inspiration, one need not look any further than the Bible. Pastor Billy Graham states “The Bible is a constant fountain for faith, conduct and inspiration from which we [can] drink daily.” Isaiah is only one example of the Holy Spirit in The Bible. The Spirit spoke to David who penned the Psalms. God also spoke through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jesus stated in John 14: 26 that “The Holy Spirit. . .will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” Graham says that statement embraces the Gospels. John 16: 13 “He will guide you into all the truth” takes in all the books from Acts to Jude and “He will disclose to you what is to come [John 16: 13]” encompasses the Book of Revelation.
“We do not know exactly how He imprinted His message on the minds of those He chose to write His Word, but we know He did lead them to write what He wanted” [Graham, 36]. “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” [2 Peter 1: 21].

That pastor who led the Disciple Bible Study may have been amused at the awe I expressed in his class, but that class was just the beginning for me. I have continued to read the Bible as a book inspired by God. A Book that was written by those who were led by the Holy Spirit. More and more examples of His touch have jumped out at me from the pages over the years. When Paul declares “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” [2 Timothy 3:16] those words mean something special for me now.

Reading the Bible is not merely reading a book; it is the Holy Spirit speaking to me from God’s word.

My source of Holy Spirit inspiration…

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The Holy Spirit in the Believer…

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Judges 14: 19 When Samson needed God, “Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men…” In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon people and stayed with them for a season.

John 14: 17 “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you do know Him, for He abides with you and will be in you.” In the Gospels, the Holy Spirit dwelt with the Disciples in the person of Christ.

1 Corinthians, 6: 19 “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” From the second chapter of Acts onward, the Holy Spirit is spoken of as being in the people of God.

When you analyze 1 Corinthians 6: 19, it sounds like the Holy Spirit has become very personal with all of us; in fact He has. Pastor Billy Graham says the Spirit has taken up residence in our minds and in our bodies. He has not come upon us, He has not dwelt with us, He is now in us.

How is this?

First of all, the Holy Spirit “illumines” our minds. One can point to scriptures like Romans 12: 2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind.” Ephesians 4:23 states “that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

I have had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for twenty-three years and hanging around many, many Christians has given me a feeling that some Christians really don’t worry about using their minds too much; their idea is that feelings are much more important. I will be the first to admit that feelings are important. One of my favorite authors is John R. W. Stott who says “Nobody wants a cold, joyless, intellectual Christianity.” But he further says God desires feeling coupled with intellect: “Heaven forbid that knowledge without zeal should replace zeal without knowledge! God’s purpose is both.” In my personal experience, I have seen many wonderful people feel that they are being led by God to take action, only to see their feelings bear little fruit. If they had used their mind to think through their plans a bit better, maybe they would have experienced success. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” is Jesus’ condensation of all the Law in “the greatest commandment”, just because mind comes behind heart and soul does not mean that mind has less value. Pastor Graham says “It is the business of the Holy Spirit to lift the veil Satan has put over our minds, and to illuminate them so that we can understand the things of God. He does this especially as we read and study the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit inspired” [33].

Secondly, the Holy Spirit indwells our bodies. That first Corinthians quotation above makes it sound like we should be taking better care of ourselves [our bodies are temples]. In other words, maybe we should be careful about what we eat, drink, look at and read. Paul said, “But I buffet my body and make it a slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” [1 Corinthians 9: 27]. Too often the source of many temptations in life are centered around the body. We crave certain sensations. We fill our bodies with highly caloric foods. We look at things that bring pleasure but they also separate us from God. When one considers the words of Paul in Romans 7, you can hear the cries of a man who is trying to curb his bodily urges: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

How do we conquer those urges? The very things that appeal to our bodies can be overcome by the power of the Spirit. Many try to use their own power to throw off sin. Earnestly calling on the Holy Spirit is the best ticket to getting bodily sin under control. Let the Godly power that indwells your body help you keep it clean.

As Christians, we all have access to the Holy Spirit. We may not have Jesus on earth but as He left He gave us something special: “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you [John 16:7].

Let us use the power that He and the Father gave us.

The Holy Spirit’s powerful indwelling in our minds and in our bodies is an amazing gift we should never take lightly.

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The Holy Spirit in The Church

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I will never forget the first sermon given by the pastor we have in our church right now. She got out of the pulpit and walked among the congregation passing out jigsaw puzzle pieces. Everyone got a puzzle piece and she proceeded to deliver a message that all the members of our church have a part to play in the ministry of the church. If we all do our part, the pieces all fit together to form a beautiful puzzle.

Everyone got a puzzle piece…everyone.

I think she was right on target. Everyone in the church does have a role to play and that role is partially determined by the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the people of the church. Ephesians 4:12 says that gifts come to specific people “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

Pastor Graham* states “No Christian can say, ‘I have no gift’. Every believer has at least one gift from the Holy Spirit.” He goes further saying that “a weakness in today’s churches is the failure to recognize, cultivate, and use the gifts God has given people in the pews” [31]. The reason that eighty percent of the work in church is done by twenty percent of the people is that either people deny their gift(s) [laziness?], leadership fails to ask them to participate, or maybe a profound sense of unworthiness.

At the moment of salvation, a believer receives one of seven motivational gifts**: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, organizing, or mercy. This gift of God’s grace shapes how the believer views life, relates to others, and impacts the Body of Christ. “A motivational gift can be compared to a set of eyeglasses from God, given so that the believer can see people and circumstances through that particular set of ‘lenses’”. God works through the spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ to help the Church grow and remain healthy.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit also equip the Church to express the fullness of God’s love to the world. This category of gift is referred to as manifestation gifts. These spiritual gifts are given to the Church to benefit both believers and unbelievers. These gifts represent the work God does through the life of a believer in a given situation to demonstrate His supernatural power. The nine manifestation gifts are listed in I Corinthians 12:7–11: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, diverse kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues.

At times in church meetings, I get the sense that some church members think the church belongs to them. This is so wrong-headed. The New Testament speaks repeatedly about Christ as the foundation of the church and members are “little building stones built in a holy temple to the Lord” [1 Peter, 2:5]. Graham goes even further: Christ is head of the church universal, head of every congregation of believers, head of every person who has repented of his or her sin and received Jesus Christ as Savior.

Certainly the church is shepherded by a pastor who has gifts of ministry. The problem is that many think the pastor is the only one with spiritual gifts. That is not the case. The motivational, ministry, and manifestation gifts of the Holy Spirit all contribute to the orderliness of God’s design of working in the Church and the world. As instruments of God’s work in the church, we must seek to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and to submit to God [pastors included]. Then when the Holy Spirit works among believers and bestows spiritual gifts, there will be peace and orderliness, not strife and confusion. Graham writes that too many people expect the pastor to have all the gifts and do all the work. Church members become mere spectators. As church members, we have a great responsibility to use our gifts as the pastor uses his or her gifts.

Yes, that means we are to take our puzzle piece and use it, fit it in the big puzzle of our congregation and transform the church according to God’s plan. If we do that, the Holy Spirit will be at work within the church.

From his book The Holy Spirit
From a telephone interview: Pastor Roy King, Bridge of Hope Church and Institute of Basic Life Principles Website

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Let Your Light Shine

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There is an old expression in my family. It is not unique to us, but growing up I heard this from a grandmother, aunt…I am not sure. The expression goes like this: “The world is going to hell in a handbasket.” I have always remembered that expression.

I use this saying to open Billy Graham’s* comments on the Holy Spirit because preventing the world from destruction is one of the reasons that man has received God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. I hope if Pastor Graham were alive today that he would not be too upset with the use of my familial saying.

But let’s stop and be “real” before you think that I advocate using our saintly lives to combat the evil of the world. We are not in any position to do that. We all know we “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” [Romans 3: 23]. Alone, none of us has what it takes to live in righteousness. We all suffer that nasty sin nature that we inherited from Adam [our ancestor made some pretty disastrous mistakes in the Garden of Eden].

Essentially, we all have this natural tendency to sin.

But Graham says it best: “This sin nature is a root and sin can also be the fruit.”

Note the little word “can”. That little word makes all the difference.

We have choices.

We don’t have to sin, do we? We can go another way.

I found it very significant that many people who attended Graham’s crusades left the crusade shaking their fists in anger at the pastor. What was that about?
In his preaching, God was using him to make them aware of their sin and guess what? The Holy Spirit awakening and saying “you are not right” is not a pleasant experience. Maybe they were being called upon to change their ways and they just did not want to. It is not fun to suddenly be aware of a new label, especially if that new label is “sinner.” Awareness of sin is one major reasons that the Holy Spirit is in the world.

Maybe some of those angry people came to the point in their lives where they realize that Jesus is the way to truth. They see the need for God and to get to God they need to believe in Jesus Christ. When they are at that point, they realize the value of a righteous life. The Holy Spirit is used to teach us about righteousness.

Maybe some of those angry people choose to live as they want. Certainly God told Adam and Eve what not to do and they did it anyway. The Old Testament is full of examples of men who did as they pleased rather than doing what God told them to do.

Actually this opens us up to some pretty bad news. Choosing to go our own way will reap consequences. People who turn their backs on God and refuse the offer of everlasting life won’t receive everlasting life when life comes to an end. [Yes that is pretty bad news, isn’t it].

Rather than spending too much time on bad choices, let’s focus on the person who makes a good choice, accepts the need for Jesus, and begins the long road toward living a more righteous life. What does this have to do with combating that “world is going to hell” situation?

It is pretty awesome.

The Holy Spirit in man is God’s weapon against lawlessness. I know the everyday news is full of violence, perversion, hatred and fearfulness but God is depending on individual people to counteract all this negative news. To confront all this negativity we all have to accept the Apostle Paul’s mission that he accepted on the Damascus Road: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins” [Act 26: 18].

You have heard it before (countless times) but we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salt was used in the time of Jesus to preserve things. We are to help preserve the law and combat the lawlessness. We are to be the light because light dissipates the darkness of evil.

I love this idea. Maybe I am an optimistic guy but the changing of the world is act by act, done by people just like you and me. Too often we think only the rich can have an impact or the powerful are the only ones who can accomplish a lot. Too often we think only megachurch pastors have the ability to change the world.

No, the ability to change the world resides in you and me.

When the world sees our good works, the world knows our light is shining.

When the world sees our moral choices, based on Christian values, the world sees our saltiness.

We don’t do this alone. It is done through the Holy Spirit working within us. We don’t have the power to do it on our own, but we are not powerless.

God, through the Holy Spirit which resides in us has a simple but profound message to all of us. He is saying this: “Let your light shine” [Matthew 5:16].

*From Graham’s book The Holy Spirit

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Loss and Gain…

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We all have to experience loss.

It is a part of life. The older we get, the more loss of friends and loved ones becomes an unwelcome theme of life. Since December of this past year, I have lost a very good friend who I used to work with in church, a classmate who I used to run around with in high school and college, and now a guy at church who I knew as a golfer, a good man, a devoted follower of Christ.

We all have to experience loss.

We also experience the emotions associated with loss: grief, fear, maybe even depression.

The loss of friends and loved ones is important, significant, and life-altering. But let’s imagine the loss the Disciples felt when Jesus told them He was going away. He predicted it, it happened and there they were; faced with grief, fear…leaderless.

In Acts 2:14, Jesus said “If I do not go away, the Helper [Holy Spirit] shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

What would the Disciples have preferred? I would imagine they would have preferred their leader, their friend, their loved one to remain on this earth, but that was not the plan that God intended. Pastor Billy Graham* summarized God’s plan with the five past events of the Gospels: “the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and Pentecost. A sixth component is still future: the Second Coming of Jesus.”

Imagine the anguish the Disciples felt. They had no idea what Jesus meant when He said “the Helper” is coming. They just knew that the Man who had inspired them to lead lives devoted to God, the man who inspired them to live according to His model, the man who challenged the religious norms of the day and inspired them to challenge those norms was gone.

Add to the feeling of anguish the emotion of fear—the very real fear of retribution. Look what happened to their leader. Was that in store for them?

Maybe the future was foretold in the Jewish past.

The Jewish people have many feasts, one of them is Passover. Most Christians know that the Passover celebrates the time when the Israelites were freed from a long period of slavery in Egypt. The Jews killed an unblemished lamb and placed the lamb’s blood over the door of each Israelite house. That signified a deliverance from God’s judgement. On Jesus’s last Passover feast, He offered Himself for the salvation of men. He shed his own blood so we could all be free from God’s judgement. He put Himself in our place and atoned for our sins.

The Disciples celebrated Passover with Jesus, hearing His hints about His sacrifice, probably hoping that His predictions of His impending death were wrong.

But His predictions weren’t wrong.

The Jewish people also celebrate the feast of Pentecost, fifty days from Passover. For devout Jews, this feast meant the beginning of the harvest, the “first fruits.” The Christian Pentecost, which occurred forty days from the resurrection and ten days after the ascent of Jesus into Heaven, can also be seen as the beginning of the harvest, the beginning of God’s harvest in the world, to be completed when Jesus comes again.
Can you imagine that feeling the Disciples felt when the Holy Spirit descended on the one-hundred and twenty in the upper room.


Jesus was with them again in the form of the Holy Spirit, just as He promised.
Graham asks two questions about these events. Why did Jesus have to go? We know that answer. So the Holy Spirit could come. Why did the Holy Spirit have to come?
I believe the Spirit had to come because Christians need help with the harvest. We can’t do the work alone, under our own power. We don’t know what to do; we need the knowledge that is imparted from the Holy Spirit. We don’t have enough strength to get through the good times and bad and continue on with our work; the Holy Spirit gives us that strength. When times get hard and we need comfort, the Holy Spirit sends reassuring messages our way to help us with the difficult times so we can recover and continue on with our work.

Graham basically says the Holy Spirit came because there is much work to do “in the world, in the Church and in the individual Christian.”

The next series of posts will explore that work in all three areas, but for the time being let’s focus on the feeling those one-hundred twenty felt when the wind rushed through the room, the fire descended and the speaking in tongues occurred.

Let’s add another feeling to the Disciples that day.

I am sure that relief was experienced, but let’s add another emotion.

How about elation!

*from his book The Holy Spirit

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