Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Pentecost Spot

This is the message I brought this morning at Light on the Corner Church in Montrose, CA.

The Pentecost Spot
Light on the Corner Church, Montrose, CA
June 12, 2011

Ever have a brush with the famous? I once shared an airport shuttle with Dr. Joyce Brothers—and why she was doing wearing a long fur coat in summer, I’ll never know. Another time I had job of escorting a US Senator when he came to the college I attended. The only things he asked from me was, where’s the bathroom and, son, can you go get me a coke?

I once shook hands with the current president of the United States—Jimmy Carter, in spring, 1977. Years later, I shared a plane ride with two political opposites: Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson.

Even if you’re not the star-struck type—and I’m not—there’s something surreal about meeting famous people. There’s that moment when you’re not sure who you just saw—could it really be that famous person that you’ve seen on TV? Once at Paramount studios, I had a moment like that when I did a double take and realized that the smiling guy who I’d just walked by was John Mahoney, the man who played the dad on the TV show “Frasier.”

Then, if it’s someone you respect, there’s a moment of awe. I’ve been in the presence of people like Billy Graham, Rick Warren and some other people whom I respect, and there’s a feeling of profound regard and even gratitude.

But that’s nothing. Imagine being in the presence of God. Imagine being there like Moses, when God appeared in the guise of a burning bush. Or when the Glory of the Lord filled the temple in Jerusalem when it was dedicated in Solomon’s time. Or when the angels announced the birth of the messiah to shepherds in a field.

Now, that all would have been so amazing, but Jesus told His disciples that the coming of the Holy Spirit truly would surpass all of these. Now with Pentecost, the holiness of God, the presence of God, comes down to live in the heart and lives of each and every believer. What was exceptional—and kind of dangerous—in the old order of things is now the daily experience of each believer. That’s what the day of Pentecost was is about. The Holy One sweeps in and becomes the continual experience of each and every believer.

There are two broad areas of the work of the Spirit in the lives of believers: what He wants to do in you and what He wants to do through you. The fruit of the Spirit mostly has to do with what He wants to do in you; the gifts of the Spirit mostly have to do with what He wants to do through you.

Today is Pentecost. It is an amazing thing it is that the Holy Spirit of God has come for each and every one of us. To be in the presence of the Holy One and live—it’s an amazing thing! Never forget that.

The command to be filled with the Spirit

But here comes a paradox, one that I’ve heard many times in Bible studies and discussions: if the Holy Spirit has come to live within me, how is it that we’re are told that we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Maybe this will help. If we think of the Holy Spirit as someone who has taken up residence in our lives, and if we think of our lives like a home, there are different ways we can treat a guest in our home.

During their High School years, we had three different friends of our children come and live with us for months at a time because of problems they were facing at home. We liked them all, we fed them like they were our own kids, but they knew and we knew that they were temporary and that they weren’t top priority in the household.

But when my wife’s late parents came to visit, they were high-priority. We’d clear out the best bedroom in the house for them. When other relatives or old friends came, they were high-priority guests. The whole routine of the house would revolve around their presence. The whole household was re-organized around the presence of the high priority guest.

You see, you can treat the indwelling Holy Spirit kind of like one of those high school kids, or more like my in-laws. A life that’s re-ordered to align with the priorities of the Holy Spirit is a life that is filled with the Holy Spirit.

Be filled with the Spirit! Andrew Murray, the great South African man of prayer wrote,

“… [Believers] ought to seek with their whole hearts to be filled with the Spirit of God. Without being filled with the Spirit it is utterly impossible that an individual Christian or church could ever live or work as God desires.”

The late Bill Bright wrote, “…if a Christian is not filled [with the Holy Spirit] he is disobedient to the command of God, who commanded us to be filled, and is sinning against Him.”

The Bible is clear: we are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The key passage is Ephesians 5:15-20:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s a simple thing that Paul says here. Life is short, so use your time wisely. Seize every opportunity for God. Understand His will. And at that heart of all that is a choice—where will you get your inspiration from?

Paul is probably alluding to a pagan practice—the Bacchus festival. Basically, the idea was that when you got totally wasted with wine, the god Dionysus spoke through you, indwelt you and empowered you. (Try telling a highway patrolman that—“I’m not drunk, Dionysus indwells me!”)

Now, people can debate about whether or not Christians should drink, but the Bible is crystal clear on this: drunkenness is forbidden. Lynann and I decided long ago that we weren’t going to drink alcohol not so much that we believe that the Bible absolutely forbids drinking any alcohol, but just to stay clear of the whole problem. But one thing’s certain: you can’t get drunk if you never drink!

So, Paul says, don’t get drunk. With the Bacchus festival in mind, he says, don’t get drunk. That’s a lousy source of inspiration! Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.

“Be filled”: the Greek word here is plaro-oo. To be precise, here it’s inflected as plarousthe, which is the present, passive, imperative of the verb. That means, right now (present and continually) allow yourself (that’s passive part) to be filled, and that’s an order from God (that’s the imperative part).

In the Greek language, this kind of filling always has to do with control. Don’t let booze control you. Don’t even let you control you. Let the Spirit control you. Make Him the honored guest in your life.

The passage ends by suggesting certain things that come from the Spirit’s control. We speak psalms and hymns and we sing spiritual songs to one another; we sing out loud and in our hearts, full of thanks to God the Father in the name of Jesus. How so very often the work of the Spirit is related to the words and the even the songs that come out of our mouths!

How to be filled with the Spirit

So then, how are we to be filled with the Spirit? The command is clear—but it’s a passive command. That is, you can’t fill yourself with the Spirit. It’s more of a matter of making room for the Spirit, like that honored houseguest.

Now listen: the images of the Holy Spirit in the Bible are mostly fluid images: wind, fire, water, a fast-flying dove, a pillar of cloud and so on. And that gives us a vital clue on what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

Imagine that we are at En Gedi, the spring in the desert of Judah where David and his men hid from Saul. Year-round, a thin waterfall cascades down the rocks and fills the pond below, then that stream goes down to the Dead Sea. In the summer, it’s cooler than the surrounding desert; in the winter, it’s warmer. It is one of the most appealing, comforting, pleasant spots on earth.

Now say I hand you a plastic jug and I say to you, “Get some water from the waterfall.” Notice I didn’t say, “Fill this jug”—because you really can’t. All you can do is just hold the jug in the right spot and let the waterfall do the filling.

You want to be filled with the Spirit? You have to stand in the right spot and let the Spirit do the filling. Where’s the right spot?

Let me give you four elements to the “right spot” to be filled with the Spirit that spell out the word SPOT:

S: Separate from sin and Satan

You can’t serve two masters. I don’t mean you have to be perfect, but you can’t be at peace with sin and at peace with the Holy Spirit at the same time.

In ancient times, “renouncing Satan and all his works” was a well-understood part of following Jesus. Before a person could be baptized, he would be asked, “Do you renounce Satan?” That meant that you renounced all false gods, all occult practices, all immoral ways of life.

James 4:7 says,

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

If you desire to be filled with the Spirit, you can’t be playing on Satan’s team part-time. You can’t be at peace with sin, but be at war with your sins. You have to be in a place where you have made a decisive, determined decision to follow Jesus Christ, and you make that decision again each and every day of your life, to submit to God again today, and again tomorrow, and again the next day, until the day you enter eternity. And you make that decision as well to resist Satan, and to serve the Risen Lord today, and tomorrow and the day after for the rest of your life on earth.

Pentecostal theologian Robert Coleman says, “Remember—God can use a small vessel, but He will not use a dirty one.” The S in SPOT stands for separate from sin and Satan.

P: Passionately desire His fullness

Psalm 42:1 says,
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

Ever had a time that you were just aching for a drink of water? Ever been dehydrated? I’ve been there a few times. You limbs actually start to hurt from lack of water. It becomes an obsession—I have to have some water! Without it, you start to become confused and disoriented.

Jesus talks the same way in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

In the same way, if you desire to be filled with the Spirit, there must come a time when you say, “God I want Your fullness so bad, I ache for your presence.”

Not only that, you have to ache for God to use you to the maximum extent. God doesn’t send us His power to us so we can run pinball machines; He sends His power so we can tell the whole world about Jesus Christ. He doesn’t send His Spirit so that you can have a spiritual high, but to empower you to do the work of God.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus says,

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.

If you want the Spirit’s power, you have to embrace the Spirit’s passion—and that is to exalt the name of Jesus by bringing new worshippers into the fold.

Why is it that some of the most Spirit-empowered people I have ever known are missionaries and evangelists? Here’s why—because God sends His power to those who embrace His purposes.

There is a flipside to that to consider: if you aren’t experiencing God’s joy, and if you’re not winning over sin in your life, and if you’re not able to shake a sense of purposelessness and even depression, it could be because you aren’t sharing your faith. You see, when you share your faith, the Spirit rushes in to empower you. And He does not leave when you are done sharing your faith. He stays and brings the joy of the Lord and the victory of the cross.

So the P in SPOT stands for passionately desire His fullness.

O: Obey the direct commands and promptings of the Spirit.

The Spirit will not negotiate with you and meet you half-way. The Spirit-filled person is the Spirit-obeying person. The Spirit’s commands come in two ways: the clear, direct commands of Scripture, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, as well as the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

There are certain core things that God commands—love God, love people, grow spiritually, share your faith, be united in fellowship. The Spirit will not fill you if you are not in obedience to these core commands.

Romans 12:1—a very familiar passage—says,
Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

If you desire to be filled with the Spirit, you have to surrender to God—to be a living sacrifice. Jesus has to be crowned as true Lord of your life. You’re placing all that you are on that altar.

Further, there needs to be the willingness to obey when the Spirit sends His promptings. Now this is one where you learn how to hear God and grow from there, but I have truly observed that the Spirit-filled person expects the Spirit to speak to them. When I pray, I often have a notepad and a pen, because I truly expect that when you talk to God, don’t be surprised when He talks back.

The S stands for separate from sin and Satan; the P stands for passionately desire His fullness. And the O in SPOT stands for “obey the commands and promptings of the Spirit.” Finally,

T: Turn, trust and treasure: turn from self-reliance, trust God, and treasure the Gift of the Spirit.

The Spirit-filled person turns from self-reliance, trusts God and treasures the Spirit.

Think about those disciples awaiting the coming of the Spirit in those ten days between Jesus’ ascension and the Day of Pentecost. What was God doing in their lives? He was breaking up their little plans for their little lives. And do you think, in those ten days, there were times when people wept together as they came together to pray? Sure. There were some old resentments that had to be aired out between the disciples and James and John, who tried to get to billing next to Jesus. Now the brothers of Jesus were there—who hadn’t believed during His ministry. Do you think there was some reconciling and forgiving that needed to be done before the Spirit could come? Oh yes!

Forgiveness and reconciliation and love and unity—all those were needed before the Spirit could come. And they are needed now as well; the Spirit, if the Biblical record can be trusted (and it can); the Spirit delights not only to come in power upon individuals, but whole communities, churches, which turn to Him.

Be filled with the Holy Spirit. What a precious command!

I have an empty glass here. How can I get the air out of it? I could pump the air out, but there’s a pretty good chance, I’ll break the glass.

There’s an easy way to get the air out. (Fill with water.) If you want a real transformation in your life, don’t waste your time pumping out some here and there. Brothers and sisters, instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit!


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