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A “Top-Down” Faith 5/22

The phrase “from the top down” is often used to denote a hierarchical system of management or governance. The will and beliefs and directives of those “at the top” are imposed—sometimes aggressively, sometimes even oppressively—on those below. From the top down.

In the season of Pentecost we will see that Christianity is very much a top-down faith. Christian teachings come “from the top down,” but not in the sense that those teachings are oppressively imposed on us. When we call Christianity a “top-down faith,” we mean that it tells us things about God that are so beautiful and good—teachings that couldn’t possibly have originated from human thinking. The Christian faith contains teachings that are so wonderful that we would never even believe them unless God himself revealed their truthfulness to us. So, God sent his Spirit from heaven to earth—from the top down—to empower his children to believe that which would otherwise be totally unbelievable.

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

Jesus Sent the Holy Spirit as Our Advocate 5/15


Who are the people you want standing by your side when you face all that goes on in the world?

That idea of a person standing by your side is a powerful one, and one we need to have for ourselves as we walk through life. The Holy Spirit is described in just that way in the gospel of John when Jesus promises to send the Spirit to his disciples after he departs for heaven. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

You know a word is not easy to translate when it appears in several different versions in the translations! Along with “Advocate,” as we have it above, you can find “Friend,” “Helper,” . . . . “Counselor,” “Comforter,” “Encourager,” “Intercessor,” “Defender,” and likely more. Some don’t even try to pin it down to one English word and just use “the Paraclete,” which is a literal English version of the original Greek word.

The basic meaning is “someone called to your side to help you.” The Holy Spirit is sent to take over Jesus’ work, so much of what Jesus did for his disciples while he was with them continues on through the Holy Spirit. His teaching and reminding. His consoling them in trouble. His defending of them against the devil and fear with the promise of forgiveness and salvation. The disciples would not be without God as their companion. The Holy Spirit would be at their side to aid them in every need.

Unfortunately, there has been a huge growth over the last decades in using the name of the Spirit to back up all sorts of odd and unbiblical teaching and practices in some churches. The work of the Spirit when Jesus promised to send him is not to bring about all kinds of strange outward signs. The work of the Spirit as Jesus spoke about it is mainly on the inside:  

8When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:8-11)

Where there are people who are convicted and believe in God’s view of sin, righteousness in Christ, and judgment, there is the Holy Spirit beside them working in them to bring them to salvation.

Hannah and Samuel 5/8


A Mother Who Dedicated Her Son to the Lord’s Service

I’m guessing that just about all, if not all, mothers have some vision of what they would like to see their children become. How they would like them to behave morally. What types of professions they would like to see them gravitate toward. What their spouse and future family would look like. With all the love and dedication mothers put into the children they bear, it’s only natural they would also have some desires in their hearts for how they will turn out!

Hannah from the Old Testament times of the judges had a very clear idea of what her son would be even before he was born. Her focus was so sure that she even put it in the form of a vow to the Lord. Hannah for years lived with the sadness of being childless. As part of her emotional plea to God in 1 Samuel chapter 1 she promised . . . . to dedicate him to the Lord’s ministry for his entire life.

Finally, the day arrived! Her first child, Samuel, was born. In the excitement of a new baby she could care for and raise in her home, Hannah did not forget her promise: “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always” (1 Samuel 1:22).

If it’s tough for parents to wave good-bye to their kids as they drop them off for their first year of college, imagine how it was for Hannah when she left her young son (maybe as young as three years old) in the temple to live and learn ministry! That was a huge sacrifice on her part, but it also resulted in blessing for the people of Israel as Samuel grew up to be a faithful prophet and spiritual leader over God’s people for 40-50 years.

Hannah was in a unique situation. And certainly all professions (not just church ministry ones) among believers are to God’s glory. God uses parents and children in many different ways in his kingdom. However, encouraging your children to think about ministry as teachers, pastors, and other ministers is worth considering. Our country is slowly becoming more secular. The religious “nones” have grown to 28% in a recent poll (Pew Research Center). Now, as always in history, there is need for those dedicated to sharing the Word of God.

Always Doing Good and Helping 5/1


Dorcas Societies have a long history in the church. There are some that were formed in the 1800s and are still active today. Even though they don’t seem to be as common now, I remember as a child hearing about them from time to time in some of our congregations. They are wonderful ways for especially Christian women to get together and aid those who are less fortunate.

These societies were named after Dorcas (her name in Greek), who was also known as Tabitha (her name in Aramaic). Her story is in Acts 9:36-43. We don’t find out much about her life or background, but she lived in the city of Joppa on the coast. And she was most known for . . . . always doing good and helping the poor (Acts 9:36).

The word “always” speaks to a general quality. The Christian community knew that Dorcas was ready at all times to support those who needed it. After her death the widows showed Peter the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them (Acts 9:39).

The Old Testament also abounds with references to helping those who are truly in need. One of the commands of God’s law was this one:

28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that … the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands
(Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

Even when Dorcas became sick and died, God was not finished with her mission on earth. He brought the Apostle Peter to her home and through him raised her back to life. The Lord kept her in the community of believers as an example of how disciples of Christ live.

God gifted us with salvation in our helpless spiritual state, and gave us a place in his kingdom through his Son. Whether it has a formal name or not, we can all consider ourselves members of the “Dorcas Society,” Christians living as this pious believing woman did. Wouldn’t it be great for people to say of us after life here, “They were always doing good and helping others out of their faith in Christ”?

Sharing Everything We Have 4/24


The very earliest Christian church was formed in Jerusalem right after Jesus returned to heaven and the Holy Spirit came down in a special way on Pentecost. If we were able to be part of that congregation there are some things we’d recognize (the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer). Others are not so common in today’s church (meeting every day in the temple courts and in homes, along with signs and wonders performed by the apostles).

Another unique feature of that Christian group was that everyone had everything in common, and some of the believers even . . . . sold properties and houses in order to give to others in the congregation! I’m not sure if that type of radical sharing among Christians has ever been practiced since then in the same way throughout the two-thousand-year history of Christianity.

Some have even pointed to those accounts in Acts as the first examples of a “socialist” way of life. Of course, it’s one thing to have sharing imposed by a government, and it’s another thing to have sharing come out of the gospel. The sharing among the early believers was most definitely the work of God: And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them.(Acts 4:33-34).

The understanding that we don’t really own anything is from the Word. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1). We see in our congregations a great deal of sharing in faith, knowledge, support, and material possessions.

The specific way the early believers had things in common is an example, not a direct command from the Lord. However, given that we’ve been redeemed for eternal life and have had our eyes set on what is above, can we grow in sharing the abundance we’ve received and making sure everyone’s needs are met?

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32)

Test the Spirits 4/17


“Testing” is a common part of the Christian life and is blessed by the Lord. When I mention “testing,” I would assume we probably all jump first to the idea of being tested as believers. James starts out his book with that type of testing when he writes: … you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:3).

There is another kind of testing in the Bible. Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John 4:1). Here we as mature followers of Christ are the ones who do the testing, rather than being the ones . . . . who are tested through the trials, tribulations, and challenges of this world.

What are the “spirits” we need to test? There are more than we could number, and new “spirits” pop up every day! Here are just a few to consider:

  • The spirit of “everyone has their own truth which is just as good as any other truth” instead of God’s truth being above all.
  • The spirit of “filling our lives with pleasure and convenience” instead of seeking God’s kingdom.
  • The spirit of “trying to find God’s eternal favor in our obedience to his commands” instead of through faith in Christ.

You can add to the list a few “human spirits” that you are familiar with. And, of course, behind all the spirits that are not of God are the devil and the evil angels striving with all their might to come up with anything that will lead people away from Christ.

Things are not always what they seem. We know that. One of the biggest dangers for our personal faith, and for the spiritual health of a congregation, is to just accept any teaching claiming to be from God without checking the Word first.

In the end, the aim is not to be critical just for the sake of criticizing. We want to honor Jesus Christ who came in the flesh to teach us about his kingdom (1 John 1:2), and be confident that our faith is a faith truly from God.

Sinners or Saints? 4/10


At times there are churches that paint a clear dividing line between those they consider the “saints” and those they consider the “sinners.” The saints would be those who are good enough on their own, and the sinners would be all the rest who aren’t such great people. When Jesus was on earth in human form that same division was present, especially among the Pharisees and others who saw themselves on the “saintly side” as opposed to the common people who were on the “sinful side.”

Is that division real? Jesus often spoke against it! He directed the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector at some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else (Luke 18:9). In Jesus’ teaching all – without exceptions – need the Lord’s mercy. Even the most saintly among us.

In his introduction to Psalm 32, Martin Luther wrote: “Here stand the clear plain words: All the saints are sinners and remain sinners. But they are holy because God in His grace neither sees nor counts these sins, but forgets, forgives, and covers them. There is thus no distinction between the saints and the non-saints.”

Are we sinners? Yes! Are we saints? Yes, in the forgiveness and grace of God. All are sinful, and all have the possibility of being saints through faith in Christ Jesus.

The Apostle John reflects the same teaching when he encourages us not to sin, but then also immediately recognizes that we all will. So he points us to our Advocate.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

We have a wonderful message to share! No one starts out “better” than anyone else, and at the same time we all have the open door to fully being saints in Jesus Christ, our Savior.