† IHS †
May the Holy Spirit’s Work in Your Life Make You Even More Aware of the Grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Missing Piece
So today, children of the Father, we have a small pop quiz. It might be tricky, and anyone who fails may be subject to going through confirmation again.
I want you to think of the creed that you just confessed, before singing “my redeemer lives”. Without reciting it in your mind, or looking it up, here is your one question quiz.
Who is described as “the Lord” in the creed? ( pause for answers)
Specifically, who is described as “the Lord and giver of Life.”
We may talk of believing in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, but even the Creed talk more of the effect of the Holy Spirit than of the Holy Spirit himself. We talk of the communion of saints, knowing our sins are forgiven, the resurrection of the Body and life, the life given us by the Spirit, everlasting.
But we often so overlook the role of the Holy Spirit, who has given us life.
So curious how many people need to have a refresher in what they learned in confirmation?
In today’s Old Testament passage, we see a great picture of the work of the Holy Spirit, who is not just the giver of life, but the Lord of Life. Yeah, the Lord of Life.
We need to understand this, not just as a matter of semantics, but to understand the work that God does in us, to us…. And through us.
The Damage of Sin
If we are to understand this, we need to see the reason that the bones were there in the valley. The clearest explanation is given by the people who struggled with God,
“They are saying, We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished. ”
By finished, Ezekiel is making the comment that they are cut off from God. Using the Mosaic Law, they are exiled from the people of God. They are acknowledging that they all deserve the treatment that blasphemy earns described well in
13 Then the LORD said to Moses, 14 “Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and tell all those who heard the curse to lay their hands on his head. Then let the entire community stone him to death. 15 Say to the people of Israel: Those who curse their God will be punished for their sin. 16 Anyone who blasphemes the Name of the LORD must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel. Any native-born Israelite or foreigner among you who blasphemes the Name of the LORD must be put to death. Leviticus 24:13-16 (NLT)
That is what they mean by their nation, their people, being finished.
That is why there is nothing left in the valley, but the dried, withered bones. We aren’t talking about bones like this… but ones so dried out, that they are brittle. There is nothing left, no marrow, no DNA, nothing…
That is what sin does to us, it hollows us, makes us empty, completely eradicates all trace of life, even from our perspective, any trace of God’s presence.
But that is why this son of Man was asked, “can these bones become living people again?” It is why Jesus came and wandered among those dead in sin, and why His cross and resurrection is that which puts back all that sin destroyed.
it is amazing to contemplate the bones coming back together, the cartilage and muscles crawling back over the skeletons, the flesh being restored.
Even then, forgiven, put back together, made whole, the army of bodies needs something to transform them from death to life. To use the word found in the creeds – to be made quick, to be brought alive.
They need to be resuscitated.
The Divine Resuscitation
We needed to be resuscitated, to be made to inhale the breath of life, the Holy Spirit. Even as God breathed into Adam, even as Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “receive the Holy Spirit,” We needed to have happened to us what happened on Pentecost. Hear Ezekiel’s words again… and know this is your promise:
9 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again
The Spirit to be breathed into us, to bring us back to life, to be the Lord of life and the giver of our life. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms us, that kindles faith and a repentant and transformed life. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us to proclaim Christ Jesus as our hope, reminding us of all He teaches us. That brings us together, as a unified body of Christ.
That makes us one, holy, united church that is sent in the world to transform others, even as we have been transformed as the Holy Spirit focuses our lives, our minds, our hearts on Jesus.
Doing this while as invisible, but as tangible and real, as a refreshing breeze that washes over us and gives us life on a day when we are parched and tired, and our faith may be dry.
The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, the Spirit who discerns who has which talents, which gifts, and forms the church, ensuring it has what it needs, to depend on Jesus, to minister to each other, to minister from Cerritos to Georgia to the Sudan and Papua New Guinea. To reach out to expectant moms in Africa and the people of Bellflower.
The Spirit, who would blow through your life, removing that which isn’t like Jesus, who would see the glory of God, reflect through us, bringing hope to the people around us.
Remember – this is the day when a church of 120 grew into a church of 3000!
May the Spirit so enkindle our hearts, so breathe life into us, that the same thing would happen again!
Didn’t He Already Do That?
You might ask what I mean by the Holy Spirit breathe life into us again. No, I don’t mean that we are spiritually dead like in the valley of dried bones. But there are times where we feel like it, where we wonder if our bones if the church (and I don’t mean just Concordia) can be brought back to life in this country.
If you look at the statistics, or just tour empty churches on Sunday morning, you would wonder if the church couldn’t say these same things. Areas where 50-70 percent of people were once in church on Sunday morning are now where the number is one-tenth the amount.
The church isn’t dead, it cannot be, we haven’t left God’s presence, the work of Christ isn’t in vain. For the Holy Spirit isn’t just the giver of our life, but the Lord of it. Paul describes the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work, this way,
17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NLT)
And that is a promise to us, in this day, as solid as the promise to bring us to life in Christ…for that is what the Lord of Life does… He makes more and more like Jesus… as we are changed into His image… as we see His glory. AMEN? Then realize this, the Lord of Life is with You! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 When the builders completed the foundation of the LORD’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets. And the Levites, descendants of Asaph, clashed their cymbals to praise the LORD, just as King David had prescribed. 11 With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the LORD: “He is so good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!” Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the LORD because the foundation of the LORD’s Temple had been laid. 12 But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. 13 The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance. Ezra 3:10-13 (NLT)
“The place may have powerful significance, but it is God’s purposes that must be made visible and tangible. When we say, “I’m in charge of the ruins,, it must mean that we are guardians of a vision, not curators for the department of ancient monuments” (1)
455 When they were fishing for you, you would ask yourself where they got that strength and fire which burned everything in sight. Now as you pray you realise that this is the source that wells up within the true children of God. (2)
I’ve spent a good deal of my time as a pastor, working with churches that, like the Temple of David, had seen better days, and even lie in what others might see as “ruins”. Significant research has been done, and many now see a life cycle of a church as being 25-40 years, unless something is done to re-create the vision of the church. I would add, often that is simply recreating the original vision.
Such was the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, one rebuilding the temple, one rebuilding the community of God, restoring the people of God and the place He put His name, that they could come and pray, that they could come and receive His promises, that they could be assured of their place in His family.
So as I as doing my devotions this morning ( I am presently using the Celtic Prayer Book -which I highly recommend) I came across both the reading from Ezra and the part of the meditation that is quoted in green above. Obviously, for someone who has and longs to see God bring life to and from that which was dead… these words resonate deeply in my heart.
I’ve seen the people who shout for joy because of new birth found in Christ. I’ve see those who weep and cry out in pain, because the renewed temple/church/people of God don’t quite resemble the glory of what was, of what they so dearly remember. There is a deep tendency in us to guard not the vision, but the memory, To look back and miss what was, not seeing the hope that others are crying out in joy over. How does one minister to both groups simultaneously? Or do you neglect one for the other? How do you keep them from grating on each other’s nerves, for Romans says we should be in common – weeping with others while they week, rejoicing while they rejoice. But when both groups are reacting, and pouring everything they are into their tears or cries of joy…. ? When others see the vision becoming reality, and others struggle to see the vision through their tear flooded eyes?
There is only one place I know of, where you can do both simultaneously…. that is in the presence of God. To realize that He is the comforter of the broken, the strength of those who are weak. That the congregation, that the building finds it existence, not in its past, or its future, but in His purposes. To redeem, to reconcile, to justify and sanctify for God a people of His own calling. There is the room for joy and tears, for repentance and for submission to God’s vision for the future. There is healing, and the Spirit working through us to use that which God has blessed us with, including our churches, including the places where God puts His name – for His people, and for those who need to come, and find out He is real.
For a critical, no, the critical part to seeing the foundations built upon, for seeing the bones of Ezekiel’s dry bones live and have the Spirit breathed into them, is that intimacy with God. It is where the prophets and priests and people of the Old Testament found their strength, it is where the apostles and pastors and saints still find their strength today. It is what brings comfort and strength, it is why we treasure the past as visions came to be. It is the reason we have hope for the future, knowing that same vision will come into being as well – because that is God’s heart. As God refocuses our buildings to be used powerfully for His purpose, He first does the same with out hearts, calling us into a relationship with Him, a relationship that deepens, that grows, that reaches out in love to draw others in, that they may know the healing, the hope, the love.
We need to rebuild so many of our churches, to re-purpose them to the very visions that they were built to see happen. But the power, the strength, the determination that will succeed is found, not in us, but in seeing the building used for His purpose. And His purpose is fairly simple – that we would be His people, His offspring, and that we would know HE is our God..
(1) Celtic Daily Prayer Book – Aiden reading July 8th
(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2010-2012). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day
16 So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe. 17 That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. Romans 4:16-17 (NLT)
7 So I prophesied as I had been told. While I was speaking, I heard a rattling noise, and the bones began to join together. 8 While I watched, the bones were covered with sinews and muscles, and then with skin. But there was no breath in the bodies. 9 God said to me, “Mortal man, prophesy to the wind. Tell the wind that the Sovereign LORD commands it to come from every direction, to breathe into these dead bodies, and to bring them back to life.” 10 So I prophesied as I had been told. Breath entered the bodies, and they came to life and stood up. There were enough of them to form an army. Ezekiel 37:7-10 (TEV)
926 When I am told that there are people dedicated to God who are no longer striving with fervour for sanctity, I think that—if there is any truth in this—their lives are heading towards great failure. (1)
So, my wife and I are having this Sarah and Abraham moment… and in trying to live in a state of denial, I’ve been thinking about churches. Today, we had a pastor’s gathering of our circuit – some 22 churches in our area – and five pastors showed up beside me. After celebrating God’s gifts – we talked a little bit about our churches – and where we see God leading us shepherd them.
In all but one case – the chruches are in need of…. some call it revitalizaiton, some call it revival. We talked about being focused on Christ, about discipling, about outreach – and about beng the church together.
In trying to process all of this, I remember what the experts told me about my first church – that is couldn’t possibly be a vital congregation again. I had heard that about others congregations, that had on such advice folded, closed their doors, abandoned their communities, and their duty to be salt and light, usually in neighborhoods experiencing great darkness of sin. I’ve heard that since – as experts have told me that there is a growing need for church hospice pastors – the pastors that will assist churches as they mourn, as their lights fadee, as they die…..
But if God can create life in Sarah’s womb, in Hannah’s womb, in Elizabeth’s womb, if He can create this universe from nothingness, (and in my wife’s – who is much much younger than the others just mentioned) can He not create life in these churches?
Abraham believed God, the Son of Man in Ezekiel knew that even when there were bodies with flesh – God’s spirit was needed for those bodies to become alive, for them to be a “mighty army” (not going to war with the world – but going to war to save those in it). St Josemaria talks aof failure in not being a place where God’s holiness is sought, and even though his writings are sacred writ – there is that same point. Where is the Holy Spirit in our churches? Where is the evidence of repentance and reconciliation, of lives that are made whole in Christ, of a desire to see people freed from sin, and from its wicked accomplices of guilt and shame. Holiness being a characteristic – not thatit is intentionally developed – but it is the normal by-product of people in awe of God, and overwhelmed by His love for them.
Can these churches live? Yes Lord, you know.
I also wonder, if we see this in little churches, does it happen in big ones as well? Can the church do so many things that it forgets its first ministry is to know Christ and Him crucified? Can even mega churches be a valley of dried bones, or a valley of bones with flesh – but no Spirit? For there, when the Spirit enters our lives, we find our hope – we find God’s mercy, we find His love. We find that call to holiness that we should never deny,, for it is a very gift of our Baptism. You see Holiness isn’t about some goody two shoes, condescnding holier than thou attitude. Holiness is about realizing that we’ve been called into God’s glory – that He will share our lives, even as we share in His.
It is a million times the feeling a father has, when he holds the baby that has been in his wife’s womb for 9 months. For daily, daily, we encounter God’s presence, His glory, His mercy, His love in much the same way a mother shares life with her baby.while in the womb. Yet – then. on the day He returns, face to face…
Yeah – these churches can live – for that is why God has put His name there – to bring life from nothing, to erase darkness with the light of His glory.
We find our lives.
So let us, as His children, as His people, cry “Lord have mercy!” and “Come Holy Spirit” and know 1) the call is the same, and 2) It is always answered, Fear not, I AM with you!”
And then watch – as the Spirit breathes life into these congregations, and they live!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3264-3266). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.