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There may also be readings from various sources which encourage thoughtful reflection on Biblical concepts.
We may try melo-drama-style playlets, as is popular in many contemporary Churches, to introduce the subject of the Pastor's Message. This is probably a ways off, as it would involve much more work and time than we are capable of committing to it presently.
There may also be 'sound-bites' from the news or popular music or even 'video-bites', again to introduce the week's Message topic.
The possibilities are exciting! Praise the Lord!!!
In recent months, I have given several messages on the Nature of Heaven.
There are some basic reasons why I felt the need to do this. In general, they have to do with oversights that seem to exist in many modern Churches regarding some basic teachings of Christianity.
One certainty that all (Protestant) Christian Churches teach is that
when an individual asks Jesus to be his or her personal Savior, that
entrance into Heaven (and therefore being near Jesus) is assured.
This concept is somewhat implied in a variety of New Testament
Luke 3:6; Acts 2:21; Romans 5:18; Romans 10:13; 1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11,12; 2 Peter 3:9 and others.
There are also references that this is the ONLY way of attaining salvation and getting to Heaven: Luke 1:69; Luke 2:30; John 10:9; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9.
This activity will occur at His second Coming, according to Hebrews 9:28.
Also, Mark 9:41; Romans 2:10; 1 Corinthians 3:14; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Hebrews 6:10; James 1:25;
Also, Matthew 6:20; Luke 10:20;
Also, Luke 12:37; John 14:3; Philippians 3:20,21; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 John 3:2
The Bible has so MANY references to such rewards, that this is NOT just a small matter that can easily be dismissed. The rewards MUST be real, and there MUST be beneficial effects on the recipients.
We humans have limited intellect, and are poorly prepared to try to understand or analyze the Work of God. So it's understandable that we sometimes find it necessary to attempt to make educated estimates about such matters.
We do not need to know the specific rewards or the effects of such rewards on our existence in Heaven. It is enough to know that Jesus WANTS to give us rewards appropriate to what we merit, and that somehow those rewards will enhance our environment in Heaven!
I would like to begin today's message with a question for all the Christians visiting Jesus with us.
How often in your life, has the Holy Spirit been present and interacted with you? Occasionally? Sometimes? Often? NEVER!?
I have some wonderful news for you!
The Holy Spirit is CONTINUOUSLY with you, and always has been since you became a Christian! In fact, the Spirit is actually PART OF YOU! Your existence and that of the Holy Spirit are so closely intertwined that no distinction or separation exists between you!
The Bible tells us this in many places, in many ways. Ephesians 2:22 tells us that we are dwellings in which God's Spirit lives. Galatians 3:5 tells that the Spirit is in you because you believe in Jesus as your Savior. Romans 8:11 says the same thing. II Corinthians 1:22 explains that God owns us (Christians) and that the Spirit is therefore in our hearts. Ephesians 3:16 says that His Spirit is in your inner being. I John 4:13 explains that we live in Him, and He in us, because He gave us the Spirit. I Corinthians 3:6 tells us that we are His Temples and that God's Spirit lives in us.
The Bible even explains to us just why God arranged it this way:
I Corinthians 2:12 tells us that we got the Spirit so we may understand what God has freely given us. Romans 8:5-9 clarifies that our natural sinful nature leads us toward sin, while the presence of the Spirit inspires and teaches us to live pure lives.
The conflict of these last two ideas is what causes us so much turmoil. Due to Adam's Fall, human nature has been almost universally sinful. The Holy Spirit inspires us to be sinless. The exact opposite! These two moral forces continually are in conflict in trying to influence the daily decisions we make and the actions we take. Even Martin Luther (in his Bondage of the Will), described our existence as a horse standing between two riders, God and Satan. The two can argue over who rides, but once a rider is mounted, then our behavior is controlled and driven by that one rider. It is not possible to follow and serve both God and Satan. Only one can drive our thoughts, actions and behavior in any specific situation.
This same conflict may occur minutes later regarding some other moral or ethical dilemma we face. And over, and over, and over . . .
As humans, we sometimes express frustration at God for allowing us to have to continuously deal with these difficult situations. That's actually a short-sighted perspective. God does NOT want to intentionally hurt or trouble any of His children. After all, Jesus allowed us to understand the vast Love that He has for us.
But God has a greater vision than we do. He wants us to each learn to deal with these difficult dilemmas in order to learn important moral lessons. He has always known that if He gave us a Perfect environment, we would have little incentive to learn anything. He tried that once, in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had EVERYTHING! Whey wanted for NOTHING! But they didn't UNDERSTAND! They had had no reason to think through choices they could make. So they sinned. As their children, we are also susceptible to the same situation. So God ALLOWED Satan to affect and influence the world, in order to allow difficult situations for us to learn by.
Then, He provided Salvation through Jesus, and the Bible, and the Holy Spirit, and Churches. He arranged all this in order to improve each of us. When He made Salvation available, He knew we needed help to understand and make use of it. The indwelling Holy Spirit presence in each of us (Christians) enabled us to be able to deal with earthly situations in more honorable ways. This new option of behavior He made available in us causes much of our conflict. (If it wasn't for that, we would just merrily go along, sinning continuously and not knowing any better. Of course, Adam didn't help any, since his eating of the Tree of Life gave him an understanding of good and evil.)
This continuous situation of us each dealing with moral and ethical dilemmas IS by God's design. Not to punish us, but to allow us to learn lessons we would not likely learn in any other way. Saying this another way: It is NECESSARY for bad people to exist who do evil things to us, in order for us to have opportunities to learn proper reactions! It is necessary to have 'bad luck' exist for us for the same reason. (Personally, I would rather that people wouldn't call such things 'Acts of God', as though He caused them maliciously.)
Let's look at an (insignificant?) example:
On a hot summer day, you've been driving and are really hot. You stop in at a burger joint to get a Giant-sized cola drink. Of course, the big cup doesn't fit in the car's cup holder, so you put it on the center console. As you take off into traffic, the acceleration causes the cup to fall off the console and flip over. The allegedly firmly attached top comes off and drenches either your leg or the passenger side floor carpeting. Bummer!!!
You are upset for several different reasons:
How did you react?
Did you yell and swear and get all angry? Did you use the Lord's name in vain? Did it ruin your day?
OK. Let's think about this. Was any good accomplished by yelling and swearing? Was the bad attitude you carried the rest of the day worth it in your reaction? Did you punish that nasty gravity that caused it?
Probably not. The only negative effects were to you!
We look at it this way. That little incident wasn't caused by God, but it was allowed to happen by God. That was so, so that you could have an opportunity at a learning experience. He knows that our natural sinful nature would cause us to react as I just described. He also knows that your indwelling Holy Spirit is available to help you react in a classier way. You probably still will think a few bad thoughts for a moment, and maybe even verbalize one or two. But, you could quickly dismiss this as a minor pothole of your life's experiences. Once you choose this way of perceiving the situation, you are likely to be more calm and able to rationally think of what to do next. You might even laugh at your clumsiness and return to the burger joint for another Giant drink. After all, you're still thirsty, aren't you? At least, this would take care of one of your immediate problems. You might rationally decide to rearrange your schedule so that you could take a half-hour to clean the car (and yourself).
Is this an inconsequentially small event? Not at all! It is of critical importance. It is a kindergarten level lesson in learning to listen to and believe in your indwelling Holy Spirit. After hundreds or thousands of such incidents (hopefully not all spilled drinks in your car!), you will have learned significantly improved behavior patterns. These new patterns will benefit YOU through the remainder of your mortal life; they will benefit OTHERS around you since you will gradually think and act more considerately and thoughtfully; and the Lord benefits in two ways: He can be more proud of how classy one of His children has started behaving; and He will know that your behavior will 'fit in better' once you eventually get to Heaven and share fellowship with Him.
All this from a stupid cup that flipped over! Rather than griping and groaning about how miserable life is after such an episode, we might actually be thankful to our Loving Lord for allowing us to experience another learning experience.
I must admit, when such things happen to me, my immediate response is not to say 'THANK YOU, LORD!' But later, I am often thankful for having had to deal with such situations, not because I am masochistic or anything. I am thankful because I had a new chance to rely on the Holy Spirit indwelling in me, and I developed additional bonding and trust with it. These experiences have contributed to encouraging me to strongly rely on the Spirit whenever I am dealing with a more serious emotional, moral, or ethical situation.
I still mess up sometimes. After all, I still have my natural sinful human nature. BUT I KNOW that the Spirit is available always to me, to help and teach and encourage and console me. That's wonderfully reassuring.
Have you thought of situations which are similar? What about when you're in rush hour traffic on the Interstate highway going 27 mph? What's your usual reaction? How about when a stranger cuts in line in front of you at the grocery store? How about when you discover you got a nickel too little change for some purchase?
Bigger examples happen to us, too. Fortunately, not as often (we might not be able to handle it otherwise). (Keep in mind that the Lord Loves you and will NOT allow more of a burden on you than you can survive, even though it sometimes seems that way.) The habits you develop in relying on the Holy Spirit's assistance in the daily minor complications will be helpful in those times. It would be scary to first have to call on and trust in the Holy Spirit in some life-threatening situation. It is a little easier, if you had already developed the trust through the many little incidents.
When really big set-backs occur to you, it is still hard to accept that this is what God really intended to have happen. But deep Faith in Jesus and trust in the Holy Spirit will help you through. In a business I own, my very trusted office manager had figured out a very devious way of stealing a lot of money without it seeming so. Over a six month period, she took so much that she virtually destroyed a solid company, and it eventually cost me well over $100,000 to recover. For a while, I felt great bitterness at her (but NEVER at the Lord). After all, that is a significant piece of change in my life. However, over time (about 18 months) I realized that material THINGS had gotten too important in my life, and that I had forgotten the importance of friendships and the other truly important aspects of life. God had used this rather Draconian way of getting my attention. Now, I am very thankful for having gone through that episode. I REALLY hope that I never need to deal with such a situation again, but I am so glad it happened to me! I would NEVER have learned some VERY IMPORTANT lessons otherwise. Thank you, Lord
I have thought of another way of presenting the importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Since this is an electronic medium, it is reasonable to expect that some computer-jocks are out there. I apologize now to all Christians (and to the Lord) for this techie-talk description:
The Gift of Salvation, received through Faith in Jesus as Savior, and given entirely by the Grace of God, is like a new piece of electronic gear. It comes with an Instruction Manual (the Bible); it has On-Line Help (the indwelling Holy Spirit); and it even has an equivalent to a toll-free Technical Help Line (all local Churches). As with any new piece of equipment or software, ALL these aspects are necessary for effective usage of the new tool. It makes sense to develop confidence in the guidance available from all of these sources. Even better, THIS tool has a flawless Instruction Manual, infinitely knowledgeable and patient On-Line Help, and broadly available Technical Help sources (although they're not always exactly toll-free!).
The consequences of all this are huge! First, please don't blame God for the bad things that happen in your life. He is just allowing us the opportunity to learn and grow. Second, there is great value in getting to know and trust your indwelling Holy Spirit. Third, a result of this closer relationship with the Holy Spirit will help you live a much more Christian life (and it won't even hurt!) Finally, and very importantly, you will Walk a better Walk with the Lord!
We have a WONDERFUL and LOVING LORD!