I Saw A Ghost

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)

I remember being fascinated by the name “Holy Ghost” in the Apostles’ Creed when I was a kid. My childish imagination predictably shot into overdrive each Sunday. Who is this Ghost we talk about each week? And why am I the only one who seems to find this so intriguing? No one else seemed troubled or excited by this Ghost business. My mind, however, shifted from holy and uplifting thoughts about Jesus’ great love for me to every Halloween movie I had seen or heard about.

How many of us today have a solid understanding of the Holy Spirit (or, if you prefer, Ghost)? We know who God the Father is. He creates. We see His work. Heck, we are His work! As much as we know about the Father, we know still more about God the Son. Jesus Christ was born of a Virgin, gathered disciples, preached the coming Reign of God, healed all manner of sick people, cast out legions of demons, gave up His life as a sacrifice for the world, and rose from the dead! But the Holy Spirit? Who is He?

Far from haunting the dark and dilapidated house down the street from you, the Holy Spirit’s work is all around us. Not creation, but re-creation. Where there is death, the Holy Spirit breathes life. Where brokenness, restoration. Where sin, forgiveness. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was seen and heard in the words spoken by the twelve Apostles. Some who heard them said, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

In fact, if you were to look for the Holy Spirit today, you would find Him easily! Perhaps not in the confused thinking of an untrained five-year-old, but in the words spoken by the child who sings “Yes, Jesus loves me”. Perhaps not whispered in the ears of the faithful who have prayed “hard enough”, but proclaimed boldly from the pulpits of congregations with pastors who recognize and understand how to divide God’s good words of Law and Gospel. Perhaps not in the dreamy moments right before waking, but in the water and word of Baptism, the bread and wine, Body and Blood of the Lord’s Supper.

The Holy Spirit is not some aimless ghost, wandering around looking for just the right person to pester. The Holy Spirit concretely presents Himself to His people in the Words of Holy Scripture and in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. The Holy Spirit is the One every Christian has come to know! The Holy Spirit is the One responsible for introducing us to Jesus. The Holy Spirit has been breathing out this Word of life through Christ alone since Jesus sent Him on Pentecost about 2,000 years ago.

May we not be like my young self, asking “who is this Holy Ghost?”, but rather like the Apostles and Christians throughout the ages who have recognized Him through His holy work of bringing people to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ!

O Holy Spirit, come to us and speak to us, strengthening us in the one true faith in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

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Some Thoughts on Christians Responding to the Culture

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.

John 7:7

It is interesting, to say the least, how many non-Christians believe they know exactly what Jesus taught and what He was all about. When sin is called a sin, you frequently hear responses like, “You don’t know me. Who are you to judge me?” or “Jesus taught love, but you Christians are so full of hate.” How then are we to understand simple terms such as love, hate, and judge?

There are some warped definitions for each of these words, so let me be upfront. In talking about love, hate, and judging, I am coming at it from a Scriptural standpoint. First, love. From John 15:13-14, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Along with Jesus’ picture of active love, we read from 1 John 4:16-17, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” We have a clear definition from the Lord about what love is. Love sacrifices for the betterment of others. Love watches out for and cares about others. Love is active and obedient to the will of God. It never changes to suit the fancy of the new culture. Love abides in God and His will alone.

Yet how often have we seen instead of taking the opportunity to share the love of Jesus with someone, Christians have shared their own opinions stewed and marinated in hatred? Answer: all too often. Through the prophet Amos, the Lord says, “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (5:14-15)” God hates what is evil. Evil is going against the will of God. Therefore His people also hate what is evil starting with what we find in ourselves. God doesn’t send sin to hell, he sends sinners to hell. To love what is evil is to be evil. It is the old trick of the devil to convince us that evil is actually good.

So now that we know what love and hate actually mean, how can we apply our terms? How can we live in a culture that is doing every kind of evil and calling it good? (To examine only the Sixth Commandment – You shall not commit adultery – our culture has no problem with all kinds of sins such as divorce, hooking up, living together before marriage, having children without getting married, having sex with someone other than your spouse, having sex before you’re married, looking at pornography, staring at a woman’s breasts, fantasizing sexually about someone, speaking crudely to our about someone, and homosexual behavior.) So what are we to do? To start with (and please take this to heart) DON’T JOIN IN. Don’t do what God says is evil. Don’t pervert your freedom in Christ to mean that you can do whatever sins you want because Jesus is going to forgive you anyways. To believe this way is an easy way to fall away from your faith and salvation. Do what is good and right. When you slip up, don’t follow our culture’s example. Don’t look for ways to say that it was actually good and right. Confess your sins. Call your sins sins. Don’t lie to yourself or to God. You are a sinner. You have fallen short. The things you have done and the words that you have said have been soiled in sin and have been WRONG. Confess your sins. Do not pretend they aren’t sins.

Next, and this is the one our culture is particularly testy about, call a sin what it is whenever you see it. If there is a clear stance against something in God’s Word, God is against it. There are clear stances against idolatry, witchcraft, skipping church, disobeying those in authority over you, murdering and harming physically, adultery and fornication, stealing, lying and destroying reputations, and sinfully desiring what is not yours (i.e. The Ten Commandments). These are the basic building blocks of what it means to be human. If a society takes them seriously, the society is the better for it and things go better. When a society seeks to distance itself from these basic truths, they will inevitably be brought to ruin (from God’s judgment and from the natural consequences of the behavior).

This is called judging. You heard it right. And the fact is, you and I are given the task of judging. In 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 the Holy Spirit writes through Paul, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” As clearly as he can put it, we are told to judge. Furthermore, we are told who is to fall under our judgment: those in the church. We are to judge each other’s words and behaviors. We are to hold each other accountable. The answer to Cain’s age-old question of whether we are our brothers’ keeper is emphatically YES! Please especially notice, however, that we are not judges over the non-Christians. It is never your place to disassociate yourself from a non-Christian simply because he is a sinner. We are given the task of judging the behavior and words of our brothers and sisters, not those outside the church.

Judging but never hating. In fact, judging because we love. If you see a brother or sister sinning, the most loving thing you can do for them is call them out on it. Jesus did this countless times. To the woman at the well, Jesus confronted her in her sin of adultery. To the self-righteous Pharisees, Jesus pointed out their sinful hypocrisy. To His faithless disciples, Jesus called them to repentance. Sin no more so that something worse may not befall you (John 5:14). Jesus is deadly serious about sin. Sin is the very thing that condemns us.

At this point someone may say, “fine, let Jesus judge me. I’m okay with that.” But such a statement completely misses the point. When we speak Jesus’ words it’s as if Jesus Himself were speaking. To disagree with a Christian properly quoting God’s word on an issue of sin is to disagree with God Himself and to disagree with God is to  be walking on incredibly shaky ground.

So what are we Christians to do in the midst of a culture that calls evil good and good evil? Is there a place for those who would like to live their lives in the way of the Lord? Yes! Do what the Lord has given you to do. Strive to do what is right. When you slip up and fall short, be quick in your pilgrimage to the cross and receive the forgiveness of your Lord. Invite fellow believers who have fallen to confess and remind them of the certainty of Jesus’ love and forgiveness for them. Do not be afraid to speak of God’s good will. Speak the truth in Christ-like love (as highlighted above).

As you engage the world around you in areas where she is wrong, do not be arrogant. Do not be spiteful. Do not be hateful. Do not be fearful. Let’s not prove our culture right when they say we Christians are hate-filled and afraid. Do not attempt to engage the culture as a whole. Instead, privately talk to people. (Facebook is not a platform for convincing people of the truth of Scripture. Facebook is a place where people argue publicly and quite regularly end up looking like a fool.) Private conversations with people of differing views are critical. This is best done with people you have a relationship with based on trust; better still, based on love. These friends will hear you out. Joe Blow on Facebook will never give you a fair hearing. Your friend, who knows you love him, will.

And finally for the best advice you will receive on the topic of a culture that is moving further away from the Lord: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil (John 7:7)”. When you speak Jesus’ words in love, it is not you who are hated and rejected. It is Jesus and His words that people have a problem with. Still, Jesus is God and Lord. There is no reason for you to be afraid. The government of our land cannot change the fact that Jesus is Lord. So go about your business of loving as Jesus has given you to love. Be friends – genuine, actual friends – with people who don’t see eye to eye with you. Be friends – genuine, actual friends – with people who are not Christians. Be friends – genuine, actual friends – with people who are idolaters, liars, who don’t go to church, who don’t respect authority, who hurt others, who are sexually immoral, who steal, who lie, and who are not content with what they have. Be friends – genuine, actual friends – with sinners. That’s what Jesus did! That’s what Jesus still does.