"Comfort in the Spirit for Our Spirits"#84-38
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 21, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: John 14:15-21
Jesus said to him, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father and He will give you another helper that he may be with you forever. That is the spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you."
Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Don't you love shopping for gadgets? You know, when I was young, I really enjoyed a stroll through a Best Buy or a Fry's Electronics store or even a Sams Club to see what the next gadget was, the next appliance, the next stereo system. It just seemed so cool. I'm not sure what all the hype was since there's so little to watch, to see, to listen to. Okay, I know that dates me a bit, but after a while, the coolness does wear off a bit, doesn't it? I was thinking about those appliances and gadgets for another reason today. When you check them out from the biggest to the smallest, you will find out that every appliance has one thing in common, they cannot run without a source of power. They are useless unless they are plugged in, have batteries, or are connected to a source of power.
Well today's message is a power source message and it's so much more important than merely plugging in the TV, the phone, or the refrigerator. This is about plugging your life into the power source of God's spirit by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
You know, when I was young, I had one of those electric cars that could only go in two directions, backwards and forwards. Sometimes, life is like that, isn't it? Other people say it this way, "In life, you're either growing or you're dying." But here's the thing. If we really take an honest look at our life, we're very often like that battery-powered car. Either forward or backward, but never able to turn another way, go another path. All of us flounder through life at times, struggling with our old habits, finding no enjoyment in what we do, literally going backward and forward and digging a rut with no direction or purpose.
That's the disciples in our lesson today. They were worried about that as followers of Jesus. They were terrified, if you really want to know the truth. So let me set the stage. Our reading today from John 14 says some incredible and some confusing things. Jesus speaks to His disciples on the night before He's going to die on the cross. He's talking about leaving them. He knows he's gonna die soon, but the disciples, as usual, have no idea. Jesus promises them that He will not leave them as orphans. He's going to return to them. Now I'm not sure that was very comforting to the disciples, since they probably weren't fully aware of what he meant by all this leaving talk.
For years, they had walked with Jesus. For years, they were able to listen to Him talk every day. For years, they could ask Him questions, they could try to figure out how his answers helped their lives. For years, Jesus was always there. But now Jesus says that He will leave them for a time. When the disciples heard that Jesus was leaving them, I'm sure that they were feeling like we often do. Without Christ, we feel lost. We feel like we have no purpose. But thank God, even when we were confused, even when we're unsure, even when we feel like we're only in a rut unable to get out, Jesus knew what his disciples of all time would need.
Jesus himself promises to send a helper, a comforter, an advocate. Because of Jesus' work on our behalf, there is a Holy Spirit that He will send as His gift to strengthen and empower and to guide our spirits as well. Let me say that again, because of Jesus' work on our behalf, there is a Holy Spirit that He will send as his gift to strengthen, empower, and to guide you.
Comfort in His spirit for our spirits as well. That's a gift that will see us through all the way to eternity. His Holy Spirit enables us to change the direction of our life. With the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can break out of the rut we've dug and when we are at our wit's end, hopeless in the midst of even our best efforts, experience the comfort then the hope and the power that He promises. How? By His Spirit.
It's interesting that Jesus begins by saying, "If you love me and keep my commandments, I will give you another helper who will be with you forever." Even as He's promising this gift to come, He wants to assure His beloved disciples, "Listen. I won't leave you alone. You were never on your own anyway. I came for you like I came for all. If you trust Me, follow Me, you will never be alone."
Feeling alone can happen to all of us at many times and in many ways throughout our lives. We all need love. We need support daily. We all need love in our lives. Well, lack of real love or companionship is terrifying because God created us to be in fellowship with people, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you need companionship. We spend a lot of time and we exert a lot of effort to find people. We want friends and family around us. We need a community in which we can live.
Though the time alone to be by ourselves sometimes, it might sound like a good idea, but a life of real, enduring loneliness, aloneness is torture. In fact, it's death. But let me say this, though, there's even a worse loneliness, a more devastating loneliness than even that. Even more terrifying than a life without people is a life without God. God is the one who provides for all of our needs. God is the one who takes care of us. God's our creator. He cares for the world. He cares for you and me. He provides people for us in our lives. He provides good gifts to us out of His grace and mercy, He gives us all that we have. He gives us all that we need.
We talk about these blessings every year. Every year at Thanksgiving, we all acknowledge that we should be thankful for the things we have. We acknowledge that our lives are filled with things that help us. Typically, the things for which we are thankful boil down to things like family and friends, things like love and forgiveness, things that help us not be lonely. You see, when we think hard about our lives, we know that it's not the material things in our lives that help. We know that the things that truly matter are the gifts of love and fellowship.
In our text, Jesus is talking to His disciples about leaving, about their feelings of aloneness, and just imagine their reality after Jesus' crucifixion. They were alone. Jesus was their teacher, their friend. He was their life for the last couple years and when He died, so did their hopes. They were alone. They were followers, they thought, of a dead prophet. They had nowhere to go. Friends of a man who just died, they were mourning. But even worse, their hope in God was destroyed.
My friend, if you don't know God by grace through faith, hear me clearly, there is a time coming in your life when you will feel an aloneness that God himself would not wish upon you. When God is absent from our lives, or better, when we push Him out of our lives, we seek something to fill that void, but that void will never be filled on our own terms.
The great teacher of the early church, St. Augustine, famously said this, "You have made us for Yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You." You see, we were created to be in fellowship, fellowship with each other, but most importantly to be in fellowship with God. So that's why Jesus' offer to the disciples then is so important to us today. He promises, "You put your trust in Me, your faith in Me, I will not leave you as orphans." Jesus describes the Holy Spirit whom He will give his people. He describes them as the Paraclete. You know that Greek word has no direct translation. A paraclete is one who comes alongside someone to help them. Say, in a court room, the Paraclete is the one who argues for the client to prove their innocence or to advocate their position. Generally, a paraclete is one who helps someone who can't help themselves. The Paraclete is the one who gives to one who is lacking the very thing they need. A paraclete is one who gives and helps and aids someone who is in real, real need.
The apostle Paul explained it this way, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And Jesus' gift of his Holy Spirit, well let me just say it this way, it's personal." He says, "You know Him. You know the Holy Spirit for He dwells with you and will be in you, our helper whom Jesus sends to take his place. He lives in all of us who love Jesus. He's not just some replica of the force as manifested in the Star Wars series. He is a person. The third person of the Trinity. You know, one plus one plus one equals one. Three persons, one God. He is with us to help us connect with our God."
The apostle Paul explains the work of the Spirit like this, he says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him, but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God, for who among men knows the thoughts of man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God and we have not received the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit who's from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. Jesus will send them His Spirit. When they are feelings so terrifying alone, He will comfort them with the fact that they are not orphans, but adopted sons of God by Jesus' work on the cross and the resurrection by the power of the Spirit. Adoption, not orphans. Brothers and sisters in the family of God. Not alone in our struggles and challenges, heirs of God. Not hopeless wards of a sinful world."
Jesus is saying no matter who you are, no matter what you're experiencing or feeling today, even though you don't see Jesus physically now, He is saying that by His Spirit, in His grace, our spiritual eyes will be opened, our minds will understand, and our hearts will be kindled. Lord Jesus, give me that Spirit. Comfort me with Your presence by the power of Your Spirit. That's what the Holy Spirit does. He's constantly with us, reminding us of Jesus, and what he has done for us. He points us to the cross, to the open tomb. He reminds us again that Jesus has suffered and died in our place to pay for our sins, but He rose again to assure us that we too shall rise to live with Him eternally. It is the Holy Spirit who reminds us that is in the Word and the sacraments where Jesus keeps His promise that He will come to us when He says, "I will not leave you as orphans. I'll come to you." So we're not orphans and we are not left alone.
There was a nature show on television about a black bear, which seemed to adopt a young bear cub whose mother had died. You saw the little bear happily trailing along with the larger bear who proceeded to show the cub how to grub for insects, catch fish, and scratch his back on a tree. Well, one day the two bears were separated. The small cub began to cry and frantically look for his new father, but he couldn't find him. The cub approached a stream where he had learned to fish and when he stepped into the water, he looked up to see a mountain lion ready to pounce.
When the camera zoomed in on the cub, you could see him mimicking the posture of his adopted father when he was threatened. He stood on his hind legs. He bared his teeth and he tried to let out a growl that became only a tiny bear squeak. I gotta admit, what I thought was coming was the mountain lion was gonna pounce and that little bear would be doomed. But to the astonishment of those of us watching, the mountain lion lowered his head and he ran off in the opposite direction.
Now, when the camera panned back to the proud little cub still standing tall on his hind legs, the viewers saw what the little cub could not, a few yards behind in full ferocious height, his sharp white teeth bared in a snarl, there stood father bear. He may not have made a sound, but he was there. The little cub had power available greater than anything he could produce on his own.
Well, Jesus promises, too, we will not be orphaned. Like the adoptive father bear, the Holy Spirit is there to meet our every need. The Holy Spirit brings us assurance and comfort. He lifts up our spirit with His Spirit. When we lose our way, when life leaves us in danger or perplexed, the Holy Spirit's there to guide us, too. He takes away our confusion and doubt and reveals to us Scripture's truth and reality. He makes our relationship to our Heavenly Father very, very real.
Like all the appliances that we have in our homes, we are not created to run on our own power. When life becomes difficult, when depression sets in, when we want to throw up our hands in despair, when there are problems in our family, and difficulties at work, we quickly realize that we have run out of power. It's then we need to check if we're plugged into the power that God created us to use. It's time to plug in to your baptism, which reminds you that you are loved by your Heavenly Father. He chose you to be His children. It's time to plug into God's Word and hear Jesus say, "I will not leave you as orphans. I will send you the Holy Spirit and He will comfort you, He will empower you, His Spirit will lift your spirit. With Him, you will see Jesus more clearly and you will realize that with Jesus, all things work together for good for those who love Him."
The words of a hymn become our prayer today as we pray, "Oh Holy Spirit enter in and in our hearts, Your work begin. Amen."
Action in Ministry for May 21, 2017
Guest: Greg Koenig
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action In Ministry, a call to action in response to all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Mark, our guest today is familiar with those feelings of loss and doubt and fear, but you probably wouldn't know that from just meeting him because he also knows a loving God who never leaves him alone.
Mark Eischer: Here with us today is our friend and colleague, Greg Koenig.
Gregory Seltz: Greg, thanks for joining us.
Greg Koenig: Hi, Pastor Seltz. Hi, Mark. Glad to be with you today.
Gregory Seltz: We're glad you're here. This week we're offering our listeners a free booklet titled "No Need to Fear". Now, it's easy to say there's no need to fear when life is sailing along smoothly, but you weathered some storms in life and so just tell us about your journey over the past few years.
Greg Koenig: Well, the thing my family's been dealing with over the past months is the loss of my wife, Debra. Two years ago, in the spring of 2015, she was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer and she fought it. She fought it with everything she had for 15 months, but she lost her battle with it in June last year. So this is something that I and our four kids have been wrestling with and I think maybe the one who's felt the biggest challenge is our youngest daughter. Several years ago, she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and my wife Deb had always been her go-to, but Deb's not there for her now and it hasn't been easy for the rest of us to serve as her support team while she's been in college five hours away.
Gregory Seltz: You've seen how life can change in a heartbeat. We often seem to base our expectations on worldly standards. How did those standards differ though from what God tells us about who we are and what we should expect in life?
Greg Koenig: Well, that's such an important distinction to make. If you try to take God out of the picture, what you're left with is standards tied to the things the world of human beings values. The booklet points those out. Beauty, money, possessions, intellect, success. What God values is us. He made us in His image for the purpose of working alongside Him, living in community with Him, and enjoying His goodness and when we humans rejected that vision He had for us, He sent His own son to restore us to Him. If we could embrace, really embrace, His expectations, well we could do what Jesus says in John 10, we could live life fully. We could be content. We could have joy.
Gregory Seltz: You've shared your heart with us today and in the middle of all of this, it can only be Christ who can hold onto us, so as you've walked this road, have you ever been tempted to compare yourself to others and how they're handling all these things, challenges and trials?
Greg Koenig: Oh all the time.
Gregory Seltz: I don't mean to pry.
Greg Koenig: There's always somebody who seems to have it all together better than I do. My default reaction always seems to be how does that person do it? I can't measure up. I'm just not up to that. That standard isn't God's standard, is it? Those expectations aren't God's expectations. He made me. Well, He made all of us, equal, but He made us different, unique, so that each one of us could put our unique gifts to work for His purposes, for His kingdom. Like the booklet points out, His expectation is simply this, be faithful, just be faithful in what I've called you to. Is that comforting? Is that reassuring? Yeah, to me it is.
Gregory Seltz: Just let Him live in you and let Him live through you.
Mark Eischer: Greg, how do you deal with the loneliness that accompanies the loss?
Greg Koenig: Well, what I've learned is that grieving and figuring out what the new normal will look like. Those are real things and they take time. It has felt really lonely a few times, but you know, I know folks, including my kids, including Deb's parents and brothers and sisters, who've gone through the same thing, and we're able to find comfort in the shared experience and we work through those things together, but even when I'm the only one in the room, I'm not alone, not then. I know God's with me.
Mark Eischer: Again, listeners, we have a free resource for you this week. It's a free booklet titled No Need to Fear and if you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of anxiety, this booklet can be a great place to gain a new perspective and strength, and in just a moment, I'll tell you how you can access this free resource for yourself.
Gregory Seltz: And Greg, thanks so much for sharing your heart with us today as well as your hope.
Greg Koenig: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me.
Gregory Seltz: That's our Action In Ministry segment today. To bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
Mark Eischer: For your free copy of the booklet, No Need To Fear, go to LutheranHour.org and click on Action In Ministry. You'll also find more of our conversation with Greg Koenig. Or call 1-855-JOHN-316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 21, 2017
Topic: How is God With Us Today?
ANNOUNCER: And we are back now with Pastor Gregory Seltz responding to questions from listeners and here's a challenging question. Our listener asks why doesn't God perform miracles today like we read about in Scripture?
SELTZ: That's a great question, Mark, and I don't think that he doesn't, but I do know this. He performs miracles His way not our way and everything He does is for our good and salvation. The problem, people today are like the people in the Old Testament and New Testaments. They want God to perform miracles to prove Himself to them.
ANNOUNCER: I think you're right. You hear people saying, "If only God would perform some miracle, some sign, or wonder, then I would believe." Many, even in the Bible, when God did perform a miracle, it really didn't make their faith any stronger, did it?
SELTZ: Yeah, ironically, that's correct. Stop and think the same people who saw God part the Red Sea, they later doubted whether God was able to give them food or water in the desert or conquer the inhabitants of the Promised Land. Jesus performed countless miracles, healed the sick, changed water into wine, fed 5,000 people the few fish and biscuits, stopped a storm, walked on the water, yet the vast majority of people loved the miracles, but didn't believe in Him.
ANNOUNCER: It would be no different today. Isn't it true God is still performing miracles today? We hear of cancer patients who couldn't be cured with any of today's treatments, but they're miraculously cured or lives are miraculously saved in terrible accidents. I suppose we could name many more examples. Sadly, people are amazed and perhaps even thankful for a while, but then they forget how God intervened in their lives.
SELTZ: Here's something even more sad. We know that many of His miracles simply go unnoticed or they are denied. Let's even get more personal. Faith itself is a miracle and believers in Jesus know that whatever He does in our lives, the greatest miracle is that we'll live forever with Him because we believe in Him. Our faith is not based on special miracles. It's based on the miraculous life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as God's gift of grace to all who believe.
ANNOUNCER: Why then was it necessary for God to perform miracles in the Old Testament and for Jesus to perform miracles in the New Testament? Why would he do some things and not others?
SELTZ: A good point, a good question. The miracles then were not special gifts because people had earned them or had deserved them, the miracles were specific events to testify that God was uniquely in the midst of the world to save it.
ANNOUNCER: The purpose was to prove to the people that it was God who was working among them in the person of Jesus.
SELTZ: Yes, Jesus was God in the flesh, among humanity to save humanity. So all the Old Testament miracles pointed to Him. The miracles that He performed testified that He was the Messiah who was come into the world to save it. Just listen to Acts 2:22, one of my favorites. "Men of Israel, listen to this. Jesus of Nazareth is a man accredited to you by God with mighty works, wonders, and signs." So these miracles were done to prove that God was God, Jesus was the Son of God, and the Father's work of sending his Son, well, that's the work to save the world.
ANNOUNCER: So no more need of miracles to prove this. We now have all these miracles recorded for us in Scripture and the purpose of that writing is to point us to Jesus who is the greatest miracle of all.
SELTZ: That's true. In a sense, miracles are no longer necessary for that purpose. The message of Jesus has already been attested to, accurately recorded in Scripture. The foundation of our faith is not the miracles that are performed, but the miracle, Jesus Christ who came to perform the miracle of our salvation.
ANNOUNCER: Knowing that, there's really no reason why we would need miracles today for God to prove himself. He's already done it and He's recorded it all for us to read in the Scriptures.
SELTZ: That's true, but God still does perform miracles. There are times he alleviates suffering miraculously, protects miraculously, but even if that doesn't happen, He promises to never leave us, not forsake us, and literally resurrect us to an eternal life with Him where there'll be no more pain, sorrow, or death, and that miracle is certain for everyone listening today, everyone who believes.
ANNOUNCER: His miracles in the past pointed to Jesus. His Word today has the same
power. Our faith is centered on Jesus and all that He has done for us. Thank you, Pastor
Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"At the Lamb's High Feast" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"We All Believe in One True God" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)