But the Holy Spirit gives power

Acts 14:1-4 [In Iconium] Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. Some of the Jews, however, spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders.

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.

Though he’s not named in Acts 14, the Holy Spirit’s presence is evident in Paul’s power in preaching about the grace of Jesus and in the miracles he and Barnabas performed.

I think Paul and Barnabas’ understanding of grace deepened on this first missionary journey. Luke first uses the word grace in connection to Paul and Barnabas in Antioch of Pisidia (13:43), after Paul’s long sermon in the synagogue there. From then on, Luke uses the word frequently. Perhaps the change is in Luke’s own understanding, not in Paul’s.

Looking back to Paul’s sermon in chapter 13, do we see of the Lord’s grace? Through Jesus there is forgiveness of sins (v. 38). Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God—something the law of Moses could never do (v. 39). Jesus offers grace, not law.

For those who despair of being “good enough,” this is good news indeed! Continue to rely on the grace of God (v. 43).

Every time we mess up, say what we shouldn’t, do what we ought not do, fail to do what we ought to do, continue to rely on the grace of God.

When things go right and when things go wrong, continue to rely on the grace of God.

When others hurt us, continue to rely on the grace of God. When we hurt others, continue to rely on the grace of God.

It’s counter-cultural, isn’t it? In our politically charged culture today, people can be written off if evidence of wrongdoing is uncovered, even when they were teens or college students. It doesn’t seem to matter how much good someone does, what sacrifices are made in service to others—if they mess up once (at least in the eyes of their critics), their whole selves and lives and families and work can be discredited.

The Gospel, the “Good News,” says NO. Jesus offers forgiveness, and change, and growth, and redemption. No one has to remain stuck in their inevitable mistakes, sins, or lapses in judgment, because forgiveness and healing are possible. Jesus wants us to live freely, joyfully, gratefully, not in fear. Grace is good news just as much for us as it was for the people in Cyprus and in what is now Turkey almost two thousand years ago.

Shutterstock: M-SUR

Haha. I searched Shutterstock for “counterculture” and got an amazing collection of hippie and “make love not war” and “flower power” images. This is the best I could do. Consider what “mainstream” means for YOU–what voices help define your values? And if I may use what has become, perhaps, cliché: What would Jesus say? I’m asking this very seriously.

But God sends the Spirit

Acts 1:3-5 During the forty days after his crucifixion, Jesus appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost, the day God chose to send the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, initiates what is called “Ordinary Time” in the church calendar. Ordinary Time lasts from now until Advent.

So what is Ordinary Time in the life of the church? As befits its initiation through the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, its focus is the Holy Spirit, active in and through us, in all kinds of ways as we live our ordinary lives. We see this in Scripture through the writings of Luke, Paul, and John. Luke tells the tale of the “Acts of the Holy Spirit” in the years following Pentecost. Paul teaches and exhorts us to live fully into his power and gifts. John, guided by the Spirit, opens a window into what is yet to come. We have time—from now until December—to explore all three of these authors.

Thinking about this has made me both curious about what I can learn about the Holy Spirit, and hungry for stories of the Holy Spirit active now, not just two thousand years ago. What have been the acts of the Holy Spirit in your life? Are you willing to share them, to encourage the rest of us?

I’m also entering Ordinary Time this year feeling restless, wanting to experience more of the Holy Spirit’s Presence and power in my life and to see him at work around me in the challenges we all face. Wanting to hear his voice above all the other voices.

Curious. Hungry. Restless. That’s me. How about you? How are you entering Ordinary Time?

Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds.
Repeat them in our day. In our time make them known.

Habakkuk 3:2

But God’s Kingdom is not just talk; it’s power

1 Corinthians 4:12-13, 20 We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us … For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s own power.

Wow. This is where the rubber really hits the road, isn’t it? I find the only thing harder than responding as Paul models for us is doing so when the target is not me directly, but someone I love.

Recently, for example, critical things were said to my husband in a public space. The person had not come to him privately to express his concerns. Dave listened, took to heart what the person said, took the matter to the Lord, and is working diligently to make changes in his life. He let the offense roll right over him. The relationship, thank God, is intact. Which might not be the case if I had reacted the way I wanted.

Yayayoyo: Shutterstock

Because I fumed. I thought of all kinds of things I wished I had said to defend Dave. I felt hurt and disappointed in this person whom I consider a close friend. It took me a couple of days before I too took the matter to the Lord, confessed my anger and reactivity and defensiveness, and allowed him to cleanse me and restore me to peace and the ability to pray for blessing in the person’s life.

What I am deeply grateful for in this case is that I did keep my mouth shut, rather than escalating the situation and adding insult to the injury. Thank you for that, Lord. Thank you for painful experiences that have shown me the wisdom of biting my tongue until emotions are not so high and until I am in tune with the Holy Spirit.

And yes, maybe an appropriate time will come for addressing the person’s action. If so, I hope it will be characterized by blessing, patience and gentleness—which would not have been the case initially.

God’s power for living is resurrection power. Life triumphing over death. Speaking what is life-giving rather than death-dealing. The Holy Spirit makes this possible when I let him have control; when I ask him to overrule my immaturity and impulses and defensiveness.

On the cross, having been whipped, scorned, humiliated, stripped, and condemned on false charges, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). That is power. Thousands of times more potent than had he called legions of angels to deliver him. Kingdom of God power. Counter-cultural power. Counter-carnal power.

Please, Lord. Easter in me.