The Holy Spirit as Parakletos

The Holy Spirit can often be misunderstood in our lives and in our theology. He seems mysterious and by design the Holy Spirit intentionally takes a back seat so that he can push Jesus Christ forward as our Savior. Of the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the one that we literally know the least about. However, what we do know is that without the Holy Spirit we cannot believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, but are rather called to faith, enlightened with gifts, sanctified and kept in the true faith by the Holy Spirit (Luther’s Small Catechism).

The apostle John records Jesus saying “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you’” (John 14:16-18 ESV). John also records Jesus saying “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:26 ESV). In both of these passages what we translate into “Helper” in English is the Greek word “παράκλητος” (paraklētos). In English this Greek word means an intercessor, consoler, advocate, and comforter.

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The first use of this Greek word means “one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate.

I don’t think the primary thought of most counselors, and certainly not how I’m intending to use my training in counseling, is that they intend to use their skills in the court of law. However, metaphorically there are many past hurts, childhood wounds, and sins that would still bring condemnation, guilt, shame, and judgment in a person’s life just as if they were standing before an earthly judge. Christian counselors can come alongside people in this situation and the Holy Spirit can work in them to help “plead another’s cause.”

The second use of this Greek word means “one who pleads another’s cause with one, an intercessor.

Here we have a similar concept, and have the idea of interpersonal relationships represented in this definition, but we move away from the court of law. Most of all counseling has to do with interpersonal relationships. In that case we can come alongside them and help them find the Holy Spirit’s intercession in their lives. Ultimately this work will be completed when Jesus Christ pleads with God the Father at the final judgment, but this work is started now in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The third use of this Greek word means “in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant. As you go deeper into this meaning you find that the Holy Spirit will “lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom.

Yes, the Holy Spirit will come along side humans, but the question to consider is how does he do that. He doesn’t just open up our heads and download files into us from heaven. It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit does work within Christians to come alongside others for the sake of bringing comfort. It is often a literal coming alongside of another person, putting your arm around them, listening to their hurts, pain, sin, and brokenness and then being able to minister healing, relief, forgiveness, and healing. He uses pastors to teach us, parents to nurture us, counselors to guide, friends to help us find strength, and the like.

As a Christian I believe that this understanding of the Holy Spirit as our parakletos will help us in our Christian walk by first and foremost keeping us in prayer and in a continual seeking of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I believe that it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can have discernment and make proper decisions. That being the case, we need to be listening to the Holy Spirit for His leading.

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I also believe that this understanding of the Holy Spirit will give us a sense of compassion for others. If we understand others as under a burden of judgment, needing an intercessor, and needing help than we will want to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to help bring these gifts of the Holy Spirit into their lives. Our desire will be to claim the very promise of Jesus that he will indeed send the Holy Spirit into their lives so that they may not be left as orphans.

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Thank God for Mothers

I began my Masters in Counseling studies on Monday. I’ve already read more material than I thought possible in a week. I don’t know how I’m going to manage it all, but that is another topic for another day. Please pray for me!

One of the pieces that really hit me was just how deep the parental-child relationship affects someone throughout their life, especially the mother-child relationship. For instance, just to pull one paragraph from my readings:

Looking at attachment through the lens of neuroscience from the late ‘80s to the present, researchers found that the mother-child bond, in effect, began to knit together the neural filaments of the newly emerging baby-brain—literally altering both the structure and activity of neural connections. In 1994, UCLA psychology researcher and therapist Alan Schore explained in his multidisciplinary book, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self, how the back-and-forth interaction between parent and infant regulates the swirling sea of intense, turbulent emotions registering in the baby’s brain. In the process, the attuned parent is actually helping the baby develop the neurological capacity to regulate his/her own emotions. (The Primacy of Affect: A summary of “The attuned therapist” in Psychotherapy Networker (March/April, 2011))

 After reading that whole paper I went to my wife and thanked her. I said that I have always been grateful for the mother that she has been to our children, but after reading that whole paper I am more in awe than ever of just how important her role was in raising our children. I’m also very grateful to my own mother for all the love she gave, and continues to give, to my brother and me. Neither of these women were perfect, yet they did some things well; they held their babies, played with them, and loved them intensely.

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Some mothers do not do so well, and that leads to all kind of problems. There have been several studies done that show that maternal depravation leads to all kinds of trouble. (e.g. “Forty-Four Juvenile Thieves, Their Characters and Home Lives,” and the “Strange Situation Experiments.”) I personally know of many people that carry long-term wounds that came from their mothers.

We often think of God as our heavenly Father, and indeed scripture reveals that to us, but have you ever thought of the feminine side of God? Now don’t go reporting me to doctrinal review because I’ve started espousing gender-neutral theology. Instead, check out this verse:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)

Or this passage from Isaiah:

Rejoice with Jerusalem

“Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the Lord; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God.

“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.”

For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66: 7-13 ESV)

John Townsend, who heads up the institute where I’m getting my Masters says that we have two holes in us. We’ve probably all heard the term “God-shaped hole,” but he says that we also have a “people-shaped hole.” We were never meant to live in isolation. From the very start Adam needed Eve, and that’s not just a marriage thing. We need other people to be complete.

If we’ve had a mother that hurt us more than she nurtured us we can find healing by both of those hole-filling means. God wants to nurture us, love us, hold us, find joy in us, feed us, teach us, and comfort us. The other people in our lives (e.g. spouses, friends, and counselors-which is why I’m doing all of this) can also bring us support, healing, companionship, understanding, direction, and love.

Blessings to everyone on your journey, and blessings especially to all of you mothers out there as you love your babies!

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God’s Answer for Fear

I’m sensing a theme here. Let me explain what’s been going on in my head this week. (I know-scary thought, right!)

On Sunday in Bible class we talked about the disciples huddled in a boat “making headway painfully” because “the wind was against them.” Then they see Jesus walking on the water, think he’s a ghost, and were terrified. As the story in Mark’s gospel continues it says this: “they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:51b-52 ESV) We went on in class to talk about fear and what that fear gives evidence of in our thinking.

If we fear the future, don’t we doubt that God is from eternity past, to eternity future, and that He will still be in control of the future when we get there? If we fear not having enough, don’t we doubt that God is our provider and portion? If we fear those who don’t look like us or act like us joining the church, don’t we doubt that God is salvation for everyone? You get the picture-for every fear there seems to be something about God that we doubt.

That was on Sunday, and then on Tuesday I received the bill from Concordia for the graduate level classes that I start the next week. We’re talking over $5000. I don’t know about you, but that sets me back. And if I’m honest, started me worrying about money. Then Tuesday evening I went to contemporary rehearsal and we started practicing the new song that we will be introducing to the congregation, which is called The Way (New Horizon)by Pat Barrett. (http://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/the-way-new-horizon-housefires) (I included that link to the song because you can hear Pat talk about why he wrote the song)

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I won’t quote all of the lyrics, but within the song we sing: “You are my portion…You are provider.” And here’s the theme. Do I just sing those words, or do I truly believe them? I have to confess like the father who had Jesus heal his son of an unclean spirit, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24), or like Paul in Romans seven, that “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

Continuing on to the bridge it’s very interesting that the lyrics state:

It’s a new horizon and I’m set on You

and You meet me here today with mercies that are new

All my fears and doubts they can all come too

Because they can’t stay long when I’m here with You

I’ve already confessed that I do have fear and doubts. But like Pat in this song, I’ll come as I am with all of my fears and doubts and trust that God will meet me with His mercies that are new, and when He does that, those fears and doubts won’t stay long. Jesus told the disciples in the boat to “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” He also told them that He is “the way, the truth and the life.” In His own way, He tells us those same messages.

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So what do you fear today? God’s got an answer for that.

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Slippery When Wet

There I was standing on the beach, wetsuit on, and ready to start my first Xterra triathlon. That’s when the guy next to me asked the race director,  “Do you want me to do my thing now?” I didn’t know what his “thing” was but I soon found out as he led us all in a prayer prior to the start of our race. I always say a private prayer, but this is the first triathlon that I’ve participated in that did a joint prayer with everyone.

In about fourteen minutes I would find out just how much I needed that extra prayer as I mounted my mountain bike and headed off to the trails! It had been raining all day the day before and there was even some light rain in the air the morning of our race. That made everything (as my dad would say) slicker than snot on a doorknob. I’m talking mud, rocks, roots, narrow bridges, switchbacks, traversing the sides of steep hills, and all very slippery from the rain. Even the road on the short section of blacktop was slippery at the turnaround! I went down eight times! I specifically remember that at about mile eight I added another little prayer to God. It went something like “God, get me out of this alive!”

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Not quite as pretty as Psalm 94, but with some similar sentiment.

Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. (17-19 NIV)

I would love to say that as soon as I prayed that little prayer this huge sense of peace and calm washed over me and I knew that I would be safe and secure through the rest of the race. That is not what happened. I did, however, gain perspective at that point. I realized that it was just a race and that, despite my time, I would be okay. Like the Psalmist, I was supported and consolation was brought to me.

Matthew Henry had this to say about this passage:

The world’s comforts give little delight to the soul, when hurried with melancholy thoughts; but God’s comforts bring that peace and pleasure which the smiles of the world cannot give, and which the frowns of the world cannot take away. God is his people’s Refuge, to whom they may flee, in whom they are safe, and may be secure.

Although I couldn’t find any Bible verses about tires slipping, other Psalms do record this idea of feet almost slipping. Psalm 17:5 records David praying “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped” and Psalm 73:2 records Asaph’s words: “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.”

God helped David, Asaph, and even me. He’ll help you too! I think we all need to trust the words of Isaiah 41:10: “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (ESV) Not that I don’t need it every day, but I sure needed it on that race day!

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Yesterday, Today and Forever

I just finished a week with about seventy kids at our “Time Lab” Vacation Bible School. So forgive me if this blog post is very short…I’m a little tired!

For the week I played an eccentric scientist that was sending my helpers all throughout time. I had built a time machine but had trouble calibrating the machine and they kept on ending up in a different time than I had intended.

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Our theme verse was Hebrews 13:8 which says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We talked about it all week, we sang about it, we learned about it, and even did crafts and games revolving around the fact that Jesus Christ is God and that he never changes. We can trust that promise!

Psalm 31:14-15 states that:

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”

My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

Because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever we can entrust our “times” in his hands. It’s not like something catches Him off guard and he says, “wow, I didn’t see that one coming!”

Sovereign ruler of the skies

Ever gracious ever wise

All my times are in your hand

All events at your command

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Beard Oil

There are people with high maintenance hair, some with more moderate grooming routines, and then there is me. I cut my own hair and if I keep it short like I like, I don’t have to comb it. And then there’s my beard. I like to keep it longer, but if it gets too long then it becomes work. Again, I can go a long time without even combing it.

Back in May 2017 my daughter-in-law caught this little moment where my sons and me were comparing our beards.

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That was over a year ago and now Nathan’s beard has far passed mine in length. He’s got a serious Viking beard growing now. Just recently he was grooming his beard (I know, what’s that?) and I noticed that he was rubbing beard oil into his beard. It totally made me think of Psalm 133.

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard,

on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. (ESV)

First of all, this is a Psalm of Ascents. That means the children of God were singing this song as they were traveling on the road, literally ascending toward Jerusalem, as they were making a pilgrimage for one of the Jewish festivals. Is that how you travel to church on Sunday morning? Singing songs of worship about how good and pleasant it is? Or rather like the comedian Ken Davis put it: “As my hands were around my child’s neck (this child that I love) saying, ‘will you get ready for church so we can go learn about the love of Jesus!’”

When we dwell together in unity it is indeed good and pleasant to come into the house of the Lord. I myself look forward to greeting the fellow saints on Sunday morning-the smiles, laughter, hugs, handshakes, and fellowship. I wish that we more often shared the peace of God.

Then, what’s with the oil part in Psalm 133? Well, it refers back to Aaron and his sons being anointed as priest.

The Lord said to Moses, “Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy. You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. (Exodus 31:22-31 ESV)

This would have been very aromatic oil indeed! Our sense of smell is very powerful, and I think of all the ways that sense of smell was awakened in the worship of the Old Testament people: sweet smelling oil, burnt offerings, incense being burnt, and oil lamps. I often think that our churches are way too sterile today. We have climate control, oil candles (that really don’t give off any smell), and sometimes we even have plastic flowers. I look forward to Easter for the smell of Easter lilies if nothing else.

When Aaron was anointed there was no skimping on the oil either. Psalm 133 refers to it running down from his head onto his beard and even down onto his robes! That picture of oil dripping off of Aaron is analogous to dew coming down from heaven. Just as God waters the earth and brings forth life in abundance, may He also bring forth fellowship and unity in our congregations. That indeed would be good and pleasant and a very pleasant smell.

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Dividing Line

It was May of 2005. I was in El Paso Texas with about thirty other adults. We were there to build five houses in Mexico in five workdays. The weather was very hot and so were the tempers. One of the evenings we had a meeting that was worse than a cantankerous Voters’ meeting. People were upset because they couldn’t sit with whom they wanted to in the vans going into Mexico. We had a lot of chiefs and not enough Indians. I was accused of being unorganized (I will admit to a lot of faults, but being unorganized is not really one of them). After the meeting was finally over a bunch of the college aged youth came up to me and said, “We just want you to know that we’ve got your back…and we can take them!”

I appreciated the support, but I wondered why it is that we so often tend to draw up sides and prepare to fight.

When sin entered the world, relationships started falling apart. Between Adam and Eve there was now a separation that wasn’t there before. The first siblings ended up with one of them dead! It doesn’t take but four more chapters in Genesis until we read this passage:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7 ESV)

Divisions didn’t end when Cain murdered Able, or when God “reset” the earth with the flood. Divisions and strife continue in relationships and in the church still to this day.

RCMDivisionLet’s use Paul’s words to the Corinthian church (a church with much division) as our guide:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13 ESV)

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4 ESV)

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? … I say this to your shame. … To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! (1 Corinthians 6:1, 5a, 7-8 ESV)

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (1 Corinthians 11:17-19 ESV)

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:21-25 ESV)

For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. (2 Corinthians 12:20 ESV)

Now when there are divisions we with God’s Spirit are to be seeking reconciliation. Matter of fact, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that because God has reconciled us to himself, we are now entrusted with the “ministry of reconciliation.”  That doesn’t mean that it will be easy work, we’re all still a bunch of sinners.

I saw it in 2005, when we did build five houses in five days. I’ve seen it on numerous Servant Events when sometimes we “hit the wall,” but in the end the worksites all get completed. I’ve seen congregations heal from their “worship wars.” I have seen it over and over and over again in my ministry. God uses a bunch of sinners to accomplish amazing things! If you don’t believe me, at least I’ve got the youth on my side, and we can take you.

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