Dr. Jim Denison
You have probably heard the news that America’s ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, will not return to his position. You may have missed the other piece of important U.N. news: A pair of London science fiction enthusiasts are petitioning the world body to recognize the Jedi Knights of Star Wars as a legitimate religion.
According to the 2001 British census, 395,000 followers of Star Wars recorded their faith as “Jedi.” That’s more than the number of Jews or Buddhists in England. The petitioners want to be able to wear their Jedi robes in public as an expression of their religion. And they want the International Day of Tolerance to be changed to the Interstellar Day of Tolerance. They signed their petition, “May the Force be with you.”
I never thought I’d preach a sermon based on Jedi theology, but they’re right. As Obi-wan Kenobi said, there is a “Force” which “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” When we submit to this Force, our lives are empowered with joy, peace, and purpose. When we refuse this Force, our lives are filled with frustration and defeat.
What is this Force? A better question is, “Who is this Force?” What does he have to do with turning Christmas into Advent, a holiday into a holy day, a hectic season into a transforming experience?
You and I live in a fallen world. Car bombings in Baghdad; nuclear arms development in Iran; E.coli in New Jersey. Many of us are missing a loved one this season. All of us are trying to cope with a world which is changing faster than ever before in human history. How could an all-loving, all-powerful God leave you where you are without the help you need? He hasn’t.
How they prepared for the Spirit
Jesus has been raised from the dead. He spent 40 days with his disciples, teaching about “the kingdom of God” (v. 3). How would they experience this Kingdom? How would they advance it? “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (vs. 4-5).
His disciples wanted to know if he would now bring the Kingdom of God he had predicted (v. 6). His answer: you don’t need to worry about the time when the Kingdom will come (v. 7). You’re not on the planning committee, but the preparation committee: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8). “You” is plural, pointing to each of them. When they were empowered by the Spirit, they would then extend the Kingdom around the world. They would then serve God as their King and lead millions to do the same. All in the power of the Spirit of God.
After his Ascension, his disciples took him at his word. They returned to Jerusalem where “they all joined together constantly in prayer” (v. 14). A week or so passed, then the Jewish holiday of Pentecost arrived. It was mid-June. The believers were still “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).
Then God kept his word. All the believers were “filled” with the Spirit and began to share the gospel in languages they had not learned. Fifteen different nationalities from all over the world had come to Jerusalem for the holiday. Each heard the gospel in his or her own language.
Then Peter preached in power. The same fisherman who had denied Christ before a servant girl now proclaimed Christ to the very authorities who had crucified his Lord. As a result of the Spirit’s work, the people “were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37). Peter explained the way of salvation, and “those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41).
And the mightiest spiritual movement in human history was born. All because some very normal people like you and me prayed until they were empowered. They were obedient until they were “filled.” And Advent continued. The Kingdom came. And you and I are the result, 20 centuries later.
How we prepare for the Spirit
Where do you need what they experienced? Where are you up against something bigger than you are? A cliff you can’t climb? A problem you can’t solve? A future you can’t see?
This week’s Time magazine carries a cover story about the psychology of risk. In 2003, the last year for which data are available, 22 people died in commercial-airline accidents. But 44,757 died in motor-vehicle accidents. 594 people died by falling out of bed; 332 drowned in their bathtubs; 1,588 died falling down stairs. It’s not safe to get up, or take a bath, or drive your car or even go down the stairs.
What risk worries you most today? What fear would you most like to defeat this morning?
The Jedi Knights are right: you and I need the “Force.” Not the fictional force of movie fame, of course, but the same Force which raised Jesus from the dead and birthed the Church. How do we experience this Force? By doing what the first Christians did. Ephesians 5:18 is not a suggestion but a command, an order from the Lord of the universe: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
Do not be “under the influence” of wine, but “under the influence” of the Spirit. To be “filled” means to be submitted to, directed, controlled. How?
First, ask the Spirit to show you anything which is preventing his control of your life. Any area where you are not yielded to God, where Jesus is not your King, where you are in charge. Confess whatever comes to your mind. Claim his promise to forgive you, to cleanse the slate, to renew your connection with God (1 John 1:9).
Now turn your life over to the Spirit. Ask him to take control of your thoughts, emotions, and will. Put him in charge of your money, your time, your relationships, your plans. Let the chips fall.
Decide that you will go where he sends you and do what he says. Give him the wheel and let him drive. Do this every day. The command could be translated literally, “Be being filled with the Spirit.” Every time you and your spouse or friend get in the car, you have to decide who drives. You can’t decide today for tomorrow. Every time you get ready to go, open the door to the driver’s side and invite the Spirit to drive. Go around and sit on the passenger’s side. When you realize that you’ve taken the wheel, give it back. Stay surrendered to the Spirit of God. Do this every day, all day.
And what will happen? You will have God’s guidance and wisdom for the uncertain future you face: “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). What about the future most worries you today? Surrender it to the Spirit and you will have his direction and peace.
You will have God’s comfort and encouragement for any hurt or sorrow in your soul. Jesus promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). What about the past most troubles you today? Surrender it to the Spirit and you will have his help and hope.
You will experience the courage and boldness to stand for Jesus. Jesus guaranteed it: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), not you “might.” If you’re like me, it’s hard to talk to strangers about Jesus, and even harder to talk to neighbors and friends. We’re afraid we’ll make a mistake or make things worse or get rejected. But when we are controlled by the Spirit, he says the words through us and gives us the boldness we need. Imagine all the people in heaven who will thank you for helping them follow Jesus because you were filled with the Spirit.
At the first Advent, the Son of God entered the human race. When Advent comes today, the Spirit of God does the same thing. When we “ask Jesus into our hearts,” it’s actually the Holy Spirit who enters us and makes us God’s children. Our lives become his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). Christmas will become Advent for you when you are submitted to God as your King and his Spirit controls your life.
If you are one of those believers who makes Jesus your King by surrendering to the Spirit every morning and through every day, be encouraged today. You are continuing Advent, the coming of Jesus. You are the instrument of God for building his Kingdom around the world. Your life is significant beyond your ability to measure. Now and for all eternity you can hear Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
If you’re not in the number of Spirit-controlled servants of God, why not? It could be that you’ve not known the necessity of being yielded to the Spirit every day. Now you know.
It may be that there’s an ambition or dream you don’t want to surrender, a plan you don’t want to change, a sin you don’t want to stop.
It may be that you are dominated by pride, by a need to be in control of your life and get the credit for what you do.
Today is the day to repent of all of that and be surrendered to the power and hope and joy of the Spirit of God.
Earlier this week I spoke at a missions seminar in Tyler, where I learned some remarkable facts about the work of the Spirit around the world:
In Southeast Asia, a missionary began work in 1993 with three churches and 85 believers among seven million lost people. Four years later there were more than 550 churches and nearly 55,000 new Christians.
An Arab Muslim cleric in North Africa recently complained that more than 10,000 Muslims living in the surrounding mountains had left Islam to become Christians.
20,000 a day are coming to Christ in Communist China.
A church in central Asia grew from 200 to 15,000 in one year.
Missiologists are speaking of the Fifth Great Awakening around the world. The Spirit is on the move. Advent is continuing. Now you and I are invited to join the work of God.
Why not today?