Thursday, August 28, 2008

Call Me Brother Zed (A Devotional)

When I was in college, there was this guy called Brother Zed who came to my school every year. He wore all white, and his wife wore homemade clothes and carried a sign that said something about Hell, and his little son came and sat at his feet. He’d stand in the quad and verbally abuse everyone who came by. We were all sinners, prostitutes, hellions with a one-way ticket to the devil’s dinner table. This was the sort of thing he said to us. Of course all the students loved him. We’d form a crowd and yell things just to get him worked up. We’d also throw pennies at him.

In a way it might remind you of the Apostle Paul. Here’s this guy trying to tell people about Christ, and the brilliant philosophers of the day (that would be us, the penny-throwers) gathered to mock and abuse him. Of course, Brother Zed’s gospel--though actually correct in places, and presented with great enthusiasm--bears little relation to Paul’s gospel.

Paul wrote, “Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” (I Thessalonians 1:3) Here are a few thoughts I’ve had while ruminating on this verse:

1) Paul’s gospel came with power. A hallmark of Paul’s message is the “power of the gospel to change lives.” It might mean the lame walking, the blind seeing or the dead coming to life. The gospel transforms those it touches. It’s not merely a set of propositions to be accepted or rejected, it’s the offer of metamorphosis, an invitation to the caterpillar to enter a cocoon and be changed forever. The old and dead falls away like chaff and the seed of the gospel bursts into new life.

2) The Holy Spirit is integral to the gospel. If we are not presenting the gospel in partnership with the Holy Spirit then it’s nothing more than lifeless words. Finite words cannot introduce one to the infinite God unless God himself whispers through them. The single most effective thing I can do to ensure I am presenting the gospel well is to make my relationship with the Holy Spirit a priority in my life.

3) Paul expressed his gospel with deep conviction. Too often I think my conviction for the gospel will deepen if I study enough, or understand the battle between evolution and creationism, or if I spend some time polishing my ecclesiology. And of course those things are valuable and helpful. But in the end, reading all of the apologetics in the world won’t bring me to deep conviction in the gospel unless I am experiencing the life change that comes with the gospel and growing in relationship with the Holy Spirit. Knowing Christ intimately creates conviction about His gospel.

I think of Brother Zed sometimes. I wonder if he knew the God he was haranguing all of us to follow. He had deep conviction, yes, but there was no power to his words, and I never once saw the Holy Spirit speak to someone through him. But then I wonder, how often is that true of me, also?

Holy Spirit, may the power of your gospel be evident in my life and ministry. I ask that you would speak to the hearts of the lost as I share your good news with them. Give me deep conviction of the truth of your words and boldness to share the gospel as I should.

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