Have any of you actually witnessed a volcano erupting? I saw one from a distance in Alaska, blowing off steam, not very impressive. I have been inside the crater of an extinct volcano. And, two summers ago, Ron and I drove to the visitor’s center on Mt. Rainier outside of Seattle. So much has been reported on the potential for sudden disaster there, I must confess I shuddered at that possibility while on the mountain.
My husband Ron teases me because I am always drawn to earth’s natural calamities. Hurricanes fascinate me. So do earthquakes and volcanoes. Come on. My college major was geology. I’ve had at least 10 volcano-related programs on my DVR over the past month. I think it’s the power—power we can’t totally understand and will never be able to control. We call those things “disasters,” but they can also be beneficial.
On November 15, 1963, the island of Surtsey was born - it was a dramatic, fire-and-brimstone birth that erupted from the icy sea off the coast of Iceland. I remember watching a video in my first geology class. The earth’s outer crust is constantly shifting, and combined with the pressure of molten rock underneath, a fissure broke open on an undersea volcano in April of that year. When the lava broke through the ocean’s surface 6 months later, lightning and thunder accompanied the glowing craters, fissures and boiling water. The violence of the volcano increased so that ash, cinders, and pumice were blown 1,000 feet into the air for about 4 months.
A steady flow of lava over the next year built up an island of one square mile, as much as one acre was added to the island’s size daily. New land on planet Earth. By the time all volcanic activity ceased, the highest point on the island was 560 feet above sea level. Life took hold quickly. By early 1965, the new island boasted of wide sandy beaches on which seaside plants were already taking root giving nesting areas for sea gulls. The island looked as though it had been there for thousands of years. That’s the natural power of the earth.
On the day of Pentecost around 30 A.D., the power of God poured forth on the followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem. Born that day was a radically new creation on earth that never existed before—the Church. Not by natural power but by supernatural power. And, the power behind its existence is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a radical blessing to every believer and to the world.
“Radical” is an interesting word—not what I expected. The word “radical” is defined as “having a profound or far-reaching effect.” That certainly describes the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit’s transforming power in our lives, He changes the world immeasurably and irreversibly. I’d say that is pretty radical.
One of the biblical symbols for the Holy Spirit is “fire.” And, just as fiery lava and ash erupt from a volcano and flow out to build new land, the Holy Spirit’s fire erupts through the lives of believers to build Christ’s church. That’s why there’s a volcano on the cover of this study book. Within a few years, Jesus’ Church was well established on planet earth. We learn this from Acts.
The book of Acts is a fast-paced, action adventure book that chronicles the birth and growth of the early church from the Jewish center of Jerusalem to the Gentile nations surrounding her. Have you ever studied Acts? It’s a rich and fascinating book. I love it for so many reasons. And, it’s got something for everyone.
· Acts is a book of history. But, it’s not a complete history of the early church or the apostles but rather a book that selectively gives the history of early Christianity. The author was Luke, the physician and companion of Paul. Acts is actually Luke’s sequel to the gospel that bears his name. It provides a bridge for the writings of the New Testament between what Jesus did in the gospels with what He continued to do and teach through the apostles. Some call it the Acts of the Apostles. But, it’s really the acts of Jesus Christ by His Holy Spirit through His church. The Holy Spirit dominates the entire book of Acts.
· Acts is a book of theology. You will see the work of the Holy Spirit—theology being lived out, evidence for the inspiration of scripture, the gospel message taught from the very beginning never changed.
· Acts is a book of biography—mainly viewing the fire of the Spirit erupting in the lives of Peter and Paul but also every other person whose life was touched by the Spirit and changed forever.
· Acts is also a book about human relationships influenced by the transforming fire power of the Spirit—conflicts occur and are resolved, friendships made and tested, old prejudices surface and are removed, persecutions shared, hospitality extended, generosity displayed, and opportunity taken to share the gospel with whomever would listen. Men and women fired up and not only ready for adventure but living it.
The definition of adventure is “an unusual or exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.” How adventurous are you? Been on any adventures lately? I have to admit I am not naturally adventurous. Especially the typically hazardous part. I found out that our English word adventure comes from the Latin for “about to happen.” Yep. What a way to look at life following Jesus—something’s about to happen! And, not always what you expect. I can verify the truth of that!
In Acts, the adventure definitely includes the unexpected—miracles occur in strange places and strange ways, the Gentiles are included as equals to the Jews in the Church, an earthquake selectively releases prison chains, unselfish behavior just springs forth in unexpected ways, lots of spur of the moment adventures. Also, executions, beatings, riots, and a shipwreck—happening to the good guys! Adventure rarely means safe. But, it never means alone. The Holy Spirit is with you and me every day, forever.
But, who is this Holy Spirit? Most Christians have only a vague idea about Him. The older translations called Him the Holy Ghost. The word “ghost” doesn’t inspire appreciation or curiosity in me! He is the pneuma—the breath of God. He’s been called the transparent one because we can’t see Him. By faith, I know He lives in me. The Bible confirms that He lives inside every believer. Sometimes, I feel His presence. Maybe you do, too.
He is the One who makes the Christian life possible. He is the first gift we receive from God when we trust in Jesus for salvation. And, all those wonderful treasures Paul writes about in Ephesians and his other letters are wrapped up and delivered by the Holy Spirit to us.
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the trinity—our God is one God but three persons. The Spirit’s not an impersonal “it” or simply an influence but a personal being just as the Father and the Son are persons.
The Spirit is central to salvation. He convicts the unbeliever of sin and makes us new creations the moment we believe. He seals us with Himself so our salvation is secure, and He indwells us forever. He unites us with Christ, placing us into the universal Body of Christ. All part of 1 church since Pentecost—includes those who already in heaven as well as every Christian alive at this moment. The Holy Spirit enables us to understand the Bible and prays for us, even when we can’t.
The Holy Spirit fills us with Himself and transforms us from the inside out so that our character looks more like Jesus and our lifestyle glorifies God more and more. This firepower is inside us. For this, we must choose to cooperate. That means living our lives with a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit—when facing temptations, making decisions, in our relationships, in how we respond to the Spirit’s leading us. Anything you trust God for that you didn’t trust God for before—that’s the adventure. You’ll learn all about this in our study, Radical Acts.
Our hope is that this study will spark in you a real appreciation, longing, and expectation for the Holy Spirit’s work in your life, and that through the lessons you will discover who the Holy Spirit is, His intended role in your life, and what it means to live in daily dependence upon Him. He is the one who will get us all fired up and ready for adventure as we follow Jesus daily.
Jim Cymbala says in his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, “The work of God can only be carried on by the power of God. The church is a spiritual organism fighting spiritual battles. Only spiritual power can make it function as God ordained. The key is not money, organization, cleverness, or education. No matter the society or culture, the city or town, God has never lacked the power to work through available people to glorify His name.” He goes on to say, “The times are urgent, God is on the move, now is the moment to ask God to ignite His fire in your soul!”
Are you ready?