So…about that play.  You know the one, “A Christmas Carol”?  I recently wrote about its ghosts…remember?  Well, there’s one more thing that kept pulling at me, so I had to pull back.  And when I pull back, I put down.  So, here’s what I put down.  I hope it pulls at you too!


“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,”     2 Corinthians 10:4

       At the beginning of “A Christmas Carol”, an apparition introduces the audience to the storyline and to its main character, Ebenezer Scrooge.  We learn, through this ghostly being, that Mr. Scrooge’s life is about to be interrupted and that Marley, in his chained condition, is the vessel through whom this opportunity will present itself.  It’s an interesting concept, that of the dead bringing advice and counsel from the grave, but…in part…it’s an accurate one.  Not the part about a ghostly figure appearing and saying, “Don’t do what I have done,” but the part where the chains of an old life are forged into the armaments of a new life.  It’s the old life/new life lesson that presents itself in this story.  That, and the warning given by one who has received his just rewards; granted, he’s a ghost, but it is a fictional story so let’s allow rationality to give way to intentionality, and learn the lessons of the chain.

Before we look at the two lessons contained within the links of Marley’s chain, let’s first refresh our memory by revisiting this play.  We’ll slip in during Act 1, Scene 3.  Here, we see Marley entering Scrooge’s bedchamber, where he explains his appearance and announces the evening’s agenda.

(Marley’s ghost enters the room.  He drags an enormous chain now, to which is fastened cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses fashioned of steel.)

 Marley:  I wear the chain I forged in life.  I made it link by link, and yard by yard.  Is its pattern strange to you?  Or would you know, Scrooge, the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself?  It was full as heavy and long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago.  You have labored on it, since.  It is a ponderous chain.

Marley:  I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate.  A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.

There we have it.  Jacob Marley, encumbered with a weighty chain, returns by his own desire (hope of my procuring) to offer counsel and hope to his former business partner and friend, Ebenezer Scrooge.  While a ghostly appearance would be alarming enough in itself, this one is far from what one would expect…should one have expectations for a ghost!  Marley is not floating about carelessly, but is haltingly moving under the weight of a heavy chain.  He explains the meaning of the chain, and from that we will receive the same lesson Scrooge received, but there is another lesson linked to this chain.  The second lesson has to do with chains that have been removed…and reforged.  Marley didn’t learn that lesson, so it wasn’t his to share; but Scrooge did.  And, should there have been a sequel to “A Christmas Carol”, I think he would have shared it with us.  But we needn’t rely upon fictional stories to learn our lessons when we have the best-selling, truth-telling, non-fictional book of all time at our fingertips!  The Bible is filled with examples of men and women who have learned the lesson of the chain.  For our purpose, we’ll go to the writings of Paul.  From his life, we’ll learn what Scrooge did; we’ll learn the second lesson of the chain.

When Marley first appears to Scrooge, he gives an explanation for his chain.  For the reader’s benefit, the chain is described so that we too might see what Scrooge sees.  It is described as having items attached to it, not unlike a charm bracelet whose trinkets represent the one who wears it.  For Marley, the tokens which symbolize his life are cash-boxes, ledgers, deeds, padlocks, and keys.  From these “charms”, we learn that Marley’s drive for financial gain was matched only by his desire to lock up that which he had collected.  And, for every earthly treasure he acquired, an eternal link was added to his chain.  That which brought freedom in life, brought captivity in death.  Herein lies the first lesson of the chain:  our current life affects our coming life; that which we desire in part on earth, we will receive in full in eternity.

Marley sought earthly treasures during his life so that, in his death, he received the weight of their accumulation.  Gone was their luster; all that remained was their load.  Jesus warned of such a result in Matthew 6:21; “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Jesus told all who would listen to be careful with earthly pursuits, for they would have eternal pay-offs.  In Galatians 6:7-8, Paul expounds upon Jesus’ message with an analogy:  “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.”  You are no doubt familiar with the saying ‘you are what you eat’.  Well, from a spiritual perspective, ‘you chain what you chew’.  Marley’s taste for the possessions of the physical world left him chained to those treasures in death.  When it was time for his heart to join his stored up treasures, he didn’t have far to go.  His links kept him chained to the earth and unable to soar to the heavens.

If Marley’s destiny was doctrinally true, some of us might not be too concerned with the eternal links we form during our earthly stay.  But we must separate fiction from fact, especially when it comes to our eternal destination.  While carrying around a weighty chain might not sound appealing, it doesn’t compare to the weights that will encumber the one who has chosen the gifts of his god over the God of his gifts.  In 2 Peter 2:4, we’re told of the chains that were placed upon the angels who sinned against God; chains that bound them to the darkness of hell as they awaited their coming judgment.  In Mark 9:43, hell is described as a place where the fire never goes out and in Matthew 13:42, it is described as a blazing furnace where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.   Will there be chains that bind the unbeliever?  Yes.  But those chains won’t hold him to an existence in the earthly realm, but will fasten him to a pit of desolation in an eternal realm of darkness.

As a result of Marley’s visit, Ebenezer Scrooge was able to escape the fate that enslaved his friend.  The chain that he had been forging was now being removed, section by section, link by link, token by token.  Scrooge had received an amazing gift; he’d been given a rewrite by the playwright that allowed him to stand upright!  No longer was he held captive by despair, now he was captivated by hope; no longer did the invisible chain with its indelible weight keep him tethered to a painful past, now it linked him to a purposeful future.  And, because the length of his days now exceeded the limits of his chain, Scrooge learned the second lesson of the chain:  that which once fettered can be reforged.

In Scripture, we find examples of others who learned this lesson as well.  Those whose scripts were rewritten by another Playwright that they too might stand upright.  Men such as Joseph, Moses, and Nicodemus; women such as Rehab, Abigail, and Mary Magdalene.  While lesson number one teaches us about the forming of chains, lesson number two teaches us about the reforming of chains, and each of these individuals knew the value of reforged chains.  Paul knew this too, and he wrote about it for our benefit.  He is to us what Marley was to Scrooge:  the voice of one who steps out of the past to speak into our present…to redirect our future.

Paul’s chains fell off on the Damascus Road, or somewhere between there and Judas’ house on Straight Street.  But, despite the where, we know the what…and the Who.  Paul encountered Jesus on that road and, as a result, not only was his chain removed, but it was remade.  Paul’s weight of earthly good was refashioned into a weight of eternal glory.  Through the Holy Spirit, Paul looked not “at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).  Can you hear the clinking of the chain as it fell?  Can you hear the hammering as its links are forged into weapons of defense?  “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Cor. 10:3-6).  With these words, we learn Paul is on the battle line…on the front line, and he is firing away with his weapons of warfare.

But where did these weapons come from?  From what arsenal did Paul receive his tools of defense?  I believe Paul’s spiritual weapons were arrows forged from the links of his chain.  I think each link was smelted and shaped into the shaft of an arrow and I think the tips of the arrows were fashioned from the trinkets, from the charms, that decorated that former chain.  From where does such a thought emerge?  From the words of Paul; from the lesson he learned after he was visited by the Holy Spirit:  “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28).  If all things work for our good, then God doesn’t throw old things away, but refashions them to be used for our good…for our defense.  Based upon this truth, the links that made up the chain that once bound us are not rejected but are recycled.  Add to this verse the verses in which Paul uses military terms (“put on the whole armor of God”, Eph. 6:10; “we are more than conquerors”, Rom. 8:37; “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ…engaged in warfare”, 2 Tim. 2:3-4), and we know that the unchained life is not an unassaulted life.  Yes, God fights for us.  Yes, the battle has been won.  But, yes, we must engage in the conflict.  Yes, we must place the arrow in the bow…pull back the string…and fire when the enemy approaches.  And from where do our arrows come?  From the same Blacksmith who forged Paul’s; from the One who refashions links and tokens into arrows and tips.

One chain, two lessons.  Two lessons, one change.  Like Scrooge, we too have an opportunity to learn from those who have gone before us; to learn what binds and what releases, what arms and what defeats us.  As one year fades and another unfolds, let’s reflect upon the lessons of the chain and, like Paul, let the weight of earthly goods be exchanged for the weight of eternal glory.

The (Holy) Ghost of Christians Past, Present, and Future

The Ghost of Christians Past, Present, and Future

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”  Romans 8:14

               I teach seventh grade literature.  That’s not a fact worth mentioning except, because of this, I recently read “A Christmas Carol” with my students.   I’ve seen the movie at least twenty times and I’m pretty sure (completely sure, should my students ask) that I’ve read the play before, but this time it haunted me long after we’d finished the plot diagram.  There was something about those visiting spirits and the changes they produced that kept drawing my mind to the Holy Spirit and His affect upon us today.  And then, there were these words spoken by Ebenezer Scrooge that literally levitated off the page,

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”         Act II, Scene 4

And to that, I can only say, “Amen, and amen.  How can that not be spiritual in nature?  How can that not be a lesson meant to be acted out on the stage of life?  I believe it is.  In fact, I believe it’s time for the curtain to open and for Act I of “The Holy Ghost of Christians Past, Present, and Future” to begin!

Act I, Scene 1

(As the curtain rises, the Narrator and the Visitor are standing center stage.)

Narrator:  So you are questioning the role of the Holy Ghost in your life?  You think, though you wouldn’t dare say, that the Holy Spirit is the “third wheel” of the Trinity?  You wonder if, perhaps, His role is less relevant to your life…to your faith…than that of the Father and the Son?  You aren’t so sure that the Holy Spirit of the past, present, and future can strive within you?  Well, let’s see if the Ghosts of Christians Past, Present, and Future can shed some light on such thinking and either confirm or contest the direction of such thoughts.

Come with me now, as we step back in time and see the workings of the Holy Spirit.  Just as the Ghost of Christmas Past escorted Scrooge to the days of his youth, let us lay hold of the train of Angelic robes and be transported to the days of Messianic youth.

(Stage lights go down and there is a flash of light and a cloud of fog that rolls across the stage.  Lights go up to reveal a first century bed chamber where Mary is conversing with an angel.  Mary wears an expression of disbelief mixed with excitement as she gazes upon the angel, Gabriel.)

Gabriel:  And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.

Mary:  How can this be, since I am a virgin?

Gabriel:  The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.

Mary:  Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.

(Gabriel leaves stage right.  Light zooms in on Mary and then fades as scene closes.  Luke 1:31-35.) 

Narrator:  Did you see it?  Did you heart it?  A messenger sent by God to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.  And who would be the conduit through which the Son of God would become the Son of Man?  The Holy Spirit.  The Holy Ghost…of Christmas Past…of Christians past.

(There is a flash of light and an emergence of fog.  Scene 1 closes as the light fades.)

                Act I, Scene 2

(Lights come back to center stage to reveal the speaker.  There is a looming shadow of a figure upstage, behind and slightly to the left of the speaker.)

Narrator:  Through the Holy Ghost of Christmas Past, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was conceived and Immanuel, God with us, stepped from majesty into a manger.

Visitor:  So through the Holy Ghost of Christmas Past, the Holy Ghost of Christians Past and Present also dwells among us…and in us.

Narrator:  Not only can people experience the presence of the Holy Ghost, but they may also receive His presents through the Ghost of Christians Present.  But it’s better if you hear this for yourself. Once again, lay hold of the robe that will lead you to see that which overlooks you, yet is all too often overlooked by you.

(Light fades and then slowly returns and pans out to reveal a Jeopardy parody in which a panel of three contestants are answering questions game show style.)

Host:  Contestant #1, which category will you be choosing?

Contestant 1:  I’ll take Holy Ghost for 100.

Host:  Identify the ‘you’s in this statement: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”?

Contestant 1:  Who are the first century disciples…as well as the 21st century disciples… of Jesus Christ?

Host:  That’s correct!  What category do you want next?

Contestant 1:  I’ll take Holy Ghost for 200.

Host:  Scripture that states the Holy Spirit seals us.  Name the reference and recite the verse.

Contestant 2:  What is Ephesians 1:13?  “In Him also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”

Host:  That is correct, Contestant #2. You may choose the next question.

Contestant 2:  I’ll stay with this category for the $500, please.

Host:  This word means ‘seal’ in Greek.

Contestant 3:  What is shragizo?

Host:  Well done, Contestant #3!  You are now in the lead!  Choose your question.

Contestant 3:  I’ll stay with Holy Ghost and go for $300, please.

Host:  What do these three words have in common:  guarantee, ownership, protection?

Contestant 1:  What are the three ways in which the Holy Spirit seals a believer?

Host:  Well played.  Do you want to close out this category?

Contestant 1:  Yes, I’ll take Holy Ghost for $400.

Host:  This verse assures the believer that he belongs to God.

Contestant 2:  What is Romans 8:16?  “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Host:  That’s right.  What category will be chosen next?  Fruit of the Spirit, The Seven Spirits, Spiritual Warfare, or Spiritual Apps?

(Light fades on scene, closing in on the Narrator and the Visitor who have returned to center stage.  The Narrator recites a monologue.  As he speaks to the Visitor, he moves around on the stage, walking around the Visitor.  The Visitor keeps his eyes upon the Narrator, visibly contemplating what is being said.)

Narrator:  All around, the workings of the Holy Ghost may be found, but too often these are looked over, or through, or past.  Too often, believers are satisfied with mediocre living rather than sold out to miraculous living.  If you are a child of God, then the Holy Ghost lives within you, and He has a three-fold job to do.  First, He is to mark you for the kingdom so that you are always confident in your salvation (Romans 8:16).  Secondly, He claims ownership, reminding you that you were bought at a price and now belong to God (I Cor. 6:19-20).  And, finally, the Holy Ghost offers protection, helping you fight against the flesh and live according to the Spirit (Romans 8:13).  And then, having properly sealed you, He gives you access to His power, that “you may know Him and [Jesus’] resurrection power” (Phil. 3:10).  And, if that’s not enough, the Ghost of Christians Present also gives you access to a storehouse of attributes such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22).  So, what have we to learn from the Ghost of Christians Present?  We are to learn that His presence results in many presents!

(Lights fade out.)

Act 1, Scene 3

(Scene opens to the Narrator and the Visitor standing upon what appears to be a cloud.  Both are looking out over a large body of water, toward an island in the distance.)

Narrator:  Having spanned time with the Holy Ghost of Christians Past and surveyed time with the Ghost of Christians Present, it is time now to meet with the Ghost of Christians Future.  Hold on to His robe, look ahead through His eyes, and listen to His words as He speaks to you through John.

(There is a sudden light that flashes.  When it fades, the Visitor is standing on stage right with his hand upon the Ghost of Christians Future.  The spotlight slowly pans out to reveal a man standing center stage before a throne.)

Visitor:  (leaning in toward Ghost) I know of this man.  He’s the apostle John, right?  The one to whom God revealed what is to come?

(Ghost of Christians Future gives an affirming nod.)

John:  (turning toward the Ghost and the Visitor) Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.

Visitor:  And who are the seven Spirits, John?

John:  Isaiah named them when he wrote, “And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the Spirits of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and strength, of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” (Is. 11:2).

Visitor:  And who is the One who was, and is, and is to come, before whom these Spirits stand?

John:  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (Rev. 21:6).

Visitor:  What things will take place, John?  What must I know about the things to come that will make a difference in my life now?

John:  I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. I am making all things new.  He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.  But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Visitor:  Oh, John, it sounds like the best of times…and the worst of times!  How long before this time of reckoning occurs?

John:  I was told that these words were faithful and true by an angel God sent to me.  He said I should share these words for the time is near and the LORD Himself said, “Behold I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.

Visitor:  I see, John, I see.  Ghost of Christians Future, will you take me back now, that I may apply this knowledge to my present days?

(Ghost extends his robe to the visitor who places a hand upon the robe.  There is a sudden flash of light and the stage lights fade.)

Act II

(Lights gradually come on to reveal the Narrator and the Visitor standing center stage.)

Narrator:  Well, what say you, visitor of Christians Past, Present, and Future?  Did the journeys prove worthwhile?  Do you now see the tri-fold workings of the Holy Ghost in the lives of Christians Past, Present, and Future?

Visitor:  Yes, yes, and yes.  I must admit that I haven’t given the Holy Spirit…the Holy Ghost…as much prominence as He deserves, especially around Christmas time.  I think of the Father sending His Son, but I pass over the role of the Holy Spirit in that transformation.  I forget the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past who then became the Ghost of Christians Past and Present as He sealed me with a guarantee of His ownership and protection as I await the return of my Savior.  And I fail to see His place before the throne of God as He too awaits the completion of all things.  As an equal part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit transcends time and works in my past, present, and future simultaneously that I may say, like Ebenezer Scrooge, “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

(Lights fade. Play closes.)

Did I mention that I teach literature?  Did I mention that my most recent assignment was for students to rewrite a portion of a story as a drama?  I think that somewhere in my subconscious I felt the need to do the same assignment.  I hope I haven’t drawn the curtain in an untimely manner or set the stage too sparsely or too sporadically.  The goal was to see the importance, the embeddedness, of the Holy Spirit in our lives from the beginning of earthly time to the end of earthly time; from the onset of personal belief to the culmination of that same belief.  I hope the stage lights accentuated such truths.  I hope the Holy Ghost of Christians Past, Present, and Future will draw you ever closer to the manger, to the cross, and to the throne.  I hope “the Spirits of all three will strive within you”!