An Epiphany Reflection: Christ in me–Christ in you
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. (Isaiah 60:1-2)
Today the Church recognizes the Epiphany of Jesus; “Christ, brought to light.” Epiphany is the season of enlightenment, which we focus our attention on Jesus and the unfolding manifestation of his glory. There are four core events at the heart of Epiphany relative to the observance of the Church; these events are the birth of Christ (although this event has been removed since the fourth century), the visit of the Magi from the East, Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, and Jesus turning the water into wine at the Cana wedding. The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek verb phainein, which means to “cause to appear” or “to bring to light.”
I am thinking about what this season means to me. As we process the season of Advent and we “wait expectantly for the Light,” now the Light has appeared. Christ has come. In what ways do I see Him and what difference does this make in my life. The challenge I have extended to myself during this season is to make every opportunity a manifestation of the Light. I want to be able to “see” Jesus in every human encounter—to see Christ in others, no matter who they are—we are; after all, created as imago dei, the image of God. I want to be a conduit for Christ as well; this means I am a manifestation of Light too. As a Christ follower, people should be able to witness Christ in me. This will be my practice and goal for the next five weeks.
The Rule of Benedict reminds us that we should make every effort to receive guests (others) as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35). And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those “of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10) and to wayfarers. These will serve as strong reminders and encouragement to me during these days of Epiphany along with the very words of Jesus, also from Matthew’s gospel; “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Finding Christ in the other and exhibiting Christ to the other are moments of Epiphany.
If you love God, you will do everything possible to serve and please him. Love is impatient to do good. It is also quick and active and observant. Faith will encourage you. Hope will set you spinning like the spring in a watch. Reverence for God will rouse you out of your sleepiness. Enthusiasm for spiritual things will set you on fire. The more aware you are of God, the more involved you will be in working for him. Those who trifle lose their labor. -Richard Baxter
I think…Epiphany finds us most profoundly when we practice one thing, to love God will all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength.
Almighty and ever-living God, we confidently call you Father as well as Lord. Renew your Spirit in us to make us more perfectly your Light, shining and illuminating the darkness around us. May you be ever present and complete in us, so we might be the Light of your holy city on a hill.
If indeed I am to radiate your light to the world, Lord Christ, then let that light burn within me to purge and purify until I know only you and seek only you and, finding you in everyone I meet, enable them to find you even in me.
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who reigns and lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Advent 4th Sunday: Year C [23DEC12] Theme for week 4—Expectancy & Incarnation
This week, with only two days remaining until Christmas, I will focus my reflections on what God “in the flesh” means to me. What does the little Hebrew baby born in a lowly manger two-thousand years ago really mean to my life? How does this reality translate to the life I live out daily? How does this translation of God in the flesh, living in me, create anticipation and expectancy for his coming again.
Canticle 3 — Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55)
46 ”Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
“Every situation in our lives has a ‘high cross’ somewhere within it. Day after day, over and over, we find ourselves sensing that unease inside which warns us we are not living true to the core of our being. But just as certainly, day by day we will find, if we keep our eyes open, the traces of ‘forever moments.’” -Margaret Silf
O Emmanuel (Is. 7:14) : “O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.”
Lord God and merciful father, you stand by your people on whom you have bestowed the gift of faith. Grant them your sure presence in this world, and their eternal heritage in the world to come.
The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock
Purify our conscience, Almighty God by your daily visitation, that your Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who live and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Advent 2nd Sunday: Year C [13DEC12] Theme for week 2—Preparation & Love
”Prepare the way of the Lord…”
How do we prepare for the Eternal, Immortal, God of all Creation, the One who condescended and emptied Himself to take on the form of human flesh? While we confess the reality of this great mystery, even claiming this God lives “within” us, I wonder how different our actions and attitudes might be if we were able to sit in His physical presence… not like one of the disciples, but like Isaiah in his great vision (Isaiah 6:1-3).
It is hard to imagine the splendor and the glory of that God wrapping himself in the flesh of a helpless baby. It is hard for me to imagine that same splendor and glory taking up residence in me in the form of the Holy Spirit. What I find even more convicting is how easy it is for me to take for granted this miracle that I so often cavalierly claim as my own. It is not that I intend to take this wonder for granted, but I think the greater tragedy is that I probably don’t even begin to fathom the power of God that guides me from within. I say I do; get it, but I doubt seriously that I do when I really begin to ponder the richness of it all… like now.
“Prepare the way of the Lord…”
I want to prepare the way of the Lord. I want my life to be made fully whole in all that God has prepared for me and made the way for me to be—fully reconciled, fully restored—in this way I will become His blessing to every circle of influence I am a part. My joy will be complete. His joy will be complete. I wonder how I do this… How do I overcome my frailty and my doubt?
Then the LORD said, “Tell him to stop worrying… Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.” -Isaiah 7:3-4, 9
This is the x-factor; my faith is the key to becoming all the things God has intended for me. My faith will help me to prepare the way of the Lord. My faith will compel me to action. My action will set course for disciplines in my life that will help to crucify old habits and frail natures in me that inhibit and slow my progress in transformation to the image of Christ. The Spirit that lives within me is the same God Whom Isaiah saw seated on the throne in his vision. This Holy power within me is stronger than any of the fleshly will that has ever existed in me… my faith must be firm and my will resolute to answer “yes” always to the God who guides me.
“God is… the supreme and ever-present factor in every situation.” -Evelyn Underhill
4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires. 5 Commit everything you do to the LORD, trust him, and he will help you. 7 Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. 8 Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm. 23 The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their life. 24 Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand. (Psalm 37)
Unknowable One, we stand before you, hardly daring to look up. We offer you our hearts, and pray that we may, this day and ever, worship you in ways that are true. Forgive us those days when we have worshiped false and faulty images we have shaped. Help our frail senses, that we may apprehend your Presence and your Love.
Come, Creator Spirit, Paraclete, gift of God most high, visit the souls of your people, and fill with supernal grace the hearts which you created.
Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared. Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good. We humbly ask this, O Holy God, in whom we live and move and have our being. Remember us, both now and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile now. I wasn’t sure how to articulate my thoughts; honestly, I’m still not sure I know how. I’ve been thinking a lot lately…about a bunch of things, but especially about sin—the nature, the inner and outer manifestations, the collateral effects—and ultimately, the bottom line of it all
I think that when we talk about sin, we talk about it too broadly and too generically. When we do attempt to focus in on sin, we will often isolate subjective manifestations of sin like vices, behaviors, social maladies, and the like. There are isolated and rare occasions when the topic of “original sin” is discussed where Adam’s disobedience and the subsequent fall of man is cast as the source of humanity’s sin. It is my opinion while there is some validity in all these points, we are still missing the mark…and this, I think, is the real or root problem. We miss the mark.
It is helpful for us to have a working definition of the word “sin” before we proceed. In the Old Testament there are several words that we translate to the English word “sin.” My studies revealed one of the more prominent words, and many derivatives of it, used to describe sin is the Hebrew word “chata,” which means to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness; to miss oneself, lose oneself, wander from the way. I think several of these possible meanings really strike a chord in me; particularly “lose oneself” and “wander from the way.” A second word from the Old Testament and the Hebrew is “râ‛âh.” This word is used more than 600 times and is most often translated as “evil” or “bad” ([Strong's #7451]). While the word “sin” is rarely, if ever, translated from it, it still carries the implication of something that is contrary to God’s nature and I think this is the important piece. Our actions that are translated as “evil” and “bad” are contrary to God’s nature. Finally, there is the New Testament use of the word “sin” translated from the Greek word “hamartia,” which means literally, “to miss the mark.”
What I gleaned from these word studies is that our approach toward understanding sin and our subsequent way of dealing with it might be askew. As I mentioned earlier, generally speaking, we talk about sin in a broadly generic manner. We label sin as things we do, attitudes of the mind and heart, and conditions of life that are other than what we expect in our “best case” ideals. All of these are subjectively interpreted and potential outward manifestations of sin… not sin themselves. I know that statement will get some resistance, but hear me out.
The actual definitions from the primary words for sin in the Hebrew and Greek texts are “missing the way” or “missing the mark.” We might do well to consider what the “way” or the “mark” is that we have missed.
The Bible teaches us from the very beginning that we are created in the Imago Dei or image of God. We are supposed to be reflections of our Creator in all our ways. This was and is the intent of our God, that we would be His image bearer, and anything less than an accurate reflection of Him… His Image, is sin. When we fail to “look like God,” we sin. We miss the mark. I realize that my statements disturb the thinking of people, but this is what the Bible teaches from beginning to end. In the earliest chapters of Genesis, we read that we are imago dei, and then through disbelief and disobedience, Adam (the first man) becomes a broken image of God (missing the mark). Adam and wife, Eve, are expelled from the presence of God to pass on their brokenness to all future generations. The covenant promise of God though, is that God will present humankind with a means of restoring the imago dei through the redemptive work of Messiah Jesus. Ultimately, the promise, for those who will receive it, is complete recovery of the God Image… “we’ll be like he is” (1 John 3:2-3).
I think one of the greatest mistakes we have made in our Christian discipleship efforts is to inaccurately define and describe sin as actions, attitudes, things we do and things we feel. Describing and defining sin as wrong behavior, evil, socially unacceptable acts, vices, alternative lifestyles, etc. are all subjective and judgmental perspectives and lead to performance expectations and measurements. Our incorrect definition creates an incorrect diagnosis of the problem, and with errant diagnosis comes wrong treatment… Our efforts tend to lean toward correcting and managing behavior over recovering the imago dei and becoming Christ-like. Ultimately, wrong treatment begets no change at best and digression at worst.
A Belief Problem
I think many people push back against recovering God’s image as their own, because it seems preposterous to them to believe it is possible or attainable. It seems much more plausible to embark on a self-help or self-healing program to make a better “me” than to become like Jesus…like God, but Scripture is very clear that “becoming like Christ” and recovering our reflection of Him is the goal. The following are just a smattering of Scripture verses pointing to the claim of recovering the imago dei.
- Created in God’s image; Imago Dei (Genesis 1:27-28, 5:1-3)
- Deuteronomy 30:11-14 – This command is not too hard for you to reach
- Ezekiel 36:26 – I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
- Jeremiah 31:33 – write my commandments on your heart
- Colossians 1:15-16 - the Son is the image of the invisible God…
- 1 John 2:3-6 – we must walk as Jesus walked…
- 1 John 3:2-3 – We’ll be like he is
- 1 John 5:3 – His commands are not burdensome…
I’m still thinking about what all this means to me. I do know this for myself… to think of sin in the terms of what I do (actions and attitude) propels me in a wrong direction where I continue to miss the mark. First, I cannot cure myself. Second, I don’t know what to cure since my diagnosis is based upon my own interpretation of the problem…which is misguided in the first place. If my “mark” is not God, then my mark will be my own ideal or another human, who is likely to be misguided and missing the mark too. Only Christ is my standard. Only Christ can help me to reach that standard.
Will I ever reach the mark? Will I ever not sin? I think in terms of what I strive for, I reach the mark when I start living to attain it. As I follow Jesus, I am reaching for the prize that is the mark of Christ. I stop sinning as I reach for and follow after Christ because I am recovering the imago dei. As I surrender to the Spirit of God who dwells within me, I am living under the Image of the God who Created me and this might even be closer to recovering the imago dei than even I am fully capable of realizing on this side of eternity.
I’m still thinking on this and I’m sure I’ll revisit the post a time or two or three or…
Book Review: Thin Places
Authors: Jon Huckins w/ Rob Yackley
Published by: The House Studio
I purchased this book because I’m interested in intentional Christian communities. I read it and I come away with the feeling of… hmmm… okay. I think this is good. No, I think this is great and here’s why. Thin Places is not selling hype, glitz, glam or gimmick. What the NieuCommunities is sharing in their Thin Places experience is real life, everyday life, plain old life… that is, as plain as living life under the authority and mission of the Almighty God of all Creation can be.
The book is about community and I learned about community from it, but it is not about the “nuts and bolts” of establishing or managing an intentional community. There is some of that, but more, the book is about attitude of mind and heart. The sub-title of the book reveals this attitude in these words; “6 Postures for Creating & Practicing Missional Community.” The introduction of the book does well to establish the tone and the pace for the chapters that follow with these words:
Cloaked in the covering of covenant community, we pilgrimage through each of the following posture as learners and practitioners:
Listening: We desire to be attuned to God, to self, and to our neighborhood.
Submerging: We desire to embody Jesus in our neighborhood while participating in an apprenticing community.
Inviting: We desire to grasp the depth of God’s invitation to kingdom life and to become more inviting and invited people while welcoming our neighbors into God’s redemptive story.
Contending: We desire to confront the things that hinder the full expression of the kingdom of God, both spiritual and natural, in our community, among our friends and neighbors, and in our city.
Imagining: We desire to discern God’s intent on our lives and help shape transformational faith communities.
Entrusting: We desire to entrust people to God and to others, celebrate our deeper understanding of God’ call on our lives, and lean confidently into our future. (p.28)
This is Thin Places. The remainder of the book walks the reader in a contemplative, yet practical, example of what it means to live in this nieu-monastic posture of “life intertwined” as emissaries of Christ in the heart of the neighborhood/community in which he draws and plants you. I found Thin Places a practical, real, and beautiful story. It is the story I’m pursuing for my own life and hope to find a group of people committed to living out this everyday way of faith.
I loved the ending words from the back cover of the book and find them appropriate to conclude this review; “Through Thin Places, create a fertile soil to commune with God, live in deep community with others, and extend the good news of the kingdom in your local contexts.” Yes. Thin Places might awaken you to do exactly that.
Holy Spirit—Union With God
I steep and soak in my reflections on what it means to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” I have been reading, studying, asking questions, and organizing my thoughts in a non-stop immersion since just after Easter of this year. I have, of course, studied this aspect of Christian faith before now, but I have followed a hunger to really pull out all stops and dig deeply into a myriad of unsettled questions I have had and see where my studies and God’s Spirit leads me.
Most recently, after reading a few books and reflecting in Scripture, an analogy I have pondered previously began to clarify and take on deeper meaning to me. I should probably do a little context work before I proceed further.
One of the questions I have been asking lately is in response to my personal witness of the Christian journey; that is, the daily life lived out in the pursuit of becoming perfected in the likeness of Jesus Christ. I have written out many of my thoughts on this subject over the course of the past decade, but consolidated some of those ideas in a recent series here (see link). Essentially, I am wondering aloud, if we are able to complete the Christian journey intact (aka eternally perfected—saved) without the “full in-filling” or baptism of the Holy Spirit as it is spoken about in Scripture. I realize there are many thoughts and doctrine about this teaching with a great deal of diversity and disparity of interpretation therein, but the role and work of the Holy Spirit, as mysterious as it may be, is very prominent in the Scriptures from beginning to end. Considering this prominence, I cannot help but be very drawn to trying to understand what my response should be to the influence of the Holy Spirit.
There are a few assumed conclusions I have settled upon at this juncture of my studies (always subject to change as I continue to study and learn) and subsequent understanding; they are as follows:
- We are incapable of living out the life of holiness God commands us to live without the work of the Holy Spirit within us. In other words, we cannot become what God wants of us without God within us.
- Christian perfection (becoming like Christ in every way) is part of the plan of God from before the beginning of time.
- Not becoming perfected (especially willful refusal to grow in the ways of spiritual maturity) in the Way of Christ can influence our eternal future.
- Visible manifestations and measurable evidences (spiritual fruit) are part of the Christian journey and useful in the grading (aka judging) one another’s progression and course of discipleship.
I might share a few more questions floating around my head before describing my analogy. I wonder at what point a person is filled with or baptized with the Holy Spirit. Is it something that happens at the moment of spiritual rebirth/regeneration? Is it a specific second work of grace that takes place subsequent to regenerative conversion? If being “born again” and “filled with the Spirit” are a singular event, how do we explain the discrepancies for singularity we read about in the Bible (the original followers of Jesus, the household of Cornelius, and the believers at Ephesus are a few examples). Is the total surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer an optional path of discipleship? There are other questions influencing my study, but I consider these sufficient to provide a backdrop for my analogy.
Union with God ◊ Marriage Metaphors
All throughout Scripture, God employs the use of marriage and sexual intimacy as strong metaphors to describe the relationship between man and the Triune Godhead. God calls the people of Israel “adulterers and adulteresses” for forsaking their primacy of relationship with Him for other gods. He also gives Hosea specific instructions to marry a prostitute in order to construct a visual aid for all to see how He perceives His relationship with the chosen people of Israel. Likewise, the beauty of intimacy is described in vivid detail with the Song of Solomon, and is believed to be a metaphor for the bond of love between Christ and the Church. The Church is mentioned as the “Bride” of Christ, and the “Marriage Feast of the Lamb” is a prominent event mentioned in Scripture, especially in the Book of the Revelation. The description of a man and woman becoming “one flesh” and the “oneness” described by Jesus in his Priestly Prayer (John 17) cannot be ignored as we consider all these descriptions, metaphors, and analogies. What is it that God is portraying for us in them? How are we to interpret what God is speaking through these descriptions? Why is it that these particular and strong word pictures are featured so predominately?
One last disclaimer and qualifier: Every metaphor limps—because no metaphor is perfect. This is why we use metaphors, because the “perfect explanation” is out of our reach and our closest approximation is to say, “Blank is like blank.” Remember; like is not is.
I think the Christian journey as the baptism of the Holy Spirit relates to it is like the courtship to marriage relationship.
- I think many persons will make their first steps toward Christian rebirth under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches the Holy Spirit is involved with drawing fallen humans to God. I see similarity between the “wooing” of the Spirit and how the courtship of a man and woman might progress. Whereas the spiritual journey might see the respondent opening to their awareness to God, the physical relationship between a man and a woman might similarly see them opening to one another (becoming more agreeable to conversations and the depth of information each other are willing to disclose). I might liken these first steps to an introductory or initial dating phase.
- As dating and courtship continue between human relationships, so does the relationship between man and God. As the man’s curiosity and awareness to the presence and activity of God is heightened, he is driven and drawn to learn more about this God who “woos” him. Similarly, we see the same behavior exhibited between a man and woman as they learn the dance of romance as well as determine their compatibility and need for one another.
- Counting the cost of relationship is wise advice according to the words of Jesus. I believe this applies to temporal relationships between men and women as much as it applies to the temporal-eternal relationship between man and God. A woman might consider how a man will treat her, provide for her materially and emotionally… what kind of father he might be to her children, and etc. Likewise, Jesus advises the potential follower-disciple to evaluate the cost involved in following or “being married to” Him.
- Eventually there comes a nexus where betrothal, engagement, or the promise to marry becomes the primary question. In this moment, a commitment takes place between the parties consigning devotion to one another. I think this same process occurs in the spiritual relationship with Christ. The speed and the means by which the process unfolds might look differently from person to person, but the realization of the question, answer, and ultimate decision is probably very similar.
- Marriage. The Covenant agreement. In both cases there seems intellectual and soulful agreement to belong to one another. Jesus’ promise to all who would follow Him devotedly is that He would never leave or forsake them. Similarly, the covenant agreement in marriage vows echoes a “forever” commitment, “…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” I don’t know the ritual covenantal vows for all cultures and Christian denominations, but would imagine they might be very common to those I mention. Jesus, on many occasions, uses the marriage metaphor to describe the relationship between his followers and himself (Matt 9:15; 25:1-10; John 3:29). I completed a study and wrote an essay on the parallels of marriage as a divine institution some years ago that has more information on these thoughts (see link).
- Consummation. I believe the in-filling or baptism of the Holy Spirit might be likened to the consummation of a marriage. I realize how stark and intimate this metaphor seems, but it is the analogy that God uses throughout the Holy Scriptures to describe the relationship between Himself and mankind. As I mentioned in point number five, I believe that becoming “born again” may happen at the time of intellectual and soulful agreement to the person of Jesus Christ and the affirmation of the atoning sacrifice of his life for our sin. I believe in accordance to the teaching of Scripture that this is a justifying act of grace declared by the voice and hand of God who declares that soul as “saved.” This declaration is a divinely valid agreement and the person over whom it is declared is as eternally secure and “saved” as they can or ever will be. I think the same can be said for the person who is married… they are never any more legally married or bound to their respective spouse on the first day of marriage than they are on their fiftieth year of marriage. Can a person be legally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically married without the act of conjugal consummation? I believe the answer is yes, but in many cultures, the lack of consummation can be grounds for annulment of the marriage…not divorce, but annulment. Annulment states specific grounds for which the marriage is declared void—as if it never took place—and was never actualized as a real marriage. Jesus declares the baptism of the Holy Spirit a divine imperative; consummation of the divine relationship is a mandate and expectation. Jesus speaks very explicitly about this union with his followers in his teaching about abiding in him (John 15) and in the prayer for unity and oneness found in John chapter seventeen. The parallel is also seen when Jesus reminds the teachers of the Law that it was God’s divine planning for a man to leave his family to be “joined as one flesh” with his wife. It is the joining of the Holy Spirit with the believer that makes him or her more than they were as their former self. Jesus said believers would receive “power from on high” when the Holy Spirit came to take up residence within them. This is the ultimate form of love in union. It requires absolute trust and absolute surrender. We are taught by Jesus that he “chose us as his own” for the purpose of bearing fruit for His Father, God, and His Kingdom. Christian fruit (john 15) can only come from “consummation” of the relationship (infilling/baptism of the Holy Spirit) just the same as children from a couple can only come through consummation of marital relationship. The reciprocity of surrender and giving of selves to one another naturally produce godly “fruit”—this might be manifest in the most basic of levels, with children…and in other manifestations deeper intimacy of relationship and “knowing” one another. Perhaps… this might help us to understand why it is that Jesus speaks so forthrightly about men and women who professed their “marriage” to Christ on the Day of Judgment. Jesus speaks the following words from the Gospel of Matthew chapter seven:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt. 7:21-23)
It is interesting to me the word Jesus uses “knew” is the same word, and I believe the same contextual meaning, as his mother, Mary, used when she answered to the angel Gabriel for example in Luke 1:34, “And Mary [a virgin] said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I do not know (Strongs-1097 /ginṓskō = sexual intimacy) a man.
It may be that without the active infilling and baptism of the Holy Spirit, Jesus does not know us in the strictest and most important way we are to be known.
I think ultimately we also need to realize that living in union and communion with God is not about being perfect or achieving some level of Christian perfection. I definitively believe and understand the process of Christian formation or entire sanctification is not measured by perfection, but is measured by the level of our surrender to the process and to the Holy Spirit who guides it.
O God, who on this day didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment of all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with the, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
♦ Psalms 104:25-35, 37
♦ John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
“They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak about the marvelous deeds of God. Alleuluia! Father, through your Spirit you have poured into our hearts a marvelous love. Confident that you hear us, we pray: Send your Spirit, Lord, and renew the earth.“
The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit provides for many discussion points in the church: “What is the role of the Holy Spirit?” “How does one get the Holy Spirit?” “Who wants the Holy Spirit?” “Does a person need the Holy Spirit to be saved?” And, I’m sure there are dozens more discussion points that could be brought up about this mysterious Third Person of the Trinity.
Today was Pentecost Sunday a day also known by its Jewish festival name of Shavuot or The Feast of Weeks as recognized for the remembrance of God’s giving of the Ten Commandments. The day also has specific significance in the cycle of the Christian calendar as it remembers the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the original disciples and other followers of Jesus as written in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:1-31).
I’m certainly no learned expert on the details and workings of the Holy Spirit, but I think the role, personality, and nature of this representative person of the Godhead is very misunderstood, often taken for granted, and all too frequently spoken of with generalities instead of specific truths. This is unfortunate, because the result of this vagueness and ambiguity is miscommunication and misinformation leading to bad doctrine and false teaching about the Godhead.
I was glad that we talked about the role of the Holy Spirit in our church today and I thought our pastor did a commendable job in his teaching; although, I think the time allotment for these types of teaching and sermons is inadequate. While the points shared in the message given in our church today were informative and solidly supported by the Scriptures, there were clarifying details that were missing that could have been helpful in presenting a more mature understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role in the life of the individual believer. The same can be said about the working of the Holy Spirit in the corporate setting of the church a community…more clarifying details could have been shared.
The question was posed in our setting today; “Why are many living a Spirit-less life?” This is a good question and has a bit of a prophetic edge to it. The answers given to us were that some people aren’t aware of the Holy Spirit and others resist the Holy Spirit. Both points are valid and scripturally supported, and in both cases, there are people “who believe in Jesus” who are not filled with the Holy Spirit.
Our pastor went on to share several roles or ministries the Holy Spirit works in the life of the person who has received Him in their life. The Holy Spirit comforts, the Holy Spirit counsels, and the Holy Spirit convicts (of sin, righteousness, and judgment). The follow-up (and obvious question) comes next: “Who wouldn’t want this?” It is here (in my opinion) that our slope gets slippery.
As pastors, leaders, and as a priesthood of believers, we want people to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his followers they should be filled. He told his disciples it would be better for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit than it would be for him to stay on this earth with them. It is good; then, for us to want every Jesus-following-believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Yes, it is a good thing. So we ask people; “Who wants this Holy Spirit… Who wants a personal Comforter, Counselor, Accountability Guide aka Convictor?” And, people respond… yes. And, we invite people to “say a prayer and ask God to send you his Holy Spirit.” Really? I don’t know if this is right. Something doesn’t sit right with me when we, as a church community, proceed with instruction in this manner.
It seems to me that we become sponsors of unintended “bait and switch” with our captured audiences. We have the tendency to be overly generous with our presentations of the gifts and benefits of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The example I have shared with asking for the filling of the Holy Spirit is a case in point. Once again, let me stress that it is a good thing to want our people filled with the Holy Spirit. I pray every Jesus Following Believer is filled with the Holy Spirit of God, but when we make a strong rhetorical argument for the reasons one should be filled and follow that argument with an invitation to be filled… without full disclosure of the cost and personal responsibility involved with becoming filled with the Spirit of the Living God, I think we are doing a huge disservice to the people we teach and potentially run the risk of dishonoring God and even grieving the Holy Spirit.
While the gift of the Holy Spirit is freely given by God, the cost to us is not free. We must surrender our lives to God in order to be continually filled with His Spirit. If we are not surrendered to Him, I dare say we are not filled…or we will not remain filled. I think that it is significant to note that when the Bible shows Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit it was at the Jordan River as he was baptized by John. The significance here is what baptism symbolized. Baptism is a sign of death, burial, and resurrection…denial and surrender of self. As Jesus surrendered himself to the plan of God the Father and emptied himself (Phil. 2:5-9), so he was filled. This, I believe, is an example to us and for us. Being filled with God’s Holy Spirit just doesn’t happen because we ask for it; God sends his Spirit to those that ask who are willingly surrendering their lives to Him… and this might be another reason “why many are living a Spirit-less life.”
[17MAY2012] Eastertide | Ascension Day
O Almighty God, whose blessed Son our savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abideth with his church on earth, even unto the end of the ages; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
“But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.” John 16:5-9
The Church celebrates the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ on this day. What that means may be recognized and interpreted in as many different ways as there are people who follow after Jesus… but I do know this; the Ascension of Jesus Christ is hugely, magnificently, overwhelmingly, significant to me and the current context of my life.
For the past few weeks, I have been examining my heart, my motive, my dreams, my understanding of Scripture, and the mission of Christ in my life. So I am not misunderstood, my faith hasn’t been in crisis, but I have been taking note at the odds by which my personal beliefs about the teachings of Jesus seem to diverge from the mainstream of Christian America. This has disturbed me and has been the source of my inner reflection and soul examination. You see, I believe that we, every Christ following believer, can live the life that Jesus lived while he walked the earth. I believe this because he said we could do it. Likewise, I also believe the teachings he espoused in the Beattitudes and The Sermon on the Mount are true and livable expectations for people who have determined to live a life of self-denial and Christ-likeness as they pursue the kingdom of God on this earth while waiting for the ultimate and glorious return of Jesus for the eternal kingdom. The conflict is this; while some people profess to believe these things likewise, there are few that I have met personally, who are intent on pursuing them. I realize this may sound critical and judgmental, and I apologize for that, but it has been my experience.
“We who have once for all cloned ourselves in Christ, and been made worthy to have him dwelling within us, may show everyone, if we choose, simply by the strict discipline of our life and without saying a word, the power of him who dwells in us.” John Chrysostom
This past week I had a break-through of sorts and realized that my discontent was founded in the sense that what I was seeing was true. I also realized that I could not allow the discontent to swell to discouragement. I resolved to continue the course that God has set my heart on; I will press on toward living the kingdom as full as I possibly can on this side of eternity. I will settle for nothing less than all that Jesus has promised. Those persons, believers they may be, who are misguided in their understanding of the promises of God (Galatians 3:12-21), I will pray for them. I will press on with the conviction God has placed in my heart.
[27APRIL2012] Eastertide Devotional Series
I will be posting this devotional series as part of my Eastertide reflections for the next three weeks (see this link for other installments in the series). Each week of this devotional series focuses on a specific theme (week one: brokenness, week two: repentance, and week three: renewal). I hope you’ll enjoy the series and I invite you to comment here on the blog or email me direct; I would love to hear your thoughts.
Scripture Reading: John 10:22-30; 14:15-31
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me… If you love me, obey my commandments. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me.”
The past few weeks have taken us on a journey leading up to this place of spiritual renewal. We have realized that recognizing our brokenness and responding with repentance (turning back to God) are prerequisites to beginning the path of renewal, but there is more… As we have explored the dynamic of renewal this week, we are learning that it requires certain commitments from us. We learned on Monday that renewal requires humility and contrition; coming before God and asking Him to renew and restore us. Tuesday we acknowledged that renewal and restoration are a partnership with God and that we have a share in the responsibility of our spiritual renewing. Wednesday taught us that successful renewal is best found through deliberate and intentional planning: assessing our need, formulating a plan, enlisting the help of others and putting the plan into action. We learned Thursday, that being wholehearted in our efforts of turning back to God is necessary for our successful renewal. Without our wholehearted involvement, it is likely there will be no partnership with God and spiritual renewal does not happen when we are doing it alone.
The next step in our process of renewal and restoration is hearing the Voice of God and our active obedience to His Voice. Jesus said; “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” This short, but very deep, statement can be summed up as follows: Hear, Listen, Obey. If we have any expectations for hearing God’s Voice, it will always require obedience. Without obedience to God’s instruction, our ability to hear His Voice degrades. Without His Voice, there is no instruction and direction from Him. Without God’s instruction and direction, we lead ourselves blindly and return to our own way… spiritual renewal and restoration fails, as do we. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me… If you love me, obey my commandments. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me.”
I confess that my obedience to God’s Voice, following Jesus, has not always been easy. I have often had to make difficult choices, putting aside my personal desires and sacrificing many things along the way (friendships, career, financial decisions, my pride, and these are just a few). The upside of these sacrifices for obedience has been my renewed ability to hear and respond obediently to His Voice!
Have you struggled with being obedient to God’s commands and direction in your life? What has been the source of your struggle? How well do your hear God’s Voice? How closely do you “follow” Jesus?
Our Prayer: Lord Jesus, I admit that I do not always listen to your voice. Sometime I feel that following you is negotiable and discretionary…that I can jump on and off the path without repercussion. I tell myself this, but I know in my deepest heart that it is not true and every time I “jump off the path” or fail to obey you, I weaken our relationship. Lord, I want to confess again, that I am weak, but I know that you are strong, so I ask you to be strong in me. Help me to hear you clearly and by your Holy Spirit, help me to obey you and show you how much I love you by following you. May my life be all for your glory and your honor. Amen.
[24APRIL2012] Eastertide Devotional Series
I will be posting this devotional series as part of my Eastertide reflections for the next three weeks (see this link for other installments in the series). Each week of this devotional series focuses on a specific theme (week one: brokenness, week two: repentance, and week three: renewal). I hope you’ll enjoy the series and I invite you to comment here on the blog or email me direct; I would love to hear your thoughts.
“I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline… Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.”
One of the things I have found as I’ve looked backward over the history of my own life are times and places where I’ve wanted to abdicate my own responsibility for past and/or future actions. Even in the present season of my life, there are times when I am reluctant to want to make choices. Choosing or deciding will often mean I need to move or do something and I might not be ready to do that… or at the very least, I might think I am not ready to move.
As Paul writes to Timothy, one of the steps in the process of renewal is taking personal responsibility. He exhorts Timothy to “fan into flames the spiritual gift…” Yes, he tells Timothy to do this. He reminds him also that it was God who has already given Timothy the spiritual gift and he goes on to add that the spiritual gift comes with power, love, and self discipline… “self-discipline.”
There are times when I don’t like assuming the responsibility of self-discipline either. I don’t like the idea of being accountable for myself. I find it easier to pray to God with words like; “God, make me do this or make me do that.” In my subconscious mind I think this would be easier for me and then if I fail, I’m not to blame, but then, I also resent being forced to do things too… even if they are good for me. I think the truth lies in the reality that I’m fearful of the commitment that it might take or scared that I might not have the fortitude to succeed in the life of faith, because overall it isn’t the easy path; it is a narrow path that Jesus has said that few find and sometimes I find that troubling to consider, but there is great hope.
Peter writes in his second letter some remarkable things (2 Peter 1:3-4); “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature” He has given us everything we need for living a godly life. He has enabled us to share his divine nature. Incredible! I have and you have everything we need even to the sharing of God’s divine nature. My part is to fan this great spiritual gift from the “ember” it may have “cooled” to the great roaring holy flame that God has enabled it to be. Perhaps I should get to fanning…
Do you believe God has enabled you to “burn” brightly with Him? Is there anything that holds you back? Have you “cooled” from where you once were walking with God? Have you doubted your ability to return to where you were?
Our Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am ready to take responsibility for fanning into flame the spiritual gift you have given to me. I recognize that I am a partner in this relationship and want to do my part. I pray your holy assistance and Holy Spirit to guide me in the practice and discipline of everything you have given me for living a godly life. I forget sometime that I bear the divine nature, help me to keep this close in my mind and close in my heart as I fan my spiritual gift into flame. Amen.