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“Something More”

phoenix

I actually have a certificate signed by the Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles that says I received the Holy Spirit together with His Sevenfold Gifts (Isaiah 11:1-2) when he laid his hands on me at my Confirmation in 1965 when I was 12 years old. But up to that point, and for a number of years afterwards, my experience of the Holy Spirit was just about as flat as that piece of paper.

In 1974 Catherine Marshall wrote her book Something More in which she explained that there is “a big difference between being indwelt by the Spirit and being ‘filled’ with His presence.” She explained that “for years (and sometimes for a lifetime) a Christian can keep the Spirit at a sub-basement level by the insistence on running one’s own life. Then through teaching or need – or both – that person recognizes his divine Guest’s presence, opens hitherto closed doors into crayon rooms in his being so that the Spirit can enter there too… It is not God’s attitude toward us that needs to be changed, but our attitude toward Him.  He will not give us anything new; rather we are to receive in a new and far fuller sense that which He has already given us at Pentecost… Sunlight can be kept out only by erecting barriers against it.  All we need do then, is take down our shutters and barriers and walk out into the sunlight already given” (276).  Until and unless this happens, she said, we will operate at a level well below what God intends for us spiritually, and we will experience this deficit as “an aching void in our hearts.”

It was a feeling of this kind of emptiness that brought J. Rodman Williams, a well-known and highly respected Presbyterian theologian, to the place of seeking “something more.”  In his 1972 book The Pentecostal Reality he wrote –

At the heart of much of our life and activity a deep spiritual crisis exists. Despite multiple attempts by the church at reassessment and relevance, there remains the haunting sense of something lacking or unfulfilled and a feeling of spiritual impotence… Where, many are asking, is the dynamic reality of God’s presence? In an article appearing in “The Christian Century” (May 13, 1979) entitled “The Power of Pentecost: We Need it More Now Than Ever,” the author asks, “Why in every sector of Christianity today… [is] there so little evidence of spiritual power…?” “I am haunted,” he continues, “by the memory of Pentecost and its power surging into the hearts of the disciples long, long ago.  Where is that power today?  Can it come among us again?”  Then, finally, he adds, “It is time we took Pentecost seriously and eagerly received a new infusion of the Holy Spirit.”

I believe that it is this awareness of “something missing” that prepares us for the “something more” that the experience of the fullness of the Holy Spirit brings into our spiritual lives.  It’s when we hunger and thirst for the reality of the things that we believe are true that we will start to ask, and knock, and seek, and that’s when Jesus said that the fullness of the Holy Spirit will be given to us (Luke 11:13).

My spiritual awakening happened in 1965.  That’s when I was “born again,” and I believe that it was at that time that I was forgiven and given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is just “part of the package” of Christian conversion Biblically.  You can’t be a Christian and not have the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38; Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 12:3; Galatians 3:1-5). But in my experience it wouldn’t be for another six years that I would “receive” or “make welcome” the Holy Spirit who indwelt me when I first believed.  For six long years the Holy Spirit had been living in the house of my life, but I wasn’t aware of His presence or consciously plugged into His power.  This happens because, as the Reformed Biblical Theologian Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949) explained –

In (the) great redeeming process two stages are to be distinguished. First come those acts of God which have a universal and objective significance, being aimed at the production of an organic center for the new order of things. After this had been accomplished, there follows a second stage during which this objective redemption is subjectively applied to individuals.

I’d believed the objective work of God in Christ to save me, but I’d not had a conscious experience of this saving work of God in Christ subjectively applied to me. I see this dynamic at work in the great “Apostolic Benediction” of 2 Corinthians 13:14 –

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”
 

Salvation is the work of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It originates in the love of the Father.  It is accomplished by the grace of the Son in the finished work of His atoning death, burial and resurrection.   And it is applied by the communion of the Holy Spirit, by the way that the Holy Spirit communicates God’s grace in Christ to us and facilitates our sharing in it.  When we resist (Acts 7:51), quench (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), we close the door on the Spirit’s indwelling and empowering presence in our lives, and miss the conscious experience of the adequate spiritual dynamic for the living of the Christian life that God in Christ intends for us.

Jeffrey Simmons was an Episcopal Priest who was irritated when some members of his parish kept urging him to go to a certain conference where he could “get the Spirit.”   He finally wound up going, but resolved that he wasn’t going to let anybody pray for him while he was there.  Dodging offers to be prayed over at every turn, and becoming increasingly irritated by the whole idea, he finally retreated to a quiet garden where he could hide.

Sitting with my back against the trunk of a tree, I tried to sort out my feelings. I felt trapped (someone else had driven and I didn’t have a car.)  I felt pressured and manipulated… But as the sunlight sparkling through the cool green leaves started to calm me, I became aware that I (also) felt curious and a little ashamed of myself for not being more adventurous.  The theme of the conference, boiled down to the essentials, was nothing more than, “God wants to have a closer and more productive relationship with you, if you will just open yourself to receive it.”  I couldn’t argue with that… so I sat under that tree fir an hour and a half praying the hardest I had ever prayed in my life, “Dear God, if you have something for me that I don’t have, I’ll take it.”

Several decades later, I still look back at that time of prayer with gratitude. I was not aware, when I emerged from under the tree, that anything had changed.  It was not an emotional experience at all.  The changes happened gradually over the next six months.  Prayer became a hunger, and the sense of God’s presence far more intense.  The amount of money I spent on Christian books increased dramatically. The biggest change, however, was what happened when I read the Bible.  Passages I had read fifty times took on a vividness and urgency that were almost disorienting.  All I had said was, “God, if you have something for me that I don’t have, I’ll take it.” …It simply says, as I think Christians should always say, that God always has more for me, and I am standing before him with empty, receptive hands.

Biblically, I believe that the normal Christian life consists of both being “born again” (John 3:3) and of being “Spirit-filled” (Ephesians 5:18). Jesus Christ as the Savior came to do both.  He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and He is the “One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33).  But my spiritual life had been artificially truncated because nobody ever told me this, or showed me in Scripture how this was so.  As the disciples of John the Baptist told Paul outside of Ephesus in Acts 19:2 – I hadn’t even been told “that there was a Holy Spirit!”  And then, everything changed for me when at a prayer meeting when I was encouraged to “receive” or “make welcome” the Holy Spirit.  I did, and what I had known for a long long time was true suddenly became just as real to me, in me, and that’s the promise that Pentecost holds for each one of us.  “Come Holy Spirit, Come!DBS +

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“Entertaining the Holy Spirit”

a               Welcome, Holy Spirit!  You are welcome in this place.
You are welcome in my life.  Thank-you for living with and in me.

                                                                                                                          

I am reading lots of Puritans these days.

As in so many things, I believed what I had been told about the Puritans before I actually started reading the Puritans.  I had dismissed them as grim, sterile, legalistic, brittle, small-minded Christians based on the things that I had been told about them, things like H.L. Mencken’s classic definition of a Puritan as somebody living with “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”  But like all stereotypes born of ignorance and prejudice, this works only so long as you don’t actually get acquainted with any of them.  Reduce them to cartoons, and then criticize the caricature that you have created of them.  It’s easy to do.  But I can’t do it anymore because I have actually gotten to know some Puritans, and in doing so I have learned that the stereotype, just like all stereotypes, is  flat wrong.  In fact, it’s even more serious than that – it’s a matter of bearing false witness, and that’s a sin, a breach of one of the big ten (Exodus 20:16)!

C. Leonard Allen and Richard Hughes, two historians of the Stone/Campbell Movement, were the first teachers in my life to send me to the Puritans.  In their book Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ, they made the case that the spiritual heritage of the churches of the Stone/Campbell Movement goes back through the Puritans to the Reformed branch of Ulrich Zwingl’s and John Calvin’s Protestantism.  Their chapters on the Puritans alerted me to my need as a Disciple to get better acquainted with them.  Then, while reading Alister McGrath’s biography of J.I Packer, a theologian from whom I have learned so much and admire so greatly, I discovered that he thinks of himself as a Puritan!  In turn, that led me to pick up J.I. Packer’s book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway 1990).  This was my first introduction to Puritan theology and spirituality, and as I read I found it deeply satisfying to both my head and heart, but especially to my heart.  This is what the Puritans were experts at – understanding the workings of grace in the human heart.  And then, for my birthday in 2012 Mary Lynn got me Joel R. Beeke’s and Mark Jones’ magisterial A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (I am loved!).  At 60 chapters and 1054 pages, this volume has been a mountain that I have been climbing ever since, and over Christmas I got to chapter 36 – “Richard Sibbes on Entertaining the Holy Spirit” – and it’s been rattling about inside me ever since.

b Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was ordained to the ministry of the Church of England in 1609, and he lectured in theology and preached at the churches in and around Cambridge from 1609 until his death 26 years later.  He was known as “the heavenly Doctor” because of the godliness of his life as well as the content of his teaching and preaching.   “Heaven was in him,” it was said of Richard Sibbes, “before he was in heaven.”  The intention of his preaching and teaching was always to “woo,” to draw people into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And his writings continue to have that effect.  In fact, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the preacher at the Westminster Chapel in London from 1939 to 1968, said that it was reading the writings of Richard Sibbes, especially The Bruised Reed and The Soul’s Conflict, that got him through a time of particularly painful spiritual testing when he was feeling completely overwhelmed.  “His books quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones reported. And based on what I have read from the pen of Richard Sibbes, I completely understand what Martyn Lloyd-Jones meant.

It was what Richard Sibbes wrote about “entertaining the Holy Spirit” that has captured my attention in recent weeks.  The Puritans had a highly developed theology of the Holy Spirit and how He works in our hearts and our churches.  Because this is not an area that we have been particularly strong in as Disciples, I find myself particularly drawn to and especially interested in what the Puritan’s have to say in this area.

Richard Sibbes believed that the Holy Spirit must be “an integral part of our lives, our churches, and our world,” and that the way that this happened was through what he called “entertaining” the Holy Spirit in every facet of our life and experience.  For Richard Sibbes, “entertaining the Holy Spirit meant to welcome with hospitality and then to nurture our friendship with the indwelling Spirit.”    The Holy Spirit is the agent of conversion.  It is the basic work of the Holy Spirit to take the objective work of the salvation that God in Jesus Christ has accomplished in history on the cross and out of the empty tomb, and to subjectively apply it individually to our hearts and corporately to the church.  The Spirit convicts us of sin and then draws us to believe, and when we do, the Holy Spirit then takes up residence in our hearts to assure us that we are the children of God and to direct the process of sanctification by which we are increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  It is this “indwelling Spirit” who must be “entertained” by us, that is, the presence of the Holy Spirit in us is something that we must consciously welcome and then consistently acknowledge.  Just like a “bad marriage” in which one partner can take advantage of the other partner’s contributions while failing to appreciate him or her, it is possible for us as Christians to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) and to “quench the Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19) by presuming on the Spirit’s presence and power in our lives without being aware of them or appreciative for them.   And so Richard Sibbes urged Christians to “make a daily effort to appreciate the Holy Spirit.”

This connected with me so deeply because 42 years ago, after an experience of renewal in the Spirit, Dennis and Rita Bennett’s book The Holy Spirit and You  (Logos – 1971) helped me to make sense of what had happened in me.  I don’t know that the Bennett’s even knew who Richard Sibbes was, or had ever read anything that Richard Sibbes had written, and yet, what they wrote about “receiving the Holy Spirit,” and what Richard Sibbes wrote about “entertaining the Holy Spirit” had been cut from the very same bolt of theological cloth.

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This is how the Bennett’s described it (19-20) –

Some are puzzled by the term “receiving the Holy Spirit.”  A Christian may ask the question: “How can I receive the Holy Spirit when I already have Him living in me?” (The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit – the “gift of the Holy Spirit” – is “part of the package” of conversion – Acts 2:37-38; Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 12:3; Galatians 3:1-5).

We all know what it means to “receive” a person.  Let us imagine the Brown household.  It is 5:40 p.m., and Mr. Brown has just come home from work, and is taking a shower before supper.   Mrs. Brown is putting the finishing touches on an especially nice meal, for the Browns have invited the Joneses over to eat.  Their guests are scheduled to arrive at 6:00 p.m., but alas, at 5:45 comes a ring ar the doorbell.  Mrs. Brown flutters a little – she isn’t through with the gravy; she has flour on the end of her nose; and her hair is a mess!

“Susie?” she calls to her daughter, “for goodness’ sake will you go and let the Joneses on; give them the evening paper, or visit with them – I’m not ready for them yet!”

Just then the phone rings in the kitchen, and Mrs. Brown answers.

“Hello! Marie?” says the voice on the line.  “This is Helen.  Do you have the Joneses over there?”

“Yes,” replies Mrs. Brown, “we do.”

“Well, how are they?” says the voice of the caller.

“I really don’t know,” says Mrs. Brown, patiently.  “I haven’t received them yet.  I’m still out here working in the kitchen.”

“You’d better hurry and receive them,” says Helen.   “I happen to know that they have some wonderful news, and that they have brought you some beautiful gifts!”

So, Mrs. Brown hangs up the phone, quickly finishes her cooking, straightens her hair and powders her face, and then, together with her husband, receives her friends, hears the news they have, and accepts the gifts they’ve brought.  The Person of the Holy Spirit has been living in your “house” ever since your new birth, but now you fully acknowledge His presence and receive His gifts.

…The first experience of the Christian Life, salvation, is the incoming of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to give us new life, God’s life, eternal life.  The second experience, is the receiving, or making welcome of the Holy Spirit, so that Jesus Christ can cause Him to pour out this new life from our spirits, to baptize our souls and bodies, and then the world around, with His refreshing and renewing power.

My conversion happened in 1965.  I then “received” or “made welcome” the Holy Spirit six years later when I was a freshman in Christian College.  For six long years the Holy Spirit was living in the house of my life, but I wasn’t aware of His presence or plugged into His power.  I wish somebody had told me sooner about “receiving” the Holy Spirit – about consciously and consistently “entertaining” Him.  The normal Christian life consists of both of these experiences – of being “born again” and of being “Spirit-filled.”  Jesus Christ as the Savior came to do both.  He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and He is the “One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33).  But my spiritual life was artificially truncated for six frustrating years because nobody told me this.  As the disciples of John the Baptist told Paul outside of Ephesus in Acts 19:2 – I hadn’t even been told “that there was a Holy Spirit!”  And then, everything changed for me at a prayer meeting in a college dormitory room when I was encouraged to “receive,” to “make welcome,” to “entertain” the Holy Spirit. I did, and I have never looked back. It has made all the difference, and I can’t say it clearly, loudly or often enough.  Being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21) is part of the Gospel, and, in fact, it is what makes what is true, real for us, and in us.  It is the experiential part of Christianity for which we who are looking for more than just theories about God but an actual relationship of intimacy and affection with God are so hungry and thirsty for.

Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), another one of those Puritans that I am reading, put it like this –

A man and his little child [are] walking down the road and they are walking hand in hand, and the child knows that he is the child of his father, and he knows that his father loves him, and he rejoices in that, and he is happy in it. There is no uncertainty about it all, but suddenly the father, moved by some impulse, takes hold of the child and picks him up, fondles him in his arms, kisses him, embraces him, showers his love upon him, and then he puts him down again and they go on walking together. That is it! The child knew before that his father loved him, and he knew that he was his child. But oh! the loving embrace, this extra outpouring of love, this unusual manifestation of it—that is the kind of thing. The Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

This has been my very own experience in “receiving,” “making welcome,” or “entertaining” the Holy Spirit, and if it sounds like something that you want and need, I would counsel you to take a look at A.W. Tozer’s message on “How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit” (http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=22632&forum=34) or to get a copy of and then read John Stott’s little booklet “The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit” (IVP 1964).  And then, when you are ready, simply ask on the basis of Luke 11:9-13.  I have found simplicity and directness to be the very best approach in this. In your own words and from the depths of your own heart just tell God – “If you have something more for me — I’ll take it.”  This is where and this is how our “entertainment of the Holy Spirit” begins.   DBS+

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