Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

“Sticks and Stones… and the Words that Hurt…”

We are studying Ephesians on Sunday evenings at church. This time through Ephesians I have been waylaid by what Paul said about the things that “grieve the Holy Spirit” (4:30).

 Oh, I know… I know… there is a substantial argument between scholarship and tradition about this claim of Paul’s authorship of Ephesians. I am more than familiar with its sound and fury. What I’ve personally concluded is that regardless of where you happen to come down on the actual question, Ephesians still internally claims to have been written by Paul (1:1), and Ephesians is still in the canon of the New Testament, meaning that it is still part of the critical grist for the mill of our faith and faithfulness.  So, I’m perfectly willing to give Paul credit for it, if for no other reason than to establish its apostolic credibility, thereby reaffirming the necessity of our having to deal with it as part of “the deposit of faith” (2 Timothy 1:14).

So, doing that, taking Ephesians seriously, let’s take just a moment and ponder the rather startling fact that we can actually “grieve” the Holy Spirit!  Do you mean that we can make God sad?  Do you mean that we can hurt God’s feelings? Do you mean that by our choices we can cause God to weep (Luke 19:41-44)?  What extraordinary vulnerability on God’s part, and what an astonishing power for us to possess as human beings!  God cares so much about the choices we make that when we disregard God’s standards for what’s right, and good, and holy, and just, God actually gets offended — or is it “wounded.” Whenever I read about the “wrath” of God in Scripture – and it’s in the Bible a whole lot more than most of us are prepared to admit – it’s this deep sense of divine disappointment in the choices that we are making that informs my understanding of the concept.  The way I see it, the wrath of God is as much about the ways that we make God sad as it is about the ways that we make God mad.  We can grieve the Holy Spirit.

Just a little bit later in Ephesians, Paul told his readers to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit (5:18), and when you put these two Holy Spirit mandates from Ephesians together – the negative “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (4:30) with the positive “Keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit” (5:18) – the instrumentality of the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in believers for the living of the Christian life begins to loom rather large in the critical conversation about what it means for us to be faithful Christians. In seminary one of my teachers talked often about the centrality of the Holy Spirit in New Testament ethics. “The Holy Spirit inwardly guides the behavior of believers,” he explained. “Christians should expect the Holy Spirit to show them what the right thing to do is in each circumstance and situation.” I understand this not in the sense that the Holy Spirit comes up with what is the good and right thing to do in each moment right there on the spot – a kind of ever-shifting situational ethic.  No, I believe that God has already shown us in the Law and the Prophets what is holy, just, right, and good (Romans 7:12; Matthew 22:34-40; Micah 6:8).  And so I find that how the Holy Spirit helps me in the moment is in the application of the letter of the content of the Law and the Prophets to the immediate context of the particular circumstances and situations of my life.  And in this internal Holy Spirit process that’s constantly going on inside me, I think that it’s my capacity to “yield” (Romans 6:12-19) that determines whether I wind up grieving the Holy Spirit, or being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Life is filled with very real choices. Christians who have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ have made a commitment to process these choices with conscious and continuous reference to who it is that we know Him to be, and to what it is that we know Him to want of us, and from us.  This “knowing” of Christ and His purposes depends almost entirely on the Word and the Spirit.  The Word of Scripture is the trustworthy record of God’s self-disclosure in history – the how, and the when, and the where, and the what of God’s speaking and showing of Himself, first to Israel, and then in and through the life of the Apostolic church.  And the Spirit of God at work in the human heart is how these ancient stories and distant teachings get applied to our lives and circumstances today.

I experience God’s moral and spiritual demands as conscious choices, informed by Word and Spirit, to be made in each moment of my life. I can “yield” to what it is that I understand to be the “mind of Christ” in the choice that is to be made, or I can “yield” to the other pressures and influences in my life.  This is the whole frame of New Testament ethics.  It’s Adam or Christ, the old humanity or the new creation, the flesh or the Spirit in every single moral and spiritual choice that we must make as Christians, and the Spirit is the resource that we have been given to assist us in knowing and then doing the right, the just, the good, the “holy” thing in each and every situation.

Now, back to Ephesians and grieving the Holy Spirit…

When we “resist the Spirit” (Genesis 6:3; Acts 7:51) by refusing to yield to God’s wisdom in the moment of a decision (Acts 6:9-10), one of the results of that rebellion is that we wind up grieving the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10).  And in Ephesians, in a place where Paul unpacked this idea with some specificity (4:17-5:20), it is simply startling to see how it is our speech – the things that we say – that so frequently grieves the Holy Spirit.

“…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors…” (4:25)

 “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,
as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (4:29)

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling
and slander
, together with all malice…” (4:31)

“Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk;
but instead, let there be thanksgiving.” (5:4)

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things
the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.” (5:6)

Empty words… coarse talk… evil speech… angry outbursts… wrangling… slandering… false witness… In the moral instruction of Ephesians (4:17-5:20) Paul brought into particular focus how the things that we say are some of the more specific and most consistent ways that we cause the Holy Spirit grief, and this hit me with particular force while teaching Ephesians this time round. Because we always read the Bible in one hand while holding the newspaper in the other, I’m not really surprised that our sins of speech as a primary source of the Holy Spirit’s grief is something to which I would be particularly sensitive.

Just like you, I am terribly bothered by the tone of public discourse in our culture these days. And while it would be very easy for us to point an accusing finger exclusively in one direction or another as the singular source of the precipitous decline of civility in our culture, the fact of the matter is that a lack of respect seems to pervade our social discourse at every level and across all platforms. It’s not just that we disagree, it’s that we feel like we have to demean. It’s not that we feel the need to publicly take principled stands, it’s that we think that we have to mock those who have taken the opposite principled public stand. It’s not that we have our own settled convictions, it’s that we’ve become smug. We don’t want the open exchange of ideas, we want to shut the other side up. We’re outraged when somebody says something cruel about us or crass about what we think, but that certainly doesn’t stop us from hitting back just as hard with crass comments of our own about what they think and cruel words about who they are. It’s not that we’re passionate, it’s that we’re mean. I rarely come away from the point/counter-point postings of Facebook, or from watching the partisan propaganda of the cable news networks without feeling a deep sense of sorrow about the tone and content of how we are choosing to address one another across the cultural, racial, theological, political, social, and sexual divides that are ever widening at our feet. And if this grieves me, then what do you suppose it is doing to the Spirit of the living God?

It was the late George Mallone who said that while becoming a Christian is something that happens in an instant, with the initial decision of faith, that being a Christian is a long and hard process that unfolds only slowly over a long period of time. He quoted Chuck Swindoll’s observation that the renewal of a life is much like the remodeling of a home. It’s a project that always going to “take longer than you planned, cost more than you figured, that’s going to be messier than you anticipated, and that will require even greater determination than you ever expected.” The general contractor for this transforming work that’s going on inside of us as Christians is the Holy Spirit, and this is why the things that we say have such an effect on the Spirit. Jesus said –

The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)

When our speech does not reflect the values of the Gospel or the vision of the kind of people that we are becoming in Christ, then the quality and extent of the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts immediately becomes suspect. Our words grieve the Holy Spirit when they reveal hearts that are resistant to the change that the Holy Spirit is trying to engineer in them. So, listen carefully to what you are saying this week. If you hear Christ in your words, then that’s pretty good evidence of the work of God’s Spirit in you. But if what you hear when you speak is the sigh or sob of the Spirit instead, then that’s pretty good evidence that you are resisting the work of the Spirit in your heart, and that it’s breaking His. DBS +

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Soundings

The Pushy Holy Spirit

brilliant

 There’s an old saying about how God in Jesus Christ “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable,” and I see this clearly in the Biblical symbolism of the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  Some of the images are tender and mild.  Others are “strong and pushy and relentless.”  The Holy Spirit “doesn’t just coddle and comfort” us, the Holy Spirit also confronts and challenges us.

The Bible opens with the Spirit of God moving on the face of the deep (Genesis 1:2), “bringing order and beauty out of chaos, bringing light into the darkness… That’s what the Spirit of God does. The Spirit of God moves! God’s Spirit is not inert or unmoving or static… God’s Spirit is not distant or aloof or imperceptible…  The Spirit of God moves!  The Spirit of God is living, moving, dynamic, connected, involved, even intrusive. It comes close to us, brushes up against us, blows through us, breathes into us”  (Ensworth).  And this is the Holy Spirit that we bump into in the Book of Acts on the day of Pentecost.

 The description of what happened on the first day of Pentecost is not quiet and peaceful.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. (Acts 2:1-3)

It was noisy and chaotic. People were frightened and confused.  There was wind and fire.  The church was pushed out of its comfort zone and right into the mission of God.  One of the first things that Pope Francis said after his election was that when the Holy Spirit shows up the church is going to be pushed outward and onward, and chances are pretty good that the church is not going to like it one little bit.

The Holy Spirit annoys us. The Spirit moves us, makes us walk, pushes the church to move forward. [But] we want the Holy Spirit to calm down. We want to tame the Holy Spirit, and that just won’t do. The Holy Spirit gives us consolation and the strength to move forward and the moving forward part is what can be such a bother. People think it’s better to be comfortable, but that is not what the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit brings.

What the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit brings is momentum. Jesus told His disciples right before Pentecost that they would receive “power” when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and that they would then become His witnesses beginning in Jerusalem, and then expanding outwards to Judea, and then expanding outwards again to Samaria, and then finally expanding out to the very ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  These ever widening circles of influence and impact are the work of the Holy Spirit. As John Howard Yoder pointed out, the church never sat down to strategize her mission, to work out the logic and logistics of it all.  No, Professor Yoder said, the church’s mission was subject entirely to the Holy Spirit’s initiative. In the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit was always pushing the church past its present borders and across the thresholds to those who were standing just beyond its doors.

dove

The above image is, in my mind, the nearly perfect expression of what the Holy Spirit does. It’s abstract enough for different people to be able to see different things in it, but what I see is a boat on the crest of a wave with its sail set to catch the wind in a storm, and the shape of that billowing sail in the wind is the image of the Holy Spirit as a dove.  The way it looks to me, that boat has deliberately set its sail to catch the wind that is the Spirit in order to be propelled onward, and this has been, for me, one of the big defining images for my spiritual life.  In fact, it’s the basis for one of my favorite hymns, “I Feel the Winds of God Today”

I feel the winds of God today, today my sail I lift.
Though heavy, oft with drenching spray and torn with many a rift…
If cast on shores of selfish ease or pleasure I should be,
Lord, let me feel Thy freshening breeze, and I’ll put back to sea…                    

The Holy Spirit does not drag us as a passive weight to go where God needs us to go to do what God needs us to do. To be sure, when the Holy Spirit “comes close to us, brushes up against us, blows through us, breathes into us,” it is as an active agent with a predetermined outcome in mind. The Holy Spirit pushes. But whether or not we let out the sail and catch the wind of the Spirit that’s blowing is a decision we’ve each got to make, and it is one of the great and painful truths of the Bible that we can “resist” the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51), and we can “grieve” the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and we can “quench” the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).  I’m pretty sure that he was overstating the case for effect, but Morton Kelsey used to say that there is something that is even stronger than God in this world, and that it’s you and me, for we can shut God out should we so choose, and Pentecost is all about that choice.

Pentecost is about how the Holy Spirit blows into our lives – pushing us closer to Jesus, pushing us deeper into the Word, pushing us nearer to each other in love, and pushing us outward in God’s mission to the world. And so Pentecost leaves us each with a decision.  The next time we “feel the wind of God” blowing through our lives, pushing us in new directions, can you, will you pray – “Great Pilot of my onward way… today my sail I lift”?    Our faithfulness as individual Christians and the very future of the church depends, in no small measure, on how we respond when the Holy Spirit starts pushing. DBS +

Leave a comment

Filed under Soundings

“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 +

fire

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Soundings

Why don’t we Celebrate Pentecost like we do Christmas and Easter?

The Absence of a “Conscious Experience” of the Holy Spirit
_
___________________________________________________________

doveThe next big “event” in our life of faith and worship as a church will be Pentecost – Sunday, June 4th.  Pentecost doesn’t get the attention that Christmas and Easter do.  If the truth be told, Pentecost doesn’t even get the attention that Mother’s Day and the Fourth of July get in most of our churches.  And that’s a shame because this thing that we call Christianity just doesn’t work without what it is that Pentecost promises to provide.

In memorable language, E. Stanley Jones called the Holy Spirit the “adequate dynamic” we are offered for the living of the Christian life. He wrote – “I cannot imagine that Jesus, whose coming was specifically to baptize with the Holy Spirit, would lay before us the amazing charter of the new life [in the Sermon on the Mount] and then fail to mention the one power that could make the whole thing possible, namely, the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Pentecost marks the occurrence of an unrepeatable event in salvation history like the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, or the death of Christ on the cross, or His resurrection from the garden tomb. These things happened just once.  They have profound and continuing implications for our thinking, being and doing – to be sure – but they are events that happened in time and space once and for all.   Alister McGrath, the British Theologian, described them as “hard historical facts,” events, which if they did not happen, destroy the credentials and claims of Christianity.

The unrepeatable event of salvation history that Pentecost marks was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the sign of the inauguration of the new covenant that God’s Messiah came to establish. When the dramatic events of Pentecost Sunday began unfolding in Jerusalem 50 days after Easter (Acts 2:1-4), and people were beginning to ask what it all meant, Peter connected the dots between what was happening right in front of them with the promise that God had made to them long before through the Prophets about a coming day when God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh and a new way of relating to God would be created thereby (Joel 2:28-32//Acts 2:14-21).  The indwelling presence of God in each believer was part of the promised blessings of the new covenant (Ezekiel 36:22-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34), and it was part of the work of Christ as a “Spirit-person” who operated Himself in the fullness of the Spirit’s presence and power in the days of His public ministry (Matthew 3:16-17 ~ 4:1; Mark 1:10-11 ~ 1:12; Luke 3:21-22 ~ 4:1; John 1:32), and who promised to then bestow this same gift on His disciples (“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” – Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16 ~ 24:49//Acts 1:8; John 1:33; 7:39; 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7) just as soon as He went away.

Pentecost marks the moment of the initial fulfillment of this promise in salvation history, and it signals the beginning of a new dispensation in our relationship with God (2 Corinthians 3:3; 5-8). The new thing that God did for the very first time on Pentecost Sunday has become a standard part of the normal Christian life ever since.  When we repent and are baptized, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  The gift of the Holy Spirit when we first believe is now part of the normative pattern of conversion in the New Testament (Acts 19:2; Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Galatians 3:1-5; Ephesians 1:13-14; I John 2:20-27).  It’s part of the standard package.

The problem is that this is not something that most of us were told anything about when we became Christians.   Oh, the Holy Spirit was named in the baptismal formula (Matthew 28:19) that was spoken, and I believe that we were all given the promised gift of the Holy Spirit at that moment because that’s what the Scriptures say happens, but experientially, it seems to me that the gift of the Holy Spirit was something that arrived without instructions and that therefore got left unopened on the front doorsteps of our Christian lives, leaving us to try to manage the continuing Christian life and the church’s mission in our own strength without the “adequate spiritual dynamic” that that makes the whole thing possible in the first place.

wrapI had two great spinster aunts from out-of- state who sent me ties for Christians throughout my childhood and youth. Every year, it was a tie – hardly the heart’s desire of a little boy at Christmastime.  And so in the annual frenzy of present-opening on Christmas morning, when it came to their package, I’d smile, shrug and throw it, still in its holiday wrapping, onto the pile of presents that I’d amassed.   And then when all of that loot got transferred to my bedroom, that unopened box with its tie in it would get tossed into the closet where it disappeared in the detritus of a boy’s life that inevitably winds up on the floor buried under layers and layers of stuff, not to be seen or heard from again, that is, unless those spinster aunts suddenly make a surprise visit to Southern California!  Then you were sent scurrying to find one of those ties so that it could be worn appreciatively at a big family dinner.  This has become something of a parable of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my own life as a Christian.

I believe that I was given the Holy Spirit when I first believed, but I sure didn’t know who, or what, or why? I didn’t have a clue about what to do with the Holy Spirit that I had been given, so I just pushed the Holy Spirit to the side like an unwanted and unopened present on Christmas morning, and then I didn’t give the Holy Spirit another thought until years later, when spiritually exhausted and frustrated, I got to the end of my own natural abilities and capacities, and I went scrambling through the detritus on the floor of my soul for that gift that I had been given long before but had cast aside as my journey of faith had begun. It was only when it had become agonizingly clear to me that I wasn’t strong enough or smart enough to “run” either the church or my own life, that I went back looking for the “adequate dynamic” that had been offered to me when I first believed, and that had been refused by me in my ignorance and pride.

A.W. Tozer, one of my most trusted and enduring spiritual directors, wrote –

…Let me shock you at this point. A naturally bright person can carry on religious activity without a special gift from God. Filling church pulpits every week are some who are using only natural abilities and special training. Some are known as Bible expositors, for it is possible to read and study commentaries and then repeat what has been learned about the Scriptures. Yes, it may shock you, but it is true that anyone able to talk fluently can learn to use religious phrases and can become recognized as a preacher. But if any person is determined to preach so that his work and ministry will abide in the day of the judgment fire, then he must preach, teach and exhort with the kind of love and concern that comes only through a genuine gift of the Holy Spirit—something beyond his own capabilities…

…The Christian church cannot rise to its true stature in accomplishing God’s purposes when its members neglect the true gifts and graces of God’s Spirit. Much of the religious activity we see in our churches is not the eternal working of the Eternal Spirit but the mortal working of man’s mortal mind.” (A. W. Tozer – Tragedy in the Church: The Missing Gifts – 1978)

A church that fails to celebrate Pentecost, or that obscures the outpouring of God’s empowering Spirit on Christians and the church in the way that it actually does celebrate Pentecost, is a church whose “conscious experience” of the Holy Spirit is weak and at real risk.  It’s a month now until Pentecost on the church calendar. And just as the season of Lent prepares us spiritually for the event and experience of Easter, and just as the season of Advent prepares us spiritually for the event and experience of Christmas, so these next four weeks provide us with an opportunity to prepare ourselves spiritually for the event and experience of Pentecost. The monastic community with which I have had an association has a guide that they offer to people as a way of getting them spiritually ready for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Risen Christ told His disciples to “tarry” in Jerusalem “until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:48), and it is my observation and experience that this fullness of the Spirit is something for which we must get prepared.  It’s something that must be sought –

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?  Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:9-13)

Again, A.W. Tozer is helpful –

fly…It is in the preparation for receiving the Spirit’s anointing that most Christians fail… No one can be filled with the Holy Spirit until he is convinced that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a part of the total plan of God in redemption; that it is nothing added or extra, nothing strange or queer, but a proper and spiritual operation of God… The inquirer must be sure to the point of conviction. He must believe that the whole thing is normal and right. …Unless he is persuaded from the Scriptures he should not press the matter nor allow himself to fall victim to the emotional manipulators intent upon forcing the issue. God is wonderfully patient and understanding and will wait for the slow heart to catch up with the truth.

In these next few weeks leading up to Pentecost I will be sharing in my blog some of the things that I have learned about the Holy Spirit through my “conscious experience” of the Holy Spirit through the years.  And then in the nine days immediately before Pentecost this year, I will be sharing a day-by-day prayer experience designed to prepare all of us for afresh outpouring of the presence, power and provision of the God in us and on the church.  I invite you to join me on the journey. DBS +

_________________________________________________________________________________

A Prayer for Revival by C H Spurgeon

O God, send us the Holy Spirit! Give us both the breath spiritual life and the fire of unconquerable zeal. You are our God, answer us by fire, we pray! Answer us both by wind and fire, and then we shall see You are God indeed. The Kingdom comes not, and the work is flagging. O, that You would send the wind and fire! You will do this when we are all of one accord, all believing, all expecting, all prepared by prayer. Lord, bring us to this waiting state! God, send us a season of glorious disorder. O, for a sweep of the wind that will set the seas in motion, and make our ironclad church, laying so quietly at anchor, to roll from stem to stern! O for the fire to fall again – a fire which shall effect the most stolid! O, that such fire might first sit upon the disciples, and then fall on all around! O God, You are ready to work with us today even as You did then. Stay not, we plead with You, but work at once. Break down every barrier that hinders the incoming of Your might! Give us now both hearts of flame and tongues of fire to preach Your reconciling word, for Jesus’ sake! Amen!”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Soundings, Uncategorized

Getting the Gospel Straight ~ Keeping the Gospel First

bluecross

It’s a familiar warning in certain parts of the church these days. They say that there are four steps in the process of a church “losing” the gospel.  First, the gospel is accepted and affirmed. Second, the gospel gets assumed and goes unreferenced. Third, the gospel gets confused with other things, many of them good and noble. And then finally, the gospel gets lost. People no longer remember why the church exists and does what it does. The example of the Mennonite Brethren Church is frequently cited as a classic picture of how this happens –

…the first generation believed and proclaimed the gospel and thought that there were certain social entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel and advocated the entailments. The third generation denied the gospel and all that were left were the entailments. (David Gibson – “Assumed Evangelicalism”Modern Reformation)

I thought about this observation again this past week with the controversy that was generated by something that Andrew Forrest, the minister who is leading the revitalization of Munger Place United Methodist Church over in East Dallas, said about community gardens and co-working spaces (http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/8114/andrew-forrest-every-dying-church-in-america-has-a-community-garden) –

Every dying church in America has a community garden. Every dying church in America has a co-working space. What do I mean by that? I have no problem with community gardens; a garden is a beautiful thing. And I don’t have any problem with co-working spaces. But Jesus didn’t tell us to start a community garden, and he didn’t tell us to start co-working spaces; he told us to make disciples. That’s literally the mission of the church.

The problem is not the gardens… The problem is that we often want to substitute secondary and tertiary concerns for the primary concern of discipleship.

What Andrew is doing here is a reversal of the field that David Gibson mapped out in his assessment of how the Mennonite Brethren Movement lost the Gospel.   Andrew is pushing back through that third generation mainline version of the church that has lost the Gospel and only has the social implications of the Gospel, and back through the second generation mainline version of the church that assumes the gospel and advocates the Gospel’s social implications, to a renewed mainline version of the church that believes and proclaims the Gospel and understands that it has some important social implications.

Of course, to do this one must have some real clarity about what the Gospel is. Andrew Forrest certainly does.  In that same article in which he names community gardens and co-working spaces as secondary concerns, he explains –

…Neither by background nor by training nor by inclination am I a fire-and-brimstone preacher. And yet the gospel itself makes no sense if it’s just vague feel-goodery. The gospel, as I understand it, is the good news regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It seems to me that this “vague feel-goodery” substitution for the Gospel takes two forms in the church today.  In the traditional/conservative/Evangelical church it takes the form of the subjective experience of the individual Christian – the offer of forgiveness and personal peace of mind right now, and the promise of an eternity in heaven with God when we die.  And in the progressive/liberal/mainline church it takes the form of a focus on social action and a passion for social justice – changing the systems and structures of society so that people can thrive physically, relationally, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and spiritually in this world.  Personal spiritual experience and a conscientious engagement with social issues are neither unrelated nor unimportant to the Gospel, but, in the words of Andrew Forrest, they are “secondary and tertiary concerns for the primary concern of discipleship” which is what Jesus told us to do.

Graeme Goldsworthy, an Australian Evangelical Anglican and Old Testament scholar, wrote these words to his own traditional/conservative/evangelical wing of the church that he sees as being at real risk of losing the Gospel in its focus on the Gospel’s fruit of the subjective experience of the individual Christian –

The core of the gospel, the historical facts of what God did in Jesus Christ, is often downgraded today in favor of a more mystical emphasis on the private spiritual experience of the individual. Whereas faith in the gospel is essentially acceptance of and commitment to the declaration that God acted in Christ some two thousand years ago on our behalf, saving faith is often portrayed nowadays more as trust in what God is doing in us now… But when we allow the whole Bible – Old and New Testaments – to speak to us, we find that those subjective aspects of the Christian life, which are undoubtedly important – the new birth, faith, and sanctification – are the fruits of the gospel. The gospel, while still relating to individual people at their point of need, is rooted and grounded in the history of redemption. It is the good news about Jesus, before it can become good news for sinful men and women. Indeed, it is only as the objective (redemptive-historical) facts are grasped that the subjective experience of the individual Christian can be understood.

And I read Andrew Forrest’s article as a version of this same warning to his own progressive/liberal/mainline that is at real risk of losing the Gospel in its focus on the Gospel’s fruit of social action and a passion for social justice.

The fruit of the Gospel is transformation. Traditional/conservative/Evangelical Christians and churches emphasize the Gospel’s fruit of personal transformation. Progressive/liberal/mainline Christians and churches emphasize the Gospel’s fruit of social transformation. We all want transformation.  The real question is, what effects this kind of transformation, personally and socially?

With Andrew Forrest and Graeme Goldsworthy I would argue that it’s the Gospel, the transformative message of new hearts, new values, new lives and a new world through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and His indwelling and empowering presence in us, both individually and collectively as the church, through the Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit. For the kind of transformation that we’re looking for, the Gospel is the power that we need. DBS +

1 Comment

Filed under Soundings

A Pharisee’s Lent; A Publican’s Lent

black

______________________________________________________________________________

The beginning of Lent always fills me with some feelings of spiritual dread, both as a Christian myself, and as a shepherd of the souls of others. You see, this is tricky ground onto which we are about to step.  If observed with the right spirit and within a proper Biblical framework, then I believe that Lent truly can be an helpful tool in our continuing process of spiritual formation, our being rooted and grounded in Christ so that we might know the breadth and length and height and depth of His love for us, and for all of creation (Ephesians 3:17-18).  I have kept Lents in the past that have produced this result in me.  But if observed with the wrong spirit and without a proper Biblical framework, then I know that Lent can be positively dangerous to a soul.  I know this because I have also kept Lents in the past that have damaged me spiritually. The simplest way I know to distinguish between a Lent that is spiritually constructive and a Lent that is spiritually destructive is to remember one of the more familiar parables that Jesus told — the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. Luke alone of the four Gospel Evangelists tells us the story (18:9-14) –

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

A Pharisee’s Lent will hinder your relationship with God.
A Publican’s Lent will serve it.

A Pharisee’s Lent is a Lent of works righteousness, a promotion of all those things that we do for God that we think will somehow demand His attention and deserve His appreciation — “I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” Spiritually, this is our default position.  Some would say that it’s actually hardwired into us. We always think that if we’ll just “do more” and “try harder,” then God will love us “more” and “harder.”  The premise of this notion is that God loves us because of something meritorious in us – something we think, something we believe, or something we do. This takes a variety of forms: doctrinal, denominational, moral, political, experiential and liturgical.  I’ve played this game in most of these arenas at one time or another in my 50+ years of following Jesus.

orangeThere have been times when I‘ve thought and acted as if I could curry God’s favor because my Christology is totally orthodox by Nicene/Chalcedonian standards. There have been times when I‘ve thought and acted as if God loves me more because I belong to the right church that baptizes in the right way and that observes communion on the right schedule.  There have been times when I‘ve thought and acted as if God accepts me more completely because of the political party that best represents me and my concerns, or because of the candidate that I voted for in the last election, or because of the positions that I have taken on the pressing social questions of the moment.  There have been times when I‘ve thought and acted as if I am a better Christian than you are because I have or have not prayed in tongues, because I do or do not exclusively use the King James Version of the Bible, because I drink or do not drink adult beverages, because I go or do not go to movies, because I prefer pipe organs and hymns to guitars and choruses, or vice versa, because I believe or do not believe in a Premillennial, post-tribulation rapture of the church, or don’t, because I pray “debts” in the Lord’s Prayer, or “trespasses.”   In every case, I’ve acted as if it’s what I do, or what I think, or what I believe that convinces God to love me.  I make myself “worthy” of God’s affection and attention by being “right” on any number of issues and practices. I think myself as being more “deserving” His care and concern because I am correct about the things that I believe matter to Him, and to me.

A Pharisee’s Lent is a Lent during which extra spiritual disciplines are taken on and little luxuries and pleasures are deliberately given up in order to show God just how serious we really are about Him. And while we would probably never admit it out loud, at some deep level we do these things thinking that God will notice our herculean sacrifice, especially when compared to others, and that God will then bless us in some special way — “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” They’re a way of earning “brownie points” with the Divine.  If I don’t have a drink for the 40 days of Lent, or eat a dessert, or say a cuss word, or tell a lie, or say my prayers, or read my Bible, or go to church every Sunday, then God will owe me some special favor come Easter.

lentThe Publican’s Lent is a different kind of experience altogether. The Publican’s Lent is an honest admission of guilt and a simple cry for help – “‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  It’s the same spiritual experience that’s at work in the first 4 steps of the 12 Steps recovery program – (1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable; (2) We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity; (3) We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him; (4) We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  The dynamic of the Publican’s Lent is human helplessness and the availability and sufficiency of Divine mercy.   It starts with the recognition that something is fundamentally disordered about us, and it leads us on the path of despair to the personal embrace of grace.

My staff at the church reads an article together each week, and then discusses it. Last week, in anticipation of Lent, we read a “Lenten Spirituality Reflection” written by Laura Sheahen for the “Faith in Focus” section of the March 13, 2006, issue of the Jesuit publication America (http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/564/faith-focus/lenten-spirituality-reflection). In my mind, Laura powerfully identified the truth that is at the very heart of the Publican’s Lent –

Most of us go about our lives feeling pretty sure we are not desperate sinners. We do not murder, embezzle or kidnap children. Our lies are mild, a few embellishments on the 1040 or forgivable: “What surprise birthday party?” Our cruelties are unambitious: a coworker snubbed or a clerk snapped at. And most everything can be chalked up to tiredness or psychology or the bad weather. And yet. Occasionally after a crisis, or just a sleepless night, we start to suspect there is something deeply wrong not just with the world or life in general, but with ourselves….

 The nagging suspicion grows. Why can’t we shake destructive patterns? Why do we keep yelling at the children about stuff that doesn’t matter? Why do we spend hours watching television, instead of working on the career change that would make us a better person? Why do we hurt the same people over and over? We never settle for less comfort. Why do we always settle for less kindness and honor and compassion? The patterns are so ingrained, so a part of our daily lives, that they are almost impossible to recognize as dangerous. But every now and then, someone shouts to us and we realize there is something we have unwittingly or wittingly let in and fed.

 Lenten sacrifices like fasting and giving something up are not about French fries. They are about paying attention, about looking directly at the waste and fatal sluggishness and venom that even decent folks have inside. They are about recognizing that something inside of us, left to its own devices, would choke off the best we can be.

ratIn his marvelous history of the “Jesus People Movement” – God’s Forever Family by Larry Eskridge  (Oxford -2013) – one of the Movement’s earliest leaders said that the realization that reordered his life and turned his world right side up again was the “revelatory insight” that there’s a “rat that lives in the cellar of our soul.” Reflecting on his own spiritual condition, this future leader of the last genuine spiritual awakening in American church history came to this “profound realization” –

I finally got it.  I was the rat.  And it was my soul that was repenting.  I thought to myself, “Maybe there is a God.”  I hadn’t considered that possibility in a number of years, when suddenly a peace came over me, my breathing became easier.  My chest became lighter.  And I said, letting out a long sigh, “Oh, Father forgive me.”  And immediately the entire weight that was on my chest was gone, and the rush of relief from my heart was one of exultation… I had never known anything like this before… I understood in an instant that God is my Father and I am His child… The joy, the peace, the love that I had in my heart for God and others was incredible.  Never had I realized anything comparable before…”

This is the Publican’s Lent — a Lent that doesn’t try to impress God with our own spiritually disciplined efforts, but a Lent that instead sends us to our knees and that prompts us to cry out ~ “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!” And if this is where the 40 days of Lent can deliver us, then come Holy Week we will be ready for the Holy Spirit’s fresh application of Christ’s objective saving work on the cross and out of the Empty Tomb.

DBS +

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Soundings

The “Strange Silence” of the Bible

bible

______________________________

So, here’s the quote that’s troubling me this week. It comes from Mark Galli’s article – “This is a ‘God Moment’ on Race” – in the September 2016 issue of Christianity Today

In 2012, only 13% of white evangelicals said they thought about race daily (41% of black evangelicals said that they did). Today, we’re thinking about race more than daily – due partly to the news cycle, and partly to our rediscovering biblical teaching. (32)

Partly to our rediscovering biblical teaching”? 

Oh, how I want to believe that this is so. I truly want to believe that we’re all committed to, and are even pretty adept as Christians at watching the evening news and reading the morning paper with an open Bible close at hand.  I hope that when current events pose their urgent questions of meaning and value to us, that we as Christians are instinctively turning to the Scriptures, wanting to know what it says about the matter at hand, and that we feel confident in our abilities to be faithful interpreters of that Word.  But here’s what I fear — it doesn’t even occur to us to do this.  It’s not just that we don’t know what the Bible says, it’s that we don’t seem to feel any obligation to find out what the Bible says.  We just don’t see the point of it.  As the title of a book I read in seminary put it, there is a “strange silence” of the Bible in the church, and among Christians.

cherryDallas Willard called this the “Great Omission.”  He said that we ignore that part of the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20) where Jesus called us to “make disciples” by “teaching everything that He commanded.” It’s this teaching that’s missing from our experience as Christians.  Msgr. Charles Pope laments it in his own Roman Catholic spiritual tradition as the problem of being “sacramentalized” (baptized and routinely communed) without being “catechized” (taught), or even, in some cases – his words, not mine – “evangelized.” People have gotten “outwardly in” the church without getting “inwardly in” Christ.  They have attached themselves to a teacher whose teachings they haven’t really bothered to examine.  They have named Christ as their Lord without considering what it is that He is going to ask of them, and worse, they are even bothered by how little it seems to matter that the One they look to as their Savior has such little influence on their thinking and acting as Lord.  To use the language of theologian David Wells, God in seemingly “weightless” in our calculations on behavior and beliefs.

Harry Blamires in his book The Christian Mind (SPCK Books, 1963) measured this by asking his readers to “take some topic of current political importance,” and to try to “establish in your mind what is the right policy to recommend in relation to it, and to do so in total attachment from any political alignment or prejudice,” but by trying instead to “form your conclusion by ‘thinking Christianly’” alone.  He observed that most of us can think pragmatically, and most of us can think politically, but that very few of us seem to be able or committed to “thinking Christianly.”

But Mark Galli voices a different perspective. He suggests that Christians are currently being “conscientized” about race “partly” by “rediscovering the biblical teaching.” If so, this is the best news that I’ve heard in a very long time.  If it’s a just, generous, and more compassionate world that you want, then nothing advances that ball further down the field than Christians reading their Bibles with understanding and then taking what they read seriously.  And this is what Mark Galli suggests is currently happening on the question of race. So, let’s test the hypothesis.

Set aside an hour of uninterrupted time. Go get your Bible, a clean sheet of paper and a sharpened pencil.  Put your cell phone up, find a quiet corner where you won’t be interrupted, get comfortable and write a “theme” – at least that’s what they called them back when I was going to grade school.  Your assigned topic is: “What does the Bible say about racism?”  Go!

bibOh, did I tell you that you could use the concordance at the back of your Bible, but nothing else. No Googling allowed.   No checking your Bible’s study notes.  No looking up references to race in any of the Bible resources that you may have on a bookshelf somewhere at home  – you know, Commentaries, Bible Dictionaries and Handbooks, Topical Bibles, or books on Christian beliefs.  No calling your Sunday School teacher for help, or the preacher who lives across the street.  No, this is just about you, your Bible, your knowledge of what it says, and your ability to relate those teachings to one of the more urgent questions of the day.

anglePerhaps this assignment intimidates you a tad. You don’t even know where to start. Okay, I’ll spot you an outline.  It’s customary when “thinking Christianly” about some topic of interest and/or controversy to organize your thoughts according to the Trinitarian structure of God’s revealed actions reported and interpreted by the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  This “pattern” is enshrined in the historic Creeds of the church and it has functioned as the backbone of many systematic theologies through the centuries. So, when tackling a question like – “What does the Bible say about racism?” – break it down into the three “dispensations” of God’s dealings with us according to the Scriptures – Creation (the work of God the “Father”), Redemption (the work of God the “Son”), and our, and the whole wide world’s, continuing Transformation (the work of God the Spirit).

handStart by asking yourself, “What does our creation in the image of God say about the intrinsic worth of each and every human being?” Ponder the implications of the “shalom” that the Bible paints for us in its creation stories, and think about the damage that the “Fall” has done to this original picture of that God-intended harmony (all of the stories from Genesis 4 through Genesis 11 can be read as accounts of the spread of the damage to all of our relationships as human beings after the rebellion of Genesis 3 – Theological, Psychological, Social, and Ecological).   And don’t forget to factor in what texts like the Ten Commandments and the other moral demands that God makes on us say about the Creator’s original purpose for His creatures and all of Creation.  To know what the Bible says about racism, begin by thinking through what the Bible says about how creation is a picture of the way that things are supposed to be from God’s point of views.  We’ve got to come to terms with what it means that every person we meet bears the image of God.

circNext, ask yourself, “What does God’s saving work say about the intrinsic worth of each and every single human being?” Follow what’s been called the “scarlet cord” (Joshua 2:18) – the story of redemption that weaves throughout the full length of the biblical story.  Start with the call of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3.  Ask yourself: “Who is the object of God’s concern here?” and “Who is included within the scope of God’s saving purposes?” Think of examples of people who were outside the covenant boundary of Israel were taken in and included in the promises that God makes.  This is a familiar biblical pattern, there are lots and lots of examples. John 3:16 is as “core” as any biblical text is to most of us as Christians.  So, what does John 3:16 say about who it is that God loves?  Then, using John 3:16 as your compass, tiptoe through the book of Acts and take note of every time the Gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ forced the church to jump a barrier that had previously existed to exclude some set category of people. Spend some time in Ephesians chapter 2 unpacking what just might be the most important text in the whole Bible when it comes to the sin of racism, and how God in Christ broke down the dividing wall.  And then don’t forget to poke around a little bit in the book of Revelation to see who it is that is included when God’s work of salvation is finally complete.  To know what the Bible says about racism, we’ve got to come to a better understanding of the scope of God’s saving actions in Jesus Christ.  We’ve got to come to terms with what Paul said about not despising anyone “for whom Christ died” (I Corinthians 8:11).

doveFinally, ask yourself, “What does the convicting, comforting, confirming, disturbing and transforming work of God’s Spirit say about the intrinsic work of each and every human being?” Just as the Spirit of God moved over the surface of the deep at Creation, so the Spirit of God continues to move over the hearts of people and the circumstances of life, ordering the chaos, giving life to change, and bending things in the direction of God’s future.  So, where do you sense the Spirit moving?  One of the critical Biblical moments is in Acts 10 when Peter was forced to welcome Cornelius and his household to the family of faith because Peter had witnessed the same experience of the empowering and indwelling Spirit in them as he himself had experienced in Himself on the day of Pentecost.  Their bond of unity was established by the workings of the Spirit of peace, and Paul’s familiar image of the church as Christ’s body made up of many members is premised on this same idea. Reconciliation depends on the unity that the Holy Spirit supplies (I Corinthians 12).  So, the critical question is – “In whom do you see the indwelling empowering presence of God’s Spirit, and what does that say about the racism that tries to pry people apart?”

It’s said that one of the defining characteristics of contemporary Christianity is its “bits and pieces” mentality.  Nothing touches.  Nothing connects.  Everything is just a “one off.” This week’s sermon, Sunday school lesson, Bible Study, morning devotional is completely unrelated to what has come before, and totally unrelated to what will follow.  We don’t see how ideas and experiences touch.  There’s no big picture, no unifying structure, no sense of one truth building upon the previous truth and preparing us for the next truth, no overarching vision of what it is that God is doing in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.  And so, is it any wonder then that when culture poses a question like “racism,” that we who are Christians are hard pressed to think Christianly about it, or to speak Biblically to the moment.

jengaIt was while playing “Jenga” with some of the children at Family Gateway during our recent “Family Mission Weekend” that I was powerfully reminded of how everything that the Bible teaches touches everything else that the Bible teaches, and how what the Bible teaches touches every situation and circumstance of our lives.  I’m not sure that Mark Galli is right when he says that Christians are “thinking about race more… due partly to our rediscovering biblical teaching.” But I do know that if this was true, if Biblical teaching was taken more fully into consideration by those of us who are Christians, then what we thought, said and did about racism would be more informed by the Gospel, and would do more to effect the kind of change that this moment requires.

DBS +

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Soundings