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“Are you saved?”

edwardsI can still remember reading Jonathan Edward’s (1703 – 1758) sermon – “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” – in an American literature anthology when I was in high school, and being absolutely horrified by it.

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you… God’s wrath towards you burns like fire; God looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire…”

 When I was in the 11th grade, I didn’t think that I was nearly as bad a person as that sermon said I was, and I didn’t think that God was nearly as mean and awful as that sermon made Him out to be.  And if this is what I, someone who actually believed in God and regularly went to church thought about what Jonathan Edwards said in his sermon, then, I wondered, what would an unchurched unbeliever think? I’ve since found it.  If getting “saved” involves the view of God and self that Jonathan Edwards described in his sermon, then they’re just not having it.  But what if getting “saved” doesn’t involve Jonathan Edward’s view of God or self at all?

Back in the day, when students at Yale University would tell Dr. George Buttrick (1892 – 1980), Dean of the Chapel, that they weren’t coming to his services “because they didn’t believe in God anymore,” his standard response was always to say -“Tell me more about this God you don’t believe in anymore because I probably don’t believe in that God either!” And this makes me think that before rejecting “saved” talk because of the spiritual offense of what Jonathan Edwards famously did with it, maybe it should first be wrenched from his grip so that we might look at it from another vantage point.

The New Testament word for “saved” means to be “rescued,” “delivered,” “kept from harm.” It was a word that assumed that there was something or someone powerful out there that’s threatening people; someone or something that’s trying really hard to destroy them.  And the New Testament word for “Savior” was the title given in the ancient world to anyone who was able to keep people from that something or someone actually harming them.  Generals who won great military victories were called “saviors” in the ancient world.  So were ship captains who navigated terrible storms and brought their passengers and cargo safely to port, as were wealthy benefactors who rebuilt cites after natural disasters, as were rulers who brought stability and prosperity to their states.  We do the same thing.  A “Savior” is someone who “saves” people from something horrible that’s happening to them.

When he was just a little boy the preacher David Pratte says that he and some of his neighborhood friends built some rickety rafts to float down the drainage ditch in front of their homes after a big storm (https://www.gospelway.com).  A neighbor warned them that the ditch was deep, that the current was fast, and that the water was muddy. “It’s dangerous boys” he told them. “You could drown if you fall in,” and David almost did.

raftWhen his raft predictably capsized, David struggled to get to the shore, but he couldn’t get a good grip on the slippery bank and he kept being pulled away and under by the swift current. When he finally slipped exhausted beneath the dark water for what he thought was the last time, that neighbor heard the commotion from his house, ran just as fast as he could to the ditch and jumped in fully clothed.  He couldn’t see where David was in the muddy swirling water, but he just happened to kick him when he jumped in, and so he was able to reach down and pull David up and out to safety. You saved my life,” David kept repeating to that man that day, “you saved my life.” And to this day David will tell you that he thinks of that man as his “savior,” and the story that the Bible tells us is the story of how God does this for us as human beings.  He jumps into our lives, and into our world, to pull us out of the trouble we’re in.

The Gospel is not as complicated as we sometimes make it out to be. We’re made for fellowship with God, but that intimacy got shattered when we chose to cut God out of our lives, and then everything else in our world began spinning out of control because God was no longer at its center holding everything in good balance and proper orbit.  Seeing the damage we’d done, and understanding the trouble we were in, God began the slow and deliberate process of making His way back into our lives.

Now, when we talk about getting “saved,” I believe that what we’re talking about is God doing this hard work of fixing what’s broken, of repairing what’s gone awry, of restoring us to a right relationship with Himself.  Some Christians, like Jonathan Edwards, when talking about salvation put the emphasis on the negative impact that all of the bad things we do have on God.  What we do wrong makes God mad, and so getting “saved” means escaping His punishment. But there are other Christians who, when talking about salvation, put the emphasis instead on the negative impact that all of the bad things we do have on us.  It makes God sad to see the way we struggle and suffer, and so getting “saved” means that God steps in to help make things better.

LouiseI like to read mysteries, and one of my favorite series are the books that the Canadian author Louise Penney writes about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the provincial police force of Quebec, and the quirky little village where he lives with his wife and friends – Three Pines. Armand Gamache is one of the wisest literary characters that I have the pleasure of knowing, and he is forever saying that there are four sentences that we all need to learn how to say as human beings — “I don’t know.” “I need help.” “I’m sorry.”  And “I was wrong.” It’s gotten so that now when people ask me why I think they need to be “saved,” I think in Inspector Gamache’s terms –

  • People need to be “saved” because we need help. As the folks in recovery know all too well – we are powerless over so many things, and our lives are unmanageable in so many ways, and only a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity and stability. Unlike Jonathan Edwards, my emphasis when thinking and talking about salvation is not that we’re bad and that God is mad, but that we’re in trouble and need God’s help.
  • We also need “saving” because there’s just so much that we don’t know. We don’t really know who we are, or what it is that we finally want. And we aren’t really sure about who God is, or what it is that He finally wants. Thus is why the book of Proverbs begins with the declaration that “reverence for God is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7). Jesus meant the same thing when He said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and then everything else in your life will start to sort out for you” (Matthew 6:33). When the fact of God’s existence and the truth God’s being gets fully reestablished in our lives, then we have a firm place to stand, and a sure foundation from which operate.
  • And finally, we need “saving” because we’re frequently wrong and we’re often sorry. I know I’m guilty about some of the things that I’ve done in my life, and I’m deeply ashamed of the kind of person that I know I can be at times. You may have seen that bumper sticker that says – “I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.” Well, I’ve got cats and I’m not sure that they even give me a thought except when they want to be fed. So, for me, it’s different.   I want to be the kind of person that I know God created me to be, that Jesus Christ has made possible for me to become again by dying and rising for me, and that the Holy Spirit is right now empowering me – bit by bit and day by day – to actually become.

When I hear the word “salvation” these days, I don’t primarily think about a God who needs to be appeased because He’s mad at us for being sinners, but rather, I think about a God who’s steadily, relentlessly making His way towards us, at great personal cost to Himself, because He knows we’re in trouble, in desperate need to help, and He loves us.

Practically speaking, believing this has some very real consequences for me –

  • First of all, I know that every single person I meet every day, all day, is in some kind of trouble. The fact is, we all need “saving.” As Dr. Charles Kemp, my professor of Pastoral Care at Brite Divinity School 40 years ago constantly told us – “Always be gentle and kind to people because everyone is carrying a heavy burden of some sort.”
  • And second, I know that every single person I meet is someone for whom Christ died (I Corinthians 8:11). Jesus Christ is the way God makes His approach to us in our need, and it’s what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross and then by getting up out of that borrowed tomb that is how God deals with all of those forces in our lives and this world that seek to work us woe. Jesus Christ is how God jumps into the deep, dark, swirling waters that are pulling us under to pull us up and out.

It was hard for me to see the face, and heart, of the God I knew in Jesus Christ in the things that Jonathan Edwards said about Him in his famous sermon. But rather than throwing the theological baby out of the homiletical bathwater that he was using, I discovered that there are other, better ways of Biblically thinking and talking about the saving work of God in Jesus Christ than the one Jonathan Edwards chose to develop.

Christianity is a religion of salvation. Jesus Christ is the Savior.  Christians are people who have been saved.  And it matters, it really matters, that we who know this firsthand in our own experience of it by faith to then think and talk about it in ways that emphasize God’s goodness and grace in a world where suffering, struggling people are desperately seeking help and hope. DBS+

 

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“Well Done Thou Good & Faithful Servant” (Part 5)

William Franklin Graham Jr.
(November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018)

peace

Steps to Peace with God”
________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. RECOGNIZE GOD’S PLAN – Peace and Life

God loves you and wants to give you His plan that begins with the gift of eternal life that is filled with peace, satisfying and good. However, billions of people are not saved because they do not know that they are lost and headed for hell. Only when people recognize that they need to trust Christ alone as their Savior from sin can they recognize God’s plan for their life. Many go through their entire life not recognizing God’s will for their life and consequently suffer distress, frustration and emptiness then eventually hell and eternal judgment. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

  1. REALIZE OUR PROBLEM – Separation from God

People chose to disobey God and go their own way. When sin entered the world, because of man’s disobedience, death passed upon all men, for we have all sinned through the sin of Adam as well as with our own disobedience to God’s holy character. Realizing that one is separated from God means that one fully comprehends the condition of one who is at enmity with our Creator. Paul wrote about this state in Ephesians 2:1-3 when he wrote, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient… Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” The Bible says, “For everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence and glory” (Romans 3:23).

  1. RESPOND TO GOD’S REMEDY – Cross of Christ

Christ died, was buried and resurrected from the dead to provide a sacrificial atonement for the forgiveness of all our past, present and future sins if we will respond to Him with saving faith. It is not enough to just say we believe in Christ. We must place our trust in Christ as the substitutionary payment for the forgiveness of our sins. We must trust Christ to become our personal Savior from sin as the one who became our sin bearer. The Bible teaches, “But God has demonstrated his own love for us. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us… and not just for our sins only, but also for the sins of the world” (Romans 5:8). Jesus is the medicine we need to respond to if we want to receive the remedy for sin, death, hell and eternal separation from God.

  1. RECEIVE GOD’S SON – Savior and Lord

A person crosses the bridge to become a member of God’s eternal family when you ask Christ to come into your life and receive Him by saving faith. The Bible says, “But to as many as did receive and welcome Him. He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is to those who believe (adhere to, trust in, and rely alone on) His name – the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (John 1:12). Only when we personally invite Christ into our life as our Savior and Lord do we become a son or daughter of God. Until that time we are not a part of God’s eternal family. The Bible teaches, “Who owe their birth neither to bloodlines nor to the will of the flesh (that of physical impulse) nor to the will of man (that of a natural father or mother) but to God. (They are born of God and receive His nature into their soul)” (John 1:13).

The INVITATION IS TO:

Repent (turn from your sins) and by faith receive Jesus Christ into your heart and life and follow Him in obedience as your Lord and Savior.

PRAYER OF COMMITMENT:

“Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life. I receive You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank You for saving me now. Amen.”

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

https://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/october-2004/steps-to-peace-with-god/

 

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Gospel Words and Gospel Works

handsThere’s a memorable scene in the movie version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” where Jesus gets surrounded by a sea of needy people, all of them stretching out their hands trying to grab hold of a piece of the wholeness that He had offered to other people in His ministry of healing.  They wanted their share, and in this scene in the movie Jesus gets engulfed by this crowd with their needs and He disappears into them as if sinking into quicksand.

I think of Mark 3:7-10 whenever I see of this scene –

Hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.

The physical needs of people were so great and so many in the days of His public ministry that Jesus could very easily spent every waking moment He had healing them, feeding them, and delivering them. And so Luke tells us that early in His ministry Jesus withdrew to a lonely place to think and pray, and when the crowd found Him and wanted more, He told them – “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).

Word and action were inextricably intertwined in the ministry of Jesus. The verbalization of the Good News of God’s presence and purpose – His “Kingdom” – and the visualization of the Good News of God’s presence and purpose were equal parts of His ministry.

Jesus preached and Jesus healed the sick.
Jesus preached and Jesus cast out demons.
Jesus preached and Jesus raised the dead.
Jesus preached and Jesus fed the hungry.
Jesus preached and Jesus calmed the storm.

This is why Luke began his second book, the book of Acts, with a description of the content of his first book, the Gospel of Luke. “In the first book,” Luke explained, “I dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). “Do” and “teach.” Jesus did things and Jesus talked about things. Word and action — that was the pattern of Christ’s ministry.

JesusIf I’m reading Luke 4:40-44 correctly, then it was figuring out how to balance the things that Jesus was sent to say with the things that Jesus needed to do to give those words credibility that proved to be so tricky for Him because there were always more people who needed Jesus to do things for them — to heal them, and to feed them, to deliver them —than there were people who were eager to sit and listen to Him preach. It would have been easy for Jesus to have neglected His mandate to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom because He was so busy meeting people’s physical needs.  This is a theme that recurs throughout the Gospels.

The Adversary tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread in the Wilderness. Some interpreters hear in this taunt the suggestion that Jesus should substitute His spiritual mission for a purely material one alone “You don’t have to go to the cross as the Messiah to do the saving work of God, just meet people’s physical needs, that will get you a following” seems to be the subtext of the Devil’s suggestion.  And then later, in the Gospel of John, after feeding the 5000, we’re told that the crowd was actually ready to take Jesus by force and make Him King (6:15), and why not?  He could keep their bellies perpetually full.  But Jesus turned and walked away from this offer, and when the crowd finally caught up with Him again, He told them directly –

“You came looking for Me because you ate the bread and got all you wanted, not because you were looking for the Christ.  Don’t seek the food that spoils; instead, seek the food that lasts for eternal life. This is the food that the Son of Man can give you…” (6:26-27 – paraphrased)

Then Jesus preached one of His most important sermons in the Gospel of John — the Bread of Life discourse.

What I see going on in the story that Luke tells in 4:40-44 is this same struggle to hold the Gospel’s words and the Gospel’s works together in proper balance. This isn’t easy to do.  In fact, it’s a horse that we can fall off from either side.  And so there are word churches. There are works churches.  But there are very few word and work churches.  Word churches are good at telling people about Jesus.  Works churches are good at showing Jesus by the compassionate things that they do.  But what God wants, what God needs, what God always intended, was for every church to hold their Gospel words and their Gospel works together in proper balance.

The church I serve is a Gospel works church, in fact, we do the works of the Gospel just about as well as any church I’ve ever known. If there’s someone who needs to be fed, or clothed, or sheltered, or taken care of in a time of distress, deprivation, or desperation, we’ll be there because we understand that this is what Jesus Christ expects of us as His people. But ask us to tell somebody about Jesus, and we’re like deer caught in the headlights.

assisiWe just love that saying that gets popularly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi – Go into all the world and preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.”  We love this saying because we’re Gospel works Christians, and we think that it excuses us from ever having to talk about our faith. There are several problems with this.  First of all, St. Francis never said it. The Franciscans have thoroughly checked.  They’ve searched their sources, and not found it anywhere.   And the truth of the matter is that it’s highly unlikely that St. Francis would have ever said this.  He was a preacher, and the order that he founded – the Franciscans – are an order of preachers.  They’re all about the preaching of the Gospel.  They’re word Christians. And finally, we probably shouldn’t say it because it’s ultimately illogical.  Saying – “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words” – is sort of like saying – “Call me on the phone, if necessary use numbers,” or – “Fix me dinner, if necessary use ingredients.” The fact of the matter is that the Gospel has some specific and essential content. It’s about Jesus — it’s about who He was and what He did – and that means that it can’t be preached without using words.  The Gospel is inherently verbal.  The cool cup of water that we give has got to be explained at some point if it is in fact being offered in Jesus’ name.

Alan Kreider, the late Mennonite theologian, had a good friend who spent some time serving at one of Saint Teresa’s hospices in Calcutta. As he reflected later on his experience there, he said – “Since I don’t speak Bengali, I couldn’t talk to them in their own language, and that meant that they were left to draw their own conclusions about why I was there.” And that troubled Alan’s friend because he knew that he was there serving.  He wasn’t there because he was such a good and generous person in and of himself, but rather because he had such a good and generous Savior, a Lord who wanted him to be there. His actions were all because of Jesus, but the people he served never knew that because he never mentioned Jesus.

Churches and Christians that do the works of the Gospel need to speak the words of the Gospel with equal intentionality. And churches and Christians that speak the words of the Gospel need to do the works of the Gospel with that same focus.

steveSteve Sjogren, was pastoring a church in Cincinnati back in the early 1990’s when he realized that his verbalization of the Gospel was in desperate need of some Gospel visualization if it was ever going to get an honest hearing. Steve says that he had become a pretty obnoxious “word” Christian.  People actually turned and walked the other way when they saw him coming because they didn’t want to be badgered by him about Jesus again.  He was that guy who went into public bathrooms and unrolled the toilet paper in each stall just so that he could roll it back up again with a witness tract strategically stuck in-between the sheets every five squares or so.  Not many people were coming to Christ through his efforts.  So Steve dramatically changed directions.

godworkSteve resolved to start doing the works of God’s love for people with the heart of a servant before trying to share a single word about God’s love with them. He concluded that if people could first see a demonstration of God’s love in Jesus Christ that they would then be more receptive to hearing the message of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ. And it was a woman that Steve humbly served one day at the point of a need she had that actually confirmed that this was the right approach for him to take.  She began to weep as Steve served her at the point of her felt need, and when she asked why he was doing it, he simply said – “Because of the love of Jesus Christ.” “I’m 50 years old,” she told them, “and all my all I’ve ever heard Christians do is talk, talk, talk about God’s love. But here today, for the very first time in my life, I’ve actually experienced something of God’s love for me personally!” (The Conspiracy of Kindness – 102).

The Gospel is something we say. The Gospel is something we do. When we hold the Gospel words and the Gospels works together — when people can see the Gospel then they will be so much more willing to hear the Gospel. So, how shall we live so that people will want to know more about Jesus Christ who is our Lord and Savior?  What can we do that will make somebody stop and wonder – “Why is she like that?” “Why is he doing this?”  And should they dare ask these questions of us out loud — are we prepared to tell them — “Because of Jesus and His love”? DBS +

doubt

 

 

 

 

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Christ, Charlottesville, and Change

charlottesvilleI spent most of Saturday at church. We had an elders’ meeting in the morning, and then later I had a premarital counseling appointment. When I was finished with all of that, I just puttered around the office for a couple of hours attending to lots of open-ended projects from the week just past.  I didn’t get home until nearly 3 pm, and when I walked into the house from the garage, Mary Lynn was watching TV in the den, and I could tell from the tone of the CNN reporter’s voice and the look on Mary Lynn’s face that something awful had happened. It was Charlottesville.

As the afternoon wore on, and the story grew, the more persistent and insistent were the stirrings inside me to change what I was going to preach in church the next morning. This has happened before. I keep a pretty tight sermon schedule. My sermon is almost always written by the Thursday of the week that it’s going to be preached.   That leaves some time for it to marinate.  I need to live with the sermons that I am going to preach before I actually preach them, and so I get pretty anxious if I don’t have that manuscript in my hands by Thursday.  But sometimes something happens in my personal life, or in our congregational, national or global life after my sermon is written on Thursday, and I know that I need to set aside that week’s prepared message in order to speak more directly to the immediate circumstance.  I believe that it’s the Holy Spirit who is behind these stirrings when they come, and so when I sense them, I have come to trust them.  I felt them Saturday as the afternoon unfolded.  And so after dinner, I sat down at the computer at home and I went to work on another sermon for Sunday morning. I know lots of preachers who were doing the same thing.

My prepared sermon for last Sunday was the sixth message on the Lord’s Prayer in our summer series – “Teach Us to Pray.” The scheduled petition for Sunday was “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” And that remained my focus.  I still wanted to think and talk with my congregation about forgiveness because the way I see it, our only way forward as a people right now is going to be by grace.  We know what outrage in the streets looks like, we saw it on full display on Saturday in Charlottesville.  And we know how elected officials talk, or fail to talk about it; we heard them, or not, on Saturday evening.   But to change the hate and the hurt, the fear and the aggression, the frustration and the indignation that clashed so violently in the streets of Charlottesville on Saturday I believe that we are going to need more than just outrage and talk.  We are going to need something else, something more.

As I understand it, the trigger for the violence on Saturday was the decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from the campus of the University of Virginia. This is something that is happening all over the South these days, including right here in Dallas.  There is a debate brewing about the future of the Robert E. Lee statue in Lee Park where Arlington Hall, a reproduction of Robert E. Lee’s ancestral home in Virginia, sits and hosts some of this city’s most fashionable weddings. The original Arlington Hall was confiscated by Abraham Lincoln to become the grounds for our National Cemetery when Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the United States Army to become the Commanding General of the Army of Virginia in the Confederacy.  Trust me, there are going to be some tense debates at City Hall and some very vocal public protests along Turtle Creek about this before too long, and I get it.

horseI appreciate the wound that these monuments inflame. I see the offense that these memorials perpetuate. And personally I think that they more properly belong in a museum where they can be viewed and be interpreted as part of our history and not prominently displayed in a public space where their presence can be construed as some kind of lingering approval of slavery, or as some kind of latent longing for secession.  But here’s what I also think, even if all the monuments go, even if all the buildings, parks, streets, and schools get renamed, we are still going to have a problem.  Removing a statue and changing a name are ways of addressing the symptoms of a much deeper problem, the problem of racism.  And the crucial question as I see it, is, how do we address this deeper problem?  How do we put an end to racism?

The very first building block in the formation of my social conscience as a Christian was a book that Sherwood Wirt, the editor for many years of Billy Graham’s magazine Decision, wrote and that I read in 1968 when I was just 15 years old (The Social Conscience of the Evangelical – Harper & Row).  These were the days of the Civil Rights Movement and the War in Vietnam.  Big questions about peace and justice were churning in society at large then, and I was trying to figure out how someone like myself who had consciously named Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and who was actively looking to the Bible for moral and spiritual guidance was supposed to respond.   Sherwood Wirt’s book helped me to make sense of things.  And this, in part, is what he wrote about racism – and remember that these words were written 49 years ago!

whiteyLove cannot be created by the enactment of statutes requiring people to display comradeship toward each other.   No such statute has been promulgated in the history of humanity…. The law can set bounds, but it cannot set an example… The passage of civil rights laws in America has given African American citizens greatly needed help… by clarifying their legal status and giving them a fuller possession of their national birthright.  Yet the civil rights laws have not increased in the slightest the respect and affection between people of different races in our society; and respect and affection are the very qualities that are supremely needed to ease the existing tensions.  Experts in race relations are surprised to find tensions in parts of America worsening rather than lessening.  The Christian is not surprised for the Christian knows what legislation can and cannot do.  A sociologist was astonished to find that after teaching a course on racial prejudice, some of his students were more prejudiced at the end than at the beginning.  The Christian is not astonished, for the Christian understands that the answer is not education alone. (82-83)

I truly value education. I strongly advocate for legislation that is just.  And I can even admit to the fact that agitation has its place.   And while I believe that they all have their roles to play, I don’t believe that agitation, education, or legislation are finally going to be the way that racism will be brought to an end. Carl F.H. Henry in his 1964 book on Christian Social Ethics said that it was regeneration – the embrace of God’s grace in Jesus Christ – that alone has the power to change hearts, and thereby to change society. He explained –

The strategy of regeneration… relies primarily on a spiritual dynamic for social change.  It aims not merely to re-educate man… but to renew the whole man morally and spiritually through a saving experience of Jesus Christ.  The power on which it relies for social change is not the power, of legislated morality… The Gospel of Christ is the Church’s peculiar “power” for changing the world.  Christian social action condones no social solutions in which personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is an optional consideration.  Personal regeneration and redemption are inherent in its hope for the social order. (24-25)

 And this is the spiritual principle that I see so clearly at work in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” It was Father Louis Evely who explained –

“As we forgive our debtors” is not a bargain that we are striking with God. It doesn’t mean, “Lord, see how well I haven forgiven, now forgive me!”  No, what it means is: “Lord, forgive me, and then I will know how to forgive like that.”

We learn how to forgive by going through the process of being forgiven by God in Jesus Christ ourselves. Think about that parable of the King and His Debtor that Jesus told in Matthew 18:21-35. Once the king had forgiven his debtor, the king then expected his debtor to turn around and forgive his debtors.  The king didn’t wait for his debtor to forgive his debtors before forgiving his debt.  But once the king had forgiven his debtor’s debt, he fully expected him to live out of that same grace that he himself had already received.  And that’s precisely what I think Jesus was talking about when He taught us to pray saying, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” It is the spiritual revolution of grace experienced by us as forgiveness that has the power to change our attitudes and actions.

The events of last Saturday in Charlottesville are just the latest installment in the long history of racism that tears at our unity and dignity as members of the same human family who all share the image of God. To get justice I believe that we need good legislation and even better enforcement of that legislation.  And as a citizen I will support candidates regardless of their party affiliation who believe this and who promise to work for it, and I will oppose candidates who equivocate on this. But I am more than just a citizen.  I am a Christian, and it is as a Christian that I believe that if there is to be healing and reconciliation, then we’re going to need the grace of forgiveness.  We’re going to have to be forgiven ourselves, and then we are going to have become consciously and relentlessly forgiving of others, and I can already hear the objections.

Doug, you’re just spiritualizing a social problem.”

 “Doug, you’re just shifting the focus away from the human dimensions
of this problem, and away from what it is that we can and must do,
to some harebrained notion of a Divine solution that you
expect God to bring about.”

“Doug, to talk of grace and forgiveness right now
is to weaken the cry for justice and soften the call to action.”

 “Doug, you’re being so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.”

Oswald Chambers directly challenged this notion that talk of grace in the face of social injustice was soft, and that talk of forgiveness in the face of real human suffering is cheap by reminding his readers of the costliness of grace to God –

Beware of the pleasant view of God that says that God is so kind and loving that of course He will forgive us. That thought, based solely on emotion, cannot be found anywhere in the New Testament. The only ground for forgiveness and reconciliation is the Cross of Christ. There is no other way! Forgiveness, which is so easy for us to accept, meant the agony of Calvary for God. We should never take the forgiveness of sin, and then forget the enormous cost to God that made it possible.

 On the cross we see the costly display of God’s love. On the cross we witness God’s struggle with the evil that inhabits us and surrounds us.  On the cross we see what God was prepared to do to break down the walls that separate us from Himself, and from one another.  So, don’t tell me that grace is soft or that forgiveness is cheap.  God’s self-sacrifice on Calvary’s cross was God’s way of stepping into the brokenness of this world and into the anguish of human suffering to do something about it.  And it’s this grace that changes hearts.  It’s this grace that heals wounds.  It’s this grace that restores lives.  It’s this grace that beachheads shalom.  And once we’ve experienced this grace ourselves, then we become its agents.   Once we have been forgiven, then we know how forgiveness works, what forgiveness costs, and why forgiveness matters.  It’s forgiveness that turns hearts around.  It’s forgiveness that turns hate to hope.  It’s forgiveness that turns hurt to healing.  It’s forgiveness that turns alienation to reconciliation.  It’s forgiveness that turns fear to moral courage. It’s forgiveness that restores relationships, rebuilds trust, and refashions the future.

So, I’m glad that I was in church last Sunday. I was glad to be able to go to the Lord’s Table on that painful, troubling, confusing weekend to get my bearings.  I needed to share in the breaking of the break in remembrance of what God’s grace did for us in Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross.  And I needed to share in the pouring out of the cup in remembrance of what God did in Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross to accomplish forgiveness. And then from that experience of forgiveness at the Lord’s Table, I needed to be sent from that place of grace into the Charlottesville right outside the front doors of my church.  Christians need to be sent from the Table of love into the world of hate where we can show angry, violent, frightened, disentranced people that there is another way to be, the way that Jesus Christ as Lord showed us, and then died and was raised as Savior to make possible for us.  DBS +

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The “Bits and Pieces” Mentality

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It was Dr. David Naugle, a professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University, who introduced me to the problem of “bits and pieces.” In his book Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans 2002), he described the way that we fail to make connections as the “bits and pieces mentality.” He says that it is a characteristic of our age not to connect the dots. We tend to see things in complete isolation from each other. Our lives are a random series of events and experiences, actions and reactions, with nothing holding them together, nothing helping us to make sense of them as a unified whole. And so what happens in church on Sunday is completely separate from what happens in the office on Monday, or at home on Tuesday, or in the home owners’ association meeting on Wednesday, or in the conversation about the Refugee crisis on the Mexico border with friends on Thursday, or paying the monthly bills on Friday, or on the golf course on Saturday. And what happens in church this Sunday, at least in many of our minds, has absolutely nothing to do with what happens in church next Sunday. They are all completely disconnected, totally unrelated moments; each one existing in splendid isolation from all the others.

In The Genesee Diary ( Image Books – 1981), his reflections on his seven month stay at a Trappist Monastery in Western New York State, Henri Nouwen said that he went there to directly confront his “compulsions and illusions,” to answer the questions – “Is there a quiet stream underneath the fluctuating affirmations and rejections of my little world? Is there a still point where my life is anchored and from which I can reach out with hope and courage and confidence?” (14). This is not just an assignment for a spiritual giant like Nouwen who had some time on his hands; it’s a project that all of us must undertake in our search for meaning and purpose.

Back now from my two month Sabbatical, the pace and demands of ministry in an active and busy congregation like Northway have forcefully reintroduced themselves to me. I didn’t ease back into it like stepping into a hot bath, a little bit at a time. No, it was more like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. From the first day back there have been meetings to attend, people to see, staff to be consulted, hospitals to visit, worship services to arrange, sermons to write, Bible Studies to prepare and conduct, pastoral contacts to be made, problems to be solved, reports to be prepared, planning to be done, funerals and weddings to be conducted, church visitors to be followed-up, outreach into the community to be undertaken. I’m not complaining – I love this life, I really do, and I know how blessed I am to have been able to do this work with this people for the past 17 years. But the shift from the rather leisurely and largely unstructured Sabbatical pace to the full-throttled, wide-open pace of a typical week of ministry around here has left me grappling with the question of the location of the still point around which everything else spins. What holds this life and its work together?

One of my favorite theologians is the late Donald Bloesch. An evangelical in a mainline denomination (the United Church of Christ), he has been something of a role model for me through the years for my own ministry as an evangelical in a mainline denomination. One of his books, perhaps my favorite, certainly the most used, is Faith and its Counterfeits (IVP – 1981). He called this book “a handbook on evangelical spirituality,” and he named its purpose as being “to show the difference between true Christianity and some counterfeit versions of the faith” (11).

Faith

He named six “counterfeits” to “true religion” (“true religion” defined by the standards of James 1:27 – “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world”) –
1. Legalism – a relationship to a moral code rather than to a living Savior [25];
2. Formalism – preoccupation with propriety in worship and theology, the acceptance of doctrine without the Spirit, embracing the forms of godliness without the power (2 Timothy 3:5) [36];
3. Humanitarianism – the effort not to permeate the world with the leaven of the gospel, but to remold the world in the image of enlightened humanity [47-48];
4. Enthusiasm – the quest for a direct or immediate experience of God, seeking after a premature redemption, a dramatic anticipation of the glory that is yet to be revealed [62];
5. Eclecticism – the willingness to bend the Gospel to fit the preconceptions of the surrounding culture, upholding the spirit of religion over dogma, the quest for truth over a definitive witness to the truth [76-77];
6. Heroism – climbing the ladder of perfection and expecting mastery over self and triumph over the principalities and powers rather than being a humble recipient of divine grace who responds with acts of loving-kindness and mercy [90-91].

Any one of these six “counterfeits” can be dropped into the center of a church’s life and become “the still point” to which its life gets anchored and around which its work rotates, with disastrous consequence. And so Donald Bloesch concluded –

The bane of many churches today is an empty formalism or a barren Biblicism, either of which degenerates into an oppressive legalism. Other churches that seem more vital are plagued by a perfectionist enthusiasm or a frenetic activism that borders on humanism. What is needed is a recovery of the depth and breadth of apostolic faith, a revival of true religion. It is important to bear in mind that Jesus Christ is not just a moral ideal or a prophetic genius but a living Savior. He is not simply the human representative of God but God himself in human flesh. It is not enough to know the historical facts about the life of Christ, how he lived and died. Each person must know that Jesus died for him or her personally. (106-107)

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It is the Gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-19) that is the glue that holds the “bits and pieces” of our lives and world together. Historically, we who are “Disciples” have known this. Our life as a church centers around the Lord’s Table where every week the bread gets broken in remembrance of Christ’s body given for us, and the cup gets poured out in remembrance of His blood shed for us. Just to be clear, it’s not the Lord’s Supper, the bread and cup themselves and the act of eating and drinking them that is the glue that holds our “bits and pieces” together, but the Gospel of which they are the Lord’s appointed emblems. Communion is just a finger that points to the greater fact of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, and it’s His death, burial and resurrection, how He died for our sins as our Savior and was raised for our transformation as our Lord and not the bite of bread and the sip of juice that anchors everything else we think and do as a community of Christian faith. All of which is to say that the Gospel must be “explicit.” As J. Mack Stiles makes clear in his writings, when the Gospel is “assumed,” it soon gets “confused,” and it will eventually get “lost” and will be “forgotten” (Marks of a Messenger – IVP – 2010).

In a time and place when “things are falling apart,” fragmenting into “bits and pieces,” because “the center does not hold” as Yeats put it, it is time that we be absolutely clear that there is a center to the church’s life and work, and that it holds. It’s not legalism, formalism, humanitarianism, enthusiasm, eclecticism, or heroism, it’s “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). He alone is the church’s and the world’s center of spiritual gravity, the one in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). And it’s our job to be absolutely clear about it.  DBS+

 

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Why Go to Church?

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In Saturday’s paper, on the “Viewpoint” page, a local writer, Michelle Daniel Chadwick, contributed an essay on going to church that was entitled “Feels Good, Good for You.”

It started out so well –

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. For Catholics and many other Christians, Lent is a season of self-reflection and repentance, when we examine our lives and seek to draw closer to God as Easter approaches.

I read on wanting to hear more about this “season of self-reflection and repentance” when people “seek to draw near to God as Easter approaches.”  But to my great surprise, the rest of the essay was not about God at all!  Instead it was about me and about all the good that going to church could do me!  Here’s the gist of what that author had to say –

I have many fond memories of going to church as a child. My father would always put his arm around me during the service and carefully mark the pages for each hymn so that we would be ready at a moment’s notice to join in the singing. Throughout my life, church has been a refuge and a source of strength and encouragement when times were difficult, and a source of joy when times were good. As funny as it sounds, church to me is almost like the bar in Cheers, where “everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”

Friends from church are the ones who supported me when I was struggling and comforted me when my mother passed away. Almost every week, as I listen to the readings and sing the hymns and responses, I feel peace, comfort and encouragement. Many other times I have felt the sharp sting of correction when I realized how I needed to work on my own temper, harsh words or judgmental attitudes, and I would leave resolved to do better as a wife, a parent and a friend.

I have happy memories of leading bouncing children in singing during Vacation Bible School, and letting my own children drop leaves over the bridge of the creek next to church for “leaf races.” Because they also went to the school associated with our church, almost every aspect of our lives — sports, scouting, music lessons — centered on our faith community. Of course, neither the school nor the church was perfect, but it was, for the most part, a safe and warm place to grow up.

…I’ll admit, it isn’t always easy to get to church, especially with children. I can’t begin to count the hours I sat in church with a crying baby or squirmy, bored children. Many times we were late, and at least one of us had something wrong with our hair or our clothes. But I also have wonderful memories of the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows, all three of my kids forming a group hug with me during the sign of peace, and singing the hymns loud and clear. It’s a place of peace and joy — why not come in and stay awhile?

Now, there is nothing wrong with any of this.  In fact, I could easily and enthusiastically say all of the same things about my experience of church too.  It’s not what this essay in Saturday’s paper said, but rather what it didn’t say that troubles me.

Calvin Miller in one of his books (The Table of Inwardness – IVP – 1984) wrote –

We serve Christ while we worship Narcissus. Our slick religious tabloids abound with articles like, “God Saved My Business!”  Books (and records and tapes) on Christian aerobics, Christian cosmetics and Christian diets abound… “Christianity is best because it is the fastest way to personal gain.”

Sometime ago a book entitled “I Prayed Myself Slim!” told the story of an obese Cinderella who had been trapped in her own body. In a fit of spirituality, she took her overweight condition to Christ, and he began to help her lose weight.  In a fit of spirituality, she took her overweight condition to Christ, and he began to help her lose weight.  Overnight she was transformed into a beautiful princess, desired by the most exciting bachelors in town.  God had rescued her from her fate as a wallflower and cast her gloriously into the fast lane of life!  Naturally, she gave all the credit to God.

Perhaps the young lady should have asked, “Does God want the credit?” The issue is not whether or not God can deliver us to our best selves, but whether or not God’s main agenda is to create Cinderellas.  In fact God wants us to glorify his Son and escape the prison of self.  Yet a new Christian egotism insists that a Christianized self is an adequate center for life. (25-26)

There is a real struggle that rages in the soul of the church between the objective truth with which she has been entrusted and the subjective appeals that she routinely makes in her marketing strategy.  Sometimes it’s described as doing church “from above” and doing church “from below.”  Doing church “from above” means that you start with the reality of God and the centrality of Christ’s claims. The best example of doing church “from above” that I’ve ever come across was the late Diogenes Allen’s response to someone who asked him why he should go to church since he felt no religious needs?  And Dr. Allen, who was for many years the Professor of Philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary, answered: “Because it’s true!”  That’s doing church “from above.” It’s not about how it makes you feel, or about the immediate benefits that it delivers.  It’s about who God is and what God wants.  Doing church “from below” is about who we are and what we want instead.  It’s my felt needs and satisfied feelings that matter most, and what it sounds like is the essay from Saturday’s paper with its appeal for church going because it “feels good” and is “good for you.”  I’m not arguing that it doesn’t or that it isn’t.  What I’m saying is that even when it doesn’t feel good, and isn’t meeting my immediate and urgently felt needs, a compelling case can be made for going to church.

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It’s the most thought-provoking article that I’ve read so far this year.  It was written by Rod Rosenbladt, a Lutheran theologian, and it’s called “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.”  He addressed it to “church alumni,” to those men and women who have left the church either mad or sad.  Rod didn’t contest the fact that churches do all sort of things that can leave people feeling mad or sad.  If you are doing church “from below,” this is when you put on your hat and coat and head for the door.  Like I often say, telling people that they ought to come to our church “because we’re such nice people” only works until we’re not, and sooner or later we won’t be.  Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we can’t be cruel or crude, short-tempered or insensitive.  And so, if all we’ve offered to folks is an idyllic vision of church life, when it collides with the church’s reality, disillusionment will follow.  People will leave mad or sad.  But doing church “from above” says that for all of its frailty and failures, the church still holds a treasure that people need.  This was Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 5:7 when he explained: “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.”

In Rod Rosenbladt ‘s essay “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church,” he described an epiphany he had one evening while listening to an interview with Bill Kinison, the brother of the late comedian Sam Kinison, on “60 Minutes.”

After Sam was in an auto accident on a lonely highway near Las Vegas, he lay dying.  Bill was cradling Sam’s head in his arms as Sam died.  Sometime later, the interviewer asked Bill about San’s hatred of Christianity.  And Bill looked at the interviewer and said, “What?  You think Sam was not a Christian believer? Sam died as a believer in Jesus Christ.  You’ll definitely see Sam in heaven!  Sam was never angry with Jesus.  He was angry at the church!”

Hearing this, Rod said that he jumped up out of his recliner and yelled, “That’s it!  There it is!  There is the answer – and from Sam Kinison’s brother!”  Our message is Christ and not the church.  And so Rod says that we can respond to those who are mad at the church with something like, “You’re angry at the church?  Boy oh boy, join the club!  So am I!” 

Rod writes –

I recommend that we “take the hit.” …I recommend that we do not defend the church as much as we defend the Gospel!  I recommend that we immediately “cop to” the horrendous things done by the church… But, since hearing Sam Kinison’s brother, I don’t want to leave the matter there… I want next to talk about the Gospel.  I want to talk about Jesus’ claims… I’m going to talk about the Gospel as if it can be believed in totally apart from the church!  You say to me, “Rosenbladt, that isn’t how Scripture presents the church!”  I answer, “I know.  But first things first! People need Christ, Christ as priest, Christ as having died for our sin, Christ as giving eternal life to sinners for free.” If a person comes to trust Christ and Christ’s sin-bearing death, that person might later on deal with passages about “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together…”  But not now. …The truth of the Gospel does not turn on Christ’s church, but only on Christ’s resurrection from the dead…”

And now we are doing church “from above.”   We aren’t trying to get people to church where hopefully they will bump into Christ and give some thought to receiving him as Lord and Savior. We are telling them about Jesus Christ from the get go, and when He has become their Lord and Savior, then the conversation about church has some context.

In Modern Reformation (May/June 2008) Jay Lemke urged the church to stop the “spiritual bait and switch.”

Many in the American church seem intent to communicate under false pretenses…We’ll bring people in with music, food, fun, and games; and we’ll make them think being a Christian is about whatever interests them. We’ll play on their felt needs, and we’ll do research to determine what “seekers” want in a church. We’ll stick our collective fingers in the air and then we’ll become what people what us to be.  Finally, after all of that work, once we have people in the church, we may eventually get around to telling them, “Oh, by the way, Jesus died for your sins.”

In my public relations world, that’s called the old “bait and switch.” But we in the church do it all the time. We tell people they should read the Bible because it will help them in their daily lives. While there is a sense of truth to it, that is like telling someone to read Moby Dick because it will help them with whale spearing. Whether overtly or subtly, we are telling people they should be Christians because it will make them better in their particular area of interest. The American church is playing a huge game of spiritual bait and switch. At some level, we must be ashamed of the basic message of Christianity, and we don’t believe that on its own it is powerfully interesting…  We are scared to give people the best message of all-because we believe we know better than God. (www.modernreformation.org)

It’s because the church makes a lousy substitute for Christ that I find doing church “from below” to be such a deeply unsatisfying exercise.  But when church is done “from above,” I find that because first things are first that I can affirm all of the good things about church that Michelle Daniel Chadwick affirmed in her essay in Saturday’s paper without there being any confusion about their source, or any great crisis of faith when the church fails to deliver on her promise.  The message of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and the church is clearly among the things that needs saving.   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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