Tag Archives: Spirit

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 +

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Some of the “Great Rocky Facts of Being”

first

A Spirituality of New Year’s Resolutions
___________________________________________________________

New Year’s Resolutions expose the “holy discontent” with which most of us live our lives.  It’s just part of what it means to be human. In fact, the Catholic Philosopher Peter Kreeft goes so far as to say that this desire for “something more” is actually hardwired into us.  We are all innately equipped with what he called “haunt detectors.” This world of ours is “haunted” by a sense of the divine, and an experience of divine absence.  We carry around deep inside us the echoes of Eden, a memory of that intimacy and immediacy. And something sounds inside us when we get in its vicinity once again through music, art, literature, poetry, nature, and love, but they’re all just signposts of the divine rather that the divine itself.  They are given to us to keep us moving in its direction.

The New Year provides us with a moment to recollect the journey so far. We are all given a chance to think about where we’ve been, and where we’re going.  And this annual review provides us with the opportunity to “simplify” to use the category that Lewis Joseph Sherrill introduced me to in his book The Struggle of the Soul (1951). This is the essential spiritual assignment of the adult stage of the pilgrimage of our lives, he said, to figure out what matters and what doesn’t, and then to move what matters to the center of our daily existence while pushing to the margins of our lives the things that don’t.

As I did this myself last weekend, I found myself reflecting on the Gospel accounts of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by John followed by His temptation in the wilderness by the devil (Matthew 3:13-4:11). I’m quite sure that it was my own experience of beginning this New Year that led me to a contemplation of these narratives about the beginning of Christ’s own public life and ministry.  And what arose out of my time with these texts were a reminder of three of “the great rocky facts of (my) being” (Augustus Hopkins Strong) as a Christian that are especially relevant as this particular year with all of its peculiar challenges and widely heralded uncertainties begins.

  1. You are My Beloved Child” (3:17)

 

belovedThe Baptism narrative describes the Spirit of God descending like a dove, coming upon Jesus as He came up out of the water, and a voice from the heavens saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” This is a unique event in salvation history – a Trinitarian moment of the disclosure of the Divine identity and intention.   My baptism as a Christian did not have reference to this Gospel event of the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry as the Christ, but rather to the climactic Gospel event of His ministry as the Christ – His death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11). But my personal reception of Christ’s saving work on Calvary’s cross and out of the empty tomb by faith that found initial expression in my own baptism has given me the same assurance that Christ had when He came up out of the waters of His baptism.  In Acts 2, after the Gospel had been preached for the very first time in the power of the Spirit, and people asked what they needed to do in order to be saved, Peter told them to be baptized for, or with reference to, the forgiveness of their sins, and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38). By faith I have the assurance that I am a forgiven child of God — “beloved” — and I have the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in me tethering me to all of the “precious and magnificent” promises that God has made to us, and to all of creation, in Christ and is, right now, in the process of fulfilling.  As this year begins, I know that no matter what may come, nothing has the power to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).  In Christ I am already called, justified and glorified (Romans 8:30).  I am a child of God, and if God is for me, then what can possibly be against me (Romans 8:31)?

2.   “Driven” by the Spirit into the Wilderness to be “Tested” (4:1)

 

assuranceIn this assurance, I don’t expect cloudless days or easy paths. After His baptism Jesus was immediately driven into the wilderness where He was tested and tired by the adversary, and I personally recall this every time I pray the Lord’s Prayer with its petition not to be led into temptation, but to be delivered from evil.  In Luke 22:31, we are told that in the Upper Room Jesus told Peter –“Satan desires to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, you will strengthen your fellow believers.” Strikingly, Jesus did not tell Peter here that He was going to remove Him from the whole experience of sifting, but rather that He was going to strengthen him in the experience of his sifting so that his faith would not fail, and that he might then be an example of faithful endurance for others later. In the same way, in the classic New Testament text where we are assured that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, we are not offered immunity from the possibilities of suffering that surround us.  There’s “hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword” (8:35). We’re like sheep being led to the slaughter all day long (8:36).  But none of these potential treats to our physical well-being can touch the certainty of our eternal well-being in Christ.  In fact, Paul told the Romans that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (8:18).  And so, as this year begins, while I don’t expect any exemptions from the vagaries of the human condition because of my faith in Christ, I do expect the peace of Christ that is bigger than any adverse circumstance that may come, and I do expect to be more than a conqueror over them through Him who loved me and gave Himself for me (8:37).

3.   “Angels came and began to minister to Him” (4:11)

 

angelFinally, just as angels came to minister comfort and strength to Christ at the end of His testing in the wilderness, so I fully expect that God will supply all of the resources that I will need this year to be faithful. As the last two stanzas of the most theologically dense, and the most spiritually honest hymn that we sing puts it –

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours, thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still;                                                                              his kingdom is forever.

So, what is this “one little word” that fells the devil and thwarts all the plans he has to “work us woe”?  Well, it’s Jesus Christ, the name given to us under heaven by which we are saved (Acts 4:12).  More than just the recitation of some kind of a magical formula or mystical incantation, the name of Jesus is a reference to our access to His person, His presence, His power and His provisions.  There will be a fight with darkness this year, to be sure.  There is one every year. But we need not fear the fight for in Christ we already have all of the resources we will need to triumph.  As another hymn we sing puts it –

Rise up, O saints of God! The church for you doth wait, with strength unequal to her task; rise up, and make it great!

The Spirit and the gifts are ours. That’s what gives us the strength we need. And it is by our continuous reception and conscious reliance on them that Christ will triumph through us over all that is hostile or indifferent to God’s will.

So, here as a New Year begins, are three of the “great rocky facts of (my) being” that will shape the living of my days in the coming days: I am a beloved child of God, as are you; There will be adversity, days of real discouragement and defeat; and I have the resources of faith at my disposal to not merely endure those difficulties, but to actually triumph over them.  Whatever resolutions I make for this coming year, these three great rocky facts will be their foundation. On my journey to wholeness – to being and doing what it is that God has always intended me to be and do – I know that I already belong to Him, an identity that is secure regardless of the struggles that may come, and that serves as the basis for my sure reliance upon Him to always come and help in the hour of my need. It is with these three “great rocky facts of (my) being” in mind,” that I step out into the New Year confident that no matter what may come, I am going to be fine because of whose I am.

Lead on, O King eternal; we follow, not with fears,
for gladness breaks like morning where’er your face appears.
Your cross is lifted o’er us, we journey in its light;
the crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might.

                                                                                                           DBS +

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Limitless?

benBen Patterson, a Presbyterian Pastor who is now the Campus Minister of Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, remembers a Sunday morning when he made a dramatic sweeping gesture with his arm during a sermon and he says that he watched as the head of every person in church that morning turned to follow it.  That was the Sunday morning when Ben says that he “discovered” his power.  If he had the power to turn heads with a simple gesture like that, Ben wondered, then what could he get people to do if he really put his mind to it!  For the first time in his ministry Ben understood that he had the power of persuasion, and that it could easily become pure manipulation.  Ben came to the realization that he could use his power for good or for ill, in the service of his own petty interests or for the sake of God’s eternal purposes revealed in Jesus Christ, and so he had better be careful… very careful.

I thought about this story recently while reading Timothy George’s intriguing essay on “Gimmicks and God” in First Things (6/15/15).  After “confessing” some of his own “hot gospel antics” from a much earlier day in his life – dressing up like the devil to publicize a youth revival at his church and allowing a blindfolded “karate for Christ” champion to slice a raw potato off his head – Dr. George, now the highly regarded President of a highly respected Seminary, wonders where the line is?  Does anything go in our desire to gather a crowd?  Are there any limits at all on our drive for numerical success – to be the biggest and the best?  When do the gimmicks that we use to draw a crowd “for Christ” become ends in themselves, stunts that feed our own egos?  And what’s the tipping point when persuasion tumbles off into manipulation?

In I Corinthians Paul explained that he was prepared to become all things to all people so that by all means he might save some (9:22).  These verses could and often have been used to justify an “anything goes” approach to the church’s ministry.  And so I have known ministers who have been dunked in big vats of soupy jello as a stunt in church on a Sunday morning, who have had their heads shaved in worship, who have preached in their underwear, who have been dressed up in every and any silly costume that you can possibly imagine, and who have led worship from a bed drug into the sanctuary for a morning, or while suspended from the ceiling by wires, or from the roof of a church tethered by ropes to the steeple.  It’s all good fun they say.  They’re just being “fools for Christ” (I Corinthians 4:10) they argue.  And who am I – a preacher in a plateaued church in a dying denomination – to say anything.  And so I won’t.

But I will let Paul speak.  You see, for all his talk in I Corinthians about being willing to become all things to all people in order to reach some of them, Paul still had his limits.

beardFor we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as people of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:17)

…Having this ministry by the mercy of God… We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every person’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)

Paul criticized those he described as being “peddlers of God’s word.” He renounced their “disgraceful, underhanded ways,” and he refused “to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word” like them. It wasn’t “anything goes” for him in his ministry.  Paul imposed some limits, and I think he hinted at the parameters of those limits that he set for himself at the very beginning of I Corinthians when he wrote –

When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (2:1-5)

johnI think another New Testament conversation about where the “limits” can be found is in the story of Jesus with the woman at the Samaritan well (John 4). The conversation that Jesus had with her worked its way around to a specific question about worship (John 4).  Jews and Samaritans had different sanctuaries, different scared mountains, and different worship traditions, and the woman, having perceived that Jesus was a “prophet,” decided that while she was with someone who could speak for God that it would be the perfect opportunity to settle a nagging religious question. “Who’s right?” she wanted to know. “Which mountain does God prefer?” And Jesus told her that the externals of religious observance were less important to God than the inward dispositions of the worshippers.

The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father
in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.
(4:23)

Here are the “limits” according to Jesus in this text – “spirit and truth.” In my mind’s eye I can see “spirit” and “truth” as the banks of a river through which the life and ministry of a church flow. They set its direction and channel its flow.  A popular Bible Study site explains the meaning of “spirit and truth” this way –

greenTrue worship must be “in spirit,” that is, engaging the whole heart. Unless there’s a real passion for God, there is no worship in spirit. At the same time, worship must be “in truth,” that is, properly informed. Unless we have knowledge of the God we worship, there is no worship in truth. Both are necessary for satisfying and God-honoring worship. Spirit without truth leads to a shallow, overly emotional experience that could be compared to a high. As soon as the emotion is over, when the fervor cools, so does the worship. Truth without spirit can result in a dry, passionless encounter that can easily lead to a form of joyless legalism. The best combination of both aspects of worship results in a joyous appreciation of God informed by Scripture. The more we know about God, the more we appreciate Him. The more we appreciate, the deeper our worship. The deeper our worship, the more God is glorified.   (http://www.gotquestions.org)

Truth is objective.  Spirit is subjective.
Truth is about the facts.  Spirit is about the feelings.
Truth engages the mind.  Spirit engages the heart.

Truth is about what God in Jesus Christ has done for us in human history – His Incarnation (Christmas), the Atonement (Good Friday), His Resurrection (Easter), and the pouring out of His empowering and indwelling presence (Pentecost).  Spirit is the personal application of what Jesus Christ has done for us to our hearts individually so that we can become new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4), and lean into the coming of the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21:1).

Recently, after keynoting a church retreat, one of the participants approached to thank me for what I had just shared in my message.  He told me that the content was good and helpful (“truth”) and that I had delivered it with passion and commitment (“spirit”), and that’s the standard that I aim for every time I stand to preach or teach.  Those are the banks between which my ministry flows.  I want to be faithful with the treasure of the Gospel that has been entrusted to me (2 Timothy 1:13-14), and I want to share it “in power and the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (I Thessalonians 1:5).  This, it turns out, was also the standard of one of the founders of my own spiritual tradition.  Barton W. Stone wrote –

I not only advise you to preach the Word, but also preach it in the Spirit. In vain we attempt to preach in the Spirit, unless we have the Spirit, and experience the force of that truth we deliver to others. A man may preach the truth in the letter without the Spirit. Such preaching is vain-useless to saint and sinner. Apathetic and moral lectures on religion have almost ruined the world, and swelled the number of skeptics. For they thus argue: Did these people believe what they preach or read, would they be so cold and unfeeling in their addresses? Would they not cry aloud and spare not? Did you ever know one such preacher convert a sinner from the error of his ways? A person may also preach with a great vociferous zeal and manner. This may be and often is nothing more than mere animal nature, without the spirit. Live and walk in the spirit, and preach in the Spirit; then will the attention of your hearers be arrested, and good effects will follow. (The Christian Messenger 5 – July 1831 – 164-7)

And Leonard Hodgson agreed –

As I listen to sermons I am impressed by the fact that over and over again preaching fails in effectiveness not because of defects in the preparation of the subject matter, but because the preacher is not putting his/her whole self into the delivery of the message.  One recognizes that the material is good, well and carefully thought out and put together.   But it fails to catch fire and kindle answering sparks in the congregation because its utterance gives the impression of being the performance of a routine duty. (David Larsen – The Evangelism Mandate – Kregel – 1992 – p. 111)

And so it’s both spirit and truth I seek to serve in my preaching and teaching.  Those are my standards, the masters I serve.  I want what I say to be settled as truth in my mind and to be fired with spirit in my heart.  Not stunts and gimmicks but substance and passion.  Not style and flash but Spirit and truth.  DBS+

 

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“When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad…”

commonMy default prayer discipline is the Book of Common Prayer (1945).  You can take the boy out of the Episcopalians it seems, but you can’t take the Episcopalian out of the boy.

I was profoundly shaped by the rhythm and cadence of the prayers that I prayed at the very beginning of my spiritual life, and so just like the swallows returning to Capistrano, or is it more a case of the buzzards returning to Hinckley, I find myself going back to them when I am spiritually sick, or stuck, or stalled, or stifled. I especially love the “Forms of Prayers to be used in Families with Additional Prayers” (587-600).  I have prayed these prayers with some regularity now for more than half of a century, and they have left their mark.

“Graciously be pleased to take us, and all who are dear to us, under thy fatherly care and protection.”  I pray this petition, and my heart roams to south Fort Worth and to New York City, to Los Angeles and to Modesto in the central valley of California, to Garland next door and to Oklahoma City up the road, to North Carolina and to wherever the Special Forces have put a nephew in harm’s way this week.  I pray these words and I think of my family – my wife, my son and my daughter, my grandsons and my son-in-law, my sisters and their families, my brothers-in-law and their families, my mother-in-law and her husband.  I so want God to “take us, and all who are dear to us, under thy fatherly care and protection,” but there are weeks when, to be perfectly honest, it feels like anything but this, and this has certainly been one of those weeks.

Without bogging down in all of the messy details, suffice it to say that over and over again these past few weeks my heart has been wrenched by the painful and difficult circumstances that some of the people I love the most in this world have been forced to face.  I have been afraid and anxious for them.  I have worried, and I have wept, and I have prayed – “Graciously be pleased to take us, and all who are dear to us, under thy fatherly care and protection.”

The very first Bible verse that I ever consciously memorized (thank-you Billy Graham) was I Peter 5:7 – “Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares about you.” And so I am in the long habit of translating my fears into prayers (Philippians 4:6).  But in a season of upset like this one that I and my loved ones currently find ourselves in, even as I pray I ponder. “Just exactly what are you expecting will happen because you are doing this?” I ask myself. “What do you think that God is going to do about it?” I am leery of what Vernon Grounds of blessed memory used to call “the heavenly helicopter” notion of Christianity.  Neither my experience nor my theology convinces me that Jesus Christ is going to automatically and invariably swoop into the rising flood waters of my discouraging circumstances and magically whisk me and mine away unscathed.  Of course, God could do this.  But God doesn’t always, and from my own personal point of view, God doesn’t often do this.  So, just exactly what then am I expecting of God?  What is that does God does?

kingdomActs 14:22 is another one of those Bible verses that I have deliberately committed to memory because I am a pastor, and a human being – “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” This is the realism of the Bible that only serves to reinforce my confidence in its inspiration and authority.  I don’t expect things to be easy for me, but I do expect that God in Christ through the Spirit will accompany and empower me in all of the twists and turns of my life, and finally bend it in the direction of  wholeness, peace, and joy.

So, “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad,” as the song from “The Sound of Music” puts it, what sustains me spiritually?  As this week has unfolded, I’ve been trying to consciously keep track of how my being a Christian has supplied me with resources that have strengthened my faith and fueled my hope.  And so, in no particular order, here are some of the things that my Christian faith has provided me with, and that have proven sustaining to me as the rain fell, and the floods came and the winds blew.  This is how my Christianity has “worked” for me in the midst of my recent storms –

  • doveThe indwelling Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, at least that’s one of the ways that the word that Jesus used in the Upper Room in the Gospel of John to talk about the Holy Spirit’s coming sometimes gets translated (John 14:16; 26; 15:26; 16:7).  And I have felt this Spirit’s comforting presence.  It’s not continuous, but it is real.  Paul described it as the assurance we have that we are children of God when God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirits (Romans 8:16).  And that’s it.  That’s what sweeps over me from time to time quite unexpectedly and inexplicably. It’s like a hug out of nowhere.  A reminder that I’m not alone; the reassurance that I have not been abandoned or forsaken.
  • The keys that the Holy Spirit plays on the instrument of my heart are the promises of God’s Word.  Bible verses will just pop into my consciousness like song melodies that get stuck in your ear, and I savor them.  My long love for Scripture has stocked my head and heart with lots of raw material for the Spirit to use.  I’ve sometimes heard this described as the experience of receiving a “living” Word, and that certainly “feels” right.  It feels like God speaking directly to me from the pages of the Bible.  Is this what Jesus meant when He told us that “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63)?
  • Finally, in 2 Corinthians chapter 1 Paul described an important dynamic that’s at work in the experience of comfort that we receive from God in Christ –

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.  If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. (1:3-6)

When we receive God’s comfort in our own times of personal struggle we are being equipped to share God’s comfort with people we will meet later who are struggling with the same sorts of things we have already been through.  Our comfort comes with a ministry assignment.  At the end of his life, when debilitated by a series of strokes, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was asked to reflect on what he had learned in his years of decline.  And this man of massive intellect and tremendous influence talked about what he called “the charismatic gift of love.”  After years of writing, teaching, traveling and leading, when health “dismissed him from the battle” and “relegated him to the sidelines,” Reinhold Niebuhr said that in the end it was the simple kindness and support of ordinary people who went out of their way to help him that was the most effective expression of the Gospel that he knew anything about it.   And it has in fact been the kind words, the offers of support and the expressions of care from Christian brothers and sisters who have travelled these same roads of sadness and carried these same burdens of fear and pain that have made God’s love so tangible and visible to me over and over again.

Paul in a season of struggle was able to say (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) –

lightWe have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed

And in the end, was bold to say (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)–

The Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

And in this season of struggle, it is because of the comforting Spirit, the comforting Word, and the comforting community that I have experienced the sufficiency of grace.  DBS+

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Our Pentecost Novena; Day 7

Our Pentecost Novena

dallas

Northway Christian Church – Dallas, Texas
Day 7 – Thursday, May 21, 2015
The Proof of the Holy Spirit’s Presence is Faithfulness                                    ____________________________________________________________

Scripture – Matthew 25:21

Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.

Thought

There is a greatness in unknown names, with petty round of little duties, little avocations; to accept unmurmuringly a low position; to be misunderstood, misrepresented, maligned, without complaint, to smile for the joys of others when the heart is aching; to banish all ambition, all pride, and all restlessness, in a single regard to our Savior’s work; he who does this is a greater  hero than he who for one hour storms a breach, or for one day rushes onward undaunted in the flaming front of shot and shell.  His works will follow him.  He may be no hero to the world, but he is one of God’s heroes.  (F.W. Faber)

Prayer

Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, ignite in us your holy fire;
strengthen your children with the gift of faith,
revive your Church with the breath of love,
and renew the face of the earth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Our Pentecost Novena; Day 3

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Northway Christian Church – Dallas, Texas
Day 3 – Sunday, May 17, 2015
The Proof of the Holy Spirit’s Presence is Peace

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Scripture – John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Thought

Love and peace are not tested by rhetorical phrases from pulpit or platform.  They are tested by the way we behave toward others who continually go astray and are at odds.  The test of our love and peace for another is in our behavior toward particular persons with whom we talk, walk, and work. To be concerned for these is the test of our love.  At the heart of that which makes for peace is a tender, forgiving love as Christ forgave and loved. (John M. Drescher)

Prayer

Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, ignite in us your holy fire;
strengthen your children with the gift of faith,
revive your Church with the breath of love,
and renew the face of the earth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Our Pentecost Novena; Day 2

dallas

Northway Christian Church – Dallas, Texas
Day 2 – Saturday, May 16, 2015
The Proof of the Holy Spirit’s Presence is Joy
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Scripture – I Peter 1:8-9

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Thought

The late Bishop Otto Dibelius of Germany, several years before his death, looked over his church conference program and wrote the general secretary, “When I scan the topics you have announced, I wonder if your New Testament hasn’t revised Luke 2 to read, “Behold, I bring you good problems of great moment which shall engage you for the next 2,000 years.”

Leon Bloy writing in a letter dated November 3, 1889, said, “For the people who know the Bible and tradition and the complete history of humanity, joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”

Paul Tillich asked, “Is our lack of joy due to the fact that we are Christians, or to the fact that we are not sufficiently Christian?”

Prayer

Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, ignite in us your holy fire;
strengthen your children with the gift of faith,
revive your Church with the breath of love,
and renew the face of the earth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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