The Holy Spirit

The Life of a “Believer”

3 December 2014

“Whether you were born within the trappings of a world system with all of its assumptions, or within the trappings of a religious system with all of its self-declared other-worldliness, the life and message of Jesus is your salvation. He is the way out for your soul, the truth that will free your mind, and the life that your heart is longing for.” – Yours Truly

If you can look at the world and religion and see the the beauty and fraud in them both…

If you can look at the atheist and theist and see their common plight…

If you can see the good in the bad…

If you can look for truth to live by, rather than error to point out, ridicule, or criticize…

If you can offer your heart vulnerably, be hurt, attacked, accused, betrayed, or abused, and then offer it once again…

If you can have faith when no circumstance in sight justifies it…

If you can maintain hope with none agree there is any…

If you can persistently love those who will never return it to you…

If you can rid yourself of all sarcasm…

If you can trust because you  value your practice of it more than the reliability of its object…

If you can bear with the ones who will never overcome their struggles…

If you can see all women as mothers, sisters, and daughters…

If you can see all men as fathers, brothers, and sons…

If you can see yourself in every sinner and in every saint…

If you can face your fears when you have the option not to…

If you can choose suffering to relieve others, and boldly ask others to do the same…

If you can see both extravagant praise and malicious ridicule as poison for your soul…

If you can see the most vile and the most noble of people as equals…

If you can exhaust yourself in loving without losing your peace,  joy, and rest,

And if you can hear the still, small voice of God within you and heed it each time, regardless of where it leads or what it costs…

…then eternity has filled your heart, dear one,

Spirit has swallowed up Law,

the Kingdom has come for you,

and you have entered the life that Christ purchased for you,

the life Christ lived, and now lives in you,

and you, only you, can rightly be called a Believer.

It is a life of tears, but not despair.

It is a life of sacrifice, but also abundance.

It is a life of pain, but with unspeakable joy attached to it.

In this life, the life of a believer,

All things work for good and therefore are good.

All things are redeemed, and therefore valuable and sacred.

So in this life, the life of a believer,

The whole world is their inheritance,

They walk it humbly, but as kings, co-heirs with Christ.

The Great Invitation – Being vs. Doing

19 November 2014

“When I was focused on doing God’s work, I was fast-paced and exasperated, accomplishing much. When I focused on being God’s man, I became peacefully and refreshingly busy.” – Yours Truly

We in Christian circles are familiar with what we call the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28 that exhorts us to go and make disciples of Jesus. We are equally familiar with what we call the Great Commandment of Christ in Matthew 22, which exalts love for God and neighbor above all else.

These are defining words out of the mouth of Jesus for anyone who would claim to follow Him. At least they should be. And they should become noticeably defining characteristics in those same people, or it would be right to question their stated association to the name of Christ.

Okay, so there is that.

But there are some other words, recorded in another verse, that I believe are equally worthy of our attention. Worthy of our lives. Vital, even, should we desire to live anywhere close to the Great Commission and Great Commandment lifestyle. As a matter of fact, it is the ignorance of these words that may explain how it is that many professed Christ followers fail to the live a life that is marked by a Great Commandment loving demeanor or a Great Commission disciple-making fruitfulness.

I realize I may not be the first to do so, but I don’t know anyone who has, so I’d like to call it the Great Invitation. And it is found in Matthew 11, and like the Commandment and the Commission, is spoken by Jesus himself.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Notice that just as there are two commands in the Great Commandment, there are two (maybe even three) invitations in the Great Invitation, both of which promise rest. It is Andrew Murray who pointed out to me that the first invitation is to come to Jesus, and that by doing so, there is an immediate gift of rest for the weary. There is an initial burden lifted. It could be argued that the very meaning of “coming to Jesus” in an initial way is to receive his offer to unburden yourself of responsibility for the heavy weight of sin and put it on his shoulders (The relief I feel just by typing it is palpable!).

Invitation #2, Murray taught me, is to take the “yoke” of Jesus, and to learn from him. Jesus is inviting us to become his students, his scholars. He is inviting us to apply our attention to who he is, how he is, and what he says, and not merely for education’s sake. He is literally promising a transformation into a life of even deeper rest (“for your souls,” he says this time). But only if we become master students of his. And just in case someone wants to disqualify themselves as not good “mastery” material, Jesus ends the invitation by saying that his “yoke” is easy, and his burden is something that the most feeble of people can carry.

The order of these Great Things matters. The Great Invitation is listed by Matthew long before the Great Commandment, which is likewise listed long before the the Great Commission. Don’t think it matters? Well, just try to go and make disciples of Jesus without first developing a deep heart of love for God and others and see how long you last. Or just try to develop that deep heart of love without giving the burden of your sins to Jesus, or without becoming his pupil, and see how long you last. Yes, the order matters. Way too much damage has been done to the name of Jesus by churches that try to make disciples from something other than a heart of love. And way too much weariness, discouragement, and despair has come to individuals who try to maintain authentic love for God and people when they have not yoked themselves up with Jesus, abiding with and in him, and (most importantly) he in them.

The order matters, but the order of these “Greats” is not the headline for me in this post, it is the number of them. The proclamation I’m making today, is that I have been guilty of promoting the Great Commission/Great Commandment lifestyle without properly elevating the enabler of them both – the Great Invitation. Not consciously, of course, and perhaps many of my hearers have assumed the Invitation when I’ve spoken of the Commandment and the Commission. But no more will I fail to elevate Matthew 11 to the status of Matthew 22 and 28.

Why? I don’t want to “make” a bunch of exasperated “doers.” I want to co-create with Christ the making of disciples. When someone is focused on “being” a disciple, they will “do” plenty, but without the burden of feeling like they are the savior, and it all rides on them.

May we who follow Christ life the Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission life. And may those of us who play any part in leading church families lead them into being Great Invitation, Great Commandment, Great Commission churches.

God help us.

My Plan for 2013

3 January 2013

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life ? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” – James, the brother of Jesus

My plan for ending 2012 and launching 2013 is pretty comical in light of how I actually spent them.

December 30 and 31 I spent with a 17 year old girl and her 21 year old brother. These two lost their dad to cancer on Christmas Day, and they “needed a preacher” to do his funeral on New Years Eve day.

January 1 and 2 I spent in my bed. I was coughing, and sneezing, and blowing, and aching, pouring all kinds of fluids and pills into my body to try to stop it all.

It’s not my plan was bad. My plan was to spend the last two days very intentionally with my family (some of which I still got to do), and the first two days planning my year (none of which I got to do). It was good and God-centered plan, I thought. With good and God-centered intentions.

But it wasn’t God’s plan. And there is a difference.

Now I’m not knocking God-centered planning. This was just my crystal-clear reminder that I shouldn’t ever get so committed to my God-centered plans that they take the place of my commitment to God’s plans.

I woke up this morning, the 3rd day of the New Year, already completely behind is my plans are the benchmarks. But if I’m dying daily, listening for God daily, hearing Him and simply obeying, I’m right on time.

I ended up on the phone with a friend over my lunch hour, sharing my deepest thoughts and heart, and from within this trusted friendship, this space-making listening, and Christ-centered brotherhood – I heard God’s plan for me for this year quite clearly.

He said, “Spend more time with Me. More time listening. Then do what I say.”

What a beautiful way to end 2012, loving on and serving two newly orphaned “kids” who don’t have a “minister”. And what a beautiful way to begin 2013, flat on back helpless to do anything but submit to the healing that my body was so desperately dependent on God for.

May my whole year go so well. And yours, too.

The Bible before the Bible

19 December 2012

“Our diligent study of the Bible comes from our belief that it was delivered and orchestrated by God to tell us about God. By that reasoning, creation should be diligently studied first, because God saw best to deliver and orchestrate it first.” – Yours Truly

“The ‘Bible’ of nature and creation reveals God and who God is.” – Richard Rohr

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” – Paul, in Romans 1:20

“Through Jesus all things were made; without Jesus nothing was made that has been made.” – John, in John 1:3

It’s too late for most of us.

Most of us who call ourselves Christians are too late to take in and study the revelations of God in the order he revealed them.

Creation first. Bible second.

So we can’t know what the experience would have been like.

What would it have been like to look around at creation and “read it” for what it tells us about God? What would we have learned from the elements, the weather, the different landscapes, the different seasons, the different life forms, the interplay of darkness and light, and the consistent rhythm that the Sun provides? What would we have “read” in our own bodies about God when we found ourselves bursting with energy in one moment, and then helplessly lost in a state of unconsciousness in the next, only to awake with a new burst of energy, only to fall out of consciousness once again?

And once we learned all that we could from creation (the chief lesson being that we will never exhaust the lessons), what would it have been like to then crack open scripture?

We may never know, because most of us were born into, and continue to live in, an environment designed specifically to keep us untouched by nature. Goodness, if nature has lessons on “God’s invisible qualities” that can be “clearly seen”, then I have no chance to see them from where I sit right now. I’m in a nice, quiet, contained area that doesn’t even have a window out to God’s creation. I’m staring at at window, of sorts, called a computer screen, but it is a window created by man looking “out” at a bunch more creations of man. Just last week, a powerful storm that blew down trees and made the day look like night hit my homeland that lasted about 20 minutes, and I would have never known had I not had to move for the bathroom. Even then, nature only got a momentary pause out of me before I went about my business. And that business was in a room that man designed inside this fortress I work in to keep me from having to experience nature even when nature calls!

From within this fabricated, man-orchestrated, climate-controlled mansion, a big box that keeps the first revelation of God at bay, you know what I spend my time doing? Reading and studying God’s second revelation – scripture.

It is great, and I am blessed. But I wonder how much I get wrong in my interpretation of it because of this?

After all, a baby is born incapable of experiencing the study of the Bible, and only capable of experiencing the things around her. As that baby grows, it doesn’t jump right to the ability to read or study or imagine ideas, but instead moves slowly through a process of observing, experiencing, and “reading” the environment she is in. It seems to me that the order of our naturally developed abilities observed in our growth as human beings supports this idea that we should study God first in nature, and then in scripture.

So maybe we are all late, but it’s not too late. Maybe we have done it out of order, but there is still an order to be had and known and experienced in the first revelation, even if it is the second one we are studying.

Get outside. If you can burst out of the physical matrix we’ve all been conditioned to breath in with a revolutionary charge and zealous yell of “freedom!!!” then do it. But start small if you need to.

Just get outside.

And not just when it is comfortable (comfort is why we created the boxes we live in), and not just when it is convenient (convenience keeps us in the boxes, it does not move us out of them, ever).

You are missing out on getting to know God through His first revelation.

 

Consuming Christ

9 March 2012

“When you are hungry, do you want to eat and drink the meal, or the vessels used to bring you the meal.” – Yours Truly

I love Jesus Christ.

And while I love the stories about Jesus Christ, the book that contains those stories, the writings in that book written by others that loved him, the literature in that book that set the stage for those stories, the histories in that book that record how those who first loved him went about showing that, the letters in that book between folks who loved him, and all the religious practices and sacraments and people that have pointed me to him, I would trade them all in for Jesus Christ himself.

This may sound odd to you at first. It did to me when I first found myself saying it. But two things opened me up to the idea:

  1. My longing for a real relationship with Jesus and the God he spoke of.
  2. What Jesus, as I read about him in the Bible, said was possible in that regard.

These two things combined like water on a seed in perfect conditions, and a whole new landscape of Christianity came bursting from the depths and into view. It changed my life forever.

Better said, he changed my life forever. I started reading things, seeing things, practicing things, and experiencing things that, even though they had the Bible as their source, the Christianity I grew up with never taught me.

The Christianity of my youth taught me to be baptized, take the Lord’s Supper, and go to church services that practiced worship in a certain prescribed way. All of this, I was told, was “Biblical” – which everyone around me seemed to agree was a weighty and important word – and so I did it all. And I can even deem these teachings as “good” and better yet, “useful” in my journey with and towards Christ.

But let me tell ya (and try not to panic)…

…for one authentically spoken word from Christ to my soul securing its place with him in his Kingdom forever, I would trade my water baptism.

…for one moment of spirit-on-spirit communion with the living Christ, I would trade a lifetime of practicing the Lord’s Supper.

…for the the thick and real presence of Christ with me and on me, I would trade every single religious practice that I hold to, utilize, and teach.

How can this be, you may ask? Do you not need your baptism in order to get your Kingdom securing word from Christ, your supper in order to have actual communion with Christ, your religious practices in order to experience and enjoy Christ’s presence?

Allow me to attempt an explanation of why my integrity demands that I say no. And allow me to utilize Jesus’ words as a guide. (primarily from John 6)  

Many have participated in religious, Biblical things, and even though they were gifts from God, they still were caught in their sin, shame, guilt, and insecurity. This is because what really matters is the Person behind these things, the true treasure from heaven to which they point and lead: Jesus Christ. (Jn 6:49-50)

Jesus Christ alone saves from death. He alone allows you eternity. His giving himself, not his gifts, is what gives life to anyone in the world. If you do not have spiritual (comm-)union with him, have his spiritual presence with and on you, or receive in your spirit his personal word guaranteeing your Kingdom identity, then is it a surprise that you have no life in you, even if you practice Bible-based and truth-connected, but external, things? With a real and personal connection, resurrection is not only believable, but natural, and easy to live in confidence about. But without it (him), you will not be raised to life in the last day, no matter what you did Biblically right externally, because the power of life is not in you, because he is not in you, and you aren’t in him. (Jn 6:51; 53-56)

Jesus is a weighty and personal reality that is to be experienced, not merely an academic and doctrinal reality that is to be believed in and argued for. The intimate relationship that we witness Jesus having with the Father is supposed to be our model for what Jesus is saying we get to be experiencing with him. Tell me, what external practice can deliver on this? (Jn 6:57-58)

This is a hard teaching, you may note. Hard enough that you may not accept it. (Jn 6:52; 60)

And unacceptable enough, that it may offend you. But this is because of some predetermined and well-rehearsed ideas that you carry, not because it can’t or doesn’t fit with what God has done and told you. And this is tragic, because while you sit around being offended, there is so much more to come in this life with Christ that your limiting beliefs do not allow you a category with which to interpret! And getting past your “offendability,” and opening up to a deeper understanding, well, it is required work in order for you to appreciate it. (Jn 6:61-62)

So let me put it as simply and concisely as I can: The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. (Jn 6:63a)

I wish I could make it simpler than that (but Jesus couldn’t either, I guess, so I don’t feel so bad), because even these nine words that explain what I’m talking about require that you open up to the truth they carry for you to understand, accept, and then experience them as the reality that they are. The irony is that this news is the best yet, and what every human is longing for. (Jn 6:63b)

Yet, surprisingly, I know there are many who haven’t the depth of belief to allow for this. For this, you have to be spiritual. You have to allow God to be inclusive of, but more real, vital and necessary than what you can do and experience in the body and with the physical senses and faculties. As someone said to me when I struggled with this, I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you. And that is because this stuff is truly the stuff that can only be worked out between a man and God in dedicated, faith-fueled, practical experience. (Jn 6:64-65)

But many will leave this highest of all gifts, that of Christ himself, and instead will try to find their belief, hope, and eternal life elsewhere. (Jn 6:66; 68-69)

Many will, in direct opposition to Christ’s teaching, insist that the flesh counts for something, which contains just enough truth (when properly understood) that some will attach their hope for life in this world and resurrection in the next to earth-bound, history-based, temporal and physical actions and things. They will take what were meant to be powerful and useful from within the life-giving relationship with Jesus and pretend that they are mandatory and required in order to academically believe that you have the life-giving relationship with Jesus. Without intending to, and with some of the best motives available to man, and denying it all the way, they will look right at Jesus and ask for him to give them some external works to do that will save them. (Jn 6:28)

He won’t do it, mind you. He won’t. He will just constantly, faithfully, and creatively keep on offering them the very treasure that they are looking to gain from those works. He will offer himself. (Jn 6:29)

I love Jesus Christ.

He is the real food. He is the real drink. (Jn 6:55)

All the rest are serving utensils. Do I “need” them to partake of the meal? No. Do I “use” them to partake of the meal. Yes. Powerfully so. Beautifully so. Biblically so. But if I ever say “don’t forsake the assembly” or “take this cup in remembrance of Jesus,” or “this baptism saves you” – it should be taken in the same way as I would say, “you need this plate to eat dinner” or “here’s a cup to drink to some water,” or “this fork feeds you.”

The food and the drink are the point. They are what nourish. They are what sustain. They are what give life. All utensils that help me partake of the actual food and drink, I use faithfully, and I’m grateful for. But I don’t consume them. That would even be dangerous. I use them. I consume Christ.

He, and only he, is what gets me life now and forever. (Jn 14:6)

And life, the eternal kind, is, after all, best described as…him. (Jn 17:3) 

As Jesus often said, if you get it, you get it. (Mt 11:15)

The Blessing/Curse of a Christian Inner Life

8 February 2012

“We demolish arguments and every motive that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” –  Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:5-6

To “be like Christ” is never to be mistaken as a strictly outward project. Decidedly choosing discipleship is to decidedly turn your attention inward. As one progresses, the simple focus on transforming outward actions and behaviors moves to include transforming every thought, every feeling, every judgment, every attitude, and every motive. introspection

No one argues that these are found inside of us, as is the Kingdom of God (Lk 17:21). So it is here, folks, that you must go – into the inner world of thoughts, feelings, motives, attitudes and beliefs – if the greatest Kingdom success is to be achieved in and through you.

It is effective, horrible work.

Effective because these inner inhabitants are the source of your outward behaviors that seemed before so hard to permanently change. As you advance in the skill of inward surrender to Christ (you could call this your own crucifixion), the Kingdom’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and motives crowd out your fallen ones, and you quite naturally begin to behave outwardly in alignment with Christ. So, this is effective.

Horrible because when you do exhibit an outward behavior that is not aligned with Christ, you are now quite sensitive to the fact that this superficial and relatively insignificant action is evidence of a much deeper and profound problem: there are still inward parts of you that have not been given over to God and to love.

Before, when you began your journey into Christlikeness, you explained your outward failures with the truth that your sins are forgiven, even when you “fall”. You learned to not feel guilt, receive God’s potent grace, and accept yourself as an imperfect sinner who will always fall in one manner or another. You learned that in terms of your eternal security, your imperfection is not a serious issue. This took time to grow into, partly because it is such good news that it is hard to believe, but partly because you also knew that your sinfulness is, in fact, a very serious issue. But if not because it threatens your eternal security, then why?

Your “falls” matter because you have grown to care about pleasing God.

See, when you advance, and you learn to spend time with Christ within yourself, where he resides and works powerfully (Col 1:27-29), you learn that his aim is nothing short of perfecting you, for your own good and God’s pleasure and glory. And as you are converted further, you begin to follow Christ not merely for the selfish desire of Heavenly security, but out of a selfless desire to love and please God.

As this conversion happens, you find yourself less and less able to remain in the theological hiding place that you fled to as a spiritual child (the one that says, “Don’t dare aim for or believe that you can be perfect, for you are merely human. You are not and never will be Jesus Christ”).

When this begins to happen, it is important for you to accept something and allow it to happen: Your reasonable side is being overcome by your belief.

This belief in your perfection comes not because of some high estimation of yourself or your ability, on the contrary, it comes from your high estimation of Christ and his ability. It is from humility, not arrogance, that you must come to believe in your own perfection. In other words, humility insists that your ability to sin is not more powerful than Christ’s ability to love and transform. When you are humble and lowly enough to admit this, you read the Bible differently, at face value, believing it rather than explaining it away with your earth-bound logic and reason.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Mt 5:48

“You have been given fullness in Christ.” – Col 2:10

“My power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Cor 12:9

“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Heb 10:14

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – Jms 1:4

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” – 1 Jn 2:6

The blessing of the inner life is that we are free to believe, our frequent failures notwithstanding, that these things (perfection, fullness, holiness, maturity, completeness, Christlikeness) are indeed attainable. And we can do so without fear of thinking too highly of ourselves simply because we have finally allowed for the fact that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), and we have humbly admitted that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

The curse of the inner life is that we can no longer console ourselves that it is insignificant when we behave or think wrongly, which is any action outside of the realm of love for God and neighbor. It is a tortuously narrow road you walk, but not because you must fear losing salvation (which is also an arrogant position, by the way, to think that your sin is more powerful than your Savior’s blood), but because you fear hurting people, and worse, you fear misrepresenting Christ – who is your life.

So here is to the blessing and curse of the inner life – the life of the Kingdom – the life of Christ – the Christ who lives in you.

May God help us all.

 


 

Where to Find the Spirit

4 January 2011

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” – Genesis 1:2

I’ve spent much of my life wanting to experience the Spirit of God.

I have traveled to mountains high above the earth and into caves deep below – just for the chance.

I have sung my voice out with a thousand ecstatic worshippers in the stadium and I have laid prostrate silently with a few monks in the monastery – craving Him.

I have spent hours immersed in the most beautiful and stunning scenes of creation and just as many surrounded by plain and unimpressive walls of brown sheetrock – looking for Him.

I have holes in my jeans from being on my knees in prayer, paper cuts from turning the pages of scripture, stacks of highlighted notes from attending seminars, information overload from reading books, and a sort of interpersonal numbness, if you will, from having listened to so many people who have tried to guide me to the mysterious place where I can reliably find this Spirit that is so Holy.

The journey has not been in vain, or without pleasure. But through it all, there is only one place where I have learned to find my experience of the Spirit of God most consistently.

In the darkness.

I would have never read it this way before my journey, but not 2 verses into the Bible’s story, actually pre-day one of Creation, I am told where to find this least visible, most mysterious Person of the Trinity.

In the darkness.

According to this verse, right at the beginning, there were two things hanging out together over the deep waters of emptiness and formlessness that was earth at the time: Darkness, and the Spirit of God.

In a poetic way (and the creation story is recorded as poetry), I have found this to be practically true.

If I can say that I have experienced the Holy Spirit at all in my life (and I hesitate to trust anyone who is a little too certain that they have), then it has been, more than anywhere else, over the deep, dark places of my life. As I look honestly, the Spirit of God hovers most obviously “over the waters” of…

  • My most tragic memories
  • My most shameful failures
  • My most difficult (and impossible) circumstances
  • My most intense and inconvenient emotions
  • My most confusing and brain twisting intellectual dilemmas

I don’t say this with total elation, mind you. I would prefer that the Holy Spirit be found in the light and full places rather than the dark and empty ones. I wish this Spirit hung out more often in my very structured world rather than in some formless one. If the Spirit of God hovered over the shallow puddles that take shape on my driveway after a good rain rather than over the deep waters of some dark ocean, I think I would more often journey to Him.

But that is not where I have found him. Not most consistently. Not most reliably.

I have found Him and experienced Him (again, if I have at all) by embracing and telling my whole story, by owning and confessing my sins, by admitting and walking into my most scary situations, by being attentive to and learning from (but not owned by) my emotions, and by being open to and fearless about being wrong.Darkness

I’m far from being done learning about what and where the Spirit of God is. And I know it seems counter-intuitive to say that you should go to the “dark” to find Him, when Jesus and Paul spend so much time talking about walking in the light.

To that I say – and I speak from a position of experience rather than theological knowledge – I have best been able to see and experience God as Light on the backdrop of the darkness.

That’s where I find him. In the darkness. My belief is that you will find Him most reliably there.