Holy Spirit’s Marvelous Ways

[In my January 1, 2015 post, I christened this the “Year of Learning” here on the blog. Each post, I’ll aim to share something recently discovered (or re-discovered) in the hope that you might add my learning to your own discoveries and make double-moves forward and upward this year!]

One strand of the past few years has been a desire and effort to increase my familiarity with the Holy Spirit. Taken wrong, that sentence could suggest that I’m doing a report on Him as subject. I know He wants different treatment than that! He wants intimate weaving of His life with mine, a mingling of deep with deep. Toward that end, there is much for this fellow to learn. Some of it comes through means far removed from traditional study; some of it involves books.

flame of loveFrom the realm of books, I recently finished a most enjoyable volume on the Holy Spirit. Clark Pinnock was a Canadian theologian and professor, who passed away in 2010, at the age of 73. I never met him, but from a distance, I’ve always loved his gracious spirit and pressing mind. Pinnock often took criticism for views that bordered on unorthodox, but he was always measured and loving in the questions that drove him and in his responses to such critique. I alluded to him back in a post last year as well.

“Flame of Love” is the book I recently completed. In one section, Pinnock gathered from other authors a summary of metaphors from Hildegard of Bingen, born in the 11th century. This list features some of the stream of thought that used to help Hildegard consider the role of the Holy Spirit.

“In a profusion of images, Hildegard of Bingen depicts Spirit in marvelous ways: as the life of creatures, as a burning fire that sparks, ignites, inflames and kindles our hearts; as a guide in the fog, a balm for wounds, a shining serenity and an overflowing fountain that spreads to all sides. Spirit is life, movement, color, radiance and a stillness that restores, bringing withered sticks and souls alive with the sap of life. The Spirit purifies, absolves, strengthens, heals, gathers the perplexed, seeks the lost, pours the juice of contrition into hardened hearts and plays music in the soul, melodies of praise and joy. The Spirit awakens mighty hope, blowing winds of renewal everywhere in creation.”

Who doesn’t need some of that?!

Surely every human being can find a phrase within that paragraph that stirs something within. Pinnock points out that this universality is one of the most wondrous things about the Spirit. Whereas the New Testament image of Jesus locks our focus — appropriately — on a specific man with a specific body in a specific time and a specific place, the Holy Spirit is described in Scripture in ways that unlock that specificity. His efforts are around-the-world and around-the-clock to bring redemption and renewal to all of Creation’s faces and facets. He is not far off from where you are this moment. He is incapable of being far off, and he is incapable of being uninvolved.

He is with you, and he is for you.

As God breathed His Spirit into dust-Adam and brought about entirely new dimensions of life, so He is eager to breathe into His people today. Seek Him, my friends. There is fresh breath for you.


The Disciple Scroll by Allan Rabinowitz

In 2010, I had the rich blessing to be part of a Down Ancient Paths experience led by my special friend Charles. During our trek through Syria, Jordan, and Israel, we were treated to some of the best guides in the Middle East.  

allanOn a level all his own was a fellow named Allan Rabinowitz. A storyteller extraordinaire, Allan could make mounds of rock come alive, as if ruins whispered their tales into his ears. He has avidly studied the land and the history of Israel for more than 25 years, even hiking large portions of the countryside, including all 1000 KM of the Israel Trail.

But when the “official” tour was done, what Allan really loved to talk about were the Old Testament prophets, specifically Jeremiah. In fact, if one listened long enough, mention might arise of a novel Allan had been lovingly labouring over for years–an historical exploration of the Prophet of Sorrow’s life, as seen through the eyes of his scribe Baruch.  Admiring both Allan’s expertise and passion on his subject matter–and dreaming of writing myself–I asked him questions about his writing process and his plan for publishing.

Upon returning home, I tucked into the back of my mind a note to keep an ear to the ground for Allan’s book down the road.  Re-discovering that note recently, I was pleasantly surprised to finally find Allan’s name on both Amazon (Kindle) and Smashwords (All Sorts of Formats). Apparently, Allan chose to E-publish, meaning you cannot purchase a bound and printed version of his work.

But don’t let that stop you!

(The flip-side is that you can own this treasure for under $4 and read it however you want.)

disciple scrollI just finished the novel and can vouch for its worth.  What a gem!  Even if you’ve never met Allan, you will quickly know that you are reading the work of a gifted storyteller. The days of Jerusalem’s demise at the hands of Babylon come to life in frightening ways, and the life of the prophet Jeremiah becomes vivid like never before as you work your way through these pages.

When I visited with Allan in 2010, he spoke of this novel as if it was the project of his life. So what happens when you take a gifted and passionate individual and then skim off the very best they have to offer over years of their life?

You get something like “The Disciple’s Scroll”.

I hope you will get it!

Coming Clean About Weakness

power-and-weaknessThe following comes from an e-book by Wes Yoder:

One of the most counter-intuitive statements our Lord ever made does not describe very well the day-to-day perspective of almost anyone I know: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinithians 12:9].

Now how about that? We spend our lives telling each other to focus on our strengths, to work in our core skill sets, to dance with the thing that brought us to the party, to perfect our brand, and to protect our image. This is not the beginning of an argument to tell you not to use your strengths, but it is to say [this:]

If you want to see the power of God at work in your life, you’ll have to quit hiding your weaknesses from people and from him — as though you can hide anything long enough to actually get it past God or even the people who know you.

[This teaching] really just means you have to be honest, to deal in truth rather than fiction. This is the requirement of Jesus that scares [the living daylights] out of most Christians.

YOUR TURN: How have you grasped the teaching of God’s power being made perfect in your weakness? What move might a person make today toward living more fully in such promised power?

A Sweet Touch on This Soul

brennan-manningJust over a month ago, Brennan Manning passed away. His was a life (and death) that rippled through those of countless ragamuffins around the globe.

Including me.

In my late teenaged years, I was handed the book “Abba’s Child” by a man I greatly admired. I admit to not completing it, as its message about a true self and false self fell a bit ahead of its time in my young life. A year or two later, I was stunned by the power of “The Ragamuffin Gospel” in describing God’s gracious love toward every one of us. To this day, that is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read.

Several years ago, I posted an audio recording of Brennan sharing a similarly themed message if you want to hear this old saint preaching with fire!

I confess unashamedly that the most vivid descriptions of grace that I have ever heard came through the lips of a recovered alcoholic Catholic priest that I never met.  Tributes to Brennan have filled the internet over the past month. Here are a couple you may wish to be aware of:

A moving excerpt from Manning’s 2011 memoir “All is Grace”.

Donald Miller offers his Reflections on Brennan Manning’s Wrestling Match with God.

Brennan, you were a gem, polished by the roughness of brokenness that lives in us and around us and birthed from the depths of God’s outrageous acceptance of such folks.  You were much loved by one Canadian prairie boy and by one Cosmic Father.


For Those Who Crave Peace

Our view of peace is too small.

peaceWe crave a stillness, a calm where no ripples disrupt.  Something inside us says that this is the goal of life, to arrive at this state: Where nothing further needs doing, where no further climbing remains. Labourers dream of retirement, travelers long for arrival, tomorrow’s promise pulls us through today’s pressure.

In 1658, Miguel de Molinos published a piece entitled, “Spiritual Guide Which Disentangles the Soul”. This Spanish priest eloquently expressed a fundamental task awaiting any who desire God:

“You ought to know that your soul is the center, habitation, and the kingdom of God. That therefore, in order that the sovereign King may rest on the throne of your soul, you should take pains to keep it clean, quiet, void, and peaceable; clean from guilt and defects; quiet from fears; void of sinful affections, desires, and thoughts; and peaceable in temptations and tribulations.”

This advice is hardly rocket science.

Yet it is critically necessary in any pursuit after spiritual vitality.

However, Molinos was aware of the struggle involved in this pursuit, of the failure that we will all taste in the caring for our souls.  To every seeker of God, he goes on to offer these words of comfort:

“Do not be upset or discouraged if you feel fainthearted, for He will return to quiet you, that He may still stir your heart. This divine Lord will fill you and rest in your soul, forming a rich throne of peace. He does this by means of internal recollection and through His heavenly grace, so that within your own heart, you may look for silence in the tumult, solitude in the crowd, light in the darkness, forgetfulness in trials, strength in weakness, courage in fear, resistance in the midst of temptation, peace in war, and quiet in tribulation.”

It is wondrous to consider that God is eager to remain and to reign within our deepest dimensions, spaces which we so struggle to dedicate to Him. Yet He works to grant us some measure of peace. Why? So that He might stir us.

There is a wonderful paradox here.

In our lives, the One who stills one storm is often the same One who summons the succeeding tremors. The One who rescues us from the fire ignites within us a greater blaze than any other. The One who frees us from life-stealing, low-level loves goes on to call us to love Him with a consuming affection.

“For he will return to quiet you, that he may still stir your heart.”

Seek peace for your souls today, friends.  Pursue it in every god-honouring way you can think of.  But do so with an awareness that God will grant it to you with the attached intention of forcefully stirring your heart.

Apparently, our view of peace is too small.

So go ahead and seek it today.  But seek peace with an awareness that the God who grants it will undoubtedly still your soul so that He might stir it mightily!

YOUR TURN: How have you pursued a peaceful soul? Have you a story of how God provided the peace you desired? YOUR COMMENTS MAKE THIS POST BETTER.

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How Great is Our God

How Great is Our GodA year ago, I posted about my intentions for a year’s worth of devotionals from this book. I entered 2012, fully aware that I had never succeeded in utilizing any daily devotional material for the entirety of a calendar year. Yet here I sit one year later, and that statement is no longer accurate.

A few things about this book were satisfying:

1) The readings were kept fresh by the sheer variety of contributors, spanning from church fathers just outside the pages of Acts through every century of Christian history right into significant representation of the last 200 years.

2) It was a pleasure to be introduced to a number of substantial devotional sources which were entirely new to me, and it was powerful to see these saints-through-the-centuries plotted right alongside people that I would consider contemporaries in striving to be Christ’s ambassadors in the world today.

3) Every day was not “mountaintop” inspiring. A handful of selections were documents directed at conflicts or heresies which felt distant from my life today. Others were so heavily rooted in specific historical circumstance that application was difficult to make. But these incidents were certainly the exception, whereas the rule was solid spiritual nourishment far more often than not.

4) The daily entries offering great variety in style, making this piece a great bit more interesting than the often formulaic devotional materials that fill many shelves.  While day-to-day reading could provide significant change-ups in tone and flavour, I found myself basking in the diversity, rather than begrudging it.

I would recommend this book to anyone seeking greater awareness of the wells of faith from which one might draw spiritual nourishment. I intend to let it age on my shelf before pulling it off for another go, a few years down the road.  Oscar Wilde has been quoted as saying, “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

While it seems unlikely that Wilde would have ever picked up this particular book, I can confidently say that by his literature-measuring standard, “How Great is Our God” measures up well.

YOUR TURN: What devotional sources have you used that you’d direct people toward OR away from? What are your plans for 2013?  Your input makes this post better!

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Of One Mind: Christopher Hitchens and Jesus Christ

In his book “With”, Skye Jethani pushes readers to re-imagine the way they relate to God. Hanging his presentation on five prepositions, Jethani observes humanity’s strong inclinations toward four poor paths for God-connection:

1) Life Under God

2) Life Over God

3) Life From God

4) Life For God

Both older brothers and younger brothers, in the language of Luke 15, are represented here. The first and last approaches reveal the elder’s pursuit of righteousness, while the middle pair speak to the younger’s path of rebellion. As the parable teaches, there is more than one way to get lost. As C.S. Lewis said: “One road leads home and a thousand roads lead into the wilderness.” Or as Jethani argues: There are at least four wide paths to God that will not deliver you to that destination. But there remains one narrow path, a leads-to-life lane summarized in these three words: “Life With God”.

There are numerous reasons why I freely recommend this book; however, this post will focus on only one attention-grabbing section:

Voices from within the New Atheism movement, most notably Christopher Hitchens (pictured at left), Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, have leveled numerous criticisms at religion as an strongly negative force in our world. Many of these arguments are based on sentiments of frustration common even to God-lovers. Often, cases are stated forcefully with intellectual sharpness. It is not uncommon for people of faith to feel unsettled by such strong negativity, despite an inner sense that says something like, “I don’t have a satisfying response at this moment, but something in me says that this attack is not entirely accurate.”

Jethani shed light on such moments through the following section:

“Events like 9/11, and the holy finger-pointing that followed, give ammunition to critics of religion like avowed atheist Christopher Hitchens. The Vanity Fair columnist and author of the best-selling book ‘God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything’ makes a compelling case that religion adds to the fear in our world rather than reduces it. But an examination of Hitchens’ critique of religion shows that he is primarily reacting to the Life Under God posture held by many who claim religious labels.

In a debate on the merits of religion with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (a committed Roman Catholic), Hitchens asked, ‘Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs, to appeal to our fear and to our guilt? Is it good for the world?’

Blair responded by noting how religion also motivates many people toward good and charitable actions. He gave the Northern Ireland peace accords as an example. Hitchens pounced on the statement;

‘It’s very touching for Tony to say that he recently went to a meeting to bridge the religious divide in Northern Ireland, where does the religious divide come from? Four-hundred years and more in my own country of birth of people killing each other’s children depending on what kind of Christian they were.’

Hitchens went on to blame religion for blocking peace in the Middle East, for subjugating women in many societies, and for fueling the 1994 genocide in Rwanda–a country where 90% of the population claims to be Christian.

After the debate between Hitchens and Blair, the audience voted; 68% said that religion is a more destructive than benign force in the world.”

One part of me sighs at this point. Another part chimes in, “Yeah, but that isn’t really fair.” However, despite this inner conviction that some key information is being overlooked, I feel unable to respond. What is Hitchens missing?

Jethani clarified it for me: Hitchens’ attack isn’t actually zoomed in on genuine Christianity, as he might think. Rather, his cross-hairs rest on the first mistaken approach listed above: Life Under God. On this front, Jethani concedes:

“It is difficult to squabble with Christopher Hitchens’ evidence that traditional religion fuels violence, bigotry, and oppression, and therefore adds to the fear and suffering in our world. If Life Under God was intended to reduce our fears and provide greater control over our unpredictable world, it has proven to be an utter failure. Any way of relating to God predicated on fear and fighting for control cannot deliver us from what plagues humanity–namely, fear and fighting for control.”

The real twist?

“It may surprise some people, but at times Christopher Hitchens sounds a great deal like Jesus. Like Hitchens, Jesus frequently spoke out against the hypocrisy and harm inflicted by the religious system of his day.”

Yes, you read that rightly.

In at least this regard, Christopher Hitchens and Jesus Christ are of one mind. That said, it intrigues that one laid himself down, confident that the sacrifice would lead others into life, while the other spent himself in critique aimed at discrediting the former. The irony: Jesus is abundantly aware of the pathetic, even downright destructive, approaches that people take to God. He knows these things better than any, and it drove him to blaze a purified path to the Father. As much as Hitchens could observe, he felt compelled to label any path associated with a divine name as damned by default.

Jesus, on the other hand, lay himself down to redeem the wretched and to free the fools–both those shackled by ritualistic righteousness and reckless rebellion.

Along the way, you can be certain that he loves Christopher Hitchens deeply. And about some matters, he even speaks an “amen”.