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.

 

Worth Another Look: A.W. Tozer on the Holy Spirit

Here are a few beautiful portions from one of Tozer’s best-known works:

“A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives. By this test the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as held by evangelical Christians today has almost no practical value at all. In most Christian churches the Spirit is quite entirely overlooked. Whether He is present or absent makes no real difference to anyone. Brief reference is made to Him in the Doxology and the Benediction. Further than that He might well as not exist. So completely do we ignore Him that it is only by courtesy that we can be called Trinitarian….

“…The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life and light and love. In His uncreated nature He is a boundless sea of fire, flowing, moving ever, performing as He moves the eternal purposes of God. Toward nature He performs one sort of work, toward the world another and toward the Church still another. And every act of His accords with the will of the Triune God. Never does He act on impulse nor move after a quick or arbitrary decision. Since He is the Spirit of the Father He feels toward His people exactly as the Father feels, so there need be on our part no sense of strangeness in His presence. He will always act like Jesus, toward sinners in compassion, toward saints in warm affection, toward human suffering in tenderest pity and love.

“It is time for us to repent, for our transgressions against the blessed Third Person have been many and much aggravated. We have bitterly mistreated Him in the house of His friends. We have crucified Him in His own temple as they crucified the Eternal Son on the hill above Jerusalem. And the nails we used were not of iron, but of the finer and more precious stuff of which human life is made. Out of our hearts we took the refined metals of will and feeling and thought, and from them we fashioned the nails of suspicion and rebellion and neglect. By unworthy thoughts about Him and unfriendly attitudes toward Him days without end.”

Quotes are taken from The Divine Conquest (or, God’s Pursuit of Man), pp. 64-75

Word and Spirit

A pastor born in 1935, now with two doctoral degrees, views his life work in this way. You are in here somewhere.

Our premiss is this. It seems to us that there has been a ‘silent divorce’ in the church, speaking generally, between the Word and the Spirit. When there is a divorce, some children stay with the mother, some stay with the father.

In this divorce, there are those on the ‘word’ side and those on the ‘Spirit’ side. What is the difference?

Take those of us who represent the Word. Our message is this: we must earnestly contend for the faith ‘once delivered unto the saints’ (Jude 3), we need get back to expository preaching, sound doctrine such as justification by faith, the sovereignty of God and the internal testimony of the Spirit as taught by men like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. What is wrong with this emphasis? Nothing. It is exactly right.

Take those whose emphasis has been on the Holy Spirit. What is the message? We need to rediscover the power that was manifested in the Book of Acts, there needs to be a demonstration of signs, wonders and miracles; we need to see the gifts of the Spirit operating in the church – that the world will once again take notice of the church so that people are left without excuse. What is wrong with this emphasis? Nothing. It is exactly right.

We believe that the need of the hour is not one or the other – but both! It is our view that this simultaneous combination will result in spontaneous combustion! And then, but almost certainly only then, will the world be shaken once again by the message of the church.

This was the message I have preached over the years at Westminster Chapel in London. This is what we are endeavoring to preach in America and around the world. This is not all we preach but it is certainly one of the main things we preach alongside the need for total forgiveness and learning to be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

YOUR TURN: Where does your spiritual journey fit into this descriptions? What seems accurate about this assessment of Christianity and its message? What seems in accurate?

Leave a reply–your input betters this post!

The Holy Spirit Heals

In Acts 2, we find Jesus’ disciples gathered. The city of Jerusalem is teeming with crowds for the feast of Pentecost, but Jesus’ followers are huddled privately, awaiting the arrival of a promised gift

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.We read that the gathering was interrupted by a wind that rattled their venue. Fire proceeded to appear before them and descend upon them, resulting in the inexplicable ability to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in all the tongues of the known world. Guests to the city were stunned to hear this New-Life message being proclaimed in the dialects of home, wherever home might have been!

Some Bible readers have connected unusual dots in this story.

“Hmm. A story about a crowd of people speaking all the languages of the world. Hmm. I feel like I’ve seen this before.”

TowerBabelWithin the earliest pages of the Bible, we read of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). The story is bizarre for at least a couple reasons: 1) It describes a united humanity setting their sights upon building a tower that would reach the heavens, glorifying them to god-like status.  2) It responds to itself by describing God in a way that appears petty and insecure, as if he felt the need to defend heaven’s borders against the invasion of these ancient architects.

Zooming out from the oddness of either story, one sees a fascinating connection…

Pentecost redeems Babel.

Where diversity (seen in the languages) fractured humanity at Babel, diversity (seen again in languages) depicted God’s unifying of humanity at Pentecost. The Creator who loves diversity and labours for its unity works intensely to bridge gaps, wreck walls, and to execute His all-consuming plan: “to unite all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10).

Babel displays the losses incurred when we are driven by a desire for personal greatness. In ways that we cannot fully grasp, this motivation fragments and divides, actually opposing the universal goals we find at the center of God’s will.

Conversely, Pentecost reveals an image of Christ-centeredness, a wildly submitted desire to see his name spread far and wide based on the conviction that profound blessing and deep life come with him.

Two stories of many mouths speaking many words. Babel’s abandoned tower shows a dust-dry site of no-life-here, despite the sweat and strain spent there. Pentecost invites us into a wind- and fire-charged environment where embracing God’s plan in Jesus Christ releases us into an existence and experience that extends to the ends of the world.

You Must Be Born Again (Part II)

NicodemusIn my LAST POST, we began looking at Jesus’ late-night dialog with Nicodemus (Jn 3). Highly educated and thoroughly trained, Nicodemus came curious about how one could function with the Kingdom Reign of God, of which Jesus spoke so often.

Jesus’ answer: You must be born again.

Nicodemus’ reply: How is that possible?

Jesus’ response: Similarly to how your father impregnated your mother, you must conceive this new life via a fertilization by the Spirit of God.

If this seems abstract, look into the flesh face of someone. The offspring around the planet are your proof. You have come forth from the union of your father and mother, and you likely look the part!  Animals produce appropriate offspring; plants produce seeds to match. THIS begets THIS; THAT begets THAT.  Flesh begets flesh, and spirit begets spirit. (Jn 3:6)

So what would it take to produce a man or woman tightly tuned to the voice and moves of God?

What would be required to create a man or woman filled from and fueled by the infinite well of wisdom, grace, and love?

What would be necessary to bring forth a man or woman whose life had such substance as to send ripples through the spiritual realms?

That requires a work of the Holy Spirit, nothing less. In this sense, rebirth is not optional but rather non-negotiable. (Jn 3:7)

The Wind Blows

wind-blowingAfter speaking of the womb, Jesus moves to the wind. Those who live on the Canadian prairies know wind more than most. Yet even to us, Jesus says that this oh-so-familiar wind is filled with mystery. We may feel it and see its effects, but we are clueless to its origin or destination.

I used to think that Jesus was comparing the wind to the Spirit.

But he is not.

What he says is: “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn 3:8).” The wind’s mysterious nature speaks to the mysterious nature of those who live Spirit-filled lives.

As is the wind, so is the man or woman born of the Spirit.

You may have met such a man or woman. Their faith was alive in a way that was noticeable. A fire burned in them, but the blaze could not be accounted for by merely scanning their resume. Considering the sum of parts like personality, background, education, and experiences failed to square the equation. Some immeasurable force was involved. Something beyond calculation was blowing in this life.

The Spirit is that wind.

How Can This Be?

Nicodemus is struck dumb by this teaching: How can these things be?  Can it be that Jesus is right to speak of a realm far beyond ritual and regulation? Is divine fertilization really the game-breaker for our transformation and entry into Kingdom life?

Jesus’ answer: You’d better believe it!

In fact, Jesus now marvels (Jn 3:9-10). Is it possible that a teacher of God’s people does not grasp this truth that the Spirit alone births new creation?  The one who should be blazing trails for others and shining forth a guiding light is mystified by the vital and basic truth that the Spirit is front and center to the whole journey.

There is no question that God desires every redeemed life to be a model and an inspiration. There is no doubt that He wants every church to play such a role in their settings.  If we are play this part, it will be necessary to grasp one truth with two hands.

The Spirit Births

The Holy Spirit births life.

It is He who breathes it and brings it forth. The salvation of our city will not hinge on the number of our programs or quality of our preaching. The redemption of our region will not hang on our facility size or worship styles.  Of course, we are to strive for excellence in what we do as a church; less would be lazy.  And lazy would be unfaithful.

But more than exerting efforts, there is need to submit ourselves to the Spirit that churns under every surface.

Begin to attend to His movements in your little life, then stretch that attention to consider His movements in the little lives around yours.

Plead for stronger winds, tornado-force gusts capable of blowing down or tearing up the walls we build to take refuge from the Sheltering One.

Ask for spiritual fertilization and for healthy pregnancies. We do not want miscarriages or stillbirths on God’s work in our lives. We wish to see His wonders brought to term and maturing to multiply and fill the earth.

How It Is

factJesus closes the conversation (Jn 3:11) with Nicodemus by declaring that this view is not an opinion. Jesus is not hazarding a guess at how things work. He describes himself as a witness speaking of first-hand knowledge, perfect and complete.

He even says that it is not just HE who knows this, it is WE. Apparently, his followers are having firsthand experiences with the ways of the Spirit. They are tasting the wonder of rebirth for themselves.

I am praying today for you, my friends, that a similar sampling is being delivered into your homes and churches as well, even this very moment.

YOUR TURN: What have been your key takeaways from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus? How do you grasp the process of “being born again”?

Losing Faith (Part V): Invaded by an Uninvited One

This post is the fifth in a series on Losing Faith. All previous posts can be seen HERE, if context might prove helpful.

Somewhere near the end of our time overseas, we were home to visit. I must have been expressing some aspect of my changing perceptions on the Christian life. My slightly-older, significantly-wiser friend responded with a question.

O_Come_Holy_Spirit_by_LordShadowblade1“You’re not a cessationist, are you?”

The term felt awkwardly unfamiliar upon my ears, and my face must have said so. He clarified.

“You don’t believe the gifts of the Spirit ended with the New Testament, do you?”

For the first time, my mouth stated with my spirit had long sensed.

“No, I guess I don’t.”

This confession surely sent a unseen tremor through my tightly-wrapped-in-rationalism faith—a suspect form of faith, if there ever was one.

A Spiritual Sprinkling

Far more recently, it has dawned on me that my past version of a “Christian worldview” was actually a thoroughly naturalistic view, with a side order of God. According to Wikipedia, “naturalism commonly refers to the viewpoint that laws of nature (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe.”

abstract-word-cloud-for-naturalism-with-related-tags-and-termsMy particular version of naturalism was more personal in nature than Wikipedia’s. I have always been suspect of evolution as an adequate theory of how life originated, and I have long voiced that life’s richest realms are (relationships, art, love, dreams, morality, emotions, and more) fall somewhere beyond the horizons reached by verifiable facts.

My naturalism was a mutant.

I was convinced enough that God was real that He HAD to be part of my diagram, but I had no idea how to position the I AM within my tidy sketch.  So I simply placed Him on the fringe, where He wouldn’t mix up the other pieces.

And He had grown tired of that treatment.

Breaking Me by Breaking Free

In short, I have been forced, by a growing list of experiences and encounters, to acknowledge that my largely logical and rooted-in-reason approach to life is an insufficient processor for the reality in which I live. Its substance is too superficial, and it lacks the weight to grapple with life as I now know it. My former framework held fast so long as God respected my boundaries and operated within the office I had set up for Him. When He began to interact intimately with me and to surprise me through the lives of better-tuned instruments than myself, profound paradox unfolded. Logic imploded upon itself, as I was forced to admit my irrational inconsistencies, surely ever-present but now painfully exposed.

God of the Emoticon

In light of recent revelation, it would be intellectually irresponsible to insist upon the validity of my long-held worldview.

God has revealed Himself as undeniably present. In a shocking twist, the Supernatural invaded my naturalistic worldview, the world view that handed Him a long list of all He could not do.

In response, He has broken the door’s hinges with a one-line declaration: “Your naturalistic view is not nearly naturalistic enough, for it fails to handle life as you now know it. You will recalibrate, or your head will blow up and your spirit will bellow against you. But it’s your choice, right? Because you’re so in charge of what’s real and what’s not. ;-)”

(Yes, God used a winky emoticon.)
Imagine the unsettling nerve!

God showed up in ways that I could not explain and began threatening a cozy worldview, which had safe—and harmless—spots reserved for Him.

I have not simply lost my long-held faith; it was ripped from my hands!

 

Losing Faith (Part IV): A Bike and a Breath

This post is the forth under “Losing Faith”. They can easily be seen together HERE.

china-map303Upon graduation from seminary, my wife and I headed to Central China to be English teachers within a medical college. In retrospect, we have no doubt of the divine designs upon that season of life. Before we even began asking for His leading, God was silently setting a course upon which we were already walking. A one-year adventure evolved into a three-year residency, during which the Middle Kingdom became our training ground on living as residents of the Highest Kingdom. Beyond travel opportunities and delicious (and dirt-cheap) food, the years provided us with a wonderful marriage foundation, as we were forced to bond unusually tightly with home’s support systems and comforts stripped away. What a gift!

The highlight, however, was undoubtedly a special group of friends that developed. We worshiped together and studied together, and both Scripture and spiritual life opened anew for me during this span. We discovered hungry hearts to pour ourselves into, and spend ourselves upon.

By the end of the year two, I recall a real weariness.

Beyond Tired

More than a lack of sleep or energy, it felt deeply spiritual. My soul was tired. My well was drained to such an extent that refreshing seemed like fantasy. So intense was the sensation that I could hardly remember a feeling other than dry. Almost physically, I could perceive a shallowness of breath, a constricted cavity at the core of my being.

Guangxi Province ChinaSeeking rest, we booked ourselves to escape to our favourite Chinese getaway for the one-week May holiday. The countryside of Guangxi brings me pleasure; with its right-out-of-the-paintings hills scattered amongst picturesque rice fields, this countryside of terraced land and winding rivers is unusually beautiful. And there is no better way to get lost in those inviting surroundings than to rent a bicycle and take the first exit off the highway.

Praying Poorly

On this particular day, we departed down a dirt path which was familiar from an earlier trip. The May sun was hot, and I recall a healthy sweat as I exerted myself to pull away from the group of bikers. When the gap was significant, I stopped to wait. With feet on ground and head on handlebars, I prayed. It may have been my tenth prayer or hundredth prayer thousandth prayer. For weeks, I had weakly expressed the weakness in which I found myself. I had asked for life, though my prayers were neither bold nor confident. So on this dusty road, with sweat dripping off my nose, I reservedly placed one more grain of sand on the scales of prayer, a confession that I had no life within myself. Either God would renew me, or I would remain as I was. This had been the prayer on my lips for months, and I was well into wondering whether God was listening at all.

He Was

And that’s when it happened.

There was no warning, no dramatic build. The difference between the previous moment and the upcoming moment was unobservable, but the difference between the two was undeniable.

breatheA breeze.

A gentle breeze.

It cooled my skin, and then it kept going. Penetrating me, the wind appeared to gain access to my depths. Like water through cracks, this breath poured through the gaps of the dry broken shell in which I had been dwelling. Physically, I could perceive a lightening and an expanding. I was breathing more deeply, and my lungs where the least of the participants.

I dared not lift my head or look for my companions. The moment unfolding was clearly sacred, and I would not disturb it.

Recalling the event still ignites the memory with vividness. It was the first time I stared a miracle in the face, and what a faith-damaging miracle it was.

Apparently, the eternal Spirit of God, the same One credited with calming chaos at Creation, was still stirring and breathing in places that were void and empty. And if that were true, then the faith that I had carefully constructed was hopelessly hampering my interactions with Him.

For this fellow, a sweat was the least of what was breaking in the sticks of China that day. A sacred Wind had Jericho-ed my well-constructed walls, and a long-held faith was slipping through my fingers as subtly as its assassin had approached me on that unmapped dirt road.

My faith was being lost.