The Practicality and Reality of Faith

I am always caught off guard when I read about Jesus praying. I shouldn’t be because Jesus is fully human and fully divine but here I am caught off guard again.

I remember that Jesus is God and I can defend that statement but to remember that Jesus is a man that one I struggle with. I struggle with it because it amazes me. I struggle with it because it twists my mind in ways that I don’t have words for. I struggle with it because to remember that Jesus lived as a man does something to my weakness.

There is a part of me that likes to forget that Jesus was a man because forgetting makes my weakness ok. It makes it ok to be weak and self-serving because after all, I am only human. It makes it ok to slip into sin because after all, I am only human. It makes my self-reliance ok because after all, I am only human. But to remember that Jesus was also human and was without sin well that changes things. To remember that Jesus did not rely on Himself but on the Father and the Holy Spirit that takes away my excuses. To remember that Jesus made Himself of no reputation and took on the form of a bondservant (Phil 2) that changes the game.

When you read the Gospels, you will find that Jesus rarely did anything in His own power. Instead, He prayed to the Father trusting and obeying. Instead of going where He pleased, He moved only by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit (see the temptation). Now it would be easy to say that it is different because Jesus is God but again He chose not to rely on His divinity.

Instead of using His omniscience, Jesus spent all night in prayer before choosing the 12 disciples (Luke 6:12). Jesus could have used His infinite power and ability but chose to spend all night in prayer asking the Father for direction. Jesus could have used His command of the whole host of heaven to rescue Him from the band that came to take Him on the night of His crucifixion but instead He chose to submit to the will of the Father. Jesus could have done so much in His own power but instead, He chose to live as a man. The problem with remembering all of this is that He commands us to do the same.

I want to rely on my human weakness and frailty to excuse myself from having to do the things God calls me to do. I want to forget to pray and say it’s ok I am only human, but Christ does not give me that out. In taking humanity and living on earth He not only set an example but demonstrated the practicality and reality of faith (the ability to live that life). Now to be sure He does not expect perfection but at the same time, the excuse for not attempting has been removed.

We are not expected to be perfect, but we are expected to be moving towards the goal of maturity in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We have no out as Christians. We have no safe zone to escape to and no claim to ignorance. We have instead a great high priest who was tempted in every way and was without sin. Again, perfection is not the requirement, but excuses are not allowed. It is a strange thing indeed but yet here we are.

Jesus among many things is our example of the practicality and reality of faith. We must walk as He walked. We walk by the will of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and by faith in Christ. If Jesus prayed and trusted in the power of the Holy Spirit how much more should we?

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Malus Pumila and the Fruit of the Spirit

Today I want to look at the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5. If you grew up in church or if you have kids you have taken to church, you might know the song about how bananas, grapes, apples, and other produce are not the fruit of the Spirit. But before we get to the fruit of the Spirit I want to talk about an actual fruit. This ride might get a little bumpy so hold on…

A malus pumila produces a very specific kind of fruit. There is really no other fruit like it on earth. There are some other fruits that can look kind of like it. Some have similar shapes, and some have similar taste but there is really nothing like the fruit of a malus pumila. Let me try and describe it to you. The fruit of malus pumila is sweet but sometimes a little sour, round, usually red, juicy, firm, crisp, and most of all delicious. I honestly do not eat enough of the malus pumila fruit which is sad because it is readily available being an apple and all.

See I could have just said the fruit of an apple tree (malus pumila) is an apple but by describing it I gave you all its features. I told you what you are getting. When you have an apple you don’t have red, or sweet, or crisp. Instead, you have an apple that is those things. Now taste is somewhat subjective so you might not like apples and that’s OK but I think you get my point – the description is the thing. So, what is the fruit of the Spirit?

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. These are not fruits of the Spirit. There is not a fruit of love, or joy, or peace, and so on. I would argue that there is one fruit and it is Christlikeness. Why would I say this? Simply put because I think God says it.

Romans 8:29 says that we are being conformed to the image of the Son. God’s purpose is to make us more like Christ. That is one reason the Holy Spirit lives in us. We are to walk by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now lives in us. We are to be more like Jesus. 1 John 2:6 says we are to walk as Jesus walked. Jesus walked in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. He walked according the Spirit (Luke 4:1) and so should we.

We should read Galatians 5:22-23 and see a list not of individual fruits to be cultivated but a singular fruit that is a wonderful thing. We should see a list of things that should describe us and things that we are to be. Peter says that we have all we need for a life of godliness in us and this is because the Holy Spirit is in us producing His fruit of Christlikeness which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. If we find that we are short peace for example, we don’t need to pray for the fruit of peace we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and to make us more like Christ in that area. We need to confess our need for Him to continue to produce His fruit. Thinking about the list differently changes it from a list of things I need to do to a list of gifts I can have to make me more like Jesus and that is the goal. Jesus is the prize the descriptions of that fruit are not. If we are just chasing the descriptions, we run the risk of missing the mark and we can quickly fall into legalism. We are empowered by the Spirit by Christ to be more like Christ.

Just a thought,

Mike

Holy Spirit – It or Him?

What is a person? Is the Holy Spirit an “It” or a “Him?” According to theology books, a person is one that has intelligence, emotions, and will and according to Charles Rye since the Holy Spirit has all of these He must be a person. Scripture does not leave room for the Holy Spirit to be anything less than a person. He has intelligence as seen in 1 Cor 2:10-11 where it says that He teaches believers. He has emotions which can be seen the classical example of Ephesians 4:30 where we are advised not to grieve Him. Finally, He has a will which can be seen in 1 Cor 12:11. Throughout the New Testament, and partially in the Old we see that the Holy Spirit is a person. As to why this is important that is akin to asking what is the difference between dating and marriage?

If we think about it from that perspective, we can see that the Holy Spirit being a person means that we are intimately connected to Him and Him to us. He is not a force that we play around with in order to gain something for ourselves but someone that we owe devotion to. R.A. Torrey in his book The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit says we should be asking the question “How can the Holy Spirit get more of me?” If we ask this question with the understanding that He is a person we stop trying to get and start surrendering. If the Holy Spirit is a person and has a will we must submit to that will. If He has emotion, then we must involve feelings into our relationship. If He has intelligence we must seek His guidance. If, however, He is merely a force or a thing then we can date Him continually just trying to get what we want out of the relationship. The problem is we cannot marry an it.

When we move from dating to marriage we submit to the other person. We place their wants and desires above our own. We stop trying to get something from the relationship and seek to give to the other person. We make a commitment to love and serve the other. In our relationship with the Holy Spirit when we move from “it” to “Him” we do a similar thing. We start seeking His ways and want to serve instead of receiving. This is not to say that we marry the Holy Spirit because we are the bride of Christ, but I do not feel the analogy is too farfetched as it pertains to understanding the dynamics of a relationship with a person.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

The Holy Spirit and Glory

I have been thinking about the Holy Spirit a lot lately. From Scripture, we know some things about this third member of the Godhead. For example, we know He gives gifts (1 Cor 12:4-11), we know that there is a baptism of the Holy Spirit, we know that He speaks only truth (John 14:17), we also know that He comforts believers (John 14:16), and on and on. While some debate the ability or manifestation today, we also know from reading the Acts that He empowered the Apostles to perform miracles, signs, and wonders.

We know these things but there is one other thing the about the Holy Spirit that I think, at least for me, is too often overlooked. Namely, that He points back to Jesus.

In John 16 Jesus tells us two functions or ministries of the Holy Spirit. First, He convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Think about that for a second. The one who comforts also convicts. At first, it might seem odd but think about any person you know who is wonderful. Think of someone who is smart, wise, loving, kind, and generous. By their very nature, they seem to convict you of your wrongness. The Holy Spirit is infinitely more wonderful than we know so by His very nature He convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. His light is so bright it makes darkness more apparent.

Second and this where I have been lately, He tells us what He hears and glorifies Jesus. The Holy Spirit constantly points back to Jesus. There is something called Erdman’s Law which in essence says that those who are most filled with the Holy Spirit are the least conscious of it. All they want is to serve Christ. That is because one of the primary functions or ministries of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ. So, it reasons that if He is focused on glorifying Christ then the believer whom He indwells will be focused on that same goal. The believer who has given his life over to the control of the Holy Spirit will be focused on glorifying Christ.

This glorifying has two components. The first is that we lift up and exalt or make known the name and wonder of Jesus in word and deed. The things we do point to the glory and majesty of Jesus. We sing praises to His name and lift Him high. This is done through working in all things as if for Him, in choosing to place His glory and name before ours, and in spreading the good news of His victory over sin and death. This we all know and strive for to some degree or another. However, the second way we glorify Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is by seeking Him in our weakness.

In our weakness and brokenness, we glorify Christ because the Holy Spirit leads us to confess our need for His power. Paul writes in 2 Cor 12:9 that the power of Christ is made known in our weakness. Our inability to perform and calling on the Holy Spirit to help us turn our eyes to Christ is giving glory to Jesus. It is giving glory to Him because it is a confession of His majesty and power. Your brokenness, my brokenness points to the fact that Jesus is able.

If we truly seek to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, then we must not only give over control to Him, but we must align our mission with His. We cannot request the power of the Spirit and expect Him to fall in line with our goals. We must align ourselves with His. His goal is to glorify Jesus and make Him known. As I said we generally know this and think of it as sharing the Gospel and in worship, but can we truly do this in brokenness as well? In our times of weakness, fear, and frailty can we glorify Christ by asking the Spirit to help us turn our eyes to Him?

Just a thought,

Mike

Kingdom of Heaven

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I have been thinking about the Gospel and the kingdom of heaven lately. I know it surprised me too. Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven some 33 times so I think it is kind of important. One commentary defines the kingdom of heaven as “the rule which God exercises through the person, work, and teachings of Jesus.”[1] I think that is a pretty good definition but to go a little further Edward Schillebeekx (no I did not make that up) says the kingdom of heaven is “a process, a course of events, whereby God begins to govern or to act as king or Lord, an action, therefore, by which God manifests his being-God in the world of men.”[2] I think that one is pretty good too. But I would simplify it a little and say the Kingdom of Heaven is God ruling now.

Have you ever heard the expression that some people are too heavenly minded for their own earthly good? I have and to be honest that is how we should live. The problem is that what is meant by that is some people are only looking forward to the after-death part of heaven and not the here and now part. I am not talking about heaven on earth as in everything is perfect but God ruling here and now in us. Jesus coming to earth, living, dying, and being raised again was an invasion. I mean think about it, Jesus came to earth to bring the kingdom of heaven here. He came to bring people out of sin and death and back into God’s kingdom.

We live in this weird now but not yet place of belonging to Heaven but still residing on earth. The kingdom of heaven lives in us and we carry around the kingdom of heaven everywhere we go. The Gospel message is that we can live in that reality of heaven now. Yes, one day when we die we will move there so to speak but we have it now. Right now, at work, at home, even in the car you have the kingdom of heaven because as a Christian you have submitted yourself to Gods rule.

As believers in the resurrected Christ, we live in the reality of this. This is why Peter writes to people and calls them sojourners or pilgrims. We should live heavenly minded but we should understand that it is a destination and position we currently hold.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

[1] HCSB Study Bible

[2]  Schillebeeckx, Edward, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. London: Fount Paperbacks. pp. 140–141.

Praying for gifts

Today I want to talk about the Holy Spirit. There are many things that can be discussed when talking about the Holy Spirit because as an equal member of the Godhead He is holy and magnificent. The Holy Spirit is, along with the Father and Son, the power that raised Jesus from the grave. If you don’t believe me read Romans 8:11, John 10:17-18, and Acts 2:24. When we read Scripture in its totality we get a bigger and better picture than if we just read one part. When we read Scriptures together we start to see a picture develop that we cannot see by reading a verse here and a verse there and so partly that is what I want to do here. Now granted I will be using a verse here and a verse there but that is also the difference between writing about Scripture and a personal Scripture reading. What I think might be helpful is to look at a few things that Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit does or offers.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to speak Acts 1:8; 1:16; 2:4 and so on. The Holy Spirit gives us direction see Acts 8:26 and 13:2. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts see 1 Cor 12:8-11. The Spirit also has fruit for us see Gal 5:22-23. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the ability to confess that Jesus is Lord see 1 Cor 12:3. The Holy Spirit also seals us for salvation see Eph 1:13 and 4:30. Now we could certainly spend an entire post just talking about what the Holy Spirit does and offers but instead, I would like to talk about two specific things – The gifts and the fruit.

This is not meant to be an in-depth talk on either of these things. There is much debate on whether or not the gifts of the Holy Spirit are applicable for the church today and spoiler alert I believe they are but regardless let’s at least look at the ones that are not questioned. Generally speaking, most Christians will agree that wisdom, knowledge, faith, and discernment are active gifts today. That is a long enough list for me right now.

If we look at the Fruit of the Spirit we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I would dare say that all Christians believe this list to be correct and active and while the lists are quite different they do have some things in common.

I have belabored my point long enough so the topic for today is this – Is your praying for the gifts or fruit of the Spirit in vain? Now there are quite a few reasons why it could be in vain. You could have sin in your life that prohibits God from pouring out these gifts and allowing that fruit to be produced. You could simply not actually believe in Jesus as the risen Lord in which case the gifts and fruit are of no use. You could be wasting the gifts and spoiling the fruit you have been given to which no more would be added. Lastly and I think much more common you could be asking for these gifts with the proper context.

First, if we look at the gifts of the Spirit we have again wisdom, knowledge, faith, and discernment which all carry a common thread throughout them. These gifts are mostly for you to use on or with someone else. If you add healing and interpretation of tongues back in the mix we see even more that the gifts are for you to use on or for others.

What good would it be for God to give you a message wisdom if there is no one around to deliver this message to? Yes, you might be built up but for what purpose? What purpose does a message of knowledge have if there is no one in need of that knowledge? Yes, you may receive some insight but to what end? A gift of faith is great to help you get through the situation but lacks any real power without others to receive a bolstering to their own faith or encouraging from it. As to discernment like the others, it has some personal benefit but if you are struggling for discernment that much alone you have bigger problems.

For the gifts to be used to their full capacity you need others to receive the benefit of the gift. So, my question is this, how often are you spending time in community? If you are praying for or simply desire for the gifts are you also in situations that requires the use of them? If not, I think you may pray and desire in vain. James says that often we pray and do not receive because we pray with the wrong motives. We often link this to material prayer requests but could spiritual gifts not also be included here? Do you pray for these gifts so that you may spend them on others? Why pray for something that must be used in community if you do not want to spend time in community? Additionally, if you are not already spending your time in community then would you really spend the gifts of the Spirit in community. If we do not spend what we have freely in community then why would we think God would give us more to spend in community? If you desire the gift of wisdom but refuse to be around people who need wisdom then what good is the gift? If we desire the gift of faith but avoid those who are suffering and need someone to intercede then what good is the gift? I might as well live on a sailboat and pray for a motorcycle. I might receive it but it has no value.

If we desire the gifts of the Spirit and more importantly if we desire the Spirit then we must be in places and with people who need those gifts to be active. This requires us to be around broken and hurting people and the good news is that is all of us. We need to be around each other. We need to be active in each other’s lives. We need others and they need us. They receive gifts to spend on us and us on them and this is the community of the early church. Many times I have heard of people asking how do we live like the early church and I do not think it is living in communes, although I am not necessarily opposed to that idea, it is by allowing their lives to intersect with ours. It is by allowing them to be a part of our lives and by that, I mean an actual part. Not a social media part. Not a snapshot of the happy moments part but an actual part of our ups and downs. A part of our good and bad. It is about being willing to let someone pray for your need and correct your sin. We have to be transparent with one another and often this is painful. We need others to be so involved that they can tell when we need help and when we need correction and we need to be willing to accept both.

Next and naturally I think is the fruit of the Spirit which has another common thread which is that the in order to receive the fruit you need adversity. If we look at the list again it is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and if you notice these gifts all require something to make them useful. To group them might help us save space. Love, joy, and peace require hostility. Love must be shown in action and situation because anything less is only a word. Joy requires a trial for you to remain joyful in. Peace should go without saying but peace requires hardship for you to remain peaceful in. The next grouping would be patience, kindness, and goodness and these require trial. Patience requires you to wait for something. Kindness is only shown when you involved with another person who needs that kindness. Goodness or the quality of being good means you have something that requires that goodness. For the last grouping, we have faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and these require a situation that is not yet complete. Faithfulness means we are waiting and believing for something. Gentleness is the ability to be gentle regardless of the situation. Finally, there is self-control and what use is self-control unless you are being tempted in some way to be selfish and not hold on?

Much like the gifts of the Spirit, the fruit requires and environment to be shown and we should understand that most of the time community will be that environment. Either way, you pray in vain for the fruit if you do not allow situations where hardships and trials can come. If you shut yourself off from community and situations that require you to grow you in a sense refuse the fruit of the Spirit.

 

I for one and am ok with admitting that I need community but it has taken me a long time to get there. I need others to come alongside me and help me grow and mature in my faith. I also realize that in order for me to walk in the gifts that the Spirit has given me I need to be around others to let those gifts be used. This is not hard as it requires sacrifice. It requires time to be spent. It requires you to open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt and you will be. Living in the context of community is one of the hardest and most painful things you can do but I say do it anyway. I am not there, none of us are. As we learn to live in that context God reveals a little more of how we are not doing it and we open a little more. The only way to walk like the first-century church is to walk in the community and I think we can do that.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Modalism? No thank you

I was listening to someone this week and he was talking about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Specifically, he was arguing for a form of modalism that says that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the same person. Modalism if you do not know is the belief that God is one but reveals Himself in three modes or forms (Yahweh, Jesus, Holy Spirit). He was arguing from a few texts in the New Testament and from the Shepherd of Hermas in an attempt to show that the early church including the Apostles ascribed to this belief system. I must say that his argument was pretty good. Well, that is until you actually read the Bible.

One place he argued from was Luke 1:25 where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive the holy one. His point was that it was the Holy Spirit who entered Mary and became the Son of God. He was saying that the Son of God did not exist before the Holy Spirit became the Son. You can pick a few text and try to force this idea but when examined throughout Scripture it does not hold up.

One major problem with modalism is that the Bible does not support it. Conversely, it is my firm belief that the Bible teaches the Trinity. I have argued elsewhere for Jesus’ divinity and the idea of the Trinity but I thought I would offer up just a few short arguments from the Gospel of John as well.

First is from John 14:16-18 where Jesus famously promises the Holy Spirit. More importantly, we can see from this text that Jesus promises that He (Jesus) will ask the Father and He (the Father) will send the Counselor (Holy Spirit). We have the whole Trinity presented here. If Jesus and Holy Spirit are the same person (read homoousion), then I find this statement beyond confusing and just downright weird. Jesus will return to the Father and then ask the Father if He can go back in another form?

But still, maybe I am just reading it wrong however John 14:26 only serves to confuse me more. Jesus here continuing His dialog with the disciples says that the Father will send Him (Holy Spirt) in My name (Jesus) – [He] will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you. It would seem here that Jesus seems to think that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not the same person but three.

Again, maybe I am missing something. Jesus says in John 15:26 that the Counselor (Holy Spirit) will come from the Father at Jesus’ request. In 16:7-10 Jesus says more about the coming of the Holy Spirit and how He (Jesus) will return to the Father. It would seem then that Jesus was a pretty strong believer in the Trinity and an opponent of modalism.

There are things in the Bible that are confusing there is no doubt about that. The Trinity and the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit are at the top of the list of things that are confusing because the concept of an eternal divine being that is three in one is beyond what we can, at least currently, grasp but that does not change the fact that what is being taught is just that.

Paul says that we should be careful not to taken captive by philosophy or empty deceit (Colossians 2:8). We must be diligent that when we hear things that sound off or too fanciful that we consider them and search the Scriptures to see what is actually said. Even everything I just said I expect you to look it up that is why I provide links to verses. I expect you to look them up and read the verses before and after what I say. We must be faithful to search and read the Word of God learning to rightfully divide it. Also, if someone comes at you presenting a form of modalism maybe you are little more prepared now.

Just a thought,

Mike