Category Archives: Scripture

Loving Your Enemy or Arming Yourself?

As the details of the mass-shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, we learned that the killer was targeting Christians. This comes only a few month removed from another mass-shooting where the killer targeted Black Christians at an AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, though racism was the motive in this mass-shooting. Added to all of this is the continued conflicts in the Middle-East and the threat of terrorism, especially the horrific persecution of Christians at the hands of ISIS.

All of that creates a lot of anxiety and I get that. It’s scary to think that a disturbed person might show up where you study or work, or where you worship, and shoot you simply because you are a Christian. It’s even scarier to know that there is a group or terrorists who would like to kill you, or someone like you and do so by cutting off your head or burning you alive. Yet if we allow that anxiety to brew, all kinds of dark emotions and desires take hold. And as we know, fear has been the base of much evil throughout history. Shouldn’t we just wish death upon such people and do everything we can to support taking them out before they get us?

Two Different Responses

Jesus ministered in a time and region filled with more anxiety than we’ll likely ever grasp. The Roman rulers had proved themselves as ruthless in dealing with their political enemies and the Jewish people were among those enemies. Yet within one sermon about the way of life we must live, Jesus says this in Matthew 5:43-45,

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven…” 

I know this is not an easy teaching but it’s not an impossible teaching either.

Too often this passage is caught in the middle of the ethical question about whether followers of Jesus can act in defense if they or someone they see is being attacked by an assailant. I understand the importance of this issue but I also think it often keeps us from seeing something profoundly important about this teaching.

Jesus is teaching us to see the enemy differently and treat the enemy differently! When people decide that we are their enemy and plot to do us harm, our instinct is to their level of evil and return the hatred. We do so by plotting how we might do to them as they would do to us. If they want to attack us, we’ll send an army to take them out before they get the opportunity. But Jesus, who defines for us by his own self-sacrificial life of service what is means to love, wants us to see the enemy as a person just like us in order that we will seek their best interest by doing good to them. By doing good to all people, even those who hate us, we participate with God in demonstrating what the inbreaking kingdom-reign of God is like. That, my fellow Christians, is why this difficult teaching is later echoed by both the apostle Paul and apostle Peter (Rom 12:14; 1 Pet 3:9).

How different is that from the advise offered by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Tennessee who, after invoking the mass-shooting in Oregon, urged Christians who are serious about their faith to get a gun. He went on to say, “Our enemies are armed. We must do likewise.” How different is that from what Jesus says! Lt. Gov Ramsey is telling is to see those who may harm us as the enemy rather than as a person like us, who bears the same image of God we bear. Invoking fear rather than encouraging faith, he is telling us that if someone is plotting to kill us then we should plan ahead by arming ourselves so that we might kill them in order to protect ourselves.

This is more than just reacting defensively in the moment, should we ever find ourselves under attack. What Lt. Gov Ramsey is telling us to do is decide now that we are going to respond with deadly force, doing harm in order to protect ourselves from potential harm. How different that is from how Jesus teaches us to live? How different is that from the disciples in Jerusalem who, when faced with a threat, did not discuss how they might arm themselves for protection but came together and prayed that would perform signs and wonders while empowering his servants to preach the gospel with boldness (Acts 4:23-31)?

Arming Ourselves!

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not under any illusion that following Jesus is easy, especially when it comes to loving the enemy. It’s not easy and it won’t ever be easy. It could be the way we are called to be a martyr for Jesus, just as it has been for other Christians throughout history. But that is why we must speak with boldness now and remind each other of this important teaching, so that we will encourage faithful discipleship if and when the road does get rough. Should I ever encounter someone doing harm to others, I won’t stand by and do nothing. I pray that I would have the courage to intercede as Chris Mintz did during last weeks shooting, putting himself in harms way to save others. I’ll assume you would do the same. But I won’t resign myself to hating those who hate me and preemptively plotting how I might kill them before they kill me.

We must reject fear and accept faith! If we’re going to live faithfully as followers of Jesus then we must resist any premeditated plan to categorize evil people as our enemy with the intention of doing them harm in order to protect ourselves. To do otherwise is to disembody the gospel, rejecting the way of Jesus when it appears too difficult. What we need is more faith… more faith in Jesus. So on that note, I do agree with one tiny aspect of what Lt. Gov. Ramsey said and that is that Christians should arm themselves. We should arm ourselves by putting on the full armor of God — the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God — and praying we are instructed in Ephesians 6:10-20.

As Scandalous As It Ever Was

If the grace of God were only about our own personal salvation, it would be easy. But when we are called to extend grace to others, especially whose sins are offensive to us, anger us, and disgust us, it becomes very difficult. Speaking to the elders of the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul insisted that his only aim was to speak truthfully or “testify to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). But what Paul had in mind was preaching a message that included both Jews and Gentiles. There’s the rub. That’s what made the grace of God scandalous then and it still remains as scandalous as it ever was.

When It All Comes Crashing Down

Growing up my younger brother and I loved watching wrestling, especially the Saturday Night Main Event where Hulkamania was sure to run wild on you. Hulk Hogan, with his 24-inch biceps and legions of Hulkamaniac fans, was the attraction. With great charisma and a good-guy persona, The Hulckster, as he was sometimes referred to, went on to have not only one of the most celebrated careers in wrestling entertainment and but an amazing career beyond the squared ring. Pretty good for one man, whose real name is Terry Bollea.

But that all came crashing down earlier this year when a secretly recorded video tape from 2006 was released that captured Hogan talking about his daughter dating a black man, using the N-word. Immediately Hogan became a cultural pariah, having committed what the American culture deems as a horrifically shameful sin. The backlash was swift as the wrath of culture’s judgment was meted out which included being fired from the WWE, the wrestling organization he helped turn into premiere franchise of its industry, who quickly put as much distance between the two of them as possible.

To be clear, what Hogan said was wrong and totally unacceptable! Using words that demean people for their race shows us just how much damage sin can do. Not only can sin have terrific consequences for our own life, it hurts others too and leads to anger, animosity, and deep divisions. But for someone who has apologized, the extension of grace is still unfathomable. Instead, with a few exceptions, the culture that we are has basically said with our judgment that Hogan is beneath us… what he has done is despicable and unbecoming of us, as though we ourselves have never done anything shameful and wrong.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I am neither trying to mitigate the wrong that Hulk Hogan did nor defend his response. When anyone does wrong,  repentance is necessary and the very least, apologies should be offered for any harm done. However, the culture at large is a place where there are certain sins for which we distance ourselves from the guilty offender as though we are somehow better. To offer any kind of grace that would give the person a second-chance, a new start on life, is so unfathomable that it’s scandalous!

A Deep Theology of Grace

Contrast that with the theology of God’s grace that Paul is so adamant on testifying about. In Romans, Paul was writing to a church of Jewish and Gentile believers. The problem is that the Jewish believers were looking down upon the Gentiles, pointing to their shameful sins, while claiming superiority because they has the law of God which meant they belonged to God’s covenant and has circumcision as a sign of this position. But Paul will have none of that! He reminds this church that they all are sinners and are justified by God through faithfulness of Christ. In turn, Jewish and Gentile believers alike now live by their faith, of which the patriarch Abraham is an example of.

That is Paul’s argument in Romans chapters 1-4 and because of this grace, Paul unequivocally says, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1). So these sinners, who are both guilty of very shameful acts, are not only “made righteous” (justified) but they are at “peace with God.” How can God just forgive such sinners and just set aside the wrong they have done? It’s a good question to ponder because it’s not just those sinners… those Jewish and Gentile believers whom God has made righteous? It’s us! By faith, we too are Justified and it is because Jesus died “for us” (5:8).

But this grace is even deeper. Paul says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God though the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (5:10). Let me point out two things out about this passage:

  1. The word for “enemies” is from the adjective ἐχθρός which in the active (provided by the present-participle “being” verb ὄντες) sense describes someone who is hostile and opposing to God. In other words, while we were actively opposing God with our sin, God reconciled us through the death of Jesus. We might say that while we slapping God in the face with our sin, God reconciled us. 
  2. Verse 10 is also a rhetorical argument about salvation. Paul is saying that if God reconciled us through the death of his Son while we were actively being hostile to God, even more then will we be saved by the life of Jesus. In other words, if God reconciled us even as his enemies, then we can be confident that he will save us in Christ.

This is the grace of God! This is how God responds to us, who are sinners. He extends his grace, justifying us and reconciling us so that we are assured of our salvation in Christ. That is also the basis for which we can extend grace and mercy to others because we know that even as we were enemies of God, he extended his grace to us.

An Ever Relevant Message

We live in a culture whose capacity for any sort of grace seems to be shrinking. Commit any certain number of sins that our culture deems outrageously unacceptable and wrath of a public culture is unleashed, just as it was for Hulk Hogan. Grace is as scandalous as it ever was. It was when Paul wrote Romans and it is today. Why? Because the culture at large doesn’t believe that scandalous people deserve forgiveness and a second chance.

Not so with God and not so with his people, the church. As scandalous as the grace of God may be, it remains more than ever relevant. What a message for every local church to embody, to be a community where nobody looks upon another because we all know that we are a sinner as much as the next person… knowing that just as God has extended his grace to us, we must extend the message of grace in the way we speak and treat one another.

The grace of God is as scandalous as it ever was but if you get it… What a beautiful scandal to be caught up in!

Seeking With The Spirit

I’ve been writing some on how a local church lives as a community animated by the Holy Spirit. That naturally raises the question of how does this happen and, as I said in another post, that begins with repentance. Yet that is only where a church begins. There is more…

Two Modern Church Practices

Growing up as a child, there were two practices of the church that need mentioning here.

  1. Men’s Monthly Business Meetings. These meetings were open to any male member of the church and by that, I mean any baptized male. So at age nine, after being baptized, I was considered a man of the church and was asked to attend where I would vote along with the other men on any and all decisions. That’s right.. vote. Each meeting proceeded according to Robert’s Rules of Order because it was a business meeting. Whether the issue was buying a church van, giving support to a missionary, or else, as long as all the details appeared fiscally responsible, then a motion would be made, seconded, and approved by vote — democracy at its best.
  2. Monthly Congregational Singing. These singings we’re joyous occasions because I liked to sing and there wasn’t any sermon (how ironic now that I’m a preacher). Everyone present would name a hymn request and then the men capable of leading a hymn would take turns leading the requested hymns. Each singing would begin and end with the customary opening and closing prayers, and occasionally someone might read a passage of scripture but the primary reason for gathering was to sing hymns.

Now you are asking yourself, “Rex, what did these business meetings and congregational singings have to do with the church living as a community animated by the Spirit?” My answer is that they didn’t! Yet these practices were highly valued by the church of my youth and still are valued in some churches.

Why does this matter? Because when we read through the book of Acts about the beginning of the church, we don’t find the community of Christians engaged in either such practices. That’s not to say that they never came together to make decisions or to engage in worship through singing hymns… they surely did but the prioritized other practices that have been given very little priority among many churches today.

Two Ancient, Yet Relevant, Practices

There are two practices of the earliest Christians that need mentioning which are vital for churches discovering today how the Spirit seeks to lead them:

  1. Table Fellowship. This is a smaller gathering of Christians in a home around the table enjoying a meal together where everyone can engage in each other’s life. It is a time and place where deeper and more meaningful conversation about how God is at work in each other’s lives, how the scriptures bear upon each other’s lives, and how each person can lovingly encourage one another to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is one powerful way in which the Holy Spirit, who dwells among each believer, works to reveal what must be done in order to participate in the mission of God.
  2. Prayer. This practice is rooted in the profound belief that Christians are incapable of embodying the gospel based on their own strength. On their own, fears and temptations will have mastery over them. But by creating space and committing time for prayer — whether it’s for family facing personal challenges, someone having an evangelistic conversation with a co-worker, the church seeking a bold vision for engaging the neighborhood, and so on — the church turns to the Sovereign Lord who, in a mysterious manner, gives power through the Spirit to overcome with faithful witness.

Part of the challenge in recovering these ancient practices is overcoming vulnerability and humility. You see as long as Christians only gather in large assemblies for worship, preaching/teaching, and fellowship better known as potluck meals, there will likely never be any deep engagement of life seeking participation in the mission of God. That’s because such engagement requires vulnerability and that is more likely to happen as believers gather for table fellowship. Similarly, as long as a church thinks it only needs to maintain its current way of life, believers will never come together for a committed time of prayer.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m all for gathering as a collective group for worship where the church can sing, read scripture publicly, here that scripture preached, etc… but that alone is insufficient. It’s very passive and doesn’t require much. Plus, few Christians really want to stand up in such large gatherings and say, by way of example, “I’m struggling to get along with my new neighbors of a different race and religion, what might I be doing wrong? Could you help me and pray for me that I might better love them as my neighbor?”

When we read though Acts, we read of a movement of Jesus followers who were committed to table fellowship and prayer, among other practices. Because they were committed to such practices, they were able to discern the work of the Spirit among them and live a life animated by the Spirit. Such commitments helped them when they had to make decisions such as who should replace Judas (cf. Acts 1:12-26), which seven servants should be appointed to care for the ministry of the widows (cf. Acts 6:1-6), and even when faced with a decision regarding what the gospel requires of Gentile believers (cf. Acts 11). Such commitments drew them immediately into prayer when they realized that the opposition the apostles were facing (cf. Acts 4:23-31). Neither coming together to make a decision or for corporate prayer was the response of democratically human power but the seeking of God at work through his Spirit so that these followers of Jesus might embody the gospel faithfully and continue participating in the mission of God.

A Final Word

Beyond the Sunday gatherings of public worship and fellowship, every local church needs believers who are committed to table fellowship and prayer. That means someone making their home available, inviting a few others over, and taking the lead so that the time is spent purposefully engaged in life and the work of God, where time can be spent in prayer. This is where the Spirit begins cultivating organic change that will undoubtably not only enhance the Sunday gatherings but also lead to organized change as the church discerns how the Spirit is empowering them to live as a faithful yet contextually relevant embodiment of the gospel among the local community.

So what say you?

The Blessing of True Freedom

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins by saying, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While American’s regard this statement as gospel truth, that which serves as the foundation for American life, Christians should recognize that this statement itself is misunderstood and incoherent.

Let’s assume for argument sake that the Creator spoken of is the God we read of in the Bible. Of course, the moment we make such assumption is the moment we have a problem with the American ideal of freedom. That’s because the idea of autonomy in which we, as creation, are free to live independently from our Creator is wrong. Yet, this is exactly the course in which America has pursued freedom from the beginning. The very next line of the Declaration of Independence reads, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” In other words, the so-called self-evident truths of life, liberty, and happiness, are secured and sustained by human self-governance. Yet since we are speaking about truths that are allegedly endowed by the Creator revealed in the Bible, when we turn back to that creation story we find a very different perspective regarding creation and freedom.

Retracing Our Beginning

In the Genesis creation narrative, we learn that we are created in the image of God and not only given rule over the rest of creation but also told to multiply (cf. Gen 1:26-31). The purpose here is about participating with God in caring for his creation with such stewardship that creation flourishes and grows as God desires.

However, God is not a dictator who will force himself upon us who bear his image. Instead he gives us much freedom, including the freedom to make our own way — which we have done to our own peril. But this freedom was never meant as autonomy. God told us in the garden that we were free to eat of every tree except this strange tree known as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (cf. Gen 2:15-17). That’s because knowing good and evil, becoming the judge of what is right and what is wrong, belongs to the Creator whose knowledge and wisdom is so expansive and just that it is beyond the comprehension of creation. Our role was to work with God caring for his creation, remaining dependent upon Creator to sustain life.

Yet that is not how the story unfolds. We were told the original lie, that we could become just like God. So rather than living dependent upon our Creator for life, we sought independence by eating of that one tree and trying to become like God in order that we might gain his knowledge and forge ahead as autonomous creation (see Gen 3). The results weren’t nearly what we expected, as we became fearful of one another and so preoccupied with ourselves that we were willing to kill one another in order to try preserving our existence.

The Original Lie Continued

Fast forward many, many years into the relatively short existence that America has forged for itself. The great thing about bearing the image of God is our capacity build a suitable life for ourselves. With some notable exceptions, America has done just that. However, Americans have also bought into the original lie and believed that freedom is human autonomy, choosing to live independent of our Creator. This idea of human autonomy in America is pushed even farther, expressed as individualism. Under the rights of the constitution, each individual is free to live as they wish so long as it doesn’t cause any harm to another person (and even that qualifier is inconsistent).

This idea of American freedom is deceptively attractive because it appears to work so long as everyone has the same basic values and moral framework. However, somewhere in the middle of the twentieth-century the homogeneity that existed in America, that was maintained by a largely White power-class, began disappearing. Rather than any single culture defining who Americans are, the nation is comprised of many cultures. However, since the foundation of American freedom is anchored in human autonomy, meaning that every individual is free to express themselves as they see fit, there isn’t any higher authority what is right or wrong. Any appeal to God or some other type religious authority is immaterial to a nation who has charted a course of freedom based on human autonomy.

Jesus and the gospel he brings is the truth that sets us free… from the original lie which enslaves us…

While secularists may laud what appears as progress to them, this notion of autonomous individual freedom is now descending into chaos that is ultimately unsustainable. For example, in Missouri, a transgender student with male anatomy insists that his/her freedom to identify and dress as a girl should allow her to change clothes in the girls dressing room, which does not sit well with other students and parents (understandably so). Elsewhere across America, in what should be painfully obvious, we have a problem with gun-related violence yet any talk of considering new laws that would place more restrictions on certain types of guns and implement more regulation upon gun ownership is opposed by lobbyists trying protect the individual rights of gun owners. And then there is the story of Kim Davis, a clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky who has been jailed for refusing to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples even though same-sex marriage is now legal. I’m not trying to take sides on either of these examples, I’m just pointing out the chaos that the American idea of freedom is descending into.

The Gospel and Human Freedom

The idea of American freedom, autonomous individual human independence, is imploding. I’m far from being even close to being an amateur expert on Friedrich Nietzsche but America is certainly beginning to look a lot like the Nietzschean will to power. Unfortunately, there are too many Christians who believe in the American idea of freedom and champion the idea as though it is from God. It’s not! As we have seen, if we take the biblical story seriously, our freedom was never intended as human autonomy and it never will be. Jesus and the gospel how brings is the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32) but that freedom is freedom from the original lie which enslaves us — the notion that we can live independent of God. So through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God sets us free again by reconciling us to himself and each other as one new creation. This new life in Christ, says the apostle Paul, is the freedom to live life by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:11-26).*

Can we see the truth? Rather than individual autonomy, our life in Christ, which is lived by the power of the Spirit, is a communal life lived under the reign of God and that happens in the church of Jesus Christ. In particular, it happens in the local church which is a community that God places us among. This is where we learn how to live as new creation, participating with God in his mission of restoring life so that it may flourish as he has created life for and celebrating this life to the glory of God. Yet as long as the American story of individual autonomy is the story that shapes our imaginations, we will continue absorbing the gospel into the American story. This is why we must hear the gospel told scripture (particularly preaching and teaching) and Christian tradition, though baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and by engaging in the gospel as we gather together for worship, fellowship, and ministry. This is how we are formed to live as an embodiment of the gospel, as a living reality of what is true and what is true freedom!

May we receive the blessings of God and learn to live freely in Christ by the power of the Spirit!


* I’ll return to writing specifically about the way in which local churches learn to live by the power of the Holy Spirit with my next post.

Moving With The Spirit

Last Friday I published a post titled Animated By The Holy Spirit, which was an updated version of an older post. The point of the post was to state why I believe that the Holy Spirit is essential for the local church’s participation in the mission of God and mention two guiding convictions I have regarding the work of the Spirit. My friend Amy commented “…how do congregations begin to rely more on the Spirit and less on their traditions? I get prayer but I wonder if the Spirit can even work if we have other objects to over come.” So I want to write more about how how our churches are animated by the power of the Holy Spirit over several posts and I’ll begin with what has to change for us to see where the Spirit is leading.

Repentance Is So Much More

Repentance! It’s a word very familiar to our Christian vernacular but perhaps too familiar. We often think of repentance as turning away from whatever ungodly ways we lived in the past, meaning that we are not indulging in immoral and destructive behaviors any more. To say it sort of sarcastically, repentance, we think, means saying goodbye to the endless summer nights of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. There’s a lot of truth to that but in truth, the call to repentance is so much more.

When Jesus began his public ministry and Peter later preached the gospel on the Day of Pentecost, both called for repentance. Jesus called the people to repent and believe the good news of the inbreaking kingdom of God (cf. Mk 1:14-15) and Peter echoed this call with even a stronger sense of urgency since God had raised the crucified Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord and Messiah (cf. Acts 2:36-39). But what we often miss is that on both occasions, this call for repentance was issued to the Jewish people who were already religiously devout people seeking to live righteous lives. And yet… they still needed to repent. Jewish nationalism, religious traditions, and contempt for the Gentiles blinded them to the work of God among them and they needed to let go and become followers of Jesus.

Now hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise to you but spiritual blindness is not a disease that has disappeared. As local churches and as individual Christians, we are capable of becoming blind to the ways in which God is at work. Consumerism, traditionalism, politics, careers and personal ambitions, and even a lifeless apathy towards the gospel are ways that obscure the kingdom of God so that it remains hidden from our eyes and ears (cf. Lk 8:9-10). This must change… We must repent!

We Pledge Our Allegiance…

Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost challenges and invites us to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” assuring us that not only will our sins be forgiven but that we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (cf. Acts 2:38). Now here is the important caveat that goes overlooked to often: Peter is telling us to pledge our allegiance to the Lord, Jesus the Messiah! Join the movement, follow Jesus and receive the gift of the Spirit that animates our life together and enables us to move with the Spirit as participants in the mission of God. That’s the invitation and challenge.

But… Moving with the Spirit requires change! That’s what repentance is. It is changing, letting go of whatever other commitments we have and living, not as consumers of religion or just good church-going Christians, but as passionate followers of Jesus participating in the mission of God. As Christians, who presumably have already been baptized, that means remembering our baptism… remembering that given our allegiance to Jesus.

By remembering our baptism and living as people committed to Jesus and aligned with his kingdom, we learn to see and hear where God is working among us and how the Spirit is animating us for participation in that work. Then we are moving with the Spirit and learning to move with the Spirit.

Following Jesus Together

Let’s not kid ourselves and think that this is an easy thing to do. Even Peter, when told to not regard as unclean what God had made clean, struggled to move with the Spirit (cf. Acts 10). So I assume we will as well. This is why we need our Christian community and particular people who will speak the truth to us, challenging us to see what we are struggling to see… to see where God is trying to lead us through the Holy Spirit.

God can and will certainly speak through the hymns and liturgy of worship as well as through the reading and preaching of his word. God can even speak in a dream if he so chooses (far be it for any one of us to tell God in what ways he can and cannot work!). However, God’s normal way of working seems to be through people who themselves are moving with the Spirit. God is working through you and I, if we are aligned with him. So when we encounter Christians who are placing things like traditions above participating in the mission of God, we must have the courage to lovingly but boldly call for repentance.

A lot of this has to do with leading missional renewal among our local churches which is so necessary. However, rather than expecting an entire church to change at once, renewal will happen as we, along with a few others from our church, begin to reimagine what it looks like to follow Jesus together. As we learn to embody the gospel in new ways, we become a breath of new life that God uses to bring renewal and change within the church overtime as we move with the Spirit. So if you find yourself among a church that seems lost in tradition or anything that has stifled the mission of God then my suggestion is finding a few other people and invite them over to your home, inviting them to break bread and into the word of God as you pray together and discern together how God is calling you to serve together on mission with him (but more on that in another post).

Animated By The Holy Spirit

The third person of our Triune God, the Holy Spirit. As the promise of our victory in Christ and the power of our living in Christ, the Spirit dwells among Christians so that we may live as the church Jesus gave his life for us to be. You need the Holy Spirit. I need the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit. God offers us his Spirit.*

Consider what one passage of scripture says:

While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” – Acts 1:4-8

The same Holy Spirit that is promised here is promised as a gift to all (Acts 2:38-39).  Yet in most churches, talk of the Holy Spirit still seems as if we are entering into unchartered waters. Why?  What is it that makes churches/Christians afraid of the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps it is because we fear losing control. Most churches in America came of age during the end of modernism, which was shaped thoroughly by the rationalistic and humanistic thinking of the Enlightenment era. That was the sort of thinking that held a high view of humanity, which sought to maintain control over important matters in life through human reasoning. Control is the operative word and it is something we lose by submission if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us. That isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit will ever force us in any way but to say that when we seek the guidance of God through his Spirit, we are relinquishing our own way and that still makes us nervous.

But for what are we relinquishing our own way?

For mission. The mission of God. That as the church of Jesus Christ, we may participate with God in his mission as followers of Jesus. So in thinking about the way in which the Holy Spirit leads us as followers of Jesus, the book of Acts is always a great place to start understanding how we should expect the Holy Spirit to lead us. In fact, the book of Acts is so important to this question that even though it is technically known as The Acts of the Apostles that it has also been described as The Acts of the Spirit. That’s because the book of Acts is the continuing the story began in the Gospel of Luke regarding how the gospel goes from the Jews to the Gentiles, first undertaken by Jesus himself and then continued by the followers of Jesus who, like Jesus, are animated by the Holy Spirit.

There is so much more that needs to be said about the work of the Holy Spirit as told in the book of Acts but here is where I start: I believe that any faithful reading of Acts reveals that our calling as followers of Jesus is to be animated by the Holy Spirit so that we embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in all that we do and say. Within this belief I have two additional convictions that might help clarify the work of the Holy Spirit among the church.

  1. As the third person of the One Triune God, the Holy Spirit will never empower Christians to do anything that goes against the will of God.  Although we will have disagreements  over the question of God’s will and disagreements on certain issues, scripture is the story which tells us how God acts within history. In particular, it tells us how God is working to redeem creation in Jesus Christ and the goal of that redemptive work (which is also to say that we should read the Biblical narrative as a christologically centered and eschatologically oriented story). Consequently, we know what sort of values, what sort of things make God tick, what he loves and what burns his anger, etc… and how that has played out in Christian history. Thus, scripture and tradition must be our conversation partner in discerning the leading of the Spirit.
  2. The Holy Spirit will animates us to accomplish our calling as in both ordinary and extraordinary ways but in ways that are often beyond our own human ability. That means that participating in the mission of God always more than our own capabilities. This is one reason why we, like Jesus whom we follow, must pray. So if we are living by the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll be a praying people because there isn’t any other way except to go to God the Father and pray that he may strengthen us with power from the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 3:16).

So what say you?


* This post is an updated and revised version of a post titled You Need The Holy Spirit, originally published on May 20, 2012.

Reconciliation: From Creation to New Creation

I wish people could see what I see. That’s how I felt last Friday evening as I drove home. Twenty minutes before I was sitting in a room with other Christian men seeking to follow Jesus. Some of us, like me, were White and some others were Black. As I sat in this room, I could here some Hispanic Christians in another room singing hymns in Spanish. It was a beautiful moment. For though we all were different in our racial and ethnic makeup, we were there as one in Christ.

I wish people could see what I see.

When God created us in his image, he created us equally and yet he also created us with much diversity. It was and remains a beautiful thing. The problem is that when this beautiful diversity should have moved us to glorify God, we have used it to glorify ourselves by lifting ourselves up while we put others down. We take the created diversity as both a sign of our superiority and a sign of inferiority regarding others. We say that our race and ethnicity, or our gender, or our intellectual giftedness, and so on, makes us better than others of a different race and ethnicity, of the other gender, with different intellectual gifts, and so on…

In the desire to glorify ourselves and display our superiority, we even made God, our Creator, inferior. Some do this by sheer denial of his existence, while most of us do it by denying his glory and power to one degree or another in the way we live. The end result has become a of division and animosity, where we separate from God and each other. Invisible walls build us as suspicion and fear increase, opening the door to all sorts of sin and unjust acts in our feeble attempt at maintaining our alleged superiority at the expense of God and others.

From Creation to New Creation

But some of us have encountered the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ! There on the cross, sinless and innocent as he was, the death of Jesus demonstrated just how horrendous the pursuit of our own glory and superiority really is. That we would be so driven our own will as to play a part in killing an innocent person is indicting. And we would have got away with it except for the fact that God raised Jesus from the grave, vindicating him as the Lord… as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Then we realized how broken we are, how wrong we have been, and that it is us who must change, who must lay down our own will in exchange for his will — the will of God, the Heavenly Father.

No longer can we pursue our own glory and insist insist upon our superiority, not when the Lord himself became the humble and suffering servant. Now rather than glorifying ourselves, we seek to glorify God by humbling ourselves in order that lift the other up through acts of service. We are learning to love our neighbors as ourselves and even loving our enemies, and in doing so, loving God. We don’t cease to be diverse people. We’re still Black folk, White folk, Hispanic folk, and so on. We’re still engineers, business managers, and even a few preachers. But rather than seeing the differences about us as a threat to our own existence, we see the beauty of God our Creator in all of our diversity. By the power of the Spirit now dwelling among us, we glorify God for the wonder of beauty and power seen in each person as a reflection of the image of God. We also glorify God for saving from our broken selves so that we could share again in the beauty of life that God has created, this new creation in Christ.

As I said earlier, I wish others could see what I see.

For that’s how I was able to see the beauty of last Friday sitting in a room with other Black men and White men next to a room full of Hispanic people, all Christians seeking to follow Jesus. Diverse as we are, yet one in Christ to the glory of God.

Perhaps you do see what I see… and if so, then blessed are you!

“But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed.” – Ephesians 2:13-16