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As a part of this month’s focus on the Holy Spirit, I’m working on a couple different opportunities for dialogue and conversation about our hymnological and musical experience in Churches of Christ with regard to the subject of and person o f the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Godhead, the Trinity.

If you would be so kind, take a moment and fill out this short poll so we can have some information from you to help us as we anticipate this conversation.

Thanks!

https://goo.gl/forms/2G7xoEzcaUpueFKJ2

 

A young woman preaches grace and truth and receives death threats from other Christians.

College students are hurt by their school and then wounded even more on social media by other Christians.

A preacher spends weeks agonizing over a sermon, praying it will bring glory to God and encourage the Kingdom only to be criticized, isolated, idealized, or treated as an office manager or building keeper by other Christians.

We wonder why we’re losing our children, why no one wants to talk to us about religion, and what we can do to make things better in this world. Maybe we need to take a long look in the mirror.

We are the holy people of God which means he should be influencing our actions, reactions, and words regardless of whether they are spoken or typed.

What does holy look like when you’re faced with someone who doesn’t interpret Scripture the way you do? It looks like laying down your stones and choosing grace instead. That may mean withdrawal but it never means cruelty.

What does holy look like when someone has been offended? Regardless of your opinion on the subject, holy looks like listening and trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint and story.

What does holy look like for a church and her minister? It looks like an adequate salary for the vital role served. It means making sure they can afford quality health insurance for them and their family. It looks like good communication from and with the leadership. It means walking alongside them in their work for the Lord and not expecting them to carry the entire congregation. It means friendship, encouragement, and love.

In every relationship holiness looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s thinking Jesus and inviting him into every situation.

Church, it’s time we step up. We are God’s people. We know holy. Let’s start living it. The world is watching.

 

 

Rooting Yourself in Belovedness

 

I struggle with perfectionism; not so much that life needs to be perfect, but moreso that I need to be. I’m not really sure when or where it all began, but somehow someway I developed the mindset that my worth was directly connected to my ability to be “good enough”.

However, ‘enough’ is a dangerous standard to strive for because it’s unattainable. The reality is that there is always room for growth (and that’s not a bad thing). But when you begin to equate your value based on your performance, an unhealthy cycle begins. You are constantly striving, always desiring the approval of others, and when you fall short you feel like a complete failure. I’ve lived in this charade for a lot of my life and it’s exhausting. I’ve learned time and time again that in my effort to portray my life is perfect, I am confronted with my inescapable and undeniable brokenness.

Have you ever seen a cat chase after a laser light? It’s hilarious. No matter how many times you wave the little red light around the ground, the cat can’t seem to understand that it can’t actually catch the light. Yet it still tries, over and over and over again; that’s why it’s so funny. What isn’t so humorous is the reality that many of us play the same game. We spend our lives chasing the illusion of perfection only to realize that it’s something that can’t be caught. So why do we continue to chase it?

If my worth is not contingent on my performance, how then do I find my value? As always, we must look to Jesus.

If you think about it, Jesus never really met society’s standards of being ‘enough.’ (Let’s be honest, He still doesn’t). People were so fixated on who the Messiah was supposed to be that they didn’t even recognize Him when He was in their presence.

  • The crowds were often so hungry for a miracle or a sign that they missed His teachings entirely
    • Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent (Matthew 11:20)
  • The religious leaders often discredited Jesus and His teachings because He didn’t seem worthy of being the anointed one of Israel.
    • Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves,  “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! (Mark 2:6-7)
  • His family considered Him crazy
    • When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)
  • His disciples often struggled to fully live out their faith in Him because they were crippled by their own fear
    • “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

If Jesus Himself didn’t meet the standards of being enough, then why do we try so hard to? And if we don’t find our worth in people, then where we place our value?

It’s simple (but so hard): in the Lord.

I am convinced that it was through Jesus’ close intimacy with the Father that He was able to walk in full faith and full confidence into the person God created Him to be. In Matthew 3, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (v. 16-17). Before Jesus began His public ministry, before He chose His disciples, before He went into the wilderness to face temptation, God spoke His words of Jesus’ ‘enoughness’ over Him. And I believe it was this declaration that Jesus rooted Himself in so that He could fully live out His faith without worrying about being enough for others. He was enough for God, and He knew that is all that matters.

Jesus’ ability to love others fully was embedded and birthed from the truth that He was fully loved by God. If you’re constantly seeking to make people love you, you will never truly love them well; there are selfish motives involved. To love someone well is to love them with the love of Jesus and you can only do that if you claim the love of Jesus over yourself.

The best thing you can do for yourself, the best thing you can do for your family, the best thing you can do for your faith, your ministry, your life, is to deeply root yourself in the unconditional love of Jesus.

Do you know that you are God’s beloved? Do you know that your ‘enoughness’ is based entirely upon who He is? It’s unconditional love. It is strong, it is deep, and it is all consuming if you allow it to be. Despite the broken narrative you’ve believed, you don’t have to earn it. You can soak in it. You can rest in it. You can believe in it. You can walk in it. It is because of His bold, audacious, unwavering love for you that you don’t have to strive for His love or the love of others. You can boldly claim it and proclaim it. And that’s where the adventure begins.   

 

“That’s where ministry starts, because your freedom is anchored in claiming your belovedness. That allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.”

-Henri Nouwen, Moving From Solitude to Community to Ministry

 

Check out Christina’s Spoken Word here:

 

 

Christiana Muir is a follower of Jesus in Nashville, TN. She graduated from Lipscomb University with a degree in Theology in Ministry and is currently church planting among refugees in her city.

I suggest five (yes, count them, five) modes of visible unity that give expression to the underlying unity of the Spirit among believers. These practices not only exhibit the unity of the Spirit but are also means by which the Spirit dynamically works among believers for unity. The Spirit acts through them to manifest the unity the Spirit has already achieved. At the same time these practices are also transformative as they not only move us into a deeper experience and recognition of that unity but they also transform us as exhibits of that unity.

  1. Confession – we confess Jesus is Lord by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Paul provides the ground of this point: “No one is able to say “Jesus is Lord” except by (in) the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Contextually, this stands in contrast with those who say “Jesus is cursed” or who serve idols. This is an orienting confession. It is a centered-set confession, that is, we confess Jesus at the center of our faith journey. It is a directional confession, that is, we have turned our face toward Jesus and we walk toward him. But none of this is possible except by the work of the Spirit. The confession arises out of the Spirit’s work, operates within the life of the Spirit, and lives because we have all drunk of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

This confession is made from within a story, which is essentially what is called the Apostles’s Creed or the developing Regula Fidei (Rule of Faith) of the early church. It gives shape to the confession of the Lordship of Jesus and locates believers in the flow of the history of God’s people. We confess the Father as creator, Jesus as the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit as the communion of believers.

Theologically, we acknowledge this, whoever confesses “Jesus is Lord” does so “in (or by) the Spirit.” We recognize the work of the Spirit in the confession itself. Whenever we hear Jesus confessed, or the Triune faith articulated, we confess that the Spirit is at work. We may embrace the unity of believers through this confession that is the result of the Spirit’s enabling presence.

  1. Transformation – we are sanctified by the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).

We all know Jesus’s saying “by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16). Sanctification belongs to the Holy Spirit who indwells, empowers, and gifts us for new life in Christ.

Theologically, transformation is the goal of God’s agenda. Transformation is an effect of communion. Through mutual indwelling, we are transformed by the presence of the Spirit in our lives. The fruit of the Spirit, then, is evidence of our union with God. The fruit of the Spirit is the life of the Spirit already present in us. We may embrace the unity of believers through shared sanctification or mutually experienced transformation that is the result of the enabling presence of the Spirit.

  1. Liturgy – we worship in the Spirit (John 4:24; Philippians 3:3).

The foundation of liturgy—not necessarily the foundation of liturgical forms—is the work of the Spirit. Our liturgical acts—not necessarily our liturgical forms—are deeply rooted in the work of the Spirit. Assembly, as communal praise and worship, is mediated by the Spirit. We worship the Father through the Son in the Spirit. Assembly, as an eschatological, transforming and sacramental encounter with God, happens in the Spirit; it is a pneumatic event. This is what gives significance and meaning to Assembly, and it is also the root of the unity we experience through Assembly as the whole church—throughout time and space—are gathered before the throne of the Father in the Spirit.

Liturgy might not appear to be a very fruitful approach to thinking about the unity of the Spirit since “worship” has often divided communities. The point will turn on whether or not we are able to discern the role of the Spirit in liturgy that transcends specific forms. If we take seriously the point—made in the Gospel of John—that the Spirit vivifies all life, sacrament, and worship in such a way that the reality is rooted in the work of the Spirit rather than in the specific form, then we can move beyond binding the Spirit to that form. There are no fixed forms that bind the Spirit. Rather there are gracious gifts—even specific forms—through which the Spirit offers communion and grace (e.g., sacraments). We may have preferred forms or even think some forms more biblical or more theologically coherent, but the forms are not boundaries for the Spirit.

To recognize that the Spirit is the means by whom we commune with and experience God, that this means is not dependent upon perfectionistic obedience to specified forms, and that the Spirit is not limited by forms, enables us to affirm the presence of the Spirit among those communities who do not share the forms that we think are most biblical. We may embrace the unity of believers (worshippers) through our eschatological and sacramental encounter with God in assembly by the enabling presence of the Spirit.

  1. Practicing the Kingdom of God – we minister in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:18-19).

Spirit Christology is particularly important in the Gospel of Luke. The Spirit anoints Jesus, leads him into the wilderness, and empowers him for ministry in Luke 3-4. This is the ministry of the kingdom of God in which Jesus practices the kingdom of God by heralding the good news of the kingdom, exercising authority over the principalities and powers, and healing brokenness. Jesus is sent, and he sends a people.

This is the missional ministry into which believers are called. This praxis is an expression of the life of the Spirit within the community, and the community of Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, continues the teaching and doing of Jesus, that is, they continue to practice the kingdom of God.

When believers practice the kingdom of God, the Spirit is present. Where the Spirit is present, Jesus is present. This manifests the unity of the Spirit through praxis. It is a missional unity. We may embrace the unity of believers through shared ministry (shared participation in the good news of the kingdom of God) by the enabling presence of the Spirit.

  1. Spiritual Formation Practices – we pray in the Spirit (Jude 20).

In Luke’s Gospel the kingdom of God comes in response to prayer by the ministry of the Spirit. This connects points four and five, but it also calls us deeper into the experience of prayer itself.

The unity of believers through the presence of the Spirit in prayer is a common theme in the history of spirituality. Throughout that history we see evidence of the presence of the Spirit in communal and individual experiences. This is where an acquaintance, if not a full immersion in, the history of spirituality might open doors for conversations about unity.

Theologically, we recognize that the practice of prayer (as well as other disciplines) is rooted in the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is present to listen and speak in these moments. When a community practices them together, or each member of a community practices them in their own walk with God, the Spirit works to unite through shared experiences and shared communion. We may embrace the unity of believers through shared experience and communion in prayer by the enabling presence of the Spirit.

Conclusion

The present experience of visible unity, however, is progressive (though not always evident). The present is not a “perfect” manifestation of the eschatological telos. Consequently, we pursue unity, just as we pursue sanctification. The church is constantly undergoing a process of communal sanctification parallel to the process of individual sanctification. It should not surprise us that the church is not united in experience since we all acknowledge our own progressive sanctification.

At the same time, however, we are not left with nothing. Though we have not yet experienced the fullness of our unity with God and with each other—and we will not until the eschaton, we do—even now—experience that future when we give space to the presence of the Spirit. We are already united, and we progressively experience that reality the more the Spirit sanctifies our communities and our lives. The present practice of visible unity though marred by brokenness is healed by mercy; it is hindered by human brokenness but empowered by the gifts the Spirit offers to the church, which include the five gifts listed above.

Through the practice of these gifts, the Spirit mediates an already-but-not-yet experience of that unity. Together, we confess Jesus is Lord; together, we seek transformation; together, we participate in the eschatological assembly; together, we practice the kingdom of God; and together, we pray in the Spirit. Yes, you counted correctly. The number is five.

[For a fuller reading of this perspective within the context of Stone-Campbell history, click here.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A global conference to bring Churches of Christ together to focus on more effectively reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

A global conference to bring Churches of Christ together to focus on more effectively reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

By most estimates, there are nearly 3 billion people in the world today who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. There are 87 countries in the world where less than 2% of the population is Christian. And here in the United States, the opportunities are plentiful to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who are currently unreached. The question many Christians ask, when faced with this great need is – how can our churches more effectively advance domestic and global outreach?

One way that Churches of Christ are addressing this need is the tri-annual Global Missions Conference, held in Memphis on October 16-18. Led by a steering committee of missions leaders from across the nation, this Conference will feature: international presenters; practical missions sessions; missions exhibits and networking; and the World Missions Workshop for college students.

John Reese, Conference Steering Committee member and President of World Bible School said, “Churches of Christ are one of the largest missionary-sending organizations in the nation. In several respects we have performed well in our evangelistic outreach, yet the world is growing faster than our efforts. How can we deepen our biblical underpinnings, improve our strategies, concentrate our efforts and communicate more effectively with one another?”

The Conference will consist of 13 Workshops, each consisting of four classes, offered for those serving in various aspects of missions. Each workshop will be spread over the two conference days.

Reese added, “This conference will enable Churches of Christ to be more intentional in work worldwide in reaching the lost; to strengthen the central role of the local church in global missions; to practice better stewardship; and to work side by side with others all over the world in reconciling people to the Lord.”

Conference Tracks include:

  • Short-term Missions – coordinated by Mark Woodward
  • Missionary Care / Family Track – coordinated by Beth Reese
  • U.S. Missions – coordinated by Stan Granberg
  • There will also be a special track with workshops for university students and teens

Other Conference features include special interest sessions, breakout sessions, interest groups and the plenary sessions with the keynote speakers.

Special Interest Session: America Is Calling – The Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ from West Monroe, LA will share their story of how the people of America are coming to them, seeking spiritual answers. Several of the leaders will have a conversation about their experience and what they are doing about it.

Breakout Sessions – There will be approximately 20 different breakout sessions to discuss positive ideas that work. Some of these discussions will be about advancing the gospel in specific geographical locations, and other discussions will be about types of work or methods to use.

Interest groups – These groups will enable people to learn from some different ministries that make their focus to reach people around the world. Participants will be given the opportunity to learn from these ministries and discover ways they can partner together.

Plenary Sessions – The keynote plenary sessions will focus on major themes around missions, whether through the local church or non-profit ministry, or on the mission field. Keynote speakers include: Machona Monyamane, John Reese, Gary Jackson, David Duncan and Monte Cox.

Register Today! – There are still openings available for more participants, but now is the time to register if you plan to attend, as registration will fill up soon. Visit www.globalmissionsconference.org for all the information on registration, lodging, directions and conference details. Online registration is open until October 1st, so register today!

“No matter whether you are a missionary or missionary candidate, an elder, missions committee member, campaigner, Bible school teacher or simply a person interested in world evangelism, there will be workshops tailored to meet your needs,” stated Beth Reese, Conference Steering Committee member.

This year’s Global Missions Conference will be held at the Goodman Oaks Church of Christ in Southhaven, MS just south of Memphis, TN. Lodging and transportation options are available. More information can be found on the Global Missions Conference web site.

“The heritage we carry as the Churches of Christ is that we have evangelized, built schools and become a global movement of God, and now God is calling us to collaborate in order to respond to His call for redeeming the world in which we each live,” Reese concluded.

For many the Holy Spirit is an impersonal, imperceptible, and indiscernible force.  Cloaked in mystery, many find it difficult to “get a handle” on the Spirit. The Spirit has no “face” like Jesus nor any personal metaphors, such as parent or husband, like Israel’s God.

Our desire, of course, is not so much to control or manipulate the Spirit as much as it is to have a way of conceiving or visualizing the Spirit’s identity. Without any framework for understanding, we are at a loss to even identify what the Spirit does in our lives much less experience God through the Spirit.

Our pneumatic imagination needs a little help. Paul, I think, offers such. The Spirit appears in practically every chapter of Paul’s letters, and saturates his theology. While “God in Christ” is the center of Paul’s theology, the Spirit is a living, enabling, and enriching presence that connects redeemed humanity with the Redeemer God. We have access, Paul says, to God in Christ “by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18).

Without some understanding of the Spirit, then, our experience of God remains in a conceptual wasteland. That is not only lamentable but dangerous. Spiritual discernment entails that we “see” the Spirit at work in our lives or else we will mistake other spirits for the Holy Spirit.

So, what does Paul offer us by way of a conceptual landscape that will help identify the Spirit in our lives. I “see” in Paul a three-fold typology for thinking about the Spirit’s work. This typology is not a box in which to enclose the Spirit, nor is it a gizmo to manipulate the Spirit. Rather, it is a tool to unmask our eyes so that we might “see” what the Spirit is doing–to recognize the Spirit in our lives.

Communion

The Spirit’s foundational is to facilitate communion between God and us. Our communion with God is the “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:12).

Jesus did not leave us as orphans; instead, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church. This out-pouring is the gifting of God’s presence among us. We are inhabited by God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22); we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit is the one through whom we experience God in the present. The Spirit’s presence enables our communion with God; more than that, communion in the Spirit is communion with God.

This presence, which is the fulfillment of God’s presence in the temple in Israel and anticipates the fullness of divine presence in the new heaven and new earth, is how we now live in fellowship with God. We worship in the Spirit (Philippians 3:3), we pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), and we are washed in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11).  We are “in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells” in us (Romans 8:9). The Spirit is the air we breathe, and every breath is communion with God.

This communion, of course, is not merely vertical. It is also horizontal, that is, we commune with each other by what we share in the Spirit (Philippians 2:1). We love each other in the Spirit (Colossians 1:8). Because we have all been baptized in the Spirit and have drunk of the same Spirit, we are one body where ethnic, economic, and gender barriers are transcended (1 Corinthians 12:13;  Galatians 3:28).

We “see” the Spirit when we enjoy the sweet fellowship of others, experience the peace and joy of the Spirit in communion with God, and encounter God in the assembly of God’s people as we worship in the Spirit. We must not secularize these moments as if they are produced by our own internal powers. Rather, we relish them and delight in them because we know, by God’s promise, that the Spirit is present to generate them. They are moments where heaven and earth meet in the Spirit.

Transformation

The Spirit communes with us, and this communion is transformative. The Spirit is no passive presence. On the contrary, the Spirit is an active, enabling and transforming presence. The Spirit dwells within us so that we might live in the Spirit.

Salvation involves transformation. Because we are children of God, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts and we experience the intimacy of divine communion. But this is not the end game; it is not God’s goal. This intimacy includes a shared life, and it transforms us. We are increasingly, by the Spirit, transformed (metamorphized!) into the image of Christ from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Holy Spirit is the presence of divine holiness within us, and this holiness bears fruit. Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). This is what it means to “live by the Spirit,” that is, it is to manifest a life of love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit leads us into a such a life by renewing our hearts, empowering our souls, and moving our wills.

The presence of the Spirit is a necessary first step for such a life, and without that presence there is no transformation that images Jesus who himself was led and empowered by the Spirit. The reality of that presence, however, is evidenced in a holy life as we are “sanctified by the Spirit” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

We “see” the Spirit when we are patient with the stubborn, when we are kind to the ungrateful, when we are at peace in the midst of the storm, when we are generous with the poor, and when we are gentle with those who disagree. We must not secularize these moments as if they are self-actualizations. Rather, we give thanks that the Spirit is at work in our lives to empower them. We credit the Spirit rather than our programs, our will power, or our own goodness.

Giftedness

God gives the Spirit as a communing and transforming presence. God created to commune with us, and God redeems to transform us. And God goes one step further. God gifts us so that we might participate in the transformation of the world.

“Through the Spirit,” Paul writes, God gives the body of Christ the capacity to serve each other and the world. These “manifestations of the Spirit” are for the “common good,” and the gifts are “activated” and distributed by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:7-8, 11).

It is important, however, to note that presence comes first, then transformation, and finally giftedness. We might think of this as a spiral of activity where there is reciprocity but also movement toward a goal. God dwells in order to commune. That communion transforms us, and, as people in the process of transformation, God gifts us so that we might participate in the mission of God. The gifts are best used by transformed people. This is why 1 Corinthians 13 comes between 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Giftedness without love is useless; more than useless, it is detrimental. Transformation must shape the use of the Spirit’s gifts.

Too often the lists of 1 Corinthians 12 become the focus when talking about gifts. Romans 12 also has a list of gifts. The two lists are not the same; in fact, there is little overlap. Neither are exhaustive, and together they are not exhaustive. They are illustrative.

Gifts are whatever capacity we have to participate in the mission of God. Whatever “talent” we use to further the mission of God–whether it is software programming, musical ability, environmental passion—they are divine gifts. Too often we talk about “talents” as if they are natural dispositions independent of God’s work among us. One of the reasons we feel so distant from the Holy Spirit is because we secularize our gifts; we minimize the Spirit’s role. Giftedness, inclusive of “talents,” is a manifestation of the Spirit!

We “see” the Spirit when transformed people (or, better, people in the process of transformation) use their gifts in service to the mission of God, which is the transformation of the whole world. We “see” the Spirit when an environmental biologist cares for the creation, when a nurse compassionately cares for the sick, when a debt mediator reconciles a creditor and a debtor, and when an actor embodies the gospel in a drama (even if the drama never mentions God at all). We “see” the Spirit’s gifts in action when brokenness is healed.

Conclusion

Often we don’t “feel” the Spirit in our lives, and sometimes we misinterpret what the Spirit is doing. There is no promise that we will always “feel” the Spirit, and there is the persistent danger that we will misinterpret what the Spirit does. This is why is it is important to “see” the Spirit through the lens of the biblical narrative, the story of God. Whether we feel the Spirit or not, God has promised the Spirit’s presence, and God has provided a narrative that frames our understanding of the Spirit’s work so that we might “see” the Spirit.

The most significant danger we face, I think, is the minimization of the Spirit. We minimize the Spirit when we secularize what is, in fact, the Spirit’s work. We often fail to “see” the Spirit because we attribute whatever goodness, joy, or warmth we experience to powers other than the Spirit. We fail to “see” the Spirit because we are blinded by our own pride.

The Spirit is personal, discernible, and visible. The Spirit is God among us to transform us into the image of Christ and to gift transformed people with good works for the sake of the body and the world. We “see” the Spirit every day, if only we have eyes to see what God is doing.

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