Fellowship of the Spirit: Last Part

You can talk too much about the Holy Spirit. You can focus on the Spirit too much. We don’t want to give too much attention to the Holy Spirit. That leads to who knows what. Where are you going with this? Where is this headed?

We know exactly where this is headed. We know what this leads to. If we’ll pay more attention to the Spirit, if we’ll listen to the Spirit, if we’ll give God’s Holy Spirit total control over our churches, we already know the result.

“The fruit (result) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” ~Galatians 5:22-23

I’m going out on a limb here, but, I think the Church could use a little more love and joy and peace. I believe Christians need more patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness. Am I wrong? We could all stand to gain and demonstrate more gentleness and self-control. When the Spirit accomplishes that in the Church, that’s so much more powerful than speaking in tongues or healings or spiritual trances. When the Holy Spirit produces this kind of result in God’s Church, the whole world might flip out!

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: Part Two

Near the end of the fourth Gospel, the resurrected Jesus says to his gathered followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I am sending you to do the things I’ve done in the ways I’ve done them. I’m commissioning you to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God. I’m charging you to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

And, with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We do not have the abilities on our own to do what Jesus did in the ways he did them. Church is the Body of Christ — the real, tangible, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood  presence of Jesus in the world. That’s the call. That’s the charge. That’s the point of the Church, our mission.

But how? We can’t.

He knows. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit transforms our inabilities. God’s Spirit teaches us things we could never come up with on our own. The Bible says we can’t even make the Christian confession — Jesus is Lord! — except by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms our inabilities and provides the gifts and the powers to do things we could never do by ourselves.

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” ~Mark 13:11

No one naturally loves his enemies. No one naturally turns the other cheek. Nobody naturally lays down his rights or would rather be wronged than to fight for what is hers. Jesus says those are exactly the kinds of things that separate Christians from just good people. Those are the things that are required if we are to be his Church. And the Holy Spirit infuses us with the abilities and the power to do it. The Spirit forms in us the character traits we need to live like our Lord. He gives us strength so we can follow the way of the weakness. He gives us power so we can take care of the helpless. He gives us peace so we can endure the hostility.

If being a Christian is just about being a good citizen and giving to charities and not cussing too much — you don’t need the Holy Spirit for that. This is about following Jesus. You can’t be a follower of Jesus without the fellowship of the Spirit who transforms our inabilities and provides us the power to live like people without the Holy Spirit don’t. Can’t.

And it takes time. This kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening and other times it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening. It’s hard to measure. It’s difficult to track. God doesn’t send us quarterly reports. But we  know his Spirit is working on us. Changing us. Transforming us. We know that we all reflect the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his likeness in ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Loving your neighbor is different from just being a good guy. The peace that passes all understanding is not the same as the peace of having your mortgage paid off. Turning the other cheek is not even in the same universe as self defense or protecting what’s yours. Doing justice is more than forwarding a Facebook petition. Showing mercy is more than sponsoring a co-worker in a 5K.

The fellowship of the Spirit is where our abilities are transformed together and how the Kingdom of God is made real in a broken and dying world.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: First Part

“I will ask the Father, and he will give y’all another Counselor to be with y’all forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But y’all will know him, for he lives with y’all and will be in y’all. I will not leave y’all as orphans; I will come to y’all. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but y’all will see me. Because I live, y’all also will live. On that day y’all will realize that I am in my Father, and y’all are in me, and I am in y’all.” ~John 14:16-20

Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us. God near us. That’s Jesus. Our Father takes that one dramatic step further with his Holy Spirit. God in us. God inside us.

The pronouns used by Jesus are plural, not singular. This is communal. It’s corporate. The Holy Spirit binds us together in a shared fellowship. Together.

Thirty years ago, a sociologist named Robert Bellah wrote an influential book called Habits of the Heart. He documented what he described as an American phenomenon: ontological individualism. It’s this belief, he says, is unique to us in the United States: an individual is his or her own source of meaning. Nobody can tell me what to do. Nobody can teach me anything I can’t learn on my own. I don’t need anybody. I don’t depend on anybody. The whole thing is about me. That’s a very American mindset. Bellah says most Americans barely have the vocabulary, much less the desire, to express commitment or passion for anything other than themselves.

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not for individuals. It transcends our identities and surpasses our abilities as individuals. It’s a group thing. It’s the fellowship of the Spirit.

Jesus says, “I will not leave y’all as orphans.” That’s family language. By the Holy Spirit, he says, “I will come to y’all.” Family. Community.

“We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13

When we talk about the work of the Spirit, we usually focus on the Spirit’s relation to the individual Christian. We talk about how the Spirit is active in a person’s life or how a woman or man uses particular Holy Spirit gifts. According to Jesus, though, our emphasis should be on the Spirit’s corporate work. We should pay more attention to the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit in and through the Church.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in y’all, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to y’all’s mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in y’all.” ~Romans 8:11

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in y’all?” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16

The Church is a community where no one reaches his full spiritual potential and no one fulfills her true spiritual calling apart from the group. Each member of the fellowship contributes something special to the group so that all together the Holy Spirit does so much more for the Kingdom than any of us could do by ourselves. The Church attains to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ together.

“To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…” ~1 Corinthians 12:7

Some religions teach that meditating or praying in solitude is the highest form of spirituality. But that is not Christianity. The fellowship of the Spirit is not about private Christian growth or individual spiritual formation. What the Spirit gives us is intended for serving the common good, the whole fellowship together.

The Spirit is the one who brings us together. And when we’re together, bound to one another by the Spirit of God, the Church is bigger than we think. It transcends our individual abilities. It’s better than we can see, it’s wider and deeper, it’s richer and longer-lasting and farther-reaching. It’s more than our physical senses can begin to detect. It’s holy.

The Holy Spirit is our guarantee, our down payment of what’s coming. The fellowship of the Spirit is a taste of everything that’s going to be revealed. The Holy Spirit promises us together that, yes, God will act. Yes, God will speak. God will save. God will fulfill. Our God will live with us and in us forever and ever. Hallelujah! Amen.

Peace,

Allan

Too Good to Last

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Tom Petty’s death. AXS-TV is showing his 2011 concert from the University of Florida twice today and tonight a special “The Day the Rock Star Died” featuring the news and events from October 2, 2017. My DVR is set to capture both. It seems the radio stations are playing a little more Tom Petty today, as they should. And I’ve got “Wildflowers” going right now on my laptop.

Here’s the post I wrote the morning after his passing:

I Miss Tom Petty

Here’s a memory written this morning by Warren Zanes, Petty’s biographer, for Rolling Stone:

Tom Petty’s Biographer on the Story He Didn’t Tell

And here’s “Even the Losers” from a 1980 performance somewhere in London:

Body of Christ: Last Part

I love words. I’m in the business of words. I love to write and I love to speak. I believe words are so very important. I think the world of words. But Jesus was not crucified because of his words. His words are not what changed the lives of broken people, his words are not what united fractured groups, his words are not what turned the world upside down. It was his presence. It was the physical things he did in the body. It was the healing and feeding, the forgiving and praying, the eating and sharing — that’s what got him killed. That’s what altered the course of history forever: his flesh-and-blood presence in the world.

Not words. Words are never enough. That’s why the Word became flesh and lived among us. Words are not enough. So Jesus came here and got dirty with us. He has a body, you know.

The things we say in the safety of our sanctuaries aren’t going to change the world. Abstract truth doesn’t stir anybody’s heart. Theological concepts don’t compel faith or love, even when they’re true. But when that truth becomes embodied, when it’s up close and personal, flesh-and-blood truth, cup of cold water truth, that’s when truth gets interesting. That’s when we know for sure the Kingdom of God is near.

In Luke 3, huge crowds of people are coming to be baptized in the Jordan River to prepare the way for the Lord, so all can see God’s salvation. And the folks being baptized ask John: What shall we do?

John answers: If you have two coats, give one of them to somebody who doesn’t have a coat. If you’ve got food, give it to somebody who doesn’t have any.

Tax collectors are coming to be baptized. What shall we do? John says: Stop stealing from people, stop taking advantage of the weak, treat everybody equally.

Some soldiers are being baptized. What should we do? John answers: Stop using force and threat to get your way, stop accusing people and lying about people.

People are being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, they’re going into the water for a salvation relationship with God, and the instructions they’re given are not about saying the right words or believing the right things or thinking the right way. The instructions are about doing. The expectation is for real, physical, tangible, concrete, flesh-and-blood actions toward the poor and oppressed; how we act toward the outcast and marginalized, the exploited and weak. Not the words we say in the comfort and safety of our buildings, but the actions we take out there. The real, physical, flesh-and-blood actions in the interests of others — all others! Bold, courageous, Christ-like actions that go against the grain of the world and will cost us our reputations, our relationships, and our resources.

We boldly turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. We faithfully love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us so people can see Jesus. We don’t just act on behalf of people who live inside the womb and might be harmed; we courageously act on behalf of all people living outside the womb who might be harmed so people can meet Jesus. We forgive those who sin against us, we lay down our rights for the sake of others, we stand firmly with the oppressed so the world will know the Kingdom of God is here!

The broken world is sick and tired of the Church’s words, words, words! This lost and dying world desperately needs the real, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood actions of the Body of Christ, the saving and life-giving presence of our Lord Jesus!

This world will not see Jesus, people will not experience the truth of our Savior, just because we love Jesus or because we admire Jesus or because we believe all the right things about Jesus. The world will see it, they’ll know, when we are the Body of Christ. When we follow him, when we give our lives to him, when we do the things he did in the ways he did them for the sake of all others.

Jesus had a body, you know. And he still does.

Peace,

Allan

Body of Christ: Part Three

Not everybody has a great experience at church. Some people have been hurt by the Church. Some people have been rejected by the Church, God help us. Some people don’t feel supported at church or encouraged, they don’t feel like they’re a part. Instead of meeting Jesus at church, instead of finding his love and forgiveness, his acceptance and fellowship, they encounter cold shoulders and pain. Maybe you’ve experienced loneliness or rejection or other disconnects at church.

To some extent, we’re all to blame for stuff like that. We’re all broken in a million different ways.

There are people who believe in Jesus and love Jesus and want to follow Jesus, but they don’t want any part of Church. They see the Church or they experience Church and there’s no way they can believe such a sorry collection of sinners is related to Jesus.

Jesus prayed that his followers would all be one so the world would believe. To this day, one of the reasons people don’t believe in Jesus is that his Church is so divided, his body is so in conflict with itself.

Church can be boring. It can be irrelevant. Self-righteous. Worldly. I could go on. The Church has many weaknesses. But the Bible says, right now, we see things through a dark glass, we only see a poor reflection of things as in a cracked mirror. The Bible says we hope for what we don’t see yet. And, you know, the Church, for all its brokenness and failures, can look pretty good when it’s dressed up for worship on Sunday or serving food to the homeless on Thursday.

The first disciples of Jesus are sometimes portrayed in Scripture as blithering idiots. The first Church is painted as somewhat of a mess. That’s not only because they were sometimes blithering idiots and a mess, but also to remind us blithering idiots and faithless sinners that the Church in any age is never completely exactly the way Christ intends his Church to be. We always fall short.

But despite all that, despite all the problems in the Church, based on the words of Jesus in the Bible as well as our own experiences for more than two thousand years, the poor old Church knows, for better or worse, this is the form by which the risen Christ has chosen to be present in the world. We are the Body of Christ.

When we look at each other, we’re reminded that Jesus was never very picky about the people he hung out with. But the Body of Christ is where heaven and earth come together. Every time the Church gathers for worship or for a potluck or Bible study, every time the Church gets together to paint a house or build a school, we do all of that under the promise of our Lord that if just two or three show up in his name, he’ll be there.

Jesus had a body, you know. And he still does.

Peace,

Allan

 

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