joy, peace and overflowing hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Interestingly, this more or less ends a section in which Paul is dealing with Christians weak in their faith and how Christians who are strong in theirs are to deal with that. Yes, with a word of instruction to the weak, as well. Much to be said about that within its context. But I’ll just say this about myself. I know I can feel exceedingly weak for one reason or another in my faith. Which is all the more reason to rejoice with Paul’s words of benediction or well wishing here.

Yes, God has this for all of us in Christ: the weak as well as the strong. We’re going through a decidedly difficult season now, with uncertainty ahead about the health and well being of our loved ones, of neighbors, of people in general, and with the economic fallout which is accompanying this.

But this wish is not dependent on our circumstances, but in God filling us. As we learn to trust in him more and more. In and through Jesus.

the poor in spirit are the Spirit-filled

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

The first of what’s called the Beatitudes in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount one might say is a bedrock to the rest. If pride is the first and fountainhead of the “seven deadly sins,” then Jesus meets that head on with the first words he speaks.

We might struggle with trusting God, and with other sins as well. But if we are living in pride, we’re all but lost. That must first go before we can deal with any of the rest. Otherwise we’re left on our own, since we think we can take care of it.

We might well say with C.S. Lewis that we indeed are proud people, and that admission paradoxically can be a point of humility. Humility is simply acknowledging the truth of one’s own limitation and sin.

We need to recognize and acknowledge our spiritual poverty. We need the Lord; we can’t do it ourselves. And that’s an ongoing need, not just a once upon a time need that we got taken care of, and now we’re good to go. We need the filling of the Spirit over and over again.

But a sign of really being filled with the Spirit is to ever know and acknowledge one’s own poverty of spirit. That may seem contradictory, but it is always the case. As long as we’re full of ourselves, we don’t need God. Or we may even think that God’s filling makes us able to take over and do it ourselves. Instead we need to realize that our need always and forever is Christ and Christ in us, as Paul says, “no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.” Then we’ll be beginning to understand what Jesus was getting at here.

a thankful life

always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:20

To really grasp well the impact of Paul’s words, and really God’s word here, we need to look at the backdrop, or the context (click link to see). Paul is writing especially to Gentiles in a typically pagan, godless setting. Encouraging them out of the love God has for them as his dear children, to live lives of love and holiness. In the course of that, Paul also mentions how thanksgiving is proper rather than the kind of talk they were accustomed to. I think part of the point is that God is now in their thoughts, that they are finding the good of life and thanking God as the giver. In Romans 1 Paul notes that when humankind abandons God, they also become unthankful, not thanking God (Romans 1:21). So ingratitude is something that should be seen as a sin. At the very least, we should never excuse it.

The call to thanksgiving above is in the context of a Spirit-filled life. Instead of living inebriated with alcohol or full of the spirits of this world, we’re to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And the result noted is communal, within the church spilling out into society. We live lives overflowing, devoted to God and for the good of others. To give thanks always to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ refers to everything we should be thankful for. That surely takes some effort on our part, especially for some of us. But essential to that here is the imperative to be filled with God’s Spirit. So that we see God’s light in not only the darkness, exposing the works of darkness, but also everything in light of it. So that we can find good to thank God when we consider so many things. While at the same time telling God our concerns and even troubles. This call to enlightened thanksgiving does not at all mean one is to ignore what’s bad. But we’re not to miss all the good. And seeing the good, and giving thanks to God for that ought to be a mark of our lives.

How do we get there, especially if we might struggle with depression, or simply feeling down? We have to be patient. This is something we do, but only through the Spirit. It will take commitment to obedience out of faith to God’s call here. And instead of trying to seek some experience of being filled with the Spirit, we should note that we’ve already been baptized by and drink from the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). We have the Spirit, so we’re told to be filled with that Spirit, not with ourselves. This requires prayer. Only God can help us here. Some say we’re already filled with the Spirit, having as much of the Spirit as we could have. But this is an imperative, so that while we have the Spirit, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re filled with the Spirit, or living Spirit-filled lives. And part of the Spirit-filled life in the midst of everything is to find the good to thank God for, and thank him for it.  Something I need to work on myself. In and through Jesus.

God-intoxicated

There are some who either want to deny the existence of God or who doubt God’s existence. Others see God as not only existing, but the basis in source and purpose for all existence. Even as important for us spiritually as the air we breathe physically. Existence for them is certainly material, but along with that, and not opposed to it at all in terms of creation, spiritual. With all reverence to God we might call these people the God-intoxicated ones. Everything is not only with reference to God in their heads, but for all of life. No matter what they do nothing excepted, they want to do all to the glory and praise of God in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

We humans we’re made for this existence. Not only life in this world and the new creation of it to come, but in the communion of the love of the Trinity, the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

But even the God-intoxicated ones can sometimes feel the absence of God. Which for them is troubling. But because of this orientation to God they press on, even in the darkness. And into the light.

This is about living in God, not about ourselves. God is like the air we breathe, the song we sing, the life we live in and through Jesus.

simply being thankful

There is plenty in life to be concerned about along with the many problems which beset us on a regular, oftentimes even daily basis. But how about simply being thankful? Blessings fill our lives at every turn as well.

I know though how easy it is to drown in all of life’s afflictions. Emotionally we may go down and be spent, hardly able to breathe the air of thanksgiving to God. This can be a sacrifice on our part as well, as perfunctory as something we do regardless of how we feel, something done perhaps at set times, here continually which still might mean on a regular basis:

Through Jesus…let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Praise and thanksgiving in scripture are often linked. We give thanks to God for what he has done, is doing and will do, for his works. Praise is given to God for his goodness. Praise and thanksgiving then if not synonymous are closely linked.

To give thanks and be thankful is part of our life in Christ, part of the Spirit-filled life. Something then that is given to us so that both the blessings and the praise to God for those blessings are gifts from God.

In the best case scenario thanksgiving is not something automatic. We do it. But it should become as regular to us as the air we breathe. So that we are becoming more and more a thankful people in and through Jesus.

study and the intellect

I was once a pastor of a little church called “Faith, Hope and Love Gospel Center.” It was run down and not resurrected through my work there of only about a year. I look back on that and shake my head, partly because I really needed a mentor, someone to guide me through that time. And I had one, but due to my youth and lack of wisdom (and his use of Robert Schuller* just on the side with a book to encourage those discouraged like myself), I left that great opportunity behind. But after that time on my own with my new wife Deb, I had come to realize that I needed or at least wanted more training, precisely more theological education. And having been influenced by a Baptist pastor and church nearby, I headed off to Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary in Michigan (now called Grand Rapids Theological Seminary).

I was hungry for some intellectual food, and at the seminary, I certainly found it with some outstanding professors. That was a good season for me, I take it, laying a foundation for my life that was needed, although not enough of a foundation was laid on the church side to really get me going in the pastorate. My degree, following my Bachelor of Theology one (from Prairie Bible Institute) was a Master of Divinity. I wish I would have started on all of that when I was younger, and I wish I would have had the kind of mentoring I needed to become a pastor, or a teacher somewhere. And I wish I would have read and studied much more during my life. Some years back I thought the Lord gave me this one word: “Read.”

Study and the intellect is far more important than many of us Christians make it out to be. I am blessed in that where I work, RBC Ministries, such endeavor is valued, their/our mission being “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.”

There is more to life than just the mind, but the mind is part and parcel of the fullness of life we are to have in Jesus. Of course how that works out for each one of us will be different. Not all of us will want to head off to school to study more, or read books, one after another. But every one of us needs to have a thirst to read and study scripture, and try to understand God’s will as it applies to our own lives as well as the mission to which we are called. I would suggest as a minimum that each of us needs to be on a Bible reading (or Bible listening) plan or agenda. At least once a year through the Bible would be good, although what is essential is to be regularly in the habit of doing it. And we need to study and meditate on various books and passages in scripture. Any and every one of them over time would be a good goal.

At the same time, we also need to read those who are gifted in communicating something of God’s full will in Jesus. In all kinds of genres. And I think we need to learn to read widely over time. Read those who are not of the faith. Learn in areas that interest us. Again, we are all wired differently so we will all go about this differently, which doesn’t make whatever we do any less of a gift than whatever anyone else does.

Back to my own story, a bit. I wish I would have been much more faithful in reading and studying.  It is over years of doing such that wisdom is developed. And the aspect of study and the intellect is underrated and therefore underplayed in the quest for a Spirit-filled life. As Jack Levison pointed out in an excellent book I recently read, Daniel is a good case in point. He studied with some of his friends in the best education of his day, even that which was not of the faith, and surely was well versed in the Hebrew scriptures as well. And it was noted repeatedly in the book by those outside the community of faith that he was one in whom was the spirit of the gods.

And so read, and study as the Lord would lead you. As we seek to follow our Lord together for the world.

*This is not meant to put down Robert Schuller. I find good along with what I see as not so good in his message. I think he would say it’s grounded in scripture, but it seems to me to be in some line with Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking. In my view, scripture taken out of context to support something which in the proper context is true.

Jack Levison on the humility and simplicity of a Spirit-filled life

…ambition is the enemy of the spirit and simplicity the spirit’s closest friend. Ask Elihu about this, and you’ll see he’s clueless. Read his speech in one sitting, and you’ll find nothing about humility. But read the stories about Daniel and you’ll find a life rich in simplicity and draped in humility. Daniel did not plan and plot to climb the ladder of success by knotting himself to the coterie of handsome, hunky Israelite men whose futures were bright with promise. The lesson is clear: the spirit-breath of God pulses in people who opt for simplicity and humility rather than ambition and acquisition, people who choose simple veggies over lavish meals and fine wines. Clear, but very hard to put into practice.

It is a radical step to reject notions of net worth, to repudiate power, to resist the allure of prestige, to refuse to want what we do not need—and to focus instead in cultivating the spirit-breath within.

Jack Levison, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life , 61-62.

Elihu’s speech (Job 32-37); the book of Daniel (chapter 1; website won’t include entire book on one page).

“Come, Holy Spirit.”

All who receive Christ by faith receive also the Holy Spirit. I doubt the Pentecostal theology of the baptism of the Spirit after conversion, after the initial reception of the Spirit. At the same time I fear that many of us in Jesus, much of the church is not open enough to the immediate presence and power of the Spirit in and out through our lives into the lives of others. In terms of witness as well as the works God has for us to do.

The prayer or invocation, “Come, Holy Spirit,” is a request and plea to God to come in power, majesty and authority. To in love, use us for God’s glory, to make Jesus known, yes, even to enable us to do mighty works, signs and wonders. We all need to be more open to God’s moving by the Spirit, to let the Spirit have his way in our lives.

And so, along with the Jesus Creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the Jesus prayer (modified most of the time with just a basic plea for mercy), I have been praying this prayer as well. Wanting to be open and ready to receive more of the Spirit’s love and power, as together we in Jesus share God’s love to the world.