feel the emotion

John 10 (and note John 9 preceding it) is an interesting example of a point made in one of John R. W. Stott’s excellent books, Christ the Controversialist. Jesus was up against it time and time again, against his Jewish opponents. Yet you can see throughout that Jesus is still humbly trying to make his appeal to them. But his words were loaded for them. Jesus noted his works which he attributed to the Father, pointing to the claim that he was in the Father and the Father in him.

John 8 is not children’s bedtime reading so to speak. Jesus is not the meek and mild fictional Jesus which is understood in society at large, and it seems even in many of our churches. Jesus doesn’t mince words, and the words said would never be put in Jesus’s mouth in popular portrayals of him. Like “you are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father, you want to do.”

But back to John 10. In our habit of marking down doctrine or precious promise passages, neither of which we should dismiss, we can easily miss context. What can help us is reading Scripture in real life, and realizing what we’re reading is couched in real life. Jesus’s opponents were emotional, but so was Jesus himself. Jesus’s following words were surely mixed with pathos in the form of grief in lament, along with perhaps something of a defensiveness, even as we was trying to defend the truth that he was from God.

I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

John 10:25-30

 John’s entire gospel was written to underscore the truth of who Jesus is.

But watch for the real life emotion in passages. What can help us is the emotion we live with. And we need the Spirit and what the church has given us, as well. As we continue on in Scripture and in this life in and through Jesus.

worshiping God

…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

John 4:23-24

Worship of God is a theme in Revelation (see here, for example). It got me to thinking. I wonder just how much we truly worship God.

Worship is ascribing worthship to something. In scripture and Christian tradition, only God is worthy of worship. Although sometimes that language has been used for lesser objects. In the Great Tradition, veneration is giving special honor, even reverence to objects not worthy of worship. I am among those who would not be comfortable joining other Christians in doing that. But we naturally do that to some extent to those we highly esteem. This is set in certain Christian traditions for “saints.” Of course God alone is worthy of full, complete worship. And really, that can come natural too, as we seek to give our full attention to God: who God is, and what God has done.

When we are talking about God, we are referring to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We worship the Father in and through the Son by the Holy Spirit. But we can worship all three Persons of the Trinity, since God is one, and the Father, with Jesus and the Spirit are, or we might say is God.

To worship God might come naturally so to speak, as we focus on God. Of course it is what we call supernatural, beyond nature, since we need the help of the Holy Spirit to do so. We can only begin to gather in our minds and hearts just who God is by the Spirit. Then we worship God in our hearts through song and ascriptions such as we find in Revelation, the Psalms, and elsewhere in scripture.

Worship includes offering ourselves to the One who is deserving of everything. By creation and redemption, as well as simply who God is, God is worthy. We join in this eternal singing and song, and giving of our lives, in and through Jesus.

praising God always

I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them.

Psalm 34:1-7

There are some basics in which in looking back on my life, and even considering the present, I’m either absent, or not doing as well as I should. One of them is praising God. Although it’s good when we do praise the Lord over good that takes place. Praise in scripture is tied to God’s good works. So we praise God for what he has done. Worship on the other hand is given to God because God deserves it in himself. It certainly can include all he does. But it is essentially taken up with who God is.

And so when we are faced with a new day, and with all the problems each day will bring, and sometimes more than usual, we need to praise God. And when we are faced with especially challenging matters, then regardless, whatever happens, we should still praise God. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, we’re to rejoice in the Lord always. Which is nearly like both worship and praise, but probably with its accent on praise.

And praise in scripture is normally corporate, though we as individuals do it. Certainly we should do it when alone, but it should be a part of what we do when together as God’s people, the church. Certainly a staple of corporate worship.

Praise even is a component, we might say, in spiritual warfare. Once when Israel went out to battle, it was when they praised God, that God moved against the enemy (2 Chronicles 20:22). It is certainly important for us to praise God, we might say for our faith. In so doing we take up the shield of faith with which we can quench all the fiery darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).

This is much more, but the kind of “positive thinking” we need to engage in. It is not trust in ourselves, but in God, and in what he will do. He is faithful always and forever, no matter what, in and through Jesus.

the importance of one’s work

I’m not sure if you can attach work to vocation, or God’s calling, which is part of my frustration in writing, but in some general sense one surely can. Because God’s creation of humanity in God’s image involves representing God in the world in what humans do in their rule which is actual stewardship over the earth and God’s creation on earth. Work is important from the beginning, and only the toil due to working with the thorns comes from the curse of the ground because of humanity’s sin.

Work is certainly not the most important aspect of who we are, which is surely to know and love God, and in that communion to know and love each other. But we can’t separate work from that, because it’s part of the whole. Just as we rejoice in God’s works, we can rejoice in the good works of each other, and in those which God enables us to do.

We have the Protestant work ethic on the one hand, but also the Protestant penchant for being suspicious of good works. The former might have been mostly from Calvin and the latter inherited from Luther, but it’s not fair to suggest that those who emphasize rest from works in the faith that’s apart from works, fail to work themselves. The best of those traditions have some good understanding and balance between the faith that rests and the faith that works.

I love work, and hard work at that. Often I find it quite therapeutic. I may be under something, but not only the distraction, but effort of work helps one to settle into a kind of peace or blessing from God. Of course everything is a gift from God, work included. Works will continue beyond this life, but what we won’t miss is all the difficulties that can come with work in the here and now. Overcoming such difficulties indeed can be part of the fun now, but often require plenty of patience and persistence, and rest when those kinds of days come mercifully to an end.

Work is a part of who we are as humans. We’re given something to do which includes something of a creative capacity from God as well as the ability to cope with creation. All the while rejoicing in God’s works, and being thankful for the good works given to us. Even while we look forward to the rest to come in the next life, which actually will include even more works I take it. But done in the sphere of the new creation in which the dynamic will be striking, a work grounded in a wonderful freedom of love. In and through Jesus and to the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

through the hard places with Job

Job is a good study, in fact the study we have on Job on Tuesday nights at church from 6:30 to 8:00 and past that, is hands down my favorite Bible study or study at church I’ve ever been a part of. Led by a seminarian, Jordan, who gets into the Hebrew, along with our Pastor Jack, and excellent participation by those who attend.

I can’t compare my life with Job, either in regard to his integrity (although I accept that which I have as a gift from God) nor in regard to what he experienced. I take Job as a story and not strictly speaking as history, in the inspired, inscripturated word of God. I’m not saying it can’t be history. But it is for sure a masterpiece of wisdom, giving us a slant on wisdom that is unique.

Job directed his complaints to God. He was righteous, period. And he was suffering. His friends could not put that together. If he was righteous, wouldn’t his life be blessed? But if not, than indeed he wouldn’t be blessed. Job has it out both with his friends and with God. In the end, God’s relatively much shorter reply deftly helps Job to see that the world, including Job’s world is much bigger than Job could possibly imagine. Something wonderful exists about it in terms of God’s working, yes in the midst of all the calamity, pain and suffering.

If I can just get hold of that thought and keep it. In my case I have to add that my life hasn’t been altogether one of integrity, as is the case of Job, though I believe by God’s grace I can say now that that part is a thing of the past. We are sinners, but the book of Job teaches that one can live with integrity in righteousness, and still suffer much in this life. And yet something wonderful, and big beyond our understanding can be occurring at the same time.

But Job is a puzzling book to me, just the same. Yes, he is restored at the end, praying for his friends as they offer sacrifices to God, so that his friends are forgiven and before Job was restored. And then restored, with the same number of children: seven sons and three daughters, this time the daughters being the most beautiful in the land. As wonderful as those children were, the loss of the first ten would be one that would remain for life. And all on a bet, so to speak, with Satan. But again, God is at work in wonderful ways beyond our understanding. Job did not receive answers afterward, but he did finally understand that in spite of everything, God was at work.

And so I look at my life and go on. Believing that God is somehow in it in a wonderful way. Even in the pain. In his grace in and through Jesus.

Jordan Seng on supernatural ministry for today? yes, but…*

One final thing that supernatural ministry may require of you is what you might call the faith to discover—or to rediscover, as the case may be.

I’m often asked this sort of question: if supernatural ministries are so useful and have been as prevalent as many claim, then why don’t all churches and traditions use them today? It’s a good question that actually reflects a profound historical reality. The truth is, while supernatural ministries have been both common and enormously fruitful in church history, they’ve never been what you would call steady. Over the centuries we see great renewals of supernatural ministry followed by long droughts of disuse. It’s up and down, here then there, a consistent inconsistency. You can focus on regional revivals and conclude that supernatural ministries have been constant, but you could just as well focus on down times and conclude that supernatural ministries ended with the first apostles. Really, it’s the variation that needs explaining. Why do supernatural ministries surge so often only to dwindle so frequently?

Since supernatural ministries have never been entirely absent, it’s hard to argue that God decided to stop empowering them, so the cause for variation must lie with us. My theory is this: groups of believers frequently figure out how to do supernatural ministry, but they have a hard time figuring out how to live with the ministry. Revivals come with great exhilaration and fruitfulness; downturns come when people tire of the level of weirdness, vulnerability and sacrifice that supernatural ministry demands.

One result of this variation is that very few believers have had the benefit of what you could really call a tradition in supernatural ministries, so each new generation has to do the work of rediscovering the ministries for themselves.

It’s always been this way. For example, the use of supernatural ministry by first-century believers is well-chronicled in Scripture and elsewhere, but by the late second century the church father Irenaeus in his Against Heresies actually had to reassure his readers that supernatural works were still practiced fruitfully in his jurisdiction. “For some do certainly and truly drive out devils,” he wrote. “Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years.”

In the next century the seminal theologian Origen wrote from Alexandria of “traces of that Holy Spirit” among Christians who “expel evil spirits and perform many cures, and foresee certain events,” but it was only “traces.” A century later, in the same city, Bishop Athanasius extensively documented the miracles of his Egyptian contemporary, Anthony of the Desert, but his whole project was based on the notion that only exceptional monks were doing such ministry.

The great Augustine of Hippo totally dismissed the possibility of supernatural ministries initially, but then he encountered them during a fifth-century revival in his native North Africa. In the last section of The City of God he offers gushing accounts of healings, concluding “even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ.” He reportedly collected accounts of recent miracles for pastors to read aloud in the churches he supervised in order to rekindle the ministries.

We have rather detailed accounts of the use of supernatural ministries by Patrick, Columba and other monk evangelists of the western European outreach. In a wonderfully personal letter to Augustine of Canterbury in A.D. 601, Gregory, bishop of Rome, acknowledged the use of miracles to attract English natives to Christ, and even offered advice for handling the pressures of being a supernatural minister. But by the later middle centuries, as central church leaders focused on governance rather than outreach, supernatural ministries seem to have survived only on the fringes.

Early Reformation leaders strenuously dismissed miracle stories as a ploy by Catholics to legitimate their dominance, but it didn’t take long for Protestant pioneers to rediscover the usefulness of supernatural tools. Scottish Reformers John Knox, Alexander Peden and George Wishart had highly regarded prophetic ministries in their day. (Wishart even predicted his own murder.) John Welch, a leading Reformer at the turn of the seventeenth century, was recognized as a man of “prophetic utterance” and was credited with raising a man from the dead. Seventeenth-century biographers of reform clergyman Robert Bruce systematically collected eyewitness accounts of the many healings, deliverances and other supernatural manifestations linked with his evangelistic meetings.

And yet less than a century later, the great British revivalist John Wesley was shocked to find “that signs and wonders are even now wrought by his holy child Jesus.” His revered journals are spiced  with accounts of deliverances and healings , and also of the opposition he experienced from “formal, orthodox men [who] began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.” Wesley’s New England contemporary, Jonathan Edwards, often called the dean of American theology, wrote some of his most ardent essays to fend off Christian critics who didn’t trust the supernatural manifestations that characterized his revival ministry. Even her wife was called to defend what was called her “joyful view of divine things.”

Francis Asbury, the first American Methodist bishop, was so passionate about supernatural ministry that he used to command his preaching protégés to “Feel for power, feel for power!” Two Methodists and a Presbyterian touched off the Cane Ridge Revival on the American frontier in the early 1800s—a movement that  popularized the phrase “slain in the Spirit.” But today few Methodists or Presbyterians are aware of this movement, and neither of those denominations is known for practicing supernatural ministry.

Supernatural ministries played a big role in the establishment of the early church, the birth of monasticism, the expansion of the faith to Western Europe, the spread of the Reformation, the great revivals of the Atlantic and American frontier evangelism. And yet in each instance, practitioners had to discover it anew for themselves.

So, what does this pattern of atrophy and rediscovery mean for you?

Well, it mean that while you may or may not have had some supernatural experiences with the Lord, you probably haven’t benefited from a lot of examples of living with supernatural ministries. If you’re at a church that practices supernatural ministry, the church is probably relatively new to it. And even if you church does have a strong supernatural tradition, chances are the congregation has experienced some dramatic waxing and waning in the effectiveness of its supernatural ministries. In all, if you’re interested in supernatural ministries, it’s likely that you’re in a place of rediscovery or renewal, and that requires a certain sort of faith.

There’s a style of Christian discipleship that is conservative, in the literal sense of the word: its emphasis is on preservation, affirming what’s proven and familiar. There’s another sort of discipleship that presumes new things and experiences—not liberal, in the sense of giving license to violate the old or established, but progressive, in the sense of Jesus’ teaching on “new wineskins” for “new wine.” To embrace all the works of the kingdom, we have to be willing to expand our containers of knowledge and experience. To pursue supernatural ministry, we need the faith for this progressive sort of discipleship. We have to be willing to try things, to reach for things we’ve only heard of, to explore and discover, to act without being totally sure how to act. Supernatural ministry entails adventure.

Jordan Seng, Miracle Work: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Supernatural Ministries, 25-29.

*Could have been entitled, “renewal of a supernatural people,” in keeping with the titles of the chapter and section quoted, but that raises questions which are not answered well by what is quoted here, though in my view are indeed answered well in the book as a whole.

“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.

God’s kingdom is in our midst in Jesus

Our Pastor Jack gave us a good word from the word yesterday which spoke to our family especially right now where we’re at. It was about God’s kingdom being near here and now for all in and through Jesus, even through us in Jesus. The main text from which he preached was Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.

The idea I gathered (many good words and thoughts from Jack, I am not sharing here) is that God is at work in his rule in and through Jesus right where we live. Of course we can resist that rule through unbelief and disobedience. But by faith we can see that rule “played out” in and through our lives for good. Of course we are participants in that, even as Jesus’ disciples were when they proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom, and for those who accepted the message, did the mighty good works of healing the sick and casting out demons (presumably both through speaking words of authority and prayer).

I am now so acclimated to the truth that God’s kingdom in Jesus is present here and now. Even though it is eschatological as in future, it has broken into the present in and through Jesus. I guess many still hold to it as future and in the sense of simply going to heaven. But God’s kingdom in Jesus is for the new heaven and the new earth, the new creation, beginning even now before that new age takes complete hold.

This is an encouragement to me. I am not on my own; we are not on our own. As we seek in Jesus to do God’s will in practical down to earth works of love, God is with us in Jesus in his reign, to help us see his good will come to pass. Of course this is a work of faith. We will likely see some of the fruit, but not necessarily all of it. The harvest is plentiful, and there’s much work to do. In our prayers to God for more workers, he sends us out, perhaps right where we live, but in the ways of his kingdom and his works, helping us in Jesus to participate in his rule for the good of others.

Of course some may resist. We simply “shake the dust off our feet,” so to speak and go on. God’s kingdom in Jesus is in our midst, and he will lead us as we continue on, humbly in the victory of God in Jesus, in the way of Jesus, the way of the cross as God’s resurrection people together for the world.

praise to God

When a heavenly host of angels appeared to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born, they were said to praise God, I would imagine in loud but hauntingly beautiful chorus, saying:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

Luke 2

One of the wonderful aspects of Advent season are the Christmas carols (another good link, this one getting into the songs). Wonderfully written- which is why they are sung year after year, tunes forever embedded in us with words recalling God’s great act of love in becoming part of his creation through the Incarnation when the Word became flesh. One of the strengths of the content of lyrics is that they help us remember what God has done in Jesus. This is what true praise to God involves: a recounting of what he has done. From that we can begin to sense and enter into what God is doing in the present, as well as anticipate in “hope” what God will do in the future, according to his promises in Jesus.

Worship can be taken up with just the greatness of God himself, who God is. While praise, which actually can and should be a part of, or accompany worship is more like high commendation, in this case the highest, to one for their great and good works.

Some of my most meaningful times in spirit are when a song just seems to come to me, and I begin to sing it, or sing with it. This works alright at work, my singing drowned out by the humming roar of all the machinery.

The best lyrics help us focus on God and on what God has done in Jesus. Of course other lyrics can be meaningful and good in different ways. We have the Hebrew song book, the Psalms which gives us clear indication of that. Psalms of lament and even complaint, along with the psalms of praise. We need both, actually. I would agree with Michael Card on that, which goes along with the Great Tradition of orthodox Christianity, and most importantly lines up with the testimony of scripture. But praise to God, which actually is called a sacrifice offered, should be something we are learning to practice, becoming more and more a part of us. I confess in my own life, which often is played in minor key along with major at intervals, such has been at best lacking, overall, and at worst absent.

The Christmas hymns we call carols can help us reflect on the wonder and beauty of what God has done in becoming a helpless little baby for us and for the world.