Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Faith Moment: Salvation

How does faith congeal in the soul to become substance

I do not believe that God secretly presses a button he's concealed within us, which when pressed, makes us people of persevering faith. As I understand it, that is precisely what Calvinism proposes. The problem with that is that if God did do that kind of thing for any person, he'd do it for all people. Scriptures are clear that is not the way things turn out, so Calvinism cannot be consistent with the self-revelation of God in them (and Universalism must be seen to bite the dust as well). 


God has made mankind with the capacity for faith, of that there can be little doubt, for people everywhere trust in things they cannot see. I think this general capacity is what separates mankind from angels, particularly in regard to redeemability. Mankind was made in innocence, really ignorance, and therefore was made for faith. Faith exists in that gap produced by unseens and unknowns, but Angels were made for knowledge and sight. 


When angels rebelled they did so in knowledge and sight and are irredeemable as a result (see Hebrews 6:4a for the concept as it applies to mankind). If Romans 12:3 applies broadly to all humanity (as I've always taken it to mean) rather than just the church (as Calvinists in particular take it), then God has in fact dealt each person at least some measure of faith. Of course, true faith, faith that actually has an effect, requires that it be placed in the right object, namely, God and God alone. That means that God has to "show up" for faith to spark into life.


Really, God "showing up" is that enabling help without which no one could truly believe, but I also know that God, no matter what help he gives, isn't going to believe for us. Otherwise, all of his commands to us to believe would be nonsensical. In order to effectively trust in Christ, only a minimal amount and clarity of faith (i.e. less than mustard seed quantities) is required. That may not seem like much of a threshold, yet it remains a mountain to most people most of the time. 


We are called to faith, it is the very currency of heaven. On their own, humans can only answer that call with something less than true faith in the actual God. When the Holy Spirit brings our focus on the person and authority of Christ into clarity, the moment is ripe for salvivic faith to be born. It is not guaranteed, as is attested by Israel's example and the fact that not everyone comes to faith since Jesus was lifted up on the cross. Nonetheless, thank God that the Holy Spirit is sent to bring us to that moment when everything comes together and Jesus is seen as supreme--the faith moment.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stirred not Shaken

What would it take for you to act upon an impression that you thought might be the Holy Spirit? If absolute certainty is your threshold, you will never move upon any inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Even if your condition to act is merely that you have to apply thoughtful consideration before acting (that seems wise, right?), anything that is of an urgent nature, i.e. that requires an immediate response, will never be done either. We can easily undermine our experience of things spiritual and miraculous in the name of caution and prudence. 

Things of the Spirit (pneumatikos) are anything but certain. According to Christ, it takes faith to cast out demons, heal the sick, and move mountains. In the realm of things the Spirit inspires, there is a gap between what is and what could be that only faith can fill. If we are not willing to strike out in faith on the basis of an inspiration, call it a holy hunch, we will never experience the kinds of supernatural things that are mentioned throughout the New Testament.

Substituting our judgment for the Holy Spirit's is not prudence or wisdom, nor is it faithful--what it is, is a surefire way to quench the Holy Spirit and live a life without the miraculous.

It is a misapprehension to think that a lightning bolt from heaven would strike (or something nigh unto it) if you were meant to heal the sick, or speak a prophetic word, or exercise power against an unclean spirit. Not many, if any, of us are ever going to experience anything like that! Jesus didn't experience that, Peter didn't experience that, and Paul didn't experience that. Elijah learned the hard way not to expect to

We need sensitivity to the intimate voice of God within us to catch the stirring of the Spirit.

When God's whisper falls on our "ear", we have to act in faith or we'll miss the opportunity to do a greater work. If that happens, something Jesus went to the cross and ascended into heaven to make possible ends up being missed entirely. We are not meant to live satisfied with the Cessationist's paltry gospel, which is little more than an academic exercise in criticism, history and philosophy that devolves into endless debates over the meanings of words. What we are called to be is powerful witnesses of Christ to the world after that the Holy Spirit comes upon us

The Holy Spirit has a way of making himself heard to the hearing ear. To those that have one, much more will be given. To those who turn a deaf ear to God the Spirit, what could have been theirs is lost, like a fruitful field of grain that went unharvested. We're partnered with God, someone we can absolutely trust. When that hunch that might be the Holy Spirit stirs within, we must take faith in hand and act or we'll lose the opportunity.

James Bond, despite his iconic instruction concerning his taste in spirits, would be dead wrong in the realm of the Spirit,: it's always better to be stirred, not shaken.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I Was in the Spirit

John uses the expression, "I was in the Spirit" twice in the Apocalypse. Once at 1:10, and once at 4:2. That he was referring to the same state of experience both times could hardly be argued against. What that state was we are about to explore, though it is not explicitly developed in the text. The sort of thing it results in, on the other hand, was explicitly demonstrated throughout the Revelation.

In both instances, the phrases are exactly the same in Koine. On their face, they refer to a locus in or among the Spirit. In the way that one can be "in the wind" or even "in the sun", the Apostle John was in the Spirit. What he is communicating by this was that he was experiencing a pointed (and I would say virtually tangible) consciousness of the divine presence.

This was not John's common or moment-to-moment experience of the Spirit. There are clear enough references to the inception of the experience in both occurrences. In the first usage, this something special happened to occur one Sunday on Patmos. In the second usage, the condition was initiated immediately upon hearing the voice beckoning him to heaven. In both cases, it seems clear that the experience as recorded represented a change from what was going on before.

The word used [ginomai] to describe the existence of John's state packs within it the idea of "becoming" rather than simply being. In other words, John emerged into this state (really, was born into it) at the moment in reference. It is not described in trance-like terms, though the word "ecstasy" is often bandied about while commenting on it. It is ridiculous to do so in my mind, for John betrays no rapture, no enthusiasm, no exhilaration nor any euphoria in conjunction with this experience. Really, there is nothing but matter-of-fact reportage associated with it.

More than anything else the state of being in the Spirit, at least from the accounts of John's being so, is about awareness of the very presence of God--not theoretically, not by faith, but in actuality. If we can generalize from John's experience to any of our's (and I think we can), being in the Spirit is like having a light go on in the dark which suddenly reveals things one would otherwise be unaware of. Those things could be revelations regarding heaven or earth or about the activity of God in a moment past, present or future.

If there is anything precedential or paradigmatic about John's experience, I think it can be said in regard to its application to us, that coming to be in the Spirit (really, acting on charismatic distinctives) is about coming to an acute awareness of God's immediate presence and what he is up to. As a result of that awareness prophecy, or healings, or works of power, or miracles are then manifested in this world. Those manifestations do not break into existence because someone exercised enough faith to produce them, but because someone had come to be in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why Leave A Church?

We live in a mobile society. Folks are shifting from one place to another constantly. I wouldn't think, given such a circumstance, that it would be unexpected that folk would be shifting churches in the shuffle. That's fine, it goes with the territory, but folk are also leaving churches they otherwise would not have to, and it raises the question is, "Is OK to leave one's church?"

People leave their churches for all sorts of reasons and in all kinds of conditions. Some leave churches wandering out of a fog bewildered, some surf the edge of the blast wave after a big blow-up, some leave at the end of the left foot of fellowship, and some lose motivation or faith and fall off more than they depart. Some leave because they find another place more attractive, and some just want something new. Everyone that leaves has their reasons, I'm sure.

Although I doubt that many are legitimately motivated when they choose to leave a church, I do think that leaving a church can be the right thing to do at times.
If that church doesn't uphold the Scripture as the infallible rule of faith and conduct;
If that church embraces universalism;
If that church becomes libertine or antinomian; 
If that church adopts legalism...
You get the point. There are practical and doctrinal issues that are so fundamental and non-negotiable, that if a line is crossed there, then we must cross ourselves off the roll. Even if this is the case, I don't think one should leave such a church without a fight. Not that one should seek to win an argument or engage in a turf war, but that one should contend for the faith and for the souls in that body. Don't let them wander off to hell without an effort to save their souls! However, if they won't hear, and won't stand on sound doctrine, then one must leave!

At times, a bone of contention arises between folk that, given the nature of the personalities involved, cannot be resolved. If continuing on together in mission is impossible, separating unto mission is acceptable It is still unfortunate in the grand scheme, but as long as it is done on reasonable terms and doesn't result in an unending grudge it may be the preferable course of action. We can disagree without being disagreeable, even if it means one going one way and the other going another.

At times, folk are being appointed in the body according to the wishes of the Spirit of God, and leaving one congregation and going to another is precisely what God wants! It's easy to discern this if one is moved to a distant place; it's not so easy if this change takes place in the same town. Regardless, each of us is a gift to the body and we must understand that God gets to place us where he wishes. Actually, I wonder how much dissatisfaction people feel in church is actually just the dissonance in their souls caused by not discerning where God wants them.

There are acceptable, justifiable, and quite spiritual reasons to leave one church and go to another

And then there are reasons which are neither expedient nor justifiable.

It is not justifiable to leave a church for selfish reasons. Church is about Jesus being Lord, not about the churchgoer getting what he or she wants. Christians are not customers, the church is not a business and spiritual ministrations are not consumer goods. To treat this God ordained endeavor as if any of that were true is an insult to grace. Leaving a church for greener pastures is unacceptable for clergy or laity.

It is not expedient for those who have been appropriately corrected, or who have been properly spiritually directed to leave a church rather than humbly submitting to that which has been rendered for their spiritual development. The flawed natural constitution of humans beings means that we grow as Christians to our lowest level of incorrigibility, but that cannot excuse a lack of obedience to the Word or to the brethren. Escaping correction or rejecting direction in one body doesn't give one a blank slate to start in another (regardless of whether one is clergy or laity).

There are occasions where the godly will be justified in leaving a church. At times it will be the absolutely right thing to do. However, even if it is, it's never something left merely to our discretion or preference. Jesus is head over the body, so he gets to plant us where he wants. 

As for us, we need to stay where we're planted and blossom.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why Go to Church?

Why should believers go to church? There are a lot of excuses one could give for blowing it off:
  • Church folk are nothing but hypocrites
  • Their idea of worship is not my idea
  • All they do is ask for money
  • It's too irrelevant, too loud, too impersonal, too ________...
  • I am not genuinely needed, wanted and won't be missed
  • I've got better things to do
  • When else can I shop or do my household chores?
There are some reasons, which traditionally have been offered, as to why we should go:
  1. to maintain social cohesion
  2. because of necessary, clerically performed rituals within the context of structured liturgies
  3. to derive a benefit from what is offered there
  4. because it's the "right" thing to do.
I submit that none of the suggested excuses for not going, nor most of the traditional reasons cited for doing so are valid. They are mere rationalizations without any spiritual merit.

The scriptures tell us that together we are the body of Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. So...
We gather as the church because we are connected with unseen bonds.
We gather as the church because we acknowledge the truth of how God sees us (as one in Christ).
We gather as the church because we need the gifts of others and we need to be the vector of gifts for others.
We gather as the church because the Bible tells us to do so.
If someone is so disillusioned with church that he or she doesn't want to go anymore, that one should do some serious soul searching. Has he or she been going for the right reasons in the first place? Has that one given his or herself fully to being a benefit to the church rather than deriving a benefit from it? Does that person believe that God changed his mind about this whole issue?

If someone is not motivated enough, or too occupied or distracted with discretionary things to go to church, he or she needs to change. Church exists because God selflessly loved us enough to do something about our lostness. Christ has called us to himself and to each other for all eternity. If we're not grasping that and are capable of treating church like we treat the choice of which grocer to use, we don't understand Jesus--not his plans for us, not what he calls us to, and not what he's making us to be.

Maybe we don't truly believe in Jesus at all! 

I am a pastor committed to church, but I have also been a lay person going to church reluctantly. I know what it's like to go to church hoping for inspiration only to find frustration. I know what it's like having a bad week and wanting to hibernate, or what it's like to have an option that seems better to the flesh. I even know what it's like to feel as if you've disappeared into the background of an impersonal institution and that it's of no use anyway.


I also know that the trying of our faith brings forth a peaceable fruit. In life on this side of eternity nothing is perfect. Church is not, church people are not, and pastors are anything but. Despite all that brokenness, perseverance in church going is God's will for us. When we faithfully commit to it, despite the drama and flaws, we become a blessing to others and blessing comes back to us.

Wait a minute... blessing in the midst of brokenness... on second thought, that sounds exactly like what something that's of Christ should look like on this side of eternity.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Worship As Fellowship

"...I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it. And I will wait on your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.   Psalm 52:8-9  NASB

Psalm 52 is a study in contrasts. It begins looking at the evil person (as summarized in v. 7) and ends looking at the faithful, godly one. The boasts of the two are contrasted, as is their desire, their faith, and the reaction they get from God. A remarkable feature of the godly one is that he gets to hang out in the presence of God with other godly ones and worship. 
Worship as fellowship, imagine that!

Worship is fellowship with God

The faithful one is cast as a green olive tree in the house of God. That would seem a rather passive symbol, but there's much to recommend it. It is green, which means it is full of vitality. It is a tree, so its place is its place of abiding--trees don't come and go--it dwells in God's presence. It is an olive tree which means its fruitfulness provides oil which produces both sustenance and light.


An olive tree planted in the Temple grounds is in the happy situation of dwelling in the light of God. There it flourishes as a result of hanging out in the presence of God. It has abundant life flowing within and productive life blossoming and ripening without. It is alive as live can be, resting in the lovingkindness of God, but is there any action? 


Yes, there is--praising. "I will give you thanks" (as in the NASB above) would probably be bettered rendered as "I will praise you" (as in the NIV). The Hebrew word underlying the English translation comes from a root which means "casting" or "throwing" and which came to be used figuratively of the act of praising. In worship we cast our thanks, we cast our wonder, and we cast our submission to or upon God. 


When the faithful one is fellowshipping with God, planted like a tree in his presence, that one showers God with love and gratitude. Not a surprising response, given the wonder of who God is, it could hardly be helped. To fellowship with God is to break out in praise. Maybe we could jump to the conclusion and say by extension: to truly worship is to fellowship with God.

Worship is fellowship with God's people

That green tree planted in the temple of God is not alone. Others are present as well, godly people looking to God. Praise can be done alone, but is not something reserved for solitude. As for the individual, so too for the group: faithful people in the presence of God can hardly keep from breaking forth in praise. To truly worship in congress is to fellowship with God and man.


I think our fellowship with one another is missing something without genuine worship being part of our shared experience. Not all of our fellowship has to be centered around worship, but it is a dynamic that is healthy for us as individuals and as a body. Together, we are the temple of God. Worship is our fellowship.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Worship as a Response to God

Like all things truly spiritual, worship doesn't have its source in the innate goodness or wisdom of the human being. Would mankind even have a notion to worship, let alone worship along the lines God desired, without some impetus from God? I don't think so. True worship, as I see it, is something that results from the Spirit's input into the sons and daughters of Adam's race.

"Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; and Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped."   Exodus 4:29-31 NASB

Worship is inspired by hearing God's word. Faith is inspired along the same lines: it makes sense that worship would be part of the package. When the Holy Spirit attends the Word of God, so that the human can hear it with perception, understanding dawns on that person and response to God's word becomes possible. Faith is the primary, necessary and effective response, worship is the consequential one.

It is not the mere fact or existence of God's word which elicits a response, but the content. A later prophet would seem to rely on the same factor. When the Holy Spirit attends the Word of God which reveals that God has plans for people, plans to prosper them and not harm them, people touched by the message respond. Among other possibilities, they worship.

Followers of Jesus have such words from God. Since they are, by definition, spiritual people capable of spiritual appraisals, Christians would be expected to be people who exude worship in response to such promises. Christians unmoved to worship, Christians unresponsive worshipfully to God's goodness, or Christians unbowed before the mighty and merciful God would seem a contradiction in terms. Christians who don't worship might not be Christians at all.

Worship finds inspiration in the acts of God as well. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are perhaps the most notable among the acts of God, but they are not the only ones that inspire worship. Past acts other than those, and present acts serve to inspire worship too. Any act of God that communicates that God is with us, that God is for us, and that he has seen our misery and is concerned for us inspire those that believe to bow down in worship.

When one hears God's words of concern and promise and sees God's acts of deliverance and blessing, and believes, worship in response to God is practically automatic. So, listen to the words of God and see his acts of wonder and let a reaction rise within you and spill out as worship.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Worship as an Expression of Faith

Worship is about homage. It is the respect or regard paid to that which has power over one's life. Not everyone would acknowledge belief in the supernatural, but I think everyone worships something. Everyone give props to that which they see as having the power to affect their lives for good. If one truly believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, worshipping him is just part of that package.

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."         John 4:24  NASB

Worship is really an expression of faith.

At its heart, it is a reach, a stretch, wherein a person of conviction dares to seek and see God as he is. God is breath (spirit) and so he is beyond the physicality of this world and all that's in it. His essence is the essence of the soul, of personhood--self-awareness, consciousness, purposefulness. Therefore, that seeking which is worship must engage those same qualities within the seeker. That which is spirit must be worshipped in spirit.

Worship cannot be circumscribed by the merely physical nor the superficial.

Historically, Christian worship has fallen short in both regards. Arrangements of "furniture," postures of bodies, and recitations and intonations done virtually without thought have very little to do with worship. The contemporary fixation with worship as entertainment or a perfunctory preliminary is no better, maybe even worse. The very essence of our spiritual being must be engaged in seeking and revering God, or all we've done is gone through some empty motions.

The very essence of who we are as persons must bow before the very presence of the person of God in order to worship.

Worship is, literally, "kissing towards" the object of reverence, which by use referred to bowing or prostration before the worshipped; that is, doing obeisance or acknowledging superiority. So, at its heart, worship is about surrender. If we have not come to a point of surrender to God, deep in our souls, we have not worshipped. Worship, such as this, is not a duty that can be done from a distance, it can only be accomplished "up close and personal."

Worship must be sincere.


There's no place for illusion in worship. Often the reference to truth in John 4:24 is misinterpreted to refer to fact and logic (i.e., knowledge), as if true worship engages both emotion and intellect. Certainly, heart and mind are part of what makes a human essentially human, but the reference to truth in this case has more to do with integrity than it does to knowledge. Possessing a theologically accomplished mind doesn't qualify one as a worshipper to any degree whatsoever, whereas honestly bowing down does.

Though our publications and practices would seem to suggest it, it has not been left up to us to fashion what worship of God could or should be. Oh, people can do that sort of thing, but they shouldn't expect the result would be considered worship by God. Jesus has told us, clearly, what God is looking for in worship, and what worship of God must be. Worship is an expression of faith, it must come from the essence of what we are as people, it must express surrender to God's authority over us, and it must be unfeigned.

If what you call worship isn't accomplishing this, it's not worship.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Timing of Guilt and Forgiveness

Guilt and forgiveness occur in two different frames of reference and sometimes are out of sync as a result. We feel remorse for our sin and the need for forgiveness in real time, it's felt in the present like a dagger to the chest or a weight upon the shoulders. Guilt is experiential in the moment. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is past perfect--fully established by something Christ finished in the past.

Guilt, when it is our experience, is our experience until another one supersedes it. Our heads may understand the principle of vicarious sacrifice and the mechanism of forgiveness finished in the past, but our hearts feel guilt and remorse in the present and do so until they are alleviated. A battle rages between our minds and our hearts on the subject, because there is a difference between knowing something intellectually and feeling it emotionally. Believers in Christ can end up feeling shameful before God, even ostracized from him, despite knowing about the cross.

When Christians focus on their feelings of guilt they become prey for the enemy, who seeks to drive a wedge between them and God, ultimately to undermine their faith in God's forgiveness. Believers under the weight of guilt are on the edge of doubting their status before God. On the other hand, believers who are presumptuous, and ride roughshod over conscience, can undermine their own faith, sin against the grace of God, and wind up in the same place anyhow. God help us!

Guilt is not a necessarily bad thing for a Christian, but I think it takes an experiential revelation of forgiveness for it not to be so in the long run. That doesn't mean we're not forgiven if we don't feel forgiven, or even that we're not forgiven until we confess our sin and ask. Forgiveness was attained on the cross and sealed by the resurrection. It's a fait accompli. The one who believes in Christ and what he accomplished through his passion is forgiven regardless of confession or feeling.

But given the timing of guilt and forgiveness, there will be occasions when the believer will have to hold on to the facts of forgiveness with an iron grip until the feelings of guilt crumble and give way to those facts. Sometimes guilt must hang on the cross of Christ until it dies.