Life as Extraordinary

A little catch-up:

It has been a while since I have sat down and written here at HM. Some have asked me when I would start again. All I can say to that effect is that I have eagerly desired each and every day to write something I’ve newly discovered in this glorious gospel to share with you. However, over the last couple of years, ministry life and responsibilities have dramatically increased for me which has netted the result of a high desire to share and a low output rate. I hope to match the two a bit more this coming year and that all of it will be a blessing and encouragement to you.

Now for some cibo (food) in the gospel and community

There is a line of thought which is often expressed in our churches from well-intentioned Christians (at least in Europe) that goes something like this:

I can’t do very much for God, and I don’t have much to offer God:

  • I’m not wealthy.
  • I’m not a leader.
  • I’m not talented.
  • I am timid.
  • I don’t have time like others do.
  • I’m not as smart as others.
  • I’m more of a private person.
  • My career prohibits me.
  • Nobody listens to me.

What our friends are expressing is an exaggeration of the ordinary; living with the gospel at an unreachable distance. The main problem with allowing our inner voice to talk like this is twofold.

First, it is poor theology which puts pressure on the mind and heart to try to generate something useful for God. Grace does not work that way. We do not generate-up good works in the hope that they will be something profitable that will satisfy God. In fact, this kind of thinking causes us to feel like we are never doing enough. God is rarely, if ever, happy with me. Instead, a true Christian is provided every day with the fountain of grace and providential goodness to live in the glory of Christ who gives his child good works to walk in (Eph. 2:10). For example, yes, it may be that God opens the door for you to visit with a neighbor about Jesus and grace, but it is also a God-glorifying work to respond with patience when your children won’t get ready for school in time during a hurried morning. Both situations require the Gospel and both are an opportunity — not to generate-up something useful — but to give-up something glorious back to the Lord who guided you into that very situation.

Second, this negative response creates a sense of desperation or fatalism because it is a response based too much on the circumstance of today and not governed by the reality of Jesus over us now and for eternity. Simply, this kind of thinking is poor theology because it denies who we are in Christ Jesus now, and who we are becoming in Christ Jesus tomorrow.

Applying the extra to the ordinary

holy_spirit1Here is how we need to help each other “get back to” the gospel and live it. In Acts 2, we see the marriage ceremony of Jesus to his bride. He brings his church into himself and collocates her to himself in Heaven before the Father. This is the privileged position of being united together in Christ.  The temple veil was torn and God the Holy Spirit is rushing out to indwell his people from all over the world! The physical sign of this was the beautiful manifestation of the flaming tongues of fire and the good news invitation of Jesus shared across the languages. These fire-tongues were both sign and signal that his people were now in him, and if Jesus is the new temple then they are also representative temples with the specific presence of God in them.

The follow-on results in Acts 2:42-47 do not strike us as spectacularly as the first wonders do in the early verses with the rushing winds and hovering flames of fire. No, on the contrary, we see people are doing quite ordinary things but with a completely new position and perspective. Yes, there are signs and wonders, but Luke does not elaborate on those and seems to emphasize the Christians’ desire to know more about Jesus, to praise Jesus both publicly and privately, to share food by eating together in Jesus’ name, to sell their possessions for those in need, and to invest in caring gestures toward each other. It is still Jesus directing his church, but he is not doing it through human greatness or achievement. Rather, he is guiding his church through service and care.
And here is the delightful response of Jesus to his bride as they live this ordinary-extraordinary life of the gospel:

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47

So, the point for true Christians (I’m not speaking about cultural Christians) is that the reality of being married to Christ is the same for us today as it was for the early church. We are directly under and in the temple-reign of the Lord Jesus — right now.

Therefore, when we hear each other say that we can’t do much for God, we must be active to remind and challenge each other that — you say you cannot do much for God, but what you must see is that if you are in Christ, every thing you do is already done for God! Yes, each ordinary thing is given to you by Jesus. You think you have a powerless, ordinary life because of what you feel you can or cannot achieve. However, you have an extraordinary life not based on what you do, but based on who you are — on who Jesus has made you to be.

You simply have a choice to make in every action and circumstance. You will have to decide whether you will acknowledge that, “…this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” and give it back to the Lord Jesus in honor for his glory or whether you will claim it for yourself. But if we can see that God’s mission is not simply “out there“, but rather, being providentially directed from “in Him in here“, it is truly extraordinary to think of what Jesus will do with our ordinary-extraordinary lives when we care for him and for each other in this gospel-centered way. The challenge is to realize and appropriate who you are in him — right here & right now.

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Communities of the unburning bush

The Lord himself – who is who he is – has bound himself inextricably to his people.

Immanuel: the-with-you-God

 

That key phrase caught my attention in a smaller but similar way to Moses noticing an unburning bush. I’m currently enjoying a read through the newly released work, Covenantal Apologetics by Scott Oliphint. In chapter 2 (Set Christ Apart as Lord), the author draws special attention to the essence of who Jesus Christ is and claimed to be. Jesus is the embodiment of the I AM that spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert. Rejecting Jesus is rejecting the I AM (Yahweh). Here is the quote in context and then a brief application.

Covenantal Apologetics by Scott OliphintThe revelation that Moses has of what is really the unburning bush is, in part, designed to reveal to Moses both of these truths [wholly satisfied God alone is who he is and also commits himself to his covenants]. The fire, which represents The Lord himself, is in no way dependent on the bush in order to burn. The fire is, in that sense, a se. It does not need the bush for fuel; it is able to burn in and of itself. But it is also with the bush. It could easily appear on its own, because it is in need of nothing to burn. Or it could appear beside the bush. Instead, it is linked inextricably with the bush, even as The Lord himself – who is who he is – has bound himself inextricably to his people.

One of the unique and glorious truths of being knit together by the Gospel in community is the presence of the wholly satisfied God. That presence is what sets redeemed friends apart from any other form of community in this world. Moses must have seen a billion bushes but only one like the I AM’s. Similarly, the people of our cities will see tens of thousands of friends, families, and homes but what makes all the difference is the connected lives of unburning believers. I desire my home to stand out like that, and the fire has already united with me because he loved me first.

We might ask, “Where’s the sign? You know, the unburning house or unburning church so people will be shocked out of their shoes?” The answer is to look into the ordinary and the mundane which contains the extraordinary (like the ordinary manger holding the Creator and Redeemer of the universe). This is using the eyes of faith to see the hidden, blazing reality.

One day, the I AM himself took off the sandals of his desert pastors and washed their feet (Jn 13). There, he showed us how to be an ordinary bush but ablaze with transformed hearts. After all, he is seeking people who worship him in spirit and in truth. Are we not a people bearing and reflecting the image of the sovra-natural God who in no single way needs us but loves and binds himself to us? Instead of consuming us for what we rightly deserve, he is now revealed through us; converting the ordinary into the remarkable.

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts: part 5 – gifts meet needs

spiritual gifts logo-image

In this series on the Spirit-giftings, let’s take a step back and simply ask what the Holy Spirit is actually doing when he graces a gift to us?

At surface level, we can say that God is actively fixing stuff. Literally, the Spirit of God is stepping into disorder and bringing gifts through his people of organization and administration. Where the fog of ignorance hinders his children from hearing his truth, God sends teaching that leads men to worship him. Where illness seems to conquer, the Spirit arrives with merciful hands to show he is the ever-present Help in time of need. When the suffering of lack and oppression take place, the Spirit releases a wave of generosity through his children. We can continue on like this with prayer, faith, discernment, hope, and many more. In fact, I believe that as many different needs that you can identify, there is One Solution with the right gift for each one of them.

At a greater level, God is gracing us beyond our own means to accomplish his will. He is giving evidence and signs of the Kingdom which is here but must be accepted by faith. We can say that the Spirit is operating in a way that “rights” a world gone wrong, and he is doing it so that it reveals the truth and presence of Jesus. Therefore, God the Spirit is gifting the message of God the Son around the world through a gracious invasion.

Yes, yes, but we really like the spectacular stuff. It is a very tempting desire to see “the cool of God” and the miraculous. If you have been around the work of God for any length of time and witnessed his power, you know that he trademarks some surprising things at times. On the other hand, let’s ask ourselves if that is normative in how God ordered his world? Is it right to demand that if it’s not spectacular, then it’s not of the Spirit?

Notice that Jesus was washing feet the night before he was unjustly murdered. Nothing spectacular about that. No power-show happening there. It was all quite ordinary and yet extraordinary at the very same time. Jesus left them the example of loving service for how he operates in his world. Apostle Paul follows this up with, “You can do the spectacular with angels and lightning bolts included, but if you don’t have love, you’ve only lit-up fireworks.” (paraphrase di Rob, 1 Cor. 13:1-3). The Italian word for fireworks is fuochi artificiali meaning “artificial fire” and aptly applies here. Spectacular yes, beneficial niente. So, we might test a “gifting” with this helpful question — Does the gift in operation meet needs and show the greater way of Jesus’ love?

The point is that there are hundreds of kinds of needs (ways the world just doesn’t work) and correspondingly, hundreds of opportunities for the Spirit to work through me and you by putting Jesus right into the middle of each one of them. Don’t overcomplicate the beautiful simplicity of gifts. Also, be careful not to overemphasize one, singular “gifting” at the expense of declaring one, singular Christ. Needs abound, but there is one, generous, gift-giving Solution.

Does that mean that I have all the gifts? In a certain sense, yes. If you have the one Spirit of God who operates to meet needs and you’re like me with a thousand weaknesses to operate through, you might experience all kinds of the works of Jesus as you serve. However, I would say that not one person has all the gifts exclusively. Then you wouldn’t need me and I wouldn’t need you. What kind of a holy minestrone is that?

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts: part 4 – delicacy and flexibility

spiritual gifts logo-image Contributing to our spiritual gifts series, we pick up from part 3 which emphasized servant-hearted character over the desire for the spectacular or to prove our spirituality through performance. In this part, the emphasis is that the Spirit-gifts are the divine marks of a healthy church and not the foundation of it. Therefore, there is a measure of practical flexibility with one another where other, core doctrines are uncompromisable. We can illustrate it in a general way like this:

  • foundational doctrines require dogmatism. Therefore, we are closed-handed or uncompromising in these.
    • example:  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; of the same essence, God, and unique in his personhood.
  • formational doctrines require delicacy. Therefore, we are to be more open-handed and gracious for the sake of brotherly care and unity but we should not support confusion and division.
    • example: The same Holy Spirit urges us to, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-2
    • Now, it is our responsibility to “walk that out together” under his guidance. There is a gracious delicacy (a patience mixed with kindness) in these areas both toward the Holy Spirit and toward his Spirit-born people. The Spirit then graces his church as he sees best and by the measure that his people are rightly-oriented to him in devotion. The Spirit knows what is the most appropriate for his bride because there is nobody who is more zealous for her than the Spirit of Christ himself.

open handed group picture

I’ve found that you can live in harmony and the bond of unity when you agree on the foundational things and don’t make secondary things foundational, which in this case is abusive to the Holy Spirit. A gospel character will be very sensitive to how the Holy Spirit is operating and represented. Simply, you won’t want to make a problematic issue out of a grace-gift — because you honor the Spirit so much.

I’ve also discovered some folks are very rigid in their approach to the gifts. Some don’t look at all for the work of the Spirit in their midst and they are usually skeptical about everyone and often sterile in their missional practice. I’ve also met other intransigent people who demand a certain gift and allow for way too much abuse and confusion in direct violation of the Corinthian corrections found in chapters 12-14.

Richard Lovelace calls these examples the temptations of “spiritual flesh” which can be

“pride in spiritual gifts or achievements, envy of the spirituality of others, a gluttonous dependence on spiritual experience which cannot reconcile itself to an obedient walk of faith independent of sight…It is God’s prerogative to bestow the fullness of the Holy Spirit wherever he wills to do so.” [Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 110-111]

I know I’m treading into highly sensitive territory here so I don’t need to “sort it all out” in a minestrone article. My encouragement to my dear church and friends is be delicate in this area of grace-giftings first toward the Spirit, his holy Word, and then his holy people.

Look, I’m not going to fight you about your view of a certain gift or giftings — unless you fight me first. Then, I’ll go to the mat with you in this order:  1) I’ll put you up against the ropes of the gospel-ring by saying don’t confuse the gospel by making something dogmatic and primary that deserves flexibility 2) I’ll wrestle to show you how you’re actually abusing the Spirit who guides his own giftings 3) I’ll pin you down to show you how you’re confusing his Bride when he wants to build her up. 4) And then I’ll press you on how your service is weak and probably geared more toward the spectacular than the substantive; the experiential more than the sacrificial. Then I’ll pick you up, dust you off, embrace you, pray with you, and help you come to repentance (remember, you started it). Body life restored with dogmatism & delicacy in beautiful balance. See how easy this is? 😉

Next up in this series: a great variety of needs calls for a great variety of gifts. Do we only get one? Can we have them all?

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts – Part 3: A Character of Service

spiritual gifts logo-imageBack to our gifts series after an extended delay. To catch back up, in part 2 I was stating that the Spirit-gifts will operate in accord with the Gospel and never in contradiction to it. Paul describes to us that the gifts of God will seek to provide edification to believers and clarity to unbelievers (what they do). Now, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs sharing about how they accomplish the desires of the Spirit.

So, a basic question to answer is simply, what are the gifts for?  Without entering a long discourse, we see the Apostle’s teaching repeatedly saying that the gifts are meant for God’s power to be demonstrated in human weakness. In other words, they are meant to meet needs and testify to the glory of God. It seems simple and beautiful enough, and it is.

However, don’t miss the part of God involving human agency. The Lord wants his people to be an active part of them. This isn’t magic fairy dust he is sprinkling on the Church. This is transformed people living and experiencing the active  power of God building others up. This is Heaven moving outward and pushing back the Hell-gates.

Accomplishing this purpose, therefore, the Spirit-mediated gifts flow into the church body through people who are faithful to God and faithful in service to others. Where can you see the gifts operate? Right where those who love God are serving others because that is the point where they flow into the Body from Heaven. I believe it is one of the most visible evidences of how “God-is-with-us” and where we see the activity of Immanuel himself.

Service is the point! Take a look at this great paragraph from the Porterbrook Learning material that was teaching on character:

…Spiritual gifts are abused when they are used as an excuse for self-fulfillment or for doing our own thing. The discussion of spiritual gifts in the New Testament is not addressed to individuals. It does not include a call to identify or operate within your gifting. The application in the New Testament is to celebrate the diversity that God has given to his people: humbly to serve other people and humbly to value the contributions of others. Paul does not tell individual Christians to identify their gifting and stick to it. He tells Christians to be servants, looking to the interests of others and modeling ourselves on the self-giving of the cross. More important than highly gifted individuals are individuals who are servant-hearted. [Porterbrook Learning FY-P2 Character: Gospel Relationships, p. 44] (emphasis mine)

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Guidance for Spiritual Gifts – Part 2 – the Gospel Guides

spiritual gifts logo-image

In our previous article, I wanted to differentiate between the gifts and the Gospel. When these get confused or switched, an abuse of the Spirit of God generally follows with an accompanying injury to members of the Bride.

Because the Gospel is primary, and it is the work of God’s Spirit to empower it and convict with it and then restore mankind to himself through it, the Spirit-gifts will always concur with the character and nature of the Gospel. The Spirit will neither fight against the Word nor represent it in a false fashion. Therefore, the gifts are guided by the Gospel. They will correspond to all of the facets of the Gospel message and activity. When a need is met that points men and women to the Gospel, it is the Spirit who is testifying of himself and bringing men to the truth.

What does that look like?

The Apostle Paul stresses in 1 Cor 14:23 that the gifts will be orderly, they will be for the building of the Body, and they will be for an accurate representation to unbelievers. In other words, if they don’t correspond to the nature of the Gospel and they abuse the Spirit who is giving them, then the result is that people will think the church has gone mad. Unity breaks down within the church and non-believers are repulsed and repelled away from the church.

The Lord is very careful to instruct us through Paul that he cares how the Gospel is presented to unbelievers and represented in believers. So then, how the Spirit imparts his gifts will testify to what the Father is doing through the Gospel; for believers, edification, and for unbelievers, clarity (so that they will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 1 Cor. 14:25).

Some examples might include when believers show hospitality that takes on the richness of ministering to the stranger or outcast, not just putting on a dinner party. Another time might occur when discernment is practiced that the Lord protects the testimony of his people and his good name through holy decisions. We often hear about the Spirit’s activity when someone is sharing their Faith-story and is amazed that many verses or “just the right verse” came to mind in the evangelistic gifting. We also see Gospel-guidance when various members start to pray over a simple request that continues to grow into a great burden and the Holy Spirit infuses them with energy and strength to pray with great depth. And, the Holy Spirit quite frequently graces his people simply when they are showing the love of Christ to one-another that unbelievers literally take notice and say, “What’s that?” There are tens if not hundreds of examples that can demonstrate how the Spirit will testify of himself and demonstrate the Gospel as beautiful and powerful.

If you can think of one that you’ve seen, would you share it with me?

In our next article of this series, we will look at how the gifts accompany and flow through service and character. I hope for God’s glory— in you!

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts – Part 1 – The Gifts and the Gospel

[Note: I took a break from writing for 6 weeks due to travel and suffering from a kidney stone. I realized it’s harder to think and write when a stone is eating your brain to stay alive. However, the Lord really blessed and healed me. You can laugh, cry, and rejoice with me through the story that I wrote here called “My 4mm Miracle.” Thanks for praying through it all with me and also for really missing these articles 😉 ]spiritual gifts logo-image

Zest

What a great word to describe the flavor and gusto of a splendid minestrone. Zest literally means an agreeable or piquant flavor imparted to something; anything added to impart flavor, 
enhance one’s appreciation, etc. Notice two key words in this definition — impart & enhanceContinuing with the Italian simile of the Lord’s church being like a wonderful minestra, so the Holy Spirit’s work through his imparted gifts enhance the life and vigor of his people and signify his active presence. Zest does not make a soup, but it does demonstrate that there is something different and wonderful about what is in the bowl. In this series, I would like to briefly add (if possible) one flavor at a time to magnify our appreciation of what the Lord is doing through his church while understanding that there is still a great deal for all of us to taste and learn from the Holy Spirit as we see him working.

 

The Gifts are not the Gospel

This is such an easy thing to confuse in different church circles. It’s an issue of priority. The Gospel is primary, the gifts are secondary, and both are necessary. The most magnificent part of the Gospel is that God gave himself for us in love on the cross and then gives himself to us in life through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the first thing that needs to be clearly emphasized is that the very Spirit of God is both given and then the giver — as he is pleased and finds pleasure to operate for his glory. The one gift that I receive is the Spirit, and he has the gifts that he imparts when he desires to do so.

There are two awkward claims that Christians often make.  The first claim begins with, “I have this-or-that gift…” And what we generally mean is that we’ve experienced the Spirit’s blessing and enabling at specific occasions and in certain ways. However, the awkward part of that phrase is that it makes us sound like we are the new owners of the gift to release at will. In the Gospel, I have Christ and he has me. Therefore, my identity is built in Jesus and is not found in a grace-gift that I might use or one that I think might correspond with my personality. If I find my identity in a gift, I miss the Spirit. It is common to find Christians spending a good amount of time wondering, debating, and even arguing whether a person “has” a certain gift or not. Take the pressure off. Make sure you or the person in question has Christ and is fulfilling his royal law. You know, the law that says love God fully and your neighbor as yourself. The Spirit has the gifts. He is the owner and he wants to give them, but remember, those gifts represent him and the Truth so he will be very careful, strategic, and sometimes surprising in how he imparts them.

The second awkward (and I believe, incorrect) phrase that I’ve heard at times is, “Unless that gift (whatever one the Christian has in mind) is manifested, the Holy Spirit isn’t there.” Now, I know that the phrase isn’t spoken exactly in that way, but it goes something like that depending on the context. I’ve heard it recently and also through the years in ministry in different forms — but that’s the gist of it. Usually, the person has a pet-gift that has grown into an agenda where they would like to see an entire church formed around it. They have equated much if not all of the Holy Spirit, doctrine, and the work of God with that one gift. It becomes the litmus test for all service and fellowship.

Again, the problem is one of  identity. The Apostle Paul corrected the Corinthian believers strongly saying, “One Spirit, many gifts.” Their error was an inordinate focus on one particular gift and therefore an abuse of the Spirit himself. So, the temptation we face is to identify so strongly with the expression of a gift that we build the Gospel around it. In effect, we make the gift and our experience dogmatic by saying, “Manifest this gift and then you’re really in God’s family.” No, the Gospel tells us to manifest repentance. We should be more concerned about what kind of vessel we are than what kind of gift we are manifesting.

Please understand that I’m not picking on any specific church. There is the tendency for Christian communities to gravitate to a one or two-gift-only practice. Some churches concentrate on a couple of sign-gifts while others think that the only two gifts in operation are preaching and listening with an optional third gift of rear-end endurance & comfort depending on your persuasion. I’m writing principally to assist our church to be Gospel-centered and Spirit-guided. We’ll talk more about how the gifts are Gospel-guided in the next article.