Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

I recently saw a quote which I believe beautifully encapsulates the prevailing spirit that hangs over the western religious landscape.  The words were attributed to Bishop John Shelby Spong, and though I was not able to confirm that they were his, they did seem to be indicative of what I know of his particular worldview.

Ostensibly, he said, “I do not think of God theistically, that is, as a being, supernatural in power, who dwells beyond the limits of my world.  I rather experience God as a source of life willing me to live fully, the source of love calling me to love wastefully, and to borrow a phrase from the theologian, Paul Tillich, as the Ground of being, calling me to be all that I can be.”

I believe that many who would heartily endorse these concepts would also count themselves as “Christians”.  Still others might not find these ideas particularly troublesome, despite their distinctly anti-Christ nature.  The author embraces a nameless, faceless, person-less power, who will not contradict his sense of what is right, or hold him accountable in any way.  Indeed, he’s found a god who will empower his sense of “self” instead of demanding that he die to it.  This would seem to go well with much of what passes for “Christianity” in the west.

Recently, the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University published findings from their survey of over 1,000 “Senior Pastors”.  According to their results, one third of the pastors believe that “good people” can earn their way to heaven, that the Holy Spirit isn’t a person (just a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity), and that having faith matters more than which faith you have. 

Perhaps more alarming, is that almost 40% of the evangelical pastors surveyed believe that there is no absolute truth, and that individuals “determine their own truth”.  It’s impossible to reconcile that paradigm with a Jesus who claimed to be the truth (John 14:6), and who declared that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb.13:8).  The overarching conclusion of this survey was that only about 37% of US based pastors hold a worldview that might be considered “biblical”.

Within this off-brand of “Christianity” (i.e. Humanism dressed in religious garb), which doesn’t include the fundamental principle of taking up our cross and following (i.e. dying to self), Christ becomes little more than a tool for our endless pursuit of happiness.

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The longer I walk with the Lord, the more inclined I am to believe that the depth of our relationship with Him directly corresponds to the role we assign the Holy Spirit in our lives.  If we simply regard Him as a ghost (who essentially backlights our spiritual journey), or cast Him in the role of Jiminy Cricket (i.e. a little voice to tweak our conscience when necessary), or treat Him like a Technicolor Dream-coat (i.e. to provide us with exhilarating spiritual experiences), or view Him as a tool in our toolbox (i.e. ostensibly to do the work of the Lord), our relationship with the person of God will likely remain vague and distant. 

Indeed, there are whole denominations who have concluded that the Holy Spirit essentially completed His work back in the 1st century, which resulted in “the perfect word of God” (i.e. the Bible), which is now to be treated as our sole source for truth.  And while I certainly would not want to diminish the vital role the scripture plays in our walk with the Lord, I can confidently say that it was never meant to supplant the work of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, I would submit that we have no hope of rightly applying the scripture without the Spirit’s involvement.

It is also important to note that the scripture never actually claims to be the “Word of God”.  It says that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1); and then it explains that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). 

Before the crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples that it was better that He go, so that the Holy Spirit would come.  And then, in the epistles, we learn that through the Spirit we have an anointing that teaches “all things” (1John 2:27), that we’ve been given the “mind of Christ” (1Cor 2:16), and that He’s provided everything we need for Godly living (2Peter 1:3).  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are reminded that apart from Him, we can do “nothing” (John 15:5).  That most certainly includes rightly dividing the scripture.

It’s much too easy to grab ahold of a verse that seemingly supports our position, perspective, or attitude; without ever really inquiring of the Lord as to what He is actually saying about a matter.  Devoid of context, we may want to justify walking away from difficult people (i.e. if they don’t receive you, dust your feet off and go – Luke 9:5), when the Spirit is actually saying, “they asked for your cloak, but you should offer your tunic as well (Luke 6:29).” 

We may rationalize walking by the homeless man based on Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which says that a man who refuses to work should not eat (2Thes 3:10), while the Spirit is trying to remind us that whatever we do to the “least of these”, we do unto the Lord (Matt 25:40-45).

Prophetic declaration is much the same.  We cannot simply grab ahold of what we want the Lord to be saying over a specific moment/situation.  We need to go directly to Him, hear what He is saying, and then declare those things.

The Pharisee’s and Sadducee’s dedicated their lives to the study of scripture, and yet, when the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah stood before them, they could not recognize Him.  In much the same way, we can spend time diligently studying the ancient texts without ever encountering the person of God (Matt. 7:21-23). 

Jesus warned, “You study the scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).  Though we like to refer to the Bible as the Living Word of God, this is only true to the degree that the Holy Spirit is involved.

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Fear of COVID, or fear of what’s in the vaccine; fear of leaving your house, or fear of being quarantined to your house; fear of losing your government check, or fear of government control; fear of capitalism, or fear of socialism; fear of the left wing, or fear of the right wing, are all fueled by the same spirit. We cannot be driven by that spirit, and be led by the Holy Spirit.

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The Answer:
What I see (& how it makes me feel)
What I think (& how it makes me feel)
What I’ve experienced (& how it makes me feel)
What I’ve been taught
What I expected
What I wanted
What I fear
What I thought was right
What I am confident that I know
What has worked in the past
My vision for the future
My pain
My anger
My disappointment
My offense
My imagination
The Question:
What is leading me instead of the Holy Spirit
(Prov 3:5, Prov 14:12, 2Cor 4:18)

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The problem with us trying to play the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life, is we so often try to be the Counselor when He’s wanting to be the Comforter.


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In my nearly twenty years of involvement with the Charismatic movement I have been blessed to discover that God is much more interested in my daily life than I ever could have imagined, and for that, I am truly grateful.  But as time has gone on, I’ve become increasingly aware of the pension for Charismatic/Pentecostal folks to immerse themselves in Old Testament imagery and aesthetics.  We imagine ourselves to be like Moses, as we cry, “Show me your glory”; or like Elijah, as we sing, “Send the fire!”; or like any number of other Prophets, as we parrot their words and mimic their actions.  And while all of these stories have their place in our journey to know the Lord, there is an event that happens in the second half of the book that was meant to revolutionize the way we walk with Him.


After years of sending floods, and fire, and plagues, and angels, and prophets, He sent a perfect Lamb, who was slain “once” and “for all”.  And I believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished”, He was declaring that the work was done, and that God wouldn’t need to send anything else from heaven, because His Spirit would now dwell within those who truly believe.  Indeed, God’s answer to what the world lacked was Himself (in the form of His Son) and His provision for the future was also Himself (in the form of His Holy Spirit).  The Apostle Paul spoke of the treasure that had been deposited in our earthen vessels, and declared that it was “Christ in us” that is the “hope of glory”.


In light of this, there is something wickedly perverse about the picture of a people, who have the Spirit of the Most High God living inside of them, crying out for God to send them something else.  And while some might want to argue whether it really matters if God’s power comes from within or if it comes from heaven, I would submit that it does.  Ultimately it is the difference between waiting on a million dollar check to arrive in the mail, and knowing that there is a million dollars in gold nuggets buried in your backyard.  In the first instance, all you can do is wait, and maybe pester the mailman.  In the latter, you can get a shovel and start digging.

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Just as an apple seed produces an apple tree, which in turn produces apples, the seed of God is meant to produce children of God, who should then manifest the character of God to the world around them.  This is ultimately what the fruit of the Holy Spirit (i.e. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness) is all about.  The scripture tells us that He has destined us to be transformed into His image (2Cor. 3:18); thus, bearing this fruit is really not meant to be optional.  In fact, the gospel of John (chapter 15) speaks of a rather dire fate for branches that don’t produce any fruit.

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