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    Entries in Holy Spirit (5)


    Being the Best [ ______ ] You Can Be

    It is a challenging time to be a Christian. Has it ever been otherwise?

    I am not sure. It is a question I ask often. I do know that my experience of Christianity during adulthood has been engulfed by anxiety about the future. The United States has undergone an undeniable shift in the religious landscape. The old norms no longer apply, and new ways are sought in the face of these changes. Various proposals have been made with regard to the best way forward. There has also been a great deal of lament, and no shortage of hand-wringing.

    There are many traditions within Christianity. How do they help us to respond? Most traditions have developed distinctives that can present themselves as strengths when properly regarded. Yet the majority of the resources Christianity offers for abundant and faithful living are shared across traditions. Taken together, the unique bits and the shared bits, the storehouse is quite full.

    Alan Jacobs did a little riffing yesterday on thoughts from Rod Dreher, who is writing a book about a "genuinely countercultural form of Christianity." Mr. Dreher's proposal has become known as the "Benedict Option." Mr. Dreher is approaching an old challenge in an old way, though in a new time. The call to reject the norms of the present age and wholeheartedly seek the life of the kingdom is an ancient one. The fresh difficulty is found in being faithful to that calling in light of present circumstances. Dreher recently asked whether each tradition had the resources necessary to live a countercultural form of Christianity. Jacobs picked up the ball and ran.

    Professor Jacobs spurred my thinking about my own tradition, or traditions. I am a Baptist. Molly, my wife, is a Methodist. We are now part of a Methodist congregation. As we have each served in our traditions, we have always sought to equip our congregations with the knowledge to live faithfully within those traditions. We believe the traditions possess a kind of strength, and that they are worthwhile. We have wanted our people to be found faithful as Methodists, or Baptists. We have desired that they know their traditions, appreciate their heritage, and can rely on the tradition to help them live faithfully to Jesus.

    However, based on my observation, that has not always been enough to inspire a countercultural, robust expression of Christian faith. Something has been missing.

    This is where I found Jacobs helpful. He argues that you must find a point where you can no longer be content with life as you know it as a Christian. The old word here, I would suggest, is zeal. He writes:

    You have to get to the end of your rope, you have to come to the point where you can’t live any longer as everyone around you is living. If you come to that point, then every serious Christian tradition, from Pentecostalism to Orthodoxy, has what it takes to nourish and support you. But none of those traditions can, in itself, bring you to that point. (I am not yet at that point myself: I am too caught up in the various rewards that this present age has to offer.)

    Depending on where you live, you might look around you and find charismatics who are faithfully seeking to make their own countercultural way, or Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Catholics — heck, even Anglicans. It depends on whether in a given place there is a critical mass of people whom the Holy Spirit has moved to say: Enough. Lord, now give us the living water.

    The traditions of Christianity are of great value. They help to preserve theological and moral knowledge and the wisdom captured in certain forms of praxis. But the tradition is not enough. The traditions are like containers, which we must pray that God not only fill but overflow by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

    It may be a helpful step to be the best Methodist or non-denominational Christian or whatever you can be. But becoming the best disciple of Jesus may be the only place where a countercultural Christianity can begin to take shape, one allowing for the prophetic challenge of one's own tradition, while also stretching outward to those of other traditions, binding and bringing the church together as one, just as Christ intended.


    Will Bible Study Change Your Life?

    Bible study

    Will studying the Bible change your life?

    Yes.  But.

    Trevin Wax offers a meditation that should be read, reminding us that Scripture is intended to lead us to holiness, and the study of the Bible alone does not guarantee the bearing of the fruit of the Spirit.

    Mr. Wax states it well:

    Bible study alone is not what transforms your life. Jesus transforms your life. Of course, He does this through His written Word to us. So we must affirm that life change doesn’t happen apart from God’s Word. But the reason God’s Word changes our life is not because of our personal study but because in the Scriptures we are introduced to Jesus, the Author. That’s why every page ought to be written in red, as every section is breathed out by our King and points us to Him.

    It might help to expand these thoughts with a word: grace.  The Bible itself is a gift of grace, a written and recorded testimony that gives witness to the acts of God and thereby has standing as the revelation of God, always graciously pointing beyond itself to the One who inspired it, if we have eyes to see it as a signpost rather than as an end.  The Bible is a grace that points us to Grace, revealed most fully and completely in the person and work of Jesus Christ, both in what he has done and in what he is doing.

    The Bible is the best of books.  Like Wesley, I hope to be a "homo unius libri", a man of one book.  And I hope to never forget the Someone to whom the Bible points, so that I may be shaped according to that Someone's grace.


    Job Opening

    It just ain't church unless the piano player is Spirit filled.


    Waiting While Walking

    Transformation into the likeness of Christ does not just happen.  But we act like it should.  Upon hearing the good news, once we take a step forward in following after Christ we expect instant holiness.  It is as though the fullness of our salvation, the complete renewal of our heart and life, should magically occur.  Because it doesn't occur instantly, some wrongly think there is little that they can do.  They wait until a moment when they feel they are "good enough" to undertake the practices of the Christian life, rather than diving right in, brokenness and all.

    We mistakenly believe that it is only our justification that is by grace, and not our sanctification also.

    John Wesley, in his sermon "The Means of Grace" writes:

    7. But the main question remains: "We know this salvation is the gift and work of God; but how (may one say who is convinced he hath it not) may I attain thereto?"  If you say, "Believe, and thou shalt be saved!" he answers, "True: but how shall I believe?"  You reply, "Wait upon God."  "Well, but how am I to wait?  In the means of grace, or out of them?  Am I to wait for the grace of God which bringeth salvation, by using these means, or by laying them aside?" [...] III. 1. According to this, according to the decision of holy writ, all who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in the means which he hath ordained; in using, not in laying them aside.

    Wesley explains that we have been given the practices of "Searching the Scriptures," hearing the Word of God preached, the breaking of bread and the drinking from the cup, and prayer as gifts, and they are means through which God works to bring about holiness of heart and life.  He further argues that such means "never atone for one sin," or gain us any kind of merit.  He states, "It is He alone who, by his own mighty power, worketh in us what is pleasing in his sight; and all outward things, unless He work in them and by them, are mere weak and beggarly elements."  The practices in and of themselves do not automatically result in a certain type of transformation, but through the work of the Holy Spirit, they are powerful avenues by which God can bring about change.  God goes to work where we create space in our lives for God to work.

    We wait for God to transform us, but we walk while we wait.  Such a truth is paradoxical, for we are on the move while expecting to be found.  But it is a beautiful paradox, and, as Wesley states, one to which the Scripture gives witness.  It is just as true today.


    Revival and Renewal in the Evangelical Tradition :: What Does it Mean?

    Among my peers, the renewal of the church is of great concern.  Many of my friends want to see the church make a radical difference in our world, and because they sense a great disconnect between the people of God and their surrounding communities, they recognize there is a great deal of work to be done.  I've heard many of my friends bat around various ideas for the bringing of renewal and revival.  Some of them are doctrinal, some are programmatic, consisting of both the abstract and the concrete.  Renewal is the end to which my peers would like to see their efforts move, but the type of dynamic required, or how and when renewal has occurred throughout church history, has yet to find coherent expression within the context of a vision for how such renewal might take place within this generation.

    See more from Simon_K on Flickr!Even though I've heard my friends talk about their desire for renewal, I had not thought specifically of how and when renewal takes place until recent days.  In other words, I had failed to take into account "meta" level questions.  I have expressed the need for doctrinal coherence and faithfulness to essentials.  I've urged (and participated in) excellence in ministry, service, evangelism, and worship.  I've stressed the importance of living a virtous, Christ-like life.  But I haven't tied them all together, and considered, on the whole, how renewal and revival come about.

    Thankfully, I had a moment of clarity while reading.  It was John Stott who recently stoked my thinking toward revival within the context of evangelical belief and practice.  Stott, like many within the evangelical tradition, points out that revival and renewal occurs when the Spirit of God falls fresh on a body of people, with the result being conviction of sin, repentance, virtuous living (exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit), a binding cohesion within the fellowship, and undertaking initiatives of social concern, among others.  Renewal or revival, therefore, is something that is not wholly under human control, but is the outflow of something God has done and is doing.

    When we think of revival, oftentimes we have preconceived notions of exactly what must happen in order for the movement itself to be true.  Either it must be a well-coordinated campaign, or it must be something completely spontaneous and unplanned.  Either we must diligently work towards planning an "event" and mobilizing those who believe in Jesus to bring every person in the community under the tent, or we must be struck by the Spirit in the midst of an exuberant time of worship in a way that was almost completely and totally unforeseen.

    I would argue that both are right, and both are wrong.

    Two extremes should be carefully qualified and examined.  On the one hand, an excessive dependence on emotionalism and fostering a certain type of "experience "of the gospel of Jesus Christ does not necessarily indicate the presence of revival, and on the other hand, a programmatic approach to bringing about revival does not necessarily deliver the coming of a great awakening.  In other words, rolling in the aisles does not necessarily mean that the Spirit of God has descended afresh, nor does participation in a crusade or a formal process to evangelize the community.  While both of these may create conditions or foster space wherein "renewal" or "revival" might begin, they do not automatically result in a radically transformative movement within the people of God.  God cannot be manipulated or forced, rather, the Spirit blows where it wills.

    What I'm driving at here is simple: "renewal" or "revival" is not something that we create, but it is something that God sends.  However, this does not exclude the responsibility of Christian people to create space wherein renewal and revival can take place.  To cite an example from Tim Keller, our responsibility as the church is to prepare the altar, all the while longing that God would do something new.  When this occurs, it will not only be the case that non-Christian persons will come to see Jesus, but so will those who "believe," resulting in such radical transformation of life that the overall witness of the church will be undeniably strengthened.  Conversion will occur both inside and outside the church.

    For all my friends longing for renewal, it is time to begin a discussion that moves beyond a vague desire for the church to be made over and begin to examine, at length, the dynamics or conditions that must be present for renewal or revival to take place.  After doing so, we must then work to establish those conditions, and then place our full trust and reliance that the Holy Spirit will come and convert the faithful and unfaithful alike to faithful discipleship to Jesus, our Lord.  

    I'll confess that most of what I have heard concerning renewal and revival has been primarily concerned with universal principles or techniques that yield maximal organization excellence or effectiveness, and has had less to say concerning the spiritual and doctrinal dynamics that must be in play in order to create space for a dramatic movement that clearly has resulted from the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  I'd like to see this conversation balanced, particularly within mainline denominations, and within the discourse of the local church of which I am part, which has a great deal of influence and has made much headway in working towards renewal.  That conversation must start somewhere, and I don't expect it to be exhausted here.  But I'm hoping that perhaps my thoughts will kindle a spark within the hearts of those who also would like to see the church renewed, and who know, deep down, that it will not only require the right technique, but also a depth of commitment to doctrinal truth, social concern, vibrant and passionate love of God, personal holiness, and warm welcome that both precedes and accompanies a dramatic movement of the gospel.

    Let's set the sails, and let the Spirit blow us where it wills.