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The Flame of the Spirit

In many Christian circles, the mention of the Holy Spirit brings fear of extremes. His name has unfortunately become associated with scandal and excess, with some religious teachers trying to invoke His power without love, without His presence in their hearts. Recently I’ve been reading The Divine Conquest by A.W. Tozer, a book that has caused me to slow down in some ways, take a look at the presence of the Holy Spirit my life and ask myself some tough questions–do I believe He IS present in my life? do I stifle Him in any way? do I associate Him unfairly with people who have misused His name? what is He really like? do I turn to Him as readily as I may pray to God the Father or Jesus Christ, or do I marginalize Him?

The Bible says that He’s a comforter, a source of power, an advocate for me in my process of growth toward holiness. So many times I feel like my faith is feeble, like power is a rare gift for a privileged few saints, but I’m still reaching out. Maybe this is my love-letter to the Holy Spirit:

I want to know you more–when I see You, what I see is sweet and amazing and soul-shaking; I’m moved by your descent upon the first Christians in flames of fire, showing that God’s presence had gone from living among men to living within them. I desire to treasure your presence within me. I’m seeing clearly how You’ve been misjudged, how I’ve sidelined you at times, and I’m sorry. Please, please teach me Yourself, soften me and awaken my spirit in whatever way is necessary. Fill me with enthusiasm tempered with truth. I love You.

Note: Enthusiasm (root – en-theos = in God) An enthusiast is a person inspired by God. Inspiration (Greek – Theopneustos = literally God-breathed). Further, when the early Christians saw someone convert to Christianity there was this overwhelming joy that followed the gift of salvation. But they had a problem; there was no word to describe this feeling, so they combined the two words (in God) creating the word (entheos) from which we get the English word Enthusiasm.

Fanning the Flame

” . . . ’tis the season to be jolly” . . . or so the song says, but what if you’re struggling to feel even remotely happy, let alone jolly? What if you believe (in the deep parts of your soul) that the reason for the season is the birth of God as a baby who would save the world, but that deep part of your soul seems crusted over with fatigue and pain or confusion about life or just the busyness of the media frenzy/commercial sideshow aspect of the Christmas season? There’s only one thing you can do–keep trying. Push aside as much of the distraction as you can. Pray to God, asking (maybe begging) Him to soften your heart and fill you with wonder, awe and reverence. Take time to be alone with God, open the Bible, prepare your heart to receive the truth of the miracle of Christmas. Repent of any of your laziness or apathy that has contributed to the malaise you’re feeling. Repent if you’ve been self-absorbed, and seek someone you can bless out of the abundance you have been given.

Fan the flame of your faith, no matter how it may flicker. You may not find “happiness” if you’re in a grieving season due to loss of a loved one or a job or an expectation of how life would be . . . but you can find joy in the comfort of knowing how much you are loved by God and how much He has given for you.

Blessed Christmas Wishes to All.

A Meditation

I’ve come to believe that sometimes the moment when you feel like you can’t hold on anymore is the place where you find out that your limits are beyond what you realized, your strength greater than you imagined. Life can seem numbing at times—a seemingly endless series of events: some easy, some difficult and most fairly commonplace. Then there are the days or weeks or months or years that are shards of glass, piercing our experience with greatness or with grieving. I’ve found that many times the place where our deepest questions spill out onto the pages of our life story is the place where the story becomes most touched with the glimmering possibility of growth.

In the Neighborhood

In Proverbs 7, we meet a man described as young and simple, lacking sense. If Proverbs is about learning to be wise instead of being a fool, he should read it twice. In this chapter, we see him going out into the streets in a bad section of town around twilight. He’s either naive to the point of stupidity, or he’s looking for trouble! An adulteress comes out to meet him, tempting him with a suggestive description of her bed covered with fine linen and spices–she’s bold and crafty–she makes him feel like he’s the only man in the world. The young man follows her, falling for her enticements about love and delight–the grand illusion of lust.

But the Proverb paints a vivid description of his quite-opposite fate . . .

An ox gone to slaughter.
A deer in a noose.
A bird in a snare.

The choice will cost him dearly.

“Many are her victims. Her slain are a mighty throng.”

This chapter is certainly about the specific sin of sexual immorality, but I’m reminded that sometimes it’s best to just stay out of the neighborhood of any sinful temptations; it’s clear that if this young man had not been on this street, he wouldn’t have even been around when this brazen woman came to the corner. And so I must ask myself–how often do I try to flirt with temptation way beyond the point of reason, either with conversations, media, thought patterns or even the company I keep? It’s not as innocent as just going out for a little evening walk.

Two Paths

Today, I heard a story about a man who was arrested and charged with making terroristic threats in his Facebook status (apparently a sarcastic comment about hurting a Police Officer). It seems this type of blunder is becoming common, with more and more people losing their jobs or relationships because of things they Twitter or post on Facebook . . . To my knowledge, Facebook doesn’t bother sending this type of information to law enforcement, but clearly someone’s reading . . . so it’s up to us to make sure we’re not playing the fool.

This month, I’m starting a study of the book of Proverbs. The first few chapters have shouted the big idea loud and clear:

There’s a path of God’s wisdom that leads to peace and life. There’s a path of foolishness and “wise in my own eyes” that leads to unrest and destruction.

When I find anger or frustration or confusion welling up inside, which path will I take? Today I had to answer that question several times–with a car situation, a work situation & a friend situation. Maybe things are piling up so that I can practice!

It’s not as simple a question as it seems.

Joyful Expectancy

This week, I heard a radio interview with Siddhartha Mukherjee about his book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. One thing that really struck me was how theories of the origins of cancer have changed radically over time. In years past, many medical professionals believed that cancer was an outside influence like a virus or bacteria that came into the body and grew. Now we know that cancer is actually something that grows from within us. The cells in our bodies already contain the potential for cancer–it’s just waiting to be activated by the correct combination of conditions. And it made me think of this passage in Romans that tells us how creation is being reigned back, not able to experience wholeness, decayed and decaying . . . but simultaneously getting closer and closer to its time of restoration:

18-21That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

22-25All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within . . . These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Roman 8:18-24 (from THE MESSAGE)

It’s Thanksgiving week–A time to reflect on the blessings of the year, to spend time with friends and family. How interesting to think that even within the festivities of the Holiday season, within an atmosphere of celebration, there is an unseen brokenness within your body–the same brokenness that causes your body to attack itself with cancer or simply to decline in health over the years no matter how well you treat it, how balanced your diet, how disciplined your exercise regimen. It’s the brokenness that allows physical illness to come upon the “best” among us in a seemingly capricious blow of fate, the brokenness that makes it possible for you to feel lonely even within a group of your closest friends and loved ones. The brokenness that keeps us from ever “arriving” at full spiritual satisfaction, sometimes feeling like we hit a glass ceiling in our prayer, study or contemplation — or mourning our seeming inability to live as faithfully in practice as we speak with our words.

Hope–the expectation that the difficulties and incompleteness of our lives on earth will one day be overshadowed by the blazing glory of God–like reading a book that builds in suspense and eager expectation of a satisfying ending. It can be difficult to believe and hope that something greater is ahead, something that fundamentally shatters our whole perception of beauty and joy–it’s something we have to grow more and more hungry for over the years of our life on earth–It’s something that we can see an impression of now on earth but cannot fully grasp until the Mighty God reveals it all in the end.

Sometimes I’m not the best at dealing with delayed gratification, but when I contemplate the possibility of God as my Righteous Father tearing away the brokenness of our world and allowing the full glory of His presence to shine through . . . when I think of every cell in my body being restored to Edenic perfection, without the possibility of cancer, without the strain of chronic pain, without the possibility of injury or embarrassment . . . when I think of relationships that are truly honest, without a shade of confusion or misunderstanding or apprehension or social awkwardness or exploitation . . . I wait more patiently, and I am not diminished by the waiting.

Sons and Daughters

In Psalm 144, David praises God for His strength, deliverance, care and more. He questions what God sees in mankind–why it’s worth God’s time to pay attention to us when we are so small and helpless, but he believes that God DOES care. He asks again (as he’s been doing in several previous Psalms) for God to rescue him from his enemies and from the lies of foreigners. He repeats his praise and then repeats his plea for rescue and deliverance.

I feel this way sometimes — that part of me is crying out in praise to God, able to recognize all that He’s done for me and thankful for the work He’s continuing to do. But that there’s another part of me that looks around and still sees enemies and lies that could devour that same praise, that could shatter everything if God’s mighty power is not put on display each day. I praise Him, but then I cry out for rescue–for the strength to walk forward with Him.

Toward the end of this chapter, David looks ahead–he dreams of the day when all of the enemies will be destroyed and all of the foreigners’ lies silenced:

Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace.

My heart is looking forward to a day like that–when future generations will see the revealed glory of God, the rescuing power of God to beat back the lies of the culture and the attacks of the enemies of their souls. I’m praying that God will shatter things that bind up our sons and daughters and rob them of their potential power as His creation–that He will give them a new voice to cry out to Him. I’m praying for the death of things like  thinspiration journals and cutting and pornography and child slavery and bullying and twelve year-olds thinking they need to be sexy to be loved . . .

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