Faith in God or Man?

[Sermon given by Devin Jump on January 2nd, 2022.]

What do the miracles of Jesus, a government program known as “Project Sunshine”, and dinosaurs have in common? Turns out, it may be more faith than science…

The main point that I’d like to make today is about where we choose to place our faith, even trust.  This isn’t a matter of being ‘open-minded’.  This isn’t a matter of having to choose sides between God and science.

After hearing that definition for the word SCIENCE you may instantly be aware just how little science actually exists in the world today, at least out of that which is called science. 

SCIENCE: A very overused word that means “what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study; information;” also “assurance of knowledge, certitude, certainty,” (etymonline.com).

What Is Known

The phrase “We know” shows up more than 400 times in the Bible, we can rest assured that we can know things. For instance: 

In 1st John 5:19 [John says] We know that we are of God, and that the whole world is under the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true— in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the TRUE God and eternal life.

Do you know it? 

In 1st John 2:2 [John says about Jesus] He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. By this we can be sure that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments. If anyone says, “I know Him,” but does not keep His commandments, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

Do you know Him? 

In John 14:4 [Jesus said to Thomas] You know the way to the place where I am going.” “Lord,” said Thomas, “we do not know where You are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Do you know the way?

At the beginning of 1st John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves those born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome

Do you know this love? 

The second half of verse 12 in the first chapter of 2nd Timothy: I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.

Do you know that trust?

Incredibly relevant to our daily lives, Paul warns Timothy at the end of chapter 6 in verse 20, O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid irreverent, empty chatter and the opposing arguments of so-called “knowledge“…

I’m actually going to pause here and reiterate this verse in a few other translations, I find this verse very important. Consider this for a moment. Consider the magnitude and the scope. This is a life or death matter, not the little death but the difference between life eternal or death eternal.  

You and I, we have all been entrusted with the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Now listen to these other translations of 1 Timothy 6:20: 

Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge.

New Living Translation

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge”…

English Standard Version

O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called

King James Version

And…

Timothy, guard what God has placed in your care! Don’t pay any attention to godless and stupid talk that sounds smart but really isn’t.

Contemporary English Version

Things We Don’t Know

Now, there are certainly things we don’t know, and, not only do we not know them, there are some things we can’t know: 

In the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 8 verse 17, Solomon says: I saw every work of God, and that a man is unable to comprehend the work that is done under the sun. Despite his efforts to search it out, he cannot find its meaning; even if the wise man claims to know, he is unable to comprehend.

Let that one sink in for a moment…

In the book of Romans chapter 11 verse 33: O, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and untraceable His ways!

And we don’t know when our time will come, as Solomon also says in Ecclesiastes chapter 9 verse 12: For surely no man knows his time: Like fish caught in a cruel net or birds trapped in a snare, so men are ensnared in an evil time that suddenly falls upon them.

And Jesus tells us in the book of Matthew chapter 24 verse 36: No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Miracle Science

There are about 37 primary miracles of Jesus within Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. For quick reference you can find a nifty list at gg.gg/miraclesofjesus.  Here’s a few of them: 

1 Jesus Turns Water into Wine at the Wedding in Cana 

2 Jesus Heals an Official’s Son at Capernaum in Galilee 

3 Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit From a Man in Capernaum 

4 Jesus Heals Peter’s Mother-in-Law Sick With Fever 

5 Jesus Heals Many Sick and Oppressed at Evening 

6 First Miraculous Catch of Fish on the Lake of Gennesaret 

7 Jesus Cleanses a Man With Leprosy 

8 Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Paralyzed Servant in Capernaum

9 Jesus Heals a Paralytic Who Was Let Down From the Roof 

10 Jesus Heals a Man’s Withered Hand on the Sabbath 

11 Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son From the Dead in Nain 

12 Jesus Calms a Storm on the Sea 

13 Jesus Casts Demons into a Herd of Pigs 

14 Jesus Heals a Woman in the Crowd With an Issue of Blood 

15 Jesus Raises Jairus’ Daughter Back to Life 

16 Jesus Heals Two Blind Men 

17 Jesus Heals a Man Who Was Unable to Speak 

18 Jesus Heals an Invalid at Bethesda 

19 Jesus Feeds 5,000 Plus Women and Children 

20 Jesus Walks on Water 

21 Jesus Heals Many Sick in Gennesaret as They Touch His Garment 

22 Jesus Heals a Gentile Woman’s Demon-Possessed Daughter 

23 Jesus Heals a Deaf and Dumb Man 

24 Jesus Feeds 4,000 Plus Women and Children 

25 Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida 

26 Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind by Spitting in His Eyes

27 Jesus Heals a Boy With an Unclean Spirit 

28 Miraculous Temple Tax in a Fish’s Mouth 

29 Jesus Heals a Blind, Mute Demoniac 

30 Jesus Heals a Woman Who Had Been Crippled for 18 Years 

31 Jesus Heals a Man With Dropsy on the Sabbath 

32 Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers on the Way to Jerusalem 

33 Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead in Bethany 

34 Jesus Restores Sight to Bartimaeus in Jericho 

35 Jesus Withers the Fig Tree on the Road From Bethany 21:18:22 11:12-14

36 Jesus Heals a Servant’s Severed Ear While He Is Being Arrested 22:50-51

37 The Second Miraculous Catch of Fish at the Sea of Tiberias 21:4-11

I’m going to restrict commenting on those miracles for a moment to prove a particularly important point…

So at this point I’m sure everyone is just wondering when do “Project Sunshine” and dinosaurs come in? 

Well, if we take God’s word seriously and follow His advice in Psalm 118:8 — It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man — then we can confidently agree with God when he says by the hand of Moses:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

At hearing those words you may not be all too surprised.  And I have little awareness of your beliefs in this matter, but let me run by you a few “scientific” (science so called) claims that are made: 

(And these claims are just off of a typical “science communication” website “livescience.com”.)

They say things like:

“Earth is old researchers calculate the age of the earth by dating both the oldest rocks on the planet…their findings? Earth is about 4.54 billion years old”…

“The pole flip-flops … a pattern of pole reversal about every 200,000 to 300,000 years…”

“Something once collided with the moon…Many researchers think some large object crashed into Earth long ago, and the resulting debris coalesced to form our moon.”

Let me take a moment to draw to your attention how lies work. 

A lie is told to accomplish a goal; there’s a motive, always.  If someone asks you if you brushed your teeth, and it is true that you did, no motive is involved when you reply “Yes” — but the reverse isn’t so.

To really drive the point here, I’m going to clarify that lies cover other lies, because they need to until the truth is exposed. For instance let’s say you didn’t actually brush your teeth, and the follow up question after you just claimed you did is “Why is the toothbrush dry?” and you say,  “Well, I didn’t use that toothbrush” or “Well, I dried the toothbrush thoroughly after using it; I always do that”. 

You see where that conversation could lead I’m sure.  Anyone in this room that is a parent likely knows all too well about this. The motive of a lie is often to cover another lie.

Provided enough time I could individually dismantle and expose each one of those “LIEscience.com” claims.  

I’ll provide the short version for ease. 

“Earth is old” is a lie to move the goalposts (if you’re familiar with the expression “moving the goalposts”) to fortify the unobserved “theory” more commonly known as the ‘theory of evolution’ or just simply evolution. (But let me be clear, anything unobserved cannot be a theory in the first place, so really it ought to be called the fantasy of evolution.) We know this for many reasons, but I’ll provide two primary reasons:

  1. No kind has ever changed to another kind. 
  2. And, more to the contrast of the original claim that earth is “old”, well, we can know better than that if we trust God. A little academic study will help reveal to you that Moses served as a historian, and poetry, hyperbole, even allegory are NOT features found in the text of the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible). They are narrative in form, meant to be taken as historical fact, later validated by Jesus Himself. 

(If you’d like to learn more about this topic, in addition to reading the Bible, I recommend Creation.com as a helpful resource.)

“The poles flip-flop”: I suppose I’d just say that the claim is far outside of any observable timeframe. The foundation of this belief, again, is used to justify claims of ice ages and similar alleged events.  

“Something once collided with earth”: This is a funny little story about why we have the moon.  Certainly, you know why we have a moon, and how it got there. We have a moon because God made it, and, specifically, for the purposes of performing as a lesser light to rule the night and to operate as a time piece in the sky. 

I’ll also take this time to explain why I mentioned dinosaurs at the beginning. 

Within biology, life science, history, and even psychology textbooks, you will find mention of dinosaurs.  You’ll read that they lived millions of years ago, and that birds, crocodiles, and some sea creatures are common “ancestors” of these ancient creatures. 

You may have heard things like such and such creature is related to so and so; maybe the lobster and the roach come to mind for instance. The most specious claim of all is that human beings share a common ancestor with apes. 

A little known fact: Robert Plot thought to be the first discoverer of “dinosaur bones” actually deduced that the only explanation for the thigh bone that he found was that they came from giant humans.  There may be a few verses in the book of Genesis that come to mind regarding that interesting tidbit. Don’t get me wrong: I couldn’t know whether Mr. Plot was indeed observing evidence of the famed Nephilim or of the creatures known today as dinosaurs. 

This we do know: reptiles and amphibians are both “indeterminate growers”. That means that until they die they never stop growing.  Many lizards live a few years, some live over 100, but imagine the possibilities of these creatures living as long or longer than humans when humans were living over 900 years old…

Lies are required to support the first lie.  That first lie is foundational in modern academia: The lie that existence is an accident. 

The belief that many famous people throughout history have taught (such as Georg Hegel the teacher of Karl Marx) is that we evolved through “order out of chaos”. We find this philosophy in many places and, at its heart, is a hatred of God.  It is inherently Satanic for one to pursue Truth, Order, and Logic, apart from the One who is the Truth, ο λόγος  the Word.

The belief that nothing… … … … … … exploded… … … … …and everything became (known as the ‘uncaused cause’) is both illogical and has never been observed, cannot be observed. I will say that this sneaky doctrine of mockers and haters of God will sneak into unexpected places. If you pay close attention you will find this “something from nothing” philosophy, this ‘uncaused cause’ sophistry one only could hope would be hiding in the shadows, instead hidden in plain sight for the discerning person to expose. 

From the soup of such a fantasy of unobservable (but widely dispersed) ‘knowledge’, mankind has excused and justified many darker illusions…

Deception and evil often appear under the guise of virtue. Under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ultimately being officialized under the leadership of Dwight D. Eisenhower, ‘Project Sunshine’ was a covert “research” project involving the illegal procurement of bodies, from preborn, newborns, and young adults. ‘Body-snatching’ is the actual quoted term within the 112 page declassified government document titled “Worldwide effects of atomic weapons: project sunshine” dated August 6, 1953.  Carried out on nearly every continent in the world, this project and related projects concerning research studies on the effects of radiation on the human body, took place over decades. 

What’s the point?

When you scrutinize the “scientific” community, the ventures of science historically, but especially in the past few hundred years, one may become quite jaded.  That needn’t be against science or “knowledge” whatsoever…   

Yeah, But…

Are you thinking, “Yeah, but… I’m not a scientist, I’m not an expert, how could I know what is true or not?” 

The first step of the scientific method is observation.  If it hasn’t been observed or cannot be observed, that’s test number one. If it fails the rest is fiction. Science, as the scientific community would define it, involves testability too. If you can’t reach out and touch and manipulate the objects related to what’s in question, that’s not science either. Once again, that’s fiction I’d cast into the Fantasy genre.

Whose arms of knowledge do you lean upon, rely, and trust?

Faith Science  

Now back to Jesus’ miracles.

He did those things. 

Do you believe it?

He literally did everything you read in Scripture.  There isn’t exaggeration when it says more than 5,000 people were fed with a boy’s lunch, and 12 baskets of scraps were leftover. 

When it says someone was dead, and Jesus rose them from the dead, Jesus did that.

When it says that Simon Peter cut off a man’s ear and Jesus put it back, and that it was healed — that happened, just as you read it. 

When it says that people were deaf or blind from birth, never before knowing such things as sound or sight, and that Jesus healed them — that happened. It is testimony to Jesus’ life.

When the Bible says that people with ghastly, grotesque, incurable diseases, banned from society, persona non grata, filthy outcasts, not even to be looked upon, were touched and cured, made whole and clean again, by Jesus — that’s real, that happened.  

Modern “science” and the “experts” will tell you that none of these things could actually be true because they are impossible. They’ll further insult you by saying that it is unscientific. You can’t prove it, right? We can’t go back and observe it, can we?

Hm. That sounds familiar….

First of all, I hope by now I’ve taught you that some people don’t use the word “science” appropriately, but, secondly, presuppositions truly get in the way. Someone’s presupposition that miracles are anti-scientific for instance.

Denying God poisons one’s every thought, and the result is lies supporting lies. 

And to really drive the point home, here’s some words of Jesus Christ, that will keep you up at night found in the book of John chapter 14 verse 12: Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I am doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  

And then a little later Jesus says: I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you do know Him, for He abides with you and will be in you. 

This, this ‘Spirit of truth’ is important, this is true living, living true.  Living in and with the truth.  This is something that sets us apart, something that allows us to identify the liar anywhere he may be creeping, lurking, waiting. 

Wrap It Up (It’s Lunchtime)

I’ve addressed a lot, and I’ve tried to emphasize the important parts, but I want to be sure that this isn’t just coming across as a complaint, but rather an exhortation. 

This gift of life that God has given us, the awesome and wondrous beauty of all that is, from the forests to the tiny veins in the leaves on the trees — there is so much to discover.  However, this fingerprint of God evident in all of creation isn’t meant for us to boast about deciphering or to build up ourselves to become like God: That isn’t how He told us to be like Him. 

As we learn in Ephesians chapter 4: verse 17: So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. Having lost all sense of shame, they have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity, with a craving for more.

But this is not the way you came to know Christ. Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him—in keeping with the truth that is in Jesus— to put off your former way of life, your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be renewed in the spirit of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one another.

And in Romans Chapter 12 verse 9 to the end: 

Love must be sincere. 

Detest what is evil; cling to what is good. 


Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another.

Do not let your zeal subside; keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persistent in prayer.

Share with the saints who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but enjoy the company of the lowly. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Carefully consider what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone.

Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord.”

On the contrary,

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him a drink.

For in so doing,

you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In the words of Paul:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.

Amen.

Talents & Skills

“Mom, what are my talents?”

My face must have flashed through sixteen contortions before landing, frozen, back in foundling traumas of insecurity. If I never head the word ‘talents’ again, I wouldn’t be disappointed; I might even sweat less.

“Talents?” I asked, trying to bide my time to give answer.

“Is it singing?” she asked, wide-eyed and eager.

Oh precious girl…

I didn’t think my heart could be fractionated any further as to crack again, but teensy bits of it crumbled again, wringing the last ounce of pain from my youth out into my mouth as honey… or was it vinegar? (It can be hard to see the difference in the moment.)

“I don’t think we know your talents yet, sweetie.”

Her face dropped fifteen dollhouse floors.

Ugh.

Thus, commenced the discussion of talents and skills…

Youthful Lies

In my youth and young adulthood, talent was everywhere and everyone seemed to have it but me. Well, almost everyone; but youth tends to deal in absolutes: everythings and nothings, everyone’s and no one’s, the whole world and the whole weird world of me.

For a long time, I bought into the lie that I had no talents to speak of. My friends would ask this weird ‘talent’ question, and I’d shrug it off: not a clue.

That one was a master of music…

That one was a goddess of speech…

That one had so many letters behind their name that they must hold several talents by the tail…

This one was an artist…

This one, a business wizard…

This other one was going to make it in media one day…

Somewhere behind the word ‘talent’, a magical, super-easy, I-didn’t-have-to-try-ism lurked.

I think this pitfall is probably common among youth, though I can only speak for myself here. Sometimes, talent is simply mistaken for something one likes to do…

Example: I like to sing, so singing must be my talent.

The very erroneous thing I was trying to safeguard my own daughter from thinking, even at this early age. Because, while she may like to sing and, while singing may be a talent she proves to possess one day, the long road of talent discovery will always intersect the road signed Skill.

They must cross. They must reason together. There simply is not one without the other.

You doubt it?

Well, I could say that I have learned the skill of teaching my children through homeschooling, but that does not mean I have the talent for teaching. (I don’t.) I could likewise tell you that I have a talent for riding horses, but — alas — I have lost much skill over time in that fun venture. (I wonder if that talent has died…)

You may have one without the other in these kinds of ways, but isn’t it always true that to showcase true talent one must marry that talent with skill (practice, effort, the finer elements of the craft)? And to be truly skilled at something, one must also have ‘a knack’ for it, as they say — the marriage of talent — No?

I hope to marry my talent for writing with skillfulness, so I will speak of what I know.

I can read two equally well-written, properly punctuated, and grammatically perfect short stories written by two different individuals and tell you — instantly — which one has ‘the gift’ for it and which one, perhaps, has skill, nice form, but lacks the razzle-dazzle of innate talent.

Think about your own talents and skills. I’m sure you can think of a parallel example from your own arena of expertise and giftedness — especially, if you’re over 30. 😉

Hey, these things take time (you 20-somethings and under)… Remember, that long road of discovery? Yeah… It’s like that. (Well, for some of us anyway…)

Marriage Is No Picnic, Baby

You’re gonna have to work at it — even if you are talented, dear one!

And that was the message I tried, through my own newfound intersections, to pass along to my daughter that day. Life is hard enough without being misinformed about talents.

I recently sat down to figure out a song on piano ‘by ear’ that I had never played before. So much of that process has been demystified for me over time, and, it turns out, it wasn’t magic or some strange acoustic voodoo at work. While I can easily admit to not being as talented as some in this department, I have realized that much of what I thought was mystery was simply missing theory and lacking mastery.

After ten minutes, I could play the verses and most of the chorus. Given a week of consistent practice, I have no doubt I could learn the whole song.

How?

Easy. Once you learn all of the major scales on the piano (something I was taught long ago), figuring out most songs by ear is a simple matter of figuring what key, what scale, the song is being played in. There are only so many chords and notes within a scale, right? So, that narrows it down a bit. If you have ears for music at all, they will do the rest of the work.

I have two pitfalls of SKILL here:

  1. I don’t know all of my chords in every scale
  2. I lack consistency and diligence in practice

Am I talented at piano playing? Maybe. It’s hard to say yet…

I haven’t honed the skill. 🙂

Follow Jesus’ words; He won’t steer you wrong — in any matter.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Matthew 7:7

You have a part to play in your story of talents and skills…

Shalom.

The Original Misinformation Campaign

The original misinformation campaign began with God’s words (Truth) to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden…

Then, the devil said: ‘Ain’t so’ and the like (Lies)…

Admittedly, Eve found that the devil’s words aligned with her inner-desires, so she took the serpent’s soundbite and ran with it (Spread)…

To Adam — wherever he’d been excusing himself with his own special blend of fermenting ‘I was going to do that’ vibrations, in tune with his wife (Apathy).

Then, the Truth showed up all decked out with light, betraying the shadows…

And Adam said it was her fault (Blame)…

And Eve said it was his fault (Blame)…

And the devil didn’t say much because he knew he’d started it, mostly (Proof of lie: The serpent is not like God)…

And then, God spoke again and cursed all three participants for their part — because they each played a part (lest any doctrine of Adam-splaining befall ye: ye have heard).

Well, you know the story, don’t you? But do you know what’s great about this story? Do you know what gives this story teeth?

God had the first and the last word. He spoke the truth at the beginning; He spoke the truth at the end; and all parties were taken to task, each for their own folly.

What great about that?

That it encapsulates the whole story of history — past, present, and future. That’s what.

God gets the last word.

(Of course, that’s also terrifying, which is why Jesus is Good News! But that’s a different post.)

Today’s Soundscape

Nothing has changed. What began back in the Garden of Eden with one God, one serpent, one man, and one woman, has morphed into a million Medusa’s on a million platforms tweeting out their ‘Ain’t so’ and the likes to a million ears.

We’ve all been baited into folly at some point, and with the ease of dissemination we see today, we’re as likely (if not more likely) to be wrong than right about any number of things…

While I find blatant misinformation hard to accept from the Justices of the Supreme Court (sound bytes available to prove it) this week, the truth is, we’ve all been there — taking an irresistibly delicious sound byte, blacking out with excitement, seeing red in bloody retribution or rightness, and running with it to share…

Moments before we run to hide.

(I’m not saying that makes it all okay, of course – this misinforming blindness. I’m just noting it’s not actually new…)

What’s the point?

Only the reminder that Truth will return to His garden one day…

When He comes calling, will He find us petting favored soundbites, decked out in fig leaves, or tending what He placed in our collective and individual domains?

He gets the last word, friend… so it’s His words we do best to guard in our hearts.

Besting 2022

A new year is peeking through my frosted window panes. The north wind of 2021 is frozen in place this week, but it will not stop 2022 from coming.

I stand upon the hard middle ground of 40 years now. New Year’s Day no longer appears as the undulating silhouette of mystery – tall, dark, and handsome. Rather, I see that what is true of today is true of that day too: My shadow follows me and God’s nature remains unchanged. Seeing the truth has changed my hopes for every year.

I don’t want to live by checklists or efficiency protocols. After years of following behind the hollow church ritual of naming and claiming a superstitious word or supernatural mantra for the new year, and after enough failed mantras of my own, I don’t want to live another second tied up in those kinds of one-size-fits-all shoelaces either.

Even so, a question many have no doubt pondered (all-the-more over these past two years) has kept me up at night for many years: How best to live?

In light of Scripture,

In light of all I’ve learned and heard,

In light of this shadow’s brevity,

In light of who God is –

How best to live?

There are many ways that seem right to mankind, after all. There are many ways to live called ‘right’, you know… They depend upon who is doing the calling.

Ways of Living

I think every adult dreams of living as a child again in some way. Perhaps things were simpler then, less entangled, less scripted. Perhaps we only seek to escape the DMV lines and recipe books of adulthood in such dreams. Even so, the longer my chin hair gets, the more I delight in the thought of returning to a childlikeness… Don’t you?

The world wants to homogenize everyone; they seem to be ever-striving to make everything and everyone same-sies. Even as they cry for “diversity”, they demand that we all hold to the same ideologies and social mores and viewpoints as the worldly: It’s “Happy Holidays” not “Merry Christmas”, right? (It’s an easy target, I know…)

Some just want everyone to do their part, like Martha busy for Jesus while Mary was lazin’ around at His feet… And let’s be honest, if we look around our own community we know exactly who plays the roles of Martha or Mary in our own estimation. Don’t we?

I have a degree in Sociology, which is the study of people groups. I love to people watch; if you catch me staring, it’s not personal: It’s research. (Not that that’s encouraging…)

But I did not need a degree in sociology to see that every family, every community, every church, every grocery store has its own unique ethos of values and beliefs which they tend to trumpet above the rest, even if some trumpet more loudly than others. Even when they hold to the same basic tenets as the rest, such as in a denomination, each body tends to highlight some cherished conviction or standard over all others:

Grace, Faith, Forgiveness, Belonging, Baptism, Healing, Sovereignty, Compassion, or the Great Commission, etc… in churches;

Work Ethic, Modesty, Health, Civic Duties, Recycling, Family Time, Hospitality, or Arts, etc… in homes;

Beautification, Fiscal Responsibility, Events and Programs, Learning or Service opportunities, etc… may be emphasized, one or two more than the others, in various communities.

Yes, grocery stores too. Some refine the atmosphere of lighting and flooring, while others boast in bulk; some appreciate ‘the bottom line’, while others post politically polarizing mantras in their windows. Some are quick on data and quickly stock the things that fly off the shelves, while others catch on too late or remain the stapled general store of the past. See? These too have their ideals, which is why — by the way — we have our preferences about which to shop; it’s not arbitrary, even when it revolves around our pocketbook.

For some, like my dad, an excellent work ethic is the supreme value of life. One may have many things but without a sharp work ethic, one deserves nothing. This shows itself in some communities where the women all have a full-time job and a side-hustle; it betrays itself in discussions about the national welfare program; and, sometimes, it shows itself in beautifully landscaped lawns (which I do not begrudge in the least but admire).

I’ve met many Christians for whom fostering children is God’s work – and, to hear some of them say it, tend to communicate that it is the only God work that counts for anything. You may serve in the nursery or have seventeen kids of your own, but if you’re not also fostering the stranger then you haven’t really surrendered to God’s “true religion” as penned by James.

There are others for whom peace reigns supreme – whether that peace means disengaging from social events, keeping the emotionally unstable person at arms’ length, never posting anything controversial on social media, staying away from spotlights, OR not holding one’s peace in any arena to keep one’s peace by speaking one’s own ‘truth’ no matter the occasion or whom it offends: Either way, “peace” is the stated goal, the only true honey of life.

In our own little family, lying and loudness are egregious sins; thus, honesty and tempered sugar-rushes are fostered…

And we could go on and on.

Some feel that to have no civic life, to not engage in politics and community events, is to err grossly; some spend their weekends shut away in their prayer closet eating and drinking one spiritual experience after another and feel something like pity against those who don’t know well enough to do the same; some go to church every time the doors are open for the sake of God’s words; others neglect ‘institutionalized’ church also for the sake of God’s words

And guess what? If we look, we can find scripture verses to prop up any one of these preferential lifestyles. Can’t we? Indeed, some today have managed to construct entire theologies from things God never said.

“But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

We mourned to you, and you did not lament.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

But wisdom is justified by her children.”

Matthew 11:16-19

Interestingly, Jesus contrasts two different kinds of children here: The children who sit in the marketplace and cannot be satisfied by their companions and the children justified by wisdom….

The children of the marketplace are not hard to spot; sometimes, we see them in our own mouths.

Today, if John the Baptist were here many would say that he was being legalistic and practicing some form of pagan asceticism with his weird honey and locust diet.

Today, if Jesus were here, we might indeed call him a glutton, a heretic for claiming to be the Son of God, or even one of those pesky Charismatics for all of the signs and wonders rumored…

But I wonder sometimes if the children of wisdom are so easily identified…

Even a fool can seem wise when he makes silence golden, so that’s no sure tell…

We could say that those healthy and wealthy and influencing must be among the wise… but is that always true?

We could say that those lettered and acclaimed with vast and academic knowledge must be among the wise… but we know that isn’t always true. Don’t we?

We are often tempted to believe that those whose lives appear to be well-financed, emotionally stable, and even-tempered are wisest of all… I suspect, however, that there are many an ungodly person we’d have to subscribe to if we truly believed that to be wholly the truth. Oprah represents such an ideal, doesn’t she? But she sold out years ago…

So, who are these mysterious children of wisdom anyway?

Wisdom’s Children

Well, we can first define them by the obvious:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Proverbs 9:10

So, FIRST, the ‘children of wisdom’ are those who fear the Lord.

Hm… Not as specific as we’d like is it? That’s a fairly generous identity at face-value. Nothing in that tells us exactly which church to attend, how to keep our lawns, where to school our children, or whether decluttering our homes is really the best way to spend our time — like ever or bi-annually.

For we do not presume to rank or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they have no understanding.”

2 Corinthians 10:12

Some versions say “they are not wise” rather than “they have no understanding”, but by Proverbs 9 we can see that these two things are virtually synonymous.

So, NEXT, we find that those who make such comparisons – that is, who form their standards and measures by the simple contrasting of another’s life OR against their own supposed progress in life – are not among the wise nor understanding.

In other words, a child of wisdom can see John the Baptist as adhering to his convictions because of his specific calling and Jesus adhering to his character because of his specific mission as the God-made-man, and bless and have peace-at-heart with both testimonies working in tandem.

Did not both callings and missions come from God, though both men served uniquely?

How then should we live? Those are two very different examples…

Examples, Contrasts, or Principles

Life isn’t a beauty pageant, a chapter in the Lord of the Flies, or an occupational resume in which we must best another. Life isn’t fair, isn’t cut and dry, and is rarely so neat and sterile as our memed favorite verse or mantra.

There are many ways to live exemplified in the Bible.

Ruth’s life looked nothing like Hannah’s; Moses’ life was nothing like Benaiah’s; Jeremiah’s life looked nothing like King David’s; Eve’s testament would not read the same as Deborah’s or virgin Mary’s; and what Job and Ezekiel each had to work out in their own love for God did not look the same. Without doubt, Peter and Paul had their disagreements and frustrations with one another, even as they recognized God’s calling upon each other.

Why, then, do you judge your brother? Or why do you belittle your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.”

Romans 14:10

Judgement is passing sentence; it’s saying, “You must not be a true believer if…”

If it doesn’t entertain us by reflecting and affirming our own song and dance of chosen ideals, perhaps – As the children of the marketplace whined in Jesus’ parable?

Well, many definitions, examples, and sermons can and have been taught on the subject of judgment. For this piece we will confine the definition to making assumptions about another’s authenticity based upon what we can see with our eyes and what we believe to be wisdom based upon our own preferential sensibilities

After all, is it unsensible to want to bury your father before following Jesus? – Jesus seemed to say so in that specific interaction, though all of society, even today, would argue the point (Luke 9:59-60). In fact, we would say Jesus was being unloving in such sentiments… Would we not?

(I speak, of course, of differences in ‘working out salvation’ among those IN Christ; not of the wolves parading sin under the banner of His Good Name falsely. That is a different post.)

We are told to live by many principles, precepts, and wise advisements in the Bible.

Here are but a few examples:

“Love your enemies…” (Matthew 5:44)

“…Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink… But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25; 33)

“Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

“Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition.” (Ephesians 6:18)

“Earnestly pursue love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1)

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations…” (James 1:2)

“And indeed, have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; and to still others show mercy tempered with fear, hating even the clothing stained by the flesh.” (Jude 1:22-23)

“If anyone comes to you but does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home or even greet him. Whoever greets such a person shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 1:11)

“Do not be too quick in the laying on of hands and thereby share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” (1 Timothy 5:22)

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11)

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

“Since you call on a Father who judges each one’s work impartially, conduct yourselves in reverent fear during your stay as foreigners.” (1 Peter 1:17)

“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:25-26)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:2-4)

These quotes don’t even make up the tip of the iceberg in guidances, commands, or principles we can find in God’s word. And this question has kept me up at night for years, well, decades now…

How then do we live?

If we take every passage literally, especially Jesus’ own words, do we have to live as homeless nomads? Constantly praying and preaching? No dance recitals? No bling? No time for burying loved ones? No hands or feet because we had to cut them off and no eyes because we had to pluck them out?

Are we to parade in thanksgiving to God and dance in the nude down Main Street? (Anyone in your town will be pleased if you don’t.) Are we to rally impossible odds against the powers of the day like Gideon trusting the God of Angel Armies? Are we to tend our own garden, work quietly, and mind our own business? What about the places that actually need an ass’s jawbone to take a slew of mockers, boasters, and reprobate’s out of the picture? Is there really ‘a time for everything’ (Eccl. 3:3)? Are we all to teach and preach and baptize and call many to repentance? Should we all be fostering? Adopting? Should we all prophesy? Taking casseroles to all the widows?

Paul spoke in tongues more than y’all. Was that an intentional jab at Southerners?…

Plenty of arguments ensue over how we are to love our enemies – And what does that look like if we’re also supposed to pull the fluffy white fur off of the cloaked wolf bearing the works of wickedness? Should we or shouldn’t we shake hands? – I don’t want to be complicit in your sins too, after all; I have plenty of my own to confess.

There is a verse for every hidden mantra-at-heart. There is. If you doubt it, just open the Good Book: the devil will surely show up in the details, as he did with Jesus in the wilderness, and quote sonnets in your ears…

But the lie he tells to each of us is the same one told from the very beginning, isn’t it?

For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:5

Was that truth? The whole truth?

Of course not. Rather, mankind ‘fell’ from God’s good graces, our eyes were darkened, and in ‘knowing good and evil’ some “loved the darkness” (John 3), making more of devils than of gods among us.

So, a lie that was and is and always will be… yet we still try to act as gods with our extensive knowledge, don’t we?

In closing, what offended and overturned the religious rulers of Jesus’ day was that He spoke against and dealt less with the obvious and visible sins, while underscoring, slicing, and dicing the hidden sins of their hearts. He forgave prostitutes and called a tax collector, while silencing the Pharisees on more than one occasion…

So, how best to live?

He did not call us to be sinners, after all; He still condemns sin. Neither did he call the Pharisees to continue in their vain traditions; He still says He is the only way, our Righteousness…

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Matthew 18:1-6

There are many different kinds of children and the difference between childish and childlike behaviors to consider, but, clearly, Jesus had something definite in mind…

The minor prophets, Amos and Micah, were no less vague. When calling Israel to repentance, Amos says:

“Seek good, and not evil; hate evil, love good!…Seek Yahweh, that you may live!”

Amos 1:14, 6

Good?

Oy vey.

There’s more than one school of thought on that word, isn’t there? So, we must place it in context of what the nation of Israel and Amos’s purview would have known to be ‘good’ based on God’s laws.

He has showed you, O man, what is good and what Yahweh seeks from you: to do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly before Yahweh.

Micah 6:8

Do justly?

Love kindness?

Walk humbly?

Even in Christian circles, people argue about how best to do these things and what they look like… and, being that this prescript comes from the roots of Christianity, we will not consider the world’s ideas about these Godly traits valid here.

“There is no demand here for ‘ethics’ instead of a cult, as if the prophet’s desire was to lead men from one set of laws into another. No, something quite simple is contrasted with the arduous performance of works which can end only in destruction – a way along which men can walk before God.”

The Message of the Prophets By gerhard von rad, pg 155

“Before God” is my favorite part of that quote because it does simplify our quest, doesn’t it?

If I am walking with, for, through my heart laid bare before my Creator God, my Father God, my Savior, and Comforter, then I will not err in walking my walk as if before mere men and mortals –

If I walk before God as a child, desiring to do justly, desiring mercy, and accepting humility, then I am less likely to make the error of comparing my mission and calling to someone else’s: I am less inclined to walk before men, as if humanity were my Final Judge.

But I am also less inclined to forget my calling, less inclined to embrace my sins with affection, if I walk “before God” – in remembrance of who He is and what He has spoken.

How then to live?

Ever before God, as His child.

That is best.

And there are many parts of the Body and many callings within that easy yoke…

Blessed New Year, saints! I pray you enter it with the trusting affection of children before a Good Father.

That’s A Wrap: Christmas 2021

This year we bought a house for $15,000.00 in North Dakota, we financed the newest vehicle we’ve had in many years, and I lost a few pounds of emotional baggage (though I can’t say the same for my hips) – which is saying something because the last three years have been rough physically, financially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

This is the first Christmas that I have felt whole and well. Not richer. Not smarter. Not in any exceptionally different circumstance yet better somehow…

I realize that so much of my former anxiety revolved around comparisons, around everyone else’s advising and chastising voice in my head. This has been a progressive revelation that began years ago but seems to be cresting now. A few surface-level examples:

No real Christmas family traditions? – The incriminating voices of all those celebrating beautiful and liturgical Christmases shoot daggers at me: I am robbing my children of something meaningful, I can hear their silences assert…

No social extra-curricular activities? – The eyebrows of others’ voices crescendo into a cacophony of disapprovals behind my eyes: How will my kids learn that ‘team work makes the dream work’?…

No long-term residence thus far, resulting in the usual consequence of no long-term close friendships, nothing familiar to hold on to during cold nights? – Those who’ve put down blessed roots and already blossomed toss unintentional shade as we cling to one another somewhere below their estimation: No one says these things, but this has been part of the baggage I’ve carried every time I walk into a perfectly settled and decorated home, every time I encounter those too busy with their own family ties to entertain a strange family new to town, every time those with seniority in a neighborhood, church, or social event draw firm lines around what must be earned – and the length of time they calculate is necessary to earn it (which I could never prior meet).

No one has to say it. It’s just the law of circumstance, the laws of the rooted and the nomadic teasing each other. I make lists of places I’ve been to impress; they make lists of social engagements and entanglements to feel important. Six in one hand, a half dozen in the other.

And that’s without unraveling the maniacal chords of my own disorderly triune – spirit, soul, body – shouting me down with my very own formulaic or fantastical standards. Who knew so many quarreling voices could form such a united wrecking ball in one’s own mind?

My sister said that I was Elsa the first time we saw Frozen; she was right. I guess I’m simply saying that I told those voices to shut-up. I can’t run away to an ice castle, but I can run to my High Tower and tell all of those discordant voices – that drown this child and cause me to lose sight of Jesus’ hand extended to me – to shut the hell up.

I hope friends past, present, and future will not mistake that necessary line for an ice-bolt directed at Anna’s heart (the hearts of my friends): It is not. My quarrel is not with any of these, not with any of you. My quarrel has been with myself, with God, and with the damned ‘Accuser of the brethren’ (and sister-en, if you must, joker).

You know what’s funny? Since telling those voices to shut-up, I realized none of them were telling the whole truth. That’s freedom, friend.

This year, we had a true white Christmas. Not only was there snow on the ground but the snow also fell today in those perfectly large flakes. It was beautiful. While I have a healthy fear (the kind that says not to skate on thin ice) of the frigid temperatures en route, I have no reason to fear today: Today, the house is warm, the landscape outside is frozen and picturesque, the kids are happy and fed, and I have all I need…

I found it too often impossible to enjoy these things before: Foreboding was my middle name.

There are many ways to live and they all appear to be right in a mortal’s eyes. Those who strive for excellence and security feel they do so rightly; those who strive for peace and simplicity feel they do so rightly; those who strive for position and social standing do so for a ‘right’ cause; those who shun the world think they do rightly, and those who clutch the whole world between their thighs, riding high, know they do so rightly: Every one of these ways ends in death.

All of our ways end in death, fellow mortals.

When you see all mortals as naked as the day they were born, what is important shines a little clearer. (We dim the mirror with our illusions, I think…)

“Unless you repent, you also will perish,” (Luke 13:3) – Jesus. Solomon had it right. Only one thing actually matters: Fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The rest is anxiety-producing nonsense, and on this matter I agree entirely with Elsa in Frozen:

Let it go!

Let it go!

Let’s let these comparisons with one another go… (Me first! I know.)

As members of one body, we each serve God uniquely as He equips us – some in highly visible and shiny vessels and some more obscurely in hiddenness. And the belly button will never see what the elbows see; they just won’t – and it’s not even their fault! – and it doesn’t mean that they’re not functioning properly! But each one must give an account to God. He reigns over all of these matters, so let us be content with what God has given, whether in blessed rootedness or dependent (but also blessed) sojourning since we all sojourn Earth and we each take our strength from the Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10), else we die.

As for tradition:

Next year, I’m cooking frozen pizza for Christmas because whoever started this let’s-use-more-dishes-than-the-whole-year-so-we-have-to-clean-all-day-on-a-holiday tradition was total bats.

As for social activities:

Being an introvert is not a birth defect, social blight, crying shame, or a sin. We can’t dance you under the table… but we do know how to cry with you, how to laugh with you, how to hope with you, how to wrap our arms around you…

As for these wispy roots:

The wealth of extended family God has given us in our travels was worth it. We’ve been privileged to witness many different ways of living, many different family traditions, and many kinds of blossoms… One day, I believe, our family’s traditions will be more meaningful because of the many children of Our Father who have shared their special days with us.

We are so thankful for each of you and for God’s abundant goodness in our lives.

Merry Christmas.

How The Grinch Learned God’s Will

Every Who up in Your Town liked God’s will a lot.

But the Grinch who lived south of Your Town did not!

It could be, perhaps, that he thunk he missed God’s will for his life.

It could be, perhaps, that he knew he couldn’t please God just right.

But I think, perhaps, the biggest reason of all,

May have been that the Grinch thought God’s will was too small.

“They say that it’s perfect,” he pouted, pouring cider.

“If it’s perfect, I’m a blunder,” he said none-the-lighter.

Drawing by Eastley

“Tonight at the church they’ll light candles and sing,

But even if I joined them, I’d be a miserable thing.”

Yes, for forty-three years he had tried, tried, tried,

But he’d messed up his life – on the very first try!

He once had the idea that God called him ‘special’;

That was back before the world made him so small.

So, the Grinch he moved south and called everyone a liar.

All God had done for him was save his soul from the fire?

Drawing by Eastley

He did thunk he’d messed up God’s will for his life.

He thunk it and thunk it, until late in the night –

One night he rethunk it and said, “It’s not right;

It’s not right to go down without more of a fight!”

So, the Grinch stuffed all his reasons down into his stockings,

Then he hung upside-down to shake out all his be-longings.

Drawing by Eastley

“I’ll shake out my reasons, the things I’ve been told;

Then I’ll ask God the truth – Yes, I will be so bold!”

He shook and he shook and he shook them all out.

Then frowning he said, “What have I been so upset about?”

“Jesus is the ‘Special’, the one Who who gets glory;

His will is that I love Him and thank Him – Can that be the right story?”

He looked at the cover and checked over the Book:

Yes, the story seemed clear, after another look.

Drawing by Wren

What was every Who called to? –

Well, faith, hope, and love!

What was the will of God for him? –

To put his faith high above –

Above all of his reasons, his stuffings, their lies;

Above all of his messes, his cries and his tries.

Above what people said he should do with his life;

Yes, above his own lost dreams – the cause of his strife.

The Grinch’s smile grew larger: Could this be the truth?

Why, this burden was lighter – far lighter than Babe Ruth!

“This is a truth,” sang the Grinch, “that all Who’s must hear!

I will start in Your Town; I will start with Who’s near!”

“It comes without pretense! Without money! Without fame!

It comes without book smarts, or street smarts, or shame!”

“It comes to the near ones and it comes to the far!

It comes by God’s mercy, like the Bethlehem star!”

“It comes to the hungry, the willing, the bold…

And,” he said softly, “It even comes to the old.”

Yes, he told all the Who’s in Your Town, who say,

All appeared brighter on that Christmas day.

God’s will, the Grinch thought, doesn’t envy the world’s stores;

God’s will, perhaps, means something greater and more…

Drawing by Wren

***

*Inspired by How The Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Suess

How the Grinch Learned God’s Will, written by Ambassador Rose

Spiritual Travelogue: Why Leave That?

A spiritual travelogue defines my blogs (past and present) best. They have been much like a journal of my personal spiritual experiences, encounters, and thoughts, and there are some to whom I’m connected who have witnessed it all — to some degree.

A friend once intimated that she was terrified to share anything with me lest it end up on social media. I understand; that is often, I hear, the plight of the writer’s circle of acquaintances. Even so, I’ve often wondered how such silences or omissions benefit us:

I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes.

Acts 20:20

It is true that I may get it wrong; I may get you wrong. But then:

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

Matthew 5:11

How then, does dishonesty or aversion serve the Body of Christ?

Nevertheless, I have learned to be grateful for some silences, for the writer’s fears are not unlike the writer’s friends’ own. I have flayed my heart, time and time again, over and over, in putrid immaturity and in flashes of light: Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17) AND Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23). These words to the same disciple; bless him…

I too fear what you’ll say when I’m not in my right mind:

For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

I never know who reads my words, who hears them, who distorts them, who dismisses them, who mocks them, who ever sees them. Even my husband will confess that he does not read all (or most) of my posts. Indeed, he has missed entire blogs. So, I make no assumptions about audience here, which is why I continue to say that I am an equal-opportunity offender.

I am not writing to please any one group. That is not my goal.

The Travelogue Continues…

We come as Your children…” (Sons & Daughters, Vineyard music)

From Non-Denominational, to Charismatic, to Anglican, to Baptist, to Presbyterian, to Lutheran on most days — how does that happen? How does that happen to a preacher’s kid like me?

I used to wonder too; now I know.

“I love Your presence…” (I Love Your Presence, Vineyard music)

Indeed, I do.

It’s like this, His presence: You know the difference between knowing that someone’s heart is for you, their spirit with you, in figurative terms, versus when they are sitting next to you on the sofa, able to embrace you with warms arms?

It’s like that, friend. There is a difference, and I will never begrudge anyone desiring that difference when it comes to Jesus’ presence, His very own Spirit, in their life.

Who doesn’t want to feel Jesus’ presence — His Spirit — with them? Only someone who doesn’t know…

Watching The Chosen (run, don’t walk, if you haven’t seen the series yet) has put into keen technicolor (probably an outdated term; I’m old) just how desperate people can be when trying to touch the Healer. Should we begrudge that desire? No, friends; no…

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Luke 5:32

I desire to be marked by that very difference in my own home and life, though I too battle the rocks and thorns of my own heart and mind daily.

So, Why Leave Those Churches?

So, if I even fractionally recognize and validate what is tangible and desirable in those evangelical (the current umbrella label for many of my past church experiences) circles, why leave?

Why, indeed.

You know what’s interesting about Jesus’ presence? — Not everyone who encountered the Son of God was changed. It’s hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it? How could they not be changed? How could they walk away from the very presence of God-made-flesh and not walk away differently?

That’s it in a nutshell.

Once too many times I saw people laugh, cry, and tremble through a service, only to continue living unaffected; I got up one too many times from the floor only to go home still annoyed with my husband, loathed of myself, frustrated with life; once too many times I spent time with the same people the morning after the ‘amazing’ service, only to find that they were yet consumed with mortal thoughts, still backbiting, still envying, still boastful…

You can only watch people go home unchanged by the presence of God so many times before you start to doubt something or someone.

But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his place of baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit, then, in keeping with repentance.”

Matthew 3:7-8

Of course, is this phenomenon bound to any denomination? Certainly not. It happens everywhere…

The issue is that I found no more and no less fruit among these others in Christ than I had witnessed in the evangelical/charismatic camps.

And, honestly, I discovered far more humility among some of them.

Take that for what’s it worth.

So… But… How… ?

Can that really be the Spirit of the Living God people are experiencing if they are leaving unchanged?

Hmm… I ask myself this same question.

But I believe the answer is yes.

Why?

Because “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” Some spiritual principles just are; I mean, if you seek, you will find… No?

And hasn’t our God always loved to be found by those seeking? Did He turn any away who sought?

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14

Despite their well-documented flaws, there remains a childlikeness in their seeking. These expect (at their best) their Father to enter the room and they expect to sit at His feet, and they long to feel that these things have happened at every meeting. And, for all of the hullabaloo, there is often something sacred and precious found in that waiting…

I once did as they did, though I realize now that I have never belonged to any of these — not to the Evangelicals, not to the Anglicans, not to the Baptists.

I identify only as my Father’s child, and there is great blessing and freedom in that.

Isn’t that the freedom to which we are all called? — To the freedom of crying “Abba, Father!” to a great and holy God?

AND, THEN AGAIN —

Can that really be the Spirit of the Living God people are experiencing if they are leaving unchanged?

I ask myself this all the time…

And I believe the answer is sometimes no.

If we always leave unchanged, have we truly sought to encounter the Father and to be changed by His very countenance upon us, or have we merely sought the encounter itself?

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 4:1

Just because we encounter a supernatural world, does not mean we have encountered THE Living God. Familiar spirits abound.

And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them:

am the Lord who sanctifies you.

Leviticus 20:6-8

Though God spoke of a particular false diety (Molech) in this passage, a “spirit” is a “spirit” is a “spirit” — is it not?

We want the Holy Spirit, the “same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead”, not just any old spirit.

And so I caution you.

If “testing the spirits” means testing the fruits, then Houston, We Have A Problem... because those found in the Spirit of Christ should “bear the fruits of repentance” — No?

Yes.

What are the “fruits of repentance” if not to get up and walk differently?

I am concerned when I see so many unchanged at heart and mind by the supposed OR real presence of God; both are concerning in their own strangeness — aren’t they?

Nevertheless

We return to one of my favorite disciples:

Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”

Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

John 21:21-22

And…

Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”

But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Mark 9:38-41

It is one thing to call out definite heresy; it is another, I think, to try to separate the wheat from the tares: We cannot know the damage we cause when we claim to know the hearts of all in certain denominations and orthopraxies…

I believe that some receive the gift of discernment, that there are times we can indeed know the heart of a man or woman in part, but we cannot pride ourselves upon such knowledge nor was the gift intended for measuring sheep by sheep: The gift of discernment is given to protect the sheep from wolves.

Is that our heart in using the gift?

I wonder sometimes… It seems many have strayed into pride here.

Increasingly, I see the divisions with little difference than we might examine the disciples’ own differences in faith: “You follow Me”.

Never mind God’s will for John, Peter.

Never mind God’s will for Mr. Fame & Claim, Rose: You follow Me.

There is only one Door to the Father, but it is true that a lot of variables — that is, sinful and strange individuals — walk through that door differently…

Some limping.

Some knowing.

Some trembling.

Some seeking.

Some hoping.

Some doubting.

Some blind.

Some rejoicing.

But all believing — if they are to go through that Door.

Even still, all these ages later, we struggle with identifying groups, camps, peoples by their visible externals. And even so, God yet looks upon our hearts — praise Him!

Who am I that you should fear?

And who are you that I should fear?

Fear God alone, beloved… that has always been the heart of my message to you and the heart of my own spiritual remembrances.

Shalom.

Part 3: Conversion, Context, & Evidence (‘In Spirit’)

“To enjoy in experience what is true of me as in Him, I must learn what it is to walk in the Spirit.

It is historic fact that in Christ my old man was crucified, and it is a present fact that I am blessed ‘with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’ (Eph. 1:3); but if I do not live in the Spirit, then my life may be quite a contradiction of the fact that I am in Christ, for what is true of me in Him is not expressed in me.

I may recognized that I am in Christ, but I may also have to face the fact that, for example, my old temper is very much in evidence.

What is the trouble? It is that I am holding the truth merely objectively, whereas what is true objectively must be made true subjectively; and that is brought about as I live in the Spirit.”

Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, pg 132

We began this travelogue defining a narrow group searching for churches that operate ‘in spirit and in truth’, what that means to them, the rubbing distinctions of most church experiences, and what this sought-after church might look like in function in Part 1, which can be found HERE.

We continued to define the structural distinctions present in how ‘word’ and ‘spirit’ churches are founded and structured and narrowed the scriptural accounts that support the need both for being a church that adheres dearly to the Truth of God’s Word, while not neglecting the works of the Spirit of Grace; simultaneously, noting the fact that both types of churches have produced worthless alongside valuable things and that both types appear – at least at surface level – to be little more than a right-brain, left-brain preferential splitting of hairs in Part 2, which can be found HERE.

Though I had not intended anything beyond the initial post, I found in this process the sharpened need to redefine some spiritual matter – as much for myself as for these prior writings. In particular, I needed to clarify the receipt and power of the Holy Spirit. So, we will discuss these things here, in Part 3:

Who receives the Spirit of God and when?

What was the context of Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman: ‘In spirit and in truth’?

And what is the difference and the evidence of living vs. walking after the Spirit?

In short, and in a backwards sort of progression, we will be defining terms and, afterwards, taking a brush to the root of the divisions in these types of churches and church experiences in hopes of re-clarifying the ideal: A Church, that is a people, of both spirit and truth.

This study has taken me completely by surprise… and I have been blessed by it this week. I hope you are too.

Conversion(s)

In Pastor Hsi: Confusion Scholar and Christian, Mrs. Howard Taylor writes in wonderful and descriptive terms about the conversion, trials, and ministry of a Chinese scholar named Hsi, whom Mrs. Taylor and her husband later came to know personally in their missionary work. Regarding his receiving of the Spirit, she writes:

“In thought and prayer over the Word of God, he had learned that there is a baptism of the Spirit different from the regeneration of the soul at conversion.”

Part 1, pg 182

(This may be the precise point upon which ‘word’ and ‘spirit’ churches split; we will address the semantics later.)

The story continues that he tarried in prayer one night upon this discovery until he was made aware (felt, subjectively) the Holy Spirit “filling and overflowing” his heart (pg 183). “For with this baptism of the Spirit there came a clear and definite call to the work of God.”

“The call was so definite and the outpouring of the Spirit so real, that the whole experience left an impression on the life of Mr. Hsi that never passed away. From that time forward he was as a man set apart, with an apostolic sense and conviction of being chosen of God for some special service.

At the time he said nothing about it, feeling deeply conscious of his unpreparedness and ignorance in spiritual things. He realized that, so far, it was but an indication of Divine will, and that only in after years could the full purpose of God be unfolded.”

pg. 183-184

This desire for the baptism of the Spirit followed shortly behind Hsi’s conversion to Christ and deliverance from a long-standing opium addiction.

I very much recommend reading the whole of Mrs. Howard Taylor’s biography of Hsi’s life and life in the Spirit. Not long after his own deliverance (and after addressing the wellbeing of his own family) he set out on a mission to help others in China trapped in the same addiction, always first addressing the spiritual realities of the soul, then the medical. His plain and fervent trust in God is convicting and inspiring, beginning to end.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

John 15:4

So, it seems Hsi, largely unguided in a remote region of China, read God’s Word and saw the need to tarry in prayer for the felt-baptism of the Spirit – much as the disciples did at Pentecost.

And, it seems, Watchman Nee, would disagree with such an interpretation, if not the act:

Those who emphasize tarrying and hold ‘tarrying meetings’ only mislead us, for the gift is not for the ‘favored few’ but for all, because it is not given on the ground of what we are at all, but of what Christ is.

The Spirit has been poured out to prove His goodness and greatness, not ours. Christ has been crucified, therefore we have been forgiven: Christ has been glorified, therefore we have been endued with power from on high.

Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian LIfe, pg 98

Nee makes the compelling argument that it is because Christ was glorified that the disciples who tarried and, now, we who believe, receive the Holy Spirit of Christ from the Father. The disciples tarried to wait for Christ to be glorified and seated at the right hand of God, Jesus himself having told them to do so, and, we also knowing, that all things done in heaven are done with procession and order: Thus the wait.

Nee continues that such a tarrying in prayer is no longer necessary to receive the Spirit because CHRIST HAS ALREADY BEEN GLORIFIED and seated with His Father in heaven – which was the premise of our receiving the Holy Spirit and also that upon which the disciples needed to first wait (to be finished above).

Let’s stop here to consider two things. Both Hsi and Nee were learned men; however, in terms of theology, it is clear when reading his books that Nee would triumph in theology points. Nonetheless, Hsi had an entire lifetime’s worth of the ministry of the Gospel endued with power and evidences, and supported by godly character, aplenty to prove what he understood of God’s graces.

Can we rightly say or discredit one or the other based on the jots and tittles of mere textual understanding then? I don’t think so….

Both members served in the way and with the means God gave to them, with the measure of understanding and power God gave to each of them. So, while they may very well have fallen into different denominations, if we were to parse out their stated beliefs, we can hardly divide them in Christ: To each was given a measure of faith and, so far as I can tell of both lives, each were faithful in their given callings.

It’s truly a shame that we divide such men upon mere trifles as our individual understanding of God’s works and graces.

Or, do you yet imagine that God is confined by your understanding of theology – that is, your understanding of Him?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.

Isaiah 55:8

Again, I say, a Nee thinks everyone should be a Nee…

And a Hsi thinks everyone should be a Hsi…

But what if this is the attitude we are to take with brothers and sisters, those who bear some evidence of God’s good grace in their lives, rather than dividing them into doctrinal points of contention?:

Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

John 21:22

Though Jesus spoke of the manner of death Peter would face respective to John’s, His words well sum-up what should be our overall attitude concerning God’s children and the walk to which He calls each one: You, follow Me (and mind your own spiritual calling).

I speak not of those who distort God’s words, as those yet bound in bondage to sin, who are, therefore, yet the ‘children of the devil’ – to be clear. The audience intended here are those who belong to God as evidenced in righteousness and love.

In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:10
Worship: ‘In Spirit and In Truth’

Andrew Murray, in his devotion titled With Christ In The School of Prayer, keenly points out a “threefold worship” described in Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman:

  1. The ignorant worship of the Samaritans
  2. The intelligent worship of the Jew
  3. The new, spiritual worship of the coming worshipers

“As God is Spirit, not bound by space or time, but in His infinite perfection always and everywhere the same, so His worship would henceforth no longer be confined by place or form, but spiritual as God Himself is spiritual.”

Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, pg 19

What is ‘spiritual’? In simplest terms, isn’t it that which is not material, physical?

To perfectly define ‘spiritual’ worship as a particular movement, style of externals, or behavior then, would be to confine worship again to the intelligent worship of the Jews.

To offer no definition, to feign no knowledge of what God may or may not desire, may or may not approve of, then, might be to regress into the ignorant worship of the Samaritan.

And, certainly, to confine Him to any particular place or time or method of worship also shuns the worship of God as Spirit, ‘in spirit and in truth’ – Does it not?

We worship a God we know, but our worship is not based on our perfect understanding of Him; it is based on our relationship to Jesus as the Truth.

We do not deny the knowledge of what He has revealed to slosh about in spiritual orgies with every familiar spirit and every religious ritual; rather, we accept what Jesus has revealed about ‘Our Father’ and worship Him accordingly – by also accepting the precious Holy Spirit and the grace to carry our own cross.

We worship our First Love, revealed through Christ Jesus, ‘in spirit and in truth’ – wherever we are, whenever we are, because the curtain has been torn, the barrier to the Holy of Holies removed.

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 

Revelation 2:4

Rather than being housed by a material tent of common fabric, the same Spirit of Christ Jesus is now resident in your ‘earthen vessel’ of common flesh.

He is with you now.

He is in you now.

THE SAME SPIRIT THAT RAISED JESUS FROM THE DEAD!

And that is why we say:

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 

For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Perhaps, perhaps, some, like Hsi, tarry in prayer, understanding that while they hear these words, they have produced little (or cannot produce) evidence of them in their lives. And is that not a good reason, saints, to tarry a while in prayer, to ask that you may receive – not the resident Holy Spirit already promised but for the eyes of your understanding to be opened?So that your form of godliness might be met with Christ’s power?

Call it a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit or a petition for understanding and revelation: Do you think God will give his child a stone when he or she asks for bread because they did not parse out the semantics of theology correctly in their prayer?

I think we act terribly arrogant when we confine God and His children in such poor, mere mortal ways and thoughts.

(There is 0 scriptural support for the doctrine that says only the Apostles could receive the Holy Spirit with power; thus, I will not entertain such foolishness here. There are plenty of scriptures that state in no uncertain terms quite the opposite.)

Living vs. Walking

In ancient Israel, one might (and often did) live their entire life in the camp of God’s general blessing and graces, as one of the Israelites, without ever entering the Holy of Holies – that is, without ever experiencing God’s tangible presence, seeing his glory fill the temple like a cloud, or approaching that holy, terrifying mountain to meet one-on-one with Him. Indeed, such experiences were then relegated to a select, chosen few. (Possibly, one of the reasons the shepherd boy, David, was so beloved by God was because by faith he did not confine God to a tent; rather, he loved God’s presence! – That means, he felt it and knew Him as much as any priest had in his day!)

There is a shadow of likeness here that persists today among those who, yes, receive salvation and the general benefits of being part of the body of Christ, yet neglect their own role as ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit’. They neglect to recognize God’s resident presence in their own personal lives and homes!

In other words, this kind of intimacy (the Holy of Holies) is no longer limited to those with hereditary claims to it; that is why the curtain was torn in two when Jesus died. He removed the separation caused by our sins, re-establishing the garden connection with our Father (when He came down to walk with Adam and Eve), sending the Holy Spirit to indwell the new temples – ‘these earthen vessels’: God with us.

If you were standing before the old Holy of Holies, as housed by the tent, would you sling mud on its windows? Would you bring in slop and feed the pigs there? Would you take the incense and candlesticks and use them to amuse yourself however you pleased? Would you treat it as you treat, say, your common living room?

What did 1 Corinthians 6 say we ought do with these temples? He said to ‘glorify God in your body and in your spirit’ – in the material and immaterial, in the common and the sacred Right?

Those who neglect the relationship necessary to enter into God’s presence (as felt and tangible as the priests and Moses knew Him to be) tend to stop short with defining Jesus as the Word.

The Word, He was; indeed.

But He was ‘the Word made flesh’.

The Word entering into relationship with humanity.

What I mean is this: If the Word has led you into the power of mental ascent alone in matters of belief, then you have not yet entered into the Word made flesh – the Word permitted to rule and reign also over your mortal body, flesh and bone, your daily life and ‘reasonable’ service.

‘Glorify God in your body and in your spirit‘…

‘In spirit and in truth‘…

How do you know if this is the case? – If mental ascent alone is the territory conquered? Simply put, there will be no evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power at work in your life. There may be common grace, just as those living outside of priesthood in the Old Testament experienced in Israel, but the lack of relational abiding of body and spirit in Christ will remain painfully evident (John 15:4).

Yes, yes… “a form of religion that denies the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5). Is this form not found in Christianity as much as any other belief system?

I do not speak of whether you eat or fast (Matthew 11:18-19), but of whether He knows you… and of whether you know Him.

Saints, the Pharisees knew well God’s words and yet failed to recognize ‘the Word made flesh’…

And many, we are told, who seem to be baptized from heaven with signs and wonders will be told, “I never knew you,” by Christ…

Therefore, whether you are ‘in truth’ or ‘in spirit’, matter not a penny’s worth in theory until, ‘in spirit and in truth’ you worship God with the whole of your life (body and spirit), abiding in the Vine, resting in the work of the fruit of His Spirit, these things evidenced yet unique (as was Hsi and Nee) in your life’s calling. Do you know Him?

Haven’t we all witnessed such things?

The Christian that looks like the world; in fact, you can scarcely tell the difference.

The Christian that is legalistic, proud of their ‘truth’ in a mortal’s understanding but having not a cent of Christ’s spirit.

The Christian who carries scents of spiritual essence and tries to oil everyone with them, proud of their ‘spirit’ and yet a stranger to God’s character.

And is not the needed difference lacking in all of these relational, to one or all three Persons of the Godhead? – One lacking relationship to the Father; another lacking relationship to the Holy Spirit; and another lacking relationship to the Word, Jesus?

Thoughts in Closing

“For me to exhort you to exercise your will in this matter would be but to offer you the vain religion of the world, not the life of Christ…

But as Christians we discover a new law in us, the law of the Spirit of life, which transcends all else and which has already delivered us from the law [of sin and death].”

Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, pg 146

Some stop upon the utterance of that first paragraph and relish in forgiveness, never moving beyond that “law of sin” in their temple.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection and glorification, however, there is more to the story – Isn’t there?

Yes, there is a new law at work…

Is it at work in us?

One other thing I was blessed by in Watchman Nee’s book was the reminder that scripture refers to the fruit, singular, of the Spirit, not fruits (plural). He chastised those who would pray for more patience or self-control, for example, acknowledging that we do not parse out bits and pieces of the Holy Spirit:

If we have the Holy Spirit’s indwelling then we already have access to all of Him, to His fruitful working, to all of these aspects of Him.

And we need not pray for them. We need only, upon the next temptation of our patience, to believe that the Spirit of Christ within us is already well-capable of handling whatever affair.

In this sense, it all comes back around to faith – Doesn’t it?

(Don’t bother worrying about mental ascent here: Time will tell it if you’ve offered plastic fruit. You might not even have to ask how I know that…)

One thing that, I think, bothers those seeking for a Church ‘in spirit and in truth’ is the notable doctrinal outlines for who is and who is not a ‘true believer’, as defined by the understanding of men. Well, I have never heard a pastor use this terminology without first assuming that they were the standard definition (along with their church), in comparison to others.

This leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of those who have found ‘true believers’ in many unexpected places and in many denominations.

But what are we saying here?That we can perfectly separate the wheat and the tares?

Dear saints, that is a fool’s mission, for God has ordained that they should grow up together until the final harvest – when angels, not men, will separate and identify them.

But don’t we need to identify them? Well, Jesus knew his betrayer at the end, but, prior to this, did He treat Judas any differently than the others? Not that we are told…

Separate from this, I realize that elders and overseers are assigned the task of watching for and chasing out heretical teachings and those who bring them, according to scripture. When rightly done, it is necessary. The struggle of our age is that so many of these heretics have become the ‘elders’ and ‘overseers’ themselves, and, consequently, that authority structures and God’s good name are abused in the process. There is no fixing this; in fact, this will increase as the end of things draws near.

I leave you with James 1:21-27, which, I thinks, brings a well-rounded conclusion to this whole matter of truth and spirit, heart and deed, hearer and doer for the attentive reader.

May the doer be blessed. Pray also for me. Let’s be doers of worshiping ‘in spirit and in truth’ and not hearers only…

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

James 1:21-27

And:

Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit.

Do not scorn or reject gifts of prophecy or prophecies [spoken revelations—words of instruction or exhortation or warning].

But test all things carefully [so you can recognize what is good]. Hold firmly to that which is good. Abstain from every form of evil [withdraw and keep away from it].


Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you through and through [that is, separate you from profane and vulgar things, make you pure and whole and undamaged—consecrated to Him—set apart for His purpose]; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete and [be found] blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-23

Amen.

Part 2: Structures ‘In Spirit & in Truth’

How a thing starts often sets the course of orthopraxy (church practices). It is impossible not to notice the two very different structures adhered to between Charismatic / Full Gospel / Evangelical and the more traditional, even Catholic, structures of those who follow liturgies or the formal training of Presbyterian / Lutheran / Methodist / Baptist churches.

I don’t speak here of their differences in service structure but in how their churches and pastors come to be, which naturally influences structure.

(Part 1 can be found here.)

Those striving to be ‘in Spirit’

No two Charismatic, Full Gospel, or Non-Denominational churches are alike. A great deal of confusion about exactly who they are, what they believe, and exactly what their practices are, stem from this fact.

Certainly, it might be said that no two Lutheran churches (within the same sect) are the same, insofar as the pastor makes or breaks it; nonetheless, the overall structure of service and what they believe will be consistent. This is not true of Non-Denominational churches. (I am lumping all non-traditional churches under this category for simplification.)

Let’s consider how the church focused on living ‘in the Spirit’ comes about. It’s pretty simple. If one has a Bible, a felt-calling from God, and the faith to rent a building and begin, that one may found a church and pastor it. No formal education required. No reference letters required. No ready-made congregation needed.

Indeed, is anything but zeal required? If YouTube has taught us anything it’s that a lot of people are followed who, perhaps, shouldn’t be.

Nonetheless, this simple start contributes both to the wins and losses for the Non-Denominational camp.

On the one hand, not bogged down with prescribed interpretations and formal training, these tend to take the Bible literally, very literally, and, when pursued with a pure heart, can produce a remarkable culture of passion and joy in following Christ.

On the other hand, the lack of formal training is what leads to the sometimes extreme varieties of expression founded by these and, of course, doctrinal errors – even when well-intentioned.

Even so, these will rightly ask what formal training or qualifications John the Baptist or the apostles (minus Saul, of course, who had great formal training… he then counted as rubbish later) had to preach the Word of God.

Are we starting to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some [false teachers], letters of recommendation to you or from you? [No!]

Such is the confidence and steadfast reliance and absolute trust that we have through Christ toward God. 

Not that we are sufficiently qualified in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency and qualifications come from God. 

He has qualified us [making us sufficient] as ministers of a new covenant [of salvation through Christ], not of the letter [of a written code] but of the Spirit; for the letter [of the Law] kills [by revealing sin and demanding obedience], but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6 [AMP]

And so, they will say that their qualifications come from God.

Personally, I cannot fault them here. Our qualifications should come from God, not man.

And, as we have seen in recent days, those who are formally trained are falling away into apostasy and grave errors equally by way of dissenting sects every day.

Those striving to be ‘in Truth’

“Well, pastor, you could fill an entire stadium with all of the people who have passed through your church.”

“That is true. And you could fill a stadium with all of the pastors who have pastored yours.”

Selah.

That was a less-friendly discussion had between a traditional and a non-denominational pastor, as told to me by the latter some years ago. Well, both have their pros and cons, don’t they…

So, you want to be a pastor? Not so fast, hot-stuff. That’ll be years of seminary training, a good stash of cash, and, even then, you’ll be placed and vetted by how the referring body values your method, style, and character.

Let’s just say, I’m not sure John the Baptist would have made it far in this method.

Though these institutions and traditional denominations vary some in their techniques, it is likely you won’t even get to say, “I want to start a church in Omaha and raise my family there.” No. You’ll have your choice of three or four places around the nation; you’ll have to succumb to being interviewed by the already-founded members of this church; and then you’ll have to hope you are favored by the one your heart desires most.

And, if they decide they don’t like you after a year? Well, tough luck. You’ve been voted out.

(I know people this has happened to. Yes, it can go down this way.)

The good produced by these types of bodies tends to come in way of the dissemination of formal training and interpretations – which isn’t always a bad thing. I have learned much from these during this last third of my life so far. For whatever may not be preferential about their services, you can count on the basic foundations of the Gospel being in tact –

Except, of course, for when they’re not.

A few things can happen here. First, a pastor desiring to keep his station, may fall prey to conforming to that which the congregation prefers to hear or, worse still, to flattering the congregation rather than preaching the Word of God.

I saw this first-hand while visiting a Methodist church once. The poor, young pastor spent the first twenty minutes of the service congratulating those who had given the most in tithes and offerings or donations and, evidently, coddling to their need for ego-inflation. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever witnessed.

Second, same as in the non-denominational camps, various sects can split from the more traditional heads of these organizations to form their own newly-branded theology and formal training.

These things happen in both non-denominational and traditional (I use that word loosely for lack of a better one) churches. Splits happen in both. Bad doctrine can happen in both. And power-struggles (congregation vs pastor) can happen in both too. The only difference, so far as these things are regarded, is that the non-denominational pastor gets to keep his building, his locale, and his title, sending the split off to live or die elsewhere (ergo, the stadium full of people passing through).

Even so, as my dad used to say, If you’re ever in doubt about what church to choose, start with Baptist: you’ll get the Word of God there and the rest will naturally follow as you learn the Word.

Sadly, even this isn’t foolproof advice anymore – again, because of the splitting off of sects who will still call themselves Baptist (or Lutheran or Presbyterian, etc…) while embracing sin and heresy. (So far as I know, EVERY denomination now has a sect that approves of the ways of society and culture and sin.)

But let’s throw that aside for a moment.

Those who are with a pure heart trying to live by the Words of God (‘in Truth’) strive for order, accuracy, and do tend to excel in teaching (especially with their children). This has impressed me most: Their children are taught the fundamentals of faith at a young age with precise and certain measures. Personally, I feel that is something largely lacking in non-denominational settings, where entertainment often trumps learning doctrine – especially with regards to children.

Conclusions

Is this a false dichotomy?

I want to say that it is, but I can’t seem to equate it as such for all of my experiences in both types of churches. No… there is definitely a difference and churches do tend to fall into one or the other (though I have seen rare breeds that try to walk the line, though, like most things on a spectrum, they favor one side or the other).

My hope, my purpose, my reason for writing about these differences, however, is to flesh out why and how we need both. There should be no division here; to worship ‘in spirit and in truth’ – both are vital.

The ‘in Truth’ type will say, “But I do!” After all, the Spirit is received upon salvation, so one-and-done, right? (In other words, we are all ‘Spirit-filled’, so what’s the fuss about?)

The ‘in Spirit’ type will say, “But I do!” After all, they’re using the same Bible these other churches use and study too, so same-same – but more lively, right? (Besides, some of us have been to Bible college too, so what’s this stink all about?)

Well, if ever there was a job for the Holy Spirit, this is it. I don’t have all of the answers… even if I know one world religion and the compromise of Faith entirely is not the answer.

Nonetheless, from their beginning structures we can see how one of these groups naturally tends toward a go-it-alone authority structure with only the Holy Spirit to act on their behalf as the Guardrail, and where the other tends toward processes and procedures, all in order, line-upon-line of qualifying text, with multiples of influencers squeezing from top and bottom.

I mean really… do we need any more evidence of the type of division here? The description alone pits the creative, free, and spiritual soul against the orderly, textual, and leather-bound types. Both are formed of flesh and spirit; but both, being conformed in their environments, tend toward their own preferential errors.

And yet… the result has not been largely different in terms of culture. Both have led entire groups astray in theology or practice and, often, both.

…for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?

1 Corinthians 3:3

At the very least, neither party can boast…

Save in whatever good Christ has worked on our behalf.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5:24-26

So then, we can ‘live’ but not ‘walk’ in the Spirit?… A question for thought.

Shalom.

The Church ‘In Spirit & In Truth’ (And Those Seeking)

What if I told you that there is an entire population of sheep desiring to be in church, wanting to be in communion with the saints, moving in and out of your churches in search of Living Water, lacking an earthly Shepherd?

Certainly, one pastor might say: “These are the malcontents.”

Indeed, another hireling supposes: “They refuse to be under authority.”

Tragic, replies another: “There are plenty of churches. They need to stop church-hopping.”

Perhaps. Some.

But what if something else is happening? What if these are those who hear their Shepherd’s voice… and, thus, cannot follow these others?

Defining Those Who Seek

Some time ago, our family took a little road trip to look at a house in the Wisconsin Dells. Winding through the backroads during a snowstorm, poking along behind an Amish cart and horse, and choosing to stay the night in a converted church building, we had little on our minds except hope that this might be the one — the home for us. Little did we know, as we woke the next morning to meet the realtor for a viewing, that a different sort of encounter was about occur.

Patiently indifferent to the home, the realtor was helpful and honest. There was no gussying up this $30,000 reno with any amount of words anyway; the house left a lot to be desired, even if my son was excited about the green Hulk painted on what might have been his future bedroom wall. Nonetheless, we were thorough in discussing options, pulling the realtor with us into the winter wonderland outside to have a closer look, and that’s when it happened. Standing in three feet of snow, we started talking about church.

I don’t even remember how it happened, but in course of conversation I asked where his family went to church. He expressed immediate frustration and confided that his family had been “doing church at home” for a while because

“It’s like you have to choose between a Word or a Spirit church; why can’t it be both?”

It turned out that we had far more in common with this realtor than any of us had imagined while cringing over a toilet bowl full of paint inside a house we didn’t buy.

I had been lamenting the same frustration for at least a decade. Indeed, we had done “church at home” for several months not long before this conversation for similar reasons.

Why?

Because the Spirit churches seem to fall too easily into error (of interpretation and practice or in cultural affairs), manipulation (often over gifts or works), and hype (lights, smoke, and mirrors in the name of ‘relevance’); and the Word churches fall prey to dogma (fighting over doctrines that don’t actually matter), lukewarmness (emphasizing works or no works at all and neglecting spiritual gifts), and the traditions of man (ritual and rote that bears no scriptural foundations but are very dignified).

It wasn’t the first time we’d had a conversation with another family who felt this way. I don’t know if this is a Xennial thing, but there does seem to be a correlation in age amongst those I meet who feel similarly. Sometimes the particular reasons vary, but the overall sentiment remains:

These churches are not true to the whole of scripture; they do not worship in Truth and Spirit OR in Spirit and Truth.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 4:24
Expression

Does the Spirit of God express Himself in particular ways?

Well, we already know that ‘worship’ is not a set of slides on a screen that we read off once a week nor the hymnal we cherish; it is not a song or dance, though it may include those things.

Worship is what you do with your life in response to God’s actions toward you. It contains the whole of your life, not just a fraction of it.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1 [ESV]

So then, we cannot say that Sister Susie’s expression of worship – hollering, waving a hankie around, or swinging from the proverbial chandelier – is the truest expression of worshiping God ‘in spirit’.

Likewise, we cannot say that the stoic Brother Timothy’s expression of worship – a little choked up, wholly dignified, subjecting his body to the strictest of codes – is the truer expression of worshiping God ‘in truth’.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 

and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 

and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 

to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 

10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 

11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

In this way we see that the expressions of the Spirit’s indwelling can look different on each one, according to scripture. Where one may burst out in an expression of faith toward God, at home or in the church service, another may pray quietly, in their closet and in a church service, and find the gift of healing at work. One may pray gently, seated at a table, with a gift of wisdom; another, may speak in ‘tongues’ – that mysterious gift – and be blessed or bring blessing to the hearer, as the Disciples did at Pentecost.

The frustration laid upon the hearts of those who believe such things, who take God at His word, is finding that where one church suppresses gifts and expression of them, another makes a flagrant display of them.

Neither treat rightly the Spirit of Grace. Both are abusive in their errors.

Their sin is not against man but against God, who has given us such gifts and such a Helper.

Balancing Expression

There is a way to balance the spiritually flamboyant errors of worshiping ‘in spirit’, and they too find root in scripture:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:22-24

Having spent two-thirds of my life in evangelical and charismatic churches, I am well-versed in their tendencies and errors. One of the most common problems in these church types is the bug of super-stardom or a spiritually elite. First-class Christians lay hands on the sick, pray bold prayers, dance ‘in the spirit’, feel goosebumps (if it’s a good ‘worship’ service), speak in tongues more than you all, and talk about signs and wonders as if they are the only true estimation of a true faith.

I can tell you what these tend to lack: The fruit of the Spirit.

They package spiritual gifts in heavy-syrup and then throw the fruit out to get that sugar-rush from the syrupy spook. Chewing is hard work. Let’s dance instead!

I’m not a critic; I’m a convert from these things. It’s vital, when examining criticism to discern the difference… I’m not disgruntled with the Church; I am moved on her behalf to use my own gifts – I pray not without fruit showing when I am with you.

Whether you sing stiffly with a hymnal or dance and shout, I am no judge of these things; rather, I will look to see if you bear the marks of Christ in your body… in your ‘reasonable’ daily service.

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Galatians 6:17

We may not yet bear the physical marks of persecution, but should we not bear the physical marks of suffering self-control, that holy fruit? – Of dying daily? – Of putting to death the deeds of the flesh?

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.

1 Peter 4:1

Seeking attention, power, status, or to change the flow of a service on Sunday morning where you have not been granted authority to do so, are these not works of the flesh?

If you preach the Word of God on Sunday, then malign your own people behind closed doors on Monday, you may be very gifted… and lacking fruit.

How Does One Worship in Truth?

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

John 17:16:19

Our expression of worship in the Spirit comes through the gifts and through the fruit of the Spirit. These things can be encouraged or extinguished through various methods, orthopraxy; that is true. Nevertheless, all of these things are meaningless if we do not marry them with the truth of God’s Word.

God’s Word, God’s truth, sets us apart from the world and into God’s service.

It’s funny that we call church a ‘service’, isn’t it? The church service was this; the church service was that…

But the Church’s true service is to worship Him by living a lifestyle consecrated to Him (set apart) by God’s truth in tandem with (the gifts and fruits of walking in the spirit by) the precious Spirit of Grace Jesus left to his disciples AND

“…also for those who will believe in me through their word…”

John 17:20

Show me a Christian who denies the gifts of the Spirit and I will show you a Christian lacking in the fruit too; likewise, show me a Christian who makes an idol of the gifts and I will show you a Christian who performs like an angel and walks like a devil.

Show me a Christian who denies the truth of God and I will show you a Christian who errs by every doctrinal demon and speaks only truth when he can profit like Balaam; likewise, show me a Christian who preaches dogma in the traditions of man and I will show you a Christian who excels in gaining converts with convincing speech only to make them “twice a son of hell” (Matt. 23:15).

Perhaps, perhaps... in light of these things, one can see why some lament being unable to find a church that operates ‘in spirit and in truth’ and find some understanding.

These are the casualties of your deceptions, Church.

I Can Only Imagine…

So… what would that church look like anyway?

What would a church more concerned about ‘worshiping in spirit and in truth’ than making guests feel comfortable;

a church intent on ‘worshiping in spirit and in truth’ every day rather than spending a week preparing for one day of ‘service’;

a church that hungers and thirsts more for the righteous benefits of ‘worshiping in spirit and in truth’ than they hunger for lunch after service, their own building, community status, acclaim, signs, wonders, or a worldly respectability –

What would that church look like?

Thankfully, we don’t have to only imagine. Are there not vivid examples of these throughout the Bible?

Wouldn’t it look like Abraham, believing God though he did not see the fullness of the promise in his days;

like Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi in a foreign land and in a new lifestyle;

like Job’s stubbornness to honor God in his heart, despite his external circumstances;

like Peter, being led where he did not want to go because He loved Jesus;

like Hannah’s faith through her tears;

like the timid made bold; like the aggressive made meek; like the discontent filled and whole;

like the socially shunned pouring out of her heart a wealth of gratitude at her Savior’s feet, no matter the judgements fomenting around the room;

a table set for a feast in death’s valley under His wings;

like the uproar of swelling excitement on Pentecost day;

like the quiet stashing away of tender truths in Mary’s heart;

wouldn’t it be like the woman at the well, finally finding that one Husband, the Living Water of spirit and truth, her soul had sought for so many years – and then running to tell everyone?

You Are The Church

I speak now to the seeking.

We’ve all heard by now that the church is not the building. Aren’t our church errors, preferences, and camps often an extension of our personal proclivities, gifts, and values?

A Ruth thinks everyone should be Ruth… but some women are Abigails.

A Peter thinks everyone should be Peter… but some men are the beloved, John.

Leah is annoyed by a Rachel’s beauty; Rachel is jealous of Leah’s children.

Saul thinks everyone is another would-be Saul… but some are Davids.

The disciples are indignant that someone else is using their Master’s name to pray… but Jesus calls His own sheep by name.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Romans 12:3-8

This is your transforming ‘service’ unto God.

Fulfill your ‘function’ in spirit and in truth… then, perhaps, we will find more churches filled with those who worship in spirit and in truth.

Because we can all believe in the gifts of the Spirit but not walk after the Spirit; and we can all hear God’s word every Sunday without ever becoming a doer of the Word.

I invite you to join me in the ‘reasonable service’ of letting the spirit of God’s truth transform your life. We cannot expect to find in a church building that which we do not practice daily in our homes.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:6

Amen.

As a personal note, pray for me. I do not desire to be a teacher or a preacher, though I carry a flame to exhort and encourage the Church; but for whatever function God has given me, I too engage in war (or limp around the battlefield called Trying). It is easier to believe and to hear than it is to do; I too find myself within the battle of Romans 12:1. The spirit is willing; the flesh, indeed, weak. Pray for me as I pray for you and be blessed.