Tag Archives: spirit

Walking by the Spirit

For the New Testament writers, especially for Paul, conversion means God giving a completely new lifestyle to a person who is remade in their entirety. Mind, Will, Heart, Body, and Relationships all get an extreme home makeover.

For Paul, especially in Romans 8 and Galatians 5, he speaks of this total-lifestyle conversion as moving from flesh to spirit. Paul is very careful though to spell this out for his readers, which he will do, because by talking about flesh he does not mean skin, organs, and bones but old patterns of thinking and living. He even gives us lists of how flesh and spirit are different in order to point us in the right direction.

In the old way our minds dwelt on death and the things of death (R8.5-6). In the Spirit, our minds dwell on life and peace (R8.6). Take stock of your mind; where does it spend its time? Also, in the old way, our hearts were racked with fear (R8.15) and conceit (G5.26). Do you ever have the confusing experience of being both deeply in love with yourself and a yet afraid all at once? This could be called narcissism or paranoia. This is walking by the flesh. Walking by the Spirit is confidence and warmth in our heart. When was the last time you experienced a warm heart?

Walking by the old way also includes a change of will and willfulness. You found yourself doing things that you didn’t want to do, and not doing things you wanted to do (G5.17). Walking by the spirit involves learning to control your desires. Paul calls this crucifying our passions (G5.24). Without the Spirit, suggests Paul, you cannot control you desires; it will be impossible.

How about relationships, with people and with God? What does conversion mean for these? Walking by the flesh means biting at one another, devouring one another with our words, provoking one another and envying one another (G5.15). Do these things dominate your relationships? Are you constantly comparing yourself with others? Are you constantly getting in petty fights with family or coworkers? You are walking by the flesh. Period. Walking by the Spirit means loving and serving one another. If you find yourself consumed with bickering, uncontrolled desires, paranoia, constant thoughts about death, Paul says that this reflects a hatred of God, unwillingness to be subjected to God, and ultimately, you become unable to please God. This is harsh but true; you need a conversion.

Walking by the Spirit joins a person with God and is possible in an intensified way in Christ, but it is not inevitable. Old habits and patterns are lurking, because our old self is still being remade. The relationship between God’s healing role in our lives and our willingness is a mystery, but Paul is helpful in giving us a checklist for us to know if we are on the right path, he calls this the fruit of the spirit. Are you growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control, or are you gorged on the fruit of the flesh: sexual immorality, uncleanliness, sensuality, idol worship, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousness, anger, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things (G5.19-23).

While walking by the spirit means that God destroys the old house, he saves the very best of what has been undone. All of our dreams that were lost to us under our old rundown life are now gathered and remade; this is the promise of living in the Spirit. Just as in the cross, in God’s economy, our dreams are put to death and resurrected anew. Language about “walking in the flesh vs. walking by the spirit plugs right into this framework of conversion. Paul asks us to crucify the flesh and its passions and desires. This is not to say that God wants us to be passionless and empty; rather he wants to resurrect our passions and desires to give us a life that actually fills our earth-bound selves and lifts us into the kingdom of God. The only way to get there is by walking by the spirit.  What would it take in your life to move Walking by the Spirit more and more to the center of your attention?

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 3

The image of the church as Christ’s bride contains striking implications.  It smacks of purity, chosen-ness, beloved-ness, togetherness, mutual reverence, and more.

Take for example:

Ephesians 5:31 “Husbands love your wives just as Christ  loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

With all my newfound responsibilities, the 30 minute devotional was bankrupt for me.  I had to discover a new way.  So, along side my then 3 years working with students in the areas of mercy and justice and global community, I enrolled in an academy for spirituality and encountered the thinking of Father Adrian van Kaam. Father Adrian was set to graduate from his Roman Catholic seminary six months prior to the Nazi occupation of his home in Denmark.  He spent seven long and hungry months sheltering and caring for terrified Christians, Jews, and Atheists from all walks of life.  That experience convinced him that our world needed and would need a practical spirituality that translated across many barriers for the sake of the gospel and rooted in the ancient 2000 year old Christian tradition.

For missionaries to North America and for Community Developers, life is never easy.  They have been called into some of the deepest issues possible.  And in the darkest alleyways they gain the blessed realization that God was there first. He has been working on the toughest issues long before they arrived.  And it is with him there that they find our motivation, the relationship, and the the willingness to go on.  Yet, what happens when they cannot sense him?  What happens when they feel that he has abandoned them? How does a missionary avoid spiritual burnout? How does a Community Developer tap into a holistic spiritual life, rather than simply trying to beef up his or her life of devotions?  How can we tap into the 2000 years of spiritual teaching that widens our view from isolated practices to a whole-life spirituality that leads us back to a quiet time like a thirsty deer to abundant streams?  How can we say “yes” to the bridegroom who is calling his beloved even in the ugliest of moments? That’s what this blog is about.

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 2

The early Christians, following the lead of Jesus’ parables and through his other teachings, began very early thinking of the church as the bride of Christ.

Take for example:

Revelation 21.9 “Then one of the angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

Like any relationship, like any marriage, intimacy is more than learning about one another. It is about cultivating a life of shared experiences and appreciation for one another in difficult times.   It is no different with God.

Fast-forward three years from my university chapel altar. Still wearing the grad ring, I had now been offered and accepted the wedding ring.   It was perhaps as I was changing a diaper or settling my bank account that reality hit.  I had a wife, a baby, and a real job.  I had taken on an occupation that confronted racism and poverty while preparing students to do just that. It all started to crush me really. The responsibilities of life outweighed a new realization: I could not solve local problems, let alone world issues, with my skills or cleverness. People were too complex.  The human heart was far more stubborn and habit ridden than I realized.  I was more broken that I had realized.  Now ten years out from that night at the university altar, I am saying that it will take my whole life to learn intimacy with God.

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 1

I began a journey about ten years ago.  It was a spiritual journey that culminated in a quiet moment within my university’s chapel.  I had followed this deep calling in my life that led me to Jesus and to a life devoted to his way and ministry.  I was mastering the spiritual life at break-neck speed.  My devotional life rocked.  I had read through most of the Bible a few times.  And I kind of sneered when my pastor’s wife lamented in one Bible study that it would take her a whole life to learn intimacy with God.  I wondered why I was flying so high.  Perhaps God had greater things in store for me.

So there I was at our university’s chapel altar.  I was kneeling alone late one night. The stained glass windows were dancing with shadows of flickering candles. I was deep in prayer.  On the floor in front of me lay my graduation ring.  A few minutes prior, I had taken it off my finger and set it before the Lord.  Internally I prayed this prayer: Lord let me be married to you.” Somehow over the course of a few years, I had intuited a long-standing Christian image.  Intimacy with the Father was something like a great marriage. It was the height of my early devotional life.  I was on fire.  I loved God and wanted to know him more.

The early Christians, following the lead of Jesus’ parables and through his other teachings, began very early thinking of the church as the bride of Christ.

2 Corinthians 11.1 “I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness.  Yes, please put up with me!  I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him”

Apostasy or Selfless Courage?

Apostasy can be a hairy topic in our age.  As our culture and religious structures fray, we should pay close attention to what we tag as apostasy and who we name “apostates”.  You will hear it ninety times out of a hundred, “I grew up in Church, but it not longer speaks to me”, or “I tried Church, but they are all hypocrites.”  After time, usually the “apostate” might offer philosophical or theological reasons for their journey away from Christ and the body of believers.  But it usually starts and ends in the heart.

Contrary to popular opinion, the early Christians (especially those whose writings made it into the New Testament), did not see apostasy through the lenses of walking away from Church or even primarily loss of right belief.  Apostasy was not even explained primarily as a disobedience or walking away from a covenantal promise.

Apostasy for the Early Christians was about a heart disease.  Pride.  And this is exactly where things get hairy. For who can judge the human heart?  And in our newly post-Christian age when civil religion still works like a cancer on both true and false Christianity, it is difficult to weigh whether an “apostate” is enacting a selfish sensuality or a selfless courage.

Judas remains the quintessential apostate in the NT.  He was not an apostate because he betrayed Jesus.  Peter betrayed Jesus, walked away, denied him. Jesus took him back.   Judas was not an apostate because of disobedience (we get the idea that he was already stealing from the disciples).  He was an apostate because of the whole state of his heart.  It was a prideful heart that tried to jump-start a revolution; it was a selfish sensuality revealed by his suicide.

Jesus makes it clear to us: we will be utterly surprised who gets into the banquet and who surprisingly he doesn’t recognize at the gates.  Even though Hebrews 6 says that the apostate can never return, if you read the whole of the passage, you realize that the author is describing a heart state from which a person can never come back.  Yet, until death (and perhaps even after), God works unceasingly to turn a hard heart soft.  This is so that when we see him face to face, we will gladly accept our dependence upon him and avoid the possibility of choosing hell our way versus eternal bliss his.

Well, for the Church we must compare this passage with the teaching in James 5 for example. You will see that in the church, we should be commissioning our wise members to try and bring back those who walked away.  We should veer away from heaping guilt or shame on a person who has “walked away”, admit where the apostate might be offering a prophetic challenge to the church, and challenge them to find a purified version of the faith.  We should avoid the useless false dichotomoy of “our way or the highway” that they have rejected in the first place.

Ultimately there is hope for a generation of apostates to turn away from selfish sensuality and to find the Ancient Way afresh with the selfless courage that many apostates already embody.

Was Jesus Tripin’ at His Baptism?

The Holy Spirit as Dove will be the topic of my PhD dissertation this upcoming year. You could also call it: “Early Christianity as Primal Religion”. By that I mean a type or pattern of religion that includes kinship with nature, a deep sense of human’s finitude, a conviction that humanity is not alone in the universe, a belief that humanity can enter into a relationship with a benevolent spirit world, and a mental structuring of a sacred universe. More on that in another post.

I am interested particularly in Luke’s vision of a dove descending in bodily form. Here Luke suggests to the reader that the heavens opened after Jesus’ baptism, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in “bodily form”. Various interpretations categorize this experience as a symbol or a visionary ecstatic (narcotic) experience.

What if Luke simply meant that an actually bird came and rested on Jesus? What would it mean if an incarnated Holy Spirit alighted on Jesus? And what would this omen have signified to those who witnessed the event?

The implications are important. If there were a real bird, it probably evoked awe, since entities of the air, clouds, winds, sun, moon, stars, and birds all were seen as mysterious and sometimes dreadful omens. Yet, that a dove rested upon Jesus indicates a Lordship over the dominion of the air. The dove makes it safely through the perils of the demon possessed sky.   Athanasius, writing one to two hundred years later makes a similar claim about the nature of Jesus’ death:

“Again, the air is the sphere of the devil, the enemy of our race who, having fallen from heaven, endeavors with the other evil spirits…but the lord came to overthrow the devil and to purify the air and to make a ‘way for us’ up to heaven…This had to be done through death, and by what other kind of death could it be done, save by a death in the air, that is, on the cross…” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation 4.31-34.)

The point: for the early Christians, Jesus was good Lord not only over the ruling elite, even the Roman empire, but also he ruled over the whole cosmos, all of nature. Jesus and his possy at the last supper were probably not singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.  So, as we hurl into the 21st century, as we regain our vision for the sanctity of creation in a global world, we can and must look to the early Christians for a guiding vision of Jesus and his heart for this world.

On Sustainability

(So, now, I will continue my posts on the importance of nature in our world today).

We live in a interesting moment of history.  All across the world, religions are awakening to the sanctity of the earth.  It is a global shift that some are calling the “eco-zoic” era.  I like that.  Post-apocalyptic movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are making a field day with this type of thought: The earth can and will sustain herself beyond our mess…whether humans remain a viable species is the question.  Will mother earth wipe out us children because of the way we treat her?

Unfortunately for Christians, we often have a sense that this earth will burn, so why take care of it? By the way, that is a mark of modern Christianity.  The earth in the eyes of the early and Medieval Church was viewed far more as a sacred source of life.  Ever read “Canticle of Brother Sun”?

So the question now is this: can we turn ship?  What will it take to get masses of people to stop trashing the soil and destroying the oceans? There has to be a way.

So let me suggest this: it is not about a change of mind, it is about a change of heart.  This is where vibrant faith steps in. The green movement has already changed our minds in North America. What we need now is a life change. It is the change of a thousands of small decisions on the part of millions of people.  It is a change that everyone must be able to make.  A sustainable lifestyle for millions will only spring from a deep reverence for the earth and for all who live upon it.  It must not be based in guilt or fear but love. It can be based in Christian scripture, and we can find the way in Jesus’ heart.  This must be the core of our curriculum, not another top ten list of things to do to save the earth.

A good place to start: go spend some time with a few good friends in a park…