Pray For The Church

       I took a break from my own thoughts tonight to listen to someone else’s. A search result brought me to David Platt’s Secret Church simulcast speaking on the Holy Spirit. This is my first time watching one of these. Barely 5 minutes in and he lays down this admonishment.

I have come face to face with my self sufficiency that plagues me, and along the way face to face with the frightening realization - I am a part - and I think I would be safe to say we a

Wow, y’all.

He follows it by pointing at how we have marketing and publicity to do what the Holy Spirit should be doing and the danger of mistaking the physical presence of people in a building for the existence of spiritual life.

       May that never be the story of my church, my leaders, or myself. May we never rely on ourselves and our modern means and methods to do the work of the Holy Spirit of the abundantly able God of the universe. May those who have experienced the holiness of God never fall silent on the subject and may we never fall reliant on any other.
      Today someone spoke word of advice to me, directing me that as I move forward to “embrace, believe and minister out of” three verses he referenced, each of which pointed out that in all that we do, making him known, fulfilling God’s purpose, even simply being, the foundation of this is Christ in me. Not my power, not my ability, not my purposes and plans. His alone.
       I hear this word of warning. I give ear to this advice. I stand ready to work not in my own strength, but in His. I have been so blessed both in Virginia and Ohio to be a part of churches where I believe we are led by people truly infatuated by His Spirit. Shining examples of standing back and letting God work though they are, I am committed to praying for their protection against this kind of apathy, pride and self sufficiency, because how it would break my heart to see them ask forgiveness for those.

      The American church needs prayer, now more than ever, and that means that your church needs prayer more than ever. If you don’t know what to pray, pray for a fresh move of the Spirit and pray for protection.

May it not be said of my church or of yours that we think we are bigger than the God we serve.

A Tale Of Two Mountains

It is easy when people speak about “holiness” and “righteousness” for people to interpret the message as a demand of perfection, unattainable and futile, frustrating and infuriating.  It’s easy to interpret it that way. It’s wrong, but I can see how one would hear the message that way, because I used to hear the message that way.

In the past few years I have learned that holiness and righteousness are not about adhering to a list of demands from an unfeeling master, but rather about relying solely and fully on the only one who is truly holy and righteous.

Hebrews 12 speaks to me to that point more than any other passage in the Bible. It begins with a heavy portion of the chapter addressing how we behave, instructing us to press on, to focus on Jesus, to expect ridicule and attack, to endure discipline as a blessing, to strengthen your spiritual self, to refuse to fall short, to reject anything that might cause you to reject Christ, because in unrighteousness is incredible and terrible consequence.

Alright, seriously though, how do you read that and not think again that this holiness thing is simply about behaving better? This is how. You don’t stop there. You read on, because in the second half of the chapter, following some of the strictest admonishment in the New Testament of how to live our individual faith lives, comes some of the most freeing, sweetest breath of life and hope kind of words that I have read.

Add suYou have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those

Moses climbed the mountain to receive the law, but there were strict boundaries placed which limited the Israelites from drawing near this event. Exodus 19 recounts this story and makes it clear that to attempt approaching the holiness of God by climbing the mountain would result in death. Hebrews sends us back to that moment, to remind the listeners of the familiar story, Moses going up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. These commands and the law were given to God’s people so they would be set apart from the rest of the world,

But the writer makes such a strong statement saying “You have not come.” You have not come to the kind of mountain where law is given as a method of setting you apart, of making you holy. At Mount Sinai, Moses had to consecrate himself and follow strict guidelines and then he still had to wait for the trumpet blast in order to approach God there.

When I didn’t understand holiness, this is how I thought of it. That it is marked rightly as burning with fire, darkness, gloom and storm. That it is about consecrating yourself, following those rules and regulations, and then waiting for a trumpet blast to tell me that I’ve been good enough to come to God. However, Paul makes it clear with those 4 words “You have not come…”

So if we are not approaching the mountain of the law, what do we approach?

you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstb

There it is. “You have come.” The other mountain, the mountain of God, where the first indicator is one that points at worship, thousands of angels in joyful assembly. And then “You have come” again, this time, not to a place, but to Him, to God. It is this path that ends in communion with our holy God.

How is this accomplished? By the word of The Word Made Flesh, which speaks better than all of the condemnation laid out from the first condemnation, that of Adam.

But it doesn’t end there! It goes on…

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from

Just before Moses stepped onto that mountain, it shook violently. These details would have been so familiar to the Hebrews receiving Paul’s letter here, that to connect the shaking of Mount Sinai before Moses went to receive the law would translate so sensibly to what is experienced when the Holy Spirit came to the new believers in those days.

The writing of the shaking mountains moves into the consuming fire, this Holy Spirit symbol that we still recognize today, thinking of those tongues of flame that rested on the apostles as the Holy Spirit came upon them. It connects to Exodus 19 as the mountain shook, it was covered in smoke “because the Lord descended on it in fire.” Paul connects the power of holiness on the mountain to the fire witnessed at Pentecost to explain the power now available to us through His Spirit.

Before we are ready to allow the Holy Spirit into our lives, to experience him not like the nation of witnesses kept at bay down at the foot of the mountain, but to experience Him in full at the mountain top, we will find a shaking away. Just as God shook the mountains and arrived in fire, just as the Spirit arrived with rushing wind and fire on Pentecost, so to will He come to us in an experience unlike any other.

When my shaking time was on me, a friend heard a song and gave me a lyric from it which says “You’re world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place.” My friend, there is deep truth in that. I ran those words through my mind as things seemed to go from bad to worse. I found myself, at last, at a point where I was out of options and out of ideas on how to fix the mess all around me. I sat there in the sanctuary with what sounded like thousands of angels singing around me and in front of me I saw two empty hands with up turned palms. “Those are my hands,” I thought “I have nothing to offer. I have no more ideas. I have nothing.” Then into those empty hands slipped another pair of hands, filling them, curving around their edges, the meaning clear. Now that I had empty hands, they were ready to be filled by His. Now that I had nothing to give, He could give to me. Now that I had no more ideas, He could use me.

When you feel control is slipping through your grasp, don’t clench your fists. Let things fall around you, leaving your hands open so that what is of this world shakes away. Let His hands fill yours so that instead of you trying to grapple and grasp on to whatever you can grab to hold as the world breaks around you, He can hold on to you.

Pentecost and the Trinity

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise God above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

     Growing up I sang the Doxology and had enough Sunday school to get the basic idea of the trinity. Three in one….all each individual and yet not separate. There was a children’s moment where the children’s pastor used a banana to illustrate the trinity, showing that if you press your finger into the top off a banana it will separate into three parts, all three fully banana, but individual sections. It stuck, that banana example.

But it was still a bit of a mystery. Because, God the Father I could understand. He made everything and made me and my family.  God the Son I could understand. He was Jesus who died on the cross and took our sins. God the Spirit? God the Holy Ghost? What was that? Was it like a transparent Jesus? Or like God with a Charlie Brown holey ghost sheet on? And what was with the tongues of fire? It was almost like I was looking at the banana, and the first two pieces were banana and the third piece was like, I don’t know, kiwi in a banana shape? Just confusing.

In the early years of my adult life, I understood that those urges, the pulls on your heart which give directions to your steps, separate from whims and desires had something to do with the Spirit. But I probably also attributed that like nice feeling you get when you’re singing at church or like the feeling of the wind on your face when you sit outside at a retreat as the Spirit. I was aware that there were people who talked about the Spirit provoking certain responses in them that I wanted no part of and I saw stories on tv about snakes that just made the idea of being too involved with the Spirit sound kind of dangerous and weird.

So I lived the first decade and a half of my adult faith like
FATHER, SON, and the other guy.

     I saw some unhealthy things attributed to the Holy Spirit and I saw some intriguing things attributed to the Spirit, but nothing ever interested me enough to stop and say, “What exactly are you all talking about?” I would read about and think on the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, but the Spirit still remained distant. It wasn’t until my 30s that I sat in churches where I heard good scripture on who the Spirit is and about the daily impact of the Spirit on a person’s life and our world, not fantastical promises of supernatural worked up frenzies expressed through sensational emotional highs. I heard about surrender. I heard about releasing control. And these things peaked my interest.

By the time Pentecost rolled around last year, I was excited about this. A day to remember when the Spirit came and the church was born. The day was almost upon us when I realized something.

In the Old Testament, God was introduced as “the God who sees me.” He was watching. He was observing. He was manipulating the outcomes of human affairs, but He was separated behind a veil.

     Then came Jesus, and at Christmas we meet Emmanuel, “God with us.” God stepped out from behind the veil and drew closer to humanity, willing to step into our dirt and mess and clean us.

Then came the Holy Spirit. And He was now the God withIN us. The Spirit was the final piece in God moving as intimately into our lives as He possibly could, to go from being behind a veil, to being present next to us, to being inside of our hearts.

     It was a beautiful thought, one that I treasured over the past year. That God would want to be so close to me and that the Bible told this story from start to finish of growing intimacy with Him. There was this terrible separation at the beginning of the book when Adam and Eve were send out of the garden, but God had a plan to restore that relationship, to bring back the closeness where man could stroll in the garden with God and feel no shame. It is like this embrace that gets tighter and sweeter as the story concludes.

Last weekend I was visiting with my mom and she was telling me about a book she was reading and some conversations she’d had with one of my cousins and she presented this to me. God in the Old Testament was the God who was invisible to us. Then Jesus came and made God able to be seen by man. And then the Spirit came and enabled us to make God seen by others.

Oh, how that pleased me! In the spring, my life group (see: small group, bible study, cell group, etc.) read Forgotten God by Francis Chan and discussed the Holy Spirit, His person and His impact. The thing that I was surprised to find was that the first effect a person displayed after an experience of the Spirit was almost always a vocal one. To worship, to speak a foreign language, to pray, praise, sing or to tell people about the gospel. When we can’t find the words, in Romans 8 we read that the Spirit speaks for us. The very obvious job of the Spirit is to make God known to as many people as possible.

That embrace that drew me closer and closer into His presence reversed.

In the same story about the sweetest intimacy we can experience is the story of the greatest extension available. As His arms gather us in each alone to Himself, He offers to place His Spirit inside us so that we may in turn, turn and embrace others. Through the Spirit God offers us each the experience of making Him known to us as our whole world, as well as the privilege of making our whole world know Him.

       Like breathing in and breathing out, the blessing of the Trinity and Pentecost is the inhalation of intimacy and the exhalation of love. There is a song that came out a few years ago that says it like this…

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only.

Praise Father.
Praise Son.
Praise Holy Ghost.

Amen.