Archive of ‘Featured’ category
In view of Pentecost, I’ve spent much of the week reviewing confusing verses about the Spirit. I found an excellent sermon by John Piper on being filled with the Spirit. You can read the entirety I’ve clipped in the last portion, which deals with the question of “how” we obey this command of Scripture.
“Be filled with the Spirit.” Eph. 5:13
“The most important text in Paul’s writings to show this is Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Notice that it is in or by believing that we are filled with joy and peace. And it is by the Spirit that we abound in hope. When we put those two halves of the verse together, what we see is that through our faith (our believing) the Spirit fills us with his hope and thus with his joy and peace. And, of course since hope is such an essential part of being filled with joy by the Spirit, what we have to believe is that God is, as Paul says, the God of hope. We have to rivet our faith on all that he has done and said to give us hope.
Nobody stays full of the Spirit all the time—no one is always totally joyful and submissive to God and empowered for service. But this should still be our aim, our goal, our great longing. “As a hart pants for the flowing streams, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1, 2). But in order to slake that thirst, we must fight the fight of faith. We must preach to our souls a sermon of hope:
Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God. For I shall again praise him. He is my help and my God. (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5)
We must set before our own soul the banquet of promises that God has made to us and feed our faith to the full. Then it may be said of us as it was of Stephen and Barnabas: “They were filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit.”"
Revisiting the true and sordid story of Jacob and his two wives, one sought after and the other detested, I am again astonished at the so-called heroes of the Bible. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, captures the dark center of idolatry in this history. (If you want the whole story, you can find it
“At this point in the story, many contemporary readers will be wondering: “Where are all the spiritual heroes in this story? Whom am I supposed to be emulating? What is the moral of the story?” The reason for our confusion is that we usually read the Bible as a series of disconnected stories, each with a “moral” for how we should live our lives. It is not. Rather, it comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right. In other words, the Bible doesn’t give us a god at the top of a moral ladder saying, “If you try hard to summon up your strength and live right, you can make it up!” Instead, the Bible repeatedly shows us weak people who don’t deserve God’s grace, don’t seek it, and don’t appreciate it even after they have received it. If that is the great biblical story arc into which every individual scriptural narrative fits, then what do we learn from this story? We learn that through all of life there runs a ground note of cosmic disappointment. You are never going to lead a wise life until you understand that. Jacob said, “If I can just get Rachel, everything will be okay.” And he goes to bed with the one who he thinks is Rachel, and literally, the Hebrew says, “in the morning, behold, it was Leah” (Genesis 29:25). One commentator noted about this verse, “This is a miniature of our disillusionment, experienced from Eden onwards.”
What does that mean? With all due respect to this woman (from whom we have much to learn), it means that no matter what we put our hopes in, in the morning, it is always Leah, never Rachel. Nobody has ever said this better than C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: “Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we have grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.”
If you see a graduate looking this disoriented, you might want to call a doctor!:)
With our eldest daughter just graduated from college and our youngest son graduating from high school in two weeks, I want to write some new thoughts about graduation, I really do. But the fact is, I have to figure out how to print return address labels for his invitations, go to the post office to get the “additional postage required” because I didn’t know the invitations we ordered were an “odd-size,” and buy more laundry detergent, because our household is again filled with kids who have laundry (and do it themselves). So, for today, I’m bringing back a post I wrote two years ago, when our youngest daughter graduated from high school. I think these things still pertain. But next time I want to write about the parents’ disorientation:-)!
“Human experience includes those dangerous and difficult times of dislocation and disorientation when the sky does fall and the world does come to an end.” Walter Brueggemann, on the Psalms
I was reading this great Brueggemann quote this morning, and it hit me. My daughter (and every other senior) is disoriented. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying — it’s not like she’s doing crazy things like wrapping the school up with caution tape or lying around the house all day watching old episodes of Make it or Break It. It’s just that she, and every other senior, has arrived at one of those times when a world has come to an end.
I’ve been focusing on how disorienting it is for me to have my third of four graduate from high school, but this morning I decided to turn the tables and think about what the seniors are wondering. Here are five questions of disorientation for graduates**:
1. Who am I now that I’m not…the class clown, the All-A student, the “most-likely-to-be-tardy,” the state wrestling champ…?
2. Will anyone here miss me? Will they remember me?
3. How will they get along without me? Who can fill my shoes in the part I played in this world?
4. Who will be my new friends along the next part of the journey?
5. Will I even make it on the next part of the journey?
** Caution — I don’t highly recommend sitting down with your graduate and saying, “Now, honey, I know you’re really struggling with some hard questions. Let’s talk about them.” (I read all about it on the Living Story blog.) (I write this only because it’s something I might do:).
I’m thinking — Reading the Psalms, which are all about disorientation and re-orientation, prayer, understanding and good conversation may be ways to walk well with a graduate (or anyone in transition). Letting someone know we’re listening to their hearts, remembering how those questions were answered for us or them in the past could be very helpful in these days. What do you think?
I have the great privilege of teaching on Galatians 2 this Sunday. It’s a convoluted chapter in some ways, and I admit, I had to read it about 5 times to break down what Paul was saying. (I also needed to read the background of what was going on, because Galatians, after all, is a letter written in response to the Galatians’ movement toward doing things that they thought would make them right, and the author, Paul, is answering certain accusations against him that they already know about.
After studying the passage, I reread part of Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians, and came again to this. “Passive righteousness” is the heavy-duty term for the reality that Christ in his death and resurrection made us right with God, something we could never do for ourselves. I love the fact that Luther says it is a “mystery” that we cannot ever completely understand it — because I find myself teaching it sometimes and thinking, “but wait, how can this be…does this even make sense?” And I guess the answer is, that in our limited, fallen way of thinking, it really doesn’t. But enough from me, listen to how well Luther talks about our human tendency to want to be right, and the problems that raises:
“2. The need for Christian righteousness
This “passive” righteousness is a mystery that the world cannot understand. Indeed,
Christians never completely understand it themselves, and thus do not take advantage
of it when they are troubled and tempted. So we have to constantly teach it, repeat it,
and work it out in practice. Anyone who does not understand this righteousness or
cherish it in the heart and conscience will continually be buffeted by fears and
depression. Nothing gives peace like this passive righteousness.
For human beings by nature, when they get near either danger or death itself, will of
necessity examine their own worthiness. We defend ourselves before all threats by
recounting our good deeds and moral efforts. But then the remembrance of sins and
flaws inevitably comes to mind, and this tears us apart, and we think, “How many
errors and sins and wrongs I have done! Please God, let me live so I can fix and amend
them.” We become obsessed with our active righteousness and are terrified by its
imperfections. But the real evil is that we trust our own power to be righteous and will
not lift up our eyes to see what Christ has done for us… So the troubled conscience
has no cure for its desperation and feeling of unworthiness unless it takes hold of the
forgiveness of sins by grace, offered free of charge in Jesus Christ, which is this
passive or Christian righteousness… If I tried to fulfill the law myself, I could not trust in
what I had accomplished, neither could it stand up to the judgment of God. So…I rest
only upon the righteousness of Christ… which I do not produce but receive, God the
Father freely giving it to us through Jesus Christ.
A few weeks ago, after the first session of A Woman’s Story conference, I was introduced to a woman who told me, “I can think of six or seven of God’s ‘miraculous deeds’ I saw that day.” She was talking about when she ran the Boston marathon and was turned around at mile 25. Read her story here.