Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How the Holy Spirit Glorifies Jesus, and Changes Us

When we think of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian, we think of many things.  And rightly so – the Holy Spirit has a many varied ministry in the life of a Christian.  The Spirit gifts and equips for ministry in the church.  He guides us into truth.  He convicts us of sin.  He illuminates the Word of God, shining God’s truth into our hearts.  The list goes on and on. 

But the primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is not actually on that list.  The primary ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus Christ. (John 16:14)  At first glance, that ministry seems all spiritual and transcendent, far separated from our own reality on earth.  In reality that is not true.  In his book, Delighting in the Trinity, author Michael Reeves shares some thoughts on how the Spirit’s ministry of bringing glory to Christ can change the way we live our lives.

The Trinity is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith.  It is a doctrine the Bible clearly teaches, yet it is one that is hard for us to wrap our brains around.  One some level we have to accept by faith that one God exists eternally in three distinct but perfectly unified Persons.  In that Trinity relationship, God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit exist in perfect fellowship.  There is no strife, no disagreement, no conflict, just perfect, unifying love.  God is a God of relationship.  As a result, when God created the world, He created it as an expression of his love and goodness and to draw His creation into a love relationship with Him.  God did not need relationship with us – after all, He already was in the perfect relationship – He chose to offer us relationship with Him.

So where does the ministry of the Holy Spirit come in?  When we enter into relationship with God, through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the Spirit of God.  Life in the Spirit is begun in us.  This life is God’s own life, resurrection life, a life of fellowship with the Father and the Son, given to us in the Spirit.  As a result, the Spirit seeks to open our eyes regarding this Jesus we are in fellowship with.  (John 15:26) He sees to help us see the glory of Christ.

We struggle with seeing the glory of Christ, because we tend to worship other things.  We worship ourselves - our talents, our abilities, our experience, our reputation.  We worship stuff – material possessions, bank accounts, hobbies.  We even worship people – our spouses, our kids, celebrities. 

The problem with all this is what we become like what we worship.  Worshipping ourselves makes us completely self-absorbed and conceited.  Worshipping stuff makes us materialistic and earthly-minded.  Worshipping others makes them the true gods in our life.

When the Spirit comes into our life, His goal is to cultivate in us a deepening vision of Christ.  That means taking my eyes of myself and my false gods and putting them on Jesus.  After all, my stuff is not going to die for me.  My human idols cannot not forgive me or give me lasting peace.  In all my conceit and pride, I cannot save myself.  I need Someone Other.  Someone beyond me and above me.  Someone beautiful and perfect and powerful and able.  I need Jesus.  The wonderful ministry of the Spirit in glorifying Jesus seeks to persistently and faithfully guide me and convict me and teach me that true satisfaction, true peace, true hope is found only in one place – in the One who died for me.  He and only He is my life, and the Spirit is committed to helping me understand that each and every day.

Realizing this, says Charles Spurgeon, is the secret to Christian happiness.  He writes: 

“It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ…  We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul.  If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Peace in Conflict, conclusion

Drawing our discussion on Colossians 3, peace and conflict to a close, we want to discuss the last few verses in this section of the chapter.  We have seen that our earthly cravings fuel our conflicts.  Our negative heart responses of anger and malice add fuel to the fire.  But this kind of thing is not what we have been saved for.  These are elements of our old self; that which we are to put to death.  Christ has saved us and given us a new self.  The characteristics of the new self are things like compassion, kindness and patience.  The new self chooses to bear with one another and pursues forgiveness when offenses happen.

What else does Paul say about peace and conflict in this chapter?  First in verse 14, we discover the centrality of love.  “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  (Col. 3:14, ESV)  What ultimately preserves peace in the midst of conflict is love.  Love stands behind our ability to put to death the things that drive conflict.  Love empowers our ability to resist sinful actions and words, tear down walls of separation, bear with one another and forgiven one another.  Love empowers us to wait for the other person without judgment.  Love empowers us to walk out forgiveness when we have sinned or been sinned against.  Love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Pet. 4:8)  Love is the crowning grace of the Christian.  As God’s love invades our hearts and transforms our lives, it will become more and more evident in our actions and words.

Paul continues in Colossians 3:15-17: 
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called on one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (ESV) 
Is all is just wishful thinking?  Can things like this be reality in our lives and our churches?  Life is a complicated mess.  My life does not look like this, and I suspect yours does not either.  But this is a picture of the transformation Christ is achieving in us.  Christ’s peace can indeed rule in our hearts.  Christ can give us a thankful heart.  This happens when the word of Christ dwells in us richly, penetrating every part of our life.  The deeper the gospel penetrates our hearts, the more the blessings like redemption and reconciliation and grace and the forgiveness of Christ become a reality in our life, the more the peace of Christ will govern and the more that everything we do, in name and deed, be done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanks to Andy Farmer for guiding my thoughts and ruminations on this topic.  His words and thoughts are often much more powerful than mine.  I encourage you to pick up a copy of his book, Real Peace: What we Long for and Where to Find It (Crossway Publishers) for a gracious, pastoral and most importantly, biblical approach to this wonderful blessing of peace.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Peace in Conflict, part 7

As we continue our extended discussion of peace and relational conflict based on Andy Farmer’s book Real Peace: What we Long for and Where to Find It, we have seen that for many offenses against us, our course is to bear with one another, choosing to overlook those things as an exercise of grace and mercy.  That grace and mercy comes from our renewed heart and is patterned on the grace and mercy God Himself has shown us in Christ.

But what about the offenses that we should not overlook?  What about those times when we are sinned against that are too painful, too damaging to be able to bear with one another?  How do we pursue peace in the face of such actions?  Paul has additional words for us in Colossians 3:13.  Together with bearing with one another comes forgiveness.  As Paul notes, “…if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  (Col. 3:13b, ESV)

What is forgiveness?  A better start might be speaking of what forgiveness is not.  It is not simply saying “I’m sorry.”  It is not responding with, “That’s ok,” when it is really not.  It is not appeasement.  It is not personal vindication.  It has no winners or losers.  None of these things or anything related to them is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a holy privilege for Christians.  We who have been forgiven in Christ have the privilege of offering forgiveness to and receiving forgiveness from one another.  If you have sinned against someone, you need forgiveness from God and from them.  If we have been sinned against, we are obligated to forgive those who sin against us.

Forgiveness is tough.  In forgiveness we choose to cover the offense of another’s sin.  In forgiveness, we permanently release any debt owed, never to bring it up again.  Forgiveness has a cost.  It is painful.  It involves bearing the emotional cost of someone’s sins against us, fore-going revenge or the ability to harbor a grudge.  Forgiveness is lettering the offender go free.  Forgiveness means dying to being right, even in the face of another’s confession of sin.

When we pursue forgiveness from someone else, there are four things we need to prepare to say:
            I was wrong.
            Do you see anything that I might not be seeing?
            How did this affect you?
            Will you please forgive me?

In closing, let me quote Andy Farmer as he quotes Christian philosopher Cornelius Plantinga speaking about forgiveness: 

Forgiveness is a journey with a definitive start, not a closure experience.   To forgive, we will have to do some dying.  We will have to pray our anger into the heart of God.  Forgiveness is about setting certain memories out of our reach.  Instead we deliberately bring to mind that which will soften our hearts toward the other.  We will focus on the value of lasting relationship.  Forgiveness is a form of grace that flourishes for all parties.  Forgiveness does not mean setting the clock back on the relationship (as if nothing happened).  It is a turning away from destruction to a new future.” (Real Peace, pg. 139)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Review - The Great and Holy War by Philip Jenkins

When we think of World War 1, we think of trenches, mud, poison gas and brutal, senseless slaughter.  We think of nations thrown into war for what seems to us, looking back 100 years, like some pretty petty reasons.  We think of millions killed and livelihoods destroyed for a few hundred yards of ground.  All those things are evocative of World War 1.  But what we don’t think about is the spiritual and religious aspect of the war.  We don’t realize that the combatant nations involved in the war considered it a crusade against evil.  We don’t realize that the Great War was seen at the time as a Holy War against evil.

Philip Jenkins, professor of history at Baylor University, sets out to help us think differently about World War 1.  In his book, The Great and Holy War:  How World War 1 became a Religious Crusade, Jenkins explains the powerful effects the Great War had on the world, especially from a religious standpoint.  As Jenkins notes, “Without appreciating its religious and spiritual aspects, we cannot understand World War 1.” (pg. 28)  His argument is that the reality we live in today, especially when it comes to religious faith, was created by World War 1.

In the first half of the book, Jenkins argues that World War 1 was a religious war in a sense that most people never realize.  Every European nation involved considered itself a Christian nation.  Nations on both sides trotted out churches, preachers and theologians to make the case that the war was a crusade for God and that death in this war was akin to martyrdom.  Jenkins has page after page of evidence pointing to the religious nature of the conflict.  He discusses popular novels and films and how they reflected the war’s spiritual nature.  Spiritual visions and apocalyptic scenarios played important roles on each side of the conflict.  In fact, the wealth of information he provides is almost overwhelming at times.

The second half of The Great and Holy War looks at the world after the treaty of Versailles was signed.  How was the world, and specifically the religious world, affected by the war?  How did it respond?  For Jenkins, World War 1 destroyed one religious world and created another, the world we live in today.  For some, the war and its religious overtones turned them off completely.  The aftermath of the war brought about the rise of profoundly secular thinking.  Christianity in Europe was thrown into decline and into an identity crisis it has not recovered from.  On the other hand, other aspects of faith grew.  Judaism’s vision of a return to Zion, the Promised Land, gained a great deal of traction in the aftermath of the war.  Christianity spread powerfully in Africa in the years after the war.  Pentecostal and apocalyptic forms of Christianity grew rapidly.  In the Muslim world, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire had great consequences.  One of the oldest Christian civilizations in the world – the Armenians – were destroyed, in part by the Ottomans, in part by the nation of Turkey that rose in its stead.  The Muslim Caliphate, Islam’s spiritual head, came to an end, causing the world of Islam to search for a new leader and a new vision of their faith.

You might be reading this and thinking – that is kind of interesting, but so what?  This is where Jenkins’ arguments are most fascinating.  The state of Christianity in Europe today, the rise of secular thinking, the existence of the nation of Israel, and even the radical Islam embodied in ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the nation of Iran all have their roots in the chaos and betrayal that followed World War 1.  As Jenkins very ably argues, World War 1 did indeed change the world in ways that still affect us today.  We live in a new reality because of the events of World War 1.  And unfortunately, apart from a few exceptions, most of those changes are profoundly negative and dangerous to our world as we know it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Peace in Conflict, part 6

God, in his grace, is committed to cultivating attitudes in us that will help us extinguish rather than fan into flame conflict in our lives.  These gifts of grace, as displayed in our lives in increasing measure, will restore the peace, the well-being, the wholeness that God wishes to see in the lives of those who belong to Him.

But what about that situation where an offense has been committed against me?  How do I respond when someone slanders me?  What do I do in the face of injustice?  What do I do when I work, (or live with) that person who persistently seeks to tear me down?  We have all experienced those kinds of situations – how can we restore peace when peace has already been broken in our lives?

Typically there are two general responses to conflict.  Either we fight – return insult for insult, slander for slander, and malicious action for malicious action – or we flee, seeking to shut ourselves physically or emotionally away from the person that hurt us.

But in Colossians 3:12, the apostle Paul has another response to conflict.  He says the redeemed people of God are to act in a unique way, “bearing with one another…”  To bear with means to absorb the hurtful words or negative actions and not retaliate in kind.  It means choosing to mercifully pass over the sin done to us, not allowing it to escalate conflict in our lives.

Bearing with one another does not mean being a doormat.  It does not mean creating walls of separation in our lives to keep hurtful people away.  It is taking the mercy of God that we have received and applying it to the situation.  In his book, Real Peace: What we Long for and Where to Find It, Andy Farmer suggests we turn to Psalm 103 to remind us of God’s mercy.  While I don’t have room for quote the whole Psalm, I think just verses 1-5 will get us thinking: 
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases who redeems your life from the pits, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Ps. 103:1-5, ESV)
The Psalm goes on from there, but I think you get the picture.  The mercy of God has been applied to ever so many places in our life.  In light of that, God calls us to take the mercy He has lavished on us and to apply it to the difficult people and petty conflicts in our life.

Ideally this bearing with is mutual in the body of Christ.  Paul tells us to bear with one another.  The hope, of course, is that as we bear with someone, they in turn with us as well.  As we overlook someone’s hurtful words, they in turn might overlook our rude actions.  As Proverbs 19:11 reminds us, it is glory to overlook an offense.  But remember, bearing with is not a product of some superior maturity or wisdom, it is a heartfelt response to the mercy God has poured out into our lives in Christ Jesus.

Think of the many conflicts in our lives that could have been avoided if we had only been willing to bear with the other person or if someone else had been willing to bear with us.  Bearing with someone else means you don’t have to have that last cutting word, that final accusation, or that superior opinion that fuel conflict instead of extinguishing it.  Instead, it means offering others the mercy that God offers us each and every day.