All Things New

Stepping out onto my front porch, I smelled smoke. My heart stopped. Dear Jesus, not this again! But there it was, smoke billowing on the horizon, clouding over the sky. I sat on the porch swing and prayed silently. We had just gone through this a year ago when one of the largest wildfires in Kansas history swept within a mile of our town. And now the prairie was burning again!

My distress was interrupted when I noticed that my neighbor’s apricot trees were blooming! Dashing into the house for my camera, I headed out to the trees to see the flowering miracle. I happily cut off some branches and stuck them into a mason jar.

That day the fire was put out and the flowers smiled sweetly from their glass jar on the table.

A few weeks later, I am floating along, enjoying life, thinking, talking, studying, writing about things dear to my heart. Always I’m turning over shining ideas in my mind, seeking for another angle to this or that issue. I’m happy and oblivious to the trouble brewing…the ways my words hurt others, the rejection and misunderstanding they feel.

And then trouble strikes swift and hard, and I hit the ground with an unlovely smack. I see the wounding I have caused, and my heart spills out of my chest, over my body, onto the sidewalk.

I feel the sting of injustice. I never said what you said that I said! Yet while the accusations may be inaccurate, the broken relationship isn’t.

Groveling in the grimy reality of my ability to disappoint, to wound, to ruthlessly hack apart what is precious to someone else, I find myself caught in a mire of unhappiness. The unhappiness spins out onto people around me. I speak sharply to my little girl for picking a small patch of paint off the wall in her room.

She comes to me after I am in bed, her long, thick hair hiding a face wet with crying. I don’t know how it’s possible to feel worse than I already do, but I do. “Sweetheart, do you want me to come cuddle with you?” I ask. The hairy mop nods. I pick up my little girl and her arms squeeze around me as her head drops onto my shoulder. I carry her to bed, pull the purple-and-lavender quilt over us both, and hold her close. The crying stops and my little girl rests peaceful in my love.

Awake in the darkness, I hear in my spirit:

Walk into the conflict.

Be patient with the process.

I think this walking is too hard. It takes immense courage to hold out my hands to pain. Walking into the conflict means I open up and look at the ugly parts of myself. It also means I see the ways I am misunderstood. It means I can’t avoid acknowledging both the ways I need to grow, and the ways in which I am different from others but not wrong. It means starting the heartbreaking work of reconciliation and stopping the cycle of offense.

The patience is too hard. I want to repair the damages quickly so that I can get back to my dreamy euphoria. But many times the work of love is slow. So very, very slow.

I struggle, and then I remember the apricot blossoms. I think about the knobby branches stretched toward a smoky sky, limbs which only days before looked starkly wretched. I think of the fragile bravery of those flowers–the new life that pushed out through the fire into fruitfulness. The apricot blossoms remind me of the life of Jesus bleeding through barrenness.

Apricot blossoms against a backdrop of smoke.

The resurrection power of Jesus can bring new life to my broken body and spirit, and to my relationships. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead can heal the ugliness that I cannot redeem.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:11 (NIV)

This Easter Sunday, I am deeply grateful that even in my difficult relationships, Christ has the power to make all things new.

 


How does the power of the resurrection affect your life today?

A life of its own

“Suffering doesn’t need explanation.

The experience of it calls for healing not reason because

suffering splits you in two,

creates a breach between you and

your own existence.

The rigid stance you take against your personal pain

straining to erase your event,

and not to include it in your present,

makes you your own murderer.

For your suffering has a life of its own, full of unborn ideas,

pulsing with mystery,

rich with potential to solve your future suffering,

and—most amazing—your past as well.

Your suffering holds the secrets to your appointed lot and is

therefore the hiding place of your power.

You must value your suffering enough to

coax its treasure into your using.”

-Martha Kilpatrick

All and Only, pg. 28-29


This could seem like such a negative subject for Palm Sunday, and yet…Jesus was sad about Jerusalem even amid the cries of “Hosanna!” As we process the hard things life brings us or others, we can know that Jesus understands the pain of a groaning world and offers healing and hope through the finished work of the cross.

How does processing your pain in the present bring healing to your past and hope for your future? Have you felt suffering take on “a life of its own” in your experience? What does it mean to value suffering enough to use the hidden treasure?

Before you go to bed tonight, please remember to pray for our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Pray for the families who have lost loved ones this week. Pray about your own pain, and seek to find Jesus there.

God’s Voice and the Inspiration of Scripture

After writing my series on hearing God’s voice, I got some pushback from readers who thought that I was undermining the importance of Scripture. In the series, I describe God’s voice as something that comes to us in a variety of ways, as modeled for us in Scripture. I was a bit puzzled by the reactions stating that the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts is purely subjective and something to be treated with suspicion. I wrote a couple paragraphs in response a few times, but never felt right about publishing it.

For one thing, I keenly feel my lack of scholarship when faced with an argument relating to Scripture or to theology in general. (I’m waiting and praying for a scholarly person to write about the entirety of the Word of God.) Also, I know my words here can be twisted to mean something totally different than what I intended.

This past week, I read a Facebook post that reminded me of the misunderstandings surrounding those who believe that God speaks, and that studying God’s Word is part of a greater goal–getting to know Christ. A Christian brother wrote against Asher Witmer’s post No, You Don’t Have to Read the Bible. Although I agree with Witmer’s premise that being restored to God is more important than merely reading the Bible, I am not attempting to defend Witmer. I will let him do that himself. But since I have dealt with some of the same accusations, I will write a few of my thoughts here.

These verses are often used to proclaim the authority of Scripture:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

I do not see how these verses can support Bible deism in the context of the whole of Scripture. Of course Scripture is inspired by God! But God has also done other things by the awesome power of the Holy Spirit–He raised Jesus from the dead, and now gives us power to live a transformed life in relationship with Him (Romans 8:11).

Some use these verses in 2 Timothy to imply that if we believe in hearing God’s voice today, we do not value Scripture. That may be true for some, but I believe it is a false assumption for many. If you read the comments on my previous post, you will see examples of people who have experienced a deep love for Scripture growing out of a life of hearing and obeying God. Even though the people who commented are only a tiny sample of my blog readers, and an even tinier sample of Christians worldwide, I think this is how God intended the Christian life to be: His voice in our hearts and His word to us in the Bible are inseparable. Loving God’s voice does not equal disrespect for the Bible.

At the same time, reading the Bible does not make me a Christian. Believing in Jesus makes me a Christian.

There is so much that I have yet to learn about the Bible. Every year I study more (although not as much as I wish) and I realize anew how little I know. I love to learn about God’s story and ours through Scripture. Without the guiding wisdom and security found there, my soul would be consumed by sadness and confusion. I need the Bible to show me the big picture, to point me to Someone who is bigger and wiser than I am–Someone who pursues me with irrational love and grace. I need the Bible to reassure me that God’s mercies are new every morning. And as I read, I need the Holy Spirit to talk to me, to give me guidance for the details of my daily life. I need Him to create change in my heart.

God’s Word pitted against His voice is a divorce He never meant to happen. I have read through the Bible too many times to count, and I have noticed that stories of God’s voice are spread liberally throughout the pages of Scripture. For the most part, in the Bible the term “the word of the Lord” did not come as Bible verses to the prophets and apostles, but as instructions for daily living or a message to God’s people.

The apostles would have been horrified at the suggestion that God would stop talking when they died. Indeed, the book of Acts is a continuing story we are part of today, not a distant piece of history to be admired from afar. We are encroaching on dangerous territory when we say that God could do something in the Bible, but He no longer does it today. How do we decide what God does and does not do?

People forget that the Bible can be misinterpreted just as easily as God’s voice can be misinterpreted. I do not think we ought to elevate what we hear in our hearts above what is recorded in Scripture. But to me it seems that denying the Holy Spirit’s present work is in itself unfaithful to Scripture.

If the Bible has every single answer for the small details of our lives (including who we should pray for this week, what we should share with a seeker, where we should give money) we do not need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. What would the Holy Spirit be for?

Why did the Father send us the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended to Heaven? We need the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Bible and apply it to our daily lives (John 14:26).  We need the Holy Spirit to comfort, teach, to convict (John 16:8), to help us pray (Romans 8:26). We need the Holy Spirit to help us know God’s love (Romans 5:5).

The reliability of the Bible rests securely on its inspiration by the Holy Spirit. If we reject the Spirit as a real and active presence, our basis for the Bible’s validity crumbles.

This is what I believe: God’s word to us in the Bible is inspired, perfect, and valuable for every aspect of our lives. Studying the Bible helps me begin to plumb the depths of the goodness and wisdom of God. The Bible reveals God’s character to be unflawed, unfailingly good, and unchanging. God pours out His longing for a relationship with us in the Bible, and instills that longing for Him within our own hearts by the Holy Spirit. His desire to communicate with us is an essential part of His character. God’s Spirit speaks to me in the pages of Scripture. I also hear Him throughout my days, and recognize His voice because I belong to Him (John 10:3-4).

Some things about God, the Bible, and God’s church will always be a mystery. How do we find our way forward when we feel confused about the conflicting arguments swirling around us?

I often remind myself that faith in God and obedience to what we know opens the door to deeper understanding. My friend Caleb Yoder wrote these words in a comment on the Facebook discussion. “…The religious establishment of their day were masters at building doctrines and telling the people what the text meant. Our spiritual fathers insisted that following Christ was more important than anything else and that this was the key to understanding the scriptures. They learned to think by living in obedience.”

I’d add to that by saying that often clarity comes when we walk in obedience along with God’s family. Radical obedience helps God’s church understand the Bible better and hear His voice more clearly.

Obeying in faith is hard for us, because the western world idolizes knowledge and the mind. But some things are only learned through experience. If we have not experienced God, heard His voice, and obeyed his call alongside other believers, we are lacking something precious. God is not someone to be merely studied; He is someone to be heard and known.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning,

more than watchmen for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6

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Which do you find easier–studying the Bible or listening to God in your heart? Why? How does obedience help you to hear God and understand the Bible more clearly?

Family life

Most of the time, I am a diligent person. I always have work to do, and I get up early and work hard. Ahem. Some of the time, anyway. One of the notable exceptions is Sunday afternoons.

Sunday afternoons I guess you could say I work hard at being lazy. For several hours at least, I am a total bum. I lie on my bed and read and sleep, and if I feel inspired I write, too. On a cold, damp day like today I grab the heating pad for my knees, burrow under a thick blanket, and say goodbye to the world for a while.

Thankfully my children don’t seem to show signs of neglect in spite of my extreme laziness. In fact, this afternoon I woke up briefly to feel a lump pressed into the small of my back and cognized that my little girl had joined me for a nap. We slept together, then she woke up and said brightly, “I had a good nap, Mama!” I sent her to my dresser after a chunk of chocolate which Will had thoughtfully hidden in my unmentionables. She scurried like a mouse to fetch the prize, then we huddled and nibbled together in our nest.

Keane joined the scene, so now the bed is strewn with airplanes, Polly pocket dolls, blocks, and picture books. You can see that my children are not being *totally* ignored.

Bloomer the cat was here for a bit, but she’s not quite so welcome. She spends much of her time on the porch with an eye fastened on the door. If someone leaves it open even a crack, she darts in to paradise and heads for Lily’s cat food bowl. Lily is allowed to be in the house when she wishes because Elijah loves her and I love Elijah enough to let him do it. But Bloomer does not have good litter box manners, which creates a problem, because this mama does not want to be cleaning cat poo off the carpet. We call Bloomer “Misser” because she misses the litter box. Her aim is perfectly terrible. So she gets banished. Poor Bloomer!

As I write, I know that the state of my house is deteriorating fast, but I also know I have a dependable and longsuffering husband who will help me when I bravely emerge from my hibernation and say, “Let’s clean up!” I am an INFJ so periodic laziness is necessary for survival. I think. Haha.

(Will just brought me the most delicious strawberry smoothie! I told you he was wonderful.)

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Sometimes on Sunday afternoons we actually go do something. Mama gets herself out of bed and we do something fun like walk around the lake. I love those family walks!

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I’ll share a few more pictures of daily life around here.

Desiree and Keane like to help me in the kitchen. These pancakes are 100% whole wheat, and unbelievably good. I don’t make pancakes often because I also have to make gluten-free ones for Elijah, so it’s a lot of work.

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The children are very interested in puzzles right now.

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Desiree brought in a collection of pretty rocks from outside.

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Our sweet, dependable Stuart had a birthday on March 3. He wanted to decorate his own cake, and picked out some candy to put on top. For his birthday, he got a small Lego set and a new bike! Having a decent bike is a necessity around here. It’s so much easier for Stuart to go to the library or piano lessons now.

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Our children spend many happy hours being outside together.

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But we had a round of sickness, too.

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My youngest sister came for a weekend. I love my sisters–we understand each other and love to talk about life. Victoria sang at UMC on Sunday morning and blessed everyone with her beautiful voice. We walked to the lake several times, the biggest hike being on Sunday when we walked for two hours!

The same weekend Victoria was here, we went to a pizza party, and I had fun playing with a couple neighbor kids.

Last Wednesday evening, Will’s brother Levi brought his family over for supper and the evening. Desiree was thrilled to hold her new niece, Annie. I helped at Annie’s birth, and was rewarded with a gallon of local honey, harvested by her daddy!

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You might say we will be “adding to our family.” Or something like that. Will and I are taking classes to become foster parents. We are excited to do our part to care for the fatherless (James 1:27).

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The paperwork is not for the faint of heart. Saturday morning Will and I spent a couple hours drinking tea and filling out forms.

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I have to include this picture yet. Elijah looks so comfortable there by the fire, don’t you think? My heart is happy when I see our children safe and relaxed in our home. Elijah has been feeling much better the last few weeks.

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These are all unedited photos, some of them phone pictures. Kind of drives me nuts, but now that I don’t have Picasa anymore, I don’t know what to use. Photography experts, help me out please!

As usual, this update leaves out some major things. The wildfires. Uggghhhh! I probably will write about that sometime. The evening we had a local pastor over for supper and our Friday family night. (That was so much fun that my children have been begging to have him over for another family night!) My monthly ladies group–which I absolutely love. Several remodeling projects on our house. Some new people connections. Our new vehicle. (Yes, amen. No more crying in the parking lot.)

When I see casual updates from other people, I always want to ask, “But what are you thinking about? I don’t want to only know what you are doing.”

Trust me, I am always thinking. Always. (Except when I am sleeping.) But I don’t feel like writing it all out now. I might just wander out into the kitchen to see about a refill of that strawberry smoothie.

 

 


How do you like to spend your Sunday afternoons? What do you like best about your family?

Being Filled with the Holy Spirit: a personal testimony

I woke up one night last week to see the moonlight edging through the curtain in my bedroom. Unable to drift back to sleep, I decided to read for a while to get my sleepy brain to override again. So I read Simon Fry’s article on Being Filled with the Holy Spirit. Guess what? My sleepy brain completely flew the coop after I read that.

Lying in the dark, I thought back to my experience of being baptized with the Holy Spirit. As long as I can remember, I wanted to follow Jesus. Sure, I went through tough times, but following Jesus was never a question for me at the deepest levels. I was always hungry for spiritual truths; even as a young child I soaked up everything I could get and felt frustrated if church seemed shallow to me.

Yet my walk with Christ took a sharp turn about five years ago. For so many years, Will and I had poured everything we had into our church community. We loved the people so much (and still do) and cherished the Mennonite tradition of taking the Bible and Jesus seriously, along with the values of family and togetherness. But through a series of events, the community let us down in ways that seemed unimaginable formerly. What we gave our lives for backstabbed us. What I depended on to give us protection and purpose, did neither.

It’s hard for me to write this, but what I knew in my mind—the fact that people could not protect us or give life meaning—became painfully real through the hand of experience. We can try to know and do the right things and sincerely wish to honor Jesus in everything; but without the experience of our best efforts being stripped away, truly understanding grace is difficult.

During that distressing season, Will and I sat through a choir program with tears in our eyes as the choir sang Come to the Water. The song says, O let all who thirst, let them come to the water, and all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord. We were tasting what it was like to have nothing. Nothing but the Lord.

Out of that crisis began a new search for identity and purpose. One day Will and I were talking with a godly older man about our hurts and our newly-forming dreams, when I confessed to this brother that I wanted to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. I also told him about a certain spiritual gift that I really longed to have. Without hesitation, he laid hands on me and prayed for me to receive the Spirit.

Of course I felt spiritually charged by our interaction with this man of God, but the proof of a deep change surfaced over the next months. For me, the most significant changes were freedom from fear, the ability to hear God’s voice, and a new awareness of God’s church.

I’ve always been a people-pleasing person. To do something drastically different from the others around me wasn’t on my radar before. Respecting others was more important than listening to God if the two happened to clash. Oh I might be slightly radical, because I always did like to think critically about issues and push the status quo if it didn’t feel life-giving to me. But to follow Jesus in drastic ways regardless what others thought, especially people close to me? A totally new step.

God’s voice began coming to me much more regularly after that experience of receiving the Spirit. I would be sitting in church, washing dishes, or hoeing my garden when out of the blue God would tell me something about myself or someone else. And His voice was so beautiful to hear—it never brought condemnation on me or anyone else. I began to be able to love people in a way I couldn’t love before.

Also, I started noticing God’s family everywhere. His people were not confined to my denomination! And yes, I I knew that before, but suddenly I really knew it and was able to feel that instant connection with others who had the Spirit, even if it was a Dollar General clerk whom I had never met before! That terrible Us/Them mentality began slipping away.

How did these things alter my life? The change surfaced in our family’s move to a town where we knew nobody and where no Mennonite church existed. I was so attached to our little house in the country with our goats and chickens and fruit trees and my huge garden. I loved my community and friends (even though some of them had hurt us so much). At first, when I sensed the calling to move I felt so sick about it that I would lie in bed and try to wipe the idea clean out of my mind. But Will and I had no peace until we obeyed the call—and the last two years have been the best ride of our lives! We are constantly stretched and challenged and blessed. Oddly enough, we have made many new connections through a move that could have seemed isolating.

Am I perfect because I’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit? No. I still struggle to grow, to learn more about radical obedience, to relate well with other people, to show kindness in daily life. And yet, the joy-factor has increased a hundredfold. Being a Christian is fun! Without so much fear, Will and I are always up for an adventure with God.

And now I am profoundly grateful that God lowered Himself to bless me with His Spirit. More than anything else, I want to bring His presence everywhere. I want that Presence in me to draw everyone into the same joyful existence.

While I write these things, I do not wish to exude an air of spiritual superiority. I don’t feel that way at all. Christians who may not have experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit but who are earnestly seeking to follow the Lord are just as precious to Him. I have a hunch that we all need more grace than we can even imagine. And it is there for us. Grace is there for us, and so is the Holy Spirit, if we will but ask.

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
Luke 11:13 (ESV)

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O let all who thirst,
Let them come to the water.
And let all who have nothing
Let them come to the Lord:
Without money, without price,
Why should you pay the price,
Except for the Lord?

And let all who seek,
Let them come to the water.
And let all who have nothing
Let them come to the Lord:
Without money, without strife.
Why should you spend your life,
Except for the Lord?

And let all who toil,
Let them come to the water.
And let all who are weary,
Let them come to the Lord.
All who labor without rest,
How can your soul find rest,
Except for the Lord?

And let all the poor,
Let them come to the water.
And let the ones who are laden,
Let them come to the Lord.
Bring the children without might,
Easy the load and light:
Come to the Lord.

-John Foley


Have you experienced the power of the Holy Spirit? If you wish, share your testimony in the comments below!

Being Filled with the Holy Spirit (by Simon Fry)

In 1855, a young man was born again and gave his life in service to the Lord. He was fervent and zealous in his work, starting children’s ministries and preaching to thousands. He started a church and traveled to other countries sharing the gospel. Many were saved because of his efforts. He poured himself into his ministry so much that he was beginning to feel burned out from all the personal effort and striving he put in.

One evening, at the close of one of his messages, two women approached him and told him that they were praying for him. This occurred several of the evenings that followed, and finally he became a little perturbed about it. “Why do you pray for me? Why don’t you pray for these unsaved?” he asked.

They told him that they were praying for him to receive power. He didn’t know what they meant, but those words kept bothering him, so finally he went back to them and asked what they were talking about. They told him that he needed the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. After they explained what they were talking about, he said he wanted to pray with them rather than they just praying for him. He prayed fervently for this baptism and power. He continued to pray for it on his own.

Not long after that, he was walking the streets of New York and his prayer was answered. In the midst of all the hurried flurry of the city street, he felt the power of God coming upon him. He rushed to a friend’s house nearby and asked to have a room to himself. He stayed in that room for hours and the Holy Spirit came upon him, “filling his soul with such joy that at last he had to ask God to withhold His hand, lest he die on the spot from very joy. He went out from that place with the power of the Holy Ghost upon him”.1

Dwight L. Moody then went on to be a more effective evangelist who no longer struggled on his own strength. He preached to crowds of tens of thousands and led many more to Christ but without the striving of his earlier days. In his own words, “The sermons were no different, and I did not present any new truths and yet hundreds were converted. I would not be placed back where I was before that blessed experience.” 2

dl-moodyMost of us know who Dwight L. Moody is, but this is a story many of us don’t ever hear about. Moody was known to preach about “a baptism of the Holy Spirit” regularly after that experience. He was known for saying, “The Holy Spirit in us is one thing, and the Holy Spirit on us for service is another.”3

He taught that all believers had the Holy Spirit within them, but that it was entirely another thing to have the Holy Spirit fall upon you “with power from on high”. He urged his listeners to seek a filling of the Holy Spirit saying, “We all need it [the filling of the Holy Spirit] together, and let us not rest day nor night until we possess it; if that is the uppermost thought in our hearts, God will give it to us if we just hunger and thirst for it and say, ‘God helping me, I will not rest until endued with power from on high.’”4

Sometimes teachers would come to argue with Moody about it. R.A. Torrey writes about one of those times when he and Moody had one of these encounters in Torrey’s book, Why God Used D.L. Moody.

“…fine men, all of them, but they did not believe in a definite baptism with the Holy Ghost for the individual. They believed that every child of God was baptized with the Holy Ghost, and they did not believe in any special baptism with the Holy Ghost for the individual. Mr. Moody came to me and said: “Torrey, will you come up to my house after the meeting tonight and I will get those men to come, and I want you to talk this thing out with them.”

Of course, I very readily consented, and Mr. Moody and I talked for a long time, but they did not altogether see eye to eye with us. And when they went, Mr. Moody signaled me to remain for a few moments. Mr. Moody sat there with his chin on his breast, as he so often sat when he was in deep thought; then he looked up and said: ‘Oh, why will they split hairs? Why don’t they see that this is just the one thing that they themselves need? They are good teachers, they are wonderful teachers, and I am so glad to have them here; but why will they not see that the baptism with the Holy Ghost is just the one touch that they themselves need?’”

The Still Quiet Influence of the Holy Spirit?

The above story is, admittedly, outside of our Anabaptist comfort zones. It goes against our beliefs. We may not really know much about the Holy Spirit, but we’ve been told that we don’t believe in a separate baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit that might take place after conversion.

So what do we believe? Or more importantly, what does the Bible tell us about the “baptism” or “filling” of the Holy Spirit? Are our beliefs lined up with Scripture?

In Acts 1 and 2, we read of 120 people gathered waiting and praying for the promise of the Holy Spirit baptism.

“..for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit..” Acts 1:5

“..But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you..” Acts 1:8

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:4

These three verses are all speaking of the same happening, and yet it is described in different ways. “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”.

So we can conclude that when we read these phrases in relation to the Holy Spirit throughout Acts that they are talking about the same thing.

When Peter preached in Acts 2, the multitude was “cut to the heart” and asked what they should do. Peter said to repent, be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In chapter 4, after Peter and John had been arrested, questioned, and released by the religious leaders, they went back to the believers and reported what had happened. They responded by praying and in verse 31 it says, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

Wait. They had already been baptized with the Holy Spirit and yet here they are getting filled again. And this was not just an awareness of a quiet influence. The Holy Spirit came again in such an evident way that the place they were gathered in was shaken.

In Acts 8, Philip is preaching to Samaria. Both men and women believed and were baptized. When the apostles heard of this, they sent Peter and John to pray for them that they would receive the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them. (Verses 14-16)

This story seems a little different. They believed and were baptized, so why did the Holy Spirit not automatically fall on them? Philip had apparently received empowerment of the Holy Spirit because signs and great miracles were performed while he was evangelizing. And yet the Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit when they believed the message he brought.

When an account in the Bible seems a little different than the rest, there is often something that we are supposed to gather from it. What stands out to me is that the Holy Spirit did not just automatically come when they believed and were baptized. And since the apostles did not always lay hands and pray for people to receive the Holy Spirit, we can’t draw the conclusion that they always had to do this. So the conclusion I draw is that the Holy Spirit does not show up in the exact same way every time. Every situation is different.

He is God. He does not do things according to man-made standards and expectations.

Another thing that stands out to me is that there was something very definite and evident about the receiving of the Holy Spirit. They knew whether they had received the Holy Spirit or not. In Acts 19, Paul asks in Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” He expects them to be able to tell if they had or not.

Another story of the Holy Spirit coming in an unusual way is found in Acts 10. Peter was preaching to the Gentiles and while he was still preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on the crowd and they began speaking in tongues and extolling God. They hadn’t even been baptized yet, nor did anyone pray over them! Even the believers who were with Peter were amazed.

I don’t know. Being filled with the Holy Spirit throughout Acts just doesn’t seem to synchronize with our “Quiet Influence Only” beliefs within our Anabaptist circles. There is no doubt that sometimes He is a still, quiet influence, but that is not how it was when we read about people receiving a filling of the Holy Spirit.

“But that was only for the early church. It’s not for today.”

Acts 2:38-39, “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. (emphasis mine)

Why should it look any different today than it did then? Is the Holy Spirit any less powerful today than He was when the early church began? Can we really claim that we need Him less today so that is why we don’t see Him move in our lives?

Why did Jesus send the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?

The Holy Spirit falling on the believers was not for regeneration nor to bring them forgiveness of sins. When Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promise, He was speaking to the men that He had previously told were “clean”. “‘…And you are clean, but not every one of you.’ For He knew who was to betray Him” (John 13:10-11).

Again in John 15:3, we hear Him repeating those words, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”

The same could be said of the previous example I gave in the account about Samaria in Acts 8. They believed and were baptized, then received the Holy Spirit later. They were regenerate believers though they had not yet received the Holy Spirit.

So we can conclude that the filling of the Holy Spirit is not to regenerate sinners. These baptized believers and regenerate people had not yet had the Holy Spirit fall on them, but yet each believer was given opportunity to then have this filling of the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit is not a one time “once and for all” thing. Galatians 5:16 says “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” In Acts we read of both Peter and Paul being filled with the Holy Spirit more than once (Acts 4:8, 31, 13:9, 13:52). Paul tells the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), though the Holy Spirit had already fallen on the believers there. (Acts 19). It is apparent that it is not a one time thing.

So why then do we need the filling of the Holy Spirit? In Jesus’ words, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. (Acts 1:8) Over and over, passages that speak of a filling of the Holy Spirit are connected with and for the purpose of empowerment in testimony and service. (Acts 2:4-8, Acts 4:7-8, 31, 33, Eph. 3:16, )

This filling is not for cleansing us from sin, nor is for making us perfect Christians who will never sin again. It is an empowering for doing whatever God is calling us to do. And it does not always look the same in everyone because God does not call us to the same work. 1 Cor. 12:4-7 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…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.”

But don’t all believers have the Holy Spirit?

All believers have the Holy Spirit in them when they become believers. But that is still different than the empowerment that happened at Pentecost. Did Jesus’ disciples have the Holy Spirit in them before Pentecost? In John 20:22, Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Did they not receive what He was giving them? And yet they still had to wait in Jerusalem for the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many people are skeptical of any teaching about being filled with the Holy Spirit because they assume it is just part of the Pentecostal movement. But teaching about this was around long before the Pentecostal movement began, and it continues even with others who are not part of the charismatic movement. It’s not something Satan likes people to find out about. After all, why would he want us to be filled by the very Spirit that empowers us to a greater ministry?

I challenge you to research some history of some of the greatest preachers and evangelists. Read about their experiences of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the accounts of the Spirit falling on crowds while they preached. A.J. Gordon, Reuben A. Torrey, Dwight Moody, Charles Finney, Billy Graham, Lloyd Jones, Jonathon Edwards, etc.

For those who have never experienced any sort of manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and have only known Him as a barely noticed, quiet influence; it is easy to dismiss it all as nonsense. But when you have an experience, there is such a joy (Acts 13:52), refreshing (Acts 3:19), and comfort (Acts 9:31) that you know without a shadow of a doubt that something is different now.

I would not have written any of this ten years ago, and if I would have read anything like this, I would have dismissed it as nonsense because I had never experienced it. I would have ardently claimed that the Holy Spirit is a barely noticeable, quiet influence because I had never experienced anything else. But when you experience a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit, you can’t deny that there is something more that you were missing before– even though you may have been trying to serve Him to the best of your knowledge.

Jonathon Edwards says it like this, “Have they not condemned such vehement affections, such high transports of love and joy, such pity and distress for the souls of others, and exercises of mind that have such great effects, merely, or chiefly, because they knew nothing about them by experience? Persons are very ready to be suspicious of what they have not felt themselves. It is to be feared that many good men have been guilty of this error, which however does not make it the less unreasonable.” 5

From my personal experience and in hearing the testimony of others, having the Holy Spirit come upon you is an experience of indescribable joy. Rather than crossing our arms in suspicion and judgment, perhaps we should instead ask God to show us if we are lacking something.


1. http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/biomoody6.html

2. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2006/03/lloyd-jones-on-baptism-with-holy/

3. Dwight L. Moody, Secret Power, chapter 2

http://www.inthebeginning.com/articles/moody2.htm

4. Ibid

5. Works of Jonathon Edwards, Volume One, Sect. II http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works1.ix.ii.ii.html


Being Filled with the Holy Spirit first appeared on Another Radical Reformation, and the writer, Simon Fry, graciously agreed to let me republish it. For more quotes on the filling of the Holy Spirit, read this post on his blog. The article is actually the third of a series on the Holy Spirit, and you can find the first one here.

If you haven’t already, check out Simon Fry’s writings on baptism, communion, and other important issues. Fry’s writing is both reasonable and challenging, and is well worth your time to read if you want an out-of-the-box perspective on many Biblical doctrines.


Have you experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit? If so, how has it affected you? If not, is it something you long for, or is it too scary for you to think about? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My mama at midnight

When I was small, I often woke up in the middle of the night with joint pain, especially in my knees. If I could get warm enough by piling on extra blankets, the pain sometimes diminished so that I could fall asleep again. Many times my best efforts failed; the pain increased until I couldn’t bear it any longer, and I began the weary trek downstairs to find my mama.

Creeping out of my bed, I padded through a dark hallway and down a long flight of wooden steps. The third-to-last step groaned, and the door at the bottom of the stairs creaked. Did my mom hear me coming? I’ll never know.

Finding my way into the soft nightlight-glow of her room, I woke my mom and whispered, “I need a pain pill.” Her gentle face turned toward me, and a reassuring hand reached for mine. Mom got up without complaint and led me to the bathroom where she rummaged through the medicine cabinet until she found the aspirin bottle. She popped the lid, pulled out the cotton, and shook out a small white pill. I swallowed the pill with a big gulp of water then padded off to bed again. Within half an hour, the pain was gone, and I was asleep.

Now I am grown, and if I wake with aching joints, I get up and find my own pill. More often, I am sleeping soundly until I feel a wee hand patting my arm. “Mama,” my daughter whispers, “I’m having bad dreams.” I pull her in beside me and she nestles down with a relieved sigh and goes to sleep.

She sleeps, while I lie awake and think about the little girls on my street. I think about girls in my town and girls around the world. My heart tells me that somewhere lies another little girl who has knee-pains and heart-pains, and no mama to comfort her. Somewhere is a little girl who needs a mama at midnight.

Sad and lonely kid crouching in a corner

And then I wonder if that mama could be me.

 

 


 

No longer a slave

As I mull over the mixed response of God’s people to the needs of refugees, immigrants, and terrorists, I realize that the surface disunity is but a symptom of a much deeper malady.

This malady is the terrible disease of fear. Fear has been coddled in many conservative churches for years in the name of “keeping our children safe” and “staying on the narrow path,” and the current events are merely pushing the infestation to the surface. It is a sickness and a slavery.

We may be keeping our families safe from something, but we aren’t keeping them safe from fear. We might be on a narrow path, but I don’t think it is the narrow path that leads to holiness.

Why do I say that? The basis of the Good News is that God’s love is for everyone. Yet so many of us cannot agree to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), to welcome the stranger (Heb. 13:1), and to feed the hungry (Matt. 25:35). We are coming up with every conceivable excuse not to do so. We are writing in exception clauses to keep our lives comfortable.

We are trying to save our lives, and are losing them in the process (Mark 8:35).

refugees-1199172_640

We ask the age-old question, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37) and pretend not to notice when Jesus says, “Your neighbor is the person you find hardest to love.”

So many pseudonyms for fear float around us. “Wisdom” “Responsibility.” “Protection.” Why don’t we call it the ugly thing it is–fear? Why don’t we go out and do the hard things that Jesus asks of His disciples?

I’m not trying to imply that you need to fulfill every single need in the universe. You can’t. But you can stop being afraid of the work of living out the Gospel in our world today. You don’t need to do everything, but you do need to do something. And that something has to be bigger than a flea-bite of inconvenience.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love (I John 4:8).

One person’s job might be to provide finances or housing for refugees. Another person’s work might be to feed the hungry neighbor boy evenings after school. Someone else may need to give a lonely foster child a secure home. The beauty of Christ’s body is its working together to accomplish a whole, the combining of efforts to weave the fabric of a loving Christ-centered community.

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

I John 3:17 (ESV)

Why should we fear, when God offers us power to show mercy, power to bring about change by loving, power to push back the forces of darkness?

Why should we return to slavery?

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Romans 8:15 (ESV)

If we cry out to our Abba Father, His unfailing love will overwhelm us. His love will perfect us. His love will split the shackles of our fear.

 


How does being perfected in love enable you to let go of your fears? I John 4:18

Jesus Only (part 2)

In my last post, I talked about finding strength for the task that God gives us. This post will touch on the subject of finding meaning through suffering.

The verses that made such an impression on me regarding these two subjects are found in Matthew 17:

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Matthew 17:7-8 (ESV)

This problem of suffering is like a box that I periodically get down from its dusty shelf to examine from all angles. Eventually I give up and shove it back for a while, maybe even cover it up with a couple old sweaters. There’s so much I don’t understand about pain and evil in the world.

The greatest thinkers of all time have talked at length about this difficulty. I’ve read their books over the years–Cries of the Heart by Ravi Zacharias, The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis, Where is God When it Hurts by Philip Yancy. (I even read When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner, but I do not recommend that you read it. It’s depressing and I don’t agree with his view of God.) Gaining an intellectual perspective can be helpful to form a framework of how the world works.

But intellect can’t answer all the questions of the heart. Oh I know, I like smart solutions that take no emotional energy. I’m uncomfortable with finding a less-than-rational answer. But it simply doesn’t work to reason ourselves out of feeling pain. And I wonder if this is because the answer to our suffering cannot be adequately formulated by the mind.

I believe the answer to our suffering lies in having an encounter with God. When I am brave enough to peel back the layers, I discover that the greatest pain of all lurks underneath–the pain of feeling abandoned by God.

Isn’t that what Job experienced? Yes, he lost his family and all he owned. But worse than that, he felt betrayed by God. The only way for him to make peace with his pain was to fume at God and to hear God respond to him. What redeemed Job’s pain in the end–a new family and set of possessions? No, Job’s most precious reward was being able to talk heart-to-heart with God.

Admittedly, this way of viewing life leaves us in limbo at times, waiting for God to show up in our dark places. Our hearts can feel broken for a while before we experience God’s redemption. This is where faith comes into play; faith that the waiting will not be vain, and that God will show up and meet our need.

Oswald Chambers echoes this in My Utmost for His Highest: “When God gets us alone through suffering, heartbreak, temptation, disappointment, sickness, or by thwarted desires, a broken friendship–when He gets us absolutely alone, and we are totally speechless, unable to ask even one question, then He begins to teach us.”

I remember the night many years ago when I crouched on the floor of a tiny prayer room at Calvary Bible School, crying so hard I thought I would die. I didn’t see God as someone who loved me personally, and I felt a lot of fear about His presence. Being consumed by emotional pain, I prayed, “God, do you love me? Please tell me if you love me.”

The next morning I sat in chapel, my face still puffy from weeping the night before. The speaker got up and said, “I feel there is someone here who needs to be reassured of God’s love. So I want to tell you, God loves you! He loves you! He loves YOU!”

And that was the beginning of a healing road for me. Once I knew God wanted to love me and talk to me, I could come to Jesus with my fear and start dealing with the mess in my heart. As Tim Keller once said, “Jesus took away the kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God.”

Even though I would like more intellectual answers, I have seen God’s glory through seasons of suffering. I have experienced His presence, and in faith I can say that it is enough to see Jesus only, to feel His touch, and to hear Him say, “Have no fear.”

jesus

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

-Alan Jackson

 


Have you encountered God during seasons of suffering? How did it change you?