When I first looked out the kitchen window as the sun set behind the mountains, I thought I saw snow on the tree. We’ve seen a lot of snow these past months.
But no. It’s not snow. This time the pear tree is covered with blossoms.
Flowers of your faithfulness are blooming on the earth. Righteousness shines down from the sky. Yes, the Lord keeps raining down blessing after blessing, and prosperity will drench the land with a bountiful harvest. For deliverance and peace are his forerunners, preparing a path for his steps.
Christ is not a reservoir but a spring. His life is continual, active and ever passing on with an outflow as necessary as its inflow. If we do not perpetually draw the fresh supply from the living Fountain, we shall either grow stagnant or empty. It is, therefore, not so much a perpetual fullness as a perpetual filling.
There is something comforting about the past. Even when we know it is dysfunctional, and carries useless clutter, it’s familiar. My thinking is like that sometimes. I know my old default way of thinking was filled with negativity and got me into all manner of trouble before, but when I’m not careful about being intentional I slip back behind the wheel and try to take the jalopie for one more spin. The seat is old and worn, but it conforms to the shape of my bum. I settle in -and then wonder why I am making no progress.
I hear the voice of my Lord asking, “And how’s that working for you?”
“I can’t seem to get it in gear… Can you give me a hand?”
“I have something better in mind.”
“But that means giving up ol’ Bessie.”
“But I’ve had this way of thinking for a long time. It served me in the past and got me through a lot of stuff.”
“And how’s it working for you now?”
“I’m kind of stuck.”
“I have something better in mind.”
“My vehicle, not yours. My thoughts, not yours.”
“Let me think about it……Well, this isn’t working. That’s for sure. By now I should be much farther ahead….”
“OK. Show me your ways Lord.”
Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. (Ephesians 4:21-23)
Edited to add:
So I just read something that said tonight is the first night of Passover and it included this verse:
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.(1Cor. 5:6-8)
Suddenly I started wondering what the expiry date is on my jar of baking yeast in the fridge. (Sometimes the literal/metaphorical line in my brain is not all that well-defined.) I checked. It’s this month. I chucked it. It’s probably time to toss some old thinking as well.
Ok, not “probably time.” It is time. I hear You, Lord.
One night I kept dreaming about a big ship out on the deep blue waters of the ocean. I’ve learned that when a dream repeats several times it is worthy of attention, so I prayed, asking about the significance of the image of the ship. Then I remembered that before I fell asleep I asked the Lord what “in the world, but not of the world” meant.
This was a loaded expression for me. In the culture I grew up in “worldliness” was the biggest enemy. “In the world, but not of the world” meant I had to go to public school, but I couldn’t look good doing so. Dressing fashionably, wearing make-up or having an up-to-date hairstyle was considered worldly -as was just about every other fun thing my friends did. The list of worldly activities seemed to grow with every request to do anything. I couldn’t play the same games, go to the same places, watch the same TV shows, or listen to the same music -at least not with permission. My grandmother gave me a transistor radio to listen to her favourite evangelists, but I may have tuned to a pop rock station after I figured out how the ear bud worked. I realize her intent was to protect me, but I often felt isolated and well, just weird. It didn’t help that my school mates re-inforced the weird label.
One of the sad results of having fences around fences was that I became very good at spotting worldliness breaches in others. If I couldn’t get away with it, why should they? I learned to be pretty judgmental.
Another consequence was not learning self-control or moderation when I was young. Since the rules often made no sense to me I depended on others to determine what was right or wrong. Choices were based on fear of punishment more than on caring and loving myself or others. I had a fear-based relationship with a God who specialized in saying no with a “shame-on-you” scowl behind that great white beard in the sky since he was mostly evoked to make me more compliant.
The end result of striving to obey all the rules, ironically enough, was that I never realized I had the right to say no. No to religious authority figures who abused power, no to bullies in the workplace, no to those who wished to make me their personal servant, no to people with ulterior motives — not even no to salespeople I felt sorry for. I bore a lot of scars for a long time. The hardest part of breaking free was constantly living with a sense that God, when and if he showed up, was on somebody else’s side -because they had already gone and tattled about me.
It’s been a long journey to learn that God is love and relentlessly kind and is not very much like the god I grew up with. So when I asked, “What does in the world, but not of the world mean?” the question carried a lot of baggage.
“Like a ship,” I heard.
I thought about it. A ship sails on the water; it depends on the water, but it remains separate in substance. Even a submarine avoids becoming one with the sea. When a reed raft, like the one used on the Kontiki expedition absorbs too much sea water, it sinks. When an iron ship has a hole under the waterline like the Titanic, it takes on water and is dragged down to the bottom. But a ship in dry dock, safely away from dangers of sinking, is a boat going nowhere. It serves no one and has no influence no matter how modest its paint job or how clean its decks.
Then, much to my surprise, I found the expression held over my head for so many years, was not actually in the Bible. The closest passage I could find is Jesus’ prayer in John 17:
13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. (John 17:13-19)
He asked for protection from the evil one for his followers and that they would be set apart by the word, which is truth. I may come to the same decision about choices I make now, but a lot of times I don’t – especially if pressured to make decisions based on negativity (God’ll get you for that) or fear (What if there is not enough?) or impatience with God (I guess I’ll just have to fix this myself) or a need to control others to remove the temptation to worry (You really should…). Boxing God into the limits of human reasoning no matter how impressive the brain (and I have met some incredibly intelligent people) feels like absorbing soggy ideas laden with questionable presuppositions sometimes, and when I neglect to dump the bilge water of too many scornful talk shows or scary shark movies my thinking is affected. I start going down.
The Greek word used for Spirit in the New Testament is pneuma, meaning air. I can live on the ocean and appreciate its beauty and its dangers, but I am not called to be one with the ocean. I need air. I need to be in a boat that floats so I can enjoy the ride. The Holy Spirit is the one who fills our sails and leads us into the truth that brings about real change. Repentance doesn’t mean doing penance. It means cooperating with Holy Spirit to change my way of thinking and choosing to go in a better direction in a boat that can be as colourful as I like.
God’s language is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and when decisions are based on these things, there is no need for rules.
The problem with people who want to “take God out of the box” is that they can seldom resist the temptation to stuff him in another one of their own making.
Jesus said the Holy Spirit is like a river that flows and a wind that blows. He is ever moving. To try to put constraints on him, by explaining him by how we have seen him move before is putting him in a box.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. ( John 7:38,39)
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
Jesus did not heal everyone the same way each time. God did not respond to the cries of his people for deliverance the same way each time.
Recently I heard someone say that the rules and regulations surrounding practices in their denomination were put there for protection. The rules seemed to be quite reasonable when they were devised years ago. But as I was thinking about this, it struck me that the berms built around my son’s neighbourhood in High River, Alberta were also put there for the protection of the town. When the river temporarily changed course at the highest point of its rain-fed uncontrollable gush, the berms actually served as barriers that stopped the water from flowing back into the channel and turned whole neighbourhoods into a stagnant lake, a lukewarm mix of both fresh river water and disgusting sewage sitting in the summer heat. Stagnation created ideal growing conditions for mold and bacteria in the foundations of homes that were now trapped behind the man-made parameters that were “put there for protection.”
Sometimes denominations form around groups of people with similar experiences, similar understandings, similar revelations, similar aspirations, similar emphasis, or similar disgruntlements. The unity they experience can feel like a refuge and berms are built around it to protect this peaceful easy feeling. But after a few years those protective structures can serve more to keep some folks in and other folks out, and sometimes even try to confine Holy Spirit inside the berms of their definitions of themselves.
The result is stagnation.
Many of us sit in dangerous lukewarm water. We have become the comfortable church of Laodicea, thinking we are rich, when we are poor, not noticing how stinky it is getting and that all of our accomplishments are tainted by the backwash of our own waste.
Church-leavers who form tiny home groups and church-planters who organize stadium-filling mega-gatherings all face the same temptation to berm themselves in. It doesn’t work.
Why? Because God no longer lives in a box. No longer does he need to say, “Touch this box and die!” because we couldn’t approach his holiness in our sinful state. He lives in his people – living, moving, breathing people, reconciled to their Creator by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are his temple. Living stones.
Christ in us, the hope of glory.
This doesn’t mean we abandon discernment and wisdom and accept any old thing. In fact when the Holy Spirit is flowing there is greater discernment and falsehoods are swept away instead of being treasured in hidden places in our hearts’ basements.
He desires all who truly follow Jesus Christ to drop the barriers, and worship Him in Spirit and truth without anger or disputing.
“You will never be fully resigned to the will of God if you are troubled by human opinion of you, or if you make of yourself a little idol of what people say.
You cannot be hurt by men. You cannot be hurt by devils. You can only be hurt by self, your own pride and the violence of our desires. Your self is the greatest devil of all.”
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
The joy of discovery is not just for kids. When “You know what I mean?” brings a nod, another bridge connects to wider plains of wonder.
Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in the crossfire. That’s the problem with eschewing labels; when people are not sure if you are one of us or one of them you are apt to catch shrapnel from all sides.
My grandparents were ethnic Germans who lived in an area claimed by the Russians at that time. Grandfather Johann was apparently fluent in seven languages, not because he was a scholar, but because it was expedient, and sometimes necessary for survival. He was no fan of the Czar who sent him and his men into war horribly under-equipped, but after he escaped to Canada with his wife and child, the situation became much worse for family left behind. Stalin killed most of them for being Germans, and Hitler killed the remnant for being Russian. My grandmother never recovered from hearing the Red Cross report that said they could find no trace of anyone she knew and loved in the old country. But that’s another story…
From the vantage point of time and reconciliation we can see the error on both sides. My mother, with her roots in The Crimea married my father, the great grandson of a Scot who received an endowment of land in Canada in appreciation for his service to the Queen in The Crimea. My ancestors could very well have faced each other on the battlefield.
Eventually everything worked out and produced –me (and my siblings).
Anyway, I find myself in a similar position between groups of people who regularly lob incendiary criticisms at each other. My goal is to stand in the gap and facilitate peace, not to serve as a meddlesome target. If you are firmly entrenched on either side I ask you to hold your fire until you have prayed about this (and give me time to duck).
I’m talking about the big C Church and our understanding of the filling of the Holy Spirit, or what some call the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
For a long time I’ve had questions about role of the Holy Spirit and the place of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (especially the list given in 1 Corinthians 12 – words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, ability to distinguish between spirits, and the ability to speak languages one has not studied). Most of my life I have been told either that such things ceased when the New Testament became available to the literate (often clergy), or that most of the time they are demonstrations of satan’s powers to deceive, or that if they do exist they are very rare and only for the purposes of impressing jungle people somewhere as a type of introductory business card, or are so divisive they are better off ignored. On the other hand, I’ve run into people who teach that if you didn’t experience them (especially the last one) in the same way they did, you are not really filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore a lesser Christian.
After a brief encounter back in the Jesus People days, someone convinced me that I had been deceived and that if I ever did anything like that again, terrible things could happen to my children. (Crazy, I know, but I was a fearful person –maybe you had to be there.) My stance after that was “There is no shortcut to holiness,” and I went back to work on my road to burnout.
A few years ago I read a book by John White, “When the Spirit Comes in Power.” (My motive for reading it was fear that my daughter was getting involved in some sort of cult.) I respected John White as a scholar (he was a professor in the department of medicine), a serious Christian (former missionary) and an excellent writer. (I met him once and quoted John White to John White, not knowing who he was – but that’s another story.)
He was asked to examine the Vineyard movement, led by John Wimber, for Biblical soundness and signs of manipulative “brain-washing” type behaviour. He acknowledged that he thought some of the “manifestations” were the result of these activities attracting histrionic personalities, but he was also convinced that most were genuine experiences. Something he said really stood out to me; when Jesus spoke about the seriousness of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit it was in the context of religious leaders attributing miraculous works He did to the evil one. John White came to the conclusion that it was more dangerous to pronounce that something not understood was of satan than it was to let something questionable go by and let it be tested by time and the fruit produced to see if it actually was of God. He was impressed enough to eventually join the movement himself.
Not long after that, after a period of learning to forgive some people, Holy Spirit showed up unexpectedly in power in my life, in ways I had never experienced before. I know it was Him because everything that happened led to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ and a greater hunger for a deeper relationship with Him. That would have been a pretty stupid move on satan’s part if it was his doing.
Now here was my dilemma: On the one hand I saw, with my own eyes, the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 in operation, and experienced some of them myself, yet I saw, to my shock, some of the people with the most dramatic supernatural giftings had, how shall I say this nicely, um.. major character flaws, moral blind spots and egos bigger than all outdoors.
On the other hand I knew many dear saintly people who had never experienced any of these things, who worked very hard to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world, but who saw very little in the way of results. They either tended to become more insular, protecting themselves and their tribes from “worldly influence,” or went to the other extreme becoming increasingly less attached to acknowledgment of the Bible as the word of God and relied more and more on personal effort and political solutions to ease the pain of a hurting world, than they did on God.
Here is what I have learned that has helped me bridge the no man’s land between these two paradigms. (Many, many thanks to Brad Long for this teaching.)
There is more than one word for the filling of the Holy Spirit in the new Testament.
There are two meanings covered by one English phrase. We also have only one word for “love” when the Greek has four (agape, eros, storge and phileo).
The Holy Spirit comes in two different ways (well, three if you count “Paraclete”, the One who comes along side).
Inside or within–for the development of character growth/sanctification and the fruit of the spirit. (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”(Gal. 6:22-23) “for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” (Eph. 5:9)
Outside or upon –for the equipping with power through the gifts of the Holy Spirit and actions that advance the Kingdom of God.
The Greek words for filling from within, pleroo /pleres, refer to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.This word is used when the Scripture talks about men like Stephen and Barnabas who were “full of the Holy Spirit and faith and wisdom.” It’s like the welling up of an internal spring. It’s there all the time, in season and out of season. “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”( Romans 8:9) “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (verses 15 &16) 1 Cor. 12:3 says: “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed on his disciples and said “Receive the Holy Spirit,” (John 20:22) but Jesus also said, “Wait in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on High.” (Luke 24:29). So did the first impartation not take –or is there another Holy Spirit experience?
The Greek words pletho /pimplemi refer to the Holy Spirit coming upon a person, like oil is poured or smeared on, or clothing is put on or the wind comes on a windmill empowering the blades to move. It is episodic, that is, it happens more than once and often comes in dramatic encounters with Holy Spirit in which one is touched and sometimes overcome by His power. (This is when the weird stuff sometimes happens, like trembling or falling over, especially when one does not have a grid for it and one’s physical system is overwhelmed. Toppling over or feeling great heat etc. is a side-effect, not a goal or something to brag about and especially not a sign of spiritual superiority. For those with reserved tendencies who eschew display it’s a humbling experience.) This “coming upon” also occurred in the Old Testament to people like Samson, Saul at Gibeah and others like Gideon or Elijah and Elisha. It is not a sign of superior holiness, but God does what He will and chooses whomever he wishes for the purposes of demonstrating His power and equipping for assignment. This is the word used in Luke 1 when Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb when meeting pregnant Mary and when Zechariah prophesied and when the believers acted drunk and spoke in other languages in Acts 2.
Acts 1:8 also uses it in the promise, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Photo: Windmill which moves the Calgary public transit system
[Lest this turn into an entire book I recommend using something like the Blue Letter Bible online and doing a search of all the uses of pletho/pimplemi (Strong’s 4130) and pleroo/pleres (Strong’s 4137).]
Photo: a congregation of windmills doing what windmills are meant to do
So we have the Holy Spirit within and the Holy Spirit upon. Both. But what happens when one type of filling is emphasized to the exclusion of the other?
When pletho (upon) is more important, the result can be evidence of the Holy Spirit showing up in power (some call this “anointing”), with great works being seen, but a sometimes accompanied by a dearth of fruit of the Spirit, or a lack of discipline in reading and meditating on the Bible, and tainted by immaturity or character development that hasn’t kept up with the level of ministry. (How many “anointed” people have crashed and burned due to moral failures or poor understanding of solid doctrine?) In a church it shows up as competitiveness, envy, divisiveness and spending the supernatural provisions of God on one’s own pleasures. (James 4 “What is the source of quarrels among you…”) Sadly in the public forum it can be misused on self-aggrandizement.
When pleroo (within) is chosen to the exclusion of pletho we see developing character, but ineffective fulfillment of the great commission instruction to make disciples. Burnout comes as a result of lacking the right tool for the right job. A handsaw can eventually chop down a tree, but a powerful chainsaw is much better. We also see a lack of freedom to move in faith and a sense of having to carefully budget meager resources. Sometimes we see a theology based on ways to cope with disappointment with God.
When both kinds of filling are present, (the people in Acts 10 seemed to get a package deal) honoured, and acted upon we see people seeking and surrendering to God’s will, using the power from God in love to build up and encourage the church and for witness and to demonstrate the goodness of God’s love in the world. This church will also grow in knowledge of the Scriptures, in understanding the nature and character of God, as well as in wisdom, revelation and spiritual discernment. We will see both the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. We will see growth in relationship with God and understand genuine worship. There are more churches becoming like this and I thank God for them.
Abba, enable us to be filled with all the fullness of your Holy Spirit. We want to be the people you created us to be, doing the things you created us to do. We want to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and in relationship with each other. Then the world will know that You are good and know that we are Christians –by our love.