But what will people say?

The Neighbours

“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.”

-Michael Molinos

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)

The Botanist

The Botanist
The Botanist

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.

Rachel Carson

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.

Cross Fire

In the Cross Fire
In the Cross Fire

Cross Fire

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…

Photo: My grandmother at the time of the exodus from The Crimea

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 Spring
The Spring

Photo: Spring-fed pond on Haha Road

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.

Thy Kingdom come

Photo: Toward the Gap

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your saints shall bless you!
 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
    and tell of your power,
 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

(psalm 145:10-13)

Thy Dross to Consume, Thy Gold to Refine

Painting: Consuming Fire,  acrylic on canvas

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;

The flame shall not harm thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,

I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

(from “How Firm a Foundation” by John Keene)

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews  12:28,29)

Bluer than Blue

Kootenay Lake

Bluer than Blue

The artist leading the workshop in the desert city looked at my paintings and asked, perhaps facetiously, “You use a lot of blue. Are you depressed?”

I looked around at the other participants’ work, mostly done in earth tones –beiges, browns, greys –with occasional splashes of red and yellow. Desert colours.

“No,” I said, “Not anymore. I just come from a place that is mostly blue.”

When I arrived home a few months later, deep lavender blue skies, shifting azure-blue lakes, paler and paler layers of blue mountains and sparkling blue snow shadows seemed even bluer than the paintings.

Bluer than blue.

I come from a place that is mostly blue.

To some blue communicates serenity. To some blue communicates depression. I come from a place that was mostly depression.

A while ago I was told in a dream, “Look to the area of your greatest failure, for therein lies your greatest success.”

There was that night.

That night when I bowed on a stage before an audience jumping up to shout “Brava” and throw flowers. Most of them didn’t know I was balancing on one leg the whole time because I had broken the other one only a few days before.

Then there was that night.

That night, in a locked ward where a silhouetted person behind a flashlight peered in my room every fifteen minutes to make sure I was still alive.

That night on the stage, the night of  “my greatest success,” was actually my greatest failure. That was the night when I identified myself as a strong-willed, disciplined, overcomer. That’s when I was foolish enough to think that if I just worked hard enough I could earn love, respect, and adulation.

The night on the ward, the night of  “my greatest failure,” was actually the night of my greatest success. That was the night when I admitted it took more courage to live than to die. I was fresh out of courage. That was the night when my tank hit empty, when I had no will power, no discipline, no hope. That was the night when grace pulled me deep down into those depths of blue and began to show me that freedom means nothing left to lose. That was the night when Jesus Christ took me by the hand and lifted me up toward the dim speck of light. Drowning in emptiness and being lifted up to hope as a kind of baptism, if you like.

It took a while to get on my feet. I had a lot of forgiving to do. Forgiving myself was the hardest test of wrestling pride, self-sufficiency, and the albatross of potential to the ground. I still have to remember to punch it in the beak regularly.

Blue means freedom and serenity now. I understand better what Paul meant when he wrote:

Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead.

Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have “arrived”, spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ.

(Philippians 3)

Only Someone who knows the plans He has for us has the courage it takes to show us how to die so that we might live.