Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Remember a few months ago when I lamented the end of my Systematic Theology group? Well it's back. Whereas most of these studies would start with things like scriptural authority or the character of God, we decided to start with the Holy Spirit. We have our reasons.

Since summer began, my church has seen the Holy Spirit move in greater power through miracles and spiritual gifts. People have learned how to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and respond in obedience. Others have been healed of long-term, debilitating pains. Two people had their legs instantaneously grow during prayer, eliminating their back pain. At one Thursday night meeting downtown, the Holy Spirit showed up and kept us in worship and prayer the whole evening.

Naturally, some people have had questions. A woman at work asked me about my church and the Systematic Theology group. I told her that our theology is reformed, but we have charismatic expressions during worship. When she asked me to explain what I meant by "charismatic expression", I talked about the Holy Spirit working through people, speaking to us, healing people, and so on. She asked me if we believed in the Bible. I assured her we do. As I walked away, she spoke to the woman next to her, "I don't know about that sort of thing. I think it's dangerous."

I'd like to take this moment to assure you, the Holy Spirit is not "safe" in the way some Bible teachers might portray Him. He operates outside of our control and it scares many to see Him move beyond comfortable perimeters. Consider this story in Numbers 11:24-29.

"So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

"But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. So a young man ran and told Moses and said, 'Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.' Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, 'Moses, my lord, restrain them.' But Moses said to him, 'Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!'"

The Spirit of God supposedly only resided in the Tent of Meeting, where Moses and the priests went into His presence. So when the Spirit came upon two people in the camp outside of the church, away from the pastors' conference, it caused a stir. Moses, in humility, recognized that God wanted to put His Spirit on more than the accepted leadership. He wants to move in His people, the church.

Joel prophesied of a time when the Spirit would move as Moses wished. Joel 2:28-29 reads, "It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days."

Peter referred to this prophecy saying that God had begun its fulfillment in Acts 2:16-21. But this promise was not for a chosen few. Rather, for all mankind. This goes beyond God only using the Apostles, or the seventy who followed Jesus, or any other kind of restrictive explanation given by spooked theologians. Even as Paul taught the Corinthian church on how to use and recognize spiritual gifts (including the gift of miracles), he said in 1 Corinthians 14 to "desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy." This echoes Moses's hope that all God's people would have His Spirit upon them.

There are many passages where Paul teaches on spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14 and Ephesians 4:11-12) and acknowledges Holy Spirit activity in other churches (Galatians 3:5). A good portion of the book of Acts details how the church interacted with the Holy Spirit and the miraculous. I think it's important to remember that God inspired the authors to write these things in the Bible. Why would He do this? To convince those already saved in the church or to teach us how to use the gifts to glorify Him?

When the Holy Spirit moves in the church, it won't be for the glory of a man, a particular church, or even an experience. Jesus is alive and at work in the church. The miraculous testifies to those outside of the church and draws them closer to saving faith, so they glorify God. The miraculous also testifies to the church and continues to build our faith, so we also glorify God. And that's the point. We must glorify God in everything.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In the Meantime, Write New Songs.

So, I realize some of you may have walked away from the last essay without much relief. In fact, my hope was to say, “Life is hard. We’re all frustrated. But God is good and He tells the truth. What can you do? Keep going.” Someone in agony just got a pat on the back. Waiting in trust can suck sometimes. I’m there with you. The question is, what do we do while we wait?

This is why I want to write an addition to Avoiding Ishmaels. Here’s the story. One day, soon after writing the endurance essay, I had a really great day of prayer. God and I talked for hours. When I got up that morning, on my break at work, hanging out at a coffee shop afterward, and in a prayer meeting at a friend’s house later that night. I loved it. I’m about to get super-vulnerable and let you in on part of this conversation. At one point, I asked Him, “Why has it been so hard to write songs lately?” By that time, I had only written four songs in the last year. For those of you who don’t know me well, this is unusual. Then a thought came to me, which is how the Holy Spirit often talks to me. “In the past, when nothing clicked, you would write something new and wait for the unfinished song to develop in its own time.”

If you don’t understand what that means, let me explain. On a few occasions in the past, I wrote a riff or a chorus that I liked, but everything I tried to put around it felt weak in comparison to the one good part. So I would write down or record the good part and move on to something else. Sometimes, it took years for that part to mature into a good song.

The thought in prayer continued, “For the last year, you have played the same riffs over and over until they develop. And so, you’ve only written four songs in the last year. These are good songs that please me, as I was pleased to give them to you. But you have ignored opportunities to discover other songs I wanted to give. This reflects your attitude spiritually. Imagine the riffs are promises. You were given several, and yet you keep pushing on the same handful, neglecting the others. When you find yourself waiting for some promises, pray and work on the others.”

He then reminded me of some specific promises and how I would in time have even bigger things to look forward to. “You focused so much on the old ones you missed asking about the new ones. Now, the promises I already gave are good and please me, but I want you to have more. So, with both songs and promises, ask for more.”

As I’ve thought of this over the past week and a half, I tried it out. I wrote a song. I had fun, recorded it, and sang it a few times to the house. It was easy. I felt like I learned how to write songs all over again and I’m excited to write more. Some of them will go on records, some will stay on Garageband. It doesn’t matter. I’m moving on to new songs while I wait for the others to grow. I have life to experience and a God to love and learn about. I have work to do.

This reminds me of the opening scene in the book of Acts. Jesus rises from the dead and presents Himself to people over the course of forty days. Beginning in Acts 1:4, “Gathering them together, He (Jesus) commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”

Okay, so Jesus just made an enormous promise to his followers. Because of His death on the cross, he took away the sin separating them from God. The presence of God would soon come among them! But they were focused on another promise and kind of missed that. “So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’” The riff they kept pushing came from the prophets that Messiah would establish the Kingdom of God on earth and rule over the world. They weren’t happy with Rome and wanted Jesus to hurry up and become king already.

“He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’” Essentially, Jesus just told them, “Hey, don’t worry about that right now. We’ll get to that eventually. But I’m going to send the Holy Spirit to dwell in you so you can tell the world about me.” He was trying to tell them about another promise and give them work to do until He returns to set up His kingdom on earth.

They still didn’t get it. “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’” Two men, who many believe were angels, told the disciples straight up. “Listen, you’ll just have to wait!” Only then did they go back to Jerusalem and wait for the other promise. And when it came, as you can read in Acts 2, it was awesome. They praised God and told everyone about Jesus.

Like the disciples, we’re still waiting for Jesus to return. I’m still waiting for a foxy, Bible-reading, Jesus-loving lady to date me. We’re all waiting for something that feels centuries away. But I don’t want to stand around staring at clouds while I could be interacting with the Holy Spirit and sharing the Gospel. This is the lesson I am learning. Don’t give up on the old promises. Endure. But in the meantime, write some new songs.