Thursday, June 25, 2009


"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him;
he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."       Luke 15:20b

My mother is 92 years old and in a nursing home. Her memory is fading, her hair is snowy white, and she spends much of her time dozing in a wheelchair. She has begun to look like some of the other residents at the home.

The last time I went to visit her I saw a woman sitting in the social area at the entrance who looked so much like my mother I paused, uncertain. The eyes didn't seem right. As I was looking at her she looked at me but gave no sign of recognition. I went searching further. Mother wasn't in her room, but maybe she was at Activities?

In Activities several of the residents were sitting in wheelchairs. I went to one who was sitting with her head bent down. I got down in front of her so she could see me (and I could see her!). Her eyes fluttered open, her face broke into a happy smile and she exclaimed, "Why Joey! I'm so glad to see you!" And she tossed aside her detached demeanor, threw her arms around my neck, and drew me close for a warm hug and kiss. I knew my mother by the way she knew me.

Afterwards I got to thinking. Suppose I get to heaven and see all the assembled and heavenly beings. Many of them are so glorious in appearance that when the Apostle John, writer of the book of Revelation, saw one of them he fell to the ground to worship him. How will we know which one is God?

Which is where the story about my mother comes in. I knew her by how she knew me. We will know God by how God knows us. God will be glad. "I have called you by name, you are mine!" he exclaims in Isaiah. Unconcerned about how it will look to all the glorious beings assembled, he will set aside his Godly distance, smile broadly in unembarrassed joy, throw Godly arms around me, draw me close for a holy kiss and say loudly so all can hear: "Clifford! I'm so glad to see you!" And all that heavenly host will celebrate, for if God is happy, heaven is happy too. And Jesus said, "There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 righteous that needed no repentance." (Luke 15:7)

Christmas comes, with all the trappings that express the theme of heaven's joy come to earth. The Baby who is celebrated at Christmas grew into manhood and suffered much, bearing our sins, but the prophet Isaiah was blessed with a vision of him in heaven. "the pleasure [will] of the Lord will prosper in his hand. He will see the result of the suffering of his soul, and be satisfied." (Is. 53:10b-11a.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Language of the Spirit

The Language of the Spirit

There is a manner of speaking by God which is through the Holy Spirit, and we may call it the language of the Spirit, because it is processed through the human experience. It is present in three manners. There is a language of the Spirit by which the New Creation in Christ is brought forth; there is a language of the Spirit which speaks to us in an inner, personal way; and there is a language of empowerment for the New Creation to do its signature works. Briefly these three ways are: proclamation, inner, and prayer.

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

Thought, feeling, memory, relationship, planning for the future, action for the present, self-awareness and identity: all come to focus in the power of expression which is language. It is the power of God by which creation happened; it is the person of God by whom redemption comes (The Word was made flesh....) It is the Sword of God by which the Spirit works. Language is rooted first of all in the personhood of God, and is his image gift to those made in his image. Language is the source of our own personhood; it makes our very humanity possible. Language is the source of all spirituality, and it is the key to Christian spirituality. None can tell the manner of God's speaking in Creation, by which the brooding Spirit convulsed and brought forth with enormous creative energy the world described in Genesis Chapter 1. That was an unmediated word; no human or angel had any part in it. It was spoken by God, through God, to the waiting cosmos. The created order comes forth, bidden to do so only by God. Earth and its seasons will continue in their rhythm without reference to humanity and its faith or lack thereof.
Not so the New Creation, rooted in the Redemption of Christ. The New Creation is intimately linked to faith, and faith to the shaping power of the preached word. The first and continuing message of Christ was, "Repent, and believe the Gospel." The above verse from John 5:24 summarizes the Lord's message: Hear his Word, believe the God who sent him, and the miracle will happen.
Proclamation Is the Language of the Spirit for Calling Forth the New Creation
From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus sent his disciples to preach the Gospel; it was also his last command before ascending into heaven. It was the priority work of his disciples as they received the Holy Spirit and power and fanned throughout the world sharing the Good News. St. Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes...." (Romans l:16-17; cf. Rom. 10:5-21). The Gospel preached is as equally God's spoken Word when it is preached as the creation word was when creation was called forth. Now once again the Spirit, hovering over the clay-wrapped shape, may convulse and bring forth, this time in New Birth, the child of God, the New Creation. This time, however, two things are different: the constituting Word is spoken through a human mouth, and the Spirit waits to work where faith consents.

"Jesus answered....It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’” (John 6:45)
“This is what we speak, in words taught by the Spirit,..." (1 Corinthians 2:13)

Second, there is an inner language of the Spirit spoken by the Spirit through Scripture, conviction, conscience, visions, dreams, angels and revelations.

The Bible is the test by which all private experience is judged, for it is our record of the manner and content of God’s speaking in the past. It is more than a record, however, for it is God’s Word and as such an instrument of the Spirit’s speaking to the contemporary person. It is the chief Word by which the Spirit instructs our heart, mind and conscience. Of what does the Spirit speak? Always of Christ, as Revelation shows, for when the Spirit speaks to the churches it is Christ speaking.
Pentecost shows that it is God's intention to be personal with all his people, and to speak to them by his Holy Spirit. They will experience this speaking through the Word gifts of the Spirit, given to edify the church and to enhance its witness, and also in the visions, dreams, angelic messengers and experiences of the Lord himself which formerly had been reserved to the prophets. They will all be taught by God.

Third, There Is Prayer “in the Spirit” which Is the Language of the Spirit By Which God’s Kingdom Comes and Its Works are Enabled

"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions, . . . always keep on praying for all the saints.
Pray also for me,...." (Ephesians 6:18-19)

There is prayer in the flesh which rises to God's ear and is a cry for help from some desperate heart. Such prayers God hears. To pray in the Spirit is different. Jesus promised to bring his disciples to the Father, and “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. . . “ ( John 14:12-13) And St. Paul writes to the Romans: " received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." (Rom. 8:l5-16) Therefore prayer in the Spirit is fellowship with God. It affirms a personal God; we might say that we did not begin to believe until we began to pray.
Prayer in the Spirit is the work language of the church. Prayer in the Spirit is the heartbeat of the body by which the life of the Spirit is pumped throughout the body of Christ, which is the church. See how much Jesus prayed for the church (John 17:6-26 for example). Think how much Jesus taught his disciples about prayer! See how often in his letters St. Paul prays for the people of the churches, and asks them to pray for him! "For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. . ." Phil. 1:29.
I believe God considers prayer in the Spirit, prayer to bring the Kingdom of God into effect through Christ, to be so urgent that Christians should begin to pray in the Spirit immediately. They don't know how? Then prayer in tongues will get them going. It is a gift from God, a form, but not the only form, of prayer in the Spirit. As they begin to fellowship with God they will be personally edified, and the church will pulse with life from God. Prayer in the Spirit is the prayer of faith by the church, through which God's Kingdom comes to the world. Is that not what the Lord taught us to expect, in the prayer he gave his disciples? “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. . . .”

GROANS EVERYWHERE! (Romans 8:16-27)

The world of nature, filled with groaning! Believers in Christ, groaning inwardly! The Holy Spirit, interceding with groans beyond words! The strange thing, these groans are not complaints; rather, they are paired with bright hopes and great expectations. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (v. 22) So, what's going on? Resurrection. Paul sees in the resurrection a signal of things to come.
Resurrection happened with Jesus, kind of like a new "power-center" opened in him and flowed out to transform the creation world. It would reach out, first to those who were gathered around Jesus, then through them to the created order beyond. Paul sees, in the struggle of plants and animals to survive and live, a primordial gift of hope, "that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." (v. 21) And so, he likens this groaning to that associated with childbirth which is hopeful, rather than to groans of death, which is the "last enemy."
And then, there is the group of people who have gathered around the risen Savior, "the children of God." (v. 21) They groan. Life with God has touched them and they were able to identify it; they "have the first-fruits of the Spirit." (v. 23. How do they know it? Several" signs tell the story. Their “inner being delights in God's law” (7:22); they have their minds set on what the Spirit desires (8:5); “the Spirit of Cod lives in you” (8:9); they "are led by the Spirit of God" (8:14); they "received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry 'Abba Father...”.(8:14-17). They want their physical body (which shares the creation experience of weakness and decay) to be brought into line with the spiritual reality they have in Christ. They "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved." (8:23-24).
And the Holy Spirit groans. His groans are not somewhere "out there;" they are localized, felt and given expression to in sound along with the previously mentioned and intelligible "Abba, Father." His groans, too, are hopeful. He is "helping us in our weakness." We have recognized the need and the right to call "Father," and he looks at us and we don't know what to say. How can we frame in words life without death and this present life in useful prayer? So the Spirit says it for us, in the prayer language of tongues. As a result, we wait patiently. (v. 25)


Have you ever wondered why, in charismatic worship services, there is usually a rather long (half hour to 45 minutes) period of singing? And why this time is called "Praise and Worship?" Rev. Glen Wiberg, retired Covenant pastor, gives some excellent insights in an article entitled 'A Covenanter Looks at Praise Songs" in the May, 1998 issue of THE COVENANT QUARTERLY, (the article is about 8 pages long. I will summarize the paragraphs dealing with the theology at work in the praise song movement as it applies to the nature of worship.
He writes, (p. 37) 'The scholarly advocates of the praise song movement clearly view worship as based on an Old Testament model: the worship of the tabernacle. Preparation for worship begins in the Outer Court, where the community offers thanksgiving for God's mighty acts in history, then moves into the Holy Place, where worshipers sing songs of praise: often choruses of Scripture proclaiming the attributes of God in repetitive phrases such as "we worship...we adore...we magnify...we praise.' Finally, entering the Holy of Holies,' worship takes place in the most intimate experience of God. Such a movement based on the tabernacle model requires a long period of praise choruses lasting, in some cases, as long as thirty minutes."
For the sake of a starting point, let's say that his analysis is correct. That would mean that what we'll call "The Tabernacle Model" of praise is the trigger for an experience of intimacy with God,--an experience of the Holy Spirit. I have been to a good many charismatic meetings, and I know for a fact that this does indeed happen quite often. If it didn't, the practice would not continue. Note that it is not the praise songs, but the pattern in which they're used, that makes them "charismatic". Non-charismatic churches use the same songs but have no such expectancy because they are used according to a different pattern for worship. The non-charismatic churches also usually have a diminished expectation for an experience of intimacy with God (the Holy Spirit). Indeed, it is customary in many charismatic services to pause in stage 3 and wait expectantly for a word of prophecy, healing etc. Once this period is ended, the service tends to continue with "business as usual". I find it tremendously upsetting when they call this time “Praise and worship,” as though the rest of the service is something less and the Holy Spirit takes his leave to “move” elsewhere.
Here are some things we need to think about:
1. The gift of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant, made possible through the atoning sacrifice of Christ to the whole community and not just to chosen prophets/anointed ones, separates New Testament worship from O.T. worship. We expect a different worship experience from that which was available to the people worshiping under the Old Testament Covenants.
2. Is the tabernacle model the primary trigger for an experience in community of the intimacy of the Holy Spirit? Or is it only one of a variety of choices?
3. How much is the gift of the Holy Spirit, given through the forgiveness and glorification of Christ, conditioned by our desire to receive it rather than by any particular worship order? Luke 11:9-13: "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"


"Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
Matthew 12:32

Jesus said: "But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.." (Matthew 6:15) The question is, "Is refusal to forgive somebody the same as the sin against the Holy Spirit, that will never be forgiven?" Obviously, both statements have extremely serious consequences.
Let’s consider first the refusal to forgive sins. Many people confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. Christ came to reconcile us to God and to each other. To make reconciliation possible, he guarantees immediate access to the Father by forgiving our sins, rather than requiring us to first make amends for what we have done wrong and then he will bring us to him. His "at-one-ing" (atoning) sacrifice on the cross guarantees this. Forgiveness is therefore a basic Kingdom principle for life in the community of God. It is how God opens the door for us, and how we open the door to each other. To refuse this to others is to refuse it to ourselves as well. But we all come as sinners, and God has only two ways of dealing with sinners: forgive them, or judge them.
The whole world stands under the forgiveness of the Cross, but the whole world is not thereby reconciled to God. Many choose not to enter that open door and meet the Father. The same is true in the human community: We can forgive somebody, but that does not mean they are reconciled to each other. Even family can be forgiven but not be reconciled. The important thing is, a Christian forgives at the foot of the cross. In Revelation, John sees in heaven that "One like a Lamb that was slain" sits on a throne with the Father. No sin of human against another is so great that the Lamb is dethroned.
If forgiveness is to open the door to a life with God, the Holy Spirit is God's participation in us for that life, the reconciled life. The sin against the Holy Spirit is to deny this life. To be reconciled to God is to enter into a life with God where his Holy Spirit and our inner spirit are in agreement. How are they in agreement? Our spirit submits to the Holy Spirit. This is the Life Principle for the Kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit embodies the very life and relationship that is between God the Father and God the Son. It is the only way that God himself lives. Even at creation, when God spoke the Spirit convulsed and brought forth the creation.
It was the Spirit who processed the Incarnation of the Son in the womb of Mary, and the Spirit who anointed him to his works and miracles. It was the Spirit who raised him from the dead, and it is the Spirit whom the Church celebrates on Pentecost as the Giver of the inner life by which we live to God.
So to blaspheme the Spirit is to affirm that there is some other life principle equal to God's by which we can choose to live. And God will never permit that, not in this age, not in the one to come. It is unforgivable. C. Biel