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Tweet-Sized Thoughts on the Holy Spirit

I’ve been thinking much lately about the ministry of the Spirit, especially as it’s described by Jesus in John 14-16. Rather than writing a length article (I lack the time to write it, and you probably lack the time to read it), I offer the following short, punchy observations for your consideration:

1. The church should regard Pentecost as it regards the Incarnation. Both were world-shifting, life-changing, God-coming events.

2. It’s as impossible to live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit as it is to become a Christian without Christ.

3. As our Paraklete, the Spirit of God is our Advocate on earth, just as the Son of God is our Advocate in heaven.

4. According to Jesus’ shocking statement in John 16:7, the Spirit’s earthly ministry is more advantageous to us than Christ’s. Wow.

5. The church has allowed abuses of the doctrine of the Spirit by some to make us negligent and even wary of His true, biblical works.

6. The mercies of God the Father and God the Son are mediated to the church through God the Spirit.

7. The church’s power to resist sin, reach the lost, apply the Scriptures, grow in Christlikeness, and minister effectively resides in the Spirit, not us. We are impotent without Him. (Yes, that was more than 140 characters.)

This paragraph from E. M. Bounds’ little book Winning the Invisible War (which I’ve enjoyed!) summarizes it well:

“The Church is distinctly, preeminently, and absolutely a spiritual institution. It is an institution created, vitalized, possessed, and directed by the Spirit of God. Her ministers and doctrines have appeal, relevance, and power only when they are channels of the Holy Spirit. It is His indwelling and inspiration which give the Church its divine character and accomplish its divine purposes” (p. 54).

If these things are true—and they are—what difference do they make in your Christian life? In your church?

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Infighting. As if we don’t have enough problems.

We’d understand the nature of Christianity better if we’d remember that much of the New Testament was written from prison. Hardship is a reality for Christians. That’s one of Paul’s points in the book of Philippians, which he wrote to a fearful and divided church. “Conflict is inevitable. But it doesn’t make sense to compound it by fighting each other, as if we don’t have enough problems.” Read the book in one sitting and see if you’re not impressed with these themes:

1. Conflict from those outside the church is normal and productive.

Suffering was in the DNA of the Philippian church. Paul founded it from prison, or at least pretty close (Acts 16:19-24). Years later, Paul wrote this epistle to them from another prison (Philippians 1:7, 12-18). Continue reading

God, Help Me Be a Cork

I recently challenged the leaders at Tri-County Bible Church with the compelling contrast between Jonah 1 and Acts 27. In both situations, divided by the better part of a millennium, sailors find themselves at risk in a nerve-torturing tempest on the Mediterranean. Both times the terrified sailors jettison cargo (Jonah 1:5; Acts 27:18)—What good does money do on the bottom of the sea?! In both stories the sailors are part of a larger drama, one focused on the prophet Jonah and the other on the apostle Paul. Both circumstances appear to be hopeless, as the ships are tossed and nearly swallowed by the angry sea.

But there are great differences, as well. Whereas Jonah’s companions are in trouble because of his disobedience (Jonah 1:12), Paul’s are spared because of his obedience (Acts 27:21-24). Jonah’s shipmates were spared only when they severed themselves from him (Jonah 1:15); Paul’s only as they tethered themselves to him (Acts 27:30-32). Jonah was a millstone threatening to take his ship and its crew on a one-way trip to the fathoms below. Paul was a cork—the only reason why the battered ship was still afloat and its crew still alive. Jonah’s crew survived in spite of him; Paul’s survived because of him.

It occurs to me that the influence of spiritual leaders is deeper than we usually realize. Others may be blessed—and cursed—by our preaching, our counsel, our examples, our integrity. We can be a means of grace or a means of grief. I’m not denying that on our best days (as on Paul’s best day) we are unworthy of God’s blessing. Ultimately, it’s all grace, as both histories reveal. But I do long to be used of the Lord to keep my fellow unworthies afloat rather than a millstone dragging them under as the Lord chastens me. I want to be a grace-giving cork.

Jesus, Mud, and Joel Osteen

Few of Jesus’ miracles are given as much face time as His healing of the man born blind in John 9. It’s a beautiful and tragic passage—beautiful for what it reveals about Christ, tragic for what it reveals about His opponents. It’s been captured quite faithfully in this video (HT: Dan Winnberg). Here are some meditations on this great work of Jesus:

1. Jesus corrected a common misconception about hardships. The chapter begins with the disciples questioning Jesus about the cause of the poor beggar’s blindness (John 9:2). They assumed that it was due to some great sin, either on his part or his parents’. It was a common assumption (John 9:34; Luke 13:1-5), but an inaccurate one, denying both common grace and universal sin. And it’s a cruel assumption, assigning blame where there should be compassion.  Continue reading

The Passovers Accomplished Both Deliverance and Community

The parallels between the Old Testament Passover and the work of Christ are striking (as I’ve noted here). Christ timed His death to coincide with the death of the Passover lambs in Jerusalem (John 19:14-16). Jesus died once, in history, to deliver us from sin, just as lambs died at the original Passover to deliver Israel from Egypt. He died a propitiatory death, allowing God’s wrath to pass the believer, also like the original Passover (Ex 12:13; Heb 11:28). In both cases, deliverance was from God, not just from Egypt or sin. That’s remarkable. In yet another parallel, Christ established a new Passover feast, the Lord’s Table, to commemorate His delivering death, just as Israel observed the Passover feast to commemorate God’s initial deliverance (Mat 26:17-19, 26-29). Both the Passover event and the Passover remembrance have been fulfilled and replaced by Christ.

The Atonement Leon MorrisHowever, there are still more parallels between the Passovers of the two Testaments, and they are richly described by Leon Morris in The Atonement: It’s Meaning and Significance. In addition to the “deliverance” parallels, there are positive “assembly” parallels. God wasn’t just breaking Egyptian bonds; He was gathering a people for Himself (Ex 6:7; 19:6), collecting a nation to serve Him (Ex 8:20; 9:1; 10:3). Redemption has both doxological and corporate purposes. Morris explains: Continue reading

Toward a Word-Centered Ministry

I recently finished teaching through Acts 20:17-38, one of the most influential passages in my life and ministry. In Paul’s lecture to the Ephesians elders he provides for us what I call “an inspired philosophy of ministry.” He explains what his ministry looked like, providing a pattern for the church throughout the ages. We need to know this passage well and apply it to our churches intentionally, especially in a day when there are so many competing voices regarding the nature of Christian ministry.

Paul speaks often in this “seminar” of the importance of character and affection (as I noted in this post). He roots spiritual influence both in the leader’s integrity (“you know me” type comments in v. 18-21 and v. 33-35) and relationships (“I wept over you” comments in v. 19 and 31; cp. v. 37-38). But example and engagement are far from sufficient. The genius—the essence—of Christian ministry is the teaching and preaching of Scripture. Paul emphasizes the centrality of the Word in a variety of ways:

1.  Paul describes the ministry ideal by using multiple NT words for preaching. Again and again he reminds us of the centrality of the Word to church life. What did he do for three years in Ephesus? Explain and apply the Bible, in every possible manner. As he recounts his ministry, it’s like he’s using a Greek Thesaurus:

  • He declared what was profitable (anangelō, v. 20)
  • He taught the Ephesians (didaskō, v. 20)
  • He testified repentance and faith (diamartureō, v. 21)
  • He testified of the gospel (diamartureō, v. 24)
  • He proclaimed the kingdom (kērussō, v. 25)
  • He declared the whole counsel of God (anangelō, v. 27)
  • He admonished the Ephesians (noutheteō, v. 31)

2.  Paul describes the ministry ideal by equating “ministry” with preaching. In v. 24, he speaks of his desire to finish his course and fulfill the ministry which he received from the Lord Jesus. But then he defines that ministry in the final phrase of the verse: “to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” That’s huge. Paul wanted to finish the ministry entrusted to him—that is (or namely, or in other words) to bear witness of the Christian Gospel. I can’t conceive of a clearer statement of the pastor’s central responsibility. He is to point his hearers to the grace of God as manifest in the Son of God and revealed in the Word of God. That is the ministry.

Continue reading

Cici Christ: “Here’s to another year of a life well spent.”

Today’s my birthday. My fortieth, or as I like to call it, my thirty-tenth. I’ve joked that turning forty is traumatic, but it’s really no big deal. I’ll not be getting an earring, a ponytail, or a sports car. Frankly, forty feels a lot like thirty-nine did. Still, this particular birthday has caused me to reflect on my life for the last several months, including meditations I shared in this sermon on Psalm 90. I encourage you to spend some time thinking on that great Psalm, penned by Moses. Here are a few random thoughts as I “number my days” (Psalm 90:12). Perhaps they’ll be helpful, especially as we get ready to turn our calendars to a new year:

  • Turning 40 is humbling. It reveals to me anew how frail I am compared to the everlasting, unchanging God (Psalm 90:1-11). That’s a major theme of the psalm, especially at its beginning. People are fleeting, but God is timeless. I get old, achy, and weak (Ecclesiastes 12), but God never does (Isaiah 40:6-8). Forty years give me pause; a thousand are nothing to him (Psalm 90:4). That’s humbling. And glorious.
  • Turning 40 is sobering. According to Psalm 90:10, I’m probably half done. To use an analogy that sticks with me from the post-Christmas shopping sprees of my youth, I’ve spent $40 of the $80 I’ve been given. Maybe. I might only get $40 or $50. Either way, my time is short (Job 14:1-2; James 4:14).
  • Turning 40 is encouraging. When Moses was my age, he was just leaving Egypt (Acts 7:23, 30, 36). His great usefulness in the Lord’s work came in the last third of his life. That’s a happy thought. Sure, there are those from history who died at age 30 and yet accomplished astounding things. But there are more for whom life was just getting good at its halfway point.
  • Turning 40 is motivating. I’m grateful for God’s grace thus far. I’m amazed by it. He’s tolerated me. He’s forgiven me. He’s protected me from me. And He’s even used me at times, which is a wonder of grace. But I long to invest my last half more prudently than my first half. I pray I will do so. I pray that I will be satisfied and delighted by God Himself and that He will mercifully establish the work of my hands for His glory (Psalm 90:14-17).

I got a profound birthday wish today from my friend Cici Christ. She recently lost her husband Darrin, who was a classmate of mine at BJU and a faithful husband, father, and pastor. (Our mutual friend, Larry Rogier, reflected on Darrin’s unexpected death here.) Her birthday wish was as follows: “Happy Birthday Chris. Here’s to another year of a life well spent.”

Wow. That’s a challenging statement from anyone, but especially from one so recently acquainted with the brevity of life on earth, and thus one so qualified to offer such a blessing. Thank you, Cici! “A life well spent.” That’s what I want, by God’s grace. My life will be short, but it need not be wasted. It can be spent for the good of others and the glory of God (2 Corinthians 12:15). May God make it so, for me and for you.

_____

Favorite thoughts from others on this passage and this concept:

  • Jonathan Edwards: “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can… Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live… Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.” (Resolutions #5, 6, 17)
  • John Piper: “The opposite of wasting your life is to live by a single, soul-satisfying passion for the supremacy of God in all things.” (Don’t Waste Your Life, 43)
  • Dave Harvey: “We need an ambition that won’t rest until more people are reached, more churches planted, more marriages helped, more art created, more enterprises started, more disciples made. We need an ambition that lives joyfully today but wants more for God and more from God tomorrow.” (Rescuing Ambition, 209)
  • C. H. Spurgeon: “Men are led by reflections upon the brevity of time to give their earnest attention to eternal things; they become humble as they look into the grave which is so soon to be their bed, their passions cool in the presence of mortality, and they yield themselves up to the dictates of unerring wisdom.” (Treasury of David, commenting on Psalm 90)
  • C. H. Spurgeon: “A short life should be wisely spent. We have not enough time at our disposal to justify us in misspending a single quarter of an hour. Neither are we sure of enough of life to justify us in procrastinating for a moment.” (Treasury of David, commenting on Psalm 90)