I Feel a Little Betrayed

I admit it.

I thought they were a few words from God, whispered by His Spirit into my mind:

“You could be very happy married to this woman for the rest of your life.”

I thought that they implied somehow that I would, in fact, be married to Angi for the rest of my life.

That I would go first, because she was the stronger and smarter and sweeter and more spiritual of the two of us and she would be able to handle everything better without me than I ever could without her.


The pain. The loss. The alone-ness.

There was no second phrase, “if she outlives you.”

Or “until she succumbs to pancreatic cancer.”

I feel a little betrayed. Because the implication seemed so clear.

And those words 23 years ago (and a little more) proved to be so very prophetically true.

was happy. Blissfully happy. Gloriously happy. Sometimes ridiculously happy.

But that’s not what the words actually said; those words that I heard in my mind and heart in that once-and-once-only-in-a-lifetime moment when I thought I heard God.

“You could ….”

I could have chosen to be unhappy anyway, married to the sweetest person God ever put in the path of anyone ever.

I could have decided to hurt and betray her and end our marriage in divorce and wound our children and friends and family and church – not that it was ever a temptation, ever.

The point is, those were possibilities; things I could have done, among many other things that I could have chosen.

And she could have chosen. Not that it was ever in Angi’s nature to choose anything that didn’t, to the best of her ability, strengthen our marriage and benefit our kids and honor God.

And He could have chosen something else.

He did. He chose to let His Son take her home, long before I was ready, long before we had enjoyed the retirement years we had just begun to talk about, and just before our kids are fully though nearly grown.

That’s what I’m beginning to realize, and what I’m trying not to feel betrayed about.

What I heard in my heart all those years ago was an opportunity.

A chance to do-over, since my first marriage failed.

A choice that I could make to be happy with the once-and-only-once-in-a-lifetime Angela Laird.

That’s what I chose.

The hard part is choosing the same thing now, without her in the years ahead that we had envisioned and hoped for and had begun to plan for.

Those words were not a guarantee, implied or expressed.

They were an opportunity.

I don’t have to hear them whispered into my mind again to know that I have the same opportunity now that I did then.

Or to know that, in that way, you and I are no differently blessed.

I could be happy.

You could be happy.

Did I hear those words from God?

In this life, I may never know.

I only know that they were true.

God Through Us

God works through us.

It’s not that He can’t work in other ways; obviously He can and does. But because He believes in us — that astounding fact of scripture which simply cannot be denied or dismissed — He wants to work through us.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. ~ Philippians 1:3-6

Can you conclude anything from this that there is a partnership in the gospel? That “he who began a good work in you” can be anyone other than God? So is this partnership just between Paul and the folks at Philippi?

(for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), ~ Galatians 2:8

No! It’s God working through Peter to the circumcised and through Paul to the Gentiles! How does He do that?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10

Is it just to Peter and Paul? Does He just makes work for us? No! It’s for all, and for every:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. ~ 2 Corinthians 9:8

Does He just give us the grace to prepare ourselves for the work? Not by a long shot! There are gifts attached to that grace:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. ~ Romans 12:3-8

So He gives us specific gifts to prepare us for the work He has prepared for us to do. But prepared us in what way?

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

He empowers us. The Spirit, the Lord, God. How much power are we talking about?

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:20-22

That’s a lot of power! Does He do it long-distance?

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. ~ Colossians 1:24-29

No; from within! Christ in us. It’s His energy working powerfully within us. That makes us partners in the gospel with God, through Christ!

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:1

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:20

How does Christ dwell in us? Through His Holy Spirit:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. ~ Romans 8:9-11

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

The Spirit of God! The Spirit of Christ! Without His Spirit within us, we have no hope of resurrection! We have no chance of escaping destruction! Without His Spirit, we have no way to partner with God in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ!

We can know scripture forward and backward and think we know everything it means, and if we do not have the Spirit dwelling within us, we are pointless and powerless in our attempts to minister. By the Spirit, God speaks through us:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:3

And the One who knows how best to prepare and empower each of us does so at His own discretion, not ours:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

Therefore we work for the common good, Paul says, in partnership with God to build His building, sow and water and tend His field:

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:9

So how do we respond to this offer of powerful, dwell-within partnership?

Do we say, “Well thanks, God, but I’ve got my Bible and I understand it completely and perfectly; that’s all I need and I don’t really want your help”?

Or, “I’m just not sure about all that miraculous stuff or being a part of that; it’s not that I believe You can’t do it, but it scares me a little bit and I’d rather just believe that You don’t work that way anymore because it’s too likely to be perceived as fake and I don’t want to have my credibility damaged”?

Perhaps just: “Oh, You don’t need me, Lord. Use my brother; he talks better than I do”?

Maybe: “I’m catching the next outbound boat for the other direction.”

Do any of those sound familiar?

Too familiar?

Miracle of the Speakers or Listeners?

I think folks have long and pointlessly debated whether the miracle of many languages in Acts 2 took place in the tongues of the speakers or the ears of the listeners.

My answer to the question is “yes.”

Verse four says: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

Tongues, yes.

Verses eight through eleven say: “Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? … We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues.” Those in verse thirteen don’t seem to hear the wonders of God at all and decide: “They have had too much wine.”

Ears, yes.

Remember, Jesus said the Advocate would come to “convict (or prove) the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16). He didn’t limit the Spirit’s work to the speaker’s tongue or the listener’s ear. Those who say the Spirit can’t convict from within are limiting the implications of Acts 10, Galatians 5, Ephesians 2, 1 Corinthians 2 and 1 John 4 in a way that scripture doesn’t.

I worry that there’s a little bit of preacher arrogance behind the “tongues-only” position.

I’m not a preacher, but I write. If you ask me what is the most important thing I’ve ever written, I can tell you. (By the way, it’s this.) But if you ask a dozen people who’ve read what I’ve written, you’d probably get a dozen different answers — unless you go the answer “He hasn’t written anything important” more  than once. Which is a distinct possibility.

Same thing with preachers and what they preach. Some messages reach and touch and resonate deeply with some people in an audience that don’t connect with others at all. Sometimes even the speaker/writer will think a message is a total loss and a waste of time and effort … only to discover from a note or a comment that someone ini its audience was profoundly challenged or moved.

Other times, the originator of the message will look back on it and wonder … doubting if such deep truth (unrecognized as such at the time) could possibly have its ultimate origins in one’s own three pounds of sweetbread.

You see, the thing about the languages is almost irrelevant.

People heard truth in the words they heard in Acts 2. Some recognized it as such. Others refused to. For them, the miracle in their ears never happened because they were not convicted; they were not willing to accept it in faith. (Makes you think of Mark 6:1-6, doesn’t it?)

For me, that answers the “tongues-or-ears” question with an unequivocal “yes.” The Spirit works as He wills (1 Corinthians 12). There are no man-made restrictions on whom He can fall (Acts 2:17-18).

So if you speak or write and seek to do so for the Lord, keep on praying for inspiration.

And if you seek to listen to Him, to read and hear Him, do the same.

Because the Father sends His Spirit to those who ask.

“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!” ~ Luke 11:13

A Spirit-Filled Church

Do you worship with a church that is primarily concerned with getting it right and doing it right and not doing something wrong?

A church that is a little afraid to do anything because it might not be directly authorized by scripture and might be wrong?

Do you gather with saints who speak mostly of duty and law and authority and judgment?

You’re not alone, and there are many more like you who yearn to be free to worship every day.

Here is something you are free to do and it’s authorized by scripture:

Pray for your church.

Jesus prayed for His church, with some of the last breaths He took as a mortal (John 17).

Paul prayed for the churches in Rome (Romans 1:8-10), Ephesus (Ephesians 1:16), Philippi (Philippians 1:4), Colossae (Colossians 1:3), Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2),  He prayed for them constantly, always, without stopping — those phrases characterize his descriptions of his prayers for them.

Pray that your fellow believers will receive the Holy Spirit, and receive power and wisdom through Him, just as those in scripture did (Acts 8:15; Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:9).

Pray in the Spirit (Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20).

Pray in faith (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24).

Pray boldly to be able to speak boldly. Pray for God to stretch out His hand. Pray for your church to be shaken (Acts 4:23-31).

Ask for the Holy Spirit for yourself, as well (Luke 11:13). He is a promise made to you (Acts 2:37-39).

Then have the courage to start being the answer to your prayers (1 Corinthians 16:13).

It’s important! Vitally, crucially, eternally important!

And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who livesin you.” ~ Romans 8:9-11

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit of God and of Jesus Christ is now just a passive, passe, common enthusiasm like the “Spirit of St. Louis,” then it’s not true.

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit is now just present in you only through your reading of scripture, then it’s not true.

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit will stop living within, working within, comforting from within, empowering from within, then it’s not true.

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit “living in you” is just a metaphor; just a simile; just a manner of speaking, then it’s not true.

No matter how many times you hear it; no matter how loudly it’s repeated; no matter how hard the pulpit is pounded when it’s said, it’s not true.

It’s a lie. And it’s from Satan. And it’s designed to de-emphasize, demoralize, and de-energize the church that Christ died to empower with the gospel of truth: the Spirit is His free gift to us, and through that Spirit, life without end.

That life begins in the here-and-now; a life that lives in Christ, for Christ, through Christ by the power of His Spirit living in you.

The utter, plain, inarguable truth of that is the reason that Paul could claim:

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. ~ Colossians 1:25-28

If you want to worship with a Spirit-filled church, be a Spirit-filled person.

Let it begin with you.

Stand for the truth.

Ananias and Sapphira – A Closer Look

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

~ Acts 5:1-11

I spend (probably too much) time reading comments and posts on subjects of interest to Christians, and in one of them a few days ago, someone pointed out that this passage doesn’t say that God put them to death.

It doesn’t.

It doesn’t even say that Peter told them they would die (“carry you out also” is said to Sapphira), let alone instantaneously. Though I think Peter knew what was about to happen.

This person went on to posit the possibility that the shock of being impossibly discovered drove one or both Ananias and Sapphira to sudden, fatal cardio events — heart attack or stroke.

I would accept that as a possibility.

But I would also posit the possibility that Ananias and Sapphira simply could not live with what they had done.

In allowing “Satan to fill [their] heart[s]” and thereby rejecting the Holy Spirit, they had conspired to lie to him, judging what was selfish and evil (secretly keeping some of the money) to still somehow be generous and good. They had called evil “good.” They were lying to themselves. They were lying to the Holy Spirit.

By lying to the Holy Spirit, to human beings and to God, they had in a sense blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31) within them, who gives life to the believer (John 6:63; Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 3:6). In that moment when convicted by the truth, the Spirit-who-gives-life, the Pneumatos, was done with His work and gone.

They rejected the Spirit. They rejected life.


The Nativity Story from John 1

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook asked a group of mostly preachers what they would be preaching about on Sunday, December 25, Christmas morning.

I answered, “I don’t preach, but if I did, I’d preach on the Nativity Story from John 1. Yup, John 1. It’s short, but cosmic.”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. … For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. ~ John 1:1-5, 14, 17-18

I love the baby-Jesus-in-a-manger version of the story as dearly as anyone. But this version has incredible power in its brevity.

The very Son of God, the Word, who was with God and was God from the beginning, took our form to live with us. The glory of which angels sang was now visible in Him. You could see grace. You could see truth. In Jesus, you could see God.

Want another tiny sample of this part of the Nativity Story?

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” ~ John 8:58

They wanted to kill Him right there in the temple by throwing rocks at Him, they were so incensed to hear this. He claimed to be God. But truth is a defense against blasphemy as well as libel … and He walked away, unharmed. I have to wonder if their hands were stayed by doubt in their conviction that He was only a man; that a man could not also be God.

Another glimpse?

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” ~ John 14:8-10

God with Us. Immanuel.

Jesus knew who He was. He knew what Isaiah had prophesied in 7:14, and He knew that “Immanuel” meant “God With Us.” He had to have known what His mother had treasured in her heart for all those years.

And in telling Philip and the other apostles once again Who He was, He was promising to give them the very Holy Spirit within Himself so that God could do His work through them as well.

One more glimpse, this time from someone other than John:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. ~ Philippians 2:5-11

God became a single cell; a nothing; a thing invisible except through a microscope. God became a baby. A young man. A servant.

A sacrifice.

God intended all of this to happen, and that was why it was as good as done as soon as Jesus was born, and the angels could sing praise at His birth for what He would yet do as a man, and a servant, and a sacrifice.

Jesus showed us that God could be in and among man, so that God could continue His work in us and among us and through us by His own Holy Spirit.

Jesus showed us that we could be born anew; become something very different, something still like a human being on the outside, but full of grace and truth and God within.

Jesus showed us that the true glory of God is to serve, to give, to be given and spent out and used up in love to others.

He gave up a throne in heaven to wash dirty feet.

He gave up being in the Presence of God in order to be the Presence of God.

He surrendered His life there to surrender it again here, and to give it abundantly and without measure to anyone who hears and believes and asks.

The Holy Spirit and the Church, Part 2

I’m going to phrase this as carefully as I know how:

I believe a church that focuses on the Holy Spirit and gifts from Him can still go way wrong, just as an individual gifted with His presence in their lives can go way wrong. (Consider King David and Psalm 51, for instance.)

In a previous post (The Problem With Tongues), I’ve already shared my opinion that one of the problems that had cropped up in the church at Corinth was that jealous, selfish-minded people were faking the Holy Spirit’s gifts in order to gain attention. I can’t and won’t say that the problem persists or is widespread to this day, because my experience with churches fastened on the Holy Spirit and His gifts is meager.

But I will say that I can’t imagine how someone reading the first epistle to Corinth (as our Bibles label it) could see a pattern there for the way God would prefer and order the gathered worship of His saints.

There, the attention given to individuals with certain gifts had created or worsened a problem of jealousy and division (evident in the early chapters), and perhaps had contributed to the demotion of the importance of their time in remembrance and proclamation at the Lord’s table (evident in chapter 11), and was contributing heavily to the chaos taking place in their gathered worship (evident in the following chapters).

I continue to propose that fakery was going on in that church, but I would be quick to point out that wasn’t the worst of their problems there.

The focus in their worship was on themselves, and not on Christ – that was the chief and root problem.

In studying the purpose and nature and personality of the Holy Spirit, one cannot escape the conclusion that He is all about glory being given to God through Christ. He doesn’t even have a name of His own, His nature is so humble. As nearly as I can tell (unlike the Father and the Son), there isn’t even a gender associated with Him, and we use the masculine one regarding because English doesn’t have a gender-neutral pronoun for people. And it just sounds disrespectful to refer to Him as “It.” (I am wholly unschooled in biblical Greek and eagerly willing to be corrected on that perception by someone who is conversant in it, however.)

The point remains that the focus of worship is not gifts or even the Spirit as giver, but on the Lord God Almighty. Jealous of each other must give way to love of each other in view of God’s jealousy regarding our hearts. Self must be dethroned so that God may be enthroned there.

It’s the selfless heart who can be trusted with great and powerful gifts from the Holy Spirit. Because it is the selfless heart who uses those gifts to the benefit of others and the glory of God, not himself or herself.

I have said before that I would be the wrong choice as a recipient of a gift of healing others. I would never rest, spending all my time at hospitals and clinics, doling out perfect health for as long as I could because I cannot bear to see others suffer. In fact, I’d start at Arkansas Children’s Hospital because seeing children suffer just kills me and I would do everything I could to put a stop to it. Would I take time to nurture the wounded souls and spirits of those around? Tell of Jesus’ love for them? Speak to them of immersing themselves in the kind of life He lived and wants to live through them?

I don’t know. I am not proud to say that. I am afraid that I would not; as an untrusting yet believing soul, I fear that would simply spend that gift as if it had a finite quantity – before it ran out. And the saddest part of this confession is that I would spend it just as surely for myself as for others … because of the relief it would give me, personally, each time I saw suffering relieved. Yet there could be no end to it.

I mean, it sounds unselfish – dashing about serving others?  I assure you, it would not be.

Self, of course, is not the reason that gifts are given. Any cursory study of them quickly reveals that they are not for self but for others, and to God’s glory. That’s because they are given as a result of grace:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. ~ Romans 12:3-8

Jesus had extraordinary gifts, and Satan knew it. He tempted the Lord to use them to sustain, promote, glorify self rather than God. Jesus refused.

Paul was given extraordinary gifts (2 Corinthians 12:12), including tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18-19) and healing others (Acts 14:9, 28:8) yet prayed for relief from a thorn in his own flesh (1 Corinthians 12:1-10), but was given the answer that God’s grace was sufficient for him. It is not our gifts which are our glory, but our suffering (Romans 5:3; 8:18). It is a hard, hard lesson.

Finally, to seal the point I hope to make, there are greater gifts (1 Corinthians 12), but they are the ones which clearly benefit others and the church as a whole: apostolic leadership, prophetic proclamation, humble teaching … and then the others. All are to be used to God’s glory.

And not our own.

That’s why gifts are not commanded, but given.

That’s why they are given at God’s discretion, not ours.

That’s why they are not signs or marks of the Spirit’s presence for one’s own assurance, but for the power of turning others’ hearts to God. (2 Corinthians 5)

The Holy Spirit and the Church, Part 1

I’ve blogged mostly about why I believe that the Holy Spirit lives within the believer, but I don’t want to ignore an important implication of that belief: the Holy Spirit lives among believers, plural; unites believers and intercedes for believers and empowers believers to proclaim the gospel boldly. Plural. Plural. Plural.

When Ananias and Sapphira conspired to defraud the early church at Jerusalem and cheat the beneficiaries of that church’s generosity, the charges against them were not just fraud and cheating, not to Ananias:

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?  Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” ~ Acts 5:3-4

And not to Sapphira:

Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” ~ Acts 5:9

Ananias and Sapphira, as nearly as we can tell (like every believer in Jerusalem) were the beneficiaries themselves of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is no stretch of the imagination to understand that the same Holy Spirit within them – or at least among them – revealed their conspiracy and lie to Peter and the other believers.

Clearly, the Spirit is no One to be trifled with. Peter’s words to Ananias are clear: the lie was not just to human beings, but to God Himself.

It should not be a surprise that Paul links the Holy Spirit’s work to the unity of the believers, and advises them to maintain it in order to mature in Christ:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. ~ Ephesians 4:3

Or that Paul describes how the relationship between Spirit and believer works in terms of unity:

But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:17

Or that he cites it when encouraging believers to agree in humility:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. ~ Philippians 2:1-2

And no wonder. Jesus’ prayer for unity – at the very table where one had separated himself to betray his Lord – describes His desire for that unity taking place by God being in us as well as us being in God:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” ~ John 17:20-23

He has just spent the text of the previous three chapters punctuating His final mortal discourse with them with hints at how His Spirit would help and unite them from within – beginning with:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. ~ John 14:16-17

So I think it’s clear as can be that the Spirit’s dwelling place within believers is also among believers. Where we have let Satan take us off-center with this is by believing the lie that our individual understanding of the scripture inspired by the Spirit is more important that our communal sharing of it.

But that’s where I plan to go in part two of this subject.

Why the Holy Spirit Matters

On seeing this series of posts (linked through my Facebook account), a childhood friend privately advised caution in the way I proceed. His concern, in short, was that my pursuit of the way the Spirit works might cause some folks who are opposed to my perceptions to overstate their objections, blaspheme and be lost.

His concern is genuine, and I share it.

So let me say this, and be as clear and loving as I know how to be:

If you believe that the Holy Spirit works through the written word of God, you go right on believing it. It’s true. He inspired it. He reveals God through it. He tells the gospel of Jesus Christ with it. As I just wrote in a comment on the previous post, scripture is the tangible way we have been given to know of God.

However …

If you believe that the Holy Spirit works ONLY through the written word of God, I would only ask that you be open to the other ways and possibilities described in scripture. I have only described what I find to be revealed there in these posts. I have not quoted other sources or supposed authorities or recounted personal experiences of myself or others in support of the conclusions I’ve drawn.

Don’t let what others have written or taught you personally on the matter limit your perception of the Spirit’s power, or God’s giving of it. Don’t trust what men write – not even what I write. Go to scripture. Read it for yourself. Draw your own conclusions. Prove all things. Hold fast what’s good.

Here’s why I believe the Holy Spirit – fully empowered by our permission as well as God’s gift in our lives – matters.

There are too many instances given in scripture in which the Holy Spirit is spoken of as being given to believers, dwelling within them, giving them gifts, acting with God’s purpose and glory, benefiting His children, propelling His gospel, glorifying the Christ … which simply cannot be fully done by written scripture alone.

A commenter at New Wineskins once observed, “If the Holy Spirit still dwells within believers, why do we not all believe the same thing?”

I should have answered, “If the word alone is perfect, why do we not all believe the same thing?”

The answer for both questions is the same: because we believers do not believe to the extent that we are willing to fully turn our lives over to Christ, permit the Spirit to say what He says and do what He does through us or to help us understand completely and clearly what is written. We are satisfied to see in part and know in part, as in a mirror, dimly … and to confidently declare that our vision and knowledge is as good as face-to-face.

I am no more exempted from this judgment that anyone else, but I am convinced that grace still covers my insufficiency. That, however, is no excuse for remaining indolent, arrogant, selfish or deluded about our own competence. Believers have been promised and given a Holy Spirit for the asking who can draw us closer to God in Christ if we’re willing.

If we limit God’s action in our lives to leaning on our own understanding of His will in His word, we are only half-armed for the battle against sin and for the cross.

Just because your Bible may have a paragraph break after Paul’s description of the full armor in Ephesians 6:10-17 doesn’t mean his thought ends there. It continues:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. ~ Ephesians 6:18-20, my emphasis

So I’ll close out this part of the study with an index of where I began it years ago, asking questions and positing answers. I’ll encourage you to begin at the beginning and end at the end, because you’ll find the Spirit in the first sentences of scripture, and closing them out as well. Ask questions. Ask more and different questions than I did. Ask God for answers to them.

Ask Him for His Holy Spirit.

His Holy Spirit, Part I
His Holy Spirit, Part II
His Holy Spirit, Part III
His Holy Spirit, Part IV
His Holy Spirit, Part V
His Holy Spirit, Part VI
His Holy Spirit, Part VII
His Holy Spirit, Part VIII

As Long As We’re on the Subject….

… you should read Jay Guin’s post on baptism, the Holy Spirit and salvation.


If this doesn’t either comfort you deeply with the expansiveness of God’s mercy and grace or rile your righteous indignation over the challenge to your justice-only vision of God … well, the link must have taken you to the wrong article.