Thursday, July 30, 2009
Then our family moved to North Dakota.
Now I love North Dakota. There’s something about getting out on the open road here that thrills me to the core. And the people are the best. But I didn’t feel that way initially. The Red River Valley where we live is flat. Overpasses and underpasses—along with power lines—provide the landmarks.
I thought the area spiritually flat as well. Although we loved the small church we eventually found across the river in Minnesota, the people had little exposure to the larger body of Christ. I felt that they felt threatened when I tried to share our background.
During a quiet interval during worship on a Sunday evening, a song welled up from within. I wanted to share it—and silence lingered—so with all the energy I could muster I began to praise God in a song that expressed itself both in a tongue and in English. When I ran out of strength, I continued by praising God loudly in English before concluding quietly in tongues.
The ice was broken. After that night, God began to give me prophetic messages in English. Sometimes I felt impressed to quote a Bible verse—often verses I’d have trouble reciting by memory but they flowed freely as I spoke prophetically. Sometimes I was impressed to speak ideas I’d thought earlier during the week—thoughts that began burning in my heart. I was always amazed the way they flowed when under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
And sometimes I just knew something I could not have known on my own. A guest preacher spoke one Sunday evening. During worship God gave me a message unrelated to anything I’d heard—and I didn’t obey the Lord by sharing because it seemed out-of-order. But when the preacher preached, I learned the message God gave me would have supported the Word that night—added strength to the sermon we heard. Another lesson learned.
God occasionally did funny things. On the way to church one Sunday morning, both Ken and I were impressed by the railroad tracks. One of us saw them as a means of adventure—of traveling into the unknown. The other saw them as limiting—a train can’t leave its track. During the worship I began receiving an impulse to speak prophetically—and knew it had to do with railroad tracks. I was nervous because I didn't want to promote a personal viewpoint, but I followed through. Although I know I can't recall the message verbatim, a rough summary would be encouraging people to find the track God had for them—seeking Him until He makes their specific track clear. Then get on track, stay on track, and let Him lead you to unknown destinations in the Spirit. Only God could have brought our seemingly opposite opinions together and shaped them into a message both Ken and I needed to hear!
In retrospect, I’m quite sure I never shared anything wrong in the sense that it was contrary to Scripture. However, I might have shared something wrong in that it wasn’t God’s Word for the moment. There are times when God emphasizes specific messages, and there were probably times when I responded to personal impulses rather than God’s impulses.
I could point to all the events of my life that were distractions—and to my fatigue when stretched beyond what I could have imagined. But God responds to reprentance, not excuses. Perhaps part of the problem was lack of a small, informal support group. A group where each had the same spiritual foundation and where each had a vital role to play as we corrected and encouraged the other.
Marriage is important. I think Ken and I have become each other’s ardent fans. But my marriage was—and is—not the same as a group of women who understand the trials, temptations, and struggles of living life as a woman.
By the time Ken and I retired, I was exhausted. In addition, the responsibility of speaking for God weighed heavily, and I wanted out. In one sense I didn’t walk away from God. I could have joined Peter at any time by saying, Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. (Mt. 6:68 NLT) In another sense, however, I did walk away from God because I stopped listening to Him in my spirit. It’s been at least twelve years since God used me to speak prophetically.
Blogging has been an important element of my walk back. In the sidebar of the Red, Red Berries blog, I mention that writing is how I process thoughts. Sometimes it’s even the way I identify thoughts. Little by little, writing has turned my thoughts back to Jesus and His written Word. Not that I ever stopped reading. I processed His Word mentally, but not spiritually.
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you realize it’s evolved since I began. I sense more changes are coming but don't know what they are. However, God's Word says, You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, . . . (Is. 26:3a ESV) With that in mind, the present seems an opportune time to take a break. Ken and I will be going on several trips in August; I'm trusting we'll have a time of resting in His presence and hearing His call. It's time to find His track!
I’ll be back in September—I think. Meanwhile, Thoughts for Inspiration will continue without interruption.
Monday, July 27, 2009
I began meeting with a small group of five friends. We gathered informally in our homes to share life, to pray together, to praise God. Fabulous. It was much fun to be around them. Two were in their mid-40s. I thought they were old—so mature. Three of us were around 30.
A young fellow who had grown up in our church came home briefly. He’d brought the manifestations of the Holy Spirit to the congregation several years earlier and the two older gals knew him. The day before he left—he’d quickly become part of our group—the six of us met in the prayer chapel of our church. It was Wednesday morning, and he encouraged us to make Wednesday morning a time for a regular meeting.
Dutifully, we showed up the following Wednesday. None of us knew quite what to do. Then one of the gals looked directly at me and said, You’re supposed to bring a “Word.” And I knew as she said it—not earlier—that she was right. I even knew the Word meant a formal sermonette of sorts.
I was also mortified. I didn’t know she had received a word of knowledge. I thought she had caught on to me and that my secret desires were exposed. How did she know I desperately wanted to preach? So I brushed off her and the others—they’d joined her—by bringing up prayer requests. Until the gal announced once more that I should share from the Word.
Embarrassed and irritated, I stomped forward, opened my Bible, turned to a passage I’d read that morning, and launched into a Word that lasted over ten minutes. In a wonderful move of grace, God met us that morning.
The following week I did it again. The next week I did it again. And then again and again and again.
Eventually our little Wednesday morning group connected with a Friday evening group and the two meetings became a place in Phoenix where the Holy Spirit moved in the late 60s and early 70s.
But my focus for this writing is not the meetings but prophetic preaching. I have no memory of any specific message. I'm sure they were not deep compared to the revelation coming through God’s people today, but they were deep to us at the time. Some weeks I worried because I hadn’t received anything and Wednesday was imminent. But He always came through. And here’s the kicker: I don’t think I ever became proud of my gifting during that time. I was occasionally jealous of others—of their gifting—but my gifting seemed normal and it didn’t occur to me to be proud.
As usual—and it pains me to use that phrase when telling what happened—the enemy made his way into God’s move. The organized meetings fell apart and each of us sought God’s direction as individuals for the next chapter of our lives.
Even sadder—for me, anyway—I still look back to that time as my best time. I didn’t actually know how deeply I felt that until after we retired. Yes, God has been with me and shown me remarkable things since then. He’s used me to bring His Word. He’s answered my prayers. But I’ve also clung to the past. Perhaps one reason is that I knew my heart hasn’t been as pure since those early days—and it’s the heart that matters.
The day I knew by the Spirit that I’d never moved on was a watershed revelation. For some time I tucked the reality away—bringing it out briefly at times to peek at the awful truth. But little by little I began searching, looking for the Way. And the Way always begins with Jesus. And Jesus is the Word.
Paul said, Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. (I Cor. 14:5) That’s because vital prophecy points to Jesus. It’s God’s Word brought to life in a specific moment or circumstance. But prophetic preaching is only one type of prophetic utterance, and all are remarkable.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Meanwhile, I prayed about anything and everything—including my inability to keep a clean house. We had three children at the time, Borgi in first grade, Ted in kindergarten, and Joe at home. But the problem was bigger than the children—I didn’t think right. I either yelled at the kids when they made a mess—or gave up and we lived in chaos.
After almost a year in a rental in Phoenix, we purchased a house situatated between the homes of two women who seemed like the world’s best homemakers. One a North Dakota farm gal—the other of Mexican-Indian descent. Beautiful women, but I felt intimidated.
Because both reached out to me as neighbors, I decided to invite them to a morning coffee on the first day of school after Christmas vacation—so we’d have fewer children underfoot. I planned, invited, and worried. Finally, on the big morning, I saw Borgi on her way to school, took Ted to kindergarden, and sent Joe into the back yard while I finished getting ready.
When all was in order, I went to the bedroom to change clothes. Meanwhile, Joe, a normal four-year-old, decided he wanted Cheerios. Entering my spotless kitchen, he tried to pour them into a bowl from the box—and little “o’s” spilled over the side, rolling into every corner of the kitchen.
Maintaining my composure, I began cleaning them up. As I bent over to reach under the refrigerator, the left sleeve of my dress gave—not a rip in fabric but a rip in the seam. I ran into the bedroom to change and could find nothing else. I returned to the kitchen to the smell of burning cookie-bars. When the doorbell rang, I stood with dress torn, Cheerios on the floor, and burned bars in my hand.
I don’t remember the next hour. I know I made coffee and served store-bought cookies—and didn’t say much. When they left, I picked up Ted and served lunch to my boys before hiding myself in the bedroom to cry. I was stiffling sobs when a friend called to tell me about special meetings where people were receiving their prayer language. Would you be willing to go with me tomorrow morning? Maybe you could pick me up after dropping Ted off?
If my planned event had gone well, I’d probably have said no. But I was desperate—not necessarily for God—but for relief from failure. And if God could help, I was open—even if it meant praying in tongues and being socially isolated.
We arrived during a short worship time. I looked around and saw a young woman about my age wearing a housedress with stockings (seams were still in style) and tennis shoes. Her hair was—well, it might be in style today. No makeup.
A mob converged on this reserved Norwegian Lutheran when I went forward, all praying loudly. Then the guest-preacher, a mild man, laid a hand on my head, quietly prayed, and told me I simply had to open my mouth to speak. Peace came and I closed my eyes. At one point I heard him say, Let her go. I had an idea. I’d heard people sing in tongues and it was beautiful, so I asked—in English—if I could sing. He said, Of course.—and I began singing in tongues.
I’ve sung quite a bit for my own pleasure and before groups, but that day my voice truly soared in the presence of angels.
Suddenly, I remembered Ted. Opening my eyes, I realized I lay prone on the floor. Really. I learned later I had been slain in the Spirit. I’d never heard about it then, but it did not seem strange. I sat up, asked someone what time it was, told them I had to leave immediately, excused my friend and myself, collected Joe from a nursery, and we left. Ted was waiting, but he didn’t seem concerned.
I couldn’t stop praying in tongues that day—either in song or under my breath. The boys and later my daughter laughed and laughed at Mom and her strange Spanish. The next day, however, I couldn’t utter a sound in an unknown tongue.
And yet—I somehow knew it was real and felt it would be wrong to walk away. I decided to try praying in tongues in the shower—so the background noise of running water would muffle the sound—and when I did, a dam broke loose. Since that time I’ve been able to pray in tongues at will. Then and now, I pray in tongues whenever I think of it. Sometimes I’m seeking a specific answer—sometimes I simply want to exercise my gift. After all, Paul said, I would like every one of you to speak in tongues . . . (I Cor. 14:5a NIV)
Of course, he also said, but I would rather have your prophesy. (v. 5b) But that’s another subject. For me, tongues became a gateway.
Of course, some of you will have a few questions.
First, I don’t think I began to dress weirdly andI don't think I adopted a weird hairstyle. But when my immaculate neighbor to the east began giving hints on organization, I listened. And although I never achieved a spotless home, our lives improved as order became the norm.
Did God cause spilled cheerios, a ripped dress, and burned cookie-bars to humble me? No, but He allowed me to struggle on my own and to reach a place of humility where I would receive—both from Him and from a helpful neighbor. But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph . . . (II Cor. 2:14a RSV)
Monday, July 20, 2009
On Friday Ken and I went on a short road trip that we should have taken last Spring—to Winona, Minnesota, where we visited my sister-in-law Esther. Esther is the widow of my oldest brother Carmen who died about a year a half ago. The basics of their story is that he was a pastor, she was a teacher who went into administration, and they raised five wonderful children. But there’s more to the story than that, of course.
I’ve become our primary photographer—and so often the moment misses me altogether. I didn’t think to take a picture of Esther as she looks today.
I'm not fond of using the word cute to describe older people—it seems to trivialize them. But even with serious problems and although on a great deal of medication, I have to admit Esther is cute.
She became part of our family when I was in high school. She was beautiful, reserved, talented, and competent. She sang solos—with a voice that could fill a large church. Now she’s tiny—even her voice—and shriveled—with hands twisted by arthritis, a complication from the aftermath of lyme disease. She also has Parkinson’s—although that seems under control. But perhaps the most serious condition is the collapsing skeleton—and that she fell just over a week ago and broke several ribs. Her fall meant a move from her daughter's home to an extended-care facility. I was afraid of what I’d find and truthfully, it wasn’t good.
But to my surprise, I wasn’t devastated. Her personality is still evident. Even when we all trooped down to the facility’s dining area for coffee and root beer floats. (My other brother David and his wife Betty had joined us. And Karen, the daughter who lies in Winona and son Mark who flew in from Wshington, D. C. were with us.) The hostess in Esther came alive as she sat in a wheel chair—unable to do anything. Frustrated and embarrassed by what she felt was the poor service she offered her guests, her gracious demeanor was endearing and cute.
She became anxious and confused at times, even telling us in her tiny voice about waking up surprised to realize, I was alive! Ken and I asked each other later if she was happy to be alive—or disappointed. We weren’t sure. We might look at her life as confined, as narrow and small—but she has important things on her mind.
And all the while, through frustration and confusion, hints of irony and humor—and a wry smile. She was herself, and she was cute.
When she grew tired, we left to visit Carmen’s grave before going to Karen’s home where husband Jason had prepared a wonderful meal. Here, from left to right at the table in all our hoary glory: me, David, Betty, and Ken.
We moved into the living room and Karen, who had been going through her parents things, brought out a scrapbook that included pictures from our childhood. David and I paged through, remembering our distant past.
In our hotel room that night, just before 3:30, I woke up rejoicing in bed. Pure joy overwhelmed me, and I wondered why. Considering my personal status, I thought about my hip. It didn’t hurt. But I knew the joy was bigger than that. (You can check the last post to understand why the hip is significant.)
I thought of Esther’s smile. Even in her reduced state—she was herself. What a wonder.
I thought about the scrapbook. As David and I perused, a subject came up that’s painful for me, an ouchie from my childhood. David understood—he had experienced it as well—and he offered an explanation I found comforting.
But I decided the joy encompassed all of the above—plus. For over an hour before going back to sleep, I basked in the overwhelming sense of personally being in God’s will. And, difficult as circumstances are for Esther and her family, I sensed they are also in His care and His will.
We met David and Betty for breakfast in the morning before going to the extended care facility again for another good-bye on Saturday morning. Then I slept during most of our drive home.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Police had set up barricades and rerouted traffic. People milled around with cameras. Men worked from two additional semis—semis with cranes. They were positioning straps they'd placed around the prone cab and trailer so they could set things right again. I wondered about the driver. What had he done—or not done—just before before the accident or as the accident happened?
But I was personally experiencing a red-letter day and couldn’t feel badly just then. The rheumatologist had asked his usual questions during my appointment and then I told him about my hip. I’ve been nursing it along for about five months, hoping it would get better, avoiding an appointment with an orthopedist for fear he’d recommend surgery.
Well, the rheumatologist began asking questions and he seemed to know my answers before I stated them. Then he poked and probed before saying he thought he could take care of it by giving me a shot. He left the room, his nurse prepped me, he came back to insert the needle, and as he walked out the office door he said I’d know in a day or two if it worked.
Finally, another nurse administered a remicade infusion, and when the procedure was over I found Ken. By then I knew the shot was doing its magic. We had a bite to eat and I was riding high.
This morning, however, reflecting on the difference between the way I was feeling and the way I'd felt yesterday morning, I began making comparisons between my body and that overturned truck. I realized I've been more or less overturned for several months, stuck with a painful hip in the busy intersection of life. God help me, I've cried over and over. What should I do?
And always, that nagging sense of guilt. I’ve had problems with my hips before and yet, in the excitement of one moment several months ago, I threw caution to the wind and ended up in need of a rescue. And perhaps the same is true of the rheumatoid arthritis. I might be free of problems today if I’d taken care of myself when younger. I wasn’t a good driver—I pushed my body beyond its limits.
Those sorts of inner accusations come from Satan and they're difficult because there’s truth to them. Satan knows how to torment. I’m so glad a doctor gave me a shot and fixed me up. I also know that unless God heals me completely, if I do something similar on another occasion, I’ll probably have problems again. Because of my medical history, my body is vulnerable.
Our pastor has been preaching on the book of Romans this summer. Last Sunday he focused on chapter 8. The chapter begins with, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1 ESV)
The chapter ends with, Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn. . . ? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ. . . ? [W]e are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:33,34a,35,37)
It was a message I needed. I don’t want to imply sin doesn’t matter. I am, however, emphasizing that Paul reminded the Romans that there’s no condemnation because Jesus’ death justifies sinners.
When my hip hurt, I lived with forgiveness even as I lived with the consequences of sin. I can live with consequences because His presence lives within me.
Then there’s pain caused by sin against others. I’ve been guilty of that, too, and the condemnation I feel over those sins is even worse. But in this same chapter we read, And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. (Rom. 8:28) That includes the sinner and those sinned against.
It doesn’t seem possible, but God says it is so. If we trust Him, we believe He will do the impossible. I’ve seen it happen, and I'm waiting for it to happen again. Meanwhile, acknowledging and repenting have a refining effect because God begins to work in me. And the fact that God can turn the results of sin into good brings peace. God promises He won’t let anything separate me from His care—not even thoughts of despair or condemnation. It's enough to fill a person with joy.
I may be overturned now and then, in need of rescue. But rescue is His specialty.
Monday, July 13, 2009
There’s a verse in Acts that almost blew me out of the water at one time. Peter was speaking with a group of Gentiles who had little or no teaching on God. He said, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts. 10:38 ESV)
Just a short statement, words so easy pass over when looking at the larger story. But I was focusing on the word and the concept of anointing at the time, and I found the verse strange. Jesus was God incarnate—conceived by the Holy Spirit—Immanuel—God with us. So why was the anointing important to the ministry of Jesus? Why did He need an anointing? Didn’t He do the things He did simply because He was Jesus?
(The word anoint literally means to rub or to smear with oil. See Strong’s Concordance #4886 and #5480. When people live in an arid climate—as the Israelites did when wandering through the Wilderness—they often used oil to clean themselves because water was at a premium. And because spiritual purity or cleanliness is important when preparing to meet God, God provided instructions for the priests who would minister in the tabernacle. During cleansing ceremonies they sometimes poured water and sometimes rubbed oil on themselves as a cleansing ritual. The oil was prepared according to a recipe given to Moses by God. The concept of anointing expanded with time until eventually it evolved to mean receiving power from the Holy Spirit.)
Over time—and through a bit of study—I learned the Son of God needed an anointing because, although He was truly God, He had denied his God-nature and identified with human nature. Paul said, though he [Christ Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:6,7)
In The Message, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible, those verses read, He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages . . . When the time came, he set aside the priviledges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. . . . He didn't claim special privileges.
This aspect of our Savior is so important. When Jesus made himself nothing, he separated Himself from Satan/ Lucifer who said, I will make myself like the Most High. (Is. 14:b) And He separated Himself from Adam and Eve who gave in to temptation when Satan enticed them with, For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Gen. 3:5) To maintain being nothing, Jesus had to continually resist Satan’s bait. Even though He was God, He had to resist claiming or assuming His God-nature.
How easy it would be for Jesus as God to heal—or to walk on water. As God, Jesus could easily look into individual souls and give them a word of life—or reach the multitudes when preaching from mountaintops. However, Jesus continually released or gave up His God nature to embrace His human nature. He limited Himself to functioning only as a man.
If Jesus did everything as a man, how did He do what He did?
Through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said of Himself, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.( Jn. 5:19) Do you feel the drama and the power of this verse?
Isaiah looked forward to this time when he wrote about the Messiah who would move under the anointing: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news. . . . (Is. 61:1a) The passage goes on to list the things the Messiah would do, things a normal person could not do. After His baptism, Jesus went into the Wilderness where He rejected Satan’s bait. Then He returned to His hometown of Nazareth where he identified Himself by reading Isaiah’s passage in the synagogue: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news. . . . (Lk. 4:18) And He listed the supernatural works He would do as a man.
The anointing brings Jehovah, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit together. The power of Jesus is established by the unity of God.
The Jesus who read the Scripture in the synagogue that day was different from the Jesus the townspeople had known. When He was baptized He received the anointing of the Holy Spirit through the will of His Father. After telling the people of Nazareth, Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing, (v. 21b) He went on to point out their sin. His words had power, and they tried to kill Him. His ministry had begun.
After Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven, and after He sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, His followers became a closely-knit family of believers. And when they began expanding beyond the confines of Jerusalem, Peter explained Jesus’ ministry to Gentiles. He said, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses. . . . (Acts 10:38, 39a)
The man named Jesus did the works of God. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit.
Friday, July 10, 2009
We were quite involved with them. We were also newly retired. I wasn’t used to having Ken around all day and I felt self-conscious when I tried to pray. But the burden was intense. I finally told Ken I needed to get away.
We owned a lake lot at the time—with nothing on it but a leaky trailer. I had never driven there from Fargo (our home after retirement) on my own. On a cloudy, miserably cold spring day, I couldn’t sit comfortably in a park, so the lake lot with trailer was my destination. And because my heart was heavy, I began praying in tongues almost immediately. I have no idea what I prayed. That’s the beauty of tongues.
With confidence I took the first exit at Barnesville, not realizing that two highways exit the freeway about two miles apart. I should have passed the first and taken the second. And because I was praying, I didn’t look at the scenery or catch my mistake until I came to a small town I’d never seen before—and the junction I anticipated was nowhere in sight.
I would have turned if I knew which direction to take—remember, it was cloudy. Help came when another nice-looking young fellow told me I was driving north instead of east. I followed him to a landmark and made my way without further confusion.
That's an important part of the story, but not the main point. I kept praying in tongues. Couldn’t stop. When I finally reached our lot and entered the cold trailer, I didn’t know how to turn on the furnace—so I turned on the oven and burners—no small feat—before sitting down to pray.
Huddled in my jacket I wondered. What? What could I pray? I wasn't worried about theological implications, but I didn’t know God's plan for the couple.
God, I cried, what should I pray? Silence.
Then came a quiet thought, an inner prompt: Pray that he chooses life.
And so I did. Out loud. God, I pray he chooses life. Pause.
God, let him choose life. Pause.
Please, God, give him a desire for whatever will bring life.
You get the idea. Those and similar statements might have lasted all of a minute—but I doubt it—before I totally exhausted the content of my prayer in English.
I felt very foolish sitting there. So I turned the burners and oven off, locked up the trailer and drove home. And when I tried to continue praying earnestly in tongues, I couldn’t. I could only praise God with a loud voice—sometimes in song. I had a good time.
Telling Ken about it later—of course, he lectured me about the two exits—I could only conclude the praying had been done while I drove. Perhaps it was okay to get lost—the extra hour on the road provided almost twice as much time as planned.
And I’ve thought about the content of that prayer. The importance of the young man's decision can’t be overstated. I wasn’t sure, but I felt his salvation might depend on it. It turned out his health depended on it, too. And I never would have thought of something so simple on my own—so simple, but covering all the bases. I’ve recently read others say we must choose to follow God—and they use the phrase, Choose life. It was a new concept to me at the time.
The young man is in his mid-30s now. He’s walking with the Lord and he’s healthy. God has been with him and his family. I’ll never know for sure the significance of my part in the decision, but I’m convinced God did something that day.
And I’m so grateful for the gift of praying in tongues.
Next time I'll explore thoughts on the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. Today, it seemed a story with human interest would be helpful.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Paul, a man schooled in Hebrew, understood the Spirit as God’s breath when he wrote a letter in Greek to Timothy, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (II Tim. 3:16) That would be inclusive. Every Old Testament character who responded to God was responding to His Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit had an active part in the initial creation of our world, He’s had an active part in creating God’s life in people throughout history.
Because space is limited, I’ll highlight just a few stories from the Old Testament where the presence of the Holy Spirit is specifically identified as He moves or breaths on God’s people. Moses needed craftsmen to build the tabernacle, create the tabernacle’s finely-wrought furnishings, and make elaborate priestly garments. God said to Moses, See, I have called by name Bezalel . . . and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship. . . . (Ex. 31:3)
Then, when the load was too heavy for Moses, God told him to appoint 70 elders who would share his responsibilities. God said, I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you. . . . (Num. 11:17a)
After Gideon committed to obeying God’s call, he led his people against the Midianites. Then, the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and. . . . (Judges 6:34) a new era had begun for the Israelites.
All Old Testament writers (and redactors) responded to the breath of God’s Spirit when writing the books of the Bible. Some of the prophets recorded their introduction to God’s Spirit.
Two prophets, Elijah and Elisha, didn’t write their own books, but I and II Kings tells about exploits they did in the power of God’s Spirit. I find the story of Elijah in the cave—after fleeing from Queen Jezebel—especially interesting because he tells us something about the voice of God while making it clear the Breath of God is not the same as the metaphor or the natural wind.
When Elijah found his hiding spot, he heard God ask, What are you doing here, Elijah? (I Kings 19:9b) He explained his discouragement and God told him to go outside the cave where he would stand on the mount before the Lord. (19:11b) But while still in the cave, a strong wind passed by. A really strong wind. Followed by an earthquake that shook things up. Followed by a fire. Elijah didn’t respond to any of them.
Then, after the fire, Elijah heard the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him. . . . (I Kings 19:12b,13)
Elijah had heard God’s question earlier. He knew God’s breath/wind/voice—knew it so well that he wasn’t fooled into thinking cataclysmic events (including a very strong wind) were the way to find God. In a real sense, God did speak to him through the physical wind, earthquake, and fire because through them he realized God was more than events. Nothing that had happened to him—and a lot had happened (read the account in I Kings 18 and 19) —was as important as hearing from God. His value didn’t rise or fall on his success. His value was in hearing God and responding to Him.
Once again, the quiet whisper of God's Spirit provided direction, and once again Elijah followed the leading of God’s breath as it resonated in his inner man.
The lesson for us? God’s Spirit knows who we are, where we are, and what we need. He will speak if we’ll only listen. It was true in the lives of the Old Testament heroes, and it’s true for us today. I personally testify that I need to remember this when I'm discouraged.
In the next post I’ll explore thoughts on the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the earthly life and ministry of Jesus.
Friday, July 3, 2009
After commiting to writing on the Holy Spirit I quickly realized how impossible it would be to treat the subject completely or fairly. So, it’s with more than a little trepidation I’m stepping out—and I’m writing multiple posts. Remember that my thoughts are not definitive—but nothing on God will ever be definitive. I'm only trusting my insight will be helpful.
First and foremost, GOD IS ONE. Mark 12:29 records an occasion when Jesus affirmed this by referring to the Shema (known as the Jewish confession of faith): Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God. . . . (Deut. 6:4 NIV) In fact, throughout all of Scripture the distinctive of the God of Israel was His oneness. Monotheism—belief in one God was in sharp contrast to the polytheism of all other nations at the time.
But, God’s Oneness is infinite—so great that, in His Oneness, He interacts with Himself. When He does, finite human minds can only understand Him as plural.
Perhaps the best example of this is found in the creation story where we read, Let us (plural) make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule. . . . (Gen. 1:26) Even more interesting, in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament the largeness of God is revealed in the very first verse. Elohim, the word translated God, is plural in the Hebrew text.
That’s how God inspired the writing of the opening verse of the Bible. So the God who revealed Himself as One—to Abraham, to Moses, to the prophets, and to the other Old Testament people—also reveals Himself as so great He cannot be contained by any limitation.
The Bible consistently reveals God as three personalities. These three personalities or forms are usually referred to as three members of the Godhead—Jehovah, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Christians have made a doctrine of the three members and identify the doctrine of one God in three persons as the Trinity.
Many Christian teachers have sought illustrations to describe the unity of the Trinity. My preferred illustrations are the triangle and a musical chord—but both are imperfect. True, three sides are needed to create a triangle, and if one of them is removed, the triangle is non-existent. But each of the three sides has an identity of it’s own. I don’t think we can do that with God. His organic unity is an essential component of His wholeness. If Jesus or the Holy Spirit are removed from Jehovah, it would violate the nature of His oneness and Jehovah would be altered. Impossible.
Unity within a musical chord is helpful because overtones of any one note are related vibrations. They also contribute to the sound of any one note as heard by the human ear. Because chords add notes that correlate to overtones, there is an intrinsic unity in a chord. But overtones can be managed or manipulated. The image breaks at that point because we can’t manage or manipulate a component of God.
So God’s nature remains a mystery—and that’s not easy for some of us. It’s not easy for people like me who want to define and offer clear explanations.
To compensate, God makes us aware that His infinite nature is part of the wonder we experience when we contemplate Him. (Have you wondered how much we’ll understand the moment we enter heaven? Having become content with my limitations on earth, I now think I’ll continue to learn and learn and learn about the wonders of our God, including the Trinity. People make heaven into whatever they want it to be. I'm not so brilliant, but I love learning and I’ve made heaven into the ultimate learning experience.)
For the present, we can be content and rejoice because throughout history God has made it possible for us to understand something about His nature—the essentials—those things that can bring us into a right relationship with Him. To do that He revealed what we need to know through the person of the Trinity we identify as His Son Jesus. Everything about Jesus—even His death on the cross—reflected and reflects something about the totality of God. Everything in the Bible either points to Jesus or speaks directly about Jesus—because He is our revelation of God’s character.
But the Holy Spirit is also present throughout the Bible. He’s kind of like the unseen partner, working from the beginning in the background—always part of the Oneness of our God.
Next time, a look at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.