My blog counter ticked over 100 followers! Thank you.
It has also been a year since I decided to start blogging again. I wasn’t sure what I was going to blog about but, like Jeremiah, words burned inside of me and I couldn’t hold them in (Jeremiah 20:9). I spent a great deal of time in prayer before deciding to return to blogging because it was then and still is important to me that any words I write be ones My Father would have me write. I have sought the leading of the Holy Spirit and, I mention it in my bio but am stating it here; this blog has not gone according to plan. At least, not my plan. My prayer continues to be that the Holy Spirit guides me and that each post will be only ever what He would have me write.
To that end: I am initiating a new study series on the Fruit of the Spirit. I did not intend to. I planned a series on the Epistle to the Hebrews. I would also like to do a post on the Hittites! I am certain each of my readers is just as fascinated as I am with ancient world cultures. 😉 One day, perhaps, if Father wills it so. As that time is not now, I will be devoting the next several weeks to the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”.
What do I hope to achieve by this study? A greater understanding of the Holy Spirit. A greater understanding of what His work in my life looks like. I want this fruit to come to maturity in my life. The list is an incredible one. I am awed if I pick just one and stare at it. For example, peace. Is it possible to have peace in my life when I am in the midst of such upheaval? Yes, it is. More than that, peace is not something I have. To clarify: it is something I have because I do not have it in myself but it is not some attribute outside of me I have to somehow lay hold of. What I want this study to cement for me is that I have peace because peace is a person. I have peace because I have Jesus who is my peace and I partake of the peace He is because of the Holy Spirit living in me. Therefore, I do not seek to get peace. Rather, I seek to come to rest in the knowledge that One who is peace lives in me and I live from Him.
It has been seventeen, maybe eighteen years (time starts to run together a bit for me) since dissatisfaction with the state of my spiritual life caused me to go to my mother and say, “I want to learn more about the Holy Spirit.” She wanted that as well and so we started…where to start? What is the Holy Spirit? I had a few answers from my church-going background. He’s the Third Person of the Trinity. What does that mean? Here’s where answers would get hazy and vague. As I listened to those who ought to know attempt to tell me about the Holy Spirit, I couldn’t help but get the idea he was a great deal like the Force: He was everywhere and He was power. I learned nothing that helped me.
I find Him so very interesting as I look back: my mother and I expressed a wish to learn more about the Holy Spirit and within a few weeks a friend shared with us a series of writings that blew our tiny religious worlds apart. Within a few more months, I had experienced a crisis that left my life hanging in tatters. I was devastated. I didn’t know what to believe or if, indeed, I believed anything at all. It was at once a horrendous and wonderful place to be in because I discovered the Holy Spirit. I say “discovered” but it really isn’t like that at all. I suppose it’s more accurate to say He opened my eyes to see Him. To know Him.
In the midst of my shambles, I learned He was everything Jesus promised He would be in the 14th Chapter of John’s gospel. He revealed Himself as Comforter. He was so gentle with my broken heart. He didn’t turn from me because I’d made mistakes but made Jesus alive to me in a way He’d never been before. Jesus, the One who bore my shame and who cleanses me from all sin. The One who enables me to stand before the Father unashamed, certain that I am accepted.
When my eyes were opened to His Presence, I was able to look back over the dark, lonely, and frightening bits of my past and see that He was always with me. I was not ever alone, He hadn’t abandoned me in that moment when certainly I deserved for Him to have done, and I’ve lived every moment of every day since then aware of Him. He will not ever leave me. He cannot for He is not separate from me.
So, who is the Holy Spirit? I’ve addressed the word another before but, again: Jesus said he would send “another comforter” and the word another here means, another of the same sort. (See Allos G243 in Strong’s Concordance and “Another” in Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Another: different and yet the same. In Ezekiel 36:27, God says “I will put My Spirit within you” so the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and, indeed, I see as much in Acts 13:2 where the Holy Spirit speaks as God.
How do we believers explain the nature of God? He is Triune, we say: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three and yet One. Impossible, I have heard some say, and the term “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible. No, I agree that it isn’t but I don’t know of a better word unless I use “Perichoresis”. It’s a beautiful word used to describe the relationship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share with each other. I have another word I like to use when I think of the nature of God: paradox. He is (in my opinion) the ultimate paradox. He is Three distinct Persons but exists in such perfect love relationship union that it’s impossible for Him to be separate. My spirit, in union with His Spirit cries in joy, “The Lord Our God, The Lord is One!” (Deuteronomy 6:4, Mark 12:29).
I know this post is a bit long but I want to make clear what I believe and where I stand as I begin to study the Fruit of the Spirit. I hope I have done so. If not, I hope it becomes clear as I begin, next week, looking at the first fruit: love.
In The Grammar of Complexity, I shared the idea that “born of water and the spirit” from John 3:5 means being born of the Word of God and the Spirit of God. I believe this interpretation because of my personal experience, a baptism story I find in the Book of Acts, and various scriptures throughout the New Testament. First things First. I have been the recipient of an immersion baptism and it happened like this:
It was only a few years after my devastating car accident. I’d moved here to Colorado and was feeling somewhat adrift. What was I supposed to do when the planned on college degree was no longer an option and I still had yet to figure out what being differently-abled really meant? One of my mother’s old friends came into town to attend a conference given by an evangelist she liked and invited me to go along. I did so and ended up receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I attended the church that had hosted the evangelist and was a regular attendee for close to two years before I was baptized. I did it all backwards if water baptism is supposed to be part of the new birth. The word in seed form had been planted in me throughout my childhood by various teachers at various times and was sinking roots and growing even though it often times didn’t feel like it, then I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and finally was baptized in water. That water baptism was my declaring a change that had already taken place and my commitment to the new life that had been birthed in me.
I imagine you saying, “I’m not concerned with the experience of some random person. Experience does not theology make.” I agree which is why I turn your attention to Acts Chapter 10. There is a fascinating story here about a centurion named Cornelius. No one among the apostles was looking to baptize Cornelius. The entire chapter shows God at work bringing about what He wanted. I encourage you to read it: it’s a wonderful chapter.
In brief, Cornelius was fasting when an angel of God appeared to him and told him to send for Peter. The angel told Cornelius what city Peter was in and who he was lodging with before departing. Cornelius sends two from his household in the company of one of his soldiers who, it appears, was also a believer. They go to Joppa to get Peter and bring him to Cornelius. While they are traveling, Peter has the great vision of the sheet bound at the four corners descending from heaven filled with all sorts of animals and creatures he’d been forbidden to eat. The command came from God to kill and eat to which Peter strenuously objected and then came the reply; “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This happens three times and then the sheet is taken up to heaven.
While Peter is wondering what his vision means, the Spirit tells him there are some men seeking him. He goes down to Cornelius’ men, hears why they have come, and the next day he and some of the brethren return with them. Meanwhile, Cornelius has called together his relatives and close friends in anticipation of Peter’s arrival. Peter arrives and explains why he came and Cornelius shares his vision. Peter begins preaching the word that is Jesus coming, crucified, and resurrected and something amazing happens. The Holy Spirit falls on everyone who heard the word. The brethren that came with Peter were amazed because the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Gentiles and I imagine a great part of their amazement was because most of these Gentiles were Romans. It is after this, the word preached and the Holy Spirit poured out, that Cornelius and his household are baptized.
The lack of water baptism was no hindrance to God. A metanoia had already happened in Cornelius and how I wish it was described in scripture! Imagine a man growing up in the Ancient Roman world with its myriad gods coming to know the true God of Jacob. How did that happen? I can only imagine. God Himself had Cornelius send for someone to preach the word to him and his household, then came the outpouring in the Holy Spirit, and then baptism. It’s all backwards, if indeed water baptism has anything to do with being born again.
In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul addressed some contentions that seem to have arisen due to who had baptized whom. Paul says, “for Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (verse 17). I am convinced that if “born of water” meant water baptism, and that NOT being baptized in water was serious enough that a person could not enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5), Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles would have looked very different.
In closing this week’s post, I wish to share a few scriptures:
Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures. James 1:18
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. 1 John 5:1
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever. 1 Peter 1:22-23
Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word. Ephesians 5:25-26
For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “’This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My laws into their hearts and in their minds I will write them’ (Jeremiah 31:33), then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:43). Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:14-22
I had to laugh at myself. Within two hours of Part Two posting to the blog, I found myself in a situation exactly like the one I described: perhaps some relief from pain but it was going to require a doctor’s visit, a referral, no doubt more co-pays…my insides tightened and I could only think, “great. I’ll just pay for all that then, shall I?” Then the thought came, “didn’t you just post on how God has taken you through medical stuff and financial hardship?” Indeed I had. Had I learned anything from the experience? Yes, but I have to admit my first inclination is usually stress and anxiety and THEN remembering the goodness of God. And so, I write these for my own edification.
In part two I did write about a series of unfortunate events and how I expected my Father to reveal Himself to me as the Lord who healeth me and, instead, found myself face to face with the Father who loved me and wished His name hallowed above every other on earth. I am still learning all this means and it’s a theme I hope to explore in the future. For now I wish to answer the questions: if I am to expect that all the promises of God are Yes in Christ yet experience has taught me God rarely does what I expect in the way I expect it, what am I supposed to be expecting when I pray? Is there a secret to a victorious life in Christ?
I believe there is and that the secret isn’t so secret. I believe the answer is found in the Indwelling Spirit. 1 Corinthians 1:20 says “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” In Christ. Two words that appear over and over again throughout the New Testament. If God’s promises are In Christ, then it must follow I must be in Christ in order to receive them.
In part two, I also quoted; “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides. (Matthew 6: 33, Amplified) In Luke 17 verse 21 I find, “Nor will people say, Look! Here (it is!) or, See (it is) there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you (in your hearts) and among you (surrounding you). (Amplified) Acts 17: 28: “For in Him we live and move and have our being…” and the second half of 1 Corinthians 1:20: “And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” In just these few scriptures (I could quote more but I’d end up copying the entire New Testament) I see how important it is to understand “In Christ” and that there must be something in me that shows me what this means and enables me to say “Amen.” That something is a Who: the Holy Spirit.
There are two beautiful passages about the Indwelling Spirit found in the Gospel of John. I can’t choose between them so I’m quoting both: “I have told you these things while I am still with you. But the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name (in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf), He will teach you all things. And He will cause you to recall (will remind you of, bring to your remembrance) everything I have told you.” (John 14: 25-26, Amplified)
And then: “But when He, the Spirit of Truth (the Truth-giving Spirit) comes, He will guide you into all the Truth (the whole, full Truth). For He will not speak His own message (on His own authority); but He will tell whatever He hears (from the Father: He will give the message that has been given to Him), and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come (that will happen in the future). He will honor and glorify Me because He will take of (receive, draw upon) what is Mine and will reveal (declare, disclose, transmit) it to you. Everything that the Father has is Mine. That is what I meant when I said that He (the Spirit) will take the things that are Mine and will reveal (declare, disclose, transmit) it to you. (John 16: 13-15, Amplified)
Because I know the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, His spirit dwells in me as me teacher and guide. As Paul says, “But if you are guided (led) by the (Holy) Spirit, you are not subject to the law. What is the law? The law, or Old Covenant, was based on IF/THEN. Now, under the New Covenant and the Indwelling Spirit, I find there is a different way to live. Rather than trying to please a remote God and earn blessings from Him with my good behavior and the fact that I (mostly) keep His commands; I live from the fountain of His life within me.
But, I know some of you will ask, aren’t you taking some of these scriptures out of context? Doesn’t John 14 also say, “If a person (really) loves Me, he will keep My word (obey My teaching); and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home (abode, special dwelling place) with him.” (John 14: 23, Amplified). Doesn’t that sound like it’s an IF/THEN?
It does and I hope to explore the meaning of these scriptures in more depth in later posts. In closing this one, I say truly, Our Father’s promise in Ezekiel 37 is made reality with the Holy Spirit: “A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall heed My ordinances and do them.” Paul assures me in Philippians that, “(Not in your own strength) for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you (energizing and creating in you the power and desire), both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.” (Philippians 2:13, Amplified)
I wasn’t sure how to describe living from the Indwelling Spirit but I chanced to listen to Malcolm Smith’s Webinar # 340 and he put it perfectly. Now that we have the Indwelling Spirit, we no longer live from IF/THEN but now BECAUSE/THEREFORE.
I love that. However, with shifting my focus from If/THEN to BECAUSE/THEREFORE, what do I expect from God? The answer is everything and nothing. I do not expect specifics. Rather, I expect that He will keep His word that all His promises are “Yes” in Christ Jesus. I don’t expect that nothing painful or hurtful will never happen to me. I do expect that He who lives in me will be everything I need at all times: All in all. With Paul, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me! (2 Corinthians 12: 9b, Amplified) His joy fills me and, through Him, I say “Amen”. May He and He alone be glorified.
I like symbols. I enjoy how symbols can open my eyes to truth I had not yet perceived. I do try not to get carried away looking everywhere for symbols and hidden meanings and I especially am careful about looking for signs from God. 1 Corinthians 1:22 has always felt like a warning about looking for signs so I have sought to know God’s voice for myself, therefore rendering null and void any need for a sign. And yet, what about those times when God is there-I know it because His presence is always with me-and yet He is remaining silent? There are few things more frustrating in my spiritual journey than when God is remaining silent as it usually happens during a time when I need to hear from Him the most.
I mentioned before how a crisis some seventeen years was merely a catalyst for Jesus to reveal Himself to me in a different way and set my feet on a new path. Coming to know Him in greater intimacy has not happened all at once. It has been an awful painful wonderful glorious journey: one I’ve survived by relying on Him day by day. I recently realized I have seen aspects of His character He has been bringing me to see over the course of the last three years. I can look back now and see how it all worked together for me to KNOW what I know today but, at the time, the butterfly was just a butterfly.
It all started three years ago when my doctor found a lump in my breast. I hadn’t noticed it. It truly felt like it had appeared overnight. My doctor was concerned but not overly so. She thought it could be a result of an ongoing hormonal imbalance and I was to come back in a month and she’d see if it had changed size or gone away. I prayed every day of that month, asking He who is my Healer to take it away. I went back for my follow up visit knowing it hadn’t gone away and having no idea what was going to happen next. Painful and invasive exams were what happened next, culminating in a biopsy. I had to wait a few days for the results of my biopsy and, while there was an enormous chance my lump was benign, there was a chance it wasn’t. I couldn’t think, felt numb, and sought the peace I normally find in nature by taking a walk at the reservoir.
It was a beautiful, warm day but I felt I was carrying ice around in my very marrow. The what if was a whirl-a-gig inside my mind and, although I knew He was with me, He wasn’t making me any specific promises. I didn’t know what to pray for. He is my Healer-I believe that with everything I am-but I couldn’t deny He hadn’t healed me-the lump was proof of that- and I felt my foundation of faith was rather shaky beneath my feet.
I managed to make it to my favorite bench placed right by the water before I felt I couldn’t go any further. I sat there in the warm sunshine, listened to the insects in the long grass, the birds on the water, and just waited in His presence. Surely, alone in this place, He would speak comfort to me.
As I sat, a small yellow butterfly appeared, flitting from flowers to blades of grass. I have always thought butterflies symbols of spiritual truths: their beauty, the way the gland at the base of their skull consumes their caterpillar life and the butterfly emerges from that death (our death swallowed in His life!); they have so much to teach me about walking with God. Thus, I always enjoy seeing butterflies and have never had a moment where I did not feel closer to God when I saw one. I watched that tiny creature, so yellow it looked like sunshine come to life, and waited for a message from God. There was nothing.
I couldn’t help laughing at myself. Perhaps I was looking for too much. Were it a story I was writing, the butterfly would have been the harbinger of great peace and spiritual growth. Instead, it was nothing more than a creature doing what it was created to do. A pretty creature, certainly, but nothing more. The butterfly was just a butterfly. I was not living inside a book. I had no promise from God that I did not have cancer. I had no idea what I might be facing in the coming days. I still had to go home and wait for my test results. I rose from the bench and made my way home.
My results arrived and I did not have cancer. My relief was beyond my ability to describe. Still, the presence of the lump meant my hormone imbalance was more serious than I thought and I could potentially develop severe problems. I turned out I already had and I ended up having a major surgery only a year later. I had not developed cancer but though again I prayed, it was a surgery I was not spared.
And yet, there was never a moment when He was not with me. It wasn’t that I was not afraid nor in pain. It wasn’t that I lied to myself and assured myself there was no reason to be afraid. There was every reason and there were some I hadn’t even considered until I read through and signed my pre-surgery paperwork. Rather, there wasn’t a step I took He didn’t take with me. That fact was something I only truly realize now as I am having some painful complications from that surgery, am having difficulties getting treatment for those complications, and have no fear at all. Irritation at the roadblocks-Jesus does not make me superhuman-but He infuses me with His strength to look into the unknown without fear. How is such a thing possible? I don’t think it would be if I hadn’t had it cemented in me through experience that He keeps his promises and does not ever leave me nor forsake me. Whatever my next moments, days, and years hold, I know that I don’t face anything alone.
Oddly, that little yellow butterfly has never been far from my mind. I was so sure then it meant nothing and yet it has come to be important to me. Perhaps I don’t have to look for signs or symbols. Perhaps He gives them to me and then gives me recognition and understanding when the time is right. I do know I will never again see a butterfly as just a butterfly.