CT: How the ‘Faith-Based FEMA’ Are Helping Moore Move On

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. –Matthew 5.14-16

Just so. From Christianity Today online.

At the edge of the disaster zone—just across the street from the decimated Moore Medical Center—teens and adults in cowboy hats cook smoked sausages outside the Central Church of Christ.

UnknownThis group of volunteers drove 430 miles from Denver City, Texas, southwest of Lubbock, to prepare meals for victims after last Monday’s EF5 tornado destroyed 1,200 homes and killed 24 people, including 10 children.

Inside the church, worshipers—many wearing bright orange “Disaster Assistance” T-shirts—at the Sunday service maneuver around ceiling-high stacks of emergency food and supply boxes delivered on a tractor-trailer by Nashville, Tennessee-based Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort Inc.

The church’s marquee sign along Interstate 35 normally grabs drivers’ attention with catchy Bible verses and witty sayings.

But now it declares simply: “Disaster Relief Center.”

Even as President Barack Obama consoles victims and promises the government’s assistance “every step of the way,” the so-called “faith-based FEMA” is already out in force—from Mennonite Disaster Service chainsaw crews to Samaritan’s Purse debris cleanup teams to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance pastoral counselors.

Well done, good and faithful servants. Read it all.

Columbus Dispatch: A Solemn Ritual

As we observe Memorial Day today, a somber and poignant article that reminds us of the terrible cost of war that continues to this day.

military-mortuary-nyt-art-gc4n3hnh-1del-military-mortuary-5-jpgThe soldier bent to his work, careful as a diamond cutter. He carried no weapon or rucksack, just a small plastic ruler, which he used to align a name plate, just so, atop the breast pocket of an Army dress blue jacket, size 39R. “Blanchard,” the plate read.

Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard, a 32-year-old Army pilot, had been in Afghanistan for only a few days when an enemy rocket killed him and another soldier last month as they dashed toward their helicopter. Now, he was heading home.

Before he left the mortuary here, however, he would need to be properly dressed. And so Staff Sgt. Miguel Deynes labored meticulously, almost lovingly, over every crease and fold, every ribbon and badge, of the dress uniform that would clothe Blanchard in his final resting place.

Read it all and give thanks for those brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Our Triune God

From the archives. Sermon originally preached on Trinity Sunday 2011.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Trinity Sunday. From the late 12th century onward, the church has chosen the Sunday after Pentecost to celebrate the nature of our triune God, a term that simply refers to God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. True Christian worship is always Trinitarian and this morning I want to look briefly at why it is important for us as Christians to celebrate and worship this triune God of ours. To do that, we will need to do a quick survey of the story of God’s plan of redemption found in Scripture.

In our OT lesson from Genesis this morning, we are told that God created all things good, both creation and creatures, humans included. If God created everything good, why then is there so much brokenness, suffering, and deformity in the world? For example, were this spring’s batch of deadly tornadoes a good thing? How about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan? What about children born with birth defects or the host of diseases and maladies that afflict us? Are we to look at them as good and God-intended?

Of course not! Because Scripture also tells us that God’s good creation was despoiled by human sin. When humans decided to try and elevate ourselves to God’s level and take his place, it was a game changer for us and for all of God’s creation, and we have been living with the consequences of our sin ever since. It is a heartbreaking story but it is a story that is going to turn out well.

Why is that? Because Scripture, both old and new testaments, is the story of how God intends to use his people (cf. Genesis 12.2-3) climaxing ultimately in Jesus to put to right his fallen and broken creation and creatures. Scripture will likely not make much sense to you if you do not read its stories in the context of this grand, overarching narrative. Neither will you likely begin to comprehend the triune nature of God—at least as best as we humans are able—until you try to understand it in the context of seeing God at work restoring his broken and fallen creatures and creation. Only then can we begin to make sense of how God has made himself known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When we worship God the Father, we worship our Creator, the Source and Author of all life. God created us in his Image to be stewards of his creation and to have relationship with him, and we must never forget that. Genesis 1:31 poignantly reminds us of this when it says that after God created humans he looked at his creation and saw it was very good, not just “good” as God had declared his other creative work to be. But then the Fall came and human sin was a disaster for both humans and God’s good creation. Genesis 3 tells us that our sin brought about God’s curse to both his creatures and creation, and we wince and lose hope over that. If God is against us, how can we possibly survive?

But it is precisely at this moment of despair that we see God pursuing his sinful and fallen creatures in the garden, wondering where they are because they are hiding from him (Genesis 3:8-9). As we watch this lonely God of ours searching for his beloved but rebellious human creatures and wondering where they have gone, we begin to realize the pain our sin and separation has caused him. And we begin to see the very heart of God, the heart of a Father, not the heart of a merciless judge who relentlessly pursues us in order to destroy us.

In Isaiah and the other books of the prophets we hear God’s continuing anguish over his sinful and rebellious people expressed through his prophets (there’s that human agency thingy again) as they warn Judah that their idolatrous ways can lead only to death, and plead with them to repent of their sins before it is too late. This is especially heartbreaking because we remember again God’s intent to redeem his fallen world through Abraham and his descendants. However, Israel had become part of the problem instead of God’s intended solution. But then in Isaiah 53-55 we read about God’s remarkable grand plan, a plan he had from all eternity, to overcome our human weaknesses, to redeem both humans and creation from the bondage of sin and death, and to free us to become the humans he created us to be.

Isaiah 53 speaks of the Suffering Servant who will bear the punishment for our sins so that God’s justice may be fully satisfied. In Isaiah 54 we read about the new covenant God will make with his people because the work of his Servant has been fulfilled. Then in Isaiah 55, we read of God’s plan to redeem his fallen creation in a mighty act of restoration, not unlike that which we read about in Revelation 21-22. God is not only going to redeem us, he is going to reverse the curse in Genesis 3:17-18 and set all of his creation aright. In each of these stories we see a God who loves us and all of his creation passionately, and has compassion for his sinful creatures beyond our ability to completely comprehend it all.

Then in the NT, we see God’s plan for the redemption of humanity and all creation continue to unfold in history and reach its climax in Jesus of Nazareth. That is why we worship God the Son. For the NT tells the story of how God in Christ intends to redeem his wayward and rebellious creatures. God loves us so much that he took on our flesh, lived among us, allowed himself to be tortured and hung on a cross to die a horrible death for us. In doing so, he bore the punishment for our sins and made it possible for us to live with him, now and forever. As we read the story of Christ’s passion and death, we are suddenly struck with the awesome realization that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 was God himself! Incredible! But it had to be this way because only a human can fully bear the punishment for humanity’s sin and rebellion and that is one of the main reasons why God became human for us.

However, the Good News doesn’t stop there, does it, because the cross is not the end of the story. Had it been, there would be no Christian faith today. No, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him a new resurrection body. In doing so, God validated who Jesus is and confirmed to us that his promises to redeem his broken and fallen creation are true. The resurrection is God’s powerful testimony and promise to us that he has begun the final phase of his plan to restore us and all of his creation to what he intended it originally to be. I cannot quite imagine what this new creation will look like. None of us can. But I do know that there will be no more tears or sorrow or sickness or death or infirmity or deformity or suffering. How do I know that? Because the death and resurrection of Christ proves that God is true to his word.

But what about the interim or end times? The time between Jesus’ resurrection and the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption? This is where God the Holy Spirit comes in. The wonderful thing about the Gospel is that it is no self-help remedy. God does for us what we cannot do ourselves and he promises never to leave or abandon us. As we saw last week, he does this primarily through his Holy Spirit until God in Jesus comes again to complete the restorative work he began at the resurrection. The Holy Spirit is God himself working in us, helping us in our infirmity, helping us grow in grace and faith, and guiding us to do the redemptive work he calls us to do in this world (there’s that human agency thingy again). And it is important that we do God’s work in this world because in the resurrection of Christ, we are reminded that God plans to restore his broken creation, that this world is important to him, and so it must be for us as well.

So what difference does worshiping a triune God make? What does it really matter in our daily lives? Just this. Worshiping our triune God reminds us that we have a God big enough to handle all the problems of his world. This gives us hope, even in the face of suffering and evil. We no longer have to ask what God is doing about all that is wrong with this world as it currently exists because we already know that in the death and resurrection of Christ he has taken on evil himself and defeated it, even if it is not yet fully realized or apparent to our senses and reason. That is where faith comes in, not a blind faith, but rather a faith based on the evidence from the biblical story of creation and salvation. Yes we must live with ambiguity and questions, especially the mystery of suffering and evil. But the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are God’s mighty promises to us that we and all of creation are in the process of being restored to his original intention.

And as today’s creation narrative and Psalm remind us, since God in his infinite wisdom has given humans a major role in bringing his healing love and redemption to God’s broken creation, that means we have work to do right here and now as we await our final redemption. But we cannot be God’s Kingdom workers on our own because we are too profoundly broken. That is why God has given us the Holy Spirit to live in us and equip us to do the work he calls each of us to do. When we really believe this we can be confident that our efforts here on earth are not in vain because it is God himself working through us to accomplish his good will and purposes, both for us and for his creation.

This is why it is important for each of us to know God’s plan and story of redemption thoroughly. This, in turn, compels us to read our Bible on a regular basis so that we don’t lose our Christian hope and are reminded of God’s grand plan and our respective roles in it. For you see, if our work as Jesus’ agents of New Creation is not thoroughly grounded in our faith in him and driven by his Spirit living in us, our efforts end up being just another form of human activism that is doomed to fail. In short, we cannot change the world unless we allow God to first change us. Knowing the story of God’s eternal rescue plan is a critical part of that process.

We worship a triune God because this is how God has chosen to manifest himself in our history and rescue us from all the wrong our sin has caused. When you understand this and really believe it, you will know that your eternal future is ensured. You will also find that you have the Power you need for the living of your days in any and every condition. And that, folks, is a complete package for living life with meaning and purpose, which is Good News, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Fr. Ron Feister: Have You Grown Any Fruit Lately?

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday, May 26, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8.1-10; Romans 5.1-5; John 16.12-15.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Last week we studied that role of the Holy Spirit in the Church and we looked at some of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, that is the results of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the life of the Church.  Among the fruit, we named some virtues Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance, Kindness, Goodness and Faithfulness among them. The Fruit of the Holy Spirit cannot be limited to just one list but should be seen has a constant flow of gifts that the Holy Spirit brings to us and to the Church as a whole. Today, I want to discuss what is involved in growing this Fruit.

For many years I have enjoyed growing fruit mostly pears, apples, grapes and tomatoes. I have been struck by the wide variety available. As I have looked through the Stark Brother’s catalog, a book that arrives in the middle of winter with  photographs of unbelievably good looking fruits and vegetables. designed to encouraged the reader to buyer more plants that he or she could ever grow, I am struck by the wide variety of fruits – many types of apples and pears, more types of grapes than I could imagine.  There are even trees that have several different types of fruit on the same tree, in fact just yesterday, on the internet, I saw an ad for such a tree,  –   just as there are many types of fruit with come from the gift of the Holy Spirit

I have discovered that there are a number of common things that go together with growing fruit and I believe that some of these same factors also apply to growing or increasing the yield of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.  Having a small yard, I mostly have grown Dwarf Fruit Trees, these trees are designed to produce regular size fruit on a tree that is relatively small in height. These trees are most often created by grafting a regular branch or shoot of a normal size fruit tree on to the roots or root stock of another tree;  sometime  the roots are of the same type of fruit, but often it is from another variety, for example I had a pear tree that had been grafted on to the root stock of a Quince tree. This grafting is done to produce a smaller tree or one resistant to some disease. We as the people of God are said to be grafted on to the true vine of Jesus Christ, and it is the Holy Spirit that to a large extent is responsible for this grafting and it is through the Vine which is Jesus Christ that we are joined to the Heavenly Father. We are asked to produce Fruit not on our own but because we are joined to the Father through Christ by the gift or presence of the Holy Spirit.

No matter how good the root stock or the vine to which a fruit is being grafted there are still a number of factors that determine whether the tree will be productive, whether the fruit will be edible or pleasing to the eye, or whether it will survive at all. One of the first decisions that needs to be made is where to plant the tree or vine. Different fruits require different soils, but there are common factors. The soil should be stable, rich in nutrients, and have adequate moisture.

For individuals to bear the Fruit of the Spirit they too need to be rooted in a stable environment; hopefully, this is found in the Christian Family into which they are born or adopted.  The family needs to be one that puts its relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the highest priority.  It needs to be a family that is rich in spiritual practices, thou like different soils, these may vary greatly from family to family.

Some sadly will never experience this type of family environment, but not all is lost.  A bigger family, the community, we call Church, can and does still serve in this role. Many of us have seen the poor looking tomato plant that is being sold in a small container looking barely alive,  spring to life and produce abundant fruit once it is transplanted into the larger garden . So it is with some individuals that when they come to the church, perhaps not as strong in their faith as could be hopes,  that on finding  a church which provides that stable environment, a church rich in faith and commitment to one another, they too can blossom and show forth the fruit of the spirit. Both the family and the church need to be that rich soil.

Even with rich soil, most gardeners and fruit tree growers, find it worthwhile to supplement the soil, no matter how good, with additional minerals and other  nutrients to help the plant to grow stronger, larger and more productive. Christians need to consider spiritual supplements.  They come in a wide range of forms these include bible study materials, attendance at retreats or renewal weekends, internet seminars like the one that was made available to this church last weekend, good books written on living the Christian life to name but a few.

Some fruits need to have supplements on a regular basis; others do well with just periodic special feedings.  Most clergy are either required or strongly encouraged to practice a formal prayer routine often referred to as saying the office. This involves taking time during certain periods of the day to stop and pray with an emphasis on reading Scripture as part of that prayer.  Many are enriched by setting a set time of the day  for a short period of meditation and reflection sometimes with the Bible and other times just listening quietly for God to speak to their hearts.

There is a part of fruit growing that I find  personally very difficult.  Most fruit trees and grape vines need to be pruned. This is a process in which parts of the plant are removed because they are no longer productive  the part has become damaged or deceased or the limbs have become so thick that the plant as a whole is not thriving. The hardest pruning comes when the new plant, just starting to grow, needs to be pruned so that it will grown into the right shape to be productive.

We also need to undergo the process of pruning. Sometimes that is pruning that we can undertake ourselves and at other times we need others to assist us. Those new to the Faith will often need encouragement to rid themselves of practices and ideas that will in the long run stunt their growth but even more mature members need to be aware that they from time to time need to prune or cutout things from their life which are interfering with their fruitfulness.

Perhaps this is an area of sin. It may not in itself  be or appear very serious but if not dealt with can lead to a weakening of a person’s relationship with God.  It may be some environment or practice which not sinful places us in situation that we are exposed to temptation or at least not to thoughts or desires appropriate for a Christian.  This will vary greatly from individual to individual.

In the last year, I have found that I had to prune several television shows that really enjoyed from my watching due to some of the negative effects that they were having on my thoughts. It may sound silly, but giving up these programs was at first painful, I really did not want to do it, but having done so I can see the positive results.  Some many years ago  my wife and I attended a Marriage

Encounter weekend. During that weekend one of the things discussed is how a couple can together become more involved in Church life. As we took time to discuss this as a couple, we came to the conclusion that we were actually doing too much – that we were not focusing enough on our relationship. We decided that we needed to prune back some of those activities.  They were not bad activities – but they were distracting us from time we needed to share as a young couple and would have kept us from being as fruitful as we could be.

Are there activities that while not bad that are cluttering up your life?

Some fruit plants, to be really productive, need to go through some decree of what we might call hard times. High winds, periods of dryness, severe rain or even frost, allow these plants to flourish or produce exceptional fruit. In fact there is a sweet wine, commonly known as Ice Wine, that can only be produced from grapes that have been frozen. So it is with many if not all Christians, that to be the most fruitful must go through some really hard times.  I know that there are many members of this Church that have or are experiencing this. Some of these who have suffered most have produced some of best fruit of the spirit.  If you are going through such a time now or in the future, you need only look to the reading of Romans 5  which was our Epistle reading which says “Knowing the suffering  produces endurance,  and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s has been poured into our hearts through that Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

But going through difficult times, is not easy, and we like a tender plant or a young tree often need support to stay healthy. Two ways that we in the Church experience such support is through prayer and by personal sharing.  The personal sharing can be as simple as bringing meals to someone or taking the time to listed to them. Saint Augustine’s is a community that can rightly celebrate that it is a community that stands in support not only of its members but of others who are in need.

The fruit on the tree is not only meant to be source of food, but the seed of the fruit is also meant for reproduction. The seed from one fruit enters good earth and produces a new tree or vine that in turn produces additional fruit, in fact multiplying the fruit manifold. So it is with the Fruit of the Spirit, when we respond to the Spirit and let the Spirit’s Fruit be part of our lives we help it to spring forth in the lives of others.   As we show Love to others, they are able to discover Love in their lives.As we show forbearance, we encourage others to do so. But the fruit of the Holy Spirit is not limited to just one kind of fruit in its reproduction. We might show kindness and faithfulness blooms in another. We are people of Peace and others are moved to Goodness. We are all called to grow an Orchard of Fruit Trees for the Fruit of the Spirit. Have you grown any  Fruit lately?

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Haley Gray Scott: Auditing America’s Political Integrity

Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent or whatever. This is an outstanding article and worth your serious musing. At the very least Scott reminds every American that moral integrity does count and counts a lot. It is also a wake-up call for Christians to make their voices heard as well. See what you think.

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard anything about what it means to be a good, virtuous person, much less saw those characteristics demonstrated regularly throughout our political system. “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise,’ wrote C.S. Lewis. “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

It’s not only our politicians. It’s endemic to our culture, baked into the structure of our society. This corrosion of morality affects our businessesschoolsappetitessports, and yes, churches. In my role as a seminary professor, I’ve interacted with seemingly innocuous colleagues who were eventually charged with heinous crimes and then went on to rationalize them, rather than take responsibility and offer remorse. I’ve seen administration manipulate faculty and students abuse professors, cheat on assignments, and rarely receive anything more than an academic penalty and an apologetic slap on the wrist. We don’t even have the appropriate safeguards in our churches to ensure those helming the ship aren’t sexualpredators.

It’s a tale as old as time. We sweep the sin under the rug and make the victim go away. In cowardice we fail to confront evil in our midst because we all too often care more about power and money (which is nothing more than monetized power) than we care about the integrity, the character, of our leaders and future leaders.

Got Fruit? That’s the Spirit!

Sermon delivered on Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.1-21; Psalm 104.24-34; Romans 8.14-17; John 14.8-17, 25-27.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We can all relate to Philip’s request in this morning’s gospel lesson. Anyone who has ever shown any kind of interest in God would like to see God and this is confirmed consistently by Scripture (cf. Moses and the psalmists). In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, many of us would admit that we wish we had been a contemporary of Jesus because it would have been so much easier for us to follow him. He would have been around to answer all our questions and we could have seen Jesus in action first-hand. But even a superficial reading of the gospels proves this notion is mistaken. How many times did Jesus have to correct and rebuke his disciples, especially Peter? (Quite often.) How often did they get to share in Jesus’ mighty acts of power? (Not much.) No wonder we hear echoes of sorrow and frustration in Jesus’ answer to Philip (and to us when we essentially ask the same question in different ways in our doubts and fears)—“You know me and have seen all the works I have done. How can you say show us the Father? I speak and do the things I do only because the Father is in me. If you want to see the Father look at me. The Father and I are one (John 10.30).”

Then Jesus makes the most astonishing promise. He tells his disciples (and us) that those who believe in him will do even greater things than he does and it will be easier to know him than it currently is! How can that be? The answer, of course, is God’s giving of the Holy Spirit and this is what I want us to look at briefly this morning. Specifically, I want to set the story of Pentecost in its proper context, to look at why it is important for us to have the Spirit present in our lives, both collectively as the Church and individually, and then for us to look at some of the ways we can recognize the Spirit’s presence in our lives today because recognizing the Spirit’s presence and activities is not always as straightforward as it sounds.

Luke’s account of the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost reminds us that this particular instance of God’s gracious action among his people was no isolated event. Like everything else in the Bible, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost—itself an OT festival that came 50 days after the great Passover celebration—had a context. Ten days ago we celebrated Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, an event that occurred 40 days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, events we have celebrated these past 50 days of Easter. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins and reconciled us to God. He also defeated evil and the dark powers behind it. And in Jesus’ resurrection, God not only conquered the ultimate evil of death, he also ushered in his promised new creation, although not fully (cf. Romans 8.1-4; Colossians 2.13-15; 1 Corinthians 15.35-57). That’s why we, like Peter and the first disciples, still live in the last days. God’s new creation has not yet come in full and so we must wait for the final consummation. Now Jesus has ascended to the Father to take his rightful place at God’s right hand—NT code meaning that Jesus is ruler and Lord of all creation—and to intercede for us. There would be no more post-resurrection appearances (with the notable exception of Paul). So how is Jesus going to manifest his rule over creation? How are Jesus’ followers going to know he is still present with them if they cannot see him and interact with him as they had done prior to his Ascension?

Jesus provides us the answer in our gospel lesson this morning when he promises to send another helper, the Advocate. The Greek for another, allos, means another of the same sort rather than another of a different kind. In other words, Jesus promised that the Spirit would be another Jesus, but who would not be limited by space/time constraints the way the human Jesus was limited. The Spirit would therefore make it easier to know Jesus in this new mode, not harder, and the Spirit would be the one who would enable Jesus’ followers to do greater things than Jesus had done in his earthly ministry and to help us understand all that Jesus said and taught. The Spirit also advocates for us in our weakness to the Father and comforts and helps us in our trials and sufferings, not unlike how we are comforted by others in our grief and loss. This reminds us that even when we are given the Spirit to live in us, we are not promised to be immune from all the hurt, heartache, and suffering that exists in God’s good but broken world. Rather, what Jesus promises is that he will give us the needed resources to cope with and even transcend the world’s brokenness and our own. Paul says essentially the same thing in our epistle lesson when he tells us we are not given the Spirit to fall back into fear, but to transform us into the very image of Jesus so that we too can become God’s children. In other words, the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is equivalent to God’s presence with his people in the wilderness in the pillars of cloud and fire and later in the Temple Solomon built at Jerusalem.

Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit was of course fulfilled at Pentecost, and in spades. No longer would the Holy Spirit fall on a select few like it had done with the OT prophets, e.g., Moses, David, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, et al. Now the Spirit would be given to all believers of Jesus the Messiah to transform us into his very likeness. And it is through his Spirit-empowered and transformed people that Jesus will manifest his rule over all creation. This is what Paul means when he talks about us being joint heirs and rulers with Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 6.2). Let that sink in for a moment. We who are followers of Jesus and who are being transformed into his likeness by his very Spirit living in us are called to be joint heirs of the kingdom with Jesus. It truly boggles the mind; but it is quite consistent with God’s original intention for humans at creation (cf. Genesis 1.26-27).

But before we get too giddy over this mind-boggling promise, let us also consider the clause that immediately follows Paul’s promise about being joint heirs with Jesus. Paul tells us we will be joint heirs with Jesus if, in fact, we suffer with him. Uh oh. We are all about that joint heir thingy but not so red hot about the suffering part. But the fact is that throughout Scripture God shapes and equips his prophets and the followers of Jesus to become like him through suffering. Consider Moses, who had to endure the rebelliousness of God’s people for 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and who provoked him to sin so that God denied him entrance into the promised land. Or consider David, who after being anointed by Samuel, had to endure the wrath of Saul, who was determined to murder his God-appointed successor. Then there was Ruth, the Moabite woman, who suffered the loss of virtually all her means of support but who remained faithful to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and as a result found great blessing. The writer of Hebrews presents an interesting litany of suffering saints that is a powerful reminder that this is how the game is played for those who love God (cf. Hebrews 11.32-40). And of course there was Jesus himself, who suffered mightily for us, and not just on the cross. Consider his wilderness experience and the profound sorrow he must have felt at seeing so much need and injustice and oppression in his day, as well as a reluctance by most people to do what was necessary to be God’s people. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, our Lord learned obedience and was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 5.8, 2.10) and so apparently must we do likewise.

More about that in a moment. But for right now as we consider the prospect of ruling with Jesus we must remember that he came to serve rather than be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many. The greatest in God’s kingdom will not be those who lord it over others but who serve in the manner of humble slaves and this is only made possible by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

So how do we recognize the Spirit’s presence in us? While he can sometimes enter our lives in dramatic fashion like the day of Pentecost, the Spirit more often than not comes to us quietly and gently. He never imposes himself on us so that we are forced to act against our will and it is entirely possible to quench his presence in our lives (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5.19). We see this poignantly illustrated in the wilderness narratives contained in Exodus and Numbers. Despite the fact that God is present with his people in the pillars of cloud and fire, they often rebel against him and fall into idolatry and apostasy. We wonder how this can be. But is it any different than those Christians who have the Spirit living in them but act as if they do not for whatever reason? God respects us and our relationship with him enough that he never forces us into a relationship with him. Neither does he force us to act in a certain manner because that would destroy the essence of a real relationship. But typically when we ignore his presence and act contrary to his wishes, we can expect him to withdraw his presence from us, just like he did with his rebellious people in the wilderness and later in the promised land when God withdrew his glory from the Temple and allowed it to be sacked and burned by the Babylonians. That is why Paul is adamant that we must put to death our sinful nature if we ever expect to reap the fruit and benefits of the Spirit’s presence. The Spirit will indeed transform us but we must put in the sweat equity and be willing to allow him in to help us become more and more like Jesus.

All this, of course, sometimes makes it difficult for us to recognize the Spirit’s presence in us and so we must learn to look for evidence of his presence. A good place to start is to look for the fruit of the Spirit in our lives—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. The Spirit is not like booze we pour into our bodies so that we come under its influence and lose control over our thoughts and actions. Instead, through prayer, study, and life circumstances, the Spirit will help suggest certain courses of action to take and then we have to decide if we will follow those courses of action. The following brief stories from C.S. Lewis illustrate this dynamic perfectly [read from The World’s Last Night]. We note two things about Lewis in these stories. First, he had to recognize the Spirit’s promptings and movement in his life and the life of others. This is only possible by cooperating with the Spirit and learning to recognize his voice. Second, he had to say yes to the Spirit’s prompting because he had the option to say no.

But perhaps the best indicator that we have the Spirit living in us is our ability to love, just as Jesus told his disciples. Biblical love is always the antithesis of the modern notion of love that seeks to give the beloved all that the beloved desires because the Bible recognizes that we are fallen creatures and our desires are inherently disordered. Rather, biblical love always seeks to act for the benefit of the beloved and this gives us continuing opportunities to assess how loving our behavior really is. Are we seeking to build up the other and point him/her toward Jesus? Are we looking out for others’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs without enabling the other? In other words, are we feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, praying for and forgiving our enemies and persecutors, etc.? Do we love others enough to warn them when we see their behavior is leading to death and/or destruction? Do we love God and others enough to be outraged by acts of injustice or anything that dehumanizes us? This, of course, is where our suffering comes into play so that God can use it to mold us further into the image of Jesus. As Jesus reminded his disciples, much of the world does not know him because it hates him and will therefore hate us as well for advocating kingdom values. As this happens remember that God is equipping you to be joint heirs and rulers with Jesus in the new creation even as he is using your efforts to exert his Lordship and bring the kingdom on earth as in heaven (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.58). Take heart and be encouraged by that so that the Spirit can help you bear your suffering.

Then, of course, we can also tell if the Spirit is living in us by how well we are imitating Jesus’ mighty acts recorded in the gospels. Not all of us are called to ministries of healing and certainly not many of us are called to raise the dead (but then apparently neither were the first followers of Jesus because the NT only records a handful of such acts). But still there are many examples of Christians doing mighty and miraculous acts of power in the Lord’s name. Take John Wesley and the 18th century Methodists for example, who arguably saved England from social revolution because of their tireless efforts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister to the sick, and fight against all that dehumanizes God’s image-bearers, from alcohol abuse to prostitution. If preventing a revolution is not miraculous, I don’t know what is. The Methodists were ordinary people who gave their lives to God and allowed him to work on them to transform them into Jesus’ image so that they could transform the society in which they lived. They were able to do this because they believed the promises of Jesus to never leave or abandon his children in the power of the Spirit so that he could equip them to do far greater things than he did in his earthly ministries. This very dynamic is exactly what our mission statement is all about.

And speaking of St. Augustine’s, I would also call your attention to our many ministries. Every time we visit Worthington Christian nursing home, we are being led by the Spirit. Every time we bear each other’s foibles and burdens instead of ignoring them or being hostile toward each other, much as we might like to, we are being led by the Spirit. Every time we feed the hungry at Faith Mission, we are being led by the Spirit. Every time we talk to others about Jesus and why he matters in our life, we are being led by the Spirit. Then of course there are the individual ministries that we all have, which we don’t advertise (but perhaps we should). Anytime we can think of examples where we act for the benefit or building up of others instead of ourselves at their expense so that the kingdom comes on earth as in heaven, we are being led by the Spirit. And all this is possible because we worship, pray, and study Scripture regularly to make a fertile place in us for the Holy Spirit to live.

So this week, if you want to nurture the Spirit’s presence, I encourage you to do two things. First, learn the fruit of the Spirit as well as the fruit of the flesh (Galatians 5.19-26) and then keep a diary of what fruit you are bearing. As you assess your behavior, ask the Spirit to help you accordingly and have confidence that your prayers will be answered because as you get to know the mind of Christ better, you will know better what to pray for, and surely God will answer those prayers just as Jesus promised. Then second, find a Christian friend, preferably from St. Augustine’s, to share your successes and failures on a regular basis so that you can learn to encourage and exhort one another as needed. As you do, you will surely learn to see more clearly the Spirit’s presence in your life and be reminded that you have Good News, now and for all eternity. Who knows? People might even ask why you’ve been drinking so early in the day.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Fifth-Century Teaching on the Holy Spirit

From Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem (d. 444). It contains good examples of how to recognize the Spirit’s activities in our lives. Check it out.

“The water that I shall give you will become in you a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life.” This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, if produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each as the Spirit wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of the Spirit’s action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous.

The Spirit makes one a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the  body, trains another for martyrdom. This action is different in different people but the Spirit is always the same. “In each person,” Scripture says, “the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.”

The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. The Spirit is not felt as a burden, for the Spirit is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through that one, the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of those who come out of darkness into the sunshine and enables them to see clearly things they could not discern before, so light floods the souls of those counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables them to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.

–Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, Catechesis 16 1

Dr. Ben Witherington: The Love Commandment in the NT-Pt.2

Be sure of this. Whatever it is that you love more than God— he will require it of you at some point. You will have to lay that dream, that possession, that obsession, on the altar. You will have to furthermore lay yourself on the altar, present yourself as a living sacrifice. God doesn’t merely want something from you God wants you, the person he created in the first place!! No wonder Jesus told his disciples they must take up their crosses and follow him. It’s a life and death matter, and if you would gain your life, you must first lose it in the love of God and the following of his Son. And if you say in your heart of hearts— this is too much for me. I can’t do it… you are right.

See what you think.