Partnering with the Lord

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:16-17

Being co-heirs with Christ means a kind of partnership with the Lord. It is certainly not an equal partnership, as we are God’s children, but it is a partnership nonetheless. Over and over again, God gives us an important part to play in the activity of His Kingdom on earth.

God could do everything for us but He knows that would be disempowering. Instead, God does things with us because He loves us. God could sovereignly present the gospel to people, and sometimes does through encounters and dreams, but He likes to partner with us in sharing the gospel. He wants to use the Church, His Body, to spread the good news of Jesus.

God could sovereignly heal people, and sometimes does, but He likes to partner with us in healing. He likes to work through His children as they lay hands on the sick and pray for healing.

God can sovereignly deliver people from demonic oppression, and sometimes does, but He likes to partner with us in deliverance. If we are being bound by bitterness and resentment, Jesus invites us into freedom by calling us to forgive. When we do our part and forgive, God then moves in and sets us free from bitterness.

If we experience heavy oppression from the enemy, God will partner with our brothers and sisters in Christ who pray for us to help us get free. He wants to empower not only the people praying, so that they discover the authority they have in Christ and the power they have in the Holy Spirit, but also the person receiving prayer. He wants all of His children walking in the authority and power that was purchased for them in the death and resurrection of Christ.

With God there is a constant back and forth. This life in Christ is a dance as we follow His lead. If we don’t understand this partnership, we’ll either think everything is all up to God or all up to us. Both extremes are found in the Church and both views fall short of capturing the truth. Sometimes God is waiting on us to move and sometimes we must wait on the Lord and His timing.

This is why intimacy with the Lord, listening to His voice, and ongoing interaction with Him is so vital in our Christian life. Otherwise we fall into legalism. Each situation requires that we follow His lead. And He may not do what He did last time. He may not direct us the same way He directed us last time. It’s case by case. This is what it means to “keep in step with the Spirit“(Galatians 5:25). It’s a dance. And as we learn to dance with Him, it’s beautiful.

Analogy

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Matthew 3:11

Having experienced what some Christian traditions call “baptism in the Spirit” or “being filled with the Spirit” (Acts 2:4; Ephesians 5:18), I have spent years searching for ways to explain it. Before I experienced it, I felt that it had been explained poorly by many in the church, so I set out to find as many analogies as I could to describe it. In simple terms, it is when a person who has the Holy Spirit within them gets flooded by the Holy Spirit coming upon them. It’s not that we get “more” of the Holy Spirit but that the Spirit gets more of us.

  1. Lightening Strike: When a positive streamer coming up from the ground (Holy Spirit within us) meets with a step leader coming down from the cloud (Holy Spirit upon us) and creates an explosion in the air that we call lightening.
  2. Flood: When the water in the lake (Holy Spirit within us) experiences torrential rain (Holy Spirit upon us) to the point where the dam breaks and floods the area.
  3. Temple: Baptism in the Spirit is when the curtain between the Most Holy Place (our spirit) and the Holy Place (our soul – mind, will, emotions) gets torn in two and the Holy Spirit breaks out from our spirit, into our soul and body (outer courts).
  4. Exodus: Israel not only went through the waters of the Red Sea setting them free from slavery, they also went through the waters of the Jordan River as they stepped into their promised inheritance. We not only are baptized by water, symbolizing cleansing from being enslaved to sin, but we are baptized by the Spirit, allowing us to step into the inheritance of the Kingdom that God has for us.
  5. Chocolate Milk: When we put chocolate syrup in the milk, it all goes in but it doesn’t mean we have chocolate milk yet. It all rests at the bottom of the glass. It’s not until the chocolate syrup is stirred up that it infuses through the whole glass of milk. Likewise we have all of the Spirit when we get saved. Baptism of the Spirit is when the Spirit upon us stirs up the Spirit within us and causes it to spread throughout our whole being. The result is something new.
  6. Popcorn: A kernel of popcorn has a tiny droplet of water inside it. When it is heated to a certain point it pops. Though nothing was “added” to the popcorn, it has become something completely different. It is flipped inside out. The pressure from the internal steam cooks it and pops it open. Baptism in the Spirit is when a Christian gets set on fire to the point of “popping.”
  7. Soda: When a cap is on a soda, even if you shake it up, it doesn’t overflow. But if you shake it up and then twist the cap, the internal carbonation starts bubbling up and overflowing. Baptism in the Spirit is when someone with the Spirit within (carbonation) gets shaken by the Spirit upon them and the cap gets removed causing an overflow. The cap is often something in our lives that has been resisting God in some way. It’s different for each person.

I hope these help. If not, I’ll continue to seek the Lord for better ways to describe this work that He does in our life.

Phases of Fasting

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:17-18

I never really understood fasting until I read some books on it and started to practice this spiritual discipline myself. As with all spiritual disciplines, you won’t fully understand their importance until you do them. Reading about them and learning about them is a good first step but it cannot replace experiential learning. Practicing spiritual disciplines opens up a world that is hard to describe with words. They must be experienced.

What I’ve noticed about fasting from food on a regular basis is that you go through certain phases. These phases can only be experienced if you are consistent with fasting. If you fast once and stop, you’ll likely only see the first or second of these phases. But if you choose to making fasting a regular part of your life, you’ll notice some transitions.

Phase 1: In the first phase of fasting, it is about the food. Your mind and body are so used to eating that when it is deprived of food, even for a short time, that will be all you can think about. If you only try fasting once, you’ll never move past this phase. Fasting will always be about the food. But fasting was never meant to be about the food.

Phase 2: In the second phase of fasting, it is about your discomfort. The more you fast the less it will be about the food, but you will start to be uncomfortable on a more regular basis. Fasting will become an attempt to “survive” and make it to when you can eat again. But the focus of fasting was never meant to be about us and our discomfort.

Phase 3: In the third phase of fasting, it is about your sacrifice. This phase turns the corner from fasting being a negative, hard thing to fasting being a good thing. You become mindful that you are sacrificing something for the Lord, something we rarely do. You become aware that God is pleased with your sacrifice and honored by it. And while this phase is a good one, it is still incomplete. Though fasting is a sacrifice, the focus on it being a sacrifice still has us at the center. Again, fasting was never meant to be about us.

Phase 4: In the fourth phase of fasting, it is about worshiping Jesus and drawing near to Him in intimacy. This phase takes time to get to. We must fast regularly enough that we move past the focus on the food, the discomfort, and even the sacrifice of fasting. When one enters this phase, it is all about worship. Fasting is a vehicle of worship. It is a tool to draw near to the Lord. And when we draw near to the Lord, His promise is that He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

Fasting carves out space for holy communion with the Lord. This is why people say “Fasting is feasting.” In this phase, there is a banquet of the Lord’s presence available. This is one of the many “rewards” that the Father gives us as mentioned in Matthew 6*.

Runners often get to a place where their consistency and diligence in running turns into moments of effortless joy that they call a “runner’s high.” But everyone who has ever gone jogging understands that you don’t get a “runner’s high” the first time you run. Nor does it come on the second run. One must create a regular pattern of exercise in order to experience a runner’s high. That is the paradox and the fruit of a disciplined life. This same principle is true of fasting. The joy of fasting comes after one has established a lifestyle of fasting.

I encourage you to talk to the Lord about what fasting from food would look like in your life. Could it be a regular 24 hour fast? Could it be a semi-regular 36 hour or 48 hour fast? If you stick to it, you may discover a connection to God that you’ve never experienced before.

*(Though we don’t fast to get rewards, there are also other rewards from fasting like an increase in power and authority in your prayer life as well as an increase in revelation and insight from the Lord. But the increased connection to the Lord is by far the best reward.)

Black church

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:14-18

I saw a funny video on Facebook of a comedian talking about his experience at “white church” when his white friends invited him on Sunday. It was not only hilarious but it highlighted some of the different experiences Christians have in church based on their race.

More and more churches have a diversity of races among them. Non-denominationalism has greatly helped this, but we still have a long way to go. There are still “white Protestant” and “black Protestant” churches and traditions. There are “white Pentecostal” and “black Pentecostal” churches and traditions. There are Baptist churches that are predominantly and historically white and there are Baptist churches that are predominantly and historically black.

When you look at studies done of the American church–from organizations like Pew Research and Barna Group–they show that the “black church” has had a strong emphasis on social justice. The “white church” in America has been trying to catch up to this emphasis for decades, first in the mainline Protestant traditions and now among evangelicals. But the other emphasis–the one that is hardly ever mentioned in the news, among evangelicals, or among mainline protestants–is how the black church has for decades emphasized the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit and the movement of the Spirit within the worship setting.

The Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the movement of the Spirit is not only emphasized in black Pentecostal churches, but even within historically black Protestant traditions. In other words, it seems that in the fight against oppression and injustice, the black church not only focused on the importance of social justice and transformation but also focused on the need for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

This hardly ever gets discussed in conversations about racial reconciliation in the church. Why?

The reason is because the white churches that champion social justice the most completely reject the gifts of the Spirit and the importance of the movement of the Spirit.

Here is what I’d like to propose. Until the white church understands the Holy Spirit better, how the supernatural gifts of the Spirit operate today, and what it looks like for a movement of the Spirit to happen, there will be large gaps in racial reconciliation in the church. How can a white church that rejects the fullness of the Spirit embrace a black church that not only emphasizes the Spirit but absolutely depends on Him.

Let me take it a step further. Until the white church embraces the charismata, we will never fully embrace our black brothers and sisters in Christ. If we don’t understand what is happening when that black grandma prayer warrior falls down on the church carpet after being prayed for, if we, in all our whiteness, still label it “emotionalism” or worse (black people getting carried away) then we’ll never be able to move toward racial reconciliation in the church. I propose that until we, as white folks, start dropping under the power of the Holy Spirit, racial reconciliation will just be an academic pursuit.

Paul said, “For through Him (Jesus) we both have access to the same Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). The Holy Spirit is the One who unifies the Church, the Body of Christ. Again, Paul reminds us, “…we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). In 1906 when the Holy Spirit sparked the Azuza Street revival–the birthplace of Pentecostalism–blacks, whites, and Latinos all came together and worshiped together. William Seymour, the son of emancipated slaves, led the revival. This was completely unheard of in that time of segregation. But the revival fires of the Holy Spirit brought unity and racial reconciliation (however temporary).

We cannot seek unity and racial reconciliation and reject the Spirit. We cannot say “No” to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit that are on full display in our black brothers and sisters and then turn around and try to say “Yes” to unity.

So, are you a Christian who is passionate about racial reconciliation in the Church? Then I propose that you start investigating the Holy Spirit. I invite you to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the manifestations of the Spirit. Start there and you’ll be on your way to increasing your understanding of the black church in America.

The Gathered Church

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

We gathered together as a church on Sunday. There were about 20 of us who were there in the building experiencing worship live. The rest of us were at home experiencing the live streaming of the service. I was telling a pastor friend the other day that trying to plan a service like this (with all the CDC safety protocols, all the live streaming tech in place, and all the details of a regular service still there) is like trying to pull off a church service under water, scuba gear and all. It’s a lot of hard work.

But then I started to think about the global church, specifically the persecuted church. This is how they have had to gather for decades. They are used to gathering with no more than 20 to 50 folks in the same room. They can’t afford to gather in bigger groups because of the real threat of getting caught, imprisoned, and/or killed.

When we gather like this, we may be afraid that a virus could get us sick. When they gather, they are afraid someone will find out and put them to death. When we gather like this, we have the freedom to broadcast our service across the internet for all to see. When they gather like this, they can’t even hint at the existence of their gathering. Most of them have to pretend to be faithful Muslims or committed Communists.

We think that it would be easier for us just to stay home. And it would be. But imagine how much easier it would be for the persecuted church to give up meeting together, how much easier it would be for them just to stay home. And I was reminded on Sunday, in that small gathering of 20 worshipers, why the Church chooses to gather despite the dangers that come with gathering.

The experience of worshipping in person, preaching in person, hearing the word of God in person is incomparably different than doing each of those things through technology from the comfort of our homes. There is power when believers gather that can only be experienced in person. The Presence of God is tangible in a way that cannot be replicated at home in front of a screen.

Sometimes we legitimately can’t gather and shouldn’t gather. And for these times, technology is a gift from God. But when we can gather, even when there is risk, we should gather. Last Sunday Jesus’s words became very real to me: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them“(Matthew 18:20). And no doubt, He was.

Batteries Charging Batteries

Last November my family and I went to Disney World. It was one of those trips that you save and plan for so that the memories can last a lifetime. Part of the planning was to bring external battery packs that could recharge our phones in the middle of the day. We knew that we would be taking so many pictures that our phones would need recharging by the middle of the afternoon. We were right.

Since there weren’t really places to stop and charge our phones (and there really wasn’t time to waste) we would just plug our phones into the battery packs as we walked through the parks. It was so nice to have a fully charged phone without having to stop. At the end of each day we would have to remember not only to charge our phones but also the battery packs. The battery packs weren’t a source of power; they were simply a storage place and conduit of power that was generated somewhere else.

It is an interesting idea, though, when you really think about it–using one battery to charge another. The Lord brought this concept to mind this morning in the shower when I was reflecting on the spiritual reality of impartation.

What is impartation?

In basic terms, impartation is any time something is imparted from one person to another. In theological/spiritual terms, it is one Christian being a conduit of God’s power and anointing in order to transfer it to another believer. Impartation is a transference of the anointing of the Holy Spirit from one believer to another (and sometimes the transference of particular gifts of the Spirit). Impartation is one battery pack charging another. We see impartation in the Bible first with Moses and the elders.

The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.”

So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25

We see it again between Moses and Joshua with the laying on of hands/prayer.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:9

We see it in the New Testament between Paul and the believers in Ephesus.

they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. 

Acts 19:5-6

And we see it again between Paul and Timothy.

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

1 Timothy 4:14 & 2 Timothy 1:6

When impartation is released from one believer to another–when there is a transference of the power, anointing, and/or gifting of the Holy Spirit–amazing things can happen in the life of the person receiving the impartation. I have been on the receiving end of impartation and my life was radically transformed by the experience. I was flooded with the power and presence of the Spirit in a way that I had never experienced before. I was given new gifts of the Spirit, some in seedling form and some more fully formed.

I believe impartation is available for everyone. Our role in receiving it is to make sure the soil of our heart and our lives are ready to receive all that God has for us. We prepare the soil; God plants the seed. But that seed often comes through a conduit, a person commissioned to spread the seed that belongs to the Farmer. In other words, one battery pack is used to recharge another battery, but everyone knows that the Source of the power is not the battery pack. The battery pack is just a conduit of electricity that they themselves have first received.

This is what Jesus was telling His disciples when He sent them out to do ministry and miracles. He reminded them, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Freely you have been charged up and empowered by the Holy Spirit, now freely release that power, that anointing, and those gifts to others.

If you are interested in learning more about impartation, I recommend the book There Is More by Dr. Randy Clark.

The Ineffectiveness of Shame

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height… The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

When engaging in social issues, we must remember that the above scripture verse is true of the victim and the victimizer. God sees people differently than we see them. We see a “scary black man” and the Lord sees a gentle friend and father. We see a “blue collar white guy” covered in demonic-looking tattoos and the Lord sees a teacher and a mentor to young men.

One thing we learned when we started a nonprofit to fight human trafficking in the Baltimore area was that you can’t create cultural/systemic change with shame. We saw some organizations trying to do just that. But shame creates either defensiveness or hiddenness in the person who needs to hear your message. They will either become more entrenched in defending their sin or just learn how to hide their sin better. Trying to shame people into change is the opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only that but, practically speaking, shame doesn’t work.

Instead, the message must be delivered with hope. We must see people the way God sees them, past their sin and into who God created them to be. In our case, instead of trying to shame men into not buying sex or pornography, it looked like inviting men to be the protectors and defenders of the vulnerable that God had created them to be. It meant not only raising awareness but raising hope and rejecting shame.

Shame disempowers and debilitates people into inaction. It does this to the very people you need to be active and engaged. If shame is your primary way of trying change the culture of racism, it’s time to find a more effective tactic and one that aligns with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is what is so radically different about the gospel. God looked at Saul (who would become Paul) and instead of just seeing someone who was persecuting the Church, He saw the future apostle who would write most of the New Testament. If Saul the persecutor lived in our culture today, one group would try to shame him into changing and another group would just want to sentence him to life in prison. If it was up to these groups in our country, Saul would have never become Paul.

Whenever one person dehumanizes another, they themselves become dehumanized. Whenever one person degrades another, they themselves become degraded. Both the victim and the victimizer simultaneously get degraded and dehumanized in the same act of injustice. The antidote is seeing the image of God in the victim and calling out the injustice. The antidote also involves seeing the image of God in the victimizer and bringing conviction instead of shame. Conviction is a combination of hard truth mixed with hope and love. Conviction says your actions are wrong but your identity was created for more. It speaks to the heart of who God created a person to be.

True conviction always carries with it hopefulness. This is what allows a person not to retreat into defensiveness or hiddenness. It’s hope and love that help someone face their sin long enough to move into repentance. Shame can never do that.

Jesus, help us to have eyes to see people the way You see them. Help us to see past the sin in a person’s life and into who You created them to be. And move us past shame, Lord. Convict us of our own sin and give us the hopefulness of the gospel, that You are changing us from the inside out through Your Holy Spirit. May we not shame ourselves or others. Instead, Jesus, may we move from conviction into repentance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Unearned Advantage

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

I was praying about the concept of “privilege” this morning. As a white, middle-class, male in America I live with a high level of privilege that is hard for me to notice. Let’s call “privilege” an “unearned advantage.” Some advantages I have in life I have worked hard to attain while others were given to me at birth through no doing of my own. And if I have been born with an “unearned advantage” through no doing of my own, it means others have been born with an “unearned disadvantage” through no doing of their own.

Being born into a middle-class family wasn’t something I chose. I was given that gift at birth because of my parents and grandparents. The advantages they gathered in their life (both earned and unearned) were passed down to me. So being born into a middle-class family means I started life with a certain amount of privilege. Maybe it was less privilege than being born into a wealthy family, but it was still an unearned advantage.

I believe there are multiple forms of privilege and they are all on a continuum. Privilege is not an on/off switch. We all fall on the spectrum of privilege somewhere. And all privilege (whether it was earned or unearned) comes with responsibility.

Men have had a certain level of “unearned advantage” over women in our culture historically. White people have had an “unearned advantage” over other races in our culture. People not born into poverty have had an “unearned advantage” over those who were born into poverty. Able-bodied people have had an “unearned advantage” over those who are not able-bodied. And the list of possible unearned advantages goes on and on.

The conversation gets confusing when you start comparing who has more privilege, so it’s probably best not to go there. Does a poor Asian man have more privilege than a middle-class Indian woman? Which variable of privilege wins out? This is why it doesn’t seem helpful to have that conversation.

It’s better just to focus on whatever unearned advantages we may have personally and whether we are responsibility using that advantage. Are we aware of it? Are we abusing it? Are we using it selfishly? Are we being responsible with it? Are we using it to help others?

Yet, as I was praying this morning about privilege, the Lord reminded me of my greatest privilege. He reminded me that my greatest “unearned advantage” is my relationship with Him. No matter what is happening in my life or in the world, I get to wake up and spend time with the Creator of the Universe every morning. I get to speak to God and listen as He speaks to me. I get to experience His love. I get to receive His peace. I get to read His word. I have the security of knowing He is my protector and provider. This privilege is not only available to me, but to people all over the world–men and women of every race and socio-economic status. This unearned advantage is available to all!

To be the son or daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is an enormous privilege. And, like many other privileges, it was unearned. Jesus is the one who paid the price for me. I have the unearned advantage of having the Holy Spirit dwell inside me. Resurrection power dwells within me! God’s Spirit is united to mine! Is there any greater unearned advantage?

And, like other unearned advantages, it means someone else had to deal with an unearned disadvantage. Jesus, though completely free from sin, paid the ultimate price for me. My unearned advantage of the Spirit was provided by His unearned disadvantage. Yet, it wasn’t something forced upon Him. It was something He willingly surrendered to.

The other glaring difference here is that this unearned advantage, this privilege of having an intimate relationship with the Lord, is available for everyone. No one can change their race or the family into which they were born, but we can choose to receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Savior. We can choose to surrender our lives to Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.

Many Christians, though, aren’t taking advantage of their greatest advantage. We have this incredible privilege of having an interactive, intimate relationship with the God of all Creation. We have this incredible unearned advantage of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the resurrection power of God flowing through us. We get to be confident that He hears our voice, and we get to hear His. But what are we doing with this unearned advantage? Are we aware of it? Are we using it for the sake of His Kingdom and for the sake of others?

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:9-11

Start with the Holy Spirit

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

2 Corinthians 7:8-11

One of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction to our hearts that leads to repentance. Paul calls this “Godly sorrow.” The Holy Spirit has a way of bringing both conviction and comfort. Our sin is exposed, but we are never shamed. We see how far short we’ve fallen, and yet the Spirit shows us how God sees us with eyes of love and compassion. This is the inner work that the Holy Spirit does from the inside out.

Paul contrasts this with “worldly sorry” which brings death. Worldly sorrow often comes in the form of guilt and shame. These are counterfeits of true conviction and repentance. Worldly sorrow exposes sin but it does so in a way that keeps the focus on us. Rather than leading to repentance it leads either to a folding in (despair, hopelessness, shame,) or an exploding out (rage, hatred, violence, revenge). Worldly sorrow is not an inner work of the Spirit but an external work trying to use external pressures to bring inner change. It never works.

As followers of Jesus we must allow Godly sorrow to lead us to repentance. This is the beginning of change. We must allow the conviction of the Spirit to do its work. But if we find ourselves slipping either into despair or violence, shame or revenge, then we’ve entered the realm of worldly sorrow. And worldly sorrow always leads to the death of things rather than new life.

Godly sorrow will always start with repentance. And true repentance will lead to “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Paul lists some of the fruit of real repentance: “earnestness“, “indignation“, “alarm“, “longing, concern, and readiness to see justice done.”

Our culture, which promotes worldly sorrow and its toxic fruit, so often wants to skip past the inner work of the Spirit and get straight to “doing something.” This approach so often produces self-righteousness. I saw this when I was helping to start a nonprofit that addresses human trafficking. When we don’t begin with personal conviction of our own sin and repentance, we will so often approach justice issues with an air of self-righteousness and a messiah complex. Without the Spirit, we will forget that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

If we want change in our society, we need to ask the Spirit to clean out our own heart first (Psalm 51:10; 139:23-24) . Then we repent for the sin that gets revealed. Start there. We all need to start there.

It was Jesus, through the unity of the Holy Spirit, who managed to bind together two groups that hated each other and then call it the Body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles couldn’t have been more different and their distain for each other couldn’t have been greater. Yet the Spirit managed to bring them together and create the Church out of the two groups. Jesus brought peace and the Spirit gave both groups access to the Father.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:14-18

It all begins with the work of the Spirit. It all begins with Godly sorrow that leads to repentance. When that comes first, the fruit will be exactly what our culture needs–one new humanity out of the two.

The Couch

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Matthew 24:35

This week we moved. We didn’t go far, just down the road a few miles. We moved from a townhouse that we’ve been in for 14 years to a single family home. We are grateful for what God has provided for us, but moving does funny things to you.

It’s been hard to let go of the old house. My wife and I tend to hold on to things. We first moved into the townhouse when we got back from our honeymoon. So our old house was the place where all the early marriage memories happened. It’s where we brought home each of our three kids from the hospital. Their first rooms, first beds, first steps…first everything happened in that house.

We had a backyard, side yard, living room and basement full of memories. Each bedroom had story after story of their life embedded into it. These are things that were hard to leave behind.

One of the hardest things to let go of surprised us all. It was the couch. We had this couch for 14 years. It was so stained and broken that we didn’t move it to the new house. When it was time to take it to the dump, our 8-year-old son jumped on it, held on tight, started crying, and told us not to take it. It was hard to watch.

So many individual and family memories happened on that couch. It’s where we had all our movie nights as a family. It’s where my wife nursed all our kids. It’s where she spent most mornings with the Lord. It’s where she and I counseled nearly 50 couples in premarital counseling. It’s where we relaxed at the end of each day and watched a show on TV.

That couch was saturated with life moments. It was saturated with the presence of the Lord. Yes, it was also saturated with odd smells and years of stains. It was full of what made up our life for the last 14 years.

I was the one to take it to the dump. I was the one to take it out of the back of the trailer and throw it over the edge into the refuse pile. I couldn’t have predicted how difficult that would be. All of that life, all of those moments, now seemingly in a pile of garbage. It seemed like the couch deserved more than that for all it had given us. I got choked up seeing it there.

Driving away from the garbage dump in tears, I tried to process things with the Lord. He reminded me that the couch was just wood, fabric and stuffing. It was a cheap couch from Value City Furniture. Most people don’t keep couches that long. But then the Lord gave me the word “embodied.”

By itself, the couch is just cheap materials. But it had been “filled with the Spirit” in a way. It had been filled with the spirit of our family, all our memories, and the presence of the Lord. Like the difference between the Jewish Law and Jesus. One is just a set of rules to obey and the other is a person to follow. The gospel of Jesus was always meant to be embodied, filled, full.

Over the years that couch, and our old house, became more than the sum of its parts. It became more than just cheap material. It became filled. It became full. It became embodied. Disembodied things are easy to throw away. Things that are full of the Spirit are hard to let go of.

God reminded me that what I threw away at the dump was just the material, not the memories. Like at a funeral, the corpse in the casket is just the skin and bones of the person but not the actual person. The spirit and soul of a person has left the body behind and gone on to be with the Lord, soon to receive a resurrected body.

God reminded me that I had to let go of the cheap material, but I didn’t have to let go of the moments, the memories, the presence. But who would have thought that all of this would have happened over a couch? It’s funny how connected we get to things that are saturated with Life.

As I looked around at the other items being thrown in the refuse pile, it was a good reminder. All of this is temporary. All the things we accumulate will end up here one day. Do we really want to give our life to accumulating things that are so easily thrown away, so easily taken away? Do we really want to spend our whole life accumulating things we can’t take with us into eternity? Or do we want to give our lives to something more lasting, more eternal, something that can’t ever be thrown away or taken from us?

Do not love the world or anything in the world…For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17