The Laws of the Kingdom

…through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:2

All throughout the created world we see laws at work that counteract each other. One law of nature seems to be greater than other laws. For instance, the law of centrifugal force should mean that the rotation of the earth flings us all out into space. Centrifugal force is that feeling of being pushed to the outside anytime you spin around something. It’s that feeling of sliding to the far side of the car when it’s going around a turn.

But the reason we don’t fly out into space is because of the law of gravity. The force of gravity is stronger than the centrifugal force. Another way of saying this is that the law of gravity is above or greater than the law of centrifugal force. It doesn’t make the lesser law less true. It just means the greater law takes precedence. Both laws are true but the greater law wins out.

(Fun fact: the centrifugal force is greatest on the earth at the equator. So gravity is counteracted the most at the equator. Meaning, you are a little lighter at the equator–by about 10 oz or so–than you are at the poles of the earth.)

We see this same principle at work in the judicial system. There are many laws on the books. But in the courtroom the judge often has to decide between two competing laws. This is especially true with the Supreme Court. Both laws are true. Both laws are there for a reason. But often one law takes precedence over another law in a particular case. For instance, a federal law will take precedence over a state law if they are in conflict with each other.

These examples are simply reflections of what is true in God’s Kingdom. In the spirit realm, there are laws at work. And some laws supersede other laws. Romans 8 tells us that the law of the Spirit of life is greater than the law of sin and death. Both laws are true, but one is greater than the other. It is true that sin leads to death. It is true that because of our sin we deserve spiritual death. But a new law was introduced in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are now saved by grace through faith in Jesus. And having been given the Spirit, we are now set free from the law of sin and death. There is a greater law at work.

Paul describes a hierarchy of Kingdom laws in Galatians 5. The law of freedom stands over the law of the Spirit of life. Yet, the law of the Spirit of life stands over law of sin and death. Paul warns the Galatians to use their freedom to submit to the Spirit rather than to sin. And if we use our freedom to submit to the Spirit, we will walk in the Spirit and the will keep us from sin.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 

Galatians 5:1, 13, 16

The reason I am pointing out that some laws in God’s Kingdom supersede and take precedent over other laws is to highlight an important truth about healing. This is something the Lord has shown me over the last few weeks. If we want to operate in healing gifts and if we want to pray and see people healed, we need to remember this truth.

What the Lord showed me was that, because the law of the Spirit of life is greater than the law of sin and death, people can be healed of disease. We might call this the law of healing. But He also showed me that the law of freedom (or what we would call free will) is greater than the law of healing in God’s Kingdom.

Let’s break this down.

First, the law of healing is the general principle that God wants people to be healed in their bodies. Jesus is the perfect embodiment of the will of God on earth. Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing. He was God in the flesh. Every single person who came to Jesus and asked for healing got healed. Jesus never turned someone away in the Gospels and said, “You need to be sick so the Father can teach you a lesson.” No. Scripture says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35).

The life of the Spirit in Jesus was transmitted to those who had illness. Disease is a product of sin and death in the world. The law of the Spirit of life overcame the law of sin and death. It is clear from the life of Jesus that God’s will is to heal disease and sickness.

The obvious question becomes, “Why then isn’t everyone healed?” The same kind of question could be asked about why then isn’t everyone saved. 1 Timothy 2:4 states very plainly that God our Savior, “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” God wants everyone saved. But not all are saved. Why? Free will. The law of freedom gives people a choice to trust in Jesus or not.

So how does the law of freedom sometimes supersede or have precedence over the law of healing?

One example is a testimony from a woman named Joanne Moody. She wanted to be healed and believed in healing and got lots of prayer for healing but for years was not healed of her chronic pain. It wasn’t until a man spiritually discerned that she had made agreements with certain demonic spirits (spirits of death, spirits of suicide, etc) that anything changed. When the man discerned the truth and led Joanne to break those agreements (with her own free will) only then did prayer for healing actually heal her body. She was completely and totally healed. [See her testimony here.]

She had made agreements with the enemy that were blocking her healing. She was free to make those agreements because of the law of freedom (free will). Only when she renounced those agreements and had those demonic spirits cast out of her did her healing come. In other words, her free will had to cooperate with what God was doing in order for the law of healing to take center stage.

Another part of Joanne Moody’s testimony is that she almost died on an operating table. When this happened, her spirit floated above her body and the Lord came into the room. He gave her a choice to go home and be with the Lord or to go back into her body. She admits that she wanted to go be with the Lord, but she choose, for her son’s sake, to go back into her body riddled with pain.

Think about that scenario for a second. All these people were praying for her not to die. All these people were praying for her to come back and be healed. God wanted her to be healed. Yet, ultimately, God gave her a choice. The law of freedom took precedence over the law of healing. Had she freely chosen to go home to be with the Lord, she would not have been healed. She would have died right there on the operating table.

We see this with Jesus and the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). They cried out for physical healing. Jesus then gave them a command to go show themselves to the priests. They had the freedom as to whether they were going to obey. If they didn’t go, they wouldn’t be healed. If they did go, they would be healed. The law of freedom takes precedence over the law of healing.

They all decided to go, and “as they went” they were all healed. Before they even got to the priests, Jesus healed them. So now all of them were physically healed from leprosy but only one came back to thank Jesus, and he was apparently a “Samaritan.”

Jesus responded to the gratitude in the man’s heart (his free will choice to return and give thanks) by granting the man even more healing. Jesus said, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” That word in the Greek translated as “made you well” is the word for saved (sozo). The man was already physically healed; Jesus then healed him at a much deeper level. The other nine men who were also physically healed made their own free will choice not to return and give thanks, and they did not receive the deeper healing.

What’s the point?

The point is that the law of freedom sometimes takes precedence over the law of healing in God’s Kingdom. Does God want to heal? Yes! Emphatically, yes! This is what we see over and over again in the life of Jesus. Yet, it seems, there is a greater law that is often at work. God does want to heal but more than that He wants us to have our God given freedom of will. Without freedom there is no love. In order for love to be real it must be free. The law of love is dependent on the law of freedom. And so often, in order to see healing, we must freely cooperate with what God is doing and saying.

This is not to say that this is the only reason people are not healed. Don’t hear me say that. There are lots of variables involved with someone getting healed and many of those variables are a mystery. What I am saying is that one of the variables is the reality that the law of freedom supersedes the law of healing in God’s Kingdom. Our freedom is one of God’s top priorities and we must use that freedom to cooperate with Him. Learning to cooperating with God in healing is part of the journey of the Christian life.

We must explore this truth more. I feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg. How does our freedom and our free choices interact with healing? How can we engage the law of freedom in such a way that it enacts the law of healing? There is much more that we have to learn about this truth.

Contemplative Silence or Spiritual Deafness

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voiceHe calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 

John 10:1-5

I spent years thinking I was engaging in the contemplative silence of God, as if to spend time with God was mainly about embracing His silence and learning to be silent myself. But I was mistaking my spiritual deafness for God’s silence. Many Christians, especially progressive Christians trying to embrace contemplative Christianity, are making this same mistake. God likes to talk. Jesus’s own nickname is Word of God. God is not perpetually silent. How many times does Genesis 1 say, “And God said…”? God is speaking all the time. Most of the time, we just haven’t learned how to hear Him (or haven’t taken the time to).

Silence with God is like arguments between spouses. When I hear married couples say, “We never fight!” I get worried. Never fighting is awesome if you are an older couple who has spent decades learning how to communicate. However, for younger couples “never fighting” is too often an indication that one or both spouses are avoiding things for the sake of a false peace.

I have the same feeling when I hear Christians say things like, “God’s primary language is silence.” If you have spent decades hearing His voice, learning to listen and obey, and have learned to enjoy His Presence so much that both you and God can just sit in silence with each other, wonderful! That’s beautiful. But that’s not most American Christians.

Most Christians are never addressing their spiritual deafness because they are mistaking it for God’s silence. God wants to speak, and if our spiritual ears are open, we will hear Him. His sheep know His voice and listen to His voice.

An 80-year-old couple sitting in silence at a restaurant speaks to how they know each other so well. A newlywed couple sitting in silence at a restaurant often signals a breakdown in healthy communication. Not all silence is golden.

I have found God to be most silent when He has already spoken. He is silent because He’s already told me what I need to know and now it is time for me to trust and rest and follow His lead. Too many Christians believe that God is mostly silent and only speaks occasionally. I used to believe the same thing. But I was spiritually deaf, not understanding all the ways that God speaks through the Holy Spirit. My spiritual ears were clogged with doubt, unbelief, and skepticism.

Too many Christians have managed to take a spiritual problem (the inability to hear God) and have spun it into a spiritual attribute (“I embrace the silence of God”). It reminds me of the husband who, when asked about his marriage, says it’s going great only to look over at his wife and see her eyes rolling. She knows their problems are deep and many. He’s the kind of guy who will boast about never fighting with his wife only to experience a divorce a few short years later.

If God is silent, do not assume you are a master of contemplation enjoying the quiet presence of God. Assume, instead, that you are spiritually deaf and have a long way to go in learning to hear God’s voice. Cry out for an opening of your ears. Surrender the false belief that God doesn’t speak to you. Only after we learn to hear the Holy Spirit regularly can we then learn to enjoy God’s silence in a way that is healthy.

The Three Rs

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…

1 Peter 2:4-5

The three “Rs” of education have classically been reading, writing and arithmetic. The Church also has three “Rs” of transformation. The three “Rs” of transformation in the Church are Renewal, Revival, and Reformation.

Renewal is the term that describes when the Holy Spirit begins to refresh and renew individuals in a church through a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. People begin to have new encounters with the Lord that they’ve never had before. The gifts of the Spirit are renewed in the church and people begin to experience the supernatural in their midst. When a whole church goes through “renewal” it means they collectively begin to be refreshed and renewed by an outpouring of the Spirit throughout the congregation.

Renewal tends to be disruptive as new wine gets poured into old wineskin. Things break and tear and a new wineskin is sought after to hold the new wine being poured out. As individuals get brought into a fresh intimacy with the Lord, the whole church starts to feel different. As individuals have personal visitations of the Presence of God, this gets brought into the corporate worship setting. The whole atmosphere of worship begins to increase in the Presence of God. But this is only the first “R.”

If Renewal continues, it leads to Revival. Revival happens when there is a transition from visitation to habitation of the corporate Presence of God. Revival happens when there is no longer fighting about the Renewal and instead a unity in pursuit of more of God. Revival happens when there is corporate repentance and corporate pursuit of holiness. When there is unity in the Body of Christ, the church functions as a holy Temple of the Lord inviting a continual habitation of His Presence. Each member of the church carries His Presence into their homes and workplaces.

As Revival spreads from local church to local church, it begins to bleed out into society and culture. This is Reformation. Reformation is when society is changed because of the Revival culture that is spilling out of the Church in the region. Reformation is when there are mass salvations, healings, and deliverances that happen on the streets, in the bars, and at the schools. During Reformation, laws change as a response to God’s outpouring. Societal structures change. Politics change. Even those who don’t know Christ begin to adopt the ethic of the Kingdom of God because of the fruitfulness that they witness around them.

We as the Church are described in a variety of ways in scripture. We are the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. Yet, we are also described collectively as a Temple, a spiritual house, where the Spirit of God dwells.

The Temple had three main areas: 1) the outer courts, 2) the Holy Place, and 3) the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place was where God’s Presence dwelled. Only the High Priest could enter there and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Holy Place is where the priests would minister inside the Temple. The outer courts were where the offerings and sacrifices were made among the people.

Renewal is when we experience the Presence of God in the Most Holy Place for ourselves. Revival is when the Presence of God in the Most Holy Place breaks out into the Holy Place and fills the whole Temple. Reformation is when the Presence of God breaks out of the Temple entirely and breaks out into the outer courts and throughout the city of Jerusalem.

Many churches have yet to experience any of this. They are dry. They are dying. Yet even those experiencing Renewal in their midst have only just begun the journey of transformation. The purpose God intended for the Church was never just about getting renewed and refreshed in the Spirit. God wants His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. He wants to do this through the conduit of the Church if we are willing. This means we must pursue not only Renewal but also Revival and Reformation.

The three Rs–Renewal, Revival, Reformation–must be pursued in their fullness and in that order. Pursuing Reformation without first pursuing Revival becomes another failed social gospel. Pursuing Renewal without Revival splinters the Church into “haves” and “have nots.” Pursuing Revival without Reformation leaves no lasting impact on the world. We need all three.

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.

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.

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 Harvest

Where there are no oxen, the feeding trough is clean,
but an abundant harvest is produced by strong oxen.

Proverbs 14:4 (New English Translation)

This proverb describes in a picture a move of the Holy Spirit. Whenever God moves powerfully in a church through the Holy Spirit, things will get a little messy. If we want to control everything and keep it tidy and clean, we will likely have to ask the Holy Spirit to leave. But if we want a genuine move of God in our midst, we should be prepared to have a mess on our hands. We will have to clean the barn occasionally.

But the reverse is also mentioned in this proverb. When we allow the Holy Spirit to move, despite the mess, there will be an abundant harvest. His works are greater than what we can do on our own. His power is greater than ours. His ability to transform and ignite people far surpasses what our church programs can do.

Yet, feeding oxen is not only messy but it can be costly. Every farmer knows you must pay the price to feed the oxen so that an even greater harvest can be produced through the power of the oxen. Allowing the Holy Spirit to move in our midst will be costly. It require dying to self on many different levels. It will require personal sacrifice and corporate devotion. It will require a surrender of our norms and traditions. It will require getting over ourselves and not being so easily offended by things we don’t understand. Most of all, it will demand that we break from our addiction to control everything.

Our Sunday services will have to cease to be so tightly controlled. Our small groups and prayer times will have to open up to the move of the Spirit and not be quenched by our pre-arranged agenda. Most Christians are willing to give up time, energy, and money for the sake of the Kingdom but few are willing to give up their addiction to control.

Addiction to control looks like having to know 1) exactly what is going to happen, 2) exactly how long it will take, and 3) exactly who will be doing what. If not knowing these things causes such anxiety that you start to feel suffocated with a tightness in your chest–if not knowing these things makes you feel trapped–you might be addicted to control. When we demand that we have control in every environment of the church, we are essentially telling the Holy Spirit that He is not welcome. He is not welcome to do something outside of our scheduled plan.

Most churches have fallen in love with a clean feeding trough and a barn that smells like Pine-Sol. But the harvest is meager and we wonder why.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Matthew 9:35-38

One-Liners

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
    to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

Proverbs 25:2

One of the ways that God speaks to us is through what I’ll call “one-liners.” Jesus often did this when He quoted the Old Testament. He quoted most from the Psalms, Deuteronomy, Isaiah and Exodus and, when He did, He often quoted only one line from a larger passage. Jesus’s intention was to allude to the whole passage, but He knew His listeners would only need one or two lines to get the meaning.

For instance, if I was talking to you and I said, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” you would likely know the rest. Or if I said, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come…” you would likely know the rest. This is how most of the Old Testament was for the Jewish people. They grew up on it.

Jesus still speaks to us today in this same way. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus will often drop a one-liner into our hearts and minds. Sometimes it is a part of a scripture passage. Sometimes it is a line of a worship song that makes reference to a scripture passage. Often, its meaning is not immediately understood. As the Proverb above admits, God isn’t hiding things from us but for us. He’s giving us a clue that He wants us to explore.

If someone hands you a key to a lock, do you assume that the key is the gift or that the key was meant to open up something that leads to the gift. The key is only the first part of the gift, but it was meant to lead you into more. This is how the one-liners from the Lord work, so don’t ignore them. Instead, explore them. According to the above Proverb, to search out a matter is the glory of royalty, and we are royalty in the Kingdom of God.

One of God’s favorite times to give us one-liners is just as we are waking up in the morning. Don’t miss these! Our spirits do not sleep and neither does God. He often ministers to us throughout the night as our bodies and minds are at rest. And just as we are waking up, He will often leave us with a one-liner either as a message or as an encouraging word.

I woke up this morning and the first thing that ran through my mind was “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Now, I knew that this line was in scripture somewhere, but I had not read that passage recently. It wasn’t in a song that I had been listening to. In other words, it felt like it came out of left field. I knew it was the Lord.

So my next task, if I wanted to be a good steward of His words to me, was to search out its meaning. I knew this was something people shouted to Jesus on Palm Sunday as He entered Jerusalem but that was about it. As I explored it more, I learned that it actually comes from Psalm 118. So I read the whole Psalm and, in doing so, I realized that God had more for me than just that one line. The whole Psalm was a mixture of declarations about Jesus and personal encouragement to me. It was beautiful!

But if I hadn’t paid attention to the one-liner from God, if I didn’t know that was a way the Lord loves to speak to His children, I could have ignored it and missed it. We need to be ready in quiet moments–in the shower, in the car, as we are going asleep, and especially as we are waking up–to receive one-liners from the Lord. And we need to be ready to explore the fullness of all that the one-liner was meant to say. If you are willing to pay attention, you’ll notice that God is speaking to you more than you may realize.