Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ category

The Bible and Hot-Button Issues

April 17, 2018

Spirit FireIn today’s gospel John the Baptist says, “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).

The first thing I’d like to say is about Scripture. John was a prophet. Jesus even said that to this point there was no greater prophet than John. He was a New Testament prophet. He was a prophet whose mission it was to get people ready for Jesus.

And yet, even John’s prophetic words were incomplete. John seems to assume that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit instead of water. John also assumed that when the Messiah came, there wouldn’t be any more chances to repent: the Messiah would gather his wheat (righteous people) into his barn (kingdom) and burn the chaff (everyone else) with fire (hell). The baptism of the Holy Spirit would be for the good guys and the fire of judgment for the bad guys.

Of course, what actually happened looked very different. Jesus and his disciples also baptized with water. Jesus hung out with sinners and even invited them to become his students. He said he didn’t come to judge but to save.

Instead of burning sinners he died for them.

So even though John was given the assignment of preparing people for Jesus, there was very little about Jesus as Messiah that he understood. (In fact, later he would ask Jesus, “Are you the one, or should we be looking for someone else?”)

So no biblical passage or prophet gives the whole or final word about…anything – whether it’s about Jesus, or the cross, or baptism, or the “baptism of the Spirit,” or the Lord’s Supper, or slavery, or the sabbath, or food laws, or predestination, or circumcision (the hot button in the New Testament church) or military service (the hot-button issue in the post-New Testament church, along with whether people who had folded under persecution could repent and be reinstated), or divorce (the hot button issue 50 years ago) or same-sex marriage (the hot button issue that’s dividing congregations and denominations today).

Being baptized with the Holy Spirit doesn’t guarantee our always getting it right either. John was filled with the Holy Spirit back when he was in the womb. It was Holy Spirit baptized Christians who disagreed about food laws, circumcision, Sabbath-keeping and burping in public (just making sure you’re still paying attention).

And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s God’s way of saying that none of these are supposed to be deal breakers.

So this is what I’m wondering. I’m wondering if the fire John says is going to accompany the Holy Spirit is ultimately meant to get rid of the chaff inside each of us, the chaff that often surfaces when I’m talking about whatever issue is making me feel “hot” inside. I wonder if many of the things I think and feel when talking about same-sex marriage or abortion or politics is actually the stuff that has to be burned with fire.

Maybe the reason I’ve been baptized with the “Holy” Spirit isn’t so that I’ll always be right, but so I’ll gradually become more holy, which includes becoming more humble and loving.

Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:1-2).

Spiritual Practice #8: “Intentionally Seek to Integrate Your Life in Christ with All Areas of Your Life”

November 30, 2016

integratedDuring Advent we reflect upon and prepare for the coming of Jesus. We remember his birth and make sure our preparations are on track for his return.

So why did he come? And what can we expect the second time around?

The Jesus whose birth we celebrate, and whose return we anticipate, is Jesus Christ, or Jesus the Messiah. Messiah is a Jewish word that basically means Savior/King. In other words, Jesus means to save and he means to rule. His intent then and now is to reclaim this world as God’s kingdom. He wants to restore all things according to God’s original design (Acts 3:19-22). He intends to make all things new.

Christ is King and he is Lord. This is the fundamental truth of the Christian life. Christ himself qualified us to enter his kingdom, but now each Jesus Follower is called to apply themselves to learning what it means to live under the Reign of God. (more…)

Transformed and Transforming — Getting Ready for Sunday

October 10, 2014

Dove2At that moment heaven was opened, and he (Jesus) saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16).

So why a dove?

We’ve been talking about baptism, and what we can learn from John’s baptism as well as John’s baptism of Jesus. John talked about the Holy Spirit coming with fire. The apostles got fire too (i.e. the tongues of fire at Pentecost). So why did Jesus get a dove?

Actually, the dove is the clue that unlocks Jesus’ entire mission. (more…)


January 10, 2014

Oxygen Volume 11Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

“Be careful.” The apostle Paul’s message in today’s lectionary reading is my word to you this morning, my sisters and brothers. Be careful. Be very, very careful of the “elemental spirits of the world.”

We live in the most post-Christian region of the country. Post-Christian doesn’t mean non-spiritual. I think many people would describe themselves as spiritual in some way. The danger of Christians living in a spiritual but post-Christian culture is that our Christianity can begin to look and sound like the spirituality of those around us.

This has always been the temptation for Christians. During his last meeting with the leaders of the Ephesian church Paul said: “So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31).

What are the “elemental spirits” the apostle Paul refers to in today’s reading? Good question. Greek and biblical scholars can’t even agree on this one. I believe the reason they can’t agree is because they’re all right. (more…)


May 29, 2012

In yesterday’s gospel reading, Jesus says, “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32).

So which is it? First Jesus says, “Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven.” But then he says, “Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” First Jesus says there are no unforgivable sins; and then he says there are. Are there unforgivable sins? If there are, is blasphemy against the Spirit (if we can figure out what that means) the only unforgivable sin, or might there be other exceptions to the “anything can be forgiven” rule? (more…)

It Was One of Those….

April 14, 2011

It was one of those “interesting” nights. I was invited to a dinner yesterday evening with all of the national staff, regional Synod executives, and pastors from a few other churches in the Synod of Albany. Each pastor was invited to share something about their congregation and also communicate which steps forward we believed the denomination had made as well as challenges it still faced.

I came away from that event with my mind spinning. How incredibly diverse even our tiny little denomination is! And then there is the diversity and breadth of the whole, worldwide church of Jesus Christ. I was up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night thinking about all this, as well as my particular call and that of BRC. Thinking soon turned to praying. Sometimes I feel like I don’t “fit” anywhere. But as I thought about the folks that were at the event last night, I realized that others probably feel the same way, only often for different reasons. (more…)

In the Zone

April 6, 2011

Okay, it’s been awhile. There have been other priorities, including the creation of a new BRC website. We hope to officially announce the launch in a few days. So I think I’m back.

For anyone who is new to this blog, sometimes I share thoughts based upon the “lectionary” readings for the day. The daily lectionary consists of an Old Testament reading, a Gospel reading, and a New Testament reading outside the Gospels (plus a couple of Psalms for those who are up for it). This is just one way to read the Bible. It’s helpful for me to know that not only members of my own spiritual community but Christians throughout the world are reading the same passages.

Today’s New Testament reading is Romans 8:1-11 — definitely one of my favorites. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” What I hear Paul describing is how to live “in the zone:”  “…so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” The zone is what athletes, artists and musicians (and others) experience when everything is clicking. Mind and body are extremely focused. The rim looks twice as wide, the finish line is yours for the crossing. (more…)