Monday, March 19, 2007

Why some people hear the Spirit more often

In the message last night, I told a couple of brief stories about a man named John – a man I had the privilege of working with in Pennsylvania. He was a man that had those direct promptings of the Spirit much more often than I. So, that leaves me wondering, “Why?”

If I’m honest, there have been times when I thought that he was more spiritual than I was and felt a guilt for not being more like John. As I’ve grown up a little, and as I’ve studied more, I have more answers – or one answer in many parts (whichever you prefer).

First, I think part of it was his age and experience. He had walked with God for three or four decades more than I had. It makes sense that he would be more a tune to the voice of God.

Second, I think he listened more than I do. This goes hand in hand with number one, but not entirely the same thought. Through the years, he developed his gift and ability to hear the Spirit. I think we can begin to develop that at a younger age.

Third, I think he had the gift of prophecy (though, due to his theological paradigm, he would never have called it that). I think this is an incredibly important point, but one that no one seems to be making. The debate about guidance seems to be two sided: either God directly leads people through promptings, revelation, etc, or he doesn’t. Maybe there’s a third option – maybe he leads some people in those direct ways more than others.

Remember how we defined the New Testament gift of prophecy. Grudem broke it down into two parts: first there is some direct revelation to the believer through the Spirit, and then, secondly, there is the report of this communication. When we talk about direct guidance by the Spirit, we’re talking about the first part of that gift called prophecy. And Paul goes to great lengths in 1 Corinthians 12-14 to establish the truth that while every believer has a spiritual gift, there is no one gift we all posses. That would include prophecy and the direct promptings of the Spirit. Not everyone is a prophet and not everyone gets those direct promptings – nor should everyone expect to.

This thought will be not be compelling to those who reject that the gift of prophecy is for today, but may help temper the fervor of those that do. Please feel free to comment, especially as I’m just offering this as my thoughts, still unrefined and in process…

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Where is the Fear of the Lord?

The fear of the Lord is a major biblical theme, both in the Old Testament and the New. Take a look at this small sampling of key texts:

2 Chronicles 19:7-9, “Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes." … And he charged them: "Thus you shall do in the fear of the LORD, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart…ESV

Psalm 34:11, “Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” ESV

Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” ESV

Isaiah 11:3, “And his [Christ’s] delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.” ESV

Isaiah 33:6, “the fear of the LORD is Zion's treasure.” ESV

Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” ESV

Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” ESV

2 Corinthians 5:11, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” ESV

2 Corinthians 7:1, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” ESV

Ok, so even with this small sampling, I trust you see it’s a major theme and a distinguishing mark of God’s people. So, is it a distinguishing mark of the evangelical church in the 21st century? I think not.

Why? I’ve been reading a book by a Brit named Iain Murray, Old Evangelicalism. He contrasts the current state of affairs to a former time, the time between Edwards and Spurgeon (early 18th to mid 19th centuries). It would certainly be overly simplistic and somewhat romantic to look at the time period and say that the “fear of the Lord” gripped people uniformly and consistently. Obviously there were periods and people who were more characterized by this godly fear, but who where they and why?

Murray argues that one of the themes in preaching that was characteristic of those people and times, and conspicuously absent in ours, is the preaching of the law with conviction. People were crushed under the demands of the law, smelled the stench of their sin, and pleaded for a gospel cure. Gospel truths were preached and preached powerfully, the so was the legal demands of God and the failure of man to live up to it; in fact, that is what makes the good news so good. The more we understand our sin and helplessness, God’s holiness and our deep offense against it, the more we appreciate the gospel as good news – great news!

It is in the law that we are given insight in the holiness of God like nowhere else, save the cross. Look again at Proverbs 9:10 above. Notice the combination of law in the first half of the verse with a knowledge of the “Holy One” in the second part of the verse. These two things go hand and hand, and someone who loves the “Holy One” will sing with the Psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps 119:97, ESV)

As Christians, we have tended to eschew the law, maybe for fear of becoming to legalistic or of painting the picture of God as a demanding God (though he is), or to keep things comfortable for us Christians – whatever the cause for our failure to preach the law, the effects are telling.

Last week, Bob preached a message on Genesis 18&19. The message stood out from typical evangelical preaching (i.e. the Rick Warren, Joel Olsteen type) for a couple of reasons. First, it was long – but I didn’t notice till after the service! It comes it at somewhere near 50 minutes I believe. Second, he preached passionately about God’s holiness as expressed in his hatred of sin, especially sexual immorality (which was pervasive in Sodom and Gomorrah). That’s law! Third, he didn’t shy away from speaking of God’s judgment and wrath. And finally, he offered Gospel. It was beautiful and compelling.

I think we need to return to studying, meditating, and obeying the law – for the good of the church, for the glory of God, and for the joy of those who love Him.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Books on the Holy Spirit

I have plunged into quite a few good books on the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the past couple of weeks and thought I'd share my recommendations with you:

1. The Mystery of the Holy Spirit, RC Sproul. This is a good primer on the Spirit, but pretty simple. Also, Sproul definitely doesn't think the gifts of tongues, miracles, healing, prophecy, etc, are for today (I disagree, but still a good book)

2. Showing the Spirit, DA Carson. Fantastic, if you want to put in the work. This is a 200+ page book that is simply his exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. He is convinced and convincing that the charismata are for today and offers a chapter full of pastoral implications. It is hard, rigorous, but rewarding reading.

3. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, Gordon Fee. Fee is a self proclaimed Pentecostal (minister in the Assemblies of God) and also a professor of NT at Gordon Conwell Seminary. This is the best book on the Spirit I've read (Carsons is great, but Fee is broader).

4. Keeping in Step with the Spirit, JI Packer. This is very good, though I don't agree with all his conclusions. He, like Sproul, don't believe the charismatic gifts are for today, though he is more open to the possibility. He stands outside of the Pentecostal movement and is critical of theological errors and excesses, yet, appreciates how they have called the church not to neglect the Third Person of the Trinity.

5. Baptism and Fullness, John Stott. This is also very good, and short. I would highly recommend it (though, again, I don't agree with his cessationist position).

6. Convergence, Sam Storms. The subtitle says it all: The Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist. He lives in two worlds, two worlds many think are incompatible. I like his position, but the book isn't all that good. I want him to convince me, but he tells a lot of his personal story. You may really enjoy it, and I would highly recommend most of Storms books, but not this one. Sorry.

Friday, March 02, 2007

spring training starts!

Ok, I know no one else likes baseball anymore (except Matthew, and he likes the Twins, so it's the same as not liking baseball), but I'm excited. The Indians are 1-1 so far (I know no one keeps track of spring training games, but I told you, I'm excited).