Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I've had the notion today to stop blogging. I was going to delete the blog, but accepted the advice of some others not to do so. Blogging is not working well into my schedule.

That said, if you have read here, thanks!! Spirit in the Wild Wood will be dormant for the time being while I do my job teaching kids.

I have an idea for Father's Day -- check back then.
Take care and walk in the love of Jesus Christ. He is worthy!!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Love is in the Spirit

In his song, The Other Side of the World, Rich Mullins sang, "I can see the people who have learned to walk in faith, with mercy in their hearts and glory on their faces."

Being a human is a whole experience of mind, body and heart. The practice of faith over the centuries has tilted toward an emphasis and dependence on an intellectual study of and apologetic for being a Christian. I speak out not to demean nor discount intellectual study and the resulting development. I know the value of education, and being educated in the written Word of God is without equal for the Christian.

However, I have spoken with a variety Christians and read many others over the years who cry out for a deeper experience of God than ritual, tradition and rote teaching provide. When will we acknowledge what is missing? Godliness with contentment is great gain. Godliness is the fullness of God in the life of an individual and that lived out among others. If God is love, godliness is loving others. Could it be as simple as our love is lacking and so then our experience of the depths of God?

This is not about sentimental or soulish love. The Word teaches clearly what love is and its foundation on the Spirit of God. How shall it be achieved that we become a people with mercy in our hearts? I submit it is the practice of that aspect of Christianity known as in the spirit. We live in a day when we Christians will speak of loving others, but the action itself is largely reserved for members of our group, those folks who share our denominational flavor; and this we do poorly. One group teaches water baptism is essential for salvation and another group says not. Is such division over doctrine not a grief to the Father? Is it time to identify these differences as the winds of doctrine which the Scripture warns against?

Better that we learn the walk of the in-dwelling Christ; and in finding there mercy for ourselves, we stand on Him and regard one another with grace and forbearance. Forbearance is defined by Webster as, "a refraining from the enforcement of something (as a debt, right, or obligation)." Can we refrain from enforcing our turf beliefs on others? Can we refrain from self-righteous judgment? Only as we embrace with and in Christ a way of being that does not condemn. If nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, might we refrain from separating ourselves from the loving of others who acknowledge Christ and Him crucified for sin and risen from the dead?

Learning to love deeply is a natural growth of walking with Jesus. I suggest this involves accepting the Word to be the living Word in the form of the Holy Spirit, and allowing Him to work within our whole selves. He must become more than an intellectual apologetic to us. In learning more about being in Him, we will find the wisdom of releasing ourselves from proving our worth by doing what we think is right.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

We Need not Connote In Spirit as Unfathomable

Boisterous or shy, domineering or supportive, humans are a varied mix. People reveal personality through facial expression, body language, and verbalization. We have but to walk through one day interacting with others to observe the expansiveness of the differences among personalities. In contrast to this diversity is a shared, common experience of living within the nature of personality as a mix of intellectual and emotional dynamics. Personality as formed in a human drives behavior, whether the behavior is planned or spontaneous. Springing from deep within the natural being, a person reacts to life. The spontaneous reactions are often hardest to understand. For example, a person might sometimes react to a given situation in conflict with an intellectual understanding of a stated personal value system.

A debate long argued between psychologists and sociologists turns on the following question: Are humans agents in their destiny or victims? Most folks would agree humans at least desire to become agents acting on behalf of themselves and towards goals of their own choosing. Yet, anti-social or self-destructive behaviors which spring seemingly uncontrollably from deep within a person are often explained or justified by playing the victim card. Christians introduce a spiritual component into such a discussion based on the words of Jesus from John 8:34, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." So, there is more to consider about why people behave the way they do besides the personality. We factor in sinfulness.

I am addressing the magnificently complex issue of the human soul. Beginning in the nineteenth century and developing rapidly and intricately during the 20th, modern man created the science of psychology to describe why humans behave as they do. In college, I was required to take developmental psychology. Early in the course, the professor was discussing disciplining children. We were instructed that children would behave in order to gain something they desired but had lost to parental prerogative. The question was asked what two through five year old children might want so completely as to always surrender to the will of the parent. The professor replied that parents should withhold love from disobedient children. Herein is observed fully the foolishness of the modern intellect.

The Father disciplines His children through the power of unconditional love. The wisdom of man believes in the power of conditional love. Conditional love is the vehicle by which humans have learned to manipulate other humans. Such an approach spawns victim mentalities, stirs natural selfishness to grab desperately for more, and shrouds the truth of love in a warped logic with no life. The renewed life in spirit is the fullness of truth sought by people, but hidden from their view. In being born of the spirit and in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, anyone may be freed from the avarice and self-centeredness of the fallen nature. However, the benefit of in spirit living extends further. Growing into the new creature reality, the soul learns to react differently to the world in which it finds itself as compared to old nature ways. The Christian who practices communing with the in-dwelling Presence of Jesus is able to respond with authentic love, joy, and peace. How compelling it is to be with a person who never seeks to manipulate or gain advantage in the relationship! How salty to the soul to experience a human whose response is both springing from within as a function of personality and simultaneously reflecting the way of Christ.

When I began this series, I predetermined a path through topics which I hoped facilitated a discussion on Christian spiritual understanding and growth. This growth is a spiritual altering of the condition of the soul which increases the believer as an agent to others of the Father’s love. For me, the Christian faith is about understanding the love of God as a release into the fullest possible and God-inspired abundant life. The "abundance" is not material blessing. Rather it is an ability to see into the spiritual condition of the surrounding environment and choose responses which pour life into people. This knowledge of loving with the Holy Spirit from within as the Source is the basis for authentically living in God, evidenced by the fruits of the Spirit in all circumstances.

My journey has required that I recognize and die to selfishness not just in thoughts, but behind my core motivations. I cannot do such in my own understanding or in my own strength. The Christian experience is a human experience of God’s love. I believe maturity in Christ mentioned in Ephesians four is a function of growing in the pure love of God. Such is best described as in the spirit. I do not know all that those three words mean nor imply; but I do know if we are in God and God is Spirit –and such is the witness of the Word of God—we cannot separate spirit from what it means to be a Christian. Further, I believe we need not connote spirit as something which is of God but unfathomable. God has not asked us to be or do that which we cannot understand.

So how then do we learn and know the way in spirit? I suggest each may chart a course that is a function of personality and therefore individualized. What applies to one, may not necessarily apply to another. Yet make the desire to understand a request unto the Father. God will be faithful to bring conviction and the guidance needed by the individual to learn this way of life. The commonality among us will be of learning to hear and obey the conscience which is understood as entrusted to the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. The gospel message of Christ, Him crucified for sin and resurrected is completed by recognizing that God has now filled human vessels with the Holy Spirit.

Last post in my planned series is up next.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Worship in Spirit

Reflecting over Practically Walking in Spirit II, 1/11/07, I realize most Christians would accept what I have written as a basic understanding of overcoming sin. This post seeks to explore further an in spirit experience, which is not a task I expect will be accomplished fully as it is larger than my understanding. Nonetheless, stirring thinking and feeling over the topic is fruitful for spiritual growth. Hopefully anyone reading these posts as a series will have picked up on a flow of thought. I will work soon on a summary.

Jesus identified the two great commandments:
And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind: and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

I find the absence of "spirit" from the list of how we shall love God significant. However, the omission is logical.

Consider these words of Jesus:
"But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:22-23

Here an absence of the words heart, mind, soul, and strength, which are often heard in a description of the human being worshiping God, is noticed.

Consider the following scripture:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12.

Though a larger meaning of the Hebrews verse is within the flow of context, I highlight 4:12 here to establish the spirit is not the soul and the soul is not the spirit. Considering this, the use of spirit in the context of worshiping God, and its absence in the context of loving God provides insight into a meaningful separation of these two terms. I suggest the following: the soul is the essence of the human which dwells in the body. It is both mind and heart in tandem. It is the individual and his or her unique personality. The soul will move to an existence out of the body after death of the body. The spirit is separate from the soul. The spirit is birthed by God when one receives by faith the spiritual work, effect and efficacy of the Atonement. Hence the phrasing in the NT, “born of the spirit” used three times by Jesus in John 3.

The word spirit is a reference with some measure of nuance, but in its broadest sense is an inclusive term of the life and light of God, and He is described simply as spirit. Narrowing from this broadest sense to the least human experience of the term, one may be alive in the body, fully experiencing one’s own soul yet be completely dead, and thus, in the dark in spirit. I think this is what Jesus means when He refers to living bodies with souls as “the dead” in Matthew 8:22 stating, “...let the dead bury the dead.” In the middle of that spectrum of usage is the Christian born of the spirit.

Using an analogy, I am perfectly capable of driving at night. Darkness all around me will not hinder my starting the car and manipulating it forward as mechanically designed. However, if I do not turn on the headlights, my driving will be less than successful. My knowledge of driving may be likened to the intellect; my desire to move forward is my heart; the car is my body for movement. The darkness all around is my beginning and end, and the ride anywhere will be rough--unless I turn on the headlights, the spirit.

Our souls, the fullness of our hearts and minds, are renewed by and ever toward loving God because being in spirit has turned on the light. We are instructed to be in this supernatural communion between Him and us for worship. Our worship of God is a state of the conceptualizing, imagining, beholding, and identifying Him to reverence Him as the all in all. Here is the challenge: accept that in doing so, we are experiencing Him within us. Is the prayer experience a speaking to God in heaven? Why would we see Him as so distant from us? He is not just observing us; He has determined to join Himself to us. I think this is supported by John, chapter 17. Our spiritual knowledge is separate from natural understanding and through the in-dwelling Holy Spirit knows the Truth, Jesus. This spiritual knowledge develops our mode of living as a human. We shift from the limited, dark knowledge of our natural soul, into someone illuminated from within by the way of being which is in heaven. (Living from the soul may express scripture and give verbal assent to an intellectual understanding of Truth, and yet fail to be in spirit...another post maybe?) The human mechanism on our end is the direction of our will to submit to the conscience as it is filled by Him. This daily act is not about introspection and attempting to fix our own problems through any human means or understanding. It is about trusting in Jesus to lead, guide, and comfort while He completes the work within us He has authored.

The consequence of fully interacting in faith with an in-dwelling Christ is to realize more completely the illuminated life which is in spirit. How abundantly we are then released to the fullest of our capacity to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, and our neighbor as ourself!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Practically in the Spirit II

The following post draws its base from the following Scriptures:
Galatians 5:22 – 23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
James 3:8 -- 11
But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?
Eph 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Picking up from yesterday’s ending thought, sometimes being out of the spirit is easier to recognize than being in the spirit. Have not a large number of us experienced a thought and wondered if it were God directing us or not? Or, upon acting on a thought we felt sure was of the Lord, the results were less than satisfying. The simple confusion of the matter is that we often can’t tell if we are “in” God or not, especially as a young Christian.

Practically speaking, I had stopped trusting my ability to “hear” God because it seemed my own feelings were always in the way; then I realized something clearly. It was obvious when I was out of the spirit. There were times when my conscience wasn’t sensitive enough to register all my unholy attitudes, of course; but if it was clear I was out of the spirit, there was no doubt.

As yesterday, follow the understanding in reverse: I am out of the spirit when I hate, lack joy, am anxious, impatient, unkind, lack goodness, am unfaithful, harsh, lack self-control, curse, or speak unwholesome words which do not edify or fill another’s hearing with grace.

Learning to walk in the spirit of the Lord can be accomplished if we reduce it from some deep, spiritual meaning that cannot be established either intellectually or emotionally, and set the goal of understanding in very real terms of our actual natural existence. Stopping the flow of our old natures, which is...well the natural thing we are inclined to do, is a good step. We will fail in trying to stop our old natures. That is part of the process. Jesus said to forgive 7 X 70 for a reason.

Failing enables us to confront several things. The way it “feels” or how we “think” before we fail. As dull, natural human beings, we have usually become so accustomed to our rationalizations and/or emotional habits which enable us to live with unholiness, we do not recognize our sinfulness either as sin or as something that can be changed. Identifying a clearly bad habit or thought process, thus alerting us to make a change--if we will--before we blow it is learning to walk in spirit. The most important aspect to learn, I believe anyway, is the confrontation between Truth and our selfish lack of love for God which is evidenced by our failure. Honestly acknowledging before the Lord our lack of love and repenting there is much more effective than praying, "God, please change me." God has beaten death, washed our sins in His blood sacrifice, and determined to take us into His heart for eternity. Taking some personal responsibility in loving Him is up to us.

If we can turn our lack of love for God into love for Him at any level, we are first acting in the spirit and second our obedience in the matter will follow. Why do I call this in the spirit? This process is a work of grace. God accomplished the hard stuff on the cross. He has established the path out of unrighteousness, and His Spirit lights the way. His gentle voice speaking in our conscience is His leading. We make a decision to follow that voice of conscience. Following His leading must be a spiritual or in the spirit act. (This is why legalism fails. It places the responsibility on the believer to accomplish all holy acts, all the time, according to man's interpretations of Scripture. Thus legalism removes the spiritual nature of walking with God, and the believer does not connect with God's heart or intent moment to moment.)

Therefore, learn to work on what your conscience weighs upon you. You cannot leap into the new creation as a completed human. Learning the way of love is not like cooking microwave macaroni.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Practically Walking in Spirit

The discussion thread of the last post is a good example of the exchange between believers revealing the Mind of Christ. I believe the Lord’s heart is pleased when believers share constructively and from a place within the heart each knows as being in the spirit. George writes in his second comment of the thread, “This is a living God we trust -- not something to study, but Someone to know, follow, and obey.”

Today's post is a thought which I believe is foundational for growing in the spirit. If it resonates with someone and increases understanding of the “practical” nature of his or her walk, my goal is achieved. More thoughts tomorrow, and I look forward to more practical knowledge from others in the comments!

John 14:15 – If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.

This scripture is often used to describe how our obedience is evidence of our love for God. Which of course it is, but usually the emphasis is on what must be done to obey God. The scripture is used to insist on obedience from the flock. In context, however, Jesus is exhorting the disciples in matters of faith. Going back into chapter thirteen, Jesus has just told Peter that he will deny Him. The number break to chapter 14 moves into Jesus words, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” In fact in thirteen, Peter has asked where Jesus was going just prior to his affirmation of faith which is what precipitates Jesus' prediction of Peter's denial. Jesus then moves onto words of comfort as He describes where He is going and is offering encouragement on living without His physical presence. There is no reason to infer a break in context from Jesus speaking in thirteen to what follows in fourteen, in which He is speaking words of exhortation on belief. Within that context, John 14:15 is a word of comfort. Jesus is instructing the disciples and us in a cause and effect relationship. Loving Him produces obedience. We can be confident of this! The point is love for Him, not the things done in obedience.

The practical? Learn to rest in God’s love and be inspired to love Him more in return. Remember the overall metaphor God has authored, the church is being prepared for eternal union with the bridegroom, Jesus. In the metaphor, we are His betrothed. Individual contributions to this eternal state are to grow in love for God, and this has the benefit of affecting life on earth by increasing one's obedience as an individual and the depth of experience within the community of believers.

Going at the idea in reverse, disobedience means what? It is evidence that love for God was either not alive or impure. Practical response? Ask forgiveness, look to see what the moment teaches about one's faulty love, and seek the Lord above and/or about whatever need was behind the attempt to find satisfaction selfishly. Ask Him for understanding of the unfaithfulness to be equipped for faithfulness. Be confident, He will answer this prayer; if one does not learn a pure love for God in the matter, He will be faithful to continue to work on the issue!! He is patient to bring the lesson again and again, if it is needed. The goal is loving the Father in this area in which the individual has attempted to live without Him. Living without Him is living out of the spirit!

Monday, January 7, 2008

...in the spirit?

Living in the spirit is not easily nailed down to a definition everyone accepts. That the application of the meaning of the word cannot be reduced to a system supported by policies and procedures is the attribute of this sublime spiritual state which reveals being in the spirit means to be alive with God and waiting on Him. He, as the Holy Spirit, is the definition of the word.

I rarely find any discussion on how one learns to walk in the spirit. It is an accepted phrase which gets much use with limited depth of mutual understanding between believers. Often, when I’ve attempted to move a discussion in this direction—and I have been making this attempt for over twenty years—I get one of three reactions: the person or group gets all excited and wants to talk about the presumed effects of being in the spirit, usually the spiritual gift list of I Corinthians 12; the eyes, that window into the soul, retreat somewhat and heads nod while the conversation dwindles after a few simple truisms; or a list of expectations about behavior follow with legalistic undertones. I hear very little practical substance. It raises the question, “Can a supernatural reality have a practical explanation?”

Of course behavior is the issue, since the behavior of a Christian is expected to have the savor of the Savior as described in Galatians 5: 22-23. Christians sing, “God, create in me a new heart;” study the Word seeking understanding of what it says to live accordingly; listen to sermons; or participate in discussions in a class or home-group meeting format. All this "spiritual” activity is intended to be a part of developing a walk with God. Why do we think such is true? What evidence supports the conclusion that doing these or other activities develops the spiritual state the Bible calls "in spirit" or "in the spirit"?

Perhaps some intend to seek the path of righteousness but actually are guided by simply doing what the group does. More often, I think it is believed these activities are choosing the path to righteousness, and as such the activities and the group are the support system needed. People being who they are, many may even become refined in Christ-like behavior and rest securely there; but many secretly wonder if these efforts are the wood, hay and stubble kind of work or the work of gold the Father will praise. All of the sincerest efforts to grow more deeply in the way of Christ and all the insecurities over measuring up rest on what is or is not truly in the heart which only the Lord sees.

This post is not a complaint or charge against anyone or any group. The current state of affairs within the Body of Christ is certainly more profoundly complex, broader and more significant than I can describe in even a series of posts on a blog. Yet, I write today because I wonder, “What can simplify the issues between believers, reduce the tensions which arise over disagreements, bring life to the soul and spirit of individuals, develop more unity within our Christ-family, and ultimately increase the effectiveness of communicating the gospel?”

The answer, the only conclusion I can draw is learning a deeper, more authentic walk in the spirit.

It is a topic that cannot be denied. In the NAS New Testament, there are 380 total uses of the Greek word pneuma which translates seven ways. Of those seven translations, “spirit” is the translation 345 times. We just celebrated Christmas with its message of “Emmanuel, God with us.” We teach and believe that our very bodies are the earthly temple of God. This is the meaning of Christianity.

Or so I see it, in this wild wood of a world so desperately sick with sin.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Old Man Cannot Be Disciplined to Love

Recently when I asked what it means to love God, Jesse commented, “I think loving God is simply loving without fear of rejection, like is illustrated to us by a small child loving their parents.”

In so writing, I think Jesse speaks to the core of why people experience doubts in their walk with the Lord. I will start my thoughts with a statement of belief about the gospel, but hope all readers recognize this post is not intended as a discussion on what the theologically correct doctrine of the gospel message should contain. Disclaimer thus stated...modern American Christian experience, the church as I know it (limited as that is), preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ somewhat as follows:

Man is separated from God by the fall and the resulting sin in all hearts.

The Father’s plan of redemption since Creation is to become incarnate in a human born of the Father’s perfect seed, and therefore, the incarnate Jesus is free through this parentage from all effects of the fall.

Jesus lived perfectly, taught the Truth, and modeled among humans a picture of the Father.

He was sacrificed for sin paying the debt owed God’s perfect judgment.

He resurrected from death and is the first born into a spiritual, complete and eternal state intended for all humanity.

The fulfillment of the plan is the Holy Spirit sent to reside on the earth to renew, then guide and comfort all that trust in this redemption.

Interestingly, I started to say something here about the exercise of free will in making the choice of trust in redemption through Christ’s atonement and realized one of the great divides among us. Ahhh, well, so it is. The point here is to express a bare-bone minimum of the gospel message from which this post can speak. I recognize many would want to tweak different points or even add some, but I do not assert this is "the" doctrine of the gospel. This is a framework ...oh yeah, I’ve already done the disclaimer thing.

From where I sit observing human behavior, the real problem is in the living out of the last point. There are two conditions in which people labeled "Christian" abide regarding living a life in the Holy Spirit.

1. People who wear the label “Christian” for all wrong reasons. These folks are goats. God knows who they are. They know nothing of living a life of spiritual renewal through the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

2. People who are renewed as per the reality of the last point of the gospel message above.

In group number two, there is a variety of states or levels of experience. These are based largely on maturity in the spirit. Considering Jesse’s comment above, maturity is about learning to fully experience in faith God’s unconditional love. The ramifications of this are many and will manifest in diverse ways, but all have to do with the development of the conscience. I submit maturity is not achieved by study of the Bible, though study of the Bible is a component of what happens in the life of the believer. The conscience develops according to our experience with God--literally. The conscience is a function of a relationship with God: more of God, more acute conscience; less of God, less acute conscience. Reading the Bible does not guarantee growth of the conscience. (See condition number one above and the last point in the gospel above that.) There must be an experience with the Holy Spirit for one to be in God.

Sometimes believers make the mistake of living according to the dictates of a conscience built on fear of man. Such practice is immature and brings no growth in God. In this scenario, a person does all the right things as expected by the group, but this doing is just layering over the old nature in an attempt to achieve the holiness of God. The inward experience of this person will be something of a manic-depressive dichotomy or to use the Christian vernacular, “roller coaster ride” Christianity.

Better it is to simply trust God and accept one's circumstances as divinely intended to teach one to love. God is love, and the walk with Him is about maturing in love. Our Christian experience needs to mature beyond layering over our natural man. The old man cannot be fixed or disciplined into love, which is life in the Father. We must learn to be a new creature, born of the Spirit, with the life of God ever springing up in our heart. This is not a Christian platitude; it is the day to day of the gospel message.