Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Holy Spirit (Page 1 of 2)

I’m A Slow Learner

im_a_slow_learnerI’m slowly learning that my heart is too easily affected by all the wrong things, yet it remains stubbornly hard precisely where I need it to be soft.

I’m slowly learning that after 32 years, I still don’t know myself nearly as well as I should.

I’m slowly learning that I don’t have nearly the platform with people that I once thought I did; an authoritative voice is earned over the long haul.

I’m slowly learning that the louder I speak on peripheral issues, the quieter my voice becomes when calling people to the centre.

I’m slowly learning that I’m not nearly the husband, dad, friend, pastor, or Christian that I thought I would be by now.

I’m slowly learning that what I want my life & ministry to be characterized by when I’m 74 needs to be what characterizes my life & ministry now.

I’m slowly learning that it is possible to idolize good things like unity and peace; and also that joy quickly turns to rage when those idols are toppled.

I’m slowly learning that very few people in the wold are called to be ‘the voice in the wilderness.’ Probably far fewer than evangelicalism — myself included — currently recognizes.

I’m slowly learning that praying for something doesn’t mean that I’m actually believing God can and will act.
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Quick Defence of the Trinity

The Holy TrinityIn his book, God’s Words, JI Packer recounts a time when he was provoked by a Jehovah’s Witness ‘heckler’ to defend the notion of the Trinity from the New Testament. Apparently the ‘heckler’ didn’t know who he was heckling.

Packer, in the moment, decided to follow a specific line of argumentation that is quick, and I believe, helpful. Even if it’s not an exhaustive defence, I believe it’s a faithful one that many could benefit from meditating on. Here it is:
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The Objective-Subjective Spirit


One of the many joys of pastoring is seeing Christians grow in their love for one another and in their unity of fellowship, despite various church backgrounds. What becomes apparent when Christians from different backgrounds get together is that depending on what kind of a church experience you come from, you may have a radically different understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work than some of your friends and fellow church-members.

Objective or Subjective Work?

Some of us tend to conceive of his ministry as more objective: his work is done to us. He regenerates, he gives faith, he seals, he protects until the end. That is glorious!

But for others of us, there is a tendency to conceive of the Spirit’s ministry in more subjective categories: his work is done in us. We feel his assurance, we’re equipped with gifts, we are prompted by his leading. And that is glorious too!

The reality is that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is dynamic. He is the Spirit of truth who opens our eyes and affects our hearts. He is the one who gives us life and sustains it. He brings our salvation and completes it. He is intimately involved in us because of what he has done to us.
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The Holy Spirit

The Holy Trinity

It’s a funny twist of providence that I paused my series for a day in between the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was not intentional, but it does illustrate something of the way I’ve tended to (erroneously) view the Spirit in my life. While always loving the doctrine of the Trinity, my practice has sadly been to actually neglect the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

I’m not entirely sure why that’s been. Sometimes the excesses of others (the Benny Hinns of the world) scare me away from pursuing the Holy Spirit. And other times a bad application of a good doctrine (like the perpiscuity of the Scriptures) can lead me to think that I don’t really need the Holy Spirit since the Holy Scriptures are clear enough. Either way, I was dead wrong.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I attended the WorshipGod ’06 conference hosted by Bob Kauflin and co. at Sovereign Grace Ministries that I really had to deal with Christian brothers and sisters who love the Scriptures, love the doctrines of grace, but who are eager and intent on experiencing the Spirit in their lives in all of the ways he was active in the New Testament. (See some of the reflections I had after that conference here.)

I could post lots of things about what I’ve learned about the Holy Spirit over the past few years, and how I’ve observed his role in new and dynamic ways both in the Scriptures and in the life of the church and in my own personal life. Instead what I’m going to do is just try pose two questions I’ve learned to ask myself in order to experience the Spirit more the past few years and then reflect on how that changes my approach to Sundays in particular and fellowship in general.

1. Am I Seeking to Actually Hear?

One of the positive traits I’ve picked up from my time hanging out with my friends from Sovereign Grace churches is that they have a unique expectancy that the Spirit can and will speak to them at any moment. As you arrive at church on Sunday, as you fellowship with your friends through the week, as you spend time in prayer and confession, what is your default posture? Is it one of expectancy?

Mine wasn’t for a long time. Too many times I thought of conversations with other believers as just that: conversations with people. I never paused to consider or to ask, ‘Could the Spirit be speaking through this person and using this conversation to help bring truth to bear on my life?’ Considering the Spirit as the source of genuine fellowship between believers (again, whether at church or not) helps me to expect great things of conversations. It also helps me to listen better to sermons, and helps me to engage in corporate prayer. Where is God leading? What’s he saying to my heart?

Do I expect that the Spirit will use this or not? If I’m not listening it’s no wonder I don’t hear anything. If I live like he’s not there it’s no wonder I don’t experience the wonder of his presence.

2. Am I Seeking to Hear Where He is Seeking to Be Heard?

You don’t have to be a Christian long before you run into someone who recounts how God, through some twist of providence, ‘told them’ to do something irrational (and sometimes even unbiblical!). That’s a danger that we can run into when we’re expecting to hear from God. We can think we are hearing from him when we’re really, truly not.

So how can we know the difference? God has revealed himself. Part of that revelation tells us where and how he will continue to reveal himself to his people. He has spoken ultimately in Jesus and revealed Jesus to us in the Bible, and the Spirit will continue to bring that truth to life as we read it and meditate on it (the Spirit is the reason the word is living and active). The Spirit will continue to unveil the Father in the face of Jesus in the written word.

He speaks through his people, when they speak truth to each other. The Spirit indwells and leads people so that as they experience truth in the Bible and then speak of it with brothers & sisters, the Spirit makes that experience communal.

He speaks through the means of music and worship. As we rejoice in biblically faithful songs, God’s Spirit takes that truth and affects us in new and fresh ways.

And the Spirit speaks through preaching. He always has. It’s foolishness. As a preacher I can tell you that honestly, just like the apostle Paul could. But God uses it. And when the gospel is preached and people receive it as it really is (the word of God!) it take root and brings fruit (1 Thess 2.13).

So it’s Sunday…

As I prepare myself for Sundays now I try to pray and ask God make me receptive to the prompting of his Spirit–both to listen and to speak. I want to fellowship in the truth of the revealed word with God’s people, fully expecting that his Spirit will indwell his temple and that the God who speaks will make his presence known. I pray that my default disposition everyday–and especially Sunday–would be one of actually listening, with expectation of hearing from the Holy Spirit, who is himself God.


** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

My Identity as God’s Child

** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **


A father's hands

One of the grounding realities to all of life is identity. Who am I? Where have I come from? What is my value? Am I loved? What is my purpose? As I look back on my life to this point I realize that much of the reason why I have been so easily swayed in my affections is because I haven’t fully grasped and applied truth to these basic questions of identity.

As I reflect on the significant seasons of growth and change in my life I see a consistent pattern: these were always times when I was beginning to connect the dots between the gospel that has saved me and my current identity. In other words, the most life-changing seasons have been those times when I realized that the gospel was not just God’s means of giving me a ticket to heaven on some future day, but rather, the gospel is God’s means of grace to me now. In the gospel I find every comfort and every assurance of God’s love for me. In the gospel I find my identity, my value, my purpose.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of how God’s True Son was killed in order that we might become adopted sons & daughters, indwelt by the very same Spirit who was in Jesus. The same Spirit who was in Jesus, moving him to pray, filling him with compassion, giving him direction, comforting him through the weakness of his humanity, reminding him of his mission, empowering his miraculous works — that same Spirit is in me. He’s in every Christian, every son and daughter of God.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4.4-6)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…. (Romans 8.14-17)

I’m not alone, I don’t think, in coming to see just how important the doctrine of adoption is and how essentially it is bound up with the gospel. JI Packer was once asked to sum up the gospel in three words. Here was his response:

“… My proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God [Downers Grove, IL: 1993], 214)

Here’s the thing: while, like any Calvinist, I see that the gospel is about God making much of God and acting for his righteousness’ sake, I have now come to see that his righteousness (shown in the propitiation accomplished by Jesus (Rom 3.23-26) means a lavish display of fatherly love towards his adopted sons & daughters. His covenantal promises through all generations to be our God, and to have us as his people, is bound up in adoption — dwelling with us, in us, in our midst, as a father with his children:

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6.16-18)

If God is so committed to loving me and being with me (for his own righteousness’ sake!) that he is willing to bear all his wrath on his True Son to adopt me and have me conformed to his image (Rom 8.29), then I have a meaningful identity: I am a child of the King. I have a purpose: to reflect my Father. I have value: I have been purchased with the blood of Jesus. And I am loved (Gal 2.20; John 3.16; John 15.13; 1 John 3.16; Rom 5.8). I thank God that I can never undo that, no matter how much I mess up. No matter how much I fail, no matter how much other people value me or don’t, I know who I am in Christ. I am a son of God.

I have learned that the gospel takes care of the big questions of my identity. That gives great freedom to live with joy, hope, and expectation of God doing great things in me and through me… because he is my Father and I am his son. I pray that however many years I have left would be one continual season of growth in living in light of the reality that God has made me his child.

When Gifts, Then Quarrels

Kids love Christmas… and kids love Christmas presents. Just about the only thing that’s better than getting a great Christmas gift is getting a Christmas gift that’s better than any of the gifts your siblings or friends got. Nothing ruins a good gift quicker than realizing that someone else got a better gift.

Kids and earthly-minded churches aren’t all that different.

Apparently, the churches to which James wrote (Jas 4.1-3) weren’t the only ones who struggled with the presence of gifts (or lack thereof) and quarrels. It struck me the other day that the apostle Paul was keenly aware of the danger here.

The potential for gifts given by the Father to his spiritual children to become an issue over which to quarrel is quite strong. And yet, just as no human father would desire for his good gifts to be used as weapons of war between his children, so also the heavenly Father desires for gifts to be a blessing to all, not a source of division. Paul warns against this reality time and again. For example, take Romans 12.

Before the apostle lists some of the spiritual gifts given to the church in Romans 12.6-8, he begins by emphasizing humility:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Rom 12.3)

His next step is to argue that the church is one body in Christ, built by one Spirit. Even though the members of the body have different functions, they are still one (Rom 12.4-5). Once he has listed the gifts, he returns his focus immediately to maintaining peace in the church (Rom 12.9-21).

Why book-end a listing of gifts with admonitions to humility, love, honour, empathy, and grace? Because the opposite of all those virtues is fleshly reaction to seeing others blessed in ways we ourselves would like to be blessed. Without love, humility, etc., we would quickly become like a jealous boy or girl on Christmas morning, complaining that our gifts are not as good as another’s.

So what should we do? We seek the best gifts, but acknowledge that whatever comes is a gracious, undeserved gift from our sovereign Father who desires our good. Then, when our brothers and sisters are blessed beyond us, we rejoice with them as they rejoice! We celebrate that the body has been blessed and will be blessed through the gifting of that individual for ministry to the church-at-large. That is what our heavenly Father desires.

Preaching the Word and People’s Needs

This semester I was able to take Homiletics 2 at TBS. I have much to learn and much room to grow in the realm of preaching, so I was happy to take this course.

One of the great conversations we had in class this year was on the topic of the need to be preaching the Word of God rather than opinions or topics that may or may not relate to the revealed truth of the Word.

Over the course of the conversation, Dr Penhearow pointed out this pastoral bit of wisdom that I’ve thought about much ever since:

The needs of the congregation may in fact be different than even they think.

The point is this: Only God the Spirit, who searches hearts, knows our needs. Sometimes in the midst of our problems we think we know what we need; in reality, however, only God knows. If we, as pastors, try to interpret people’s lives so as to determine what they ‘need’ to hear, we’ll get it wrong.

If we can’t discern the needs of our own heart, how can we hope to do just that for the congregation we don’t know as well as ourselves?

If, however, we preach the God-inspired Word, then God will be faithful to address his people’s needs. He knows them already and he has given the Word precisely to meet those needs. When we preach the Word of God, the Spirit of God will accomplish all the purposes of God in the people of God. 

As preachers, all we need to do is ‘eat the scroll.’ God will apply according to his grace and the needs of his people. There is no promise in Scripture that God will work through my thoughts according to his will; there are plenty of promises in Scripture that God will work through his Word. 

That’s our hope as preachers–that God would work, because only he sees true needs.

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