When I fear being led by the Spirit

I overheard my eldest last week: "God loves me and Jesus loves me."

"And the Holy Spirit loves you", I gently prompted.

She dutifully repeated, "And the Holy Spirit loves me."

Already. Already she is leaving out the Holy Spirit when she thinks about our Triune God.

I know that a large part of the reason for this is that I have a hard time remembering to include the Spirit when I  speak about God. But why?

Why is it that the Holy Spirit is so difficult for me to understand? It is, of course, impossible to truly know any part of the Three-In-One, but why is the Spirit so much more...mysterious?

I began to think about this, to read and study.

It seems, as I begin to search out what God says about His Spirit, that we should be hugely excited about the Holy Spirit rather than feeling awkward or embarrassed whenever someone talks of Him.

Jesus tells His disciples: 
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. ~ John 16.7
The Holy Spirit is even better than having Jesus physically walking beside me through life? Why do I find that so difficult to understand and believe? 

Part of my difficulty is that I truly don't understand the Spirit. I don't understand how He works in me or what He really does.

I continue reading, searching for some insight.

In Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie, I read this: 
...while Christ is undoubtedly the one in whom diverse things cohere and relate in their diversity, is not the Spirit the agent of diversity, and as such the one who particularlizes things in their difference - that is, enables them to become more particularly themselves? ... Or Paul in I Corinthians 12: the Spirit gives different gifts to different people, enabling each to flourish...the Spirit enables all things to be what they were particularly created to be, to praise God in their own fashion.
Elsewhere, he writes that 
It is the Spirit's role, as life-giver and transformer, to bring about here and now among us the conditions of the new age, in advance of its final and full coming. The Spirit previews the future.
Bringing about the conditions of the new age. That is truly exciting!

Clearly, there is much more to be learned, much more to the Spirit's role in God's kingdom...but that could fill up many books, and this is simply one essay.

As I think through this, it seems that my other main difficulty is paradoxical. I fear both  that God will not answer my prayer for more of the Holy Spirit's fruit in my life...and that He will answer my prayer for more of His Spirit!

In his book, Forgotten God, Francis Chan says 
I think the fear of God failing us leads us to "cover for God". This means we ask for less, expect less, and are satisfied with less because we are afraid to ask for or expect more...I can't imagine how much it pains God to see His children hold back from relationship with the Holy Spirit out of fear that He won't come through.
Jesus tells His disciples: 
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! ~ Luke 11.13
Chan also says this: 
What if God does show up but then asks you to go somewhere or do something that's uncomfortable? ... The truth is that the Spirit of the living God is guaranteed to ask you to go somewhere or do something you wouldn't normally want or choose to do. The Spirit will lead you to the way of the cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be. The Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be.

As I think carefully about the implications of all of this added to everything else I've learned while studying about the Spirit, I have decided to say "yes".

Yes, give me more of the Holy Spirit's fruit in my life.

Yes, make me into the person I was made to be.

Yes, use me to impact the world around me.

I admit to God that I am afraid. Yet even in this fear, I am comforted by the knowledge that God is in me, to change me and help me. I am comforted by knowing that this is a process for my life, not a whiplash-like instant change. I am comforted by the Holy Spirit.
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. ~ Galations 4.6-7
These verses speak an amazing, beautiful truth...This is one of the precious gifts the Holy Spirit gives us. He assures us that we are in right standing with and loved by God...He assures us that we have nothing to fear because we are His children and He is powerful...And He reminds us of the victory that is coming when God's kingdom is fully realized. ~ Francis Chan
Holy Spirit, please teach me, change me, show me. I want to be led by You.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 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 8.15-17

credit for art: Holy Spirit stained glass; Holy Spirit tongues of fire


Love the Lord your God

Lately I've been hearing and reading a lot about what I should do as a follower of Jesus.

I've read about persecuted people who live in third-world countries, families who sell their homes so they can adopt more children, young parents who move to the inner city.

When Jesus calls us to abandon everything we have and everything we are, it's almost as if he is daring us to put ourselves in the flood plain. To put all our lives...all our property and all our possessions...all our hopes and all our dreams in front of the levee and then to ask God to break it. To ask God to sweep away whatever he wants, to leave standing whatever he desires, and to remake our lives...according to his will. ~ Radical by David Platt
We have to continue to fight - for the individual and against evil and destructive forces - because the cause is always worthy. And once you have stepped into this world, you can never walk away. Once you have been made aware, you have a responsibility to care. ~ The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias
I've read and heard many important and completely true things.

Jesus does ask us to give up everything for Him.

He said that if we do not hate our own lives, our own families in comparison to Him, we cannot follow Him.
Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have. ~ Billy Graham
As I read and listen, guilt begins to trickle into my heart.

Am I doing enough? Am I living right? Am I giving up everything for God? Am I too comfortable in my current life?

This is a dangerous thought-road for me, partly because I am a firstborn and I love rules. 

I like lists and I want to know exactly what I have to do to be in obedience to God.

As I begin to think about our family, however, I am reminded of the things that we are doing for Christ. 

Having kids at all is a big step. I didn't always want children, but God convinced me that this was one way in which He wanted me to serve Him: to have and raise up children who will glorify Him with their lives. 

We have made a lot of material sacrifices, both for me to stay home with our children, in order to personally raise them in a way that will glorify Him, and for us to not start adding up debt so that eventually we can have disposable income that we can give back to God.

Could we do more?

Of course. And that is the trouble.

No matter how frugally we live, how much we give away, how much time we sacrifice, it can never be enough.

We could always do more. It is impossible to do enough to repay all that God has done for me. It is impossible to truly give up everything for Jesus.

So what do I do? Wallow in my guilt? Give up because of my inability to do or give enough? Is that really what all of these books and teachers are telling me?

No, but I'm afraid that it seems that way at times.

I am learning however, very slowly, that it is not about what I do or don't do, it is not about what I give or don't give. It is about a relationship.

My relationship with the Triune God is what is most important in this life. This is more important than giving away all of my possessions. This is more important than eradicating all of the sin in my life. This is more important than moving to the inner city or telling everyone I know about God.

What I focus on most has to be my desire for God. 
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. ~ Mark 12.30-31

The idea of the primacy of loving and desiring God is made more clear in the writings of Brother Lawrence:
I know that for the right practice of it, the heart must be empty of all other things because God will possess the heart alone. As He cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so, neither can He act there and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him. 
You need not cry very loud. He is nearer to us than we are aware. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God; some more, some less. He knows what we can do.  Let us begin then. Perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part. Have courage.
We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.
What do I desire most of all in this life? Whom do I love best? 

If it is not God, than it doesn't matter how radically I live, how much of my time or resources I give away. 

If I do desire God most of all, even if I am simply trying to love God best, than I can trust myself to His hands, knowing that He will change my heart, which will naturally change the way I live. I will know what He wants me to do, how He wants me to live, and I will be at peace even if others think I am not doing enough or not doing the right things. 

Again, I will reference Brother Lawrence
when he had failed to love God best of all, he only confessed his fault saying to God, "I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss." Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. 
Abba, please help me to desire You most of all, to love You above all. If left to myself, I will never love You. It is You who must mend my broken heart. It is You who must purify my heart so that my life will glorify You. Let me only pursue my love for You and then be at peace, trusting that You will not let me fail. 
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. ~ Jude 1.24-25


Freedom Under Authority

I did it again.

I yelled with anger at my daughter.

She was not obeying.

Neither was I.

I've spoken before about the difficulty of obedience. Could we explore this a little further?

Part of the trouble, I think, is that we have come to view authority with suspicion. We see authority, even the authority of the Church, as being heavy-handed and suppressing. We think that authority keeps us from being truly free, keeps us from being the person we were meant to be.

I was listening to my Mars Hill last week and heard an interview with Victor Lee Austin, the author of Up With Authority, who suggests that we need authority in order to flourish as human beings.

He uses the image of a cellist in an orchestra. There are many pieces of music written for cellists that we can enjoy listening to, but that is only a small piece of what a cellist can do. For the cellist to flourish, for her to be more fully herself, she needs something bigger. For something bigger to exist, we need authority...the conductor. 

Authority, instead of crushing freedom (although unrighteous authority certainly can do that), enables and increases freedom. The more involved we are in complex society, the more we need authority making the decisions. Having true authority increases the "ability for persons to act in concert for good that can be achieved by corporate action". 

Back to the orchestra for a moment: Austin says that "the conductor is drawing the cellist forward into a place where she can be more fully herself, which she didn't necessarily see beforehand and that is through what happens as the orchestra plays". 

If I could trust the authority of God enough to obey Him, I would become more myself, more free, more able to work for God's glory and the good of those around me. 

Which leads me to the biggest reason I don't obey: I don't believe God.

That sounds horrid when I say it out loud, but it is true. If I truly believed that God's way of love was better than Satan's way of unrighteous anger, that it was more effective, I would show my daughters love rather than rage.

I have been reading Psalm 119 this week and was struck by the psalmist's eagerness, almost desperation, to obey God:
vs 5-6: Oh, that my ways were steadfast when obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
vs 10-11: I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
vs 15-16: I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
vs 20: My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.
vs 33-34: Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
vs 45: I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.
This goes on for 176 verses! 

I want so much to desire obedience with such fervor. But how?

I notice two things. 

I notice that David spends much of his time in beseeching God to help him obey.  

I notice that a delight in obedience seems to begin with a delight in God's words, an immersion in the words of God.


God must change my heart to desire obedience, to desire Him.

In the book, Radical, by David Platt, I recently read this: 
The fruit of our salvation...is indeed a gracious gift from God.
I can't even want to obey God, much less actually obey, without His gracious help.

In order for God to change my heart, I must steep myself in His words. 

If I meditate on His words, if I refuse to neglect His words, God will help my heart to begin to believe His promises.

Will you hide His word in your heart along with me? I am memorizing verses 33-34 this week: 
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

Will you join me in memorizing this and praying it to God this next week? What might He do in our hearts?

One last thing I noticed?

Seeking out God's precepts results in the ability to walk about in freedom. 

God's authority, His laws, gives us the freedom to truly be ourselves!

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.

~ Will you go here for one more thing to read about the importance of memorizing the Bible?


To Voice Creation's Praise

I am a musician.

There are, of course, many other words that could be used to describe me, but this word is one that I have claimed for more than twenty years.

I am a Christian.

This word is also one that I have claimed for more than twenty years.

It seems odd, then, that I have never really put these two words together. Oh, I play piano and sing in the praise band at church, and in that way have put these two identities together.  

What I mean, though, is that I have never really thought deeply about the theology of music. I have never thought about how music, all of the arts really, fits in with God's creation and with His kingdom.

I have never considered how music as an art points to God.

I am a reader.

I have been reading a book called Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie. It has for a subtitle: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music. 

I've referenced this book before in previous essays (here, here and here) because I have been challenged in many ways while reading this book. May I share with you some of the other things I have learned, some of the beauty that has struck me?

Music is a part of this created world. Obvious? Perhaps, but many would argue that music is a purely human enterprise rather than "tuning into and respectfully developing an order we inhabit as bodily creatures". 

The materials we use to produce sounds (both instruments and vocal chords), the sound waves themselves, our bodies (both in producing sounds and in being able to hear sounds), and even time are all things that already exist, created by God, with which we are allowed to join. 

If, by making music, we are tuning in to something that has already been created, perhaps music is able to "elicit something of the character of the cosmos and through that testify to the Creator". As well as declaring the glory of God, perhaps music (all of the arts, really!) "through the Spirit, (is) capable of granting glimpses of eternal beauty and as such can anticipate and give a foretaste of the transfiguration of the cosmos", that moment when all of creation will be made perfect. 

What grace! What a gift!

We should be awe-filled and grateful for the very possibility of music. 
It will mean regularly allowing a piece of music to stop us in our tracks and make us grateful that there is a world where music can occur, that there is a reality we call "matter" that oscillates and resonates, that there is sound, that there is rhythm built into the fabric of the world, that there is the miracle of the human body... 
None of this had to exist, but it does, for the glory of God and for our flourishing. 

As I think about this theology of music, it draws me to the essential habit of gratitude. 
Giving thanks is the way into joy. ~ Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts
Paul says in Philippians 4 to not be anxious but rather to give everything to God with thanksgiving and in return, God will give you the gift of peace.  

It seems almost ludicrous now, but before reading this book I had never thought through what music can teach us about God. How could I have gone so long without thinking through the implications of this art that I practice? Perhaps this is something that the rest of you have put together long before now, but I am a little slow at times.

I have already, in a previous essay, discussed what music teaches us about the goodness of time, the goodness of delay. Music also teaches us that tension is not bad, that by not trying to skip over days with 
dark shadows and turns, we allow ourselves to be led far more profoundly into the story's sense and power. Music is remarkably instructive here, because more than any other art form, it teaches us how not to rush over tension, how to find joy and fulfillment through a temporal movement that includes struggles, clashes and fractures.

Music gives us a beautiful picture of the Trinity: If I play a chord, three notes on the piano, each note fills up all of my heard space, the entirety of my aural space, yet I hear the notes as distinct from each other. 
The notes interpenetrate, occupy the same heard space, but I can hear them as (three) notes...What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note chord, a resonance of life; Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion, and yet without merger, each occupying the same space, 'sounding through' one another, yet irreducibly distinct, reciprocally enhancing, and establishing one another as one another?
Music also gives us a beautiful picture of our freedom in Christ: If I play one note on the piano while silently depressing the key an octave above in order to open up the string, the upper string will vibrate even though it has not been struck. The lower string sets off the upper, and the more the lower string sounds, the more the upper string sounds in its distinctiveness. Do you see where this is going? 

The more God is involved in our lives, the freer we shall be, liberated to be the distinctive persons we were created to be. And such is the freedom we can share, by virtue of God's gift of freedom, with others. Simultaneously sounding notes, and the music arising from them, can witness to a form of togetherness in which there is an overlap of spaces out of which come mutual enrichment and enhancement, and a form of togetherness that can be sensed first and foremost as a gift, not as a consequence of individual choices.
Oh, there is so much more I wish I could discuss with you: How music teaches us about how the love of God can be our cantus firmus around which the other melodies of life provide their counterpoint. How it teaches us to read Scripture on many different levels and view our lives as part of a "multileveled hope that covers a huge range of timescales". How music shows us that delay teaches us something new "of incalculable value that cannot be learned in any other way".

Ah, but I will restrain. This is becoming too long already.

May I close with a challenge for us as the Church? A challenge for musicians and non-musicians alike?

We seem to have an intense musical conservatism in contemporary worship music. 
Granting that simple songs have their place,...one would have hoped that a movement that can put such weight on the Holy Spirit's renewal could generate somewhat more adventurous material...Is the church prepared to give its musicians room to experiment (and fail), to juxtapose different styles...to resist the tendency to rely on formulas that 'work' with minimum effort...in order that congregational worship can become...more true to the God who has given us such abundant potential for developing fresh musical sounds? 

Could we, as a church, consider music (as well as all of the arts) as something that can glorify God without having an evangelical message tagged on to it, simply by having artistic excellence?

I would love to hear from artists who practice in other arenas. What theology do you find in your particular art form? What about non-artists? Do you see God in any particular form of art?

I'll end with one last quote and a poem: 
We who have misdirected our praise have been invited, against every expectation and everything we deserve, to step back into that role intended for us, to voice creation's praise to the resounding glory of the Creator, and to witness wonders beyond imagining in our own lives and the lives of others.

Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.
~ Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness by John Donne

~ If you are receiving this in your email, may I suggest that you go to the website to better view the videos and hear the music?
~ all quotes, unless otherwise specified, are from Resounding Truth
~ photo credits: Street Musician; Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra


The Wonder of Learning

She's heading off to preschool this week.

This eldest child of mine, so full of excitement and curiosity, is beginning her journey of learning.

Although I suppose she's not just beginning, is she? She's been learning since the moment she first entered this amazing world.

This thought makes me wonder about the idea of learning. If all of our life is to be made sacred, one seamless piece of fabric that is woven around God, how should learning fit in?

I am reminded of wisdom I read recently: 
Education is the atmosphere we breathe, the envelope of wonder that surrounds us, held by the gravity of our daily habits. ~ Ann Voskamp of A Holy Experience

Is this learning? Simply being in awe of God's world, desiring to discover as much of it as we can? Perhaps if we remain in awe of God, we naturally gain a zest for learning. Perhaps if we possess that sense of wonder, we become a "creative, thinking, exuberant person who spills with the joy of learning" (also Ann Voskamp).

It seems, as I explore what learning should be and as I re-visit my thoughts about all things being sacred in our daily lives and in the world around us, that learning is, at least in part, simply staying awake in the moment. It is exploring, being curious, holding tightly to that sense of wonder in God and His handiwork.

If so, than learning should happen in every moment rather than being confined to certain hours of schooling. Are the lines that we draw between school and the rest of our lives artificial and wrong?

This idea fits in with other things about which I have pondered. The entire fabric of our lives should be sacred, seamless, one piece woven around praising and thanking our God. 
For in Him we live and move and have our being. ~ Acts 17.28
Earth is crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude. 
~Elizabeth Barret Browning

My latest issue of Mars Hill Audio Journal arrived this week and caused me to wonder if they had anything to say about learning and knowledge. I found an essay by Ken Meyers in which he speaks of universities and discusses the importance of knowledge to our faith:
We can begin by regularly reminding ourselves that the God who saves us is the God who made us and all things, that our message of redemption only makes sense in the context of the bigger story about creation. Our God cares about all aspects of our lives, and thus the renewing of our minds is as needful as the cleansing of our hearts.
He also says this: 
Loving God and neighbor requires knowledge of the truth about God and the truth about the many challenges and opportunities of human experience in the world God has made.
The importance of knowledge to our faith is something we as a church don't seem to talk about very much.

In fact, as I think more about it, knowledge and faith often seem to be held up by the church as incompatible or, at the very least, two very separate things, with faith being the essential piece to our salvation.

While I am thinking through these things, our Sunday class (does anyone call it Sunday School anymore?) is studying II Peter.

Our teacher points out that Peter seems to say that knowledge is essential to our faith. Through knowledge of God we have grace and peace. Through knowledge of God we have everything we need for life and godliness. Knowledge sits right between goodness and self-control in Peter's list of important qualities to seek.

But what sort of knowledge? What does Peter mean by this word?

I dive into my Strong's.

Oh. There are two different words used in this first chapter of II Peter.

The first one, the word that gives us grace, peace, everything we need, is epignosis (precise/correct knowledge) which is related to epiginosko (to become thoroughly acquainted with, to know thoroughly, to perceive who a person is).

Relationship knowledge.

The second word, the word that Peter urges us to add to our faith along with goodness, self-control, perseverance  godliness, brotherly kindness and love? This word is gnosis (general intelligence, understanding, implying science).

Creation knowledge.


Once again, all is related, all is woven together into one beautiful, seamless fabric.

Learning, gaining knowledge, is a large part of how we weave the various parts of our lives together into a seamless, sacred whole. Not something to be relegated to school-type hours.

We seek for epignosis, to become thoroughly acquainted with God, so that we may have everything we need for life and godliness.

We seek for gnosis, general understanding about the world He has created, so that we may keep from being ineffective and unproductive in our epignosis of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May we remain in awe of God and retain our sense of wonder in the world (including its creatures, human and otherwise) He has created.  May we continue to pursue knowledge in every moment of our daily lives and turn that knowledge into praise and thanksgiving, into loving of all those around us.

art credit: Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer