Archive for October, 2010

What does it mean that the Holy Spirit is a person?

October 29, 2010

The Holy Spirit is often described as different things. In each gospel he is referred to as a dove (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32)

Question:
In my pastor’s sermon last week, he mentioned that the Holy Spirit is NOT a thing, but a PERSON; that we shouldn’t refer to him as an “it” but as “he.”  Interestingly enough, the holy spirit is often depicted as a dove, likely because of the reference in John 1:32. (it’s even depicted as a dove on the book that we’re reading in our small groups!)  Why do you suppose that the Holy Spirit is likened to a dove, or often represented by a dove, if in fact he is a person and God among the trinity?

Answer:
When your pastor was describing the fact that the Holy Spirit is not a ‘thing’, but a ‘person’, he does not mean that the Holy Spirit is a human.  Jesus is the only member of the Trinity who bears that unique distinction. When we describe the Trinity we often describe this mystery as “God in three persons”.  The person of the Father, the person of the Son, and the person of the Holy Spirit.  It’s easy for us to think of a father or a son like a person, but naturally it is more difficult to think of a spirit like it has a personhood.

The Holy Spirit is described in several different ways in scripture, a dove (as you mentioned), wind, breath, or fire.  Typically we would use the third-person-impersonal ‘it’ to describe those kinds of things.  However, because the Holy Spirit is God we remember that the Spirit is personal so we don’t use an impersonal pronoun to refer to him.

The various descriptors for the Spirit in scripture are used because he is a mystery to explain.  In the book of John it doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit IS a dove, the verse uses a simile to describe what was happening at Jesus’ baptism (the translation is “LIKE a dove” or “AS a dove”).  The Spirit may have looked like a dove, but clearly there was something distinctive enough that John knew what he saw was The Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not human, but he is intimately personal.

Should I celebrate Halloween?

October 27, 2010

Halloween: Norman Rockwell cute, or Freddie Krueger Evil?

Question:
What is Halloween?  How should we teach my children on Halloween?  What does bible say about Halloween?

Answer:
When I was growing up, I loved Halloween.  Well, let me be more specific, I loved trick-or-treating, bowls of candy corn, and episodes of “The Simpson’s: Treehouse of Horror”.  My good Christian parents never alluded to the fact that there might be something dark and backward about the holiday so when I came into contact with Christians who did not participate in Halloween I was confused and intrigued.  I want to use this blog post to talk about some of the history of Halloween and it’s interesting connection to the Church, but also to provide some things to think about for parents.  At the end of the day, parents need to make a decision about what they will teach their kids about Halloween so it is important for your spirit to be aware and your mind to be informed of what it is all about.

History of Halloween:

I don’t want to turn this into a dissertation so I’ll strive to be brief.  There is a lot of conflicting information out there about the details concerning our modern celebration of Halloween so I will shy away from those details and try to give a general overview.

Most of our Christian Holidays find their origins in ancient pagan practices.  For example, December 25 is not the actual date that Jesus was born (we don’t know the date), but as early Christians encountered Pagan beliefs and celebrations they used the pagan holidays to help explain the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  That is why Christmas is only days after the winter solstice.  Ancient pagan cultures celebrated the solstice as the mark of the Sun returning, because after December 22 the days begin to get longer instead of shorter. This does not make Christmas a pagan Holiday.  Celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 began as a way of spreading the good news to those who were lost.

Halloween has similar kinds of origins.  Ancient pagan cultures (including the Celts and the Britons) used to celebrate a harvest festival in which one of their gods would summon together the dead from the past year.  Something like a ‘harvest of souls’.  This was a common practice in many pagan cultures including ancient Rome.

Thus, when the Christians began to evangelize and teach about the good news of life after death they helped explain the doctrine of salvation by contextualizing it to the culture of the pagans.  Centuries later, the Church officially established All-Saints Day.  All-Saints Day is the day on the christian calendar that Falls on November 1 (originally it was May 13th).  It is the day on which Christians remember those saints who have gone before us to eternal rest.  On All-Saints Sunday we remember those who have passed away since the previous November 1.

Halloween is the eve of this Christian celebration.  The word ‘Halloween’ is derived from the phrase “All Hallows (saints) Eve” i.e. the eve of All Saints Day.  The evening before All Saints Day became a time of warding off spirits that were evil, people would set out food or drink to appease wandering spirits or unruly people who masqueraded as evil spirits (an early precursor to trick-or-treating).

As you can see, All Hallows Eve, was easily confused and corrupted by the early Celts who where learning about Christianity.  Not because they had sinister motives or witchcraft in mind, but because the new teaching on the communion of the Saints and the celebration of All Saints Day, still lead to some confusion.  That confusion has carried over to today…

Halloween Today:

Many of the practices of Halloween can be traced back directly to the early practices of pagan Celts and the efforts of Catholic missionaries to present them with correct teaching about Christ.  Things like trick-or-treating, pumpkin-carving,  parties, etc all have roots that were positive, not sinister.  Though they were certainly the result of misdirected pagan spirituality which we denounce as a part of our faith.  However, this does not mean it was not evil.  Anything outside the truth of Jesus Christ is evil, especially in the spiritual world that we do not see.

But just as the Christian missionaries sought to supplant the evil spiritual rituals of the Celts and Britons, today the Christian traditions of All Hallows Eve have been supplanted by secular practices and worse.  Those who do practice witchcraft, divination, satanism, or other evil practices have adopted this holiday as their own.  One can see the natural draw after generations of dressing up like evil spirits, horror movies, monsters, and more.

What Should We Do?

As a parent I think you need to pray about this, inform yourself, and teach your kids about Halloween as you go.  Halloween is not evil in-and-of itself, but there are definitely evil things that go along with it, because of the ways we have allowed it to be corrupted.  But the same is true for Christmas as well.  It’s easy for us to say that witchcraft and divination are evil (and they are), but what about the rampant consumerism that goes with Christmas or other Christian holidays.  Many Christians are willing to say, “We’re not going to let our kids participate in Halloween because there is too much spiritual evil on that day.”  But how many of those same parents are willing to say, “I’m not going to buy my kids Christmas presents, because consumerism is such a systematic evil.”

We must be thoughtful about all of the practices in which we participate, especially when our children are involved.  And we must be aware that we live in a world in which spiritual evil is rampant.  I don’t mind dressing up my son on Halloween and sending him out for some candy, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the spiritual evil that can surround this holiday.  If you feel that Halloween too flippantly engages with that spiritual evil then you need to prayerfully consider those feelings.  But remember, that our cultural practice of Christmas has allowed the spirit of greed and consumerism to place a stranglehold on many people and even our entire economy to the extent that our economic system is dependent on Christmas sales for survival.  There is much we must consider at all times, not just Halloween.

I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians when he said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).  There are a lot of things that don’t fit that description on Halloween, but if you saw my son dressed up like a little lion last October 31, you might find something ‘pure’ on Halloween to think about.

Am I supposed to feel the Holy Spirit?

October 16, 2010

The Holy Spirit is promised to us, but often we do not feel his presence.

References: Luke 11:13; Ephesians 1:13-14

Questions:
Are we supposed to be able to feel the Holy Spirit?; How am I suppose to know Holy Spirit is in me if I can’t feel the presence?; Is Holy Spirit something go in and out of our body?

Answers:

In Acts chapter 2 Peter tells the crowd in Jerusalem, that if we place our faith in the work of Jesus, repenting or our sins, and identifying ourselves with Him (through baptism), that we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).  Jesus promised the same as well, expressing how much the father longs to give the gift of the Holy Spirit to his children (Luke 11:13).  The promise is there and it is true, but do we believe it?

We live in a culture that is governed by its feelings.  Therefore, if we don’t feel something the way we think we should feel something then we trust those feelings more than the promises of God.   That is probably one of the reasons why people put too much weight on the gift of speaking in tongues, because it is a gift where we can more readily feel and know the presence of God, which is one of the beautiful things about that gift.  But you need to know that if you are a Christian, then you have the Holy Spirit, he is in you, even if you don’t feel it.

The question we need to ask ourselves is not “do I have the Holy Spirit?”.  The question we need to ask is “Does the Holy Spirit have me?”  When we get hung up on not feeling the Spirit then we are making it more about us than about God.  And God does not gift the Holy Spirit for our sake, he gifts the Spirit for his own purposes in this world, to build up his church and advance his kingdom.

This does not mean that we will not feel the Holy Spirit.  There is no doubt that the Spirit’s power will enable us to do things and accomplish things for God’s kingdom that we never could do without him.  That’s the point of why the spirit is gifted!  As we grow and mature in our relationship with God, the more sensitive and aware of his presence and leading we will become.

Feelings can be deceptive, because we live in a world that is completely corrupted by sin (including our feelings).  But that does not mean that our feelings are completely useless either.  God can redeem the broken parts of our lives, so the idea that we need to completely ignore our feelings is not necessarily true.  That is why we must pray for discernment in our lives, along with the other gifts of the Spirit.  Remember, God’s not holding them back.

How Am I supposed to know if the Holy Spirit is in me if I can’t feel his presence?

Faith.  Just as it is by faith that we know that we are saved by the Grace of God, so also, we must have faith that the spirit is in us.  We place our faith in him.  That is not a one-time thing, it is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment thing.  As we continue to yield our lives to his presence, and avail our lives to his purposes we will come to sense and know his presence more and more.  But it starts with faith, and that too is a gift given by the Spirit.

Is the Holy Spirit something that moves in and out of our body?

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was present and active.  In fact, he was there at creation, taking active part in the forming of the universe (Gen. 1:2).  But the Holy Spirit was not given to people in the same way that the Spirit was given on Pentecost, and to us today.  In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was only gifted to some people and for specific purposes.  Furthermore, in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit may have been removed from people, for example King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14).  Even King David pleaded with God that He would “not take away [his] Holy Spirit” (Psalm 51:11), after he had committed adultery and murder.

In the New Testament however, the Spirit is promised to all who believe, not just some.   And the Spirit will not leave us.  Paul assures of us this security in Ephesians 1:13-14 when he says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 1who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…”

The Holy Spirit, does not leave us and go away he doesn’t go in and out of our bodies, not if we sin, not if we forget, not if we make him mad.  Sometimes in church we may sing songs that say things like “come Holy Spirit come” or “Lord we want more of You.”  These are not expressions that suggest that the Holy Spirit left us and needs to come back, or that we don’t have enough of the Spirit and we need to ‘get filled’ with more.  The meaning behind those kinds of songs is that we want to see God move, and furthermore we want to make ourselves available to the Spirit.  Less of our agenda means more of his agenda.  But getting the Holy Spirit isn’t like filling up a gas tank.  We already have enough of him (more than enough).

What does it mean to be “charismatic”?

October 13, 2010

I’ll start with the word “Pentecostal.”  Pentecostal refers to those whose theology informs them that there is a second baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by the gift of speaking in tongues.  Some go so far as to say that you are not saved unless you show the signs of the Spirit.  Most Pentecostals would consider themselves to be “charismatic” but not all charismatic people consider themselves to be Pentecostal.  The word “charismatic” has become synonymous with churches and people who practice what we would call ‘supernatural’ gifts of the spirit (prophesy, healing, speaking in tongues, etc).  Or worse, some people just think that those who raise their hands in worship or sing passionately are “charismatic”, which is a horrible misunderstanding of the term. Passion for God doesn’t make one charismatic, it simply makes one passionate (as we all should be).  All of God’s people are a charismatic people.  The word simply refers to the “spiritual gifts” in general, and the Holy Spirit has gifted all of us with different gifts to benefit the body of believers. The question is, do we make ourselves available to the Spirit so that those gifts can be used for his purposes.

This is important!  All members of the body of Christ are charismatic people, and any effort to distance ourselves from the supernatural gifts and the word ‘charismatic’ is actually distancing ourselves from what we are supposed to be.  This distancing is somewhat understandable because many within what we call the “charismatic movement” have so over-emphasized the supernatural gifts and have so embraced emotionalism, that other key elements of the faith have been greatly neglected.  In many cases there are abuses that tend to arise when church becomes more about the gifts than about the gift-giver.

Unfortunately, abuses and neglecting important areas of our faith is a problem in many churches, not just charismatic churches.  Liberal mainline churches tend to value social concern at the expense of scripture and truth, evangelical churches tend to value personal salvation at the expense of  justice issues, and charismatic churches tend to value spiritual power at the expense of right doctrine or social concern.  We must seek a balance in our churches.  A lack of understanding concerning the practices and the mystery of supernatural gifts is no good reason to distance ourselves from the amazing gifts that God longs to pour out on all his people.  As Paul says, we should eagerly seek them (1 Cor 14:1).  So start praying that the Spirit of God will gift you with, not what you think you need, but what the church needs.  He wants to give to the church through you.

What is speaking in tongues?

October 13, 2010

 

We are often afraid of what we can't explain, and speaking in tongues is mysterious to many of us.

 

Reference:
1 Corinthians 12-14

Question:
What is speaking in tongues?  Does one need to speak in tongues to show they are saved?

Answer:
Speaking in tongues is among the most hotly debated spiritual gifts in scripture.  Furthermore, the varying teachings on this topic have led to divisions within churches and denominations, as well as the divide between (what we call) ‘charismatic’ and ‘non-charismatic’ churches.   This is sad, since Paul himself describes this gift as among the least of the gifts given by the Holy Spirit.

The most extensive teaching on speaking in tongues is found in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14.  It is important to read all three chapters because of the context they provide as one tries to understand the gifts of the Spirit.  In this particular letter, Paul is addressing the church in Corinth among whom had risen debate, pride, and disorder in worship as a result of their misuse of the spiritual gifts.  In these passages Paul emphasizes that above all the gifts given by the spirit are faith, hope, and love.  And the greatest of those three is love.  Usually we read that at weddings, but the background of Paul’s writing was the abuse of spiritual gifts in the church, not marriage relationships.  That’s why Paul says in 1 Cor 13:1, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Some of the people in the Corinthian church had become so enamored with themselves because of their ability to speak in tongues, that they had neglected to love and care for each other.

The reason that Paul calls the gift of tongues the least of the spiritual gifts is because it does not edify the entire body of believers.  It only edifies the spirit of those who pray in tongues (1 Cor 14:4), unless there is an interpretation for what is spoken in tongues (1 Cor 14:5), which is another gift given by the spirit (1 Cor 12:10).  When someone speaks in tongues, usually they do not even know what they are saying (1 Cor. 14:14), unless they have received the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 14:13).  The NLT, I believe, rightly interprets the idea of “speaking in tongues” as “speaking unknown languages”.  When one speaks in tongues they are not speaking in a known language, it is a spiritual language.  That is why Paul says, “if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious” (1 Cor 14:2).

On pentecost all the believers were recieved a strange gift to speak in other languages. Stranger yet was the fact that the other people understood them.

 

It is believed by some that the gift poured out on Pentecost in Acts 2, was not only the gift of tongues, but it was also the gift of interpretation.  Luke records that everyone present in the upper room “was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability, (Acts 2:4), AND Luke writes in the next two verses, that “Jews from every nation…heard their own languages being spoken by the believers” (Acts 2:5,6).  As the Spirit was gifted on that day in a powerful way, people were not only gifted to speak a spiritual language, but others were gifted to hear it as if it was their own language.  Some just heard it as the babblings of drunk people (Acts 2:13).

The blessing of speaking in tongues is that it engages your spirit with the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 14:14).  It can be a rich blessing in one’s prayer life as they seek to center themselves and allow themselves to connect with God.  But it does not engage your mind, nor does it bless the body of believers around you.  That is why Paul gives such strict guidelines for the Corinthian church concerning tongues, because their worship services were getting out of hand with people trying to out-shout each other in tongues.  This still goes on today in many churches which is surprising considering how clear Paul is about NOT doing that.   He even goes so far as to say that if an unbeliever comes in and sees you shouting in unknown languages they will think you are crazy (1 Cor. 14:23).  And in 1 Corinthians 14:26-28 Paul clearly says that we should only speak in tongues in worship in an orderly way.   If there is someone there to interpret what has been said, and this should be kept to a minimum (2 or 3 at most).

Is speaking in tongues a sign that you are saved?

The idea that you must speak in tongues as the sign of salvation (or as a sign of having the Holy Spirit) comes from the Pentecostal church, but not all ‘charismatics’ believe this.  Speaking in tongues can be one sign that someone has the Holy Spirit, but it is not THE sign.  The most visible sign that the Spirit of God lives in someone should be in the FRUITS of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) rather than in the GIFTS of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-11).  The sign that some one has the Holy Spirit is not limited to any one gift, rather the presence of the Spirit is seen in the FRUITS of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Furthermore, the Spirit is given upon our belief in the saving work of Jesus and our repentance of sin.  The Spirit is gifted when we put our faith in Jesus, not at a later time.

Paul is also very clear in saying that not everyone will have the gift of tongues (1 Co 12:29-30).  So how could that be THE sign of salvation OR of having received the Holy Spirit.  The emphasis on making tongues THE sign in the Pentecostal church has made for unhealthy environments where people feel pressured to fake it.  It is pretty easy to fake speaking in tongues if you’ve heard it enough (though some people may be onto you if they have the spiritual gift of discernment – 1 Cor. 12:10).  However, it is a lot more difficult to fake things like love, patience, and the other fruits of the Spirit.  That is where the spiritual barometer should be.  None of us will have all of the spiritual gifts, but we should each bear all the fruit of the Spirit.   And we should eagerly seek gifts that edify the body, not the gifts like tongues that just edify yourself.  Seek gifts like healing, prophesying, or teaching, don’t get hung up on the need to speak in tongues.