A lamp in a dark place

A scripture on scripture:

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

Because I’ve stopped calling myself an evangelical, I wonder what my proper response to scripture is. The author of 2 Peter locates ‘the prophetic word’ in the “voice of the Majestic Glory” which announced Jesus’s Sonship at his baptism, and in the continuing revelation of true prophecy. He also warns against false prophets, who can be known by their vomitous appeal to sensual pleasures. The author is surely right–God’s pronouncement about Jesus was a key validation of his message, ministry and sonship; the words of scripture continue to shape, direct and inform the church; God continues to talk to the church, but it’s so easy to be mislead by our own desires to interpret our own voice as the voice of God.

I can easily affirm the Mennonite Confession of Faith’s article on scripture, which I’m sure was the product of much discussion and debate. It reminds us that Jesus is the one whom the scriptures call the Word. It says that scripture is “the essential book of the church” and that it contains “what is needed for salvation, for guidance in faith and life, and for devotion to God.”

So, at the end of the day, I do know what my proper response is: look to scripture for insight into how to follow God more fully. As 2 Peter says, pay attention to it “as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.”

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Separation

A scripture on God’s reign:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

When this verse originally appeared on Sip of Scripture, it was Good Friday. As a Good Friday verse, it is ironic, for it was on Good Friday that the great separation occurred. The Son, co-equal with the Father, had been in eternal relationship with the Father; a relationship so deep that it was co-equal with them: “the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” But as Jesus–very God of very God, incarnate by the Spirit–was dying he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It was in his death that we found our life. When angels deserted him and demons tortured him, when the Eternal Son died on that specific day in our place, and for our good, when human and spiritual powers were aligned against him, we found our life. Humanity, heaven and the chthonic underworld–all creation conspired (and succeeded) in killing its creator and separating him from the love of God.

But he rose. By the powerful love of the Father, Christ arose. In the words of William Young, set by William Billings:

The Lord is ris’n indeed! Hallelujah!
Now is Christ risen from the dead,
And become the first fruits of them that slept.
Hallelujah, and did He rise? did He rise?
Hear it ye nations! hear it, Oh ye dead!
He rose, He burst the bars of death
And triumphed o’er the grave.
Then I rose, then first humanity
Triumphant passed the crystal ports of light
And seized eternal youth.
Man, all immortal hail,
Hail heaven, all lavish of strange gifts to man,
Thine’s all the glory,
Man’s the boundless bliss.

Our boundless bliss, lavished by God: never to be separated from God. God chooses to be on our side, and all creation cannot compete. It may kill us, but, in the end, Christ has “burst the bars of death/and triumpled o’er the grave.”

The re-presented Christ

A scripture on the Lord’s supper:

And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)

It’s good to remember the basics of what we know without (much) doubt about what God wants. For example, God the Son wants us to remember him as we reengage in the Lord’s supper: “Do this in remembrance of me.” This meal “re-presents” (as the Confession says) the prescence of the Living Christ in our midst.

It’s good to remember Jesus is among us, and has given his life for us. When our meeting is small in number, it’s good to remember the power of Christ is among us. When our number is large, it’s good to remember we do not rely on numbers alone, but in the living Jesus. When we are feeling weak or bad, it’s good to remember the redeemer Christ. When we are feeling smug, it’s good to remember the humble Lord. When we are feeling grateful, it’s good to remember Jesus is within earshot to hear our thanks.

My Trash Barrel Overflows

“But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.”
(Micah 3:8)

I find it interesting that the Holy Spirit is frequently spoken about in most all Christian churches, yet His nature and personhood is often ignored. The explanation of the nature and activity of the Holy Spirit in Article 3 of the Mennonite Confession of Faith is very refreshing. There was a time when I was happy to think of God as a rarified being of some type that was just beyond the cloudy edge of my imagination. I thought that Jesus must be more physical than this, because he had some kind of a physical body. The Holy Spirit on the other hand was even more ethereal than God, so much so that he was something like the twinkling of a falling star on a dark evening – there for a few second, then gone again.

What a shock it was when I heard a pastor describe the Holy Spirit as “A Person” – the third person of the trinity. “It is not a person” I inwardly reacted! – Its a… Well it’s a something or other, but a person, “I don’t think so.”

I was a bit of a hard nut to crack. I knew I wanted more of God in my life, but I didn’t have a clue of how personal God could become. The Holy Spirit is a person! His nature is clearly described in Article 3. We can have a relationship with the Holy Spirit. This is not an optional part of the Christian life, but a central part of it. It is through an active relationship with the Holy Spirit that a person is led into conformity with Jesus. I don’t think a person can be much of a Christian with out an active relationship with the Holy Spirit. At least that was true for me.

It is very interesting to me that every Church I have visit in recent years seems to always have a few members whose lives are shaped, guided, and made whole through a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. Regardless of the denominational doctrine and their practices, the Holy Spirit is their companion. It is a bit of a mystery, but spirit filled people find their way (with God’s help) into fellowship with one another. I know Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Vineyard members, and others who all have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. Regardless of the denomination, this relationship has the qualities described in Article 3 of the Mennonite Confession of Faith. It is always a joy to meet another brother or sister whose life is being led by the Holy Spirit. This joy is strangely absent when I meet people who say they are Christians, yet live and act like the world, and don’t know the Holy Spirit.

I am not going to puff myself up or get legalistic about who is or is not a true Christian, because this judgment belongs to God. I can, however, encourage every follower of Jesus to examine his or her relationship with the Holy Spirit. What does it look like? Is this relationship bearing fruit? Do you want a closer relationship with God? Personally, I am far from being a whole and complete Christian. You can be sure that the Holy Spirit has a lot more to do with me. He no longer sends a dump truck to collect my sins; however, He continues to convict me and to provide a sturdy trash barrel to collect the refuse of my deceived life.

During the dump truck phase of my walk into Christianity, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would crush the crud out of my life. I prayed to be delivered from the lies and deceit filled thoughts that held sway in my life. Believe me, He responded without hesitation, because my life was a dirty mess. Such an invitation will never be refused. If you ask God to reveal your sin, He most certainly will. If you ask Him to show you the places in your life where you are worldly and displeasing God, He will respond immediately. If you ask Him to help you understand how your attitudes have become obstacles to following God’s will, He will paint a clear picture for you to see. God is not slow to act; we are slow to listen.

Father God and Lord Jesus, thank you for choosing to send us the wise counselor – the comforter – the Holy Spirit. You clearly knew that we needed the strength and persistence of the Holy Spirit in our lives if we were to follow your will. I pray for better ears to hear, better eyes to see, and a completely open mind, so that I will always recognize the beloved Holy Spirit of God and respond in humility. Amen.

The Holy Spirit interprets the news

A scripture about the Holy Spirit:

But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin. (Micah 3:8)

This is an unfamiliar scripture to me. In the context of its chapter, Micah is contrasting what God says about people who falsely speak for God, for example, proclaiming peace for profit or during days of ease:

Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets
who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
who puts nothing into their mouths.

To these, God remains silent and dark:

Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
for there is no answer from God.

But Micah, spirit-filled, speaks the message from God that God intends to give, even when that news is bad:

But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the LORD,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
and to Israel his sin.

This passage is quoted in the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as a proof-text for Holy Spirit’s work in the prophets (and so it is). But its also a challenge to us to try to be present to the mind of God with respect to what is happening around us. We are not to simply sample the news and say things are going well or badly; God sees behind the news, and the Spirit may offer deeper insight and light. This is true for news about the world, about our friends and loved ones, about what is happening to us personally.

Romans 1:3-4 Reverence for God

“… as to his human nature [he] was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God; by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”
(Romans 1:3-4(

I was born in 1956 into a Roman Catholic family. Back then, the mass was spoken in Latin and every one of us was supposed to attend mass every week even if we didn’t know what was going on. There were a few positive things I gained from this heritage. The first is that I was taught to revere God. Some how, my parents helped me understand that God is great and God is powerful. Sadly, I was also taught many falsehoods that were more based on superstition than on Biblical truth, but I want to focus on my positive experience — reverence for God.

When I read the above introductory words from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, I understand Paul to be saying, “This is who I am! – My life is based on my relationship with Jesus. – This is the most important fact that I can tell you about me. Please keep this in mind as you read my letter.” Paul is confessing Jesus as his Lord and savior. When I think about Paul, I can’t help thinking of him as a person who revered God. The Complete Word Study Dictionary by Spiros Zodhiates offers these words to help us think about reverence in G2126: “one who receives well, pious. To be cautious, thoughtful, circumspect, to receive well. To be afraid, to be moved or impressed with a natural or religious fear.”

What does it mean “to be moved or impressed with a natural or religious fear?” I remember an experience in recent times in a different denomination when we were discussing fear in a Sunday school class. The pastor’s wife was in attendance and she brought the discussion to a premature end by telling us that we shouldn’t think of fear as being too harsh, it is more like respect. When Paul fell flat on his face in the blinding presence of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, I don’t believe he was filled with respect. Paul was filled with fear!

I have had a taste of this kind of fear from time to time. It is not the fear that God will squish me like a bug for no particular reason. It is not that God is out to get me and I better watch out. It is not that God is getting ready to do me in, because I have not succeeded to eliminate every sin from my flesh. No, it is not like that!

This is a healthy fear in which I see and experience myself in proper relationship to God. When I am humble, when I submit my will to God’s perfect will, when I comprehend that every breath I breathe and every choice I make is given to me by God, then I begin to have healthy fear of God. This is the kind of fear that causes one to tremble. I don’t tremble because of anticipated annihilation, but because I perceive the fact that my life is completely dependant upon God’s Goodness. Fear of lack, fear of the future, and fear of death comes through Satan. The experience of fear that comes through conscious contact with God confirms our relationship to Him. I believe that a person who has no fear of God — no reverence of God, needs to ask God “Why not?” Yes, it is true that God is good. God is kind. God is loving. However God is much more than this. God is also all knowing. He is all powerful and completely sovereign. His commandments are eternal. The life we seek through Him is eternal. This is in contrast to our earthly life, which is fleeting and self-centered until we establish a relationship with Jesus. Paul’s ministry demonstrates what could happen in a person’s life when he or she experiences the fear of God and does not run from it. The reverence that Paul carried in his heart and mind helped spread the Good News of Christ Jesus through the Roman Empire and far beyond.

Lord Jesus, I spend too many hours of the day absorbed in activities that disconnect me from being aware of your presence. I long to live with greater awareness that I can do nothing of eternal value without you. Lord, you are the reason for my existence. Help me be willing to fully accept this fact and to live in healthy fear of your majesty and power. Help me do whatever it is that our Father in Heaven needs me to do to advance the Kingdom of God. Amen.

You had to be there

Who was Jesus Christ?

… as to his human nature [he] was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God; by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:3-4)

Paul describes three important facts in the salvation history of the world about Jesus:

  1. He was human, a Jew of David’s line
  2. He is divine, declared the Son of God by God the Father through God the Spirit (this declaration, we know from other scripture, was made at Jesus’s baptism by God)
  3. He is Lord, the one chosen and anointed to be so, clearly demonstrated by his returning to life after being murdered

These facts are substantiated through the eye-witness accounts of those who were there; those who knew his family (and thus his human and Jewish origins), those who were present at his baptism, and those who met Jesus after he died and returned to life. And, of course, even Paul had his own confrontation with the risen Jesus.

May the living Christ meet you today, and demonstrate his grace and lordship to you.

(See Article 2 of the Confession of Faith from a Mennonite Perspective, which treats the topic of who Jesus is).