Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: God the Holy Spirit (Page 1 of 3)

Be Being Filled with the Spirit

“ . . . we’ve all seen what goes on in the revivalist’s tent or on [the Trinity Broadcasting Network].  Sadly, being ‘filled with the Spirit’ is easily equated with the shoddy theology and gimmickry of modern Pentecostalism . . .”

That’s how a well-known California pastor begins his Ephesians 5:15-21 sermon.

My brother, I know you’re calming your church’s nerves about Paul’s command to be “filled with the Spirit; but you’re painting with a way too-broad brush.  You imply every revivalist’s tent has shady stuff going on.  And that all Pentecostals have shoddy theology and use gimmicks.  I’m a Pentecostal.  Without a tent.  My theology’s not shoddy.  And I don’t use gimmicks.

With that introduction, Ephesians 5:15-21 demands unpacking . . .

Therefore be careful how you [live], not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.  So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.   And do not get drunk with wine, for that is [reckless, immoral, wasteful living] but be [being] filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (NAS).

Paul fills Ephesians chapters 4-6 with exhortations.  “ . . . lead a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1) is the banner hanging over all.  The others define how to lead a worthy life.  “ . . . you must no longer live as the Gentiles do . . . ” (4:17) . . . “Be imitators of God, as beloved children . . . ” (5:1) . . . “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (5:15).

Wise, careful-living Christians understand that the days are evil.  They’re not looking for a demon behind every bush.  But they know that “our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  Evil powers are out there.

It’s interesting that evil days are the context for “be filled with the Spirit”.  That’s the positive part of Paul’s command.  The negative:  “ . . . do not get drunk with wine . . . ”  Not, “do not drink wine”.  But, “do not get drunk with wine”.  Why?  Because if you get drunk, you’re living recklessly, immorally and wastefully.  And that’s foolish and unworthy of your calling.

“ . . . but be filled with the Spirit”.  John Piper says (half-jokingly) Paul meant to write “be drunk with the Spirit.”  In other words, don’t put yourself under the influence of wine.  But, if you insist on getting “drunk”, get drunk with the Spirit.  Paul’s not trying to create Christians who stagger around the room with slurred speech, or fall on the floor making animal noises.

He wants Spirit-influenced worship!

Dr. Gordon Fee (Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies Regent College Vancouver) says God wants Christians whose lives are so totally given over to the Spirit “that the life and deeds of the Spirit are as obvious in their case as the effects of too much wine are obvious in the other”.

The apostle Paul put it this way . . .

” . . . speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

. . . singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord,

. . . always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father . . .”.

That’s the fruit of Spirit-empowered worship.

I’ve used the New American Standard translation for this text, because it’s true to the original Greek.  The NIV, for instance, says, “Speak to one another . . . ” and “Sing and make music . . . “.  It makes “speak” and “sing” commands, while the Greek is participles.  Why the grammar lesson?  Because participles aren’t commands; they reflect action.  What action?  Results.  From being filled with the Spirit you (church) will be speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  From being filled with the Spirit you will be singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.  From being filled with the Spirit you will always be giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God.

“ . . . be filled . . . ” is Greek present tense, implying “go on” or “keep on” being filled with the Spirit.  Theologians from different camps argue about the number of times we can be filled with the Spirit.  Is it one, at regeneration?  Is there a “second blessing”—the baptism in the Holy Spirit?  Paul says, “Keep on being filled with the Spirit!”  In other words, we seek multiple fillings.

How?  Pray.  Study the Word.  But I suggest Paul’s three participles signal not only results of Spirit-filling, but means.  Get in a congregation where Christians are singing for others to hear.  Where they’re singing and making music with their hearts to the Lord. Where they’re always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God.  And in that worship, you’ll be filled.

Can this kind of worship be both results of being filled and means?  Grammatically that’s hard to prove.  Logically it seems a stretch.  But the Spirit, like wind, blows where he wants (John 3:8).  So he can affect both results and means if he wishes.

What’s this got to do with not living foolishly in evil days?  First, it clarifies Paul’s prohibition:  don’t get drunk with wine and live a dissipated life.  Don’t get caught up in the crowd who drink too much and influence you to go along.

Second, it offers us Paul’s counsel to be better equipped for living in evil days.  Spirit-empowered worship is that way.  It’s the kind of worship that leaves us sensing we’re standing on holy ground in the presence of the Holy One together with fellow-worshipers.

Only the Holy Spirit can do that.







Don’t Quench the Spirit!

The following article appeared on the website April 28th.  Read it and hear, pastor!  Hear, church! . . .

if the apostle Paul himself had not warned us about quenching the Spirit, who among us would have thought it was possible (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22)? To suggest that the omnipotent Spirit of God could ever be quenched, and thus restricted in what he might do otherwise in our lives, and in the life of the local church, is to tread on thin theological ice.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5 that God has granted to Christians the ability either to restrict or release what the Spirit does in the life of the local church. The Spirit comes to us as a fire, either to be fanned into full flame and given the freedom to accomplish his will, or to be doused and extinguished by the water of human fear, control, and flawed theology.

“God has granted us the power and authority to restrict or release what the Spirit does in the local church.”

How many of us pause to consider the ways in which we inadvertently quench the Spirit’s work in our lives individually and in our churches corporately? Do we church leaders instill fear or courage in the hearts of people by the way we speak and preach and lead? Do we so repeatedly pepper our sermons and small group Bible studies, even our personal conversations, with such dire warnings of charismatic excess that we effectively quench the Spirit’s work in their lives? Or, after listening to us and observing how we conduct ourselves in Christian ministry, do they find themselves encouraged, courageous, and confident to step out and take risks they otherwise might not take?

The Spirit obviously desires to work in your life and in your church. To use Paul’s metaphor or analogy, the Spirit is like a fire whose flame we want to be careful not to quench or extinguish. The Holy Spirit wants to intensify the heat of his presence among us, to inflame our hearts and fill us with the warmth of his indwelling power. And Paul’s exhortation is a warning to all of us lest we become part of the contemporary bucket brigade that stands ready to douse his activity with the water of legalism, fear, and a flawed theology that, without biblical warrant, claims that his gifts have ceased and been withdrawn.

Seven Ways We Quench the Holy Spirit

1. We quench the Holy Spirit when we rely decisively on any resource other than the Holy Spirit for anything we do in life and ministry.

Any attempt to conjure up “hope” apart from that power which is the Spirit (Romans 15:13) is to quench him, as well as any effort to persevere in ministry and remain patient with joy by any other means than the Spirit (Colossians 1:11). Any effort to carry out pastoral ministry other than through “his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29) is to quench the Spirit. Any attempt to resolve to carry out some good work of faith through a “power” other than the Spirit is to quench him (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

2. We quench the Spirit whenever we diminish his personality and speak of him as if he were only an abstract power or source of divine energy.

Some envision the Spirit as if he were no more than an ethereal energy, the divine equivalent to an electric current: stick your finger of faith into the socket of his “anointing presence” and you’ll experience a spiritual shock of biblical proportions! The result is that any talk of experiencing the Spirit is summarily dismissed as dishonoring to his exalted status as God and a failure to embrace his sovereignty over us rather than ours over him.

3. We quench the Spirit whenever we suppress or legislate against his work of imparting spiritual gifts and ministering to the church through them.

Every gift of the Spirit is in its own way a “manifestation” of the Holy Spirit himself (1 Corinthians 12:7). The Spirit is made manifest or visibly evident in our midst whenever the gifts are in use. Spiritual gifts are the presence of the Spirit himself coming to relatively clear, even dramatic, expression in the way we do ministry.

“Spiritual gifts are the presence of the Spirit himself coming to relatively clear, even dramatic, expression.”

Does this mean that the doctrine of cessationism is a quenching of the Spirit? Whereas I don’t believe cessationists consciously intend to quench the Spirit, I do believe the ultimate consequence of that theological position quenches the Spirit.

Most cessationists desire for the Spirit to work in whatever ways they believe are biblically justified. They simply don’t believe that the operation of miraculous gifts today is biblically warranted. Thus, the unintended, practical effect of cessationism is to quench the Spirit. By means of an unbiblical and misguided theology that restricts, inhibits, and often prohibits what the Spirit can and cannot do in our lives individually and in our churches corporately, the Spirit is quenched.

4. We quench the Spirit whenever we create an inviolable and sanctimonious structure in our corporate gatherings and worship services, and in our small groups, that does not permit spontaneity or the special leading of the Spirit.

Twice — in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 — Paul refers to “spiritual songs,” most likely to differentiate between songs that are previously composed (“psalms” and “hymns”) as over against those that are spontaneously evoked by the Spirit himself. I believe the best explanation of what Paul meant by “spiritual songs” are unrehearsed, unscripted, and improvised, perhaps short melodies or choruses extolling the beauty of Christ. They aren’t prepared in advance but are prompted by the Spirit and thus are uniquely and especially appropriate to the occasion or the emphasis of the moment.

Could it be that we quench the Spirit’s work either by denying the possibility that he might move upon us in spontaneous ways like this or by so rigidly structuring our services that there is virtually no allowance for the Spirit’s interruption of our liturgy?

In addition, we read in 1 Corinthians 14:29–31 that the Spirit may well reveal something to a person at the same time another is speaking. This spontaneity is not to be despised or scorned but embraced, as Paul counsels the person speaking to “be silent” and give room for the other to communicate whatever the Spirit has made known.

5. We quench the Spirit whenever we despise prophetic utterances (1 Thessalonians 5:20).

No matter how badly people may have abused the gift of prophecy, it is disobedient to Scripture — in other words, a sin — to despise prophetic utterances. God commands us not to treat prophecy with contempt, as if it were unimportant.

“We quench the Holy Spirit when we rely on any resource other than him for anything we do in life and ministry.”

Rather than quenching the Holy Spirit by despising prophetic utterances, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “test everything” — meaning examine or judge all prophecies. Paul doesn’t correct the abuse of this gift by commanding disuse (as is the practice of many today). His remedy is biblically informed discernment and only “hold[ing] fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Such discernment should be applied to all spiritual gifts.

6. We quench the Spirit whenever we diminish his activity that alerts and awakens us to the glorious and majestic truth that we are truly the children of God (Romans 8:15–16; Galatians 4:4–7).

In both of these texts, the experiential, felt assurance of our adoption as the children of God is the direct result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. To whatever extent we diminish this experiential dimension of the Spirit’s work, we quench him. To whatever extent we fail to lead people into the conscious, felt awareness of their adoption as God’s children, we quench the Spirit.

7. We quench the Spirit whenever we suppress, or legislate against, or instill fear in the hearts of people regarding the legitimate experience of heartfelt emotions and affections in worship.

I find it instructive that Jesus, as he extolled the Father, is described as rejoicing “in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). Affections for God such as joy, peace, love, zeal, desire, and reverential fear are an essential dimension in Christ-exalting worship. How often do we orchestrate our corporate gatherings and issue strict guidelines as to what is “proper” in times of worship and in doing so inadvertently quench the Spirit in people’s lives?

“No matter how badly some have abused prophecy, it is disobedient to Scripture to despise prophetic utterances.”

John Piper says it best: “the vibrant fullness of the Spirit overflows in appropriate expressions like singing and making melody from the heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18–19). And if you don’t like those expressions and you resist it, fold your arms — ‘I am not going to do that sort of thing; I am not going to sing’ — you are quenching the Holy Spirit.”

May I urge you to carefully search your own heart and assess the possible ways in which you may have quenched the Spirit in your own life and in the experience of your local church? Yielding to and making room for the Spirit’s work in our midst is not to be feared but fostered. May God grant us both the wisdom and confidence in his goodness to facilitate a greater and more life-changing experience of the Spirit’s transforming power.

A Continuationist Church

Seems like day at the Old Preacher.  But, I can’t resist passing along this blog by Jason Meyer, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.  He titles his blog, “Confessions of a Functional Cessationist”.  (Cessationists believe that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit ceased with the ending of the apostolic age and close of the biblical canon.  Continuationists believe the gifts continue until Jesus comes.)

For some time I’ve realized that the pastor who is not a continuationist robs his church of the upbuilding the Spirit-gifts are given to promote.  I share Meyer’s blog hoping that, if your pastor is not a continuatiionist, you might begin to pray that he will become one and lead the church in that direction.


Article by

Pastor, Minneapolis, Minnesota

This article is more about aspirations than answers. I am describing the start of a journey more than documenting how to arrive at a destination. I begin with a confession: I have always been a theoretical continuationist. That is, I have always believed that the gifts of the Spirit continue to this very day.

I have never adopted the cessationist viewpoint that certain spiritual gifts ceased when the apostolic age came to an end. Paul’s argument that tongues and prophecy will end “when the perfect comes” (1 Corinthians 13:8–10) is a reference to the second coming of Christ, not the close of the biblical canon. I tell my cessationist friends that there is a day coming when I too will be a cessationist: the second coming.

Even though I have always been a theoretical continuationist, I am far too often a functional cessationist. In other words, I am a continuationist in theory, but I look a lot like a cessationist in practice. This gap between theory and practice pricks my conscience.

Test Everything — Including Attitudes

Recently, I have been convicted by clear differences between the way the Bible speaks and the way I speak about spiritual gifts. I have said things like “I am open, but cautious” when it comes to sign gifts like prophecy, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. That statement about caution rightly stresses the need to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Every experience must be examined by the searchlight of Scripture.

“Instead of ‘open, but cautious,’ I am more like ‘open, but overly suspicious.’”

However, in practice, I can take this caution so far that it turns into suspicion and fear. Instead of “open, but cautious,” I am more like “open, but overly suspicious.” I have discovered that Scripture tests our attitudes and not just our experiences. It was a little shocking to see how much my attitude is actually rebuked by Scripture. Paul commands Christians, “Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1). He characterizes the Corinthians as “eager for manifestations of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:12).

My attitude towards spiritual gifts has fallen far short of earnest and eager. In fact, Scripture goes further and asks me about how much I am committed to corporate edification. Spiritual gifts or manifestations of the Spirit are for “building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). The great Love Chapter (1 Corinthians 13) controls the application of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14). This issue is not just an attitude check, but a love test. Will I love my people enough to move from extreme caution to earnest desire? What motivates me more? Do I fear losing a measure of corporate control, or does love move me to desire greater heights of corporate edification?

Desiring God in His Gifts

One thought has captured me more than any other at the start of this journey. This thought came from a thought-provoking question from Sam Storms in his book The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts. He asks whether we should talk about “God and his gifts” or “God in his gifts.” He does not leave the answer in doubt.

Spiritual gifts are nothing less than God himself in us, energizing our souls, imparting revelation to our minds, infusing power in our wills, and working his sovereign and gracious purposes through us. Spiritual gifts must never be viewed deistically, as if a God “out there” has sent some “thing” to us “down here.” Spiritual gifts are God present in, with, and through human thoughts, human deeds, human words, human love.

This paragraph captured me. These words arrested me because if spiritual gifts are manifestations of God, then, in a sense, desiring the gifts is desiring God. Christian Hedonists are not fully desiring God if we stop short of desiring him in his gifts.

The pastoral implications are weighty as well. The apostle Paul keeps pushing the discussion of spiritual gifts toward corporate edification: “building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). Love looks like a pastor wanting more manifestations of God for the corporate joy and edification of his people.

Christian Hedonism Seeks for More

Therefore, I aspire to pastor a Christian Hedonist, continuationist church. The gifts of the Spirit are present at our church; I don’t want to give the impression that manifestations of the Spirit have been absent. But certain gifts of the Spirit — like prophesy and speaking in tongues — have been more sporadic than consistent.

“Spiritual gifts are nothing less than God himself in us.”

I don’t have all the answers for what consistency would look like as a Christian Hedonist, continuationist church, but I want to grow into it. We are taking some small steps in this direction. Our leadership has made plans to attend the Convergence Conference this month, and the next Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders will focus on the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.

We don’t expect changes to come overnight. Any changes in practice will require extensive teaching and careful shepherding, but we are eager to learn from others who are leading the way in demonstrating how to desire God in his gifts.

Signs of a True Apostle

The continuationist/cessationist debate nags at me.  A blog, a video, a comment—almost anything brings it to mind. So does 2 Corinthians 12:12.  Here it is in context . . .

“11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 The things that mark an apostle– signs, wonders and miracles– were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Corinthians 12:11,12, NIV).

Verse 12 reminds me of that debate because cessationists claim this verse teaches that miracles marked a man as an apostle.  And, since apostles died by the end of the first century A.D., so did miraculous gifts.

Before unpacking these verses, let’s define terms. Most simply, a cessationist believes the gifts of the Holy Spirit (sometimes limited to the “miraculous” gifts) ceased with the death of the apostles.  The continuationist believes the gifts continue to today until Jesus returns.

In 12:11 Paul refers to the “foolish boasting” he did in 11:1-33 (  “ . . . you drove me to it,” he claims.  In other words, “When the ‘super-apostles’ cut me down, you should have defended me. Instead, you took their side.  Listen, I’m not inferior to them in any way.”

In 12:12, according to the NIV translation, Paul is saying, “You saw me perform the signs of an apostle—‘signs, wonders and miracles.’”  So, says the cessationist, there we have it.  Miraculous works were the marks of an apostle.  But they’re all dead, and with them, miraculous gifts must be.

But the NIV translation is poor.  The better translation of the Greek is . . .

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works (ESV).

How to interpret that, though?  Does it mean Paul performed “the signs of a true apostle” accompanied by perseverance and miraculous signs?  (In this case, he’s not identifying the signs of a true apostle.)  Or does it mean perseverance and miraculous works were the signs?  The better ESV translation leaves it unclear.

Either way, miracles weren’t the work of only apostles. Stephen and Philip both performed wonders and signs, but were not apostles.

And Stephen, full of grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).

“And the crowds all paid close attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs he was performing.  For unclean spirits, shouting loudly, came out of many who had them.  And many who were paralyzed and lame were healed” (Acts 8:6,7).

Other non-apostles also exercised spiritual gifts . . .

The seventy-two: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go . . . ‘Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God is near you”’” (Luke 10:1,9).

Ananias: “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord– Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here– has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,  and after taking some food, he regained his strength” (Acts 9:17-19).

Church members in Ephesus: “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

Philip’s daughters: “Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.  He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8,9).

Believers in Galatia: “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:5).

Believers in Rome: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8).

Believers in Corinth:  “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;  to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Believers in Thessalonica:  “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;  do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thessalonians 5:19,20).

These were not apostles who exercised spiritual gifts, many the so-called “miraculous gifts” such as prophecy, tongues and healing.  How then can spiritual gifts/miraculous gifts be signs that the person is an apostle?  If they’re not, then the argument that the apostles’ death marked the end of the gifts falls apart.

Why is this theological debate important?  Why should it matter to “ordinary Christians”?

One, if spiritual/miraculous gifts have ceased, those who believe they continue and practice them are deceived and involved in something not of God in God’s name.  Two, if they have not ceased, those who believe they have are missing one of the wonderful graces the Lord has provided for the Christian life.

Much more must be said, of course.  And I’ll weigh in more in future blogs. But here in 2 Corinthians, where Paul refers to one of the debate-issues, we’re called to thoughtfully consider it now.

As we do, here’s a good prayer-song, not for spiritual gifts per se, but for the Holy Spirit . .

Europe Invasion

“Christianity in Europe is sick, perhaps mortally sick. Across this continent, only 5-6% of the population still has some connection to any church tradition, according to church leaders . . . Rome, despite its proximity to the Vatican, has become one of Europe’s most secular cities . . . Antiquity has bequeathed to this generation of Europeans magnificent structures, which once housed the faithful in worship. Today they are significantly empty and increasingly old.”  (

“[It’s happening in Europe]—the place where apostles preached, and where Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Barth, and countless other spiritual luminaries called home.”( . . .
For a compelling blog suggesting reasons, go to . . .
And for a historical overview of the decline of Christianity in Europe, go to

Today we go back to the beginning of Christianity in Europe, according to Acts  . . .

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.  So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.  During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis (Acts 16:6-11).

It’s supposed that Paul, Silas and Timothy ultimately aimed for Ephesus, a major city on the west coast of Asia.  (Paul’s general tactic was to evangelize cities.)  But they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  Whether this came through a prophetic word in a church meeting or to Paul directly, we’re not told.  In any case, God clearly had a destination in mind for these missionaries.

” . . . they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”  F.F. Bruce comments:  “If the province of Asia was not to be the field of their evangelistic activity for the present, then it was natural for them to cast their eyes further north, and think of the highly civilized province of Bithynia in North-West Asia Minor, with its Greek cities and Jewish colonies.”  But again, God interposed.  (The “Holy Spirit” and “the Spirit of Jesus” are, of course, the same Spirit.  We’re not told why he’s identified two different ways.)  The important point:  God is directing these men.

The most stunning direction comes to Paul in a night vision at Troas.  Troas was a Roman colony (originally a military outpost securing surrounding conquered territory; eventually a city of high status) and a port city for ships traveling between Asia and Macedonia.   How “convenient” given Paul’s vision!

(By the way, notice “we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia”, suggesting that here author Luke joined the missionary team.  We’re not told any details.)

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology Online explains:  Visions occur frequently in the Bible as instruments of supernatural revelation . . .  Revelatory visions portray scenery or dramatic circumstances to the human recipient while the human is awake. The distinction between a vision and a dream has to do with whether the human is awake or asleep; the result is the same . . . Throughout the Bible, visions of God and his sovereign lordship are needed in order to propagate his truth among humankind.

In his vision Paul saw a man standing, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  They immediately concluded God had called them to preach the Gospel to the Macedonians.  So they boarded ship and sailed to Samothrace and the next day to Neapolis, the port city for Philippi about ten miles away.

From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.  On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.  One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.  When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.  (Acts 16:12-15, NIV)

Typically, Paul would first visit the city’s synagogue.  It seems, however, Philippi had none, meaning fewer than than ten Jewish men lived in the city.  Outside the city gate at the river Jewish women (and probably some God-fearing Gentiles) met for the traditional Sabbath prayer.  Paul and his team found the unofficial meeting place, preached the Gospel and “The Lord opened [a woman name Lydia’s] heart to respond to Paul’s message.  After she and her household were baptized, Lydia invited the missionaries to her home.  Lydia thus became the first European believer in the Lord.

God moves in a mysterious way, huh!  Paul “invaded” Europe with the Gospel and his target was a small group of women meeting by a river.  His ways are not ours.  So, while the state of Christianity in Europe today saddens us, we shouldn’t despair.  Just look, for instance, how he directed Paul and his team to Philippi.  By some means and for reasons unknown to us, they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  That meant direction-change.  Bithynia seemed the next logical place.  ” . . . but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”  Only other option—Troas.  And there “a vision appeared to Paul in the night”, a vision they concluded was God-sent.

Ancient history, right?  Today we have the Bible through which God communicates to us.  It’s the word by which we must evaluate everything else, because it is the written revelation of God’s last word—and his name is Jesus.  Does that mean, however, that God no longer speaks through visions?

This book tells the fascinating stories of several people among thousands who are receiving dreams and visions from God through the Middle East as he reaches out to Muslims and they respond.

It’s available at the following link from Amazon:

But even if you don’t buy it (I don’t get a cut!), we should know that God the Holy Spirit is moving in this fallen, lost world.  Christianity may be sick in Europe.  America may not be far behind.  But Jesus is Lord.  And where we can’t go, the Holy Spirit can.

Father in heaven, may we not limit you or box you in by our narrow thinking.  “The wind blows where it will.”  How the flaming Middle East and spiritually-dead Europe need the wind of the Spirit to blow!  And then there’s us, Father, living in a country where you are being pushed further and further out of our public life, starting to walk in the dead-end ways of Europe.  Blow on us, too, Holy Spirit.  Ignite our hearts to flame for Jesus in these last days.  You are able to do more than all we can ask or even imagine.


Spiritual Gifts: Just Then or Now Too?

O PreacherThe question shouldn’t be left to Bible scholars or serious theologians.  It has important practical and personal ramifications for the whole church of Jesus Christ.

For example, in Romans 12:6 Paul writes, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us us them . . . ”  If spiritual gifts have ceased, then the “user” has no gift-grace to offer and the recipient none to receive.  We might say grace in the form of gifts is scarcer now than in the first century.

Again in 1 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes, “To each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  And in 1 Corinthians 14:12, Paul admonishes the church, ” . . . since you are eager for the manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”  If these manifestations have ceased, the Body of Christ no longer receives “good” from them and is left without a means of upbuilding available earlier.

Recently I discovered an excellent study by Dr. Sam Storms.  He introduces himself as “an Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian, Christian Hedonist.”  (If  you draw a blank at any of those terms, don’t worry.  Just remember we’re saved by grace through faith!)  Since 2008, Sam has  been Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Below are links to the study.  If you have any interest in this subject or especially if you’re trying to decide on which side of the line you should stand, I heartily recommend this to you.—part-i—part-ii

What do you think?  Just then or now too?  I’d love to hear from you!




The Holy Spirit and Me

O PreacherHaving clearly road-mapped my future blogging  ( , I’m abruptly turning down an unexpected side road . . .

Christian Titles.

I’ve never paid much mind to Christian titles, whether denominational (Baptist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, etc.) or theological (Arminian, Reformed, amillennial, etc.)  They sometimes categorize unfairly.  Like: every Baptist is like every other Baptist and so on.)  As far as the theological groupings, (as I’ve said before), I think they all have to twist certain texts to fit their systems.  I suspect when we see Jesus we’ll all realize we were a little wrong.

For that reason, I’ve never been big on systematic theology.  In 44 years of preaching and teaching, I’ve primarily focused on the text at hand, trying to read it as much as possible as the original readers would have, and hopefully close to what the author intended.

My Story.

I was raised, and originally ordained, in an Assemblies of God church.  I have a Pentecostal heritage. (Note: I don’t hold to all the A/G tenets of faith.)   Neither time nor space allows me to fully define Pentecostalism nor relate its history.  (Google “Pentecostalism” and find plenty.)  To some, Pentecostal conjures up images of people falling on the floor or barking like dogs or prophesying the future.  While sadly those images are based on fact, that’s not the Pentecostalism I grew up in.  Yes, being baptized in the Spirit with “the initial physical evidence of speaking in other tongues” was emphasized, occasionally overly.  But, by and large, the manifestations of the Spirit’s gifts were kept within biblical bounds.  More than gifts, Pentecostalism meant, at least for me,  a rich presence of God the Holy Spirit, a personal experience with him that reached deeper inward than the mind alone.

In later years of pastoring, I was progressively drawn to Reformed theology (Calvinism).  It answered many questions, but gave rise to others.  Again, I won’t give details, except to say it remains a vital part of the theological foundation of my faith.  Now I find Charismatic (a so-called “second wave” Pentecostalism) Reformed folks, Sam Storms, for one  (  I’m not sure I fit comfortably in that camp either.  But I do know in my limited experience I have missed the sense of God’s empowering presence (to use Gordon Fee’s term) among the Reformed.  (As I’ve said, none of us has it all right!)

So now in my “retired” years, without letting go of the good Reformed theology provides, I find part of my heart returning to some of my Pentecostal heritage.   I have recently quoted Dr. Gordon Fee, an American-Canadian Christian theologian and an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God (USA). He currently serves as Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

God’s Empowering Presence.

I recently came across the following from Dr. Fee in his book, Listening to the Spirit in the Text ( include it here because I’ve written recently about God the Holy Spirit in Galatians.  Fee’s  words profoundly spoke to me.  To them, my heart said, “Amen!”

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” . . . I began to think of my own Pentecostal heritage (that is, Fee’s), and how we have depersonalized the Spirit–not in our theology itself, mind you, but in our ways of thinking and talking about the Spirit.  Our speech is what betrays us.  With us the Spirit is depersonalized into an empowering experience.  We are empowered by the experience, but not by the empowering presence of God himself.  And then I thought of my lifelong existence in evangelical circles–where the Spirit is kept safely in the creed and the liturgy.  He is personal, well enough.  We would be unorthodox to think otherwise.  But for many, he is anything but God’s empowering presence.  Our images are biblical, but they are also impersonal.  He is wind, fire, water–comes to us as an influence, or whatever.  But he is not the one in whom and by whom we are sharing in the very love and grace and life of God himself.  And I do not mean in some mystical way.  Our problem is that the language of Father and Son evokes personal images; but the Spirit evokes that which is intangible, not quite real, because incorporeal (immaterial, ethereal). Paul’s prayer on the other hand (“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”–2 Corinthians 13,14), is that they might know the grace of Christ, the visible historical expression of the love of God, because as people of the Spirit they live in constant, empowering fellowship with God himself.  This is how the loving God and gracious Lord Jesus Christ are now present with us” (p. 29).

This, whatever our theological stripe, I pray for us all.



The Climax: Old Cross & New Creation

O PreacherGrabs the stylus from his scribe.  No dictation now.  With his own hand, he climaxes his letter, even though his eye trouble (Galatians 4:13,15) makes the words ungainly large.  See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! (6:11). Better, perhaps, to rivet home his final message.

Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ (6:12).  The Judaizers (professed Christian Jews troubling the Gentile Galatians preaching faith in Christ plus Jewish circumcision for justification to the end)  are pressuring them.  Paul warns they have impure motives.   They want to put the (circumcised) Gentiles on display, so Jewish unbelievers won’t persecute them.  Cover up the objectionable cross with honorable circumcision.

A crucified Messiah?  Shameful!  The gold cross draped about my neck is a badge of faith, a sign of to Whom I belong and how.  To the Jew, the cross symbolized utter weakness and criminality and worthless rejection.  Like an African-American proudly wearing a noose around his neck.  Disallowed!

Circumcision, on the other hand, was a badge of honor.  A sign (albeit generally covered!) that this man descended from Abraham, the one through whom Yahweh would make a great nation to bless all the (inferior) nations.  Cover the cross with circumcision.  Jewish law-devotion would show them superior.

Sadly, we’ve “cleaned up” the cross.  Or at least allowed the world to.  It’s jewelry or art.  To the world at worst it represents execution.  But a punishment empty of meaning.  “Jesus died for my sins”— a vacuous slogan.  But the cross declares, “My Messiah was rejected and executed in utter weakness and abysmal defeat in my place for my sins.  He was, in the world’s eyes, an embarrassing loser.”

Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (6:13,14).  Prosecuting, Paul points at the circumcised and roars, “Even they don’t obey God’s law.  The only reason they want you Gentiles to be circumcised is to proudly carve more notches on their “we got-’em-circumcised-belt.”

Paul’s only boast was that the Lord Jesus Christ outrageously, despicably died on a cross for him.  It forever redefined Paul’s estimation of the world.  It “has been crucified to me and I to the world.”  In other words, “Its values don’t govern me.  Its successes don’t beckon me.  I don’t evaluate my life by its measure.  I don’t care what it thinks of me.  Christ’s cross has freed me from the world’s lure.  My crucified Messiah is my treasure.”

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God (6:15,16).  The literal Greek here is, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything”;  the translator supplies “means.”  Again the translator supplies “counts”, because the Greek says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything . . . ”  They’re trying to capture Paul’s intent.

More significant is how Paul defines the nature of the Christian life.  It’s not a matter of outward religious symbolism, like forehead-ashes for Lent or Bible-carrying  or cross-wearing.  The Christian is “a new creation.”  Startling statement.  Circumcision can’t affect that.  Only the gift of the Spirit can.  As Paul would later write to the Corinthians . . .

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

“And we all with unveiled face,
beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
(2 Corinthians 3:18).

Far more than mere personal transformation!  This means the new eternal, righteous creation has burst back into this present age and has already been birthed in us who believe!

Such Christianity isn’t a meritorious faith.  It’s a grace faith by which God the Holy Spirit applies the crucifixion (and resurrection) of Christ in us to create a new righteousness out of our old moral corruption.  This, not circumcised Jews naturally descended from Abraham, is “the Israel of God”—Jew and Gentile one new people through faith in Christ, alive with his life by the Spirit.

Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen (6:17,18).  Paul wants no more messes from these Judaizers, who may even want to turn Paul to their cross-less ways.  He is committed to Jesus.  And his body bears the scars (Greek, stigmata) from following his crucified Lord through a proud and hostile world.

* * * * *

The Cross vs. Prosperity.  Christianity that draws the crowds plays down the cross’ rejection and shame.  It promises “your best life now.”  It trumpets how to be a winner.  It (subconsciously ?) seeks ways to succeed in the world without being “worldly” (not possible).  It’s gloriously true that Christ didn’t remain on the cross.  But we don’t get resurrection without the cross–Christ’s and ours.  May the world be crucified to us and us to the world!

A New Creation.  I look in the mirror and don’t see one.  I know my sins; they are ever before me.  I look at the church and see no difference from what I see at the office or supermarket or ball game.  Where is the power of Christ to transform our lives by means of the Holy Spirit, so people catch glimpses of a new creation in us?

Two responses come to mind. First, the familiar slogan, “Be patient; God’s not finished with me yet!”    And, second, “walk by the Spirit, follow the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit.”  Do in living the desires he’s working in us.  We’ve got to risk stepping to learn to walk!


Mess in the Flesh/Miracle in the Spirit

O PreacherAudacious are the Gospel’s claims.  No more so than in Galatians 5:19-26.  Paul has been correcting confused new Christ-believers that having begun by faith in the Spirit’s regenerating work, they must not presume to defeat their still-present sin-nature desires by scrupulous law-keeping (Galatians 3:3).

But I say, walk by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,
and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,
for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing what you want to do.
But, if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
(Galatians 5:16-18).

Mess in the Flesh.

“Flesh” is human nature apart from Christ.  Fallen from grace.  Sinful before the holy God.  “Flesh” has cravings it seeks to satisfy.  And, when it does, Paul warns, this is what it produces . . .

Now the works of the flesh are evident:
sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery,
enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions,
divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like that.
(Galatians 5:19-21a).

By “things like that” Paul makes his list representative, not exhaustive.  “Flesh” (human nature apart from Christ) produces this kind of mess.  Not every human is this “messed.”  But “messes” like these corrupt every one who is without Christ.  More seriously . . .

I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Galatians 5:21b).

Paul now is thinking eschatalogically—that is, of the consummation of the new eternal creation.  Then, God will reign in unopposed righteousness and perfection.  Sin, decay and death will be no more.  Therefore, those whose lives are marked by corruptible vices will not inherit God’s kingdom.

What Paul writes here should rattle every systematic theologian whose doctrines all fit like a huge jig-saw puzzle:   the apostle Paul is writing to Christians.  They have begun the Christian life.  But if they live it “by the flesh”—whether by trying to keep God’s holy, good and righteous law or by abusing Christ’s liberty with license—they will not inherit God’s kingdom.  Legalism and licentiousness both end with the kingdom door closed and the inheritance lost.

But I say, walk by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

(Galatians 5:16).

Miracle in the Spirit.

Look what God has graciously done!  What we could not!

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!”
So you are no longer a slave
(neither to sin nor law)
but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
(Galatians 4:4-7).

And the Spirit,  in the Son-followers produces “fruit”, a “harvest” of Christ-like virtues.   These virtues, though personal, aren’t private.  That is, Paul wants us (as he did the Galatians) to understand these virtues in the context of Christian community, the church.  This is the “fruit” the Spirit (not us) grows . . .

Love:  wanting the best for others and sacrificing ourselves so they might have it.
Joy:  rejoicing in the fullness of grace with which God has blessed us and spreading that joy to the downcast.
Peace:  an inner wholeness and well-being before God, a harmony we sow among God’s people.
Patience:  a heart quiet under stress, enduring  the pain others inflict.
Kindness:  a gracious heart toward sinners shown by our attitude and actions toward them.
Goodness:  a generous attitude toward others that transcends mere justice.
Faithfulness:  trustworthiness expressed in devotion and allegiance, especially in adversity.
Gentleness:  consideration for others, especially the weak.
Self-Control:  the ability to keep one’s desires and passions under restraint, so we don’t indulge ourselves at others’ expense.

March in the Rhythm.

Years ago when I preached this passage, trying to emphasize the work of the Spirit and not ours, I would close my eyes, scrunch my face, pull my whole body tight ’til I quivered, then ask the people, “Is this how a tree grows fruit?” “No, it grows by the creative work of God.”  Ah, now years later, I realize my analogy falters.  We are not trees.  Truly the Spirit grows “miracle fruit” in us.  We are to “keep in step” . . .

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
(Galatians 5:25,26)

The Spirit sets the rhythm and enables us to follow.  The apostle charges us to keep in step with the Spirit’s beat.

We don’t, at least, not always.  A different image comes to mind.  I’m leading worship.  The congregation is singing and clapping.  I notice a man on the left and a woman in the center whose clapping only occasionally and accidentally hits the beat.  They simply can’t clap with the rhythm.  What shall I do?  Stop and reprimand them?  Prohibit their clapping?  No.  Eventually, if the Spirit indwells them, they’ll get it.  So I let them clap along slightly off for now.  As the Lord does me.  One day, he’ll see to it that we all get it . . .

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Spirit-Walking: The How To

P.AllanHow-To books sell.  Maybe because about something we’re all  “DUMMIES.”  I’m not admitting to “dummie-hood;” but, since reading the apostle Paul’s imperative,  “But I say, walk by the Spirit”  in Galatians 5:16  (see link . . . ), I’ve been asking, “How to?” 

Look at the second imperative Paul issues in 5:25:  “keep in step with the Spirit.”   Notice, too, he references to being “led by the Spirit” in 5:18.  I contend  that by these phrases (walk by the Spirit, [be] led by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit) Paul is saying essentially the same thing.  The Christian life is a Spirit-walk, Spirit-led, Spirit-step life.

These terms also paint a picture.  I walk by [means of] a walker for support and strength. When our four-family family vacationed together, three cars in caravan would follow the lead driver.  I never tried out for high school marching band fearing my feet couldn’t stay in rhythm with all the rest.  Walk by the Spirit (like me on my walker).  [B]e led by the Spirit (like us in our caravan).  Keep in step with the Spirit (like me, if I could, in marching band). 

In a sermon entitled “Live by the Spirit,” Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, and a co-host of the White Horse Inn radio program, explains . . .

“The Spirit works in and through the Word” and  “motivates us to pray” and “causes us to live in freedom by serving one another in love.”  He summarily concludes:  “But we do not fulfill Paul’s imperative  by merely re-doubling our efforts, or by attempting to reach and attain a higher-level or more intense Christian experience. Walking in the Spirit is participating in the means of grace—Word and Sacrament—as well as things such as prayer and fellowship, the result of which is growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and progressive conformity to his image.”

Riddlebarger (one of my Reformed “go-to guys” for perspective) hardly hints at an answer here.  Certainly participating in every means of grace enables us to walk by the Spirit.  But it isn’t the walking itself.   There has to be more.

In a sermon entitled “Walk by the Spirit,” Dr. John Piper, founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota and former Pastor for Preaching and Vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. says . . .

“But the $60,000 question is, How do you walk by the Spirit? All of us have heard preachers say, ‘Let the Spirit lead you,’ or, ‘Allow the Spirit to control you,’ and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do you allow the Spirit to control you? I want to try to show you that the answer is, You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God. Or to put it another way, you walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.” 

Piper (a mentor through books and Internet) takes us a step closer.  But, while “resting in the promises of God” and living “by faith in the Son of God” fuel our Spirit-walk, it seems to me that “walk by the Spirit” and ‘keep in step with the Spirit” call for more action than resting and trusting.

I think Dr. Gordon Fee, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada in his excellent book God’s Powerful Presence takes us closest . . .

“[Paul’s] appeal . . . is to ‘go on walking by the very same Spirit by which you came to faith and with whom God still richly supplies you’ . . . That is, a powerful and experiential–supernatural, if you will–presuppositional base lies behind this imperative . . . Life in the Spirit is not passive submission to the Spirit to do a supernatural work in one’s life; rather it requires conscious effort, so that the indwelling Spirit may accomplish his ends in one’s life.  One is urged to ‘walk by the Spirit’ . . . by deliberately ‘conforming one’s life to the Spirit’ (‘keep in step with the Spirit’, 5:25).  If such a person is also described as being ‘led by the Spirit,’ that does not mean passively; it means to rise up and follow the Spirit by walking in obedience to the Spirit’s desire . . .

The difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’ many centuries later is almost certainly at the experiential level, wherein their dynamic experience of the Spirit both at the beginning of life in Christ and in their ongoing life in the church would have made this imperative seem much more ‘practical’ and everyday.  Since the Spirit is God’s own empowering presence, Paul expected God’s supernatural aid to enable them to live in keeping with God’s character and purposes . . .

In a world in which Torah observance no longer obtains, the Spirit is sufficient and adequate to accomplish God’s purposes in and among his people.  Spirit people march to a different drummer, and the Spirit empowers them to live in such a way that their lives evidence that fact.”

The Spirit is like my walker.
He gives me support and strength to walk in the Word-centered ways he desires.
I’m urged to walk.
“Walk by the Spirit.”

The Spirit is like the lead car in our caravan.
He, in my new-born nature, leads me in the Word-centered paths he wants.
I’m urged to follow.
“[Be] led by the Spirit.”

The Spirit is like the marching band conductor.
He sets the Word-centered tempo and pace he favors.
I’m urged to keep in step.
“Keep in step with the Spirit.”


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