Soul Shift #5 – Our Father In Heaven, Part 2

SoulShiftI. INTRO

I used to play a game at home when my children were younger – much younger.  In this game they might have asked for money for their allowance, or we may have been playing a board game, with dice – and I would have what they wanted in my hands –and I would pretend to suddenly fall asleep. They would start giggling and laughing and crawl all over me while attempting to pry what they wanted from my clinched fists.  Those were some beautiful moments of giggles and joyful laughter and mutual longing – they were longing for the things I held in my hands; I was longing for our closeness, our innocence, and wanting those fleeting moments of sheer joy to last forever.

For me this is a picture of the activity of prayer – while we love God sometimes we are focused more on the gifts in God’s hands rather than hand of God Himself (someone described it as seeking the hand of God and not the face of God) – we pray fervently for the new job, or the return of health.  When we gain the prizes we are delighted and, often, our focus turns to the prize — and away form the momentary closeness of the good Giver Himself.

We are in a series on prayer that we are calling “Soul Shift,” where, as individuals, as couples, as families, and as a church we are asking God to move us from ‘ordinary’ prayer to ‘extraordinary’ prayer.  What does that mean?

It means that when we speak or teach about prayer in church it’s easy for all of us to instantly feel guilty.  A sermon on prayer can amount to a drive-by guilt-ing.

Is there anyone among us who is satisfied with their prayer life?

So, today, let’s not talk about – or, even think too much about what WE SHOULD DO, but let’s take a few minutes to consider WHAT JESUS CHRIST HAS DONE.

If we can lift the eyes of our hearts to see WHAT JESUS CHRIST has accomplished FOR US it will lift the “eyes of our hearts” (Eph 1:17) in worship, in adoration, in joy, in expectancy, and in delight.  It will draw prayer out of us…

Our goal, our objective is that we would leave here today more fully delighting in the Giver than in the gifts.  (Some people’s prayers go something like this: “God, if You get me out of this mess, I won’t bother You until the next one!”)

In our study of prayer we are looking primarily at what has been called The Lord’s Prayer in Mat 6.  (There is a more compact version of the same prayer in Luke 11.)  This prayer is not meant to be prayed ritualistically, but to be viewed as a pattern for prayer.

Here’s the bottom line: **We don’t need to make bigger commitments about prayer, what we really need is to think and to believe truer thoughts about God — thoughts that are shaped by the gospel, by what Jesus Christ has already done on our behalf.

We are called to work, love, to worship, and to pray FROM His righteousness, not FOR His righteousness.  That is the gospel in a nutshell – we work, serve, love, and worship FROM a growing understanding that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has won the heart and ear of God on our behalf.

Hebs 4:16: “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

We come to God through Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to earn the ear of God in prayer – Jesus has earned the ear of God for us, He has won God’s ear and God’s heart for us — so we come to God in prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer is best used as a model for prayer –or, we could think of it as template – to launch us out into a place or a perspective of reflection, adoration, and gratitude.

For the next few weeks we will be looking at the individual phrases of this model prayer… learning to delight in the Giver of all good gifts.

What we will learn is 1) the initial focus is upward, with its first three requests having to do with God’s glory and 2) the remaining three requests are for our well-being. God first, humanity second – that is the ideal order of prayer.  His glory before our desires.[1]

II. BODY

Today I would like us to look at the opening phrase of The Lord’s Prayer:  “Our Father in heaven.”  Simply stated:

  • The word, “Our” — speaks of community. 
  • The word, “Father” speaks of family.
  • The phrase, “in heaven” speaks of majesty, transcendence (time, space, understanding, etc.), and authority. 

Let’s take some time and briefly consider each one…

1. What does the word “Our” tell us about community?

  • We have left the land of “me” and entered the land of “we.” [2]
  • The Lord’s Model Prayer begins with the acknowledgement that we have been invited out of isolation and into both the joy and the challenge of community.
  • Here’s a simple way to say it: Pro 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one [person] sharpens another.”
  • There are at least three primary and legitimate needs of every human being:
    1. The need to feel authentically human
    2. The need to belong
    3. The need to have a sense of destiny and purpose
  • It is in the heart of God to fully meet these needs in every person. 
  • The first and most important step is through conversion and regeneration, which is the restoration of our individual relationship’s with the living God
  • The next step is through significant relationships with each other
  • Some people find it helpful to think in terms of a cross (), with our relationship with God signifying the vertical and our relationships with each other signifying the horizontal – the cross, and subsequently, Christianity is all about engaging and pursuing both the horizontal and vertical aspects of faith.
  • Our culture, unfortunately, sidetracks us with counterfeit opportunities for community.  The neighborhood bar is possibly the best facsimile there is for the fellowship Christ desires to give His church.  The bar is an imitation — dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality — yet it is tolerant, it is ac­cepting, it is inclusive, and it is virtually unshockable.  You can tell people secrets in a bar and they usually don’t tell others or even want to.  Bars flourish not because most people are alcoholics, but be­cause God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known (Cheers!), to love and be loved.  There are scores of people who seek to medicate their shame and pain for the price of a few beers, drinking their courage instead of turning humbly to Christ.
  • With the opening word of the model prayer Jesus is welcoming us into community.

2. What does the word “Father” tell us about family?

  • With the words, “Our Father,” Jesus is welcoming us into the family of God and identifying Himself as our older brother.
  • The Aramaic word for Father is ABBA.
  • Last week we spoke about the “Abba” Cry/Longing
    • Romans 8:15“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
    • Galatians 4:6“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’”
  • According to Jewish rabbinical teachings, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by the affectionate title, “Abba.”
  • “Abba” approximates “papa” or “daddy” and implies unwavering trust.
  • “Father” expresses intelligent comprehension of the relationship.
  • Together the two reveal the trusting love and intelligent confidence of a secure son or daughter.

3. What do the words, “In heaven” tell us about authority?

  • It may be helpful to view heaven as a perspective and not a physical place, like a zip code.  God is omnipresent (always present everywhere).
  • God’s omnipresence reminds us of His transcendent nature.  Transcendence is a theological term referring to the relation of God to creation.
  • And so “our Father Who is in heaven” is “other” or beyond His creation.
  • God is independent and different from His creatures: Isa 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
  • Being beyond His creation and not limited by it or to it. This simple understanding of transcendence makes our privilege of approaching Him intimately like a son or daughter would their earthly father, all the more humbling and praiseworthy.
  • Our transcendent God is also the omnipresent God and is never farther than a prayer away!

III. CONCLUSION

  • Pastor and theologian Arthur Pink, in his book The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, says, that in these four words: “Our Father in Heaven,”there is a “blessed balance.”[3]
  • The first two words: “Our Father” teach us about the nearness and dearness of God’s relationship to us through Jesus Christ – and they inspire us to confidence and love for God.
  • The second two words: “in heaven,” Pink says, should fill us with humility and awe.
  • He says the first two words (“Our Father”) without the second tends toward an “unholy familiarity.”  And the second two words (“in heaven”) without the first two produces “coldness and dread.”
  • **When we combine these two lofty concepts for the purpose of adoration and prayer we see a marriage of God’s unfathomable love with His immeasurable holiness.
  • In the coming week will you consider giving the best five minutes of your day to God?  Before moving to quickly to petitionary prayer, will you take 3-5 minutes of worship and adoration?  Will you worship God and ask God to open your heart afresh to the wonder, to the reality of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf.
  • Begin by thinking of it this way:
    1. No one has ever been so rich and became so poor as Jesus Christ.  He left the richness, the perfect love, and perfect communion within the Trinity of heaven.  He condescended to become a man and live a perfect, sinless life so that you and I could enjoy confidant access to a holy and righteous God.
    2. No one has ever been so poor and become so rich as those who’s hearts are awakened to the reality of what Jesus Christ has done – on our behalf.  Has your heat been awakened to that gift?
  • We said at the start that we want to focus more on what Jesus Christ HAS DONE than on what we SHOULD DO.  I invite you to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation…you and I don’t have to work to earn God’s favor.  The perfect, sinless life of Jesus has already accomplished that.  We own our own sin, we repent (surrender), and we believe that we have been made righteous and perfectly acceptable in the presence of a holy God…

[1] Hughes, R. K. Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom. Crossway Books.

[2] Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals: 18.

[3] Baker Books 1982:80-81.

Soul Shift #4 – Our Father In Heaven, Part 1: Healing the Father Wound

SoulShift

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven…” –Matthew 6:9a

This morning we want to take aim at the concept of the father wound…

As we lean into this season of prayer — and seek to (by God’s grace, mercy, and power) move from ‘ordinary’ prayer to ‘extraordinary’ prayer we must first acknowledge that we tend to view God through the lens of our earthly fathers.  And many people have had difficult relationships with their earthly fathers and, consequently, have great difficulty transitioning to viewing God as a good and loving Father.

If you did not feel safe, protected, affirmed, and secure in your father’s presence, you may spend your entire life looking for a place of comfort and rest.  And some people grow-up without a father in the home – for a variety of reasons.

The National Fatherhood Initiative informs us that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of three — live in biological father-absent homes.  Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the social issues facing America today.

Children’s first impressions about men come from their early experiences with their father – or the lack thereof.

The Father/Daughter Relationship forms the daughter’s opinions of what men are — or should be, how they should act, especially towards her, and how she should be with them. The father’s behavior towards women shapes the way she learns to relate to men. If the father withdrew his affection at the time she entered puberty, the wound only goes deeper.

The father is to model how to give and receive affection and tenderness while demonstrating the proper use of strength and power.

Part of the father’s responsibility is to lovingly prepare his daughter for the major shifts that take place as she moves from child to adolescent to young woman and beyond. Unfortunately, many father’s, themselves, had trouble adjusting and many others just weren’t available to teach her to venture out from the protected realm of the home to deal with each new phase and its physical and social adjustments.

The Father/Son Relationship forms the son’s opinions of how he is supposed to act and how he should treat women. Too often, however, the father wasn’t around to present a healthy model for his son. (Remember the Cats In the Cradle lyrics?  It’s a very sad song…)

From Strength in Weakness by Andrew Comiskey — a book about sexual and relational healing…

“Though the [heavenly] Father intended for us to be roused and sharpened by our fathers, we find more often than not that our fathers were silent and distant, more shadow than substance in our lives. This kind of a ‘shadow’ presence is not what our heavenly Father intended for our relationships with our earthly fathers.

The first half of the 20th century really messed up fatherhood – and has impacted succeeding generations.

A Perception of the 20th Century

  • WW I gave way to the “Roaring Twenties” a season of subdued hedonism. (Subdued in comparison to our current hedonistic culture!)
  • The Great Depression followed the Roaring Twenties… 
  • And then WW II followed the Great Depression.
  • If your father or grandfather grew up in the Great Depression it means they never had a chance to have a childhood.
  • Tom Brokaw wrote in his 1998 book The Greatest Generation, “it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”  He argued that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. When they came back they rebuilt America into a superpower.”  That’s the upside.  There also a downside — an emotional passivity.  The Depression and WW II had inflicted some severe emotional (and spiritual) woundedness.
  • And for those of us who were born after WW II there was an economic and baby boom — and consequently our fathers tended to give us ‘things’ but not themselves.  We must keep in mind our fathers and not been fathered well either.
  • And then there was the ‘60’s and 70’s.  We had legitimate longs and desires, but looked for them in the wrong places.
  • Those first 60-70 years of the 20th century has greatly affected several generations of men – and fatherhood.

I share these things to provide us with some perspective.  You may not have received what you needed from your father – but consider that he probably didn’t either.

So, here we are in the 21st century.  And the whole concept of what constitutes a family, let alone fatherhood has become very twisted and confused.

Men today face the confusing challenge of learning to balance power with sensitivity, strength with feeling, and mind with heart — sometimes all on our own.

Some of us encounter significant difficulty here because we get stuck viewing our heavenly Father through the lens of our earthly fathers.

For some the transition is easy and instantaneous for others it becomes a very difficult and arduous journey.

Regardless of parental devotion, no parent can fulfill all of the child’s wants, needs, or desires.

While these wounds can be inflicted with intent, many are unintentional yet still affect the child throughout life.

Consider Malachi 4 – The Final Chapter of the OT

4:1-6: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts.

“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

As the Old Testament closes, God makes known that He is not by any means finished with His plan for the world. There is a great day of victory coming and there will be preparations for it so that the people of God will be ready.

That is what we would expect at the end of the Old Testament—a bridge between old and new—a look back at the faithful work of God in the past and a look forward to the final victory.

The Malachi text is the final passage in the Old Covenant.  It is quite significant in that its promise — and warning, frame the very doorway to the New Covenant, the threshold to the coming Messiah.

In verse 6 we see one of the effects of God’s mercy—and an unexpected one at that.

When Elijah preaches, and cries out for people to get ready to meet on the great and terrible day of the Lord, what happens?

Verse 6:

“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

It implies that the brokenness in this world between children and fathers reflects the brokenness between humanity and God. That is, restoring relationship with the Father is, in fact, the very focus of God’s saving power in this world.

Thus, Jesus came to reconcile humanity to the Father (John 14:8-13). Nowhere in this world is the incentive for that reconciliation more keenly felt than in relationship with our earthly fathers.

The father-wound portrayed in the Malachi text is the difference between what your father has given you (or not given you) and what our heavenly Father God wants to give you. Thus, every person on the planet bears some form of a father wound.

No pain strikes more deeply into a person’s heart than being abandoned emotionally and/or physically by Dad. No pain, therefore, more directly beckons the saving power of God the Father.

A full 400 years after Malachi wrote those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant dawns with the announcement of the birth of the Messiah

In Luke 1:13-17:

The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John…. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

There is evidence in other parts of the NT that John the Baptist is not the final, or only, “spirit and power of Elijah”…

John the Baptist may be a forerunner to an “Elijah Company,” and Elijah ‘task-force,’ if you will — of men being raised up to walk in and to impart the Father’s love to a generation that is longing for significance and purpose in life.

The pattern of distant unavailable father’s has been repeated throughout the 20th century.

It’s not about trying to BE their fathers or mothers, it’s about being able to introduce them to “our Father in heaven” (and heaven, by the way is more of a perspective than a zip-code – more about that next week).

Defining the Father’s Love

The four Greek words for ‘love’…

  • STORGE – family (instinctual) love
  • PHILEO – brotherly/sisterly (friendship) love (tender affection)
  • EROS – Romantic or erotic love
  • AGAPE – Unconditional or sacrificial love

“But God demonstrates his own love [AGAPE] for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”   Romans 5:8 (NIV)

We generally focus on AGAPE when defining the Father’s love in a theological sense.

His unconditional love and on the cross concern for us is demonstrated in Christ’s death for us (Rom. 5:8).

This foundational truth is assumed to be common knowledge among most Christians but that is not the primary focus today…

Let’s now consider God’s PHILEO love:

John 5:20: “For the Father loves [PHILEO] the Son and shows Him all he does.”

In attempting to define the Father’s love in a more experiential sense we can focus on His PHILEO – His demonstrated tender affection for us.  The PHILEO of the Father for the Son is described above in John 5:20.

The ministry of Jesus apparently flowed out of a continual experience of His Father’s PHILEO love.  Within the intimacy of this relationship, Jesus could sense His Father’s presence and hear His Father’s voice, thus perceiving what the Father was saying and doing.

John 16:27: (Jesus) “…The Father himself loves [PHILEO] you because you have loved [PHILEO] me and believed that I came from God.” (NIV)

The PHILEO love of the Father for believers is described in John 16:27 (see above).  Our communication with God apparently is to flow out of our continual experience of our Father’s PHILEO for us.

Whereas AGAPE focuses on a truth about God, PHILEO seems to focus more on the touch from God.  This touch of love is missing from many Christian’s lives.

The “Abba” Cry/Longing

Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”

Galatians 4:6: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.'”

  • According to Jewish rabbinical teachings, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by the affectionate title, “Abba.”
  • “Abba” approximates “papa” or “daddy” and implies unwavering trust.
  • “Father” expresses intelligent comprehension of the relationship.
  • Together the two reveal the trusting love and intelligent confidence of a secure son or daughter.

The chief activity of the Holy Spirit is to:

  • Draw us into a vital relationship with the Father.  Our “Abba Father” is not only the source of everything in both creation and redemption, He is also the goal of everything.
  • Prompt in us the “Abba” cry/longing; which is first and foremost the basis of our worship.

Luke 15:11-31 – This parable of the prodigal sons confronts our false assumptions about what pleases God.

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25″Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27’Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31″ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

Healing the Father Wound 

1.  Surrender to the Father’s initiating love.

    • The father moves toward both sons… in order to express his love and bring them in.
    • It’s not repentance that causes the father’s love – but the reverse.  It’s surrendering to the father’s love that brings about repentance.

2.  Refuse to be emotionally passive.  (This was primarily the sin of the older brother, but the traveling prodigal was also willing to resign himself to this.)

    • Emotional Passivity is repressed, self-imposed oppression of emotions based on an unmet longing for acceptance – usually from our fathers.  This repression, or self-imposed oppression, generates anger that if allowed to turn inward will eventually express itself as either chronic depression, or passive-aggressive behavior.
    • Awakening the passive soul begins with confessing the sin of deadening our soul and making conscious choices to (go ahead and) feel the sadness, the grief, the sorrow — and ultimately the joy. (We have learned some of the principles of healthy grief and loss as we have sought to integrate emotional health into our discipleship process.)
      • Sadness opens the heart to what was meant to be and is not. 
      • Grief opens the heart to what was not meant to be and is. 
      • Sorrow breaks the heart as it exposes the damage we’ve done to others as a result of our unwillingness to wildly pursue God’s grace and truth.

3.  Refuse to mistrust.

    • Reengages the God-given desire to be concerned about the temporal and eternal destiny of those who have harmed us.  This transfers trust to God and releases us to care, to be kind, and to authentically comfort others.
    • It is not being gullible or stupid – “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mat. 10:16).
    • To care is to use all that we are for the good of others while not walling off the deep parts of our soul.
    • The process towards deep caring begins with admitting there is sadness.
    • Grief admits there are scars that can be removed only in heaven.
    • Godly sorrow begins to develop when we begin to see that our demand for God to prove He cares is a mockery of the Cross (which sufficient proof of His trustworthiness).

4.  Refuse to deny holy passion.

    • Passion can be defined as the deep response of the soul to life:  the freedom to rejoice and the freedom to weep.
    • A refusal to deny, or despise, passion embraces both pain and pleasure.
    • A fear of passion makes it nearly impossible to be fully present with other people.
    • It’s refusing to flee back into the numbing – whatever that is
    • It is admitting that while I may be a mess, I AM ALIVE — and there is hope!

God Is Closer Than You Think #4 – What Is The Bible?

by JT Holderman

Our Topic: “God is closer than you think.” This is the title of our twelve week series on the basics of biblical doctrine, theology, what we can know about ourselves and God. This morning I have the privilege of addressing the topic: “What is the Bible?” And I am so glad to, because the Bible has transforming power. Scripture gives us wisdom, it reveals who God is, it reveals who you are, and it will transform you. Do you believe this? Gregg has taken us through “What is Man” and “What does God look like” and Jeff has taken the tough task of “what is the Trinity.” But how do we know the answers to these three sermons. Through Scripture, what God has revealed. Let’s ground our discussion of Scripture in a couple of verses.

 Scripture Reading: If you have your Bibles this, please open them up to 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Listen to the Word of God…

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Context: We have this morning and incredibly rich passage of Scripture before us to study. Verse 16 is perhaps one of my favorite verses in the New Testament. What we have before us is a letter from the Apostle Paul, the same guy who wrote Romans and Corinthians. This letter is unique in one major way, it is written to a specific person, Timothy. Most of Paul’s letters are written to churches, to a large group of people. But here we have a unique glimpse into the correspondence between Paul and his young disciple and student in ministry Timothy. It’s a personal letter, from one friend to another. And here in our text, at the beginning of verse 14, we see that Paul is contrasting Timothy to someone else, but as for you. From the beginning of chapter three Paul lays out those who are living a godless life, those who are opposing truth and wisdom and virtue, those who are corrupted in mind, heretics. And in verses 10-13, directly preceding our passage, Paul commends timothy for being steadfast in his life as a Christian. So in v. 14 here, when Paul says but as for you, we must read him as an example in contrast to those who were against the Gospel. It is here in our passage that Paul therefore instructs Timothy, his young disciple, how he can continue to live in accordance with Jesus.

Purpose: And Paul instructs Timothy with one overriding point, really the whole purpose of this passage. Timothy is to become a mature disciple, to grow in the faith he has been brought up in. And Paul says this is primarily done through the power of the Scriptures. And this is the purpose of the text to you and I this morning, we are to become mature disciples by trusting God’s Word. I mean this is the reason that you and I come to church right? We sit under people who preach the Gospel to us for a reason don’t we? We don’t just come to have our ears itched and to hear funny stories, we come to be transformed. I think if we really ask ourselves, “Am I satisfied with who I am?” Most of us would say “no,” I would say “no.” We long to be the person God wants us to be. We are never complacent with who we are. On my drive this morning to church, I passed a pond. This was a stagnant pond, it had no fresh water flowing into it and it had no water flowing out of it. It was covered in green algae and looked disgusting. If the pond had moving water, it would become clearer. The same is true for you and I. If we are not being transformed by the Gospel, by what Jesus has done for you and I, we begin to look a lot like a stagnant pond. Think about why you came to church this morning. For many of us I’m sure it was because “well it’s just what you do on Sunday, or my wife wanted me to come, or I wanted to see friends, or I have to preach.” Think about why you came. Church is a place to worship God together and it’s also a place to grow together. We come to church because we love Jesus and we want to be transformed to be like him. If this isn’t why you come, check your heart.

Trusting in His Word: So Paul tells you and I that we grow and become mature disciples, we become more like Jesus, by trusting in His Word, in the Bible. Look at vv. 14-15. Paul instructs Timothy to become more mature by continuing to know the reality of the Gospel through Scripture. There are people, like his mother and Paul, who have instructed him as they themselves have been instructed by the Scriptures. So our call this morning, what we are primarily looking at, is the call to become mature disciples in Christ. What pictures in your mind do you associate with the word “maturity.” We think of an aged woman who simply exudes wisdom, we picture an old tree by the ocean that has withstood the trials of time, we think of a boy’s voice transitioning from really squeaky to deep, we think of composting and how it takes time for the soil to mature. I think the image of the tree is profound. The prophet Jeremiah uses an image of tree to talk about maturity, he says in Jeremiah 17:8.

And I’m sure we all have pictures of immaturity. I can remember going to a wedding once. It was a beautiful wedding. A few rows behind my wife and I there were a couple boys, maybe 8 years old. During the service I heard this sound that every 8 year old boy knows. I creaked my neck around to see them blowing on their arms like this, making fart noises. There’s something that has taken place between when we were 8 and where we are now that we know this is immature to do at a wedding. Our hope as disciples is that every day we live with our faith in Jesus that we would become more mature. This isn’t always the case. For every three steps forward we often take two backward right? I had a dry period in my faith a couple of years ago and it felt like I backslid and lost years of growth. So what is Paul’s encouragement to you and I that we may become mature? We are to trust the Scriptures. But in order to trust them, we need to look at two questions:

  1. Are the Scriptures trustworthy?
  2. Why should I trust them?

1) Are the Scriptures Trustworthy? This last year I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. It has been a tough transition learning how to change my diet. It was frustrating to hear, but I trusted the doctor’s diagnosis. Why? Because the doctor has an authority that I don’t have. Years of schooling, years of diagnosing health issues like mine. She had an authority that I trusted. In the same way, the Scriptures have an authority that did not come from man, like my doctor’s diplomas for med school, but from God alone. Look at v. 16a. We see here that Scripture, the Bible, attests to its own authority as being literally breathed from God. If God is real and if God is good and loving and if God has spoken, has breathed out this word, it has authority that is unparalleled. If the God that the Scriptures describe has Himself made these words come into being, there is no greater authority. Do the Scriptures have authority in your life? If God spoke them, they are worthy of our trust. It is God’s revelation to you and me of just how much He loves us. The Gospel, the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for you and I, is contained within these pages. In them we see a God who became man, forsaking His Godly powers. We see a God who in becoming man suffered and died for our sin, a God who loved us enough to die for us. It has authority not only because it is God breathed, but because of the character of God Himself.

And because God’s words are authoritative, they have power. Power and authority are synonyms. One of the most powerful pictures in Scripture that illustrates the power of God’s words is found in the Gospel of John. In chapter 11: Lazarus come out! PAINT THE SCENE. God’s words have authority, they have power to simply create life, to do things!

2) Why Should I Trust the Scriptures? We have already answered this a bit, we laid a foundation with authority. But really, of what value is the Bible to me? We should always be asking this question, it prevents us from just reading the Bible out of routine. There is a purpose God has for His Word, and we should seek it. There are two reasons we should trust the Scriptures personally.

  • First, we should trust them because they are necessary. The Bible is a necessary component in coming to love and know God. We cannot know God, as He has revealed Himself to us as a good, loving, gracious father, without seeing it in Scripture. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in natural revelation. As a Christian when I see a sunrise or sunset, when I’m hiking with my wife, when I put my feet in the sand on the shore of the ocean, there are certain things that bring me to my knees in wonder and cry out “God made this!” There is a certain knowledge of God we can gain from the world around us, his beauty, his power. But we cannot know specific realities of who God is, or what he has done for us, apart from Scripture. It is necessary.
  • And secondly, theologians say Scripture is sufficient. Sufficient for what? If Scripture is necessary to know what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, then Scripture is sufficient for bringing you on your knees in faith, to trust in Jesus. Scripture is sufficient for salvation. Look at v. 15b.. Scripture brings about the reality of salvation, God uses it to touch your heart and reveal to you your sin and great need of redemption. But not only is it sufficient to save you, Scripture is also sufficient to mature you as a disciple. Look at vv. 16b-17. We see Paul list a few things that Scripture does, it doesn’t just fall idly by, it does stuff! Here are a few things the Bible says that it does: the bible initiates faith (Rom 10:17), the bible gives new life (1 pet. 1:23), it helps us grow spiritually (1 pet. 2:2), it searches the heart and convicts (heb 4:12), it liberates you (john 8:31-32), it refreshes and renews (ps. 119:25) and it revives and enlightens (ps. 19:7). These are just a few things the Bible says it does.

What Do I Mean By “Trust?” So remember, Paul is encouraging Timothy and You and I to become mature disciples, to become spiritually mature. He longs for us to live as a reflection of Jesus, to be like Him. And he tells us we are to do that by trusting in His word. But what do we mean by trust? Trust involves three things:

  1. For us to trust Scripture we must know it. This one is kind of a no brainer right? We can’t put any trust in the authority, necessity and sufficiency of Scripture if we haven’t read any of it, right? It would be like trying to say something intelligent in class about a book you have never read. You have to read it first in order to know what it is talking about. Now do we need to have read the entire Bible cover to cover, no, but we need to have read enough of it to see what it is about. So in order to trust the Bible we must first know it.
  2. Secondly, we must believe it. Now I think this is the most crucial step in trusting the Bible. Without a faith, a deep seated belief in what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, the words in the Bible are simply that, words on a page. They have no life. They are black pigment on a piece of paper. Our faith ignites the words on the page, bringing them to life, bringing them to reality as something worthy of our belief. Jesus Christ taking your sin on the cross and giving you a new life is something worthy of believing. A vital part of trusting the Bible is believing that in it God is speaking truly to you so that you might be transformed, you might be mature. This makes me think of the greatest theologian this world has ever known, a man named Augustine. Augustine lived in North Africa. He was a womanizer and self-confessed perverse man. He sought the comfort of women, not God with his life. But slowly over time God began to chip away at his heart. He knew the Old and New Testaments, but they were just information, literature. One day Augustine was sitting in a garden in Milan, Italy. On the bench next to him was a bound letters of Paul. He opened it up and read the first verse his eyes came across, “not in wantonness and drunkenness…” As soon as he had read this verse, he believed. The Word of God had such power in that moment to transform Augustine and give him faith. The Bible is nothing more than a textbook without faith in Jesus. It is our faith that brings this book alive!
  3. The third thing trust involves obedience. Trusting your parents when they tell you not to touch the hot stove means that you obey them, otherwise your hand is blistered and your parents are asking you why you didn’t trust them. Football season started a few weeks ago, thank goodness! Next time you watch a football game, when they cut with the camera to the coaches, look at them. What is in their hands? They hold their guide to the plays their team has learned. Many QB’s have this guide in short form on their forearm. These are the plays they have practiced and learned, the plays the team knows. When Tom Brady calls blue 42, it means a certain play. And when the team knows what to do with this play, their chances of success are much greater. But what if the players don’t obey? The play often falls dead. It doesn’t work. Likewise, obedience is a key factor in trusting what is in Scripture with our faith. But we have to be careful whenever we talk about obedience. Obedience that doesn’t first stem from love is legalism. We are not for this. Instead we should view obedience as the overflow of our heart to love and know God. Love should drive any obedience.

Conclusion: And Paul this morning wants you and I to be mature. He wants you to be continually transformed into the person God desires you to be. Maturity requires one thing from us this morning: response. Maturity beckons response. A mature person is someone who takes responsibility for their actions. And our call to be mature is grounded in our action, a call to respond to what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Paul here specifically says that if you want to be mature, if you want to be the person God longs for you to be, trusting Scripture is essential.

Some of us need to know Scripture in order to respond to it. Some of us need to believe in what God has written for us to respond. And some of us need to simply be obedient to Scripture. Which person are you? Do you have trouble knowing what’s in the Bible? Do you have trouble believing it? Do you have trouble obeying it? I would guess we would say “JT, I have trouble with all three.” Me too. Trusting this book is difficult. But when we realize that God wants us to know Him, that He died for us to be able to know Him, it gives us a strength to grab hold of this book and love Him. Every time we read this text we are saying, “I love you God and I want to know you as you know me.” And isn’t it true that the more we love someone, the more we want to make them happy? The more I have loved my wife, the more I have realized what makes her happy and the more I want to do those things for her. And so we become mature by responding. We read the Bible not because we are supposed to, but because we love Him and want to be the person he wants us to be, mature, just like Paul wanted Timothy to be mature. Our love of God beckons a response.

I would encourage us all this morning to think deeply on our love of God. Do you love God? Do you want to grow in your relationship with Him? Then take this book and never let go. Love the Word of God and He will transform you into the person He and you long to be. “So what does this mean for how I live this week JT?” Maybe this week as you are at work, you take 5 or 10 minutes over your lunch break and you decide to work through an entire book of the bible. Maybe you choose the letter of James in the New Testament. Maybe you wake up 15 minutes earlier and spend some time reading and praying over it. Maybe when you are at school with a break you pull out your Bible and ask God to transform you, to make you a mature disciple. Maybe you think about reading through the Bible in a year, there are many great plans out there to do that. I’m doing it right now…though I’m definitely failing. If you and I do not see the value, but even more, if we don’t feel a burden of love to read the Bible, I have failed this morning. My prayer is that God would awaken you and me to a love for his Word. We must love Him in order to truly love and trust His word. Long to be mature disciples. Long to love God. And long to trust the Bible so that God may transform you into who you long to be.

The Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit

I. INTRO

Today we are studying the Person and ministry of the Holy Spirit.  We want to establish an ongoing theological[1] dialogue (vs. discussion).

Picture a continuum:

  • On one end of the continuum is what John MacArthur has called, “Charismatic Chaos.”
  • On the other end of the continuum is 2 Tim 3:5 – holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.”

We don’t want to base our theology and practice solely on what we’re against, but what we are for – what we can embrace theologically.

My personal core values (unapologetically): As an active intentional follower of Christ, as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as a pastor, as a friend/mentor/coach:

  1. Theological – The study (and subsequent worship) of God is our highest calling.
  2. Relational – We are to love God, one another, and “seek the welfare of our city.”
  3. Missional – We serve a missionary God and we are called to be on mission with Him.

What will be our guidelines for theological engagement at SBF?

We want to work with what the Bible clearly and plainly teaches (today we will, eventually, consider the biblical phrase: baptism of the Holy Spirit).

First, I would like to define some terms:

Three primary (and overlapping) theological camps in U.S. Protestantism:[2] Fundamentalism (“orthodoxy in confrontation with modernity” -James Davison Hunter), Evangelicalism ( Biblicism, Christocentrism, Crucicentrism, Conversionism, Activism),[3] and Liberalism (individualism, ecumenism, empericalism, skepticism, anthropological optimism, rationalism, ethicalism, social idealism, immanencism). Within Evangelicalism there is also three main camps (think of them as state boarders vs. national boarders…):

1.  Dispensationalism  –

Sees God as structuring His relationship with humankind through several stages of revelation. Each dispensation amounts to a “test” of humankind to be faithful to the particular revelation given at the time.

Dispe1nsationalism holds to a literal meaning behind all the figurative passages.

As a result of this literal interpretation of Scripture, dispensationalism holds to a distinction between Israel (even believing Israel) and the church. On this view, the promises made to Israel in the OT were not intended as prophecies about what God would do spiritually for the church, but will literally be fulfilled by Israel itself (largely in the millennium). For example, the promise of the land…

2.  Covenant Theology

Covenant theology believes that God has structured His relationship with humanity by covenants rather than dispensations. Old Covenants (OT) and the New Covenant (NT). These covenants are not new tests, but are rather differing administrations of the single, overarching covenant of grace.

Adam sinned and broke the initial, or old, covenant, and thereby subjected himself and all his descendants to the penalty for covenant-breaking — which is condemnation.

God in His mercy instituted the “covenant of grace,” through Jesus Christ, which is the promise of redemption and eternal life to those who would believe in the (coming) redeemer.

3.  New Covenant Theology

The essential difference between New Covenant Theology (NCT) and Covenant Theology (CT) concerns the Mosaic Law. CT holds that the Mosaic Law can be divided into three groups of laws: a) civil law, b) ceremonial law, and c) moral law. According to CT the ceremonial law and civil law are no longer in force because they were fulfilled in Jesus, but the moral law continues.

NCT argues that we cannot divide the law up in that way – so, the whole Mosaic Law is canceled by the coming of Christ (Christ Event) and is no longer binding on the believer.  The Mosaic Law has been replaced by the law of Christ.  Love God and love your neighbor as your self.  Proponents of NCT might say something like, “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul – and do whatever you want…”  They may also quote 1 Cor 6:12: All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.”

Do we have to choose one — Dispensational, Covenant, or New Covenant?? No, it’s just good to be aware of these distinctions as we build a theological framework.  Can we achieve doctrinal certainty?  Not completely on this side of eternity.  God and theology are much deeper and more mysterious that we could ever hope to grasp.

Having said that, the Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged from the Protestant Reformation that are intended to summarize the Reformers’ basic theological principles in contrast to certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. “Sola” is Latin meaning “alone” or “only” and the corresponding phrases are:

  • Sola Fide, by faith alone.
  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

These solas will hold us in good stead as we refurbish our theological base during this transition season.  Can we move toward doctrinal clarity?  Yes!

4.  Eschatology — Greek éschato: last + -logy. 

We do not need to get caught-up in the rapture debate.

Mat 24:44 – “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”

As a church we will teach people to endure tribulation – and if Jesus come early, it won’t matter.

We will encourage our congregation to read Revelation devotionally.  Encounter the risen Christ in Rev 1…

5.  Holy Spirit Empowered Gifts

Cessationism – The spiritual gifts, primarily those listed in 1 Cor 12:4-11, have ceased.  The key verse is 1 Cor 13:10 —  but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”

1 Cor 14:1: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.”

James 5:14-15: “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”

While fear of a loss of control or emotionalism my drive some cessationists, their overwhelming desire is to protect the unique authority of the Bible and to protect the closed canon and not to have anything compete with Scripture in authority in our lives.

Continuationism – All the gifts are for today.  Consider  the context: 1 Cor 11, 12, 13, & 14…

II.  BODY

The Person of the Holy Spirit

“The Trinity: God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.  -Wayne Grudem

“In no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.”  –Augustine, On The Trinity[4]

C.S. Lewis described the Trinity as a “dance” saying, “God is not a static thing…but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost…a kind of dance.”[5]

Tim Keller elaborates on this concept in the Reason for God in Chapter 14 – The Dance of God.[6]

The early leaders of the Greek NT church had a word for this – perichoresis.  Notice the root of our word ‘choreography’ within it. It means literally to “dance or flow around.”

The Father…Son…and Holy Spirit glorify each other…At the center of the universe, self-giving love, joy, delight – perfect fellowship is the dynamic currency of the Trinitarian life of God. The persons (not personalities) within the God-Head exalt, commune with, and defer to one another…

When early Greek Christians spoke of perichoresis in God they meant that each divine person harbors the others at the center of His being. In constant movement of overture and acceptance each person envelops and encircles the others.

When Jesus died for you He was, and is, inviting you into the dance…when we discern Jesus moving toward us and encircling us with infinite, self-giving love, we are invited to put our lives on a whole new foundation…

Since the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and is true and eternal God, then we must invoke, worship, and serve the blessed Holy Spirit, even as we do God the Father and God the Son.

Jesus taught us to do this in Mat 28:19 (The Great Commission): Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Now let’s consider the phrase “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is to be more than a doctrine.  The Holy Spirit is to be experienced.

Gordon Fee wrote, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.  It’s 992 pages; Fee highlights, analyzes, exegetes, and summarizes every mention of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s writings. Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit).

His findings can be reduced to three words:  “God’s empowering presence.”

Fee concludes that, for Paul, the Holy Spirit was more real and evident than we can possibly imagine in our day and age, the vital and experienced presence of the Holy Spirit was an assumed reality.

How do we experience the Holy Spirit?  Gal 5 is about “walking in the Holy Spirit.”  Paul says in the first 12 verses that they have opted for legalism (or moralism).

Then in verses 13-14 Paul lays it out: “…but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”  Paul takes them back to the Great Commandment: Love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind – and love your neighbor as yourself.”

And then here is the evidence of the Holy Spirit…Paul calls it “fruit.”  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

The baptism of the Holy Spirit means to be immersed in the Holy Spirit.  No power, no Spirit.  (Holy Spirit power is different than will-power.)

Four Reasons Why It Is Appropriate To Expect To Experience the Holy Spirit Baptism:[7]

1.  Terminology — The very term “baptized in the Holy Spirit” implies an immersion in the life of the Spirit. (Refer to hand out…)

2.  Power, Boldness, and Confidence

Jesus says in Acts 1:5 and 8 that baptism in the Holy Spirit means, “You shall receive power…and you shall be my witnesses.”

This is an experience of holy boldness, confidence, and victory over sin.

A Christian without power is a Christian who needs a baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Eph 5:18 – we are to be continually and regularly “filled with the Holy Spirit.”  The verb filled has an imperative mood meaning it is a command and addresses the volition and the will.  Why?  Because we leak…

There is no reason to think that for Paul the baptism in the Holy Spirit was limited to the initial moment of conversion. And for sure in the book of Acts the baptism in the Holy Spirit is more than a subconscious divine act of regeneration—it certainly seems to be a conscious experience of power (Acts 1:8).

3.  The Testimony of Acts — In Acts the Holy Spirit is not a silent influence but an experienced power. Believers experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They didn’t just believe it happened because an apostle said so.

4.  It Is The Result of Faith

The fourth reason we should stress the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit is that in Acts the apostles teach that it is a result of faith.

In Acts 11:15–17 Peter reports how the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius just as on the disciples at Pentecost. “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized in water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us, when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should withstand God?” 

Notice that the gift of the Spirit, or baptism in the Holy Spirit, is preceded by faith. The NASB correctly says in v. 17 that God gave the Holy Spirit after they believed.

How to Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit.[8]  Peter’s instructions for how to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38–41…

1.  The Word of God Must Be Heard.  Peter has preached that in God’s plan Jesus was crucified, raised, and exalted as Lord over all the universe and that forgiveness of sin and spiritual renewal can be had from Him. God’s Word has been heard.

2.  God Must Call People To Himself.

The sovereign God must call men and women to himself, or we will never come. Verse 39: “The promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, everyone to whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

No one comes to faith in Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44, 65). The proclaimed gospel is heard with conviction and power only when the effectual call of God lays hold on the hearers.

3.  We Must Receive the Word.

Third, we must “receive the word.” Verse 41: “So those who received his word were baptized.”

Receiving the Word means that it becomes part of us so that we trust the Christ it presents.

  • We trust His provision for your forgiveness.
  • We trust His path for your life.
  • We trust His power to help you obey.
  • And we trust His promises for your future.

Radical commitment to Christ always involves repentance—a turning away from your own self-wrought provisions, paths, powers, and promises. And when we really turn to Christ for new paths, power, we open yourself to the Holy Spirit, because it is by His Spirit that Christ guides and empowers.

4.  We Express Our Faith Through Water Baptism.

Finally, we give an open confession and expression of faith in the act of water baptism (full immersion – like with the Holy Spirit, do you want to be sprinkled or immersed?) in obedience to Jesus Christ.

Baptism was the universal experience of all Christians in the New Testament. There were no unbaptized Christians after Pentecost. Christ had commanded it (Matthew 28:18f.) and the church practiced it. So we do today.

III. CONCLUSION

Finally, let’s affirm and critique the Charismatic and Pentecostal Movements:

Affirmation:

The most positive thing about the moderate Charismatic/Pentecostal teaching is that it is theologically appropriate to stress the experiential reality of receiving the Holy Spirit.

When we read the NT honestly, we can’t help but notice a BIG difference from a lot of our contemporary Christian experience.

For them the Holy Spirit was a fact and reality of experience.  For many Christians today it is only a fact of doctrine.  The Charismatic renewal has something to teach us here.

Critique:

That the unity of their fellowship is too often based around their experience – not theology.

Whether Paul sought to bring encouragement or correction to the churches in the NT, he wrote theological essays… Paul generally spends the first half of his letters laying out theology and the second half he describes how to implement, or engage, the theology.

When Paul wanted to go to the church in Rome and develop them into a missional sending church (for his intention to travel to Spain), what did he write?  Theology.  Experience is the fruit of biblical theology, not the goal.  Our impatience tends to confuse fruit for goals (e.g., love, joy, peace, etc. cannot be pursued on their own accord, they are the “fruit” of the settled presence of Christ in our hearts/lives).

This brings me to my second critique:  The gifts of the Holy Spirit were given for the purpose of mission and not personal gratification.  One good description of the kingdom of God is:  speaking the words of Jesus and doing the works of Jesus.  Words and works help to make the invisible kingdom visible.

We serve a missionary God:

The Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit sends you.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is, basically, 4-fold: He 1) Saves, 2) Seals, 3) Sanctifies, and 4) Sends.

My prayer for us as a community of believers: “That we would experience Jesus Christ, the sovereign, risen, living, Lord of the universe; and that He would continue to become THE source and content of our real hope and joy.”

This coming Sunday:  Beatitudes.  Read Matthew 5:1-12.  See you then!!


[1] Theology means the study of God.

[2] Protestant Reformation – Martin Luther is regarded as the primary catalyst when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg for the in 1517.  (While Pope Leo was corrupt, the upshot of Luther’s theses was that followers of Christ are saved by grace alone, through faith alone.)

[3] Triperspectivalism (cut-and-paste this word and search for it on this blog and you will find an article).

[4] Book 1.3.5.

[5] Mere Christianity: 136.

[6] Pgs 214-221.

[7] Adapted from John Piper.

[8] Also adapted from John Piper.

Developing Leaders Through Building Healthy, Proactive Teams

For a leadership training I’m facilitating tomorrow…

“Apollos and I are working as a team, with the same aim, though each of us will be rewarded for his own hard work.” 1 Corinthians 3:8 (TLB, emphasis added)

Leadership and team development are two sides of the same coin. It is nearly impossible to have one without the other. Additionally, there is a difference between a minister and a leader. Effective ministers build people; effective leaders build groups, or teams, of people. The following exercise will focus on developing our leadership capacity through building healthy and proactive teams.

Simply stated, leadership means influence. Within the church context our aim is to influence people for the (subversive) cause of Christ – to build and grow the kingdom of God. That is always the goal. The fruit, or effect, is that new ministries will be started in the local church context and existing ministries will undergo a constant transformational process through regular renewal and teambuilding. Effective leaders know how to maximize influence opportunities by intentionally equipping and empowering others. Ephesians 4:11-13 clearly calls leaders to equip people so the body of Christ can grow to maturity. (Biblical equipping includes both repairing and preparing people.)

In Developing the Leader Within You, John Maxwell states: “The one who influences others to follow only is a leader with certain limitations. The one who influences others to lead others is a leader without limitations.” Equipping, or empowering, people change ministers into leaders.

While most leaders see the importance of equipping others, many leaders struggle with how to put biblical principles into practice. Following are 10 thoughts on equipping people and developing a healthy and proactive team.

1. Define and communicate responsibilities that challenge. Communicate the big picture and how people fit into it. It is much easier to put a jigsaw puzzle together if we can see the completed picture on the puzzle box. It is important for people to have a clear picture of the goals and objectives and how they fit into the plan.

Next communicate specific responsibilities to the team members. What do you expect from them? Provide a clear ministry description and allow their input. A good ministry description states specific responsibilities, how much authority the team members have, who they are accountable to, what benefits they have, and the length of time they are to serve. I generally employ three overlapping criteria in generating ministry descriptions:

  • Spiritual gifting
  • Holy passions
  • What needs to get done

Help people take ownership of the goals, tasks, and responsibilities. Encourage their input and provide the opportunity for them to set their own goals as part of the total plan. Help people to develop life skills, not just “church” skills.

People who are challenged to become great — and are given the opportunity to do so — usually succeed.

In The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Edward Lawler III and Patricia Renwick list several factors that contribute to people’s excitement and motivation:

  • The chance to do something that makes you feel good about yourself.
  • The chance to accomplish something worthwhile.
  • The chance to learn new things.
  • The opportunity to develop new skills.
  • The amount of freedom you have to accomplish your responsibility.
  • The chance to do the things that you do best.

In the same book psychologist David Berlow speculates that people find meaning and enthusiasm when opportunities provide the following:

  • A chance to be tested, to make it on one’s own.
  • A chance to take part in a social experiment.
  • A chance to do something well.
  • A chance to do something good.
  • A chance to change the way things are.

2. Give authority commensurate to the responsibility. One of the most frequent complaints of team members is that they are given responsibility without corresponding authority. Leaders need to be willing to trust those they ask to do a job by giving them the authority necessary to do the job. How much authority should be given? Enough to get the job done. This authority should be communicated to those with whom the leaders work.

Once we have given the job and the authority, we must not short-circuit the process. Do not permit those relating to a different team member to come directly to you. This will only frustrate team members and set them up to fail.

Increase authority when performance earns it and responsibility requires it. As people increase in skills and effectiveness, increase their authority. This will raise morale and increase the effectiveness of the overall team.

3. Establish standards for excellence. It is most helpful when every team has a set of realistic operating standards. Some specific standards that will increase team effectiveness might include these:

  • We see ourselves, first and foremost, as servant-leaders.
  • We see ourselves as “inviters and includers” at all-church events – creatively serving and recruiting people into ministry opportunities.
  • We honor our commitments.
  • We believe in being people of developmental character and integrity.
  • We are faithful to our responsibilities.
  • We are wise stewards of our time, talents, and resources.
  • We agree that conflict and disagreement are inevitable, but that we can disagree agreeably.
  • We work together as a team (basic stages: forming -> storming -> norming -> performing).
  • We are committed to life-long learning (disciple means learner).
  • We are committed to results, not just performance.
  • We aim to respect the property of other ministries at the church facility and go the extra mile to communicate &/or seek permission – and return the property after use.

As leaders, we set the example (for better or for worse). The standards will become team standards only when others see us maintaining them.

4. Make training and mentoring a priority. Train first-and-foremost in basic life skills as defined in Scripture. We want to equip and train people in spiritual, social, intellectual, emotional, ecological, and physical health practices. Training is the key to an effective team. No team is effective without proactive training and practice (i.e., mentoring/discipleship). An effective leader never does the job alone. Churches that are in decline have leaders who see their jobs as doing the ministry for the people. However, in growing churches, leaders equip and mobilize people for the work of ministry.

Use a variety of methods to make training an ongoing process. Training can be accomplished through several distinct methodologies: intentional mentoring, on-the-job training, in the classroom, online, in team meetings – to name a few. The essence of an effective training process is the same process Jesus employed to train the disciples (sometimes referred to as the “discipleship loop”):

  • I do it.
  • I do it, and you watch.
  • You do it, and I watch.
  • You do it, and I give feedback (commonly referred to as a “debrief”).
  • You do it, and begin training someone else.

5. Provide the skill training and the proactive communication people need to succeed. People need pertinent and timely information about organizational goals, plans, and changes. Workers are motivated when they know what is happening in the organization. It makes them feel respected and valuable, helps them desire to do a better job, and empowers them to do a better job. Without skill training and proactive communication people cannot take responsibility, will not be as creative, and will not be as productive.

6. Provide thoughtful and appropriate feedback (positive + negative). Regularly reinforce positive performance. Compliments, cards, notes, emails, rewards, and additional opportunities and advancement are some ways to reinforce excellent performance. Feedback should be tailored to the person, performance, and situation. Morale and effectiveness increase when people receive regular feedback.

When it is necessary to confront or clarify feedback, keep in mind these guidelines:

  • Confront privately, not publicly.
  • Deal with a “situation” as soon as possible.
  • Address only one issue at a time, and be specific.
  • Ask clarifying questions (help me to understand…).
  • Allow for the person to take responsibility.
  • Discuss only what the person can do something about.
  • Direct your critique to the action, not the person.
  • Avoid sarcasm and anger.
  • Sandwich criticism between compliments.

7. Recognize and reward efforts and achievements. We get what we reward. Make heroes of the people you work with. Public recognition and rewards are essential. Shine the spotlight on accomplishments. Coffee shop gift certificates, awards, speeches, plaques, and recognition in newsletters are just a few ways to show gratitude for accomplishments. It’s been said that everyone has an invisible sign hung around our necks that says, PMMFI (pum-fee) – an acrostic for: Please Make Me Feel Important. Recognition does that and builds a better team. Guidelines for recognizing and rewarding efforts and achievements include:

  • Tailor recognition to the person and the achievement.
  • Make recognition timely.
  • Recognize people, as well as their accomplishments.
  • Recognize them as members of a team, as well as individuals.
  • Make sure the recognition conveys sincere appreciation.

8. Trust your team. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Trust [people], and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.” Building trusting relationships is essential. A leader can demonstrate trust in many ways:

  • Be sensitive to needs, interests, and concerns.
  • Listen to ideas, dreams, and plans.
  • Delegate, or trust, with significant assignments or responsibilities.
  • Share your dreams, visions, and plans.
  • Allow the team to be a part of the goal-setting and problem-solving process.
  • Be honest and open about your own mistakes and vulnerabilities.

Distinguish between trust in character and trust in ability. Some have strong, mature character but little ability. Others have less mature character by great ability. Trusting people at the highest degree possible helps them develop a higher level of both character and ability.

9. Give permission to fail. View failure as a growing experience – it is the fodder of innovation. True failure is when we don’t learn from the experience. Establish some guidelines for failure: It is OK to make a mistake. It is OK to fail if we are doing our best. When we fail, we can talk about what went wrong, what we can learn, and how to do better. Knowing what NOT to do is just as important as knowing what TO do. J

When team members know they are expected to succeed but that it is OK to fail, they are more creative and willing to risk. This creates a positive environment for a team. When people experiment and take calculated risks in their responsibilities, morale increases and results are greater.

10. Treat others with respect. Treating team members with respect increases motivation. People work best when they feel valued and respected. Demonstrate your commitment and loyalty the same way you expect others to be committed and loyal to you as the leader.

In Diane Tracy’s 10 Steps to Empowerment: A Common-Sense Guide to Managing People, J.C. Staehle lists — in order of importance — primary causes of discontent among workers that leaders can avoid:

  • Failure to give credit for suggestions.
  • Failure to correct grievances.
  • Failure to encourage.
  • Criticism of employees in front of other people.
  • Failure to ask employees their opinions.
  • Failure to inform employees of their progress.
  • Favoritism.

A leader can show respect for team members by asking for their suggestions, keeping them informed, treating them fairly, encouraging them, and acknowledging their accomplishments.

Begin today to put these 10 thoughts into practice, and your team will become a team that is healthy, holy, and powerful to accomplish MPVCC’s full redemptive potential.

Reflection Questions (to be the basis for dialogue at this Saturday’s LT meeting):

  1. What would you strongly affirm or emphasize in this training document?
  2. Is the idea of a difference between a minister and a leader new to you? How do you feel about it?
  3. Of the 10 thoughts, in which are you currently most proficient?
  4. Of the 10 thoughts, in which are you currently not proficient?
  5. What would you add to this training document (what’s missing)?