Practically Supernatural

“As I [Peter] began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with 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 could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:15-17 ESV)

Peter’s recall of what Jesus said about the baptism of the Spirit is a fulfillment of the Spirit’s work promised by Jesus in John 14, “…the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Commenting on the “gift of the Spirit” often stalls around the idea of speaking in tongues. But the more significant gift of Pentecost is the content of what the Spirit-filled Apostles speak, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God,” which for the Apostles were fully realized in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. (Acts 2:11 ESV)

So it is that the Gentiles baptized by Peter begin to speak the mighty works of God in Christ, and are joined to Christ in baptism.

As is set forth in Ephesians 4, all “gifts” serve one end, the manifestation of Christ to the world, that those who are his can become eternally living parts of his body. From the Lord’s point of view, the gifts are practical, given to humans “so that” a particular result will ensue.

But I don’t want to ignore the supernatural force of what the Bible describes. The gift of the Spirit is remarkable and shocks people out of their sense of “normal.” What “should be” is blitzed by something else, something new, that uses foreign voices to reach people in their own language while at the same time tempering the worldly absolutes of different cultures to allow unity in Christ.

It is a catholic (that is, universal across people, places and periods of time) approach that we see as Jesus calls the first 12 Apostles, men profoundly different and who, at least in the case of tax collectors and zealots, normally wouldn’t associate except to defraud or kill each other. It pours out (yes, an intentionally messy image) across the pages of Acts, the Epistles and subsequent Christian history and leads toward the great vision,

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

Blurred boundaries

The omnipotent becomes powerless; the omniscient is surprised; the omnipresent is limited by place:

And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. (Mark 6:4-6 ESV)

The blurring of boundaries between human and divine, mortal and eternal in Jesus is more than the mind can comprehend.

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Portrait of Christ (Walter Rane)

What a wonderful confusion sets in as the eternal Word shares finite flesh, the eternal Lord of life suffers and dies, the crucified and buried corpse rises to life, the earthly vessel ascends into heaven.

And – so intimate yet so elusive – the Spirit of God comes to dwell in us and join us to the mystery of Christ’s human and divine natures.

Meanwhile, we walk his way of the cross, marveling at and enduring a faithless and perishing age.

Leaf me alone

A friend from my Army days hails from New Mexico.  He used to mock ethnic stereotypes by adopting a hyper-Spanglish accent that sounded like a white guy trying to sound barrio.

One of my favorite such phrases was when he was annoyed:

Leaf me alone, esay.

It came to mind when I read John 6:15 this morning:

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:15 ESV)

Jesus had just fed a large crowd, and they were down for some bread and circuses.

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Tell it to the hand.

So Jesus, sent into the world to save it, temporarily steps away from its tumult to pray, turning his back on the crowd in a prophetic enactment of leaf me alone, esay.

The ancient prophets, picked by God to speak in tumultuous times, sometimes reached a limit at which words, even divinely supplied words, seemed useless or even counterproductive.

The faithful have vanished from the earth, no mortal is just! They all lie in wait to shed blood, each one ensnares the other.  Their hands succeed at evil; the prince makes demands, The judge is bought for a price, the powerful speak as they please.  The best of them is like a brier, the most honest like a thorn hedge.  The day announced by your sentinels!  Your punishment has come; now is the time of your confusion.  Put no faith in a friend, do not trust a companion;  With her who lies in your embrace watch what you say.  (Micah 7:2-5 NAB)

Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;  for it is an evil time.  (Amos 5:13, NRSV)

My gut instinct is that we are in an evil time.  Of course I could be wrong.  But I sense the church (at least here in the U.S.) in a crazy making situation where people want it to stay out of their business on the one hand but fault it for not coming up with “statements” on this, that and the other thing on the other hand.  People want a theocracy but only for their particular issues.  They will “come by force to make us regents” but only with their hands up our backs as their puppets.

Hence we hear about the Benedict Option, which might be one expression of leaf me alone, esay.  To save our words for God and for those already drawn to him, ignoring all the social media about 10 Things the Church MUST do to attract absolutely everybody all the time.

In Elijah’s day, the crowd was hunting down and killing the prophets.  Godly people hid them in caves to weather the persecution and survive as God’s witnesses for a better day.

Germ of a thought

WHAT IF the decline of the Christian church in the West

ISN’T part of an Old Testament style narrative in which we’re being punished for apostasy?

ISN’T about a lack of technique for which we can make up with new stylistic approaches?

WHAT IF the decline of the Christian church in the West

IS a pruning by which God is making his people more fruitful?

IS the high honor of carrying our cross in union with a Savior who at first drew large, supportive crowds only to be rejected and crucified?

IN OTHER WORDS, what if the decline of the Christian church in the West is just as much an expression of God’s favor as were the centuries of expansion and influence in the world?

person-thinking-clipart-thinking-hiIt’s just the germ of a thought I’ve been having.

 

You Got New Shoes!

The conundrum of how prayer is valued in situations of demand and duress, but can be forgotten or devalued when “things are good.” I’ve been reading in the Book of Judges lately, and the pattern of the Israelites is to seek God when they are in trouble, and turn away when times improve.

God in the Max

As I entered the unit tonight one of the guys yelled across the cell block, “You got new shoes!”

It was true. I’d ordered a new pair of sneakers that had arrived this afternoon and was wearing them on their maiden voyage to the maximum security unit.

Asics

That guy’s comment speaks to how much they notice and remember the volunteers.

The surroundings for the men are fairly colorless. Therefore, when I go to the jail I’m selective in what I wear. I avoid red and orange since those are the colors the inmates wear and see all the time. I also avoid wearing tan or olive drab since those are the colors worn by the COs (correctional officers). I’ll usually wear a shirt that is bright yellow or magenta, and slacks that are dark blue or off-white.

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The unit is still on near lock-down so again I was doing cell-by-cell…

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When evening had come

As long and, at least in places, ponderous as the Bible might seem, narratives tend to move at a breakneck pace.

Passages of time are noted but not inhabited with detail, as when the Apostle Paul rattles off years spent here and there as mere background to a couple of weeks of church meetings in Jerusalem.

Mark’s report of Jesus’ burial breezes through minutes and hours that must have dragged like days for the devastated disciples. Jesus had been dead for some time,  according to the Roman officer’s report to the Governor.  In fact, evening had come and the human debris of the grim business commenced that morning had hung on the cross for the better part of a day.

Dragging hours in which Peter hid out with the nauseating knowledge that he’d denied knowing Jesus and, by staying away from the cross, continued to abandon him.

The better part of a day in which every second was infused with pain for Mary, who watched her son suffer and die, and helpless John, tasked with comforting her while agonizing over the loss of his beloved friend.

Motionless minutes of emptiness and humiliation for  disciples who had expected Jesus to change their world, staked their futures on him, and now sat as losers, eventually shuffling home because there was nothing else to do.

Then there was Joseph of Arimathea.  He was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.  But somehow, his adrenaline didn’t crash.  He went boldly to Pilate to claim the body of Jesus for burial.  Joseph seemed to know that God’s game wasn’t over, that even in the shadows the kingdom was advancing.

Joseph must have been pacing and muttering, because it took time for the Romans to process his request.  The Governor, Pilate, was surprised that Jesus was dead, crucifixion being a Roman method for making terminal pain linger.  So he sent for the Officer of the execution detail.  We are used to rapid fire communication – in our day Pilate could text the Centurion,

Pilate: INRI dead ?

Centurion: y

But that day in Jerusalem would have required an aide to go find the Centurion, possibly in another part of the city, and then bring him back to Pilate, while Joseph waited and night set in.

The long hours of Good Friday and Holy Saturday replay in Christian lives today.  We enter them in the grinding days and seasons in which our God seems hidden if real at all.  Our questions and prayers seem to go unanswered.  The evil in ourselves and our world runs amok.  The habits of prayer and worship leave us cold.

Yet the powerless passivity of Jesus on the cross and in the tomb are written into our affirmative statement of faith, the Apostles Creed,

[Jesus Christ] suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.

Intriguing that the Creed shifts from the passive voice – Jesus was buried – to the strange activity of He descended to the dead.

To meditate on Jesus in the tomb is to join with Joseph of Arimathea in expectation and boldness, lugging what feels like a powerless Savior in a cold cave on a dark night, still believing that something is up.

It is to hold onto the possibility that God is advancing the kingdom in us even when the grim hours drag on and on.