to live by the Spirit

“…for Paul ‘knowing God’ comes by way of ‘knowing Christ’ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6); and ‘knowing Christ’ comes by way of ‘the Spirit’s wisdom and revelation’ (Eph. 1:17). At the heart of all this is Paul’s conviction that Christian life means to ‘live by, walk in, be led by’ the Spirit. Living the life of the Spirit means for the Spirit to bear his fruit in our individual and corporate lives; and that fruit is nothing other than God’s character, as lived out by Christ, being reproduced in his people.

“Hence to be a Trinitarian of the Pauline kind means to be a person of the Spirit; for it is through the Spirit’s indwelling that we know God and Christ relationally, and through the same Spirit’s indwelling that we are being transformed into God’s own likeness ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18)” (“Paul and the Trinity: The Experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul’s Understanding of God” by Gordon Fee, 71-72).

I remember sitting in a women’s Bible study when I was in my late 30s & lamenting the fact that I was trying SO very hard but I didn’t see any increase of the fruit of the Spirit in my life. In my day-to-day life of parenting four young children, I felt more frustration, anger, & tension than joy, peace, & gentleness. One older woman patted my hand and said, “You need to have more time away from the children,” & several others nodded their heads. But I knew the children weren’t the issue.

I’ve often wished I could go back to myself as a young mom—or even earlier than that—& tell her that her understanding of the Trinity was a great part of the problem. The Spirit as an actual person of the Trinity was not real to her, so she generally assumed the work of sanctification had been given to her much like homework in a distance education course. At regular intervals she was supposed to check-in to give a progress report, resulting in feelings of either shame or pleasure (generally shame) at her progress (or lack of it).

But to know the Spirit as a Person, a Person constantly present in her life—IN her like breath in her lungs, constant and life-giving; as the One who joyously offers wisdom, who comforts her in the difficulties of life and doesn’t see them as “small”; as the One who gladly takes on the work of forming fruit in her life and who longs to help her experience the glory-to-glory of knowing, more and more deeply, the beautiful love of God for her and the entire world…

She had no deep knowing of this, of the Spirit’s presence with her.

I wish she had, but as I look back at that woman, I SEE the work and presence of the Spirit in her life. I see fruit and growth and an expanding heart.

I see the Spirit at work even when she was unaware.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of our God and the fellowship–the communion and intimate friendship–of the Holy Spirit be with you all–with US all.

Amen

NOTE: This post is from a series of assignments I am doing for a class on the Trinity that I am taking at Northern Seminary. (It’s AWESOME!!!) Each week classmates and I post reading reflections on Instagram. If you’re interested in checking out more thoughts on the Trinity, go on Instagram and search using the hashtag #trinityclassNS (or just click on the link!)

*The quotes at the beginning of this post are from an article by Gordon Fee (his daughter, Dr. Cherith Fee Nordling is teaching the class) in which he is exploring the Trinity in Paul’s writings. Here are a couple more from that same article that I want to share.

“God sends the Son who redeems; God sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, so that we may realize God’s ‘so great salvation’—and the experienced evidence of all this is the Spirit of the Son prompting us to use the language of the Son in our own relationship with God” (56)

“…salvation in Christ is not simply a theological truth, predicated in God’s prior action and the historical work of Christ. Salvation is an experienced reality, made so by the person of the Spirit coming into our lives. One simply cannot be a Christian in any Pauline sense without the effective work of God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (57)

“Fundamental to Paul’s Judaism is that God’s people are expected to ‘know God,’ which of course has little to do with doctrinal articulation and everything to do with knowing God relationally, in terms of his character and nature. Paul carries this fundamental understanding with him, but insists on putting it into perspective: our knowing is preceded by God’s ‘knowing us’ (Gal. 4:9; cf. I Cor. 13:12). (71).

 

 

 

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Nicene Creed, first line

quote for Dan

This is a quote by Victor Hugo that my daughter Em lettered for her Uncle Dan.

“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” 

The above is the first line of the Nicene creed. What is below is a response on the above that I am writing for a course I am taking at Northern Seminary.

Not long ago I read a short devotional by Richard Rohr in which he was lamenting the fact that the Nicene Creed can be read as doctrinal truth without any directive as to our behavior and attitudes. I don’t want to misrepresent what Rohr was writing about, but I felt that at least part of what he was saying was this: the creeds include statements that can be held mentally as beliefs while having no impact on the ways we treat other people. Therefore, though we recite them as the main beliefs we hold to in orthodox Christianity, we can recite them in such a way as to make Christianity a belief system rather than a way of life that looks like Jesus.

I think there is a great deal of validity in what he was saying. As a member of a denomination that recites the Nicene or Apostles creed at our weekly service, I wonder if perhaps we shouldn’t also recite the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and Love you neighbor as yourself. This would remind us not only of what we believe but of the actions that those beliefs should lead to—the actions they require.

For instance the first line of the Nicene Creed has implications for our lives. If we believe that the ONE God we believe in is the Father of ALL people, then that greatly affects how we see and interact with other people. It means we are all related, and no matter how different one particular relative (or a group of them) may seem/be from me, they’re still kin! And they’re KIN through a VERY significant relationship!

The creeds are not truly creedal if we don’t plumb the deep depths of them so that they affect our living.

I’ll close with a quote from Gordon Fee. Referring to Paul’s writing about the Triune God, he reminds us that Paul’s “concern is primarily …with the way God’s people live in the world, so that even when he addresses their thinking it is to change the way they are living. May our own Trinitarian discussions never lose sight of this end as well.” (from “Paul and the Trinity: The Experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul’s Understanding of God” p. 71)

(This is a post written for a course on the Trinity that I am taking at Northern Seminary. It was originally posted on Instagram. If you search the hashtag #trinityclassNS, you can read posts by other students in the class–they’re REALLY good and it’s fun to read the various perspectives on the same topics!)

Trinity Class, posts 1 and 2

Hello everyone, I’m in a class on the Trinity right now, and one of our assignments is to post our reading reflections on Instagram. Since they’re already being written for public viewing, I’m going to also post them here. I’m super new to Instagram, so bear with me as I adjust to the 2,200 character limit! Blessings, Jen.

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The following quote is from Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell W. Johnson

“The God who is ‘us’ draws near to us so that ‘us’ can draw us into the circle of his ‘us-ness.’ The God who is Trinity draws near to you and me and draws you and me near to himself, so that you and I can participate in the life within the circle of the Trinity. …

What are the dynamics of this Relationship at the center of the universe?

The good news is the answer is not a total mystery. … For the Second Person of the Trinity has come to earth and taken on our earthliness, clothing himself in our flesh and blood. And, as one of us, he lives out, in human form, the dynamics of life within the circle of God’s knowing of himself. When we read the New Testament gospels we are reading the revelation of what goes on within the Trinity!” (from Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell W. Johnson, copyright 2002 by Regent College Publishing, page 77)

It is midway through January, and the Christmas tree, the garland, the lights are back in the storage closet.

But Nativity sets are still scattered throughout my house—a couple of them on my kitchen counter, one on a shelf in my living room, another on the piano. They will stay up all year long as reminders of the God who is Emmanuel, who is God with us, who so longed for us know him that the Son took on flesh and entered our broken, human story to reveal the true, full story of Life with God. He quickened a longing in our hearts for this full story, made a way for us to enter it, and is ever and always holding out an invitation to be drawn into the circle of the Trinity and know what life abundant truly is.

In the pages following the above quote, Johnson writes about seven words that, for him, “express the essential dynamics of the Life within the circle of the ‘Us.’” He chose these words: Intimacy, Joy, Servanthood, Purity, Power, Creativity, Peace. These are all revealed in the stories of the Nativity, in the life of the Son who in his living, loving, dying, and living again and always communicates to us—in ways we can grasp—the intimacy, joy, servanthood, purity, power, creativity, and peace of the Trinity. And through the grace of the Son, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Spirit, you and I—we—us—are being brought into that Life.

And so, to remind me to enter into and to celebrate this Life, the Nativity sets stay up.

Doing and Being

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pic by Emily Underwood

As I pray for Chicago and my neighborhood, I often find myself saying to God, “I don’t know what to do.” “How do I get involved?” I ask, “How do I feel as if I am helping in some way?”

He’s not answering the way I’d like—with a beam of light or voice from heaven, or even an email or phone call. Instead I hear, “Patience. Steadfastness. Stillness,” the words I believe I was given months before we moved—that I thought were just for during the move.

Maybe not.

I’m reading A Light to the Nations right now, a book about the mission of God revealed in the Old Testament, about the nation Israel as a participant in that mission to bless and bring light to the entire world. The big idea is that Israel’s very reason for being—for being chosen, for being a nation—is missional, is for the purpose of revealing God to the entire world. “All the nations of the earth will be blessed through you,” God told Abraham. God’s people are chosen and privileged not for their own sake or for the purpose of hoarding or mere enjoyment, but to be a display and contrast people to those around them.

But Goheen makes the point that this mission was not primarily about going but about being, about “living an attractive lifestyle to God’s glory before the surrounding nations,” about living “publicly to God’s praise” (Barth, quoted in Goheen 634/7002, Kindle edition).

So when I asked God again this morning, “What do I do?” these ideas from Light to the Nations came to my mind. I have, honestly, plenty of “doing” to do. Much of it seems mundane or even focused primarily on my family rather than my neighborhood, but this everyday doing, when “done” in the sight of my neighborhood or the other places I go in the course of my week, is a display, a way of being.

My next question, then, is if my way of doing/being is also a contrast. The Torah given to the Israelites reached into every area of life so they would understand that even the normal, everyday things all humans do belong to God. He is God of every area of life, and all can be done in the knowledge that we are his and not our own; and this is to His glory. When everyday life is done with this truth in mind, then it will certainly be a contrast from those outside the faith. It will also be a way of being, a distinct and different way of being.

I pray that through this being, we are a light to the neighborhood…

and I pray for patience, steadfastness, and stillness to wait for and recognize God’s calls to “doing” as well.

P.S. This piece came out of a class assignment that I wrote for my Former Prophets class at Northern. When I read the original assignment to Dave (husband), he suggested I should add it to this post, so it follows below. The post above stands alone, but if you’re interested in the topic of God’s mission as it is revealed in both the Old and New Testaments, then feel free to read on. The class is studying the books of Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel.  

Gile (professor teaching the class) expresses the concern that many Christians have jumped for far too long from Genesis 3 to Jesus, from God’s promise that the serpent would be “crushed” to the coming of the One who defeated sin and death. The intervening story, including all the history of Israel, has been reduced, sometimes to mere examples or morality lessons. And when we look at it this way, we lose sight of God and his big story, his mission that did not take a hiatus from chapter 3 to the New Testament but has always been in motion. God breaks onto the darkening scene in Genesis 12 with the promises given to Abraham, chosen by God to participate in God’s mission to restore his fallen creation and move them forward into the consummation of a full restoration on a new earth. In this action of choosing one man and through him, one nation, it is as if God has focused his intense beam of light on one side of a prism, not for the purpose of hiding it or simply making that one side glow, but for the light to move through that and emerge on the other side as a full spectrum, revealing the holiness and goodness of a God who longs for all his creation to be in right relationship with Himself and each other.

Looked at in this way, the Old Testament becomes God’s story, with Israel commissioned as its major participant. Goheen (author of Light to the Nations, referred to in the above post) quotes Wolff and calls Genesis 12:2-3 a “‘stupendous utterance’ for ecclesiology—indeed for the whole story of the Bible” (740/7002). Election has a “so that” purpose: “God’s people are a so that people: they are chosen so that they might know God’s salvation and then invite all nations into it.” This makes the story of Israel a revelation of God’s mission, of God himself. As God redeems his people, binds them to Himself in covenant, and dwells with them, the people of God are empowered to a particular kind of being, a holy people on “display” who live in right relationship with God and then reveal and mediate him to others as a kingdom of priests. Their display is one of great distinction from the nations around them; their entire society was to be righteous, walking in the way of Yahweh, and characterized by justice for all, the least as well as the great. This distinct display, this “light to the nations,” was to be winsome, drawing people in to learn more of the God who so transformed his people and then inspiring them to worship and praise this great God.

 

Missional churches

Early in June–before we got completely crazy with moving, I took a five-day intensive class at Northern Seminary. It was taught by Dr. Michael Frost. It was excellent, and I wrote a blog post about it (“Exiles in a post-Christian era“) for Northern Seminary’s blog. If you’re interested in missional living and the missional church, Dr. Frost is a leading thinker in this area, and the post has links in it to several of his books. If you’re at all wrestling with feeling separated from your neighbors or community–or church, I highly recommend Frost’s book Incarnate.

Click on the title above to read the post. While you’re on Northern Seminary’s site, I also recommend checking out some of the other posts. Northern Seminary leaders have written some really good pieces this summer on the violence plaguing and tearing apart our country.