People of the Spirit, worshiping Jesus in all places, at all times

One thing that the Pentecostal and catholic traditions have in common is an undistracted devotion to the spiritual discipline of fasting. The catholic tradition’s practice of regular fasting–days from the early church for each week, each season of the year, and guidelines for the faithful– and the Pentecostal’s warlike ethos of fasting for the sake of spiritual breakthrough come together in some unique ways in my life. As someone raised in the Pentecostal tradition, I do believe fasting is an act of war–not only against the indwelling sinner, but also against the powers and principalities who are arrayed against the people of God and His Christ. It’s a heritage that has taken the words of Jesus to heart: “this kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29).

Much has been written by pastors and practitioners over the years of the impact of fasting. The practical results, the typical psychological and physical effects, and the “pro tips” for holding up your commitment. Those may well have their place, but if the Pentecostal experience–and the stories of great ascetics like St. Antony of Egypt, St. John Climacus, or St. Colum Cille– bears out, then the spiritual battle that we enter in fasting is of far greater import and impact than any of the practical tips offered by these leaders.

Tradition tells of St. Antony being attacked by demons when he retreated to the desert for prayer and fasting, and how the Lord strengthened him in the face of those assaults. St. Patrick recounts an assault by the devil while fasting in the wilderness of Gaul that prevented him from moving, and how he cried out to the Lord, and the weight was lifted. St. Moses the Ethiopian, St. John Damascus, St. John of the Cross, and many others throughout our history have other testimonies. Fasting puts a target on your back–but the Lord Jesus already has the victory, and communicates that grace to us through the Holy Spirit at work within us.

So, when you fast, fast in full confidence that God is already present, already speaking, and already giving grace to you. But also fast in the full knowledge that you have personally declared war on the world, the flesh, and the devil, and their wrath will be focused on you. But as Martin Luther wrote so many years ago: “The Prince of darkness grim; we tremble not for him! His rage we can endure for, lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.”

Ferguson. Houston. Baltimore. Charlotte. Tulsa. These names may well come to have the same powerful association that Selma, Birmingham, and Atlanta have in our remembrance of the Civil Rights Movement. These cities–and many others– bear witness to racial tensions, conflicts, and the demonic insistence that (a) we can and should be valued based on the color of our skin and (b) that the systems of the American continent are blind to such judgments.

Oh, yes. Racism is certainly demonic. And the idea that the experiences of people of color in America are equal to or have advantage over white Americans is a demonic lie. These things are demonic because they fly in the face of our common humanity, sharing the image of God, descending from the same first parents (Genesis 1-2). They fly in the face of our common fall into sin (pick any citation: as Chesterton notes, the doctrine of original sin has plenty of empirical evidence). They fly in the face of God’s revelation through the prophets and ultimately, through Christ Himself, that all people would be joined together as one nation gathered to worship the One True God (Joel 2, various Psalms, Matthew 28, Acts 2, Revelation 5, etc.). They fly in the face that Jesus has united us all through His blood (Ephesians 2)

This great redemption and reconciliation of people groups divided by sin (Tower of Babel, anyone) isn’t some mere footnote. It’s a consequence of Pentecost. It’s the creation of a Church–a holy people– that is truly catholic. The roots of the Pentecostal movement put the reconciliation of all peoples at center stage, as the common experience of the Holy Spirit bound people together in praise of Jesus and life together following Him. And the God of this Church will not brook denial, and he does not sanction self-deceit.

To be white in America is, in some sense, its own kind of wealth. It’s almost always a free pass to walk down the street, to speed down the highway, and to ride your bike home in a hurry on a late night. It’s a freedom to submit your resume without fear of judgment based on your name, or to show up to an interview and find a prospective employer unsurprised by your appearance. It’s a right to protest and advocate for lives under threat without any fear of reprisal, or assumption of guilt. I could belabor the point, but I will not. (Note: I will not suggest that white Americans never experience any of these things, but that they are not par for the course or expectation that they must prepare their children for).

Over the past year, I’ve heard from hundreds of my brothers and sisters in Christ–white, black, brown, and multi-racial–on social media, blogs, newspapers, and magazines, and what they tell me is appalling: injustice, oppression, fear, doubt, anxiety, anger, and a host of complex experiences and emotions that, despite my best efforts, I find impossible to identify with. I’ve only gotten far enough with it to be able to say it’s utterly wrong, unacceptable, and not to be condoned by the people of God.

Friends, this world is broken. Our culture’s systemic preference for white people is an artificial and demonic division of the human race which God has acted to redeem and reconcile once for all. I don’t know what our next steps have to look like, but I do know they involve repentance, asking forgiveness, praying and worshipping together as one people and seeking Jesus to do in us what he’s been doing in the world all along. Because if there’s going to be a witness against the sins of our culture, that witness needs to be the counter-example of the Church. May God make us one, and may we love one another deeply, as Christ has loved us.

I’m a church planter by practice and pretense (depending on the day, as few of us pull off wearing that hat non-stop). Church planting is by nature an interesting animal. It has that “new car” or “new book” smell all over it. And it’s tempting, because of that, for folks to walk into a church planting effort and expect that everything will be brand new–a church as fresh as the day of Pentecost.

Well, sort of. New works involve lots of Pentecost-type things: reaching out, sharing Jesus, baptizing everybody, and figuring out what it looks like to disciple and to gather for worship. They have a lot of the same growing pains that the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul bear witness to, as well. There are leadership questions, and cultural challenges, and discipleship gaps and experiments.

But that’s not all. Church plants have DNA–they have parents, friends, and bickering cousins who all have an opinion on the shape of things. In other words, there is tradition to take note of. For Pentecostals ministering in the Anglican Church or others in the catholic tradition, this isn’t a negative thing at all. As it’s been noted many times, tradition is a life-giving thing in Pentecostal discipleship.

But what does that look like in church planting? Tradition is what we are passing on in discipleship. Tradition maps out how we follow Jesus together. So, for an Anglican like myself, what that looks like includes:

  • When sharing stories and other texts from Scripture, the point of every single one is to reveal Jesus (Christological reading)
  • We pray together corporately, even the kids outreach has us reciting corporate prayer.
  • We make use of liturgical prayer. For example, baptism candidates will receive a small booklet including daily prayers derived from the family offices from the prayerbook.
  • We value the church year–Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter are especially highlighted in our children’s outreach, and I hope they will be an influence in our small groups as well.

So, yes, tradition provides hands-on discipleship for life in the Spirit as we are all attempting to follow Jesus together. Practice it personally and embrace it’s application in ministry–especially in new ministry like church planting.

On ordination

To be Pentecostal ultimately means the adherence to the catholic tradition of ordination: men and women of divine call and gifting being acknowledged and set in orders by the laying on of hands–receiving authority to preach the Word of God and administer the sacraments.

It’s tempting for many to look at ordination as commissioning (it is), passing permission or authority (it is), or an induction into the fellowship of other ministers (it is). But Pentecostal teaching on the Holy Spirit’s present work and the testimony of catholic tradition days “Yes, these and more!”

God gives the offices of the Church as gifts of the Spirit–apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. What the apostles passed on to us is the orders of deacons and elders, including the precedent of an elder being set apart as first among them. These offices (traditionally called deacons, priests, and bishops) carry authority and permission and a commission (like mentioned above) and in ordination, God empowers individuals with the anointing and capacity to fulfill that ministry.

So don’t snub at the laying on of hands. As Jesus breathed on the apostles, and as they laid their hands on the first deacons and elders, as the next generation laid hands on the rising deacons and elders and bishops, the gifts and capacities to fulfill those ministries was passed on.

It’s not magic. It’s not human tradition. It’s the faithfulness of God the Holy Spirit to empower the ministry of Jesus’ people to the glory of the Father.

I ordered this book at the recommendation of a dear friend. And started it twice. When I was too busy with ordination process details to even think about reading. But somehow an immersion experience in mission here in Germany has opened doors for time to finish it.

All I can say is: wow. Wow, such raw honesty about the absence and presence of God. Wow, such clarity about the questions we get from friends and acquaintances every day about faith and Christianity. Wow, such effective truth-telling about how much we as human beings suck (with our “Human Propensity to F*** things Up” as Spufford puts it). Wow, such compassion and tenderness for fellow human beings in our suffering and being weighed down by the realities of the world.

But above all, WOW. WOW, SUCH GRACE. Such an impressive grasp of the overwhelming, constant, annoying, enjoying, transforming and failure-ignoring forgiveness and love of God brought to us by Jesus. We can breathe fresh Gospel air reading Unapologetic.

But Spufford’s purpose isn’t immediately obvious from the title. So, Christians these days sometimes engage in apologetics: defending the faith. It’s a noble and necessary task. Most apologetics, however, is aimed at the teaching and ideas that we as Christians confess in creeds and affirm in other statements that we hopefully receive from the Scriptures. This book, uniquely, is a defense of Christian sanity–that we are not wrong to feel as we do about God, the world, Jesus and the Church. And he does it masterfully.

Definitely give this one a read.

Reading Scripture with my background is interesting. Reformed, Pentecostal, Anglican, all coming together.

From the Reformed of my high school & college years, I assume that we all come to Scripture thru lenses and external measures foreign to it (“Reading Scripture in its original historical and grammatical context”).

From the Pentecostal of my youth and adulthood, I assume that Scripture is addressed to me directly as a member of Christ–immediate, making me an original recipient and hearer.

From the Anglican of my life since college, I assume that Emmaus is ultimate–that Scripture is canonically and forever bearing witness to Jesus and His Gospel.

They have different contributions but they are all grounded in the conviction that I did not deserve or choose this revelation but that Jesus Christ–the same yesterday, today and for ever–graciously delights to send the Word to human flesh and blood.

So reading Scripture is, in some ways, an echo of the mystery of the Incarnation, and its work is like the promise to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” –bringing forth Christ in us, the hope of glory. (Dave Ketter, Facebook/Twitter–July 2 2016)

But like I said, it’s not a revelation that I deserved, chose, or earned. It’s not a revelation I even invited. It’s a revelation God has sent into the world, into the darkness, into the primal depths of my fallen life. It calls out and speaks “Let there be!”

Let there be. Just like the beginning. The primordial chaos starts to take shape with new visions: light, division, gathering, separating, hardness, softness, new sounds, new life, new company, new sights. New earth. A new way to be. “It’s good!”

Oh, good. So, so very good. That’s the message of the Word. But wait, the night is still there. The Sea is still there. The decay is still there. The fear is still there. Death is still there. It’s here, near, and I can still taste it. I hear its rumbling hunger deep within me. The yawning hunger for the things that lead to death. I’m hungering for anything but the Word.

But still God sends it. Still the Word is pours into my ears. Still it gets poured down into the depths of my throat. The abyss of my heart begins to fill up. The chasms of desire and death start breaking in new directions aligned with the Deity. The demons, so frequently buzzing and swarming, begin to scatter and howl away in every direction expect in mine. Because the Word has more to say:

Open your hand.

Receive your sight.

Stand up. Take up your mat. Walk.

Come to Me.

Your sins are forgiven.

It. Is. Finished.

Oh, it’s so uninvited. So unlooked for. So undeserved. So unchosen.

But it makes me the Invited. It makes me the Looked-For. It makes me the Deserved. It makes me the Chosen. It makes me Someone Else–a Son. Beloved. Royal. Spirit-Burdened. Incarnated.

All because of the Word-made-flesh, who keeps sending His Word.

Legacy: Martha

This post is long overdue and I’ve been thinking about it for most of a month. I didn’t know where to begin, or end…so, instead of something comprehensive, I’m posting just a sliver of remembrance and reflection of her legacy.

A woman’s voice cut through the silence of the day: “Well isn’t this a fine row of bishops?” I looked up to see her smiling at me and some friends, sitting by the fire. “God forbid,” I retorted. Read the rest of this entry »