Tag Archives: New Life

Yeah, But What Can I Really Expect?

The friend I mentioned in the last post, who wanted to know what to expect from the Holy Spirit, is an engineer. He’s a practical guy, more comfortable with hand tools than he is with theology. “What’s going to happen to me with the Spirit,” he wants to know, “am I going to foam at the mouth; are my eyes going to roll around in my head? What?” He’s kind of like the guys Jesus hung out with. Some of them were fishermen. Probably had rock hard muscles, scarred and calloused hands. Jesus had just told them, “Guess what? I’m going to install my Spirit in you.” (John 14:15-21) Can you imagine saying something like that to your fishing buddies? If they didn’t just toss you into the lake, they would want you to speak plainly and tell them something they could understand.

That is the problem with the Holy Spirit. Even though we have all been designed to have Him living inside us, none of us start out that way. Trying to imagine what we can expect is kind of like a man born blind trying to imagine a sunset. So, when Jesus tried to explain what they could expect, he said it like this:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 )

Something is lost in translation. The word “remains” means to live in, permanently. “If a man lives in Me and I in him… he will bear much fruit.”

Grapevine

Grapevine (Photo credit: Wikipedia

Jesus’ fishing buddies would all have been able to “see it” when He talked about the vine (in this picture, the part growing straight up) and the branch (in this picture, the part that is attached to the vine and grows out to the right). Because that branch has the “life” of the vine flowing through it, it has lush, green leaves. When the season is right, it produces a couple of clusters of grapes. You can imagine how different the branch would look if you cut the connection to the vine, right? When we want to know what to expect from the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, “Picture what happens to a branch when it is attached to a vine.” When we are attached to Jesus, when we surrender in faith to Him and allow Him to do so, His life will flow through us and transform our lives, producing “fruit.”

But what do we have to do? How does the grape branch manage to produce the grapes? How hard does it have to work? How much does it have to know so it will do the right thing? Nothing! The fruit emerges naturally because it has the life of the vine flowing through it. Jesus said, “When you make your life in Me (His metaphor for believing fully in Him), My life will flow through you (His metaphor for the Holy Spirit.) And, He said, “you WILL bear much fruit.” How will you do so? By doing what a branch does.

But what does this “fruit” look like? Is this the part where I become the church lady? For a branch of grapes, the fruit looks like grapes. For a branch of pumpkins it looks very different. That’s because the design of the branches is different. Your fruit probably will not look like mine. But fruit from the Holy Spirit, like fruit from a branch, tastes good, feels good and refreshes those it is given to. When the life of Jesus flows through a person who has come to live in Him, Jesus causes that person to produce good things that restore and refresh others.

That’s what you can expect. Next time we’ll go deeper on what the fruit looks like.

Why Them?

For this is what the high and lofty One says—  he who lives forever, whose name is holy:  “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. – Isaiah 57:15 (NIV)

If you grasp this one verse, you are well on your way to understanding the whole Bible.  We’ve been chewing on it at some length.  This time, let’s go deeper on the words, “lowly and contrite.”  Show of hands: do you identify yourself with either of these words?  Probably not, but we might want to reconsider, because God, the One Who lives beyond time and space, says He will “live” with the person who is “contrite and lowly in spirit.”  He says He will bring that person to life.

As amazing as it is that the God of the Universe would pay any attention to our tiny planet, it is even more astonishing that He would come to live in some of the humans by connecting them with His Spirit.  And who does He choose for such an amazing gift?  Not the religious or the good, not the famous or the wealthy, not the powerful or the high born.  He chooses the lowly in spirit, the contrite.  Why them?  They know they need Him.

On a hot, breezy day at the lake, I noticed some people who were trying to go sailing in a rental boat, but who obviously knew nothing about how to do it.  They were getting tangled up in the lines, the sail was flapping around dangerously and the boat was drifting in toward some rocks.  I ran down to see if I could help, but they wanted no part of anything I had to offer.  “Mind your own business; we’ve got this!”

God does more than help people; He hooks them up to His Spirit and lives in them, as He designed for them to be.  He not only sets their sails, but gets in and skippers.  But only for those who know they haven’t “got this.”  When our attitude toward God is, “I’m doing pretty well, but I’ll give You a shout if I get in trouble,” we are not ready for His Spirit to move in.  But the lowly know; the contrite are ready.  Those who think they are doing pretty well and are improving, don’t have any clue of God’s perfect righteousness, nor of the fact that being “good enough for God” means scoring 100%.  If that sounds extreme, ask yourself how much spit you would tolerate in a strawberry milkshake?  How much cancer is too much?

Perfect score?  Impossible!  Prezactly, but there is a solution – for the lowly and the contrite, for those who know in their bones they need God.  For the lowly, God comes and lives in their souls by His Spirit.  That’s why Jesus said this:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   Blessed are those who mourn,  for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Matthew 5:3-6 (NIV)

Confused?  Try reading these posts in order.  There is a button on the top menu for that.  And thank you for stopping by here!  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, questions and suggestions.

Righteousness Ain’t No Church Lady

When jazz musicians use the term, righteous, they are describing music that is harmonious, in a groove, following the established principles or rules of music but using those rules to launch a new, delightful and creative line of music that is a real treat to the ear and soul of the listener.  Sadly, when the terms, righteous or righteousness, are applied to a Christian context, too often the associations made are more about the uptight “Church Lady” from Saturday Night Live.

Dana Carvey as The Church Lady

Dana Carvey as The Church Lady (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is nothing righteous about being a prude.  Religious, frowny-faced, so-called righteousness stems from the impossible attempt to be good enough for God.  As we have  discussed in the previous posts it is impossible for us humans to act in harmonious, righteous ways with God when we are disconnected from His Spirit.  You cannot harmonize with music you can’t hear.

But when God “lives with” a person (Isaiah 57:15), He establishes the connection with His Spirit.  He does so to “revive” him, to bring him to life in a new way, thus enabling him to live with the best and most beautiful kind of righteousness.   Righteousness does not come from human effort; it is a gift from God.  Here is how Paul explained it:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Romans 3:21-22a

Paraphrased, this says that the ability and tendency to live in tune with God’s beautiful music comes from Him, the Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets) explained had to happen.  This harmonious and beautiful capacity, righteousness, comes as a gift to those who put their faith in Jesus.  Paul describes it later as “walking in the newness of life.”(Romans 6:5)

See dat?  This is the exact opposite of the commonly held notion of what happens to a person who trusts Jesus.  You don’t become an uptight, holier-than-thou, pinched-face church lady.  That’s not real righteousness.  Instead, you discover a new life from God that emerges from inside, with increasing righteousness – in the jazz sense of the word!

 (To read these posts in a logical order, click on the “New Here?” page above, or on THIS LINK)

Jamming in God’s Band

If you have been following these posts, you know I’ve compared “dead” humans to dead cell phones that have lost their signal. (You can read all the posts in the right order HERE. In Isaiah 57:15, God said He wants to connect us to the signal of His Spirit and “revive us,” bring us to life.  (See “In a Nutshell”)  The problem with that analogy is that humans think and decide; cell phones are machines and only do what they are told.  God did not create us to be robots who blindly follow rules, but to be connected to Him by His Spirit in a harmonious way.  Here’s how He described the process of “reviving” us to Ezekiel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27

God’s plan is not to control us like machines, but to “move us,” from the inside out, by giving His Spirit in us to motivate our new, responsive hearts.  See that?  Here’s how Paul describes it:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will,  Romans 12:2

The end result of this process of being “revived” by God’s Spirit, is not to become automatons who woodenly follow God’s rules, but living beings who, by being in tune with God, act in sympathy with His principles.

A shot from a 2006 performance by Peter Brötzm...

A shot from a 2006 performance by Peter Brötzmann, a key figure and doyen in European free jazz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Time for a different analogy:  Beginning music students study and practice scales, because in music, scales are the “rules.”  Accomplished jazz musicians improvise in harmony with one another, not by playing scales, but by following the principles of the scales to make their music “work” together.  When a jazz musician plays a solo in a particularly harmonious and exciting way, the others say “That was righteous!”  God isn’t looking for robotic obedience to the rules, He’s looking for people who are in harmony with Him and with His principles, so much so that the way they improvise in life is “righteous.”

Chew on that…