Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

The Spirit Test

I once met a man who had devoted his entire life to spirituality.  He was revered in his community.  His main responsibility every morning, was to go up on a high hill and perform a ceremony that would wake God up for the day.  In order to be punctual, so God would not oversleep, this man set an alarm clock.  You can probably spot some logical problems with his form of spirituality.  

To know that someone is “spiritual” is no guarantee that they are telling you the truth, or that they even have your best interest in mind.  Some “spiritual” leaders actually use their position to abuse others.  We have to be discerning.  Jesus told His followers to be “shrewd as snakes” because He was sending them out like sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16).

Here’s how John taught us what to look for:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.  (1 John 4:1-3)

At first glance, an odd test: Did Jesus Christ actually come in the flesh?  In John’s day there were all sorts of “spiritual” teachings that denied Jesus’ humanity.  Once they repackaged Jesus, they could make Him into a Messiah that conformed with their own ideas.  Others, over the years, have added and subtracted from the Biblical record of Who Jesus was, what He said and what He was like, in order to mold Him into a more understandable or comfortable Messiah.

But with Jesus, what you see is what you get.  He came in human flesh.  He lived a sinless life.  He claimed to be One with God.  He willingly died a bloody, agonizing death.  He was brought back to life by God.  He is God’s only plan to reconcile humans to Himself.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life – for everyone who believes.

A teaching may be spiritual, but if it changes Jesus, it isn’t Holy Spiritual.

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.

God’s Hot Buttons

If you want to know what makes God mad, there is a pretty clear list in the 5th chapter of Isaiah. Each one is marked by the word, Woe! That’s Biblespeak for “Beware! Bad, bad things are coming unless big, big changes are made. When God says “Woe,” He’s upset about something.  God is angered by human behavior that, if left unchecked, will destroy His Creation. He says “woe!” with the same tone of voice that a homeowner uses when he sees termites destroying his home.  And for the same reason.

The first “woe!” in Isaiah 5 had to do with unchecked greed (See: “What Kind of Termites Anger God?”.)  The next one reads like this:

Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands.  (Isaiah 5:11-12)

Perhaps you are thinking, “It’s official: God is a killjoy and hates it when people party.”   No way!  If that’s what you think, you will be surprised as you read through the Bible.  God loves celebrations. Jesus provided the wine for one.  No, the problem here is that this drunkenness is constant (from early in the morning until late at night), it has become the new normal.  Beyond that, it has obliterated their capacity to appreciate and respect God and the wonderful oasis He created and provided.  

Imagine that you had inherited a beautiful mountain cabin that was carefully and lovingly built by your great-grandfather. It is nestled among pine trees, alongside a crystal clear, spring-fed lake. From childhood, you have forged deep and satisfying memories at his cabin and you consider it to be a precious and sacred refuge. Can you picture it?  Now, how would you feel if your kids hold a party up there, inviting their friends, who proceed to get drunk and wreck the place?  They break the windows, smash the plates and park their old and leaky pickup in the garden. Mad yet?  That’s how God feels when He sees insensitive, drunken louts trashing His garden.

But let’s look at the nature and extent of the damage:

Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst.Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers. (Isaiah 5:13-14)

This warning was written to a people God had given special, privileged treatment.  He intended to use as the Jewish nation as a model, to show others how much better life could be if you loved God and lived according to His design and principles. He had set them up with their own land, and promised to provide for them and protect them.  But these privileges would only continue if they cooperated.  Their irresponsible behavior wrecked the place.  Consequently, instead of being protected in their own place, they were exiled to a foreign land. Instead of being physically and spiritually satisfied in God’s presence, they drank to find satisfaction and wound up with an unquenchable thirst.  Instead of finding life, they fell into death. Woe!

This warning, specifically written to the people of Israel and Judah, was tragically fulfilled in their history.  But it contains a principle that pertains to us all.  You and I live amid God’s amazing and beautiful Creation.  The more you pay attention, the more you seek to appreciate it and harmonize with the One Who gave us all this, the more wonderful life will be.  The key to living like that is given to us by Jesus.  Find Him and find real life.

Or, you could just get drunk and miss it.  Woe!

What Kind of Termites Anger God?

If that question doesn’t make sense, go back one post and read “On the Other Hand, God Really is Angry“.  When termites threatened to destroy my house, I exterminated them.  In Isaiah 5, God explains that He is going to eradicate the “termites” that threaten to destroy His garden.  He doesn’t use termites as a metaphor but, rather, a vineyard that does not produce good fruit because of people wrecking the place.  What kind of behavior does wreck the vineyard, so to speak?  What kind of termites does God see?  Before we answer that, have a look at verse 7, to see what “good fruit” looks like to the eyes of God:

And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.  (Isaiah 5:7)

What does God desire for this world?  Justice and righteousness.  Not what we think of as justice, but perfect justice.  A world where a person’s position and wealth does not change what rules apply to him or her.  A world where corruption of any kind is non-existent.  A world full of people who intuitively do the right thing in a harmonious way.  (For more on righteousness, see “Jamming in God’s Band.”)  God desires a world in which there is no bloodshed – none.

But if that was all He said, it would resemble a vacuous speech at a beauty pageant (“I want world peace!”).   Specifically, what kind of human behavior does God see as termites?  He gave Isaiah several specific examples, beginning in verse 8.  These are representative examples of things people were doing in that time that wrecked God’s vineyard.  Many of these sound pretty contemporary.  Let’s just consider the first one:

Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.  (Isaiah 5:8)

When God sees wealthy people gobbling up vast tracts of land for themselves, building themselves house after house, not because they need a place to live but just because they have the money to do it, God sees termites.  Think about it:  God designed the Earth as a perfect garden and invited humans to live in it and enjoy it.  Whose garden is it?  How is it that some of the guests in God’s garden think they should fence off hundreds of thousands of acres, saying to everybody else, “Keep out! This is mine?”  It is not that God is opposed to holding property in a family in trust and passing it along.  What God sees as termites is the people who greedily attempt to own and control much more than they could ever need and who wind up isolating themselves from everyone else in the process.

I could be wrong about this, but I believe God sees termites when He looks down on how much of this country is “owned” by so few – not because they need to but simply because they can.  I think God sees termites in places where huge conglomerates make it impossible to make a go of a family farm.  It’s not just agriculture; I see similar things going on with the decline of “Mom and Pop” stores and restaurants, too.  I’ll bet that there are aspects of the forces behind enormous conglomerate corporations that God sees as termites.  Just sayin’

Of course the argument for those who do such things is that they do it to be successful.  Listen to what God says will be the outcome:

The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: “Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine, a  homer of seed only an ephah of grain.”  (Isaiah 5:9-10)  (Note: the words, bath, homer, and ephah, all refer to an extremely paltrey amount for such big places.)

God says, “What you think is success will lead to utter ruin.  Mark My words!”  Why?  Termites!  Living like that wrecks the place.  That’s not the way God designed for the world to work.

That’s just the first example.  Next time we will go further

You Choose: Rules or Rest?

Religion may make you feel good, but it doesn’t work.  Religions tell you what you have to do  to be okay with God.  Religions give you the rules to follow so you can make the connection with God happen.  But God says He makes the connection, that He will live in our hearts to bring us to life (Isaiah 57:15 – See “In a Nutshell”).  But He doesn’t do that for the religious; He does it for the “lowly and contrite.”  Religion gives you a score and tells you how well you are doing.  Lowliness puts you in touch with the reality that you can never measure up to God’s standard of righteousness – not even close.  Lowly people hunger for righteousness; religious people tend to think, “I’m not perfect, but I’m doing better than those other guys.”  Jesus comforted and loved the lowly.  He had fits with the religious.

This is not a new problem.  700 years before Jesus, God criticized the religious people because they were making up rules for people to follow to get to God.  He said,

“For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there.”  Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people, to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”; and, “This is the place of repose”— but they would not listen.  So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there— so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured. Isaiah 28:10-13

God intended for our relationship with Him to be characterized by rest, not rules.  Coming to  God was intended to be coming to the resting place, the place of repose.  But humans wanted rules, so we could be in control and so we could keep score.  So God said, “Very well then, have it your way.”  And God’s Word for the religious became distorted into “do and do, rule on rule, a little here, a little there.”

But for the lowly, for those who know they can’t measure up by following the rules, God comes and lives with them, reviving their hearts.  Jesus says, “Let Me be in charge; you come find rest in Me.”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28

You can have it your way.  Which way do you choose: rules or rest?

In a Nutshell

In the last couple of posts, I’ve been ruminating on the majesty and awesome “bigness” of God, of how His position as the Creator of the universe necessarily puts him way beyond anything we are equipped to imagine  (See the posts under “The Majesty of God” category).  When you consider Who God really is, it is astonishing to read the following verse from Isaiah, a verse that I believe is the key to the whole Bible.  It contains the message of the Bible in a nutshell:

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

There is so much in that short verse I’m going to take it in small chunks.  But for now, consider this: Almighty God, Who created the vast universe, says that He lives in a high, holy place – call it Heaven – no surprise about that.  But He also lives, He says, with certain people.  Who?  Not those who are important enough, or rich enough, or smart enough, or famous enough, not even those who are good enough or religious enough; He lives with those who are lowly enough!  Why would God do that?  Why would He want to live with any human being on this tiny planet?  And why lowly people?  Chew on that…