What will church cultures look like in America as it transitions into the post-Christian era? Pivotal for my understanding of a fresh perspective on church life was the study of Gordon Fee’s 967-page book God’s Empowering Presence (1994)—his careful and thorough study of the 169 references to the Spirit in the Apostle Paul’s letters. He […]Read More
How much energy a congregation has is reflected in how well participants give of their “time, talents, and treasures.” Many other good causes are approaching them for those same personal resources. What makes a congregation’s fellowship different?
The answer gets easy when you recognize a gathering of believers as a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” This is the distinctive function the Apostle Paul gives the Spirit in his benediction “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Fellowship too often gets trivialized as shallow social interaction. But a key part of a fellowship of the Holy Spirit is the special motivation the Spirit can provide believers gathered around God’s Word. Hearing Scripture proclaimed is basic. But the energy level goes up when participants share what God is doing in their personal lives….Read More
Think about a church’s “spiritual energy” as the total of hours and dollars participants give to the shared life and work of that congregation. Now consider these observations from church consultant Ed Stetzer:
1. The Spirit-oriented Pentecostal and charismatic movements continue to expand, and many are shying away from oddities and excesses in their past, like speaking in tongues.
2. Evangelicals are moving toward the theology of Spirit-filled and Spirit-led ministries.
3. Forty years ago, 30% of the US population self-identified with mainline denominations; now it is about 15%. Their loss of energy is most obvious in empty pews and buildings.
A good way for a traditional church to regain spiritual energy is to focus more on how the Holy Spirit energizes Christian fellowships. Classical Lutheran and Calvinist theology left the biblical teachings on the Third Person of the Trinity poorly developed.
My intent is to offer fresh perspectives on what Jesus teaches about his Spirit and how Paul explains the role of the Spirit in Christian church life. Ultimately the Spiritual energy of a congregation is a reflection of how well the Spirit has energized the individual participants, who add their energy to that church’s fellowship.
A modern term gives focus to the Spirit’s work. It is “motivation”— the understanding of what moves people into action. There is no clear biblical equivalent. Motivation provides the missing link in the classical theology of justification by grace through faith, not by works. The act of trusting God’s love and accepting the free gift of Christ’s redemption brings us into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s empowering presence. Christ’s Spirit works on our hearts and brings new priorities that motivate our behaviors. In addition to being saved as a gift of grace, we can also live by the gifts of the Spirit as a second kind of grace.Read More
Waiting at our local Conrad’s Tire and Auto, I saw a hard-covered book on the history of this 30-store chain. It was started after the War by Joan and Ed Conrad. They were and are a staunch Irish Catholic family. They and their kids went to Catholic schools I recognized from the old neighborhood.
Their story brought to mind a classic Irish Catholic neighbor of ours. Their family’s kids and ours played a lot together. I admire this Mom of seven children. Raised in a faithful Irish Catholic family herself, she did and does go to mass every morning.
As I reminisced, I thought, we know who we are and why we’re here. We are created by God to worship him and to serve others.
Back then both Catholic and Lutheran church bodies had strong institutions, especially with grade schools, high schools and universities. Those institutions are in retreat. The Catholic bishop of Cleveland closed or merged 50 parishes. In the Cleveland area, we lost four Lutheran grade schools in the past ten years, and the city congregations still remaining are barely hanging on.Read More
It’s there tucked into the middle of John’s account of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the analogy for Jesus beloved by all (John 10: 1-18). In verse 10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). A more accurate translation is “that they may have life overflowing.”
Who was Jesus talking about? The sheep, of course. Jesus invited us to see ourselves as the sheep he protects and lays down his life for. There was no suggestion he is talking about what will happen in a future life. He addressed our daily life in this world.
What will be overflowing in this abundant life here and now? I believe the Good Life now will be overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I trust you recognize that this listing comes from Galatians 5:22, where Paul described the fruit of the Spirit. Understand that “fruit” means what we would call product, that which a business makes and sends out the door. The Spirit produces the inner qualities of love, joy, peace and the other fruit.Read More
Nicodemus was a prominent Jewish leader who came to Jesus under cover of darkness. He wanted to find out more about this new rabbi who had come to town. Jesus was proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand, but no one can see it until he or she is born from on high.
“Tell me more,” Nicodemus said. Jesus explained, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
That phrase “Spirit gives birth to spirit” can have revolutionary meaning today for traditional Christians from mainline churches.
An appropriate translation of the key verb is “the Holy Spirit influences human spirit.” Human spirit is one of the words the Bible uses for “soul” or “heart” or “inner being.” A modern equivalent is “motivation.” The Spirit can and will change the motivations of those who are open to him.Read More
Kevin Park is a member of our church who designed and by now has distributed 150,000 grace and mercy coins. One side has a cross and the words “Mercy is when God spares you what you deserve.” The other side has a dove and the words “Grace is when God gives you what you don’t deserve.” It’s a great evangelism tool.
The first side’s cross represents Christ. The other side’s dove is for the Holy Spirit. Mercy is the proper word for the forgiveness God gives us through Christ’s redemption. The Bible word is charis for the gift given, which we call grace. A second kind of grace is called charisma, the gift received. This is always associated with the Holy Spirit. One form is the special energy he gives to do specific ministries (1 Corinthians 12). The other is the higher gifts of love, faith and hope (12:31) and other fruit the Spirit produces in believers, like joy and patience.Read More
In general, the ministries of traditional mainline churches are done without conscious belief in the Holy Spirit—a belief that goes beyond mouthing the Creed. We mostly rely on the Father and the Son. But ministries lose their effectiveness over time without reliance on the power of the Spirit. Our ministries cannot remain effective without a firm belief in the Holy Spirit and the role he performs. Luther describes how the Spirit “calls me by the Gospel, enlightens me with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth.”
Those roles are the essence of the ministries and church life we try to guide and develop. How can we do that effectively if we are not looking for and expecting the Spirit’s power to accomplish what we are trying to do on our own? Believing in just the Father and the Son is like trying to do ministry with one arm tied behind your back. Without the Spirit, tradition too easily turns into traditionalism.Read More
The most-read blog this past half year (5,198 readers) was Re-Discover the Forgotten Gospel. So, what is the full Gospel? This is a serious very practical question for Protestants today. Here is a very serious biblical answer, set forth in serious doctrinal format of ten theses to be defended. But first this summary:
To preach only salvation for eternity is to present only half the biblical Gospel. The rest is God’s grace in sending the Spirit to make our lives better now with what the Spirit produces, his Spiritual fruit of changed emotions in our lives. By grace, we are saved eternally and by grace, we can live better now.Read More
The steep decline that so many mainline churches are experiencing today was the subject of my book I published earlier this year, What Happened to our Churches, where I examined the rapid decline that so many mainline churches are faced with today.
This now well-recognized withering is especially widespread among mainline Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches. We are church bodies that value our Reformation heritage and share the background of being state-sponsored churches back in Europe. This heritage places us at a great disadvantage in the current American culture.
I just published my next book, Encourage Adventures in Step with the Spirit which focuses on our need to embrace new ministry practices. I advocate that the most basic change is to give more attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in our personal and church lives. What that looks like and how to do so is the emphasis in this second set of blogs.Read More
I’ve heard it many times: “It was a life-changing experience.” Such is a frequent comment from participants in short-term mission trips through our church and other mission agencies. For some it is taking a step in faith and discovering rewards. For others this is a reaction to first encountering poverty in under-developed countries. For one […]Read More