In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas’s last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor’s Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]
OK, now, the first hour we just want to alert you to a lot of stuff and to give the main focus of what we are doing and now then we go back to the details and these at the bottom of page 5 in your notebook is where we will begin.
Spirituality, Spirit and the Human Being as a Spiritual Being—now, you know your New Testament and for that matter, your Old and you know that the human being lives at the intersection of two worlds. Do you not? And perhaps the classical passages on these are 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 and Romans 8: up to about verse 13 and you now live at the intersection of two worlds. You have a choice and you have to make that choice. It’s forced upon you.
In the passage of 2 Corinthians 4, Paul is talking about his life as a minister and he’s talking about how he has the treasure of Christ in an earthen vessel and the earthen vessel has some drawbacks. It’s the one that they can throw rocks at and you and I have one like that too. It’s the one that progressively goes through the process of dis-organization, as you grow older. You look in the mirror and you see that happening. Paul says, “Well, we know that this is happening but we do not lose heart,” verse 16 of 2 Corinthians 4. “We do not lose heart but though our outer man is decaying.” Now, that’s the vessel and that’s one dimension of you is the outer person. That’s the one you can see and you can see it better if you have good glasses in some cases or good light. [Laughter] So, the outer man is decaying, but our inner man is being renewed day by day. The inner man is not decaying; it’s being renewed. It’s growing. For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
That theme of course is also picked up in Romans 8. Now here you are at the intersection. “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” So one of the things you have to get used to is looking at things you can’t see. [3:42] That is a practice that you learn how to live in and now. In this course, one of the things that we try most to do is to take a passage like that and try to make sense of it. How do you look at things which are not seen? Hmmmm? So, now we will be talking about things on that and what I am hoping is that you will help me stay honest and if I don’t say something helpful about a phrase like that, then I hope you will get after me. Now, I can’t guarantee you that I can say something helpful about it. I can guarantee you that I will try and it is the challenge to me constantly to make sense of that in my own life. How can you look at what is not seen? [4:39]
Now, your hope lies in doing that because if you don’t do that, then all you’ve got is that stinking vessel and I am telling you, it’s not going to go for long. Having arrived at the advanced stage of 76, I have an awareness of that which I did not have even a short while ago. So, it’s important to master this. “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” I don’t want to take time to go there now and we will undoubtedly be driven to do that but please cross reference with that Romans 8:4-7. And we will go back to that.
But, what we now have to look at is this idea of spirituality and especially how it has developed in our time so that one of the most common phrases that you might hear from a person is, “I am not religious but I am very spiritual” and this is one of the ways of dismissing the church because the church is identified in the minds of many with religion, not spirituality. And how that came about and what needs to be done about it is of course something that we need to look at.
Now, the human being always lives in a horizon beyond their ability to deal with it. A way of putting that is to say that the human being always over drives their headlights. That is to say that their momentum carries them beyond what they can see and manage and that’s why the hunger for spirituality is deep and ineliminable. For a period in the development of Western thought, especially in the 1800’s, people who thought they were smart believed that the smarter people of God, the less they would adhere to religion and that all you had to do to get rid of religion was to educate people. Well, we have found that that isn’t true because the facts don’t bare it out. What bears what people were looking at were a few select people around them and their academic environment who thought that they had gotten rid of religion and that naturally, anyone as smart as they were would also get rid of it. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to look at the statistics and that cry for spirituality is built into how human beings always live beyond their horizons. They can’t help it. Their momentum outruns their vision and their ability.
So, spirituality has come back in even academic circles. In fact, you can be spiritual almost anywhere as long as you are not religious. If you are religious, you might be dangerous. If you are spiritual, you will just be amusing but now that really begins to take on the edge of religion and if you want to see how that works, there’s a book called Dark Green Religion by a professor at Florida State that shows how spirituality understood and in terms of the worship of nature always has a political edge to it.
Now, from the viewpoint of the churches in America especially, we live in a revivalist culture and you will hear people say who aren’t necessarily very religious is, “What we need in this country is a revival.” Now, you know, again, I want to keep saying this and you certainly can disagree with anything I say so, “revival does not solve the problem.” Again, historically, that is a proven fact. Now, a lot of that is due to the fact that what is now called revivals aren’t revivals. They are what used to be called protracted meetings and you can have a revival now and God not show up. [10:28]
So, revival, we might say, “ain’t what it used to be” but then even with what it used to be, I mean, perhaps the clearest cases were the revivals around Charles Finney, the revivals around Jonathan Edwards and others in American history and now, you look at them and you realize they do not solve the problem of character growth. They don’t deal with that and in our day, it turns out that charismatic experiences don’t deal with the problem of character growth. That isn’t new. Paul, in the opening of 1 Corinthians says, “You do not come behind in any spiritual gift,” but the book, the letter is mainly about character problems and, of course also about the gifts and their function in the assemblies. [11:42]
We had something some years ago called the renewal and that was sometimes charismatically tinged and sometimes not but in the end, the same thing became clear—revival and the renewal got lots of good songs out of the renewal and some of them were really quite good—as the deer panteth after the water and so on—good songs but the problem of character was not resolved. The issue of character or obedience is the number one issue for human beings in the Old and New Testament and until we come to the place to where we can deal with that…… Now, let me just add. There has been a lot within our traditions that have dealt successfully with character issues and sometimes, that was called spirituality. I put on page 156 of your notebook; please don’t turn to it now. I’m not going to work on it now but at the bottom of page 5, I mention
- O. Olds and Spirituality in the Reformed Tradition and I copied for you on page 156 an article in Christianity Today that deals with it. Olds was writing a book and so now there is a book on this. I think you will find it interesting to look at the discussion of reform spirituality, which was in fact one of the most powerful character transforming traditions that we’ve had. Now, you have to put that also with Wesleyan traditions which were so powerful that at one time in the 1800’s, people actually thought that the whole world was going to become Methodist. Well, they managed to avoid that, shall be say? [13:39] That’s an interesting story in its own right because the Methodist movement was primarily a method of character transformation and we will talk about that later on as well as Calvin and the reformed tradition. [13:59]
We have to find what is best in our conditions and reclaim that for our time and when we go back and look at our traditions normally, we find we don’t do what they did. Its very interesting—even more recent groups like Nazarenes. Do we have any Nazarenes? Yep. See, you go back to the beginning of that or even more recently, Four Square and what you will find is that people today in those groups don’t do what the people did who started the movement. Now, Johnny, you may have to get after me about saying things like that and that’s perfectly all right. [Laughter] I often hear and encourage people who are writing the “big paper”—now; we will talk about the papers later on. OK? It just seems to me like the first day, we ought to “get into it.” But, I encourage people who are writing the big paper to write on the origins of their own tradition and in particular, to find out what they did that started a movement of considerable power, shall we say that they don’t do any longer. So, these traditions are really very important for us to think about.
Next page—top of page 6—what are the deeper issues here? Is it the prospering of the churches or religion? Is that what we are concerned about? Church growth? In what respect and why would church growth matter? See, I am not going to dismiss it but I am going to say things that are critical of putting church growth first. You find churches in trouble; usually that means financially, but often that refers to deeper issues in the body of people and one of the things you nearly always find is they are most concerned about surviving and that is not a motive or orientation that leads to surviving. In fact, you will almost have to put that totally out of your mind and concentrate on something that would make surviving worthwhile. Very often it all becomes focused on money and partly because we have followed the path of debt. Those are all issues that we will want to look at and think about, “what is it that debt does that often turns out to be so harmful?” There’s nothing sinful about debt as such, I think but after all, Paul does say, “Owe no man anything except to love one another” and debt is a huge spiritual issue, both individually and in terms of groups—our country as well as our churches. [17:31]
So, perhaps the deeper issue is spiritual formation. Spiritual formation refers to character formation. Now, we have to go back presently and spend a lot of time on this topic but you want to understand that spiritual formation is not just a religious thing. Everybody has had spiritual formation. Hitler had one just as Mother Theresa had one. The issue in spiritual formation is not, “are we going to have one?” It’s which one are we going to have? Now, of course, the Christian’s position is that our character should be formed in the likeness of Christ’s character and then we have a responsibility for that and then we try to find out what we are to do for ourselves and for those around us and for those of us who lead and minister and teach. How can we help others? What directions can we give them towards taking on the character of Jesus Christ? We always have to start from character malformation. That’s where we start—“dead in trespasses and sin, governed by lust and the way of the world and the whims of Satan” as Ephesians 2 starts out. He has “quickened”—old language given—“it made you alive who were dead in trespasses and sins.” So, that’s where we start from and then how we move on. [19:31]
Now, there are lots of secular spiritualties. The famous Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous—people have made a valiant effort to try to secularize that and something obviously can be done with it but the Twelve Step Program as it was initially devised was devised by Christians who understood the traditions of character of formation that existed throughout the history of the church and so the original program, which I have put on page 7 here just so you would have it before you in case it wasn’t very familiar, but of course, the first three steps are clearly turned towards God and the recognition of some kind of power greater than ourselves. Now, that’s a wonderful program and it’s proven itself, and many churches stay alive on renting their basement to Twelve Step Programs and so it’s a very interesting thing how it came around back to the church. What we need to recognize is that the Twelve Step Program for Alcoholic Anonymous, as good a thing as it is, is not an overall program for character formation or transformation. You can be sober and a pretty miserable and angry person though it will help you stay sober if you can get over that too. Still, the steps here are just wonderfully instructive for a person who is concerned about spirituality and I think that we have to say if the church were to be committed to character formation in Christ, probably it would be carried out on something like what you see in the Twelve Steps. Some of the steps are more important than others—recognition that we have to have help. Making a fearless moral inventory of ourselves—now you just take that—step number 4 and you think of what a tremendous difference that would make in business, in the military, shall we say government? See? So now, if you don’t have God on the scene to help you, probably you will never be able to do that. And then you look at the rest of the list, you see what details there are here and you think well, perhaps, we could do that in church or something like that in church. One of the things that will keep coming up as we go through the 2 weeks is, what do we do in church and why do we do that? And, really, we have to answer that question in some beneficial way if we are going to deal with the topic of spirituality in ministry. Did that make any sense? [23:58]
Now, to do that, we don’t have to be mean or rejecting or critical; so, we have to talk about how we would do something about that. I hope to come to the place by the end where we can have a positive program for dealing with that question: Why do we do what we do in church and why do we do that? [24:21]
All right. Now, that’s just a little introduction to this issue of spirituality and now, on your page 6, number 2 there, we have to begin to take our pic and shovel and begin to dig. OK? Because the real theological issue is, “What is God?” and the answer that comes out of the Biblical sources really from beginning to end with John 4 as the great passage on this, “God is Spirit.” Well, now what? What’s that? And, how to become acquainted with that and how to work with that and what it means for us as individuals. So, I want to work on some of these scriptures that I have listed here. [25:25]
Under no. 2, the Biblical Concept of the Spirit and the Spiritual. So, let’s take time to look at some of these verses. Exodus 3:14 is in many ways, a match of John 4. We really do need to understand that the Bible is a profound book with difficult concepts. We need to accept that and understand that our role as teachers and leaders is to deal with the very naughty issues in a way that enables communication to people who, on their own, will not and probably cannot deal with them. Now, Exodus 3 is a refreshing sort of—such a human context—so you’ve got a burning bush that doesn’t burn up? What are you going to do with that? [Comment from student] Well, that’s a good start. Pagan religions could very well have made a religion out of that. A burning bush! We have in this country something called, “the burning man.” If you don’t know that, Google it; it’s a fascinating phenomenon. The burning man! It’s a yearly thing that happens, I guess in New Mexico or Nevada desert or some place like that and it’s a good thing to look at that and think about it. And say, what in the world is going on here? So, you have a burning bush and it’s talking to you. It’s giving you instructions and saying things that have a kind of connection—“I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” So, now, a job offer is made and it’s one that Moses can immediately identify with because the job is delivering the children, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Moses had been raised in a context where that made sense and he was in the desert partly because he had tried to do something about it and had to run for his life. Now, one of the interesting comparisons here is that in Egypt, Moses did not know God and God had not spoken to him. So, he knew about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but he didn’t know anything about that God and so now, God comes and presents his calling card in terms of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their children and what has happened to them and gives Moses the job to go to Pharaoh, whom perhaps he knew personally, and say, “Let my people go.” [30:08] Now, Moses says, “If I go down there and say this, verse 13, they are going to say to me, ‘What is his name?’”
Now, remember, names—we have already mentioned this; it will come up over and over. Names are realities—Biblical semantic realism—they reveal something and involve something. What is his name? Of course, the idea of acting in His name is something that will be crucial not only for Moses but for us. What is it to act in His name—the book of Acts is primarily a discovery of how you act in the name of Jesus. And, so, that is important for a leader who doesn’t want to be out on the limb by himself. So, whose name are you acting—Moses says—well, here’s, now here’s the answer—verse 14, God said to Moses, “I AM—oh my translation, poor thing says, “I AM WHO I AM.” Now, can you tell me someone who isn’t who they AM? [Laughter] Would this distinguish God? Didn’t Popeye say, “I am what I am, I am Popeye the sailor man?” Now, translators really struggle with this verse and they don’t seem to realize that if you translate it the way the New American Standard and really many of the modern translations do, you get, “I AM WHO I AM.” Now, mercifully, some of them will give us a little help in the margin and this name which we get as Yahweh rendered Lord is derived from the verb, “to be—to be.” Probably, the best way to translate it is just like the old King James Version does, “I AM THAT I AM.” Good thing on a translator when you don’t know what it is saying is to translate it the best way you can in terms of what it literally says—not start to think about what interesting things you could say. Unfortunately, most of our contemporary translators don’t do that. They think up something and suggest that. “I AM THAT I AM”—what could that possibly mean? What it means I suggest to you is my being doesn’t owe anything to anything else. “I AM THAT I AM.”
My being is dependent on me, and that is a primary characteristic of spirit, which is God. Now, I will be saying that you also and I have a spirit and one of the marks of the spirit in man is limited capacity to be self determined—limited—we are not God. We can’t say, “I AM THAT I AM.” [34:00]
But He has imparted to us an element of self determination and whatever is required for that and He has placed in us the capacity to determine things and that’s where you get Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our likeness and let them sit around and think profound thoughts—or be artistically creative.” What does it say? “Let them have dominion.” Now, you don’t like dominion and there is good reason to be worried about it; just try responsibility. Let them be responsible. OK? So, there is an element of spirit in the person and that is meant to live under fellowship with God. So, now, these passages that I have quoted here about spirit; I hope you will have time to really look at all of them. We need to pay attention to what it said about spirit in the Bible. And, we pick up things that give us some guidance. 2 Corinthians 16:9, for example, a great verse—“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal [hearts are perfect toward] to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.” Now, that’s a really great verse. Among other things, it makes clear that God is not limited by space and time and this is one of the main lessons that is hammered out relentlessly in the Bible—the idea that He is especially tied to some spatial location. One battle scene, and I think it’s with David where he’s defeated, sorry; he defeats a group and they say, “Well, his is a God of the valley or the mountains, I forget which one, so let’s pull him down into the valley where His God isn’t active and we’ll whip Him.” Well, of course, it didn’t work out that way and so, many, many lessons.
The one I referred to here in Jeremiah is quite an interesting one. It is Jeremiah 23:23-24, “Am I a God near at hand,” says the Lord, “And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places so that I do not see him? Do I not feel the heavens and the earth?” [37:38] That idea now is very big in coming to understand God and how God works. That’s a part of the Spirit is not to be limited in space or for that matter, not quite the same but time also. So, spirit especially overcomes space and so then, one of the primary things that has to be done and you see this in the Ten Commandments and in Deuteronomy 4 is to get people out of this idea that God can even be represented by something spatial. He speaks. Deuteronomy 4 is very interesting because Deuteronomy 4 is an area where the writers are making a big deal, “You didn’t see God. You didn’t see any form. You heard a voice.” And, later on as these things developed, God never appears in a visual form over the Mercy seat in the tabernacle or in the temple when that comes along. He never appears. See, the world of visual appearance is a primary place where human independence and ability to manipulate is manifested and that extends to idolatry. You see, idolatry is something that you make for your own manipulation and if your idol doesn’t perform, you might just knock its head off but it gives you the idea that you can actually make something with these divine powers and that is one of the things that Israel had to—in sweat, blood and tears work its way through—and by the time you get to Jesus, you have got that. They’ve got that and that’s one of the reasons they reject Jesus as Messiah is because He is visible. [40:06]
Now, you have to think to what extent that may come up to our own day but, in any case, we want to understand that God is Spirit and by the time John brings the record of Jesus talking to the woman at the well, she is still trying to make a spatial issue of this, right? Jesus has got her sort of nailed to the wall and she is wiggling in every way she can and so she thinks it would be nice to start a theological discussion with racial overtones, right? Jesus will of course have none of it and He just simply says, “Look, it doesn’t matter if it’s Jerusalem or this mountain; God is Spirit.” OK, so we are out of that category altogether and He is looking for people who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.
Interesting things about lies is you have to have the visible world to tell them. You cannot lie without utilizing the visible world. Now, maybe technology will help us get to the point we can do that but basically, that’s the truth. So, In Spirit goes with In Truth; you get to the level of the Spirit, you can’t lie. Incidentally, this is a little distance from where we are. It’s important to understand that some of the disciplines are designed to get us out of the realm of the spatial and deal with what we really are—solitude and silence are especially helpful in bringing us out of the realm of the visible where what is now often called, the false self is constructed and lay that burden down and deal with what is the truth about us, about others, our relationships about God, and so on. [42:40]
OK; well, I wish I had time to go more deeply into these verses. I do hope that you will find occasion to do this; there is some interesting stuff in 2 Kings, I think it is, about Solomon and the temple and the recognition that the temple is not something God needs; that He inhabits the Heavens and the Heaven of the Heavens….a nice and important distinction Jesus uses “that Heaven is my throne, the earth is my footstool.” In Isaiah, “where is the house you are going to build to me?” So, houses are for the benefit of people but they can get in the way and so a major lesson that had to be learned by the Jews in Babylonian exile was, God was in Babylon…all along. He got there before they did but that was—see, that was really important because their temple and their city lay in ruins. Now, where is God? Well, God is even there and you come down to the end of Jeremiah ‘s lamentations and you see his affirmation of that. You see that’s the growing realization of the nature of God.
You too are spiritual in your basic nature. That’s who you are. You are a spiritual being. Now, in all of this material we have to work through, we have to recognize Spirit as one element in the human and this is the same as the heart or the will biblically. [45:05] You have the Spirit but you also are a Spirit and you aren’t your will. Your will is just one aspect of you. So, Spirit as non-physical; in that sense, you are a spiritual being. So, for example, your thoughts are spiritual in the sense that they are not physical and we have to address that. That’s a part of what we have to cope with as teachers of Jesus Christ and our present world because one of the things that you pay a lot of money and go to school and find out is that you are your brain. Well, your brain is a piece of meat between your ears roughly: a very important piece of meat. It’s not you. Grandpa died many years ago and went to Heaven. His brain decomposed in the grave or was consumed in the fire. Right? He wasn’t; the brain was. This is something I can only broach here and then we have to go back to as we go along but you are a spiritual being in the sense that you are non-physical. God is spiritual. He doesn’t even have a brain. Did you know that God doesn’t have a brain? I have to fight but I usually give in and say, “That’s why everything is a no brainer to Him.” [Laughter] But, actually, sometimes, bad jokes help people remember things. God doesn’t need a brain. He is a perfectly complete person without it. Now, you and I have a brain like we have toenails and a body for a period of time in our life that individuates us as a person. So, for example, who are your parents? That’s physical. That enters into your identity. [48:22]
So, now, in the diagram on page 11, I’ve tried to sort of portray this and I hope you do some meditation on that and think about it. I try to put all of the essential parts of the person together. Now the unitive analysis is you, the person. These parts don’t lie around like spare parts in an auto parts store on the shelf. I mean, you have people and people, these are basically abilities of people and you have a body here, you have a social realm, your soul, which is a special integrative part of you and none of that is physical. See? If you just have the physical to go on, you can’t understand anything really worth knowing about people. The laws of physics didn’t bring you here. The laws of persons brought you here and in that process, you use some of the laws of physics. That’s perfectly fine. But, what I want to say to you here and emphasis here, is just that point on page 6, you are Spirit in your basic nature. [49:45]
Hebrews 12:9-11 talks about God who is the father of spirits. He is the father of spirits. Acts 17:29, this is Paul on the mountain talking to the Greek thinkers, and he is reasoning with them. They have a teaching that the gods are—they generate human beings and he is saying, “Look, they couldn’t do that if they were made out of matter because we are not made out of matter. So, what produces us isn’t made out of matter.” And, of course, he is talking in the context of idolatry and he’s saying, “Now you want to understand what’s really going on here? Ok, I’ll tell you about it” and that’s where he presents the spiritual God of Israel and the view of that teaching on human nature. So, the invisible side of you is where you most intimately know what Spirit is.
Calvin, for example, in opening the Institutes, talks about how self knowledge is essential to knowledge of God and we have to have both knowledge of God and knowledge of self. You might want to look at that sometime. It’s just actually the first few sentences in the first volume of the Institutes by Calvin. Calvin is a very smart man and we have to always be careful in thinking of people like Wesley and Calvin and Luther as if they were sort of your local television evangelists. They weren’t and if they had been, they would never have been able to lay the incredible cultural foundation that they did. Of course, all of them understood that the human being is a spiritual being and that the body fits into that. So, your knowledge of the thoughts and intensions of the heart, I give you Hebrews 4:12, you know that verse about, “the word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any two edge sword.” That’s cutting it pretty fine when you can distinguish spiritual things. The word of God, he says, does that. You read the word of God and you find it sorting out the thoughts and intentions of the heart—sharper than any two edged sword because a two edged sword can’t even do that. No matter how sharp it is, it cannot cut between a thought and an intention. [52:50]
Of course, thoughts are very different things from intentions. You have thoughts of many things you do not intend to do. Right? Isn’t that true? OK. And now, the Spirit, now Paul in 1 Corinthians 2, talks about how no one knows the things of the man except the spirit of man that isn’t in you. Do you remember that? So all of these things line up once you begin to try to understand this concept of the Spirit and spirituality.
So, I give you here an attempt to characterize in general terms, Spirit. This is a little below the middle of page 6. Spirit is un-bodily personal power—un-bodily personal power. It does not depend upon bodies. It can influence bodies but it does not derive from body and that is different from logos thinking about the trinity because logos relates to body in a different way. It forms body and comes out of body though, of course ultimately, it too, is not dependent upon it but the Holy Spirit does not take a physical form at all and that is one reason why Jesus says in John 14, where He is talking about how “He will send the Spirit if you keep the commandments, He will send the Spirit.” He says, “The world doesn’t receive the Spirit because it does not see Him.” The Spirit is not something that can be seen by ordinary people. Now, it does have a capacity to be manifest in some way because you will remember John was told, “the one whom you see the Spirit descending upon and remaining upon, that’s the one,” baby. That’s it and so he saw that and then Jesus in teaching Nicodemus a language lesson or two in John 3 says, “You know unless you are born from above, you can’t see the Kingdom of God” because Nicodemus was claiming to see it. [55:12]
He said, “Jesus, we know you are a man sent from God because no one can do these things unless the Spirit or God be with him.” Nicodemus was going to school—he didn’t know it—Jesus begins to instruct him and says, “You know, you are claiming to see the Kingdom of God, you can’t see the Kingdom of God unless you are born from above.” We’ve got to do “above” later. OK? That’s an important part of the story. [55:42]
So, then, that’s a general concept—you’ll notice, it’s personal—none of the stuff about a force. The Spirit is not a force unless you understand it’s a personal force, so, it isn’t something you learn how to work. You know, the “force be with you” and all of that sort of stuff. It’s a person. It’s a personal force. So, if you want to deal with it, how do you deal with it? Like you would deal with a person. For example, you talk to it. You listen to it. The Holy Spirit will speak to you, right? You all believe that. That’s what a person does. The force doesn’t do that. It’s a person and of course, in ministry, it’s absolutely essential that we work with the Holy Spirit. So, we need to pay some attention to that and try to think about it.
It’s very important that we have expectations of the Holy Spirit so that when we are attempting to minister, we don’t think we have to make it happen. Am I making any sense to you here? [Yes] OK, because that’s really so essential. God, in His wisdom, has more or less left it where if we think we can make it happen….”OK, well then, you do it.” And then you get a human result. The presence of the Holy Spirit is always manifest in the fact that the outcome is incommensurable with the ability and effort of the human being. [57:56] You can’t understand the outcome, if all you have to look at are the abilities and efforts of human beings. That’s why in Galatians, Isaac is taken as a manifestation of the child of promise and the Spirit. Ishmael is not. Ishmael was quite within the abilities of the people involved; Isaac was not. That’s a “mark” of the action of the Holy Spirit as it comes that way. [58:39]
So, Spirit consists of thought, evaluation, will, character, self-determined partially in human beings, totally in God and so that’s where Exodus 3:14 comes in and you are most intimately and forcefully acquainted with Spirit in yourself. That’s where you have the most intimate knowledge of it but you don’t have to recognize it even there. You can pretend that you are as a poet said, “a piece of portable plumbing.” Steven Spender said that—wonderful.
OK; let’s look at 8 briefly here. I give you a statement here by Adam Clark, an old theologian and I give it because it’s hard to get language that does justice in any significant degree to God and I think most of us would concede that it can never fully do justice but here is his language—“God is the eternal, independent and self-existent being.” Remember Exodus 3:14, “the being whose purposes and actions spring from Himself without foreign motive or influence. He who is absolute in dominion, the most pure, the most simple, the most spiritual of all essences.” Now, don’t ask me to explain simple, okay. That’s been a “bone of contention” among theologians and philosophers for two millennium and I can give you philosophical lessons about it but I can’t explain it in explaining God. “Infinitely perfect, eternally self-sufficient—he’s becoming a little repetitious at this point—needing nothing that He has made, eliminable in His immensity, inconceivable in His mode of existence and indescribable in His essence. Known fully only by Himself because an infinite mind can only be fully comprehended by itself. In a word, a being who from His infinite wisdom cannot err or be deceived and from His infinite goodness can do nothing but what eternally just and right and kind.” That’s pretty good. [1:01:36] Then you have to kind of soak in it—you know, marinate your mind in that. Now, when old John, the Apostle, got ready to say, “What is the message we heard from Jesus Christ?” He said very simply about God, “God is light and in Him there is no darkness.” That’s what John said; they heard from Jesus. Now, again, you kind of—I don’t know, could you preach a sermon on that? It would be worth a try, wouldn’t it? Well, I’ll tell you, I think that’s Hallelujah good news, really. Hey, nothing bad in God. It’s all good. See? I think that would do for a sermon but you might have some worries about it in which case, it would be hard to preach. [1:02:57]
Now, Clark’s statement here, I think, might help us a little bit with that but you know, if you were to say stuff light that in your sermon, everyone would leave. We didn’t come here to put up with something like that. [Laughter] But, you know, we could ease it to them a bit if we use the scriptural sources, then I think we can begin to really help people. And Jesus was very careful to lead His little group from His incarnate, visible presence to experiences with His resurrection body and with communications through the Holy Spirit.
About 2/3 of the way down on page 8, I think I ask you to try to check that statement. I think that’s really very helpful to understand how Jesus worked with His people. When He shows up and starts doing stuff, people don’t know what to do and a lot of them want to kill him and they say things like, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary and Joseph’s son?” What are they doing? They are trying to get their mind around this and there were some who were able to stay with it and He really paid attention to them and it wasn’t just twelve. Basically, it’s the group that shows up in the upper room in Acts 1. Right? Some wonderful ladies supported His ministry out of their household budget. He raised funds, Jesus did, you know? He was a fundraiser—very realistic—a rabbi; everyone knew what a rabbi was but boy, was He a weird case. So, He spends time teaching His people; He gives them some things they don’t know what to do with until much later. For example, He takes three of them up on top of a mountain and begins to “glow.” Now, you know, you want to be careful about glowing. You might frighten the horses. He lets them see and then when you go back and you read Peter, you find out that was really a big deal for them even though they didn’t know what to do about it. But, now He leads them and then He says things like “I am going to die and I am going to be resurrected.” Well, what’s He doing? You see, He is taking incarnate reality—visible reality and giving a meaning to it so that He can say, “Well, look, Thomas, he that hath seen me has seen the Father and from now on, you have seen Him and you know Him.”
At that point, Philip pipes up and says, “Show us the Father and that will be enough.” Well, what did he expect? What do you think Philip had in mind? You know that movie, Transformers?—maybe something like that. Then what would Philip have done with that, huh? He would run. Jesus is easing the reality of God incarnate to them. And then, you know, dying is a pretty big break in your history and then, here He is. And you know, He didn’t spend a lot of time with them apparently in the days between His resurrection and His ascension—just enough to let them know and then He would speak to them without being present. He would give them that old Jesus “heartburn.” They knew who was talking. It’s like the guys on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t know who was talking to them but they got the Jesus “heartburn.” Didn’t we know that’s who it was? [1:07:43]
So, as Acts 1 says, “He gave commands through the Holy Spirit.” You see, He was leading them on. He gave commands through the Holy Spirit and then one day, He just walks with them out on a hill and starts to levitate and He’s gone. [1:08:18]
But, where did the sound come from on the Day of Pentecost? From Heaven. Where had He gone? Heaven. Right? See, He very carefully makes all of these connections. And, where is He now? Well, He’s at the right hand of the Father. He’s going to come back from Heaven. “One you’ve seen going into Heaven will also return in like manner.” Now, I have a suspicion it isn’t going to be on a cloud or it will be an unusual cloud but still, you see, He makes all the connections—not because He’s a spatial being but because we need to make the spatial connections. We need that.
OK; questions, comments—I’ve mentioned here a lovely passage—the ark of communication. Do look at Exodus 29:44-46 where it is explained why there was a tabernacle. A tabernacle is a pretty grubby thing to tell you the truth. We can glorify it and that’s wonderful and all of that but if you had it in your back yard, you wouldn’t think much of it. Well, you know, If God showed up, then you might but that’s what it was all about. Do read those verses to see why there was a tabernacle.
Yes, Sir, Josh. What is the relationship between spiritual formation and the formation of the Christian community?
You can’t have the one without the other and if you try to have Christian community without Christian character, you will basically get the mess we are in today and you’ll have people running around trying to make community work on human abilities. It doesn’t work and if you don’t have a community of some sort spread out in time and space, the individual character will never form. See, that’s one of the fallacies that you run into with people saying, “Well, you know spiritual disciplines, well, that’s private.” No, it’s not private. All you have to do is know what they are and you realize that you can’t have spiritual disciplines moving to Christlikeness without a community. You have to have a community. For one thing, it’s basically love; you start with that and you find that the community is immediately drawn in through the second part of the great commandment. “You should love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, some of your neighbors are not Christians and some of them will be. They may be more difficult to love than the non-Christians. It often turns out that way. No, you have to have both. [1:11:24]
Do you think it is helpful to clarify having a priority over one or the other?
No, I don’t think so. I think what you have to recognize is—it is a zigzag. You will start within a community of some kind. See, you might think well, Moses had a burning bush; I’ll just go have a burning bush. No, no, no, Moses didn’t have a burning bush. That burning bush spoke from within the community of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and actually Moses had been down there 40 years before. You can’t have them but they will zigzag and sometimes they may look like there is a greater emphasis on one than another. I mean, take Ignatius Loyola, for example and you look at how he got drawn into St. Francis of Assisi. It looks very individualistic and it is certainly true that what Loyola and Francis both had a shot at being soldiers and it didn’t turn out very well and Loyola got a ball in his leg and he wound up re-habilitating but someone had given him the golden book—the golden legend—which was a compilation of the Saints and so, he is stuck in community through what he is reading and it absolutely revolutionizes his life. Right? So, then, now he’s off on a crusade and out of that comes another community. So, it’s a zigzag, I think and it doesn’t work the same for everyone. It depends on where they are, you know. So, that’s an important point, Josh. You can’t do one of those without the other. And, actually, you see repeatedly sad attempts to do that. [1:13:22]
Is Jesus showing us how to live in God?
Well, it is inevitable in the sense that we are going to have to deal with it or it is going to deal with us at some point. We are able to, in a manner, neglect it or rebel against it in time and really the first thing He says is, “Trust me.” So now you trust him and you step into the Kingdom of God. Now, from God’s side, that’s birth from above. If you don’t do something, it won’t happen. So now then, we’ve got all of the entanglements about grace and works and we will have to talk about those.
OK; let’s break for lunch.
“God, give us blessing with our food and help us know that it comes from your hand through the hands of many gracious and loving people that you have placed on this earth with us at this time. Help us to be knowledgeable and let us love one another and understand what that means as we spend our time here in these days. We would like to ask you to do this to honor the name of Jesus, your Son and to honor Him and cause Him to be lifted up in our world and so we say, ‘please, let it be done’ and Amen.”