An Unsettling Theme
by Rev.Larry Christenson
Have you had the experience of meeting old friends who nervously change the subject, when they learn you have had an experience with the Holy Spirit?
A person set in his ways can handle the idea of a distant God in a far distant heaven. But a God who is a living presence can be unsettling. Joseph Garlington, a Pentecostal pastor in Pittsburgh, was on the mark when he said, “The distinguishing mark of the Charismatic Renewal has been a sense of God’s presence.”
The Question of TRUTH
It is one thing to say something is true; it is another thing to declare something to be the truth. I might say, for example, “Jesus is the Savior whom God sent into the world.” If you believe in Jesus, you would say, “That’s true!” But if Scripture has shaped your thinking, you would not equate my verbal statement with the truth. Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). In other words, the truth, in a biblical context, is more than an accurate statement about something. The truth is bound up with a Person. When the truth engages me as an individual, it first of all means that I personally acknowledge who Jesus is, according to Scripture.
Secondly, the truth has to do with what Jesus is now doing. Jesus says, “I am the truth.” Not I was, or I will be, but I am. Now. Today. So when we talk about the truth, we are doing more than making an accurate statement about something, even something that has to do with God or Jesus. We are acknowledging that what Jesus is now doing is real, and it is right. One of the elder statesmen of the Charismatic Renewal, Ern Baxter, once said: “The Book of Job is written to tell you that God will do what He jolly well pleases, and you can’t work out a set of principles to accommodate everything God does.”
Truth linked to the living Person of Christ can be mightily unsettling to people who are caught up in the business of planning and living their own lives.
The Charismatic Renewal unsettles people because it takes a very realistic view of Scripture. When we think about truth in regard to spiritual things, we turn instinctively to the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word. It is unfailingly true. Every claim of truth must be measured against the plumbline of God’s written word. Furthermore, it is the authoritative revelation of Jesus, who is the truth. When it comes to divine guidance, Scripture is God’s centerpiece.
Yet here again God unsettles us. When our human reason and understanding reach out to embrace Scripture, Scripture dances out of reach. The Holy Spirit must show us how and when to apply the Word of God.
The Bible contains many truths and principles. Several Scriptures may address the same general topic, or area of life. The Bible, however, contains no formula for telling you which Scripture to apply in a particular circumstance, or precisely when and how each biblical principle should be applied. It tells us many things that God has said and done. But it doesn’t tell us everything that God IS doing, or WANTS TO do, or everything that He WILL do in every circumstance. If we think, or teach, that if we have the Bible we don’t need anything else to know and do God’s will, we are caught up in a dangerous half-truth. By itself, the Bible will not bring us into the flow of what Jesus is doing, or wants to do, in our life TODAY.
The same Holy Spirit who inspired those who wrote the Bible must inspire those who read the Bible. Waiting on His inspiration and guidance can be unsettling to people addicted to instant answers.
Consider something else that can be unsettling: someone’s testimony of personal experience. When someone shares his spiritual experience, he recounts what God HAS done in his life. That’s what it means to be a witness. Someone tells what Jesus has done, and how it has affected his life.
Yet we must see something here also. Our testimony can be absolutely true. God may have acted marvelously in our life. We may have experienced real miracles. Yet by itself, our past experience of God will not connect us, or those who hear us, with what God is now doing, or wants to do. God may have done things in our life last year, or last week, or yesterday. There is no law or principle that says He will do the same thing today, or tomorrow. If we think, or teach, that our past experience with God is a sure-fire method for knowing His will today, once again we are caught up in a dangerous half-truth. By itself, our past experience with God will not get us into the flow of what Jesus is doing, or wants to do, in our life TODAY.
Moses learned this truth at a critical point in his leadership of the people of Israel. With the Egyptian chariots closing in behind, and the Red Sea directly ahead of them, Moses declared to the people of Israel: “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance of the Lord. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on” (Exodus 14:13-15).
The miracles God had done in Egypt – while the Israelites stood by and watched – were not a formula for what He would do as they headed into the desert of Sinai. He is a living God, not merely a revealer of principles. He is altogether faithful, yet often unpredictable. He wants our faith to be the expression of the life we have together with Him, not simply adherence to laws and principles. Derek Prince, one of the fathers in the Charismatic Renewal, put spiritual principles in the right context: “There’s nothing wrong with a spiritual principle, as long as the Holy Spirit is the One who kicks it into gear.”
Having always to wait on divine initiative can be unsettling for active, goal-oriented disciples, but it is the only sure way to walk in the will and purpose of God.
The Holy Spirit
We need more than a word. By itself, a word is just talk. We need more than experience. By itself, experience is just a memory. We need to recall the word of Jesus: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth . . . when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 14:16-17; 16:13).
Jesus knows us very well. He knows that left to ourselves we can misunderstand the revelation of God, misuse it, twist and pervert it. We can have the Bible, we can have shelf after shelf of theological books crammed full of “pure doctrine,” but if all we have to apply Scripture is our human understanding and judgment, we don’t have enough. The Bible is more than a set of ideas to be grasped intellectually. It is a power to be enacted. It is one thing to understand the Word of God more or less accurately. It is another thing when that Word is anointed with power, when it actually accomplishes something.
The problem is not with the Bible, nor with correct doctrine, the problem is with us. When Adam and Eve sinned, it affected every part of the human personality. Our mental and intellectual powers are not exempt from the corrupting influence of sin.
If Jesus were like us, He would have spent most of His ministry refining and re-defining the Sermon on the Mount. But He knew that the word of God was a word not only to be understood, but to be enacted. He did not simply recite the Scripture, “The Lord is our healer” (Exodus 15:26). He actually healed people. His understanding of God’s Word was linked to the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said to His disciples, “The Holy Spirit . . . will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you . . . he will guide you into all the truth” (John 14:26; 16:13). We can know the Bible and Christian doctrine from one end to the other. We can recall God’s actions and miracles in times past, including in our own life. None of this by itself can guide us into God’s truth TODAY. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
When He comes upon us and finds us set in our ways, in all likelihood He will unsettle us. But in so doing, He re-settles us in the place the Father intended from the beginning, “walking with Him in the cool of the evening” (Genesis 3:8). In other words, finding the center and direction for our life in a day-by-day relationship with the living God.
Larry Christenson, Lutheran Renewal’s first Director, is a popular speaker and best-selling author of many books including the recently published, Ride the River, in which he shows how you can have a unique relationship with each person of the Holy Trinity. Larry will be giving a workshop on Friday at 1:30 pm at our upcoming Holy Spirit Conference.
Coping With Criticism
By Joe Johnson
I am learning to cope with criticism. Criticism goes with the job description for many vocations. Some criticism is fun teasing. An embarrassed woman talked to the pastor after a church service saying, “I hope you didn’t take it personally, Reverend, when my husband walked out during your sermon.” The preacher replied, “I did find it rather disconcerting.” She replied, “It is not a reflection of you, sir. Ralph has been walking in his sleep ever since he was a child.” A pastor named Ole was preaching one day and he asked, “Can everyone hear me in the in the back row?” Someone yelled back, “No!” Twenty people got up out of their seats and moved to the back row.
Being criticized goes with being a parent of a teenager. Teens have fun noticing peculiar things about us. My daughter, Anne, enjoys observing my idiosyncrasies. She has a personality temperament that notices details. She points out that I like to play with my cereal while I am eating it. One day she started laughing at me when she noticed my sermon notes. I had shaded everything in yellow, which seemed pointless to her. She laughs at me when I don’t remember the exact name of something. I just say the first word that I think of, like the restaurant I called, “Sweet Nothings” or was it, “Sweet and Sour”. Actually the name is “Sweet Orchards”.
Jamie Buckingham writes in his book, Coping with Criticism, that when he began pastoring he lied again and again to avoid criticism. He could not stand the thought of others disapproving of him so he would tell lies. Because Jamie was a writer also, he heard many words of criticism. He remembers his father quoting Sir Walter Scott, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” But Jamie wondered if Sir Walter had to contend with the criticism the way that he did. For years he did everything he could to escape criticism. Eventually he learned to cope with criticism.
About a year after I began pastoring at Grace, we introduced a contemporary service. One person went to different members in the church and recruited them to sign a petition to send to my bishop complaining about this service. During that time I would go to the post office and see a letter from someone who was upset and I would get anxious before I opened the letter. Some letters I would not read until later. During my first sermons at Grace, one person would write a note each Sunday with a score card – evaluating the message with a number between one and ten.
Moses and Jesus faced criticism. The children of Israel were thirsty in the wilderness because they had no water. They began another of their noisy demonstrations against Moses. Moses did not trust God and this kept him from the Promised Land (Numbers 20:1-12). When I am criticized, the toughest thing for me to do is trust God. I become afraid. I want to take things into my own hands and fix them. Jamie Buckingham writes, “Very few of us can receive heavy criticism without staggering. There is no way to escape some hurt when we are accused, especially if the accusation is accurate and hits one of our vulnerable spots”.
Why does criticism hurt so much? Because criticism is felt in our heart and our body. Jamie writes, “When our thumb is hit with a hammer, our body reacts. If the blow is hard enough, our stomach, lungs, mouth, throat-even the fingers that we did not hit-begin to ache and throb. So it is with receiving criticism. If the critic’s knife is sharp enough, or if he probes deep enough into our life style, we begin to hurt. It is an automatic reaction.” Criticism demands change. We do not like to hear someone tell us, “You need to change. No really, you need to change.” Change is not easy. We fight change.
What helps us cope with criticism?
Stay prayed up and rested up.
Most of us handle criticism fairly well if everything else is in good working order. But if we have had an argument with our spouse over the breakfast table, if a motorist shook his fist at us because we switched lanes in front of him, if our car broke down on the way to work and we had to push it two blocks to a service station, if we caught our coat in the door and tore off the sleeve and then our boss was waiting for us when we came in the door because we didn’t finish our report the day before-then we are liable to react. In fact, we may feel like punching our boss in the teeth, turning over his filing cabinet on his desk, and resigning our job on the spot. However, this is not reacting to our boss’s criticism. This is reacting to the garbage piled up in our life. I enjoyed viewing the video of The Kid starring Bruce Willis. Willis’ character discovers that painful experiences he had as a little boy affected his behavior as an adult. Being prayed up means asking the Holy Spirit to show us past hurts that need healing in order to be freed from their effect on us. Then when we are criticized, our reaction is in the present and not based on how we have been treated in the past. I also know that when I am not rested up I am much more likely to want to attack and retaliate when I am criticized. I read a story of a little boy who was punished by his mother. The child reacted in anger, and the mother locked him in her clothes closet until he cooled off. Instead of cooling off, he heated up. Finally the noise in the closet subsided and there was a long period when the mother heard nothing. She opened the door to check on him. He was sitting on the floor. “What are you doing?”, she asked. He looked up, his eyes still blazing with anger. “I’ve spit on your dress. I’ve spit on your coat. I’ve spit on your hats. I’ve spit on your shoes. I’m just sitting here waiting for more spit.” When I am not rested I may be looking for all the spit I have.
Remember that our goal in life is to be transformed into the image of Jesus.
Paul writes that God’s purpose for us is to be conformed into the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29). God uses tribulation to do that, including criticism. God used the criticism of Joseph’s brothers to deal with his self-centeredness. Joseph was the blessed son. His father gave him a robe, a sign; he would never wonder if his father loved him. It was a promise of a charmed life. Joseph’s coat came from Nordstrom, his brothers’ coats from the rack at K-Mart. Joseph was blessed. He knew he would always have his father’s protection. He endured when he went through trials. At the beginning of his life he is self-centered. God used criticism and trials to give him compassion for others. When he ends up in prison, Joseph notices one of the prisoners is having a rough day. He asks him how he is doing and interprets his dream. When Pharaoh needed a dream interpretation, Joseph was called out of prison to give it and he ultimately became the Prince of Egypt. In order for God to use criticism to shape us to become like Jesus, it means that when we are criticized we do not run away from relationships in anger. We keep fighting for the relationship to resolve conflict. Our goal is to reduce the time it takes from our point of reaction to the point of recovery-that is, the time from the moment of reaction when someone has criticized us to the point of recovery when we can listen to the criticism without rejecting the critic.
We pray, “Help us to see our critic as you see him, Jesus.”
The best example of coping with criticism is Jesus on the cross. To be nailed to the cross is the ultimate in rejection and criticism. Jesus received it by looking at His adversaries and seeing them the way they really were-ignorant, afraid and misinformed. “Forgive them,” He prayed to his Father, “for they don’t know what they are doing.” It helps me to remember that some people have hard-side love while others have soft-side love. Those who have lion (choleric) temperaments can be hard on people instead of hard on the problems. Sometimes prophetic- types can be hard on people. It helps me to remember that they are how God created them or the spiritual gift they have.
Face ourselves honestly.
There are two kinds of criticism: that which is justified and that which is not justified. Usually there is at least ten percent of truth in criticism. It helps us cope with criticism by assuming we are wrong and the critic is right. If we start with the premise that we are right, we will immediately be on the defensive. Often the critic is speaking out of his own hurt, or his own unhealed wounds. It helps if we can look beyond the critic to what is being said. I ask, “God, what are you saying to me?” The way to hear God’s voice through a critic is by opening ourselves to honesty. There are many things in my life I am not proud of, things I need to be criticized for. I ask for grace to openly confess to the other person and to God what needs changing. I may need to ask for forgiveness.
Establish boundaries with people whom we know are not trustworthy.
Jesus would not trust himself to some people because he knew all men (John 2:24). There are times when we say to our critics, “This is not helpful. I hurt when you say this. What you said is not true.” Jesus was criticized unjustly by his own family and the teachers of the Law (Mark 3:20). They said he was crazy. Others said he was demonized and expelled demons by the power of Beelzebub. Jesus responded to their criticism by asking, “How can Satan drive out Satan?” We do not receive unjust criticism into our spirit. We do not trust our hearts to those who are not trustworthy. We may need to separate ourselves from harmful words.
Ask God to use the criticism for good even when it is not true.
I remember Larry Christenson telling a story how God used criticism to help him write a book. When the charismatic renewal broke into the open in the early 60’s, several pastors in the Los Angeles area met to discuss what was happening. They were very critical. Larry told me that God used all their questions and criticism to help him write the book, The Charismatic Renewal Among Lutherans. Larry wrote in a recent e-mail, “Thank God for critics. They are your best friends. They require us to examine our lives more closely and ultimately drive us back to reliance on Christ, where we need to be anyway.”
Joe Johnson is senior pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Show Low, AZ. He will be presenting a workshop entitled, ” Healing Spiritual Abuse” on Friday at 3:15 pm at our August conference.
A Letter from Paul Anderson, Director of Lutheran Renewal
Dear Lutheran Renewal Friends:
These are exciting and critical days for the ministry of Lutheran Renewal. I say exciting because two ministries are about to be launched that will most likely have lasting impact on the Church-The Master’s Institute and the Association of Renewal Churches (ARC). In July, I will have been with Lutheran Renewal for six years. No season in the recent history of LR compares with this season now because of the bold new direction that we are taking. Applications are being received by students who are looking for a radically different way to train for ministry. And applications are going out to churches that are looking for a network of congregations that align with their convictions and values. The local Twin Cities pastors who are linked up with LR as a Renewal Advisory Team, are convinced that God will be using the ARC as a strategic move to help churches transition into the new things God is doing today. So these days truly are exciting!
But they are also critical. I’ve been in conversation this last month with several large Lutheran churches that are looking at their options to staying within the ELCA. The ELCA is facing ethical decisions that could very well determine how long it will survive or how long some churches can continue relating to it. This makes the ARC all the more strategic, both for those who stay in but are disenfranchised as well as those who may choose to leave and look for another home.
If Lutheran Renewal ever needed your prayerful support, we need it now. These months leading into the summer are consistently lower than at other times of the year. This year they are even lower, and at a time when the ministry is expanding significantly and when funds are needed more than ever. We need to broaden and deepen our financial base. For this reason, we are asking that our supporters consider a special gift to LR. We are also asking that people consider a long-term gift tied to their estate. We operate from month to month and season to season. A major gift could help us significantly with long-term planning, such as with staffing and office needs.
We believe that the ramifications of what we are doing in these weeks and months will be echoing in the Lutheran Church and beyond for years to come. That is why we are grateful for the generous support of our constituency. Pastors, if you value the ministry of Lutheran Renewal, please consider putting us on your budget. We have surprisingly few congregations that contribute regularly to us. Retired people: a gift of stocks can be a win/win situation, enabling you to avoid taxes as you invest in kingdom work. You will rejoice as you see your contribution used to change congregations, pastors, and communities.
Sensing the destiny of the hour,