Measuring Surprise and Delight

One of the great surprises for gardeners is the volunteer, those that blossom in unexpected places. Sometimes delightful, like the beautiful poppies that arise in my tomato beds, and sometimes not; the virtual maple forest that germinated in my backyard one spring required a lot of undesirable labor. The hundreds of little saplings were not all that surprising given the countless seeds that had dropped in the grass beneath the tree the fall before, but the flowers that sprout in the vegetable frames far distant from the flower beds are a welcome wonder. As every gardener knows, the appearance of these plants is not attributed to my work or intention; birds or wind or the coats of the dogs had serendipitously been the sowing agent that brought these joys to my soul.

There’s a similar joy found in the ministry of believers blossoming in unexpected places. What makes these unexpected joys stand out is that they are not where we expected them, and they’re  measures of spiritual movement that a stagnant church easily misses. Many churches measure their health and ‘success’ using a yardstick marked out in segments labeled attendance, budget and programs. When the pews and offering plate are full, and the program schedule grows more and more crowded, we celebrate ministry. When the opposite is true and fewer seats are occupied and the budget constrained, these measures of success move the pointer into the red. A sense of failure rises, soon followed by discouragement. This can lead to an unfortunate blindness to the power of God at work, especially where we least expect it.

Wild abandon is the natural state of the forest and the volunteer doesn’t stand out among its equally random neighbors. The volunteer in our garden is surprising because of its location. The seed that falls to the ground and germinates, even if carried a distance on the wing, is doing what it is designed to do, creating after its own kind [Gen 1:12]. If we as Christ followers are faithful in discipling others, we too will reproduce after our own kind and the fruit they bear (Rom 7:6) will be the natural result. This is the genius of God in making soul shaping a normal part of life and not a program. We teach by living out our beliefs (Dt 6:6-8; Mt 28:19) and shaping hearts as we walk along and when we lie down and when we rise.

We’ve become accustomed to looking for ministry results as an outcome of a program. If we have the right music and preaching style, worshippers will come. We pour into the children and teenagers so that they make it successfully to adulthood. Our discipleship, more often than not, has a start and end date where success is measured by a completed workbook. We need to look deeper though; we need to spy out the volunteers that have been carried by the wind to unexpected places. By the design of the Lord, this is where the measure of a spirit-guided heart is going to be found.

What of the ministry that a transformed heart started that now serves the community? What about the bible study conducted by folks who take their discipled souls south for the winter? Your ministry plan didn’t have a bullet point for either one of those activities. What of the fellowship that surrounds an elderly member who is by themself and refuses to let them be alone? This is the work of the heart surrendered to the Lord. Success is not measured by programs, the Lord measures it by heart and if your discipleship is transforming hearts, you never know where the spirit is going to take them next. Your church is never commanded to be the biggest or have the most programs. It is called to be faithful in shaping the hearts of Jesus’ people and then trusting Him to put them to work in the places we least expect.

Keep in Step with the Spirit by J.I. Packer

The Missing Element

In a blurb commending the book, Ray Ortlund says this about J.I. Packer, “When we face a debated theological topic, we need a guide who has no ax to grind, who is fair, honest, reasonable, and—above all—carefully biblical. We Christians do debate the ministries of the Holy Spirit. But we have a reliable guide in J.I. Packer.” I read that in opening the second of my 10 out of 5 books from 2021, and found small dispute with Ortlund on this point: Packer does take sides in debate. In the volumes that have enriched me, Mr. Packer always takes the side of the biblical text. Unlike so many other authors, he does not read his theology back into the text, instead allowing his position to be discovered inductively. This trait (exhibited by so many of our senior scholars and theologians) makes reading a pleasure and his positions trustworthy.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25

So Packer enters the theological scrum concerning a biblical understanding of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. His aim in this book is to restore the centrality of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a ministry that is often tossed and torn between the intellectualism of theologians and doctrine and unrestrained charismatic practices. Packer envisioned the book as a corrective to these extremes, a biblical call to Christians to restore the place of the Spirit and His gifts in their faith and lives. Unlike other authors that plant both feet in their camp and refuse to consider positions other than their own, Packer takes a much more irenic tone, insisting that the Bible speak louder than he does.

A point that Packer makes that is important for the reader to engage is that the Holy Spirit is not a discrete ministry on His own. The Spirit is inseparable from the Godhead and will always act in concert with the Father and the Son. He mediates Christ (John 16:14) to us. All the Spirit’s power and gifts are  Jesus working through the Spirit in us. It is in the self-effacing nature of the Spirit’s ministry that we gain the perspective to evaluate spiritual claims attributed to the movement of the Spirit. He will always be directing attention back to the Son, and anything that does not achieve that end is to be considered much more carefully.

The mediation of Christ to His people involves the Spirit in spurring on holiness in their lives. We often refer to this growth using the term sanctification, and it is yet another idea that gets drawn to the edges of the Church. In some quarters it is a practice through which we grow intellectually through Bible study and discipleship. At the other side of the yard, the term sanctification points to a growing perfectionism in behavior. Packer draws the idea back to the center, saying that holiness in the Bible is evidenced by growth in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit conforming us to Christlikeness and our pursuit of holiness is governed by our beliefs about the Spirit.

Packer takes this axiom to his examination of modern charismatic theology and practices, giving support where appropriate and critique where warranted. This evaluation includes a valuable chapter on different schools of thought and practice pursuing holiness. This part of the book is valuable from two different directions. First, when we locate our generalized tribe within the chapter it helps the Christian to see where their beliefs on this subject derive from. The reader that approaches the text fairly finds a second benefit in learning where other tribes have come from as well, preventing some of less loving criticisms that find their way into our speech. It seems to be Packer’s hope that brothers and sisters in Christ will find their own attitudes becoming as irenic as the one he displays in his words.

Keep in Step with the Spirit is a valuable contribution to the church and written at a slightly above popular level. It is worth every effort in working your way through the text, bible close by so you can read the many references in full context. More than reading the text and placing the book on your library shelves, let it affect your meditation on the Holy Spirit and His work in your life. He was never meant to be divisive within the Church. His ministry is to draw us all closer to Christ as we grow together in the Lord’s image. If this book contributes in some small way to unity within the body, Packer’s efforts will be the blessing it was intended to be.

Copeland$ Trouble$


Kenneth Copeland was captured on a congregant’s cell phone camera as he opened an actual Bible today, only to discover that it did not say anything about God blessing you with untold riches and a private plane. He quickly recovered, reportedly wiping his brow with a silk handkerchief and saying “God has told me that each of is to give $1,000 today! He said that I am to devote these gifts, glory, to the new Kenneth Copeland Bible Translation center, praise, where I’m going to, glory, glory, where we will produce a new, CORRECT translation.” Copeland’s head swiveled back and forth for a bit while he received a new word and, after taking a couple of deep breaths, he excitedly reported “It’s gonna be called the NRIDT … the New Rollin’ In Dough Translation!”

“And, for a gift to the ministry of just $29.95 you can get your own, gilt-edged, printed-with-actual-ink copy. For a gift of $100 or more to the ministry, Gloria and I promise to continue to prey on you…I mean, pray for you as well.”

Stop the Madness. This morning, as millions fire up their browsers, people are going to see the latest headlines about the Church. Not that a worldwide outreach has ended poverty or cared for every AIDS patient in Africa and America but instead, that Copeland ministries is under investigation for financial impropriety. Yet another ‘minister’ brings shame and question on the true gospel with little concern for the consequences. I’d be more impressed with the so-called prosperity gospel if the Copelands and their other buddies gave everything away and then had it all given back by God. That shouldn’t be risky at all, should it?

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Ti 4:3-5)

The Role of Glossolalia According to Lukan Theology «

Brian LePort has a great discussion going on regarding Glossolalia (Tongues) at The Role of Glossolalia According to Lukan Theology «. This is pertinent material if you’ve been reading the various views on Spirit Baptism that have been posted here.

Spirit Baptism: The Wesleyan View

Having examined the Pentecostal and Charismatic positions on Baptism in the Holy Spirit, is it necessary to further analyze the general Wesleyan tradition for its position as well? With both of these movements acknowledged as children of Wesley, it is often assumed that their views mirror those of the parent but as with human children, this is certainly not the case. The thread of Wesleyan thought runs through numerous ministries so it will be necessary to speak in generalities that may be superceded by doctrinal distinctives within a particular denomination. After all, Wesley’s influence runs through such wide ranging bodies as the United Methodist Church, the Nazarenes, AME, countless Holiness ministries, and the Salvation Army. It is also crucial to note that Wesleyan Christianity has been, and continues to be, inherently practical and its primary concerns have been the preaching of the message of Salvation and in teaching the principles of Holy Living (Buschart, Protestant Traditions). In other words, theology is the servant of ministry and the practice of theological inquiry is driven by the requirements of answering questions related to daily living as a Christian.

A hallmark of Wesleyan tradition is the ideal of Entire Sanctification; the call to live a life of sanctified holiness which manifests through loving deeds. The message of the Wesley’s, in John’s preaching and Charles’ hymns, is holiness. The work of the Holy Spirit in this is to transform imputed righteousness into imparted righteousness, that is, not only can one be set aside as holy through the saving work of Christ but one can become holy in day to day living. Wesley is quick to note that this process of sanctification or perfection, as it is sometimes called, is ongoing through the life of the Christian and does not meet its final conclusion until the moment of glory. It is here that the idea of Spirit Baptism enters the discussion though it is far from a universal topic. Most classical Wesleyans associate perfection/sanctification with a ‘second blessing’ or a distinct work of God separate from conversion. The Church of the Nazarene, for example, teaches that entire sanctification is “wrought instantaneously by faith, preceded by entire consecration.” (Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene) Especially in those traditions that were born in the 19th century Holiness movement, this second blessing is associated with baptism of the Holy Spirit. Verses that we have already examined such as Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 2:1-21 are found again to form the foundation of this belief in a distinct experience that is subsequent to conversion.

Holiness is the charism received by the Christian at the moment of this second blessing say the Wesleyans (contra tongues and prophecy). The Holy Spirit cleanses the believer from their sin, enabling them to live Christlike lives moving consistently toward greater holiness. By His grace and power, people are enabled to restore the image of the God of Love within them and present an image that cries “Be holy as I am holy.” The Spirit-driven process of ongoing sanctification is not only evidence to the Christian of the Lord’s work in them but a proclamation to the world that they too can partake in the restoration offered by the Loving God.   

Find other views on Spirit Baptism here.