All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)



Opposite Sex Friendship — a few thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the way that Christians, particularly singles in their late teens, 20s, 30s, think about opposite sex friendships and been wanting to write a blog post on the topic for some time.   The other night a male friend of mine (let’s call him Andrew) was telling me he was going to go hang out with a female friend of mine.   The guy is happily single, not looking for a girlfriend or wife at this point, and not interested at least not at this point in dating the woman in question.   The gal (let’s call her Samantha) is someone who has very openly talked about her desires to be married at this stage in life and her disappointment that she is still single.

guy girlAndrew and Samantha understand that Andrew’s visit with her is only for the purpose of friendship; that Andrew is not interested in Samantha as a romantic partner.  (In fact, they became friends when Samantha was “safely” dating someone else, but that relationship didn’t work out.)  But Andrew mentioned to me, “I do have to be really careful here, there is a real danger that she could develop feelings because she is looking for someone.”

Therein lies an issue.   Somewhere along the line, singles in the church have developed this idea that it is their responsibility to worry about whether or not their friends might develop feelings for them.   Often a guy won’t hang out with a girl if she wants to date him and he doesn’t, or worse yet, he won’t hang out with her (or her with him) if he’s not hoping she’d be interested in dating.  And what I have seen goes like this:

A guy thinks it is dangerous for a girl to like him if he isn’t feeling the same way.   So when he walks into a room full of new people, and a girl he doesn’t instantly feel physically attracted to comes up to talk to him, he’ll have a few standoffish small talk words in her direction and then quickly move on to talk to the gals he finds attractive, making long and sustained connection with them.


On one hand, there is nothing wrong with investing energy towards finding a spouse, and that would include spending time talking to people of the opposite sex one finds intriguing.   But the problem with this as a general way of being is that the body of Christ is more than this — whether one finds someone attractive or not the fact is that we are all sisters and brothers in Christ. 

This doesn’t get enough airtime from pulpits, and Christians don’t tend to approach other Christians on that level — they don’t tend to think about the spiritual relationship they already share with someone as being the most important aspect of any interaction they have, and then things like “mate possibility” as secondarily important.   But this is to the detriment of the body of Christ.

In “the world” — outside of the church — people who are in groups form “in-crowds” and “out-crowds.”   Many times this has a lot to do with social desirability, and mating desirability.  People cluster around charismatic, attractive, powerful, or affluent people.   Being in the “in-crowd” increases one’s odds of getting a highly attractive date.   And so on.    When Christian guys (or girls) only invest time, attention, and energy into friendships with girls (or guys) that are romantically or socially desirable, this cluster or “clique” dynamic appears in the church.    But the church isn’t supposed to reflect the value system of what flesh and blood tends to value.

The church is supposed to reflect a higher value system — that is, the worth of every individual to God, and the familial relationship that we all share in Christ of being true sisters and brothers to one another.

This familial relationship transcends even blood relationships — which is a fact that often doesn’t get taught or preached except in whacked-out cult groups that want to dissolve family bonds and reestablish the only important bonds as that of the cult group.  But while the cult groups are wrong in devaluing the importance of flesh-and-blood family as an important realm of relationship for folks, they are not wrong in recognizing that the Bible doesn’t speak of believers being “sisters and brothers” as some sort of unrealistic platitude, or just some feel-good short-hand for “members of the same Sunday morning club.”


Our sister and brotherhood in Christ is true, and it is every bit as “real” as the blood connection we share with our families of origin.   In this case, Jesus’s flesh being ripped apart and his blood actually flowing down to touch the Earth is the “real” blood connection that binds the family of God together.   We are all made of dust of the Earth, and as His blood dripped down to the dust we are all made of, it bound everyone who would believe in Christ into one bloodline — Christ’s bloodline.   Of course, not having his actual blood cells in our veins, it had to be made more apparent so thus we are also “adopted” into God’s family.

But these aren’t just pleasant platitudes, for eternity we will be the Lord’s family and brother/sister to one another.  Other generations and those in persecuted nations had a deeper grip on this, as so many of our brothers and sisters throughout history have mixed their blood together as they died for the Lord together in bloody shows of martyrdom.  And in those moments, no one cared whether they had the same sense of cool clothing style, or whether they liked the same authors, or whether they found each other’s hairstyle or body shape attractive.   We are one in Him in a way that goes radically beyond all that, and this becomes apparent when the same mice in a prison are nibbling on your toes together, or when our blood runs down into the dust as one together at the executioner’s sword.

In some sense, this is what we all want — not to be persecuted, but to experience this communion with one another.  At least those who truly have believed in Christ, somewhere in our souls beats this desire to see the body of Christ look like more than a nice, safe, “oh I know that person, I see them at church on Sunday” sort of relationship with one another.   Whose hearts are not moved by reading Acts about the believers selling their homes to be with one another, having all things in common, eating and praying together from house to house?  We want to share in the communion of saints in late night conversations, bearing our hearts, feeling the presence of God together and being rocked in the fear of the awe of the Lord; we want to make huge sacrifices for each other, to feel a little counter-cultural and radical and knowing that in a very real way we have each others’ backs and we would die for one another.

This doesn’t happen if our friendships are based merely on who we think we might want to have sex with one day and whose DNA seems pleasing to make children with.   If none of these lofty ideas cause one to consider being friends, real friends, with those they aren’t wanting to date, then consider this: often the person you aren’t attracted to might have friends that you would be attracted to.   Sometimes in our human weaknesses lofty ideas don’t cut it but practical down to earth ones make more sense.

Where am I going with all this?  No, it’s not good to lead someone on, to take up all their time and keep them off the dating scene because you, their opposite sex friend, want to hang out everyday and yet you’re not interested in dating them, but they have no idea.   Yes, that’s unkind and irresponsible friendship.

But while irresponsible friendship across gender lines does certainly exist, we need to get around this thing that says we wouldn’t want to be friends with someone we’re not attracted to because, gosh, they might develop FEELINGS for us and then we’re in the middle of a relationship we don’t want to be in.    I’ll ask the same question I asked above:  Where did singles get the idea that it’s a terrible thing if your opposite friend falls for you and you’re not into them?   Where did we get the idea that we need to hold each other at a distance, and run away at the first sign that someone we’re not attracted to is attracted to us?


adventure-1807524_640I want to call us up to a more mature view of friendship if I may.   A few years back I had this guy friend (we’ll call him Randall) who I developed a serious crush on.   Randall and I were fairly deep, heart to heart friends.   We had a sense of commitment to one another, that we were there for each other to walk each other through some pretty intense stuff we were both dealing with.

Eventually I told him I was seriously becoming attracted to him, and I think Randall’s attitude towards me was a gift of divine proportions.   He said, “Heather, I just don’t feel the same way towards you — though I certainly appreciate this, this, and this about you.  (Awesome when guys build their sisters up in the Lord.)   So I don’t know what you’re going to do about how you’re feeling towards me but I’m going to leave that between you and the Lord to sort out.   In the meantime, I am still 100% committed to being your brother and your friend.”

Randall gave me a gift of steadfast friendship commitment by realizing that my feelings weren’t his responsibility and they weren’t his to deal with….so while he wasn’t unmerciful like, “Don’t even talk to me about this…” he didn’t run away screaming either.   And I in turn took a bit of time away from him to get my heart somewhat clear (you don’t have to have “no feelings” to be clear enough to still be friends), and able to be around him again in a way that we could still reflect Christ to one another.

For a long time I have wished I could tell all the singles I watch running away from each other:  Guys, you don’t need to worry if someone you find unattractive finds you attractive.   You don’t need to hold them at arms length as long as you don’t deceive that person about how you are feeling and don’t take advantage of their feelings.   And gals, the same thing goes on our end – we don’t need to run away from a guy who “likes us” if we’ve been able to be honest and tell him we don’t feel the same way, and IF he is willing to respect our boundaries and not refuse to take our, “No, I just don’t see a dating relationship in our future” seriously.  The only guy I ever had to cut out of my life on this level was one who doggedly refused to take “no” for an answer, insisting God had “told him” I was his wife and that I was in rebellion to God for not listening.   I told him that no means no, and if he couldn’t respect that we couldn’t have a friendship.  But most of the guys that I have ever had a thing for, or who have ever had a thing towards me, still have an open door of friendship in my life to one degree or another.

But of course folks who have been “friend zoned” sometimes find themselves mutually falling for one another despite the fact that one or both of them originally felt that only friendship was in their future.   It’s OK to revisit a friendship conversation respectfully,  in something that might sound like this:  “Josh, I am not wanting to make you uncomfortable as I really value our friendship, I know we talked about this a year ago but I wanted to know if you still feel we are better off not pursuing a romantic relationship — but if you ever did want to date each other, I’m still open to that. But if not, I’m still going to be your friend and sister and I can’t wait to bless you and whoever you marry if it’s not me.”  And it’s also important to not keep hanging on to a friendship if you’re only secretly stalking someone waiting for them to change their mind, especially if you are getting in the way of them dating other people.   A really good test of whether or not a friendship is honest is whether or not you can introduce your friend to someone else they might want to date.   If you can do so, you might end up lifelong friends with someone you really value, married to someone else you really value — a win-win recipe for lifelong friendship that will have deep rewards for both you and the Kingdom.

This is maturity.  And it brings maturity to the body of Christ when singles — and married people who are friends with singles (another topic for another day) can still experience the richness of brother/sister communion in Christ.


(For further reading check out Forbidden Friendships by Joshua Jones,

or Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions by Dan Brennan.)

(As a footnote I especially want to recognize Dan Brennan’s writings about how in the ancient middle east, a brother was often the most significant and close relationship of a woman’s life, a concept we don’t generally consider when reading Paul instructing Timothy to treat young women as his sisters.  Sisters and brothers were not mere distant acquaintances.  Instead our relationships with the opposite sex in the church tend to be more like the way we relate to the cashier at the grocery store — pleasant, casual, and without any shred of intimacy.  The difference is extreme and fear-based.   But that’s for another blog post.)












A Defense of Church Consumerism

“Church Consumerism” is a term roughly defined as “shopping for a church family similar to how consumers shop for things in the open market.”

About a week ago I posted a blog post about how there is a lot of rhetoric that keeps people in bad churches, and keeps them from feeling freedom to look for a new one.  After I posted that post, someone on FB replied simply that he “didn’t like the defense of church consumerism” in the post.  Now, there are a variety of things that the term “church consumerism” evokes in peoples’ minds – for instance, going to a church just to take and not to invest anything of yourself or give anything is one thing that that term could mean – and I would agree that that is a very poor approach to church involvement.  But unfortunately, usually when I hear the term used it seems people are denouncing that churchgoers would dare be choosy enough to “find a church that meets your needs and best suits you before deciding to invest yourself there,” as if looking for a healthy and vibrant church experience is in and of itself too selfish to be spiritual.

That really got me thinking – I really don’t believe that I *had* defended church consumerism in that post, at least not directly.   But now that the idea was mentioned, I just couldn’t resist.   Ergo, I shall now begin this post as an all-out “Defense of Church Consumerism” – at least according to the latter definition of it in the above paragraph.   Why?  Because the meme that “picking a church that is spiritually beneficial to you – (ala, church consumerism) – is an awful, nonspiritual, wrong, detrimental thing which has no place in the life of a true disciple of Jesus who loves God and His people,” just seems like it needs to be dealt with.

If you’ve been living under a rock somewhere (a pleasant rock, mind you – I mean no disrespect to anyone who has found a nice, mossy, warm rock to live under) you may not have heard the term “Church Consumerism” and been exposed to the revulsion and fear that such a term is meant to evoke in your soul.   But for the rest of us, sans-rock, we have undoubtedly heard or read the term flung about as something heinous, evil – a vile thing to be avoided at all costs.   And that is because, sadly to say, I believe the term functions unfortunately as propaganda: the assumption being that any person with true spiritual principles at work in their unselfish soul would instantly recognize that “Consumerism” of almost any sort is a deadly thing to true Kingdom virtues, echoing with the tainted colors of such things as greed, materialism, self-centered decision making, and even *gasp*…capitalism.   It is, certainly nothing that anyone who follows Jesus should embrace as spiritually positive, no less to put it in the same phrase as the word “Church” which evokes the concept of community, a place to be poured out for and with others, a place to encounter Someone who so deeply transcends anything marketable, and a place of relationship with people.

Is there any room to be “consumeristic” in the face of such values as relationship and being part of a corporate expression of Christ on Earth, or in the face of something as ancient and holy as “the church?”  Without any further explanation, the person who merely mentions “Church Consumerism” has already made his or her point, simply by using that ugly second C word and pairing it up with “Church.”   Woe is us if we dare to have whatever internal value “Church Consumerism” could represent – that would make us one of “those” kinds of people, and we don’t want to be like “that!”

Except, this just isn’t right…on quite a few levels.   So let’s explore this negative presupposition for its assumptions and overlooked blind spots, starting with a look at “consumerism” from a spiritual angle.  For one thing, perhaps you’ve noticed that the moment I switched from pairing “consumerism” with the word “church,” to instead subtly pairing it with the word “spiritual” – it doesn’t sound quite AS bad: “Spiritual Consumerism.”   Still not a great term, but somehow a tad bit more in the realm of plausibly useful, viable, valid as an idea.   If you’re not agreeing that far with me yet though, hey, it’s ok.  Let’s just keep going.

If “spiritual consumerism” was indeed ok, or even sanctioned by God and the Scriptures, would that mean anything to the bigger discussion of “church consumerism?”  Of course church consumerism and spiritual consumerism are not completely the same thing, but are they related enough as to have a bearing on one another?    We’ll figure that out as we look at it.   For one – let’s define what we mean by “consumerism” – simply put, it has to do with making purchases or investments based on what one finds most valuable.   You are a consumer because you have the ability to buy things, and to make choices about what you will buy.  ConsumerISM has to do with being discriminating – choosy – about what you are purchasing, trying to get the best value for your money. Is this bad?

Here’s some verses where Jesus seems to encourage us to be wise “spiritual” consumers –

“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”  (Revelation 3:18)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)


I don’t want to belabor this to the point of ridiculousness – but I hope that it is obvious that at least the concept of being a wise consumer is present in these verses- particularly towards spiritual things – and is not in and of itself unspiritual.

So what then about “church” consumerism?

Part of the issue at the onset is confusing who we ARE as an expression of the Church with the various groups in a town that have their own structure, way of meeting, programs, and formats.   We all know that the Church isn’t about a program, and that we are the church – but when you pick a “church” to go to, you are picking a certain type of program, a certain way that people will get together every week to do things – during a Sunday service, for the most part, the show will go on much the same way whether the congregation shows up or not.

So, unfortunately if we put idealism aside –  when we talk about picking a church, realistically we’re talking about picking a format – a program, in which you get to have spiritual and social interactions that even allow you to experience being the church to any degree – and every church differs in what degree that occurs.  The bate-and-switch of this unfortunately in many cases, church is PACKAGED as a product – much like a private school is a product, or concert tickets are a product.    The program is designed a certain way for certain people’s sensibilities in the church – and those folks wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.  (Very few churches are just simple expressions of family and community walking together in Christ)  But then, even though churches are designed the way a product is – people are told they do wrong to be consumers and choose which one to go to.   There is something wrong in that logic.

Specifically, is it right to encourage people to berate themselves for looking for and going to a church that provides them with a sense of…
…edifying relationships with others?  
…opportunities to serve and use one’s giftings?

…leadership dynamics that are healthy and safe (rather than unhealthy and destructive?) …opportunities to gather where one is gaining experience with interacting with the Lord corporately, getting to know Him and His presence better?

People are in all different stages of maturity.  Spiritual maturity is represented allegorically as corresponding to stages of human lifespan maturity, so with that in mind, it is worth considering that as a human infant, one needs to be fed.   To tell an infant that he or she needs to feed his or her siblings and stop crying that no one is feeing him/her would be labeled as child abuse and that infant would probably be removed from the home, along with all of his or her siblings – as the state is a “consumer” to a small degree, making decisions about what homes are or are not appropriate for children.

Likewise, people who want people who were just recently born again and are therefore infants in spiritual things to “feed themselves on Christ and stop looking for the church to feed you” have a screw loose – or two.   Yes, even a newborn follower of Jesus can be carried by the Lord if all others abandon him/her, but do we really want to suggest that this is the way the Lord wants infants to get their start in His kingdom?   If someone isn’t “getting fed” by their church (whether by leadership or in their friendships in the congregation) and there is another church up the street that is doing a great job feeding new believers, why on earth would we be so brutish as to tell an infant that he/she needs to subsist on scraps and feed others?  After all, there is a difference between telling someone “go feed yourself” and actually teaching people how to feed themselves on the Lord – (which in the Kingdom, usually means learning how to eat corporately as well.)

But that isn’t even the main point.  Most people reading this are not going to be spiritual newbies.  You’ve been around, you’ve grown, you know a thing or two and hopefully you even know Him.   So here’s something to consider then: when we tell people that they don’t have a right to feel they want or need anything from their church, but their job is to suck it all up and be there to only to give – I believe we are actually encouraging them to have the very attitude that Paul tells the Corinthians is a wrong attitude to have: to say of the members of the body, “I have no need of you.”  Or rather, we’re encouraging people to say, “I have need of being in this church with you, even though I don’t need to receive anything from the body by being here.”

Do you ever notice that?  The same folks that will tell you how important it is that you are part of a church because you NEED the body of Christ and the body needs you, will tell you it’s wrong for you to expect to get anything from the body of Christ – that you need to go to Jesus for your needs, not the church and not other people.   Huh?  Isn’t there a contradiction here somewhere?

And yes, it seems spiritual and self-sacrificing to tell people to come to church to give and not to get, and yes, we want to equip people to be mature and strong “givers” of the Lord and His spiritual bounty to others.   But do we want to puff them up with pride by suggesting to them that they don’t NEED to be receiving anything at all from the church they are participating with, that having an “I have no need of you – because I’m a hand and my only role is to give to you” attitude is the right one.  It’s not.    Furthermore, we have no business encouraging people to be “givers” if we aren’t edifying and equipping them to be powerful, spirit-led, effective givers – and giving them authority in a church to do that type of giving.

So here is the question:  If you aren’t getting what you need as a hand, or an eye, or a foot, from the body you are gathering with – do you believe that the type of giftings that you can offer will equip the church you are gathering with to become the sort of group that WILL be able to give you what you need?  If not, you probably are not being a wise spiritual consumer.   Staying in a group in order to “give” of yourself, if the opportunities to give really aren’t there – while at the same time you are dying of need – is not being a wise consumer.  The first rule of being a rescuer is that you have to make sure that you can safely do so (in other words, you don’t jump into a swimming pool to rescue a victim of electrocution until/unless you can first turn the power off – otherwise you have no chance of saving them and sacrifice yourself to no avail.)

It’s ok to let bad churches die.   They need to.   Jesus goes into his vineyard and prunes branches that aren’t bearing fruit – this isn’t because he doesn’t care about people, rather, it’s because he does.   If you have a platform and the mix of relationships and giftings necessary to really turn a lifeless church around – then go for it.   But if you’re just staying somewhere because you’re afraid to go somewhere that actually meets your needs and wants lest you be a “consumer” – please rethink that.

I believe that healthy and strong leaders will actually encourage people to be savvy church consumers – because humble and mature leaders are ready to have everyone leave them and their group if their people would be better served somewhere else and if another leader or group in their town has a better handle on the Kingdom of God.   Good leaders are looking out for YOU, not for how many people they can get to resign themselves to feeling stuck being part of their group.

Jesus is worth being a consumer (or any other pejorative someone might throw at you ) about – and if you aren’t continually growing in Jesus with a church, there is no point to being there.  The body of Christ is the one and only place on this planet where everything is supposed to be about people growing in Jesus and being one in Him together – it’s not wrong to want the reality of that as your goal for your church experience.  “Go where you are getting fed, and have opportunities to grow in your giftings” is just good spiritual advice – if everyone followed that, we’d have vibrant and strong congregations all over the place – because as people get built up into the Lord and equipped in using their giftings, the entire church grows and edifies itself as it is meant to:

“…. grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”  Ephesians 4:15-16

Therefore, “church consumerism” in the body of Christ is to some degree our friend – it is one way the Lord weeds out groups that don’t function adequately AS the church, and strengths congregations that are doing great things in how they relate to Christ together.  And this is how it’s meant to be.  And congregations and leaders that have themselves been bad consumers of spiritual riches, will end up experiencing this downfall:

Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”

And that’s not because He’s mean.  It’s because He’s good.

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The Spirit in the Room

Years ago I had this friend, Stephen, who had this natural ability to turn any conversation into a real heartfelt conversation about God and Jesus, and I and another friend were hanging out with him one day as we all went to visit a friend who was undergoing some spiritual turmoil.   Her family had invited us in and told us all to go wait for her in her room, that she would be home shortly.   So while we waited, we prayed for her – and we asked the Lord to send His Spirit into her room to make Himself more real to her.

Not long thereafter, this gal came in and together we had a conversation about the Lord, where each person seemed to have something to share that flowed in perfect harmony with what the others shared.   As we spoke with her, I noticed what seemed to look like a barely discernable “mist” that filled the air, and as I took notice of the mist, it became more and more visible to me.    It seemed to sparkle, too, like this ambient light was filling the mist “particles” whatever they were, and as I paid more and more attention to this slightly glowing mist, I realized that the “light” seemed to glow not with some impersonal light, but with an extremely personable sense of affection and love, emanating from the mist.   Describing this sounds somewhat insane to me, even as I write it: how could a glow emanate something personable and loving?   These things just sound awful when one tries to put them into words, but this is the best I can describe what more or less is indescribable by normal terms, typical terms.   I have to admit though, at the time, I did not voice this experience to anyone: I was accustomed to spiritual experiences being highly individualistic, and assumed I was the only one there that saw such a thing, that anyone else would have thought I was nuts or lost in my own imagination.

So I was shocked, when upon leaving this gal’s house, Stephen immediately turned to me and my other friend, and exclaimed, “Did you see the Shekinah glory of God filling her room?!?!”   I was so surprised and gasped, “You saw it too?!?”  We asked the third friend who said she also saw the mist, although I wasn’t ever sure if she was just going along with what Stephen and I were sharing, or if she had really seen it also – but I knew that day that as individualistic as spiritual experiences can be, that they’re not ALWAYS private, individual, non-confirmable occurrences.

This was years and years ago; since then I have had many, many opportunities to be confronted with the presence of God in a room – with rare exception this has always occurred when people were gathered together to declare Him and His love in song (aka, to worship and pray together.)   There were many years of my life as a Christ-follower where I never saw or felt anything supernatural – during that time period, if you had told me then that you felt “the Spirit of God” during worship, I would have wondered firstly why I never could seem to share that experience, and secondly if you were just deluding yourself.   But something happened in between the time of my life when I “felt nothing” and the time of my life when I grew in an awareness of God’s presence among His people: and that was encountering the Holy Spirit not in a room filled with other people, but within myself.

It’s a long story for some other posting(s) to explain that journey, and how I came to know more what the indwelling Spirit of God was like in my own being; a journey that started with believing in the Messiah Himself and then asking, seeking, and crying out to know Him more – stumbling around in darkness wondering when and how He would turn the lights on for me, but still seeking, still reaching, still groping, knowing that there had to be something more than a “theory” of what it meant to have the Spirit come and live within me – that somehow this had to be something more than a belief or doctrine but an actual living experience.   I would read verses like this one:

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38) 

and wonder what this was describing, because even as a believer and follower of Jesus I knew that nothing which had happened to me thus far could be described in words like those.   So I went looking, and found that the Father was looking for me at the same time, to reveal His Son in me, to me, in a way that I didn’t know up to that point (and am still learning about even to this day.)

But this brings me to the point of this blog posting: that I believe there are two distinct ways in which the Spirit of God is made manifest to a believer.    And all too often, I hear and see my friends getting hung up on one of those two ways, while completely dismissing and misunderstanding the other of the two.    So to speak more clearly, there are two distinct ways (and these are not the only two, but for the sake of this discussion I am focusing on two) that the Holy Spirit frequently makes His presence known to those who know Jesus:

a) within themselves, in their own individual innermost being (in many various ways)


b) within a gathered, corporate expression of believers honoring Christ together

If you think about it, we know that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that this is true on an individual level.   You do not need to gather together with anyone else to alone be a temple of the Holy Spirit.   Jesus said this about Himself on a solitary, individual level, when He refered to His own body as God’s temple, and we know that this is true for each individual believer who receives Him into themselves.

We are each of us God’s temple.   And thus within ourselves, God can be communed with, ministered to, petitioned, and each of us can be led by the light of His Spirit within, on an individual level.    In the Old Testament, God sending His Spirit upon an individual is a recognized occurrence; sometimes New Testament believers will make a distinction about whether God wants to position Himself “upon” or “within” someone in the New Testament sense and whether or not there is a difference between the impartation of the Spirit to a person upon the initial commitment to Christ in one’s life, or sometime thereafter, but regardless of these discussions, most believers agree that the Holy Spirit is available to any individual believer in one sense or another.

I think one issue however with the Lord dwelling among us individually is that for some individuals, their only experience of the presence of God has occurred almost always in corporate settings.  Even their individual sense of His presence is only found when they meet with others to sing and pray.   For a new believer, this isn’t immediately a problem as gathering with others can be like “training wheels” as they first recognize their ability to sense the Spirit in environments where others are setting the spiritual tone for them.   Being in a corporate setting can help one to recognize not only the Spirit as He moves in the midst of music or sharing in a group, but also to become more sensitive to what He is like within the individual.   But for some people, they remain dependent exclusively on the others in the group to manifest the presence of Spirit for them; and this is problematic; it is essential that each believer is uniquely aware of the Spirit of God in such a way that they are not depending on others to know Christ by the Spirit.

People that are struggling with this dynamic are often very upset if something happens during a corporate meeting to distract from enjoying Christ together, and are not easily able to follow the leading of the Lord through disruptive situations to the corporate situation.    For instance, if a nonbeliever is visiting in a small home meeting of Christians, and behaves in a way that is insensitive to an awareness of the Spirit of God – or if he or she has conversation with someone where the conversation does not focus on spiritual things, a believer who is not able to tap into Christ within themselves individually may not know how to extend grace and love to someone who has disrupted their corporate worship or sharing time, instead considering that person a trial or a tribulation.   One who knows how to experience Christ within however is not dependent on an outward experience of Christ in a group to be edified or to have the wherewithal to give something of the Spirit to someone who doesn’t know how to see or touch Him yet;  and there are many more reasons why it is essential that every believer be fluent in experiencing the Spirit of Christ for themselves without being dependent on gathering with others to tap into His presence among them, at least not most of the time.

If one is dependent on the “corporate anointing” to experience the Spirit, one does not mature in their own ability to edify others, but remains a consumer of what others in the body bring forth to edify them.  (Unfortunately, most churches are set up so that during the Sunday service particularly there is very little opportunity for anyone other than a few select people to exercise their giftings for the edification of others, and so people remain mostly consumers of the religious services offered to them, and the Lord still does make Himself manifest corporately from time to time in these settings; but I do believe that the more the church makes opportunities for people to go from being mere consumers to those who actively edify others that the corporate presence of God experienced in meetings of the body will increase in frequency and magnitude.)

This well known scripture, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 demonstrates the difference between a group of people where believers are enjoying God’s presence corporately for themselves but unable to adjust to bringing forth a deeper measure of Christ individually, in contrast to a group of people that know how to listen to the Lord individually and make Him known corporately from their own individual reserves.  When the latter is the case, out of a place of growing maturity individual believers can bring forth treasures from Christ in such a way that even a nonbeliever with undeveloped awareness of the spirit-realm can see that He is among them corporately:Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature….If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”

But aside from the drawback of being fixated on a corporate experience at the expense of the individual experience, one can see that is a great deal of validity to being able to relate to His presence as a gathered people as well.   For instance, while it is completely scripturally valid to think of each individual Christian as a temple of Christ, we also know from scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 6:16, that we are a corporate, collective temple as well.   Also, 1 Peter 2:5 talks about each believer being a living stone, built TOGETHER into one spiritual house.   Thus there is a sense in which the Spirit of God can fill not just us as individuals, but also us as a gathered, corporate expression of faith in Christ.  

In the Old Testament, God coming “among” His people is a persistent motif:

  • Him coming among them (Leviticus 26:12-13)
  • walking in their camp (Deuteronomy 23:14)
  • going ahead of them and leading them corporately (Exodus 13:21, Exodus 33:14, Deuteronomy 31:8) and
  • His desire to dwell among them as a people, corporately, in the New Covenant (Ezekiel 27:37).
  • There is also a motif of the glory of God coming in a rather demonstrative way and filling His temple (*1 Kings 8:11, *Ezekiel 10:4, *2 Chronicles 5:14, *2 Chronicles 7:1-2, Ezekiel 43:5 & 44:4)

and translating this to the New Testament, remembering that we are not just individually temples, but are corporately a temple, it should be no surprise that the presence of Christ can be experienced corporately when believers gather together to minister to Him and each other.

Now, I have heard many objections to this whole idea.   One common objection is the idea that God being experienced corporately is an Old Testament thing, not a New Testament thing, because Christ has made it possible for the three-in-one God to dwell within each of us.   While I agree, obviously, that the work of the cross and resurrection and ascension of Christ has huge ramifications for the accessibility of the Spirit, I think it is a misconception that a *corporate* experience of God’s presence is uniquely ‘Old Testament.’ For one thing, an *individual experience* of God’s presence is very much an Old Testament occurrence so why do we believe that the distinction made by the New Testament is a matter of individuality vs. corporate life?   I think this is a mistake.

Another objection I think also to be a mistake is to believe that because God comes to dwell inwardly within an individual under the New Covenant that this means all outward experiences of God’s presence (which a corporate experience is in some aspects) are no longer valid.   The reality is that if God dwells in me, but He is also dwelling IN you, for me to experience any aspect of communion with you in that same Spirit requires me to experience something outside myself – to experience a communion shared BETWEEN us, not only within myself.  This can happen on many levels; I do not in any way mean to suggest the normal and presumed means of us experiencing His presence together will be to see a sparkling mist of love filling the room (although that is certainly one way I have personally experienced His presence being made manifest corporately on less than a handful of occasions) but experiencing His presence IS something that in one way or another is not a rare occurrence by any means – and learning to be sensitive to the Spirit within oneself sharpens one’s spiritual senses for discerning Him, via the inner sensitivity to His love or voice or glory or light or wisdom or movements, etc., to that same Spirit when He does things in the midst of a group people as well.

No, I think the largest difference between what we see in God filling the temple in the Old Testament, versus what He does when He fills His temple now, is that the temple NOW is not a building made of stone, but is now a building of LIVING stones.    If God comes and fills a room, He’s not filling it because He has a thing about “rooms” as much as because He is meeting in a  with the people gathering there.   The motifs of the Old Covenant have become realized in flesh and blood more than in stone and mortar; in a very real way we have become the stones, and this was what He was after all along anyway.   Even in the Old Testament God was still hanging out with people; in the New Testament He does this even more so, in an even much more relatable way.   Christ has come as the incarnation, the “God with us” of the Father, and we have been caught up in this in such a way that even we have been transformed into the very incarnation of Christ, brothers together with Him.  (1 Cor 6:15, 1 John 4:17, Hebrews 2:11)

Unfortunately many New Testament scriptures that reference God’s Spirit being among us as a group are scriptures that refer to His presence among us specifically to deal with matters of sin, but nevertheless the testimony of Scripture is that He does meet with us corporately.

“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matthew 18:19-20 ESV)

When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus…” (1 Corinthians 5:4 ESV; Paul’s Spirit is present in the gathered assembly by extension, unity, and association with the Lord’s Spirit…)

The fact that these verses however refer to judgment and discipline is actually helpful; because to establish a matter in a court of law according to the law of Moses required 2 or 3 witnesses.   Therefore there is something hidden in these verses that is wonderful – the concept that it is not just when people come together that they find Jesus present corporately, but when people come together for the sake of witnessing and testifying to something of the Lord that He is somehow “present” in a way beyond the general sense of God being present ubiquitously in the universe.

Another way in which believers testify of Christ’s reality is through their good works, their actions in the world.   This testimony of Christ is compared in Scripture to a lamp, placed on a stand where others can see it.

“….nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16 ESV)

This lampstand then comes to represent the testimony of believers about who God is, spread their good works, in a region or vicinity where a church is found.   This testimony then results in praise, people “glorifying God” in response to what they see and hear.  It is this combination of one group testifying to another group of people, which then results in praise, that makes up the lampstand motif – and this lampstand motif is then used for another image in Scripture which demonstrates the unique presence of Christ that is present among believers in a corporate sense, when believers are shining forth a testimony of who God and Christ are to their neighbors through their love and care for those around them, resulting in praise.

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. ” (Revelation 1:12-13)

Christ is present “among the lampstands.”   This is different than an individual experiencing Christ within themselves, this is a unique way that the Lord is present, found “in the midst” of what a collective group of people say and do together regarding Christ.

When a group of people remembers the character and works of the Lord together – how they’ve seen Him in their lives, and in the lives of others, and how they have experienced His testimony in their own life and the life of their community, this is meant to result in “praise and glory to God.”

Charismatics are fond of the verse, not without cause, that says, “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” (Psalm 22:3 – People often paraphrase this as “God is enthroned on the praises of His people.”)  As overused as this verse can be, there is a validity to how the glory and presence of the Lord is made manifest among those who declare, honor, and remember His goodnesses together.   The testimony of the Lord expressed corporately, whether in song, outcry (“Come Lord Jesus!” aka, Maranatha!) or sharing the life and truth of who He is (such as my friends in the opening story of this blog) provides an environment in which the Spirit of Christ can agree and make Himself manifest and known more fully to those who look to Him for His appearances.

 If you sow to the Spirit, you reap from the Spirit, and this is not only a personal truth but a corporate truth as well – filling the atmosphere of our shared time together with words expressed from open and hungry hearts turned towards Him is like lifting up the loaves and fishes towards Heaven and suddenly finding that there is more in the baskets than what one started with – more to eat of Who He is than what was brought to the meeting originally by the participants.  

What is the whole point though?   Criticisms of “worship times” where people seem to be worshipping to “get something from God” or “have an emotional experience” of some type are not entirely without merit, although they are often unduly critical of those who simply enjoy meeting with God.  But really – is it wrong to get one’s sense of fulfillment and pleasure from experiencing the actual presence and glory of the Living God?   If so, what *is* the acceptable thing in life that a human may rightly derive a sense of joy, fulfillment and pleasure from?

Some might say He is worthy to be honored and glorified for His own sake, regardless of what we might enjoy or not enjoy of that – and this is true – but if one finds themselves deeply enjoying honoring and glorifying Him, and also finds a taste of Heavenly realities such as the glory and presence of God Himself – and responsive feelings to tasting those realities here on Earth – is this really so unseemly?

We all have seen worship meetings though that seemed to be filled with emotional and musical hype, even manipulation.   These are real issues for the body of Christ to reckon with as it seeks to meet authentically and in reality with God, and give Him praise, and honor, and hunger, and love, as a gathered group of people.   But the hype driven, or manipulative seeming music or styles are not by any means the real crux of the story here.

The reality of this story is that we pray for the Kingdom to come to Earth – and while there are many, many facets to what this means one thing that it means is this:  Each one of us has a heart of flesh, taken from the dust of this Earth – and that is one place that the King, and the Kingdom, is meant to come.  He does that via His Spirit, which is His presence.

And, not only that, we are a people, a nation, a temple here on the Earth.   And if His presence doesn’t come and dwell among us when we gather together, how do we hope for His presence and His Kingdom to be made manifest anywhere else on this planet?   Are we not, as those called by His name, ground zero for His appearances?   What is it we partake in together as one body – is it only “truth” and “ideas” and “ways of life” or is there a facet of God coming to us, like the morning dew, or sometimes as a mist, or sometimes as a sense of His personhood, or sometimes as a Song, or as fresh revelation of His word to us, or in many other ways, is He welcome among us as a group?   I hope we can say yes.   Yes to Him, in however He makes Himself known to us – individually, or corporately, or any other way known to man.

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