14. Holy Oil

Then you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle (place of worship) and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it shall become holy. Exodus 40:9 NRSV
This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Exodus 30:31-32 NRSV
Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said, “LORD has anointed you ruler over his people Israel.” 1st Samuel 10:1 NRSV
I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him. Psalm 89:20 NRSV

An Overview

Beginning with the Covenant with the Hebrew people and by the divine plan of the Holy, the first formalized hosts where the presence of God would dwell among the Jewish people would be the Bread of the Presence and the Sacred Oil.
These two hosts and the practices that surrounded them are some of the oldest sacred activities in which the Living God becomes present among the faithful individuals through the prayers and ritual of the clergy and the assembly of the faithful. These rites and practices were instituted by God in the establishment of the Covenant with the Hebrew people through Moses and they continue to this day in both Judaism and Christianity.

The concept of using oil for religious purposes has been around for as long as humankind has had desired for formal rites. Many cultures throughout the world have used oil for ritual purposes and the Hebrew community through the Mosaic Covenant has used Sacred Oil for healing, anointing kings, objects, priests, as well as for other events in the life of the Jewish people for centuries.

In both the Jewish and Christian communities an object or individual becomes sacred when anointed with oil by an appropriate person. In this context the act of placing hand(s) on a person is the act of consecration (commissioning) and the Spirit of God within the oil makes the object or person holy. [1]

The Early Christians

In light of their Jewish background it is no surprise that the apostles of Jesus the Anointed would recognize the Sacred Oil as a host of the Spirit of God and continue the practice of using it for ceremonial purposes (especially in the Christian Mikvah of Conversion and in healing rites).

Like the early Christians of yesterday, Christians of today consecrate the oil as a host of the Holy Spirit by a bishop or for Protestants a presbyter/elder on Thursday of Holy Week and afterwards is presented in containers to appropriate clergy for use in their ministries. While these Christian leaders may consecrate oil at other times throughout the year, Holy Thursday is the traditional date to do so.

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. James 5:14 NRSV

In the Christian ceremonies in which the anointing the oil is used, a cleric uses the oil to make a cross upon the forehead of the recipient of the rite. While throughout the history of Christianity this anointing has produced healing and even miracles, the healing of the body is not the initial purpose of this anointing. The primary purpose of this anointing is to strengthen and comfort the soul of the individual who is weak and ill, so that the soul may become strong and whole through the comfort and sacredness of the Spirit of God.
Modern medical professional acknowledge that for an individual to properly heal they first need a strong and healthy spirit (soul) within their being and therefore treating the soul provides a person with a foundation for either human healing or for the ultimate healing – our union with the Living God (death).

When Consecrating a Priest. You shall take the anointing oil, and pour it on his head and anoint him. Exodus 29:7 NRSV

When ordaining clergy, Christians follow the basic concepts of the Mosaic Covenant and the teaching of Jesus the Anointed One, in that the leadership lays hands upon the candidate (the commissioning) and then the candidate is anointed (making sacred), therefore setting the person apart for the ministry of Word and Sacrament (presbyters).

From these two examples we can see that Christianity of today has an unbroken link to the Mosaic Covenant and a bond with the apostles of the Anointed One. From this foundation, Christian clerics can present the sacred for times of celebration and for those times when an individual is personally in most need of it.

In Closing

The Sacred Oil has been used for the benefit of the faithful for centuries and has strengthen many through receiving the comfort that comes from the Spirit of the Living God. While the Sacred Oil does not nourish and sustains our souls, because that is the Mystery of the Bread and Wine, it does offer our souls comfort and renewed sanctification through the union of humanity and the Sacred. Thanks be to God!

An Old Family Recipe: You shall make it an oil of Holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the perfumer: it shall be a Holy Anointing Oil. Exodus 30:25
You shall make holy anointing oil. Twelve pounds of liquid myrrh. Six pounds of cane. Six pounds of cinnamon. Twelve pounds of cassia. One gallon of olive oil. Exodus 30:23-24

Written by Dave Pflueger April 6, 2011 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTE: Exodus 40:9

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13. A Holy Life: Christian Deification

Go East Young Man

The Orthodox Study Bible that is published by Nelson has a wonderful notation in the Letter to the Ephesians under chapter one on this subject. “Everything comes from God and everything should be drawn back to Him. God’s original intent for the Incarnation was not redemption from the fall (original sin) but adoption as children of God, that is, deification. For when the God contemplated creating the world, He planned on bringing it into union with Himself through the Incarnation of His Son, that is, through the Son’s union with human nature.” [1] Now that we have introduced the subject let is explore what deification is. The theology of Christian deification is an ancient principle that is still a living concept of the fabric of the Byzantine Christians. Among some Protestants deification is known as “Sanctification.” In Christian deification one becomes like God, but not God. From the book of Genesis we receive the foundation for the theology of deification, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” [2] In other words, if God was a star, we would not become the star, but the glowing brightness of the star. Therefore, Christian deification is not the end of a processes, it is the process itself; a journey toward the presence of the Living God (the further we go the more we glow). In the Book, “My Utmost For His Highest,” Reverend Oswald Chambers describes sanctification (deification) in this way, “Sanctification means to be intensely focused on God’s point of view. It means to secure and to keep all the strength of our body, soul, and spirit for God’s purpose alone.” Robert Gromacki said this about sanctification,Progressive sanctification is the process by which he can be set apart from a sinful walk to a holy practice.”

Augustine: Great Man – Wrong Ideas

Ever since Saint Augustine developed the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin (a.k.a. The Doctrine of the Depravity of Human Nature) western Christianity has had to deal with what he wrote. However, from the Ascension of Christ to the writings of Augustine the Councils of the Church never formally accepted or even seriously entertained the thought of such a doctrine. Today, the Byzantine Christians still have not accepted Doctrine of Original Sin by Augustine and think of it as liberal western theology.

Nonetheless, the early Church fully and completely understood the meaning of depravity; that is – corrupt acts and practices. These transgressions are centered in human beings misusing their God given gift of Free Will and choosing to separate themselves from the Holy by making wrong choices and therefore rebelling against God. While Free Will can be at the center of human rebellion, it does not change the fact that we are born with original purity and created in the image of the Holy and thus we are filled with the inward and spiritual grace of God.

A Personal Relationship with the Holy

Our own personal deification continues to develop and grow as we draw nearer to God and this relationship deepens our spiritual life as well as our relationship with God and all that God has created. At the heart of our relationship with God is the love that God has for humanity and for all that God has created. Moreover, this Holy Love is the first and greatest Sacred Mystery that humankind can experience on a daily bases. Love is the center point of God, and from this point came our pure creation in the image of God. The Almighty God is the lover of our souls, and desires us to move into a deeper relationship with us. God does not desire to be separated from us and always wants us to return to the warm and embracing hold that only the Holy One can offer humankind.

Here, O Israel: LORD is our God, LORD is One! You shall love LORD your God with all your heart, and with your soul, and with all your strength [3] and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [4] It is through our relationship with our God that our relationships with our neighbors can begin. It is in our relationship with God that we grow and develop our humanity. It is our relationship with God that we become more knowledgeable of whom we are as individuals. And it is through our relationship with God that we receive and share the seen and unseen Sacred graces and blessings from God. With a focus on committing our whole being to loving God, our neighbor, and living a moral life, we gain more and more insight to what purpose that God has in mind for us, in addition, as the purpose becomes clearer, we will know both our mission and the ministry that will serve as the vehicle for the purpose. This insight will come through our prayerful meditations and our devotion to our relationship with God.

A key objective of |Judaism| is the sanctification of life. Every moment ought to be suffused with the awareness of God and with moral fervor.  Basic Judaism by Rabbi Milton Steinberg.

Scriptural Reflections on the Christian Deification

Genesis 1:26: “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.

Matthew 5:48: Therefore you should be prefect, just as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.

John 1:132: As many as received him, to them he gave authority to become the children of God.

James 1:4: Let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and whole, wanting nothing.

According as his divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the moral corruption that is in the world through lust.

And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue add knowledge; And to knowledge add temperance; and to temperance add patience; and to patience add godliness; And to godliness add family kindness; and to kindness add charity.

2 Peter 1:3-7: For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 John 2:5: Whosoever keeps God’s word, in them truly is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that are in God.

Written by Dave Pflueger March 1999 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTE: [1] The Orthodox Study Bible – Commentary on chapter one of Ephesians. [2] Genesis 1:26. [3] Deuteronomy 6:4. [4] Leviticus 19:18

12. The Holy Mikvah

12. The Holy Mikvah

A principle of the Jewish faith is that everyone is born with original purity and as an individual travels through life they are soiled by life and bad decisions that they have made. Through the ceremonial washing of the Mikvah the individual may be cleansed of the dirt of sin and the stains of life. This article will focus on conversion and repentance Mikvah rites. It should be noted, that in the context of the Mikvah repentance, purity, and spiritual renew are interwoven with each other.

Section I: The Mikvah of Repentance

Numbers 19:20 NRSV: Any who are unclean but do not purify themselves, those persons shall be cut off from the assembly, for they have defiled the sanctuary of LORD. Since the water for cleaning has not been dashed on them, they are unclean.

Psalm 51:2&10-12 NRSV: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Ezekiel 36:25 NRSV: I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from your filthiness.

As a part of any positive religious maturity, taking ownership of one’s own impurities and mistakes is a major first step towards to a stronger spiritual state. Therefore, regardless of which Mikvah is going to be observed – an individual should take time for some serious spiritual preparation before the rite. This time of preparation should include personal reflection and meditation. An individual could use this time of preparation to foster a personal sense of religious maturity and find a spiritual discipline that can govern them. John the Forerunner addresses false preparations when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his Mikvah, he said to them, “Snakes, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” [1]

Through water you are cleansed and through water God forgives you. “They were being immersed by [John] in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins? [2] The basic concept of the Jewish Mikvah is that an individual would be immersed in water and this water removes the impurities of the individual and therefore restoring the individual to a proper relationship with God. Therefore, through the Mikvah the water restores an individual to a pure state. While John witnessed the confession of sin, he did not provide an absolution for the sins – the water of the Mikvah provided it. In other words, the water of the Mikvah provides the absolution and not the words of a cleric.

The respected level of individual sacredness that the Jewish Mikvah offered was not lost on Jesus the Anointed One, he chose to begin his public ministry by first becoming ritually cleansed, not unlike what the Jewish priest would do before beginning their service at the temple. While the ministries of Jesus were not to the temple but to humankind, he still honored and respected the place of the Mikvah in the life of the Jewish people. According to the Life Application New Testament Commentary “Jesus was immersed: (1) to confess sin on behalf of the nation; (2) to accomplish God’s mission and advance God’s work in the world; (3) to inaugurate his public ministry to bring the message of salvation to all people; (4) to show support for John’s ministry; (5) to identify with the penitent people of God.”  While there is no evidence of it in Scripture or in any other writings, most scholars and myself believe that Jesus begun this Mikvah for repentance by offering some kind of general prayer of confession on behalf of humankind and afterwards was immersed in the water, after which God the Father announced the true identity of Jesus (A voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased with.” [3] Throughout his adult life Jesus had not acted contrary to any of the Ten Commandments, therefore he was without sin and free of guilt. Through submitting to the repentance rituals he stood in solidarity with humanity, even if it meant that in “appearances” some would see him as sinful and unclean and therefore requiring a Mikvah.

Within the purity of the nature of Jesus we can see what was happening in Matthew, “Then came Jesus to John, to be immersed by him. But John protested to him, saying, I have need to be immersed by you.” [4] John truly believed that Jesus was already ritually clean and pure, thus he felt it was only proper for him to confess his sins and receive a Mikvah for repentance from Jesus and not the other way around.

A Mikvah Prayer
Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and requires us to observe this ritual of immersion.

Concerning Regeneration. Regardless of who we are, our entire life is an on-going process of spiritual renewal and the restoring of our relationship with God. Within this context, renewal and restoration are Sacred Mysteries in and of themselves and are part of the journey of life. Through the Mikvah we are regenerated to another kind of restored relationship with God – in that we are regenerated to a more worthy state than our mere human existence can ever imagine or fully comprehend.
With this said, does this mean that the Makvah is void of any kind of lasting regeneration? No! Through the water of the Mikvah we come forth from the water free of the weight that we once had. The weight that made it difficult and troubling to go forward is gone. It is now a memory that is allowed to fade, it has no teeth and no claws upon our thoughts. However, if you choose to still hold on to them, they will still trouble your mind. So the wisdom of the sage still holds truth, does your convictions and emotions own you or do you own them?

Section II: The Christian Mikvah for Conversion and Unchanged Basics

Exodus 30:25 NRSV: You shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.

Leviticus 812 NRSV: [Moses] poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him.

Matthew 28:19 NRSV: Immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

John 3:5 NRSV: Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

Acts 2:38 NRSV: Peter said to them, “Repent, and be immersed every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you shall receive [5] the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 8:14-17 NRSV: When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been immersed in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands [6] on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:5-6 NRSV: On hearing this, they were immersed in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands [7] on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them

Apostolic Council, circa 50 A.D. (The Didache): Section Three: Now about immersion, immerse this way: after first uttering all of these things, immerse in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit in water.

The Synod of Laodicaea: Canon 48: Those illuminated shall be after immersion be anointed.

A conversion rite with a Mikvah was first practiced by Judaism and then the Christians adopted this as one of their rituals. Both faith communities hold to the principle that a person receives the Mikvah associated with the conversion rite only once in their life time.

The basic Christian conversion rite and its Mikvah has not changed in over fifteen-hundred years. The first event in the ceremony was an examination of the candidate. The point of this exam was to test his/her sincerity about joining the religion. The next event was a Mikvah. It would wash away the impurities and restore the individual to their original state of purity through the cleansing water of the Mikvah. The next event is the anointing with the Sacred Oil, the purified individual comes forth from the water and is anointed with the oil of the Spirit of God upon the forehead, it is at this point when the individual is sanctified and is initiated into the Christian religion. This new life in Christ and holiness is best summarized in the devotional book My Utmost For His Highness when it says, “In sanctification the one who has been born again deliberately gives up his right to himself to Jesus Christ, and identifies himself entirely with God’s ministry to others.” In the Scriptures we also find this wonderful verse on the Mikvah of the conversion rite and Sanctification, “You are washed, you are sanctified 4, and thus you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” [8]

Revising Ritual

Knowing a good spiritual thing when they see it, the early leadership of Christianity simply modified the Jewish conversion rite and its Mikvah in a way that would express Christianity, and by maintaining the basic form – they kept their Jewish heritage (a two for one deal). The Christian conversion rite and its Mikvah is not only for a restored level of purity, but also the final step that would that initiates the individual into Christianity. In this manner the Christian conversion rite reflects the Jewish conversion rite, in that the individual joined the religion and not an individual congregation or denomination. As a means of affirming their principle of one conversion rite and its Mikvah for an entire life, the leadership of the Church of Christ placed this conviction in the Nicene Creed, “We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” With this in mind, one can see why the early Christians placed a major focus on spiritual development and religious education before this conversion and Mikvah ceremony. For a Christian it was more than just stating that Jesus is their Lord and Savior (which is true enough), but a long and extensive period of preparation before being admitted into the Christian religion through the water of the Mikvah.

Section III. A Final Note on the Christian Mikvah

Over the centuries Christianity has developed penitential rites that are independent of the Mikvah. While the conversion rite and its Mikvah continue, the Mikvah for repentance fell out of usage and in time penitential rites such as confession and absolution replaced it. In theory Christians can participate in the Mikvah of repentance as a means of rededicating themselves to God and the teachings of Christ.
We should never forget the importance of washing rituals, they came to Christianity from it Jewish roots. Judaism reminds us that we are born with original purity and as we journey through life we dirty ourselves with the sins we have committed. It is within this context that we can see that two-thousand years ago why so many Jews and Christians would see a ritual washing as a form of absolution and as a means of cleaning themselves from the sin that they have done during their life time. After coming forth from the water, committing themselves to a more discipline and spiritual life style. This return to a healthy spiritualism is a good example for us in our modern self-center world to follow. We would do well to journey towards developing a more religious center and a return to a sacred life.

Written by Dave Pflueger November 2007 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTE: [1] Matthew 3:7. [2] Matthew 3:16. [3] Matthew 3:17. [4] Matthew 3:13-14. [5] The Orthodox Study Bible commentary on Acts 2:38 – shall receive (through anointment) the gift. [6] The Orthodox Study Bible commentary on Acts 8:14-17 – their hands (with oil) on them. [7] The Orthodox Study Bible commentary on Acts 19:5-6 – laid his hands (with oil) on them. Upon them (through anointment). [8] 1 Corinthians 6:11.

11. A Class on the Holy Trinity

celtic_trinity_knot

This brief lecture was presented during summer of 2010 in the Responsible Living Unit of the Pierce County jail in the State of Washington.

THE PREFACE FOR THE CLASS

The Prayer:  Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The Text:  The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 12:29-30, “Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, LORD our God, LORD is one. And you shall love LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”

The class is seated … “Please be seated.”

The Greeting: Greetings everyone – May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.

The Title: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is “An Introduction of the Holy Trinity.

The Reason:  The reason why I am teaching on the Holy Trinity, is so that you may have an introduction to the Trinity.

The Points: The points of this class will be … 1. The Father. 2. The Word 3. The Holy Spirit.

THE INTRODUCTION FOR THE CLASS

I begin this introduction with a statement made by Jesus, “I will pray to the Father and He will give you another Helper.” [1] Here, in his own words Jesus clearly mentions the Holy Trinity when he said, “I, Father, and Helper.” This passage gives us an insight on how the seamlessly the Trinity interacts within itself, the Son asks the Father, then the Father grants and sends the Spirit. From the first pages of the Bible, it is clear that God is one; in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Scriptures it is written, “[God said,] Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” [2] Through using the words “Us” and “Our” it becomes clear from the start that God was more than one, but three in complete union with each other, a union that is for the most part beyond our limited human imagination. Although is God beyond our comprehension, we do have a unity we can grasp, ourselves. Each one of us has a mind, body, and soul. These three things are woven together and constitutes who we are. Today I will not offer you in-depth discourse on the Holy Trinity, which is a great mystery, but instead an introduction; one that should be understood as a summary of the subject.

THE BODY OF THE CLASS

With these in mind, let us turn our attention to my first point, the Father.

I will begin my introduction of God with LORD and this thought, the body of God is the one we call LORD, a real and existing presence. However, the body of God is beyond our human comprehension. You can see the body that light has and we cannot see the body that sound has, but we know that they are real and have a real existence.

While God is known by many titles and names, I will focus on only a few. The eternal and living God is known as I AM and the name for God is spelled YHWH. This name for God is pronounced in English as “Yahweh” and most English Bibles replace both the letters YHWH and the word Yahweh with the name LORD, which is always spelled entirely using capital letters. Unfortunately, most English Bibles have put the word “the” before the name LORD and thus changed it from a name to a title. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures LORD made himself known and his desire for humanity to live in harmony with him and each other. The Jewish Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth knew LORD very well and called him Father. Throughout his earthly life Jesus proclaimed his love and union with the one whom he called Father. Because Jesus called LORD Father Christianity has continued his practice.

LORD is the universal one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.” [3] For the most part the ability to be over, in, and through all at the same moment in time is beyond the limitations of our intellect and we can only grasp a little piece of the bigger picture. Therefore, it is enough for us to acknowledge that LORD, through the Word, is the creator and of everything throughout the universe; and as such, “LORD is our Father, [and] we are the clay, and [he is] the potter. We all are formed by [his] hand.” [4]

We should not find it strange that the one who is called LORD is not only our God, but also our Father. For as it is written, “Is not he your Father who created you? Has he not made you and established you.” [5] Yes indeed, he has done these things and he is our Father.

With this in mind, Judaism believes children belong to God and therefore parents do not own their children. In this context parents are caretakers and guardians of the children of God. Throughout his life among us, Jesus reflected this and reduce the emphasis on his earthly parents and focused on his relationship with his true Father, who was also God. Again and again, Jesus made it clear that God was his true Father and humanity was his brothers and sisters. Jesus wanted his followers to strongly embrace this Jewish concept and commit themselves to a relationship with their true Father. To this end, Jesus taught them a prayer that clearly directed them to their true parent, who is “Our Father, who is in heaven.” [6] Throughout the Lord’s Prayer Jesus affirms that the one who is in heaven is our real Father; and like any father who truly cares for his children, our Father takes an interest in our lives, and he will respond to us – according to what is in our best interests.

I will begin my final thought on God the Father with a gem from Billy Graham, “We are still His children, even when we disobey. We feel guilty and ashamed, and sometimes we simply want to hide. But God still loves us, and He wants to forgive us and welcome us back!”

God does not does not want us to disobey him, but instead he wants us to walk in his ways. However, we are only human and through our weaknesses we will disobey and find ourselves in sin. “But when we sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” [7]

The second point: The Son – the Word.

My introduction on the Word, the logos of God, begins before the Word was born in Bethlehem and two passages written by the Apostle John gives us an introductory foundation for this. The first passage is found in the Gospel he wrote, here it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.” [8] The second passage comes from a letter he wrote and begins in which the same way he wrote the Gospel. “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seenhe is the Word of Life.” [9] These verses from the Apostle John provide those of faith some basic evidence that Jesus was among humanity before his human birth.

The Logos, the Word, is what created the universe and is the family redeemer of the family known as Christianity. Through the Word everything was created, from the very “beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” [10] This was accomplished when the Word of LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created. “He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.” [11] Both through breath (Spirit) and voice (Word) LORD gave life and created everything on the earth and the far expansions of the universe, beyond our planetary system. The ability to create from absolutely nothing is only one great and amazing mystery of God, another mystery of God is the ability to be everywhere at every moment. The Word is the kinsmen redeemer of humanity and the one who promises to deliver, vindicate, and defend the children of God. The Word claims the privilege to act on our behalf when we are troubled, needy, or in danger. When we have allowed ourselves to be enticed by temptation and make mistakes, the Word will deliver us by paying the full price for our freedom and when we are trouble by the circumstances of our lives, the Word will comfort us. As our deliverer, the Word will redeem us with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of good judgement.

The prophet Isaiah foretold the manner in which the Word would enter human existence when he wrote. “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.” [12] At the appointed time, the Spirit of LORD came upon Mary and through a mystery of this presence she conceived a child. Therefore, the conception and birth of Christ does not require the intellectual reasoning of the human mind but instead the faith of the human heart. Jesus was born to Mary, his biological mother, and his step-father, Joseph, in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod. [13] Do not allow this to surprise you, because Jews receive their identity through their mothers, not their fathers.

The birth and life of Jesus came about because “God so loved the world, that he gave it his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him should not parish, but instead will have everlasting life.” [14] Therefore, Jesus did not come [among humanity] to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. [15] Giving his life as a ransom meant death by crucifixion and through this “we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the wealth of his grace.” [16]

Now let us turn our attention to a mystery even more profound than the birth of Jesus, his resurrection from the dead. After his death, the human body of Jesus spent three days in the tomb, then he rose from the dead; we know this because the Scriptures say, on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb … and they found the stone rolled away from it; they entered the tomb and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus [17] After his body was not found in the tomb, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of his disciples and said to them “Peace be to you.” [18] One might ask, why did he have a resurrection; after all he had secured salvation and a right relation with God through his death? The beat and simplest answer is this, Christ died and rose again for this very purpose – to be “Lord of both of the living and of the dead.” [19] This is the mastery of the sovereign LORD and God of all things seen and unseen. If his birth was a soft message that he was God, then his resurrection would be a thunderous proclamation of his divinity. Here the Word leaves no doubt that God created everything through him, [20] including the creation of life and death.

I will leave this introduction on the Word with this reflection, when Jesus had completed his earthly ministries and finished instructing his apostles, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. [21] Jesus ended his time among humanity with another clear sign that he is the one known as LORD. Rather than simply disappearing in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, he decided to give his apostles one final sign that he was God. While the Transfiguration had a limited audience [22] this Transfiguration and Ascension was seen by all the apostles and may be some of the disciples. Here the followers of Jesus saw heaven open its doors and witnessed the angelic company receive their king. What the apostles saw that day stayed with them for he reminder of their lives, it inspired them to always reflect upon the teachings of Jesus and motivated them to continue his work among humanity. On that day, Jesus went from being their teacher, to being their king of peace.

The third point: The Holy Spirit.

I begin my introduction on the Holy Spirit with a reflection, the Holy Spirit is everywhere and fills everything, including you and me. The Spirit of God is the means by which we receive the blessings, strength, and gifts from God. Have you ever felt a sudden inspiration to write some something? Have you ever been in a circumstance when you realize that you have strength you do not normally have? If you have or know someone who has, then listen to this; “the Spirit of LORD is the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Strength, the Spirit of Knowledge, and the fear of LORD.” [23]

The Holy Spirit is our counselor who will guide and support us on our spiritual journey. Our Lord Jesus confirms this when he said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who will lead you into all truth.” [24] Christ also taught that the Spirit is not only an Advocate, but our mentor, “When the Father sends the Advocate as my representative – this is, the Holy Spirit – he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” [25]

The Holy Spirit is the Breath of Life who gives life to everything upon the earth; we know this because the Book of Genesis says, “LORD God … breathed the Breath of Life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” [26] Also, in the Book of Job we read, “the Spirit of God has made me, and the Breath of the Almighty gave me life.” [27]

In light of this, it only makes that sense that the Breath of Life is also the one who sanctifies us; therefore, salvation comes through the Spirit who “makes [us] holy and through [our] belief in the truth.” [28] This salvation came about long before our birth, God the Father knew [us] and chose [us] long ago, and his “Spirit has made [us] holy.” [29]

Concerning the Bible, the Spirit of Wisdom and Knowledge breathed into all Scripture and therefore it is given by inspiration of God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [30]

And my final reflection on the Holy Spirit is the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” [31] Through the Breath of Christ, the Apostles were anointed with the Spirit and commissioned for the ministry of preaching, teaching, and absolution. This was also further evidence that Jesus was resurrected and indeed living, because a ghost does not breathe.

THE CONCLUSION

In conclusion, what I have offered before you, was an introduction to the Christian deity known as the Holy Trinity, a living and true God who desires to be in communion and fellowship with mankind. A God who calls each and every one of us, for the purpose of having a personal relationship. A God who is not just up there, but also very much among us and making our hearts his dwelling place.

Each and everyone one of us has a body, mind, and spirit, and this is true for God. The living God that is beyond our imagination has a body we call Father, a mind we know as the Word, his logos, and a Spirit. I will close with the words of one of the ancient Creeds of Christianity. “There are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited. … Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord; and yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.” [32]

Written by Dave Pflueger July 2010 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTES: [1] John 14:16. [2] Genesis 1:26. [3] Ephesians 4:6. [4] Isaiah 64:8. [5] Deuteronomy 32:6. [6] Matthew 6:9-13. [7] 1 John 2:1-2. [8] John 1:1-3. [9] 1 John 1:1. [10] Genesis 1:1. [11] Psalms 33: 6-7. [12] Isaiah 7:14. [13] Matthew 2:1. [14] John 3:16. [15] Matthew 20:28. [16] Ephesians 1:7. [17] Luke 24:1-3. [18] Luke 24:36. [19] Romans 14:9. [20] John 1:3. [21] Acts 1:9. [22] Luke 9:28-36. [23] Isaiah 11:2. [24] John 14:16-17. [25 John 14:26. [26] Genesis 1:7. [27] Job 33:4. [28] 2 Thessalonians 2:13. [29] 1 Peter 1:1. [30] 2 Timothy 3:16-17. [31] John 20:21-22. [32] The Athanasian Creed.

10. A Sermon on Micah 6:6-8

Micah_Ding6x8

This sermon was presented to faculty and students of Covenant Bible Seminary in Lakewood, Washington during the autumn of 2013.

THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON

Please stand if you are able to do so.

The Prayer:  Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The Text:  A reading from the Prophet Micah 6:6-8, “With what shall I come before LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I bring the year old calves to burn as offerings to him? Will LORD be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer him my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? No, he has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The congregation is seated … “Please be seated.”

The Greeting: Greetings everyone – May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.

The Title: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is “What the LORD requires.”

The Reason (purpose): The reason why I am preaching on what the LORD requires is so that we may better understand what a walk with God is.

The Points (theme): From the Prophet Micah I receive these points: 1. Act Justly. 2 Love Mercy. And 3 Walk with God.

THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SERMON

My introduction begins with a question, “What shall we bring and place before LORD and bow down before the exalted God?” Lord has shown us that he does not want burnt animal sacrifices given out of habit nor does he want burnt child sacrifices of the pagan religions created by mankind; instead God desires us to be obedient to his will and to what is written in the scriptures. Applying them to everyday life, not just with hallow actions and empty words, but with a sincere heart-felt faith. The ministries of the prophet Micah happened during a time in history when both Israel and Judah could be characterized by moral and religious corruption, in other words actions that are completely contrary to the ways of God, not unlike what we find in our society today. Micah had to deal with people who could speak from the scriptures, but few were willing to apply the principles of scripture to their actions, not unlike what we find in both the ecclesiastical communities and secular society of today.

THE BODY OF THE SERMON

This brings us to our first point, which is … Act Justly.

Being obedient to God and someone who listens carefully to the voice of LORD, our God, and doing what is right in his sight [1] is not always easy and in fact it can be very dangerous. Standing up and clearly stating what you believe is right will not win you a popularity contest and more often than not, you will not gain friends and influence the right people. However, it will make you known as a person with strong religious convictions and someone who does not worry about being politically correct.  Being disenfranchised and isolated is often a result of listening to God and obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees; this is especially true when we witness Christians acting inappropriate. When we see a Christian “brother or sister acting immorally, desiring what does not belong to them (coveting), engaged in idolatry, using abusive language, intoxicated, or swindling others, such individuals no one is to even a share a meal with them.” [2] We are also directed to not act like hypocrite; for an example, suppose you see a Christian who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well,” [3] but then you do not give that person any food, clothing, or at the very least lead them to a program that could provide basic services [4] would you be acting justly? Certainly not!  We must never forget that we are our brother’s keeper.  Therefore, to act justly is to put the spiritual principles of the Bible into applied application, this simply means do not merely [read and] listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. [Just] do what it says. [5] In other words, we are to move from “knowing” what the Bible says to actually “doing” what it says.

My second point is … Love Mercy.

While there are several concepts that comprise mercy, I will focus on compassion and forgiveness.  We are disciples of the Lord and as such we are to care for others with the tender compassion of Jesus Christ. [6] Therefore, either as individuals or as a collective we are to offer the fast that LORD wants, that is, to free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. [7] Therefore, since God loves us and has chosen us to be a holy people, we must clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We must make allowances for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends us. Remember, the Lord forgave us, so we must forgive others. Above all, clothing ourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts. For as members of one body we are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. [8]

Now let us review forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the central theme of the Gospels of Jesus Christ and within their pages we read, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” [9] This statement comes immediately after the disciples were taught the Lord’s Prayer and is very clear on what our spiritual responsibility is; and that is to forgive, and failure to do so will deeply effect our relationship with God in a negative way.  This statement should also remind us of the principles set forth on the Book of Leviticus were it reads, “We are not to nurse hatred in our heart, but instead we are to confront people directly so we will not be held guilty for their sin; and we are not to seek revenge or bear a grudge against someone, but instead we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.” [10] Is Christ asking us to do something that is easy? No, he is not! Forgiving someone goes against many human emotions and even personal convictions, but Christ does not want us to focus on a brewing kettle of emotions, instead he wants us to focus on him and leave revenge and the final judgment to God alone. Our heavenly Father does not what us to get caught up in the economy of hatred and revenge, you can say that God wants us to engage in some reverse psychological warfare with spiritual benefits. With this in mind, listen to what Christ taught, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” [11] Also, listen to what St. Paul wrote to the Romans in his letter, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” [12] In light of this, we can see that through forgiving others we gain the upper hand and receive the spiritual benefits.

This leads us to my final point … Walking with God

Walking humbly with God and being obedient to him is not always an easy task, just look at St. Peter. While St. Peter was a devout disciple of Jesus, he was known for placing actions before thought. On the other hand, the Prophet Samuel had no trouble keeping the cart behind the horse. While God is tolerant of our short comings, we are expected to align ourselves with God and walk according to his ways and not our own. When we are walking humbly we are moving in a manner that is the opposite of walking with pride. This kind of walk requires every thought and desire within oneself to be brought into submission and obedient to the will of God. This means that our movements are to be reflections of what LORD, our God, requires of us and out of our greatest sense of respect towards the sacred, we are to have the highest degree of reverence for the Lord our God.  Therefore we are to walk according to the ways of LORD and unconditionally love God; this means we are to love LORD our God with our entire heart, soul, mind, and with all of our strength. [13] Our walk with God must be a total commitment to his ways and an openness of our hearts to Christ and his will for us. We must minimize and contain our self-will and human attitudes, because they are contrary to the will of God; so that the Spirit of God may come into our lives and dwell in our hearts.  Our walk continues throughout our life and if our hearts are humble and open to the Spirit of God, he will guide us on the path until that day when we close our eyes for the last time. Therefore, let us not waste a single minute on cutting our own path and walking according to our own will, but instead walk humbly before our God.

THE CONCLUSION OF THE SERMON

In conclusion, are you acting justly towards mankind? Are you being merciful to your neighbor? Are you in a proper relationship with the Lord and walking humbly with God? In other words, are you being obedient and walking in love, as Christ loved you and gave himself for you, an offering and sacrifice to God? [14] If you are, then give God the glory for giving you the ability to do so, but if you are not, then I say stop and seriously evaluate your spiritual journey.

In light of this, we should never forget that our daily offering is not only just studying the sacred scriptures, but also to continually offer to God the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of voices that acknowledge his name; and not neglecting to do good things and share what you have. For such sacrifices are pleasing to God. [15]

Written by Dave Pflueger October 2013 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTES: [1] Exodus 15:26. [2] 1 Corinthians 5:11. [3] James 2:16. [4] James 2:15-17. [5] James 1:22. [6] Philippians 1:8. [7] Isaiah 58:6-9. [8] Colossians 3:12-17. [9] Matthew 6:14-15. [10] Leviticus 19:17-18. [11] Matthew 5:11-12. [12] Romans 12:20. [13] Mark 12:30. [14] Ephesians 5:2. [15] Hebrews 13:15-16.

9. Ministry of Spiritual Leadership

9. Ministry of Spiritual Leadership

Who Are Spiritual Leaders?

First, spiritul leaders serve the assemby of Christ either as professionals or as paraprofessionals through the following categories: Minister of Word and Sacrament (priest/elder/presbyter), Minister of Word and Service (deacon), or as a licensed/certified lay minister. Second, the principle duties and responsibilities of either a Pastor or Assistant/Associate Pastor – are those associated with Pastoral Care. Individuals performing the Ministry of Pastoral Care belong to one of the following categories: Minister of Word and Sacrament, Minister of Word and Service, or Lay Minister as defined by a church.

Before Birth

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the broken hearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. [1]

Spiritual leaders have been chosen for their vocation before they were born, this is evident when Isaiah, a prophet and spiritual leader, reflected and wrote, “Before I was born LORD called me; from my mother’s womb, he has spoken my name.” [2] While everyone of the assembly of God has been created and brought forth to serve God and humanity through their talents and experiences, there are those who come forth from the womb to serve as spiritual leaders, especially those created to be clergy. Jeremiah, another prophet and spiritual leader, meditated and wrote about this when he penned, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” [3] It has become clear, that God creates these individuals for this service before they are born and therefore they serve God and humanity in a very special way. Because their ministries have a unique relationship with God, they are not vocations that someone decides on their own to do. At some point in the life of the individual the reality of this vocation is awaken by the Spirit deep with their soul, and once waken both the vocation and Spirit gently calls out from the depth of their soul through the heart of one’s compassion, this is especially true for those who have been created to be clergy. Therefore, once awakened it yearns to grow and become a fulfilled gift that always offers back to God and humanity.

Set Apart

Like the prophets and sages of old, St. Paul also reflected on being set apart for service to God before his birth when he wrote, “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased.” [4] While the Church uses the word “called,” it goes much deeper than an ecclesiastical invitation for service at a neighborhood assembly of Christ, it goes right to the created center of the individual. Every human being has been created by God and endowed with talents that are uniquely their own, and those who have been created with the sacred grace of being set apart for the work of spiritual leadership, have been set aside for this service in the vineyard of God. From the days of the Mosaic Covenant to our present age, God has sanctified the vocation that requires one to have a life totally committed to God. These individuals must place God and humanity before their own lives and realities, and focus on their complete commitment to being disciples of the Gospel of Christ. Beginning with the creation of this universe, through the covenant with the Hebrew people [5] and continued with the manifestation of the Word, Jesus of Nazareth [6] God has been constantly clear on this matter, those who have been created for the special vocation of spiritual leadership have been sanctified by God to perform it. The individuals whom God creates for this vocation come from every background imaginable and from every occupation known to humanity. Therefore, we need to remind ourselves that the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [7] by human standards.
Because of human rebellion towards God and all things good and proper, the Church may have to defend humankind and hinder the sacred vocation. When the leaders of the Church must do this, they do so only after mediation and council, which only focuses on facts and evidence of wickedness. Because you must not convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of only one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. [8] In addition to the testimony of individuals, physical and psychological evidence shall be means to establish the fact that an offense has taken place.

A Review of the Ministry

Now that we have established the basic nature of this ministry, let us look at the daily practices and responsibilities of this special vocation with a review of spiritual leadership (which is also known as pastoral leadership). It is a form of leadership that is unique to the ecclesiastical domain because this expression of leadership is foremost a servant-based form of leadership that is centered in the life style of Jesus of Nazareth. At the core of servant based leadership is the principle of placing the needs and concerns of others above your own personal needs. It is a form of leadership that requires one to present themselves as a living sacrifice and walk in love as an offering and sacrifice to God. From the Gospel of Mark, we find an example of this style of leadership, Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [9] Jesus practiced what he taught, he “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands, he led them.” [10] Therefore, spiritual leadership is very different from corporate leadership, military leadership, and even civic leadership. These are secular forms of leadership are subject to a certain amount of authoritarianism and egotistic natures. However, the core of Christian leadership is humility, the heart of a servant.

Servants of God – Not All the Same

I have always enjoyed this insightful wisdom by Henry Blackaby, “You will always feel ill equipped for the causes of God. You will always feel as though you have made too many mistakes for God to use you as a spiritual leader.” This statement rings so true, because the devil does not want individuals to fulfill their spiritual gifts and talents, because if they do he loses; therefore, evil will do whatever it takes, to get us to a point where we doubt ourselves (who we are and our spiritual gifts). With this in mind, when studying the subject of Christian spiritual leadership in the light of Scriptures, I generally avoid the third chapter of 1st Timothy and the first chapter of Titus, mostly because I find the Pauline school of discipline more restrictive then the concepts found in the Torah.
Therefore, I prefer to focus on the spiritual leaders found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here we find spiritual leadership being practiced by a wide variety of individuals, some more saintly than others; we are also introduced to some of them when they are very young, so we can read stories that generally cover an entire life span of an individual. As an example of some being saintlier than others, I cannot think of a better example than Samuel and King David, in these two spiritual leaders we clearly see that God calls those who are morally very strong and those who have moral set-backs from time to time to be spiritual leaders of the people of God. While Samuel kept to the spiritual moral course that was set before him when he was very young, David was not as consistent in his spiritual journey; therefore, David is a good example that God does indeed tolerate moral flaws in spiritual leaders. Regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, both men loved God and served God according to both their calling and abilities. Joseph and Moses are another example of this; again, these are two great examples of spirituals leaders with very different personal characteristics. Joseph had a very strong moral spirituality and Moses had a strong personality, but had his flaws. Christians can do well in reading the stories of the lives of these great spiritual leaders and the lessons that they offer us. God chose these individuals to be spiritual leaders of the Hebrew people and one, Joseph, to be a leader and moral example for the Egyptians.

Spiritual Leadership – Hallmarks

Considering both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, we clearly see here that humility is the hallmark of Christian leadership and whenever possible these leaders are to avoid strong authoritarianism. Therefore, Christian spiritual leadership shall be a religious discipline. As a religious discipline, it is to be practiced in the context of a life style that is centered in the wonderful examples that Christ gave us to follow. He did not think twice about washing feet, [11] ensuring that His disciples were fed, [12] and other common everyday tasks. In this way, Jesus teaches us that the duties and responsibilities of spiritual leaders are not only those most closely associated with leadership and administration, but also the common everyday tasks are also the domain of a Christian leader. In this light, a spiritual leader and Christian parenthood are two responsibilities that are closely associated with each other, because in both duties humility and placing the needs of others as a priority are the principle qualities of these vocations. I have always enjoyed the simplicity of this statement by J.E. Means that describes the ministry of a spiritual leader, “Spiritual leadership is the development of relationships with the people of a Christian institution or body in such a way that individuals and the group are enabled and achieve Biblical compatible goals and meet real needs. Through their influence, spiritual leaders serve to motivate and enable others to achieve what otherwise would never be achieved.”

Responsibilities – A Review

Now let us address what are the basic duties and responsibilities of both professional and paraprofessional spiritual leadership. Simply put, they are about the relationships, all kinds of relationships. However, the relationships between God and humanity are the relationships that are the most important and the primary focus of all spiritual leaders. Spiritual leaders are entrusted with nurturing and defending the relationships between humanity and God, which are communions between the loving Creator and the created. With these in mind, let us now further explore the responsibilities and duties.

The Ministry of the Word: Through the Ministry of the Word spiritual leaders teach humanity about God and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Regardless if they are standing in a classroom or in a pulpit the Ministry of the Word is to be an instructor. Spiritual leaders begin their Ministry of the Word through prayer. When they take time for prayer they begin their mediation by separating themselves from all that surrounds them and find a place of solitude so they can focus their thoughts on a conversation with God. They place their concerns and trouble before God, as well as their joys and praise. Through this thoughtful conversation with God, the spiritual leader also takes time to either minimize or silent the thoughts so that they can be at peace. It is during these periods of reflection that spiritual leaders receive inspiration and spiritual confidence.
Through the Ministry of the Word humanity learns the ways of God and the teaching of Jesus, the Logos of God. Through this instruction the faithful learn what is expected of them and to receive insight into the meaning and purpose of Scripture. It is through the Ministry of the Word that a spiritual leader serves as a teacher and has the responsibility to guide Christians on their pathways.
If a spiritual leader fails the Ministry of the Word, then how can |the faithful| call on |Christ| to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in |Christ| if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about |Christ| unless someone tells them? [13] Simply put, the faithful cannot and these spiritual leaders have become blind guides. Therefore, every spiritual leader who tends a flock of Christ has the responsibility to “proclaim Him, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone complete in Christ.” [14] This means every spiritual leader is to ensure that every individual member of the flock receives the amount of spiritual milk that will allow their faith to grow and mature, and receive instruction on the Word of God.
I believe that the Ministry of the Word is one of the greatest responsibilities that spiritual leaders have. They teach in classes, they teach at seminars, they teach individuals, and they teach through their sermons. Without question, they are indeed the principle teachers of a neighborhood Christian assembly, and the spiritual lives of the faithful depend upon them to strengthen both their minds and souls. Listen to what the Prophet Malachi had to say about clerics and their work as instructors, “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of LORD Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.” [15]

Among Christians, Jesus is the example of a teacher par excellent. The manner in which Jesus taught reflected that of a Jewish religious teacher. Whenever he had an opportunity, he taught his apostles and the people who surrounded him. When he taught adults, Jesus never softened his punches or his message, but instead he taught clearly and boldly, as one with authority. From time to time Jesus did simplify his message, but never to the point of compromise. Like their Master before them, spiritual leaders are to stand firm, teach the faith, and proclaim the glorious Gospel of Christ. Luther summarized this when he said, “A preacher must be both soldier and shepherd. He must nourish, defend, and teach. He must have teeth in his mouth and able to bite, and fight!”

Evangelism: Evangelism is an important component of the work of a spiritual leader, because it introduces and presents Christ. It is an open invitation to come and learn about Christ and the assembly of God. This invitation either introduces a person to Christ for the first time or it may reintroduce a person to Christ. Either way, they are invited to know Christ.
It is a very compassionate act for a spiritual leader to offer someone something that will bless and sustain their life, especially when it is Christ that is being offered. When a spiritual leader invites a person to explore a relationship with Christ (or deepen their current one) they are making themselves available to answer questions and to encourage them to explore a relationship with Christ.

Presence: Walking among the people and being a spiritual presence is an important element of the work of a spiritual leader. Through their interactions they can share their spiritual journey with others and listen to the journeys that others have. Participating in the human community allows spiritual leaders to present Christ in very tangible ways. Christ spoke of these tangible ways when he said, “I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” [16] The way Jesus spoke of these throughout his public ministry made it very clear these were a priority for him and therefore they are to be a priority activities for anyone serving as a spiritual leader.

The apostle Paul wrote this warning about inactivity, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” [17] What Paul was saying is a truth, faith that is alive is faith filled with action. It is a living faith, one that is fully engaged in living out the Gospels of Christ. Therefore, being among the people is a great way of ensuring that our faith is alive and serving God and humanity.

Sharing: When spiritual leaders share their talents and life experiences among the human community, they are giving back to the God what they has been first given them. Throughout the four Gospels, we find Jesus sharing his life and ministry with others, especially in intimate moments like evening meals and in upper rooms. Jesus lived among the people and shared his life with all those who encountered him. Because it is engaging someone on a personal level, sharing can open the doors of opportunities in ways that impersonal ways simply cannot.

A Warning: While there are many hindrances to the work of a spiritual leader, there are two that are especially troublesome. They come in the form two statements, “I must first focus on the members of my parish” and “status quo.” These are parochial concepts that might work in a university or a hospital, but have no place in a local Christian assembly. Because a Christian assembly is to be an inclusive gathering of all the people, regardless of their personal realities.

Spiritual Development

Through the compassionate work of spiritual leaders, individuals are perfected and built up in Christ. But what does it mean to “be perfected in Christ?” This is a good question and Oswald Chambers [18] offers a good answer, “Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship with God that shows itself to be true … God’s purpose is not to perfect us to make us trophies in His showcase; but instead to get us to the place where He can use us.”
God is patience when it comes to our spiritual development. God will take all the time needed to get us to the place where we can serve him, God will not interfere with our growth nor will God hinder it. God is a patience Father and will allow his children to grow and learn in the way that will benefit them the most. God knows all too well that everyone grows and develops their spirituality at their own pace and in their own way. Therefore, spiritual leaders need to have the patience and wisdom of a farmer. If a spiritual leader properly tends to the field and allows the crop to grow and mature at its own pace, then everyone will enjoy the fruits that the Spirit will bestow.
God gave us our gifts and talents so that he can use us for his purpose, these gifts are not to be dormant and they are not for ourselves. In addition to the daily offering of our talents, we should always include that which the Sovereign first gave us, the ability to pray. Because our spiritual lives are perfected not only though our personal sacrifices, but also through daily prayer.

Our relationship with God is a natural progression towards sanctification. Through a life of spiritual growth, a person gains religious wisdom and is sanctified through drawing closer to Christ. Hallmarks of our journey through life will be our life experiences, our responses to our experiences, and our personal relationship God (or lack thereof). According to Oswald Chambers, “sanctification means to be intensely focused on God’s point of view. It means to secure and to keep all the strength of our mind, body, and soul, for God’s purpose alone.” This follows what Martin Luther said, “How does sanctification take place? Sanctification takes place when we occupy ourselves with the Word of God and focus on spiritual exercises.” Therefore, perfecting our spiritual lives is the “movement” or “exercises” that develops into sanctification. Standing still does not perfect us, but a spiritual life in motion does. Here is another quote that I like to reflect upon when I am thinking about spiritual development and becoming perfected in the image of God, “We become pure on the inside – as Christ renews our minds and transforms us into his image.” [19]
Therefore, throughout our mortal lives God continues to do what God first did for humanity, when God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” [20] In this light, our spiritual life is one that that keeps evolving throughout our entire life. The best response to this continual growth is to secure and keep all the strength of our body, soul, and spirit for God’s purpose alone. Therefore, interwoven into our spiritual growth is our sanctification and the more we spiritually grow as individuals the more profound our sanctification becomes.

Final Reflection

In closing there are many more thing I could say about spiritual leaders, but that would be yet another great volume on the subject and I would like to offer here a short presentation of the subject in this document, covering only the basics. I hope you enjoyed reading my reflection on the subject and remember there are many books on this subject that cover it on a far more in-depth manner; and I would encourage you to find one (or more) and read. I will leave you with this reflection from the Bible, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” [21]

Written by Dave Pflueger August 12, 2004 © copyrighted by Pflueger

Footnotes: [1] Isaiah 61:1 New Living Translation. [2] Isaiah 49:1 New International Version. [3] Jeremiah 1:5 New International Version. [4] Galatians 1:15 New International Version. [5] Numbers 3:1-13 New International Version. [6] Matthew 10:1 New International Version. [7] Romans 11:29 New American Standard Bible. [8] Deuteronomy 19:15 New Living Translation. [9] Mark 10:42-45 New International Version. [10] Psalm 78:72 New International Version. [11] John 13:5. [12] John 21:12-13. [13] Romans 10:14-15 New Living Translation. [14] Colossians 1:28 New American Standard Bible. [15] Malachi 2:7 New American Standard Bible. [16] Matthew 25:35-36. [17] James 2:17 New International Version. [18] Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) was a Baptist preacher and a prominent early twentieth century Scottish Christian minister and teacher. [19] One Year With Jesus (a devotional) – June 11 (Mark 7:14-19). [20] Genesis 1:26 New King James Version. [21] Acts 20:28 New International Version

 

Sanctification

Sanctification

Libraries are filled will material and books about sanctification, so much so that I feel no real need to add to the collection.  So I will instead offer what I enjoy from other writers.  The words they have written stir my thoughts, warm my soul, and express my convictions on sanctification.

Deification (sanctification) is the ancient theological word used to describe the process by which a Christian becomes more like God.  St. Peter speaks of this process when he writes, “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness … you may be partakers of the divine nature.”

Byzantine – The Orthodox Study Bible – 2 Peter 13:4

In sanctification the one who has been baptized deliberately gives up his right to himself to Jesus Christ, and identifies himself entirely with God’s ministry to others.

Oswald Chambers My Utmost For His Highest – January 10

Sanctification means to be intensely focused on God’s point of view. It means to secure and keep all the strength of our body, soul, and spirit for God’s purpose alone.

Oswald Chambers My Utmost For His Highest – February 8

Progressive sanctification, the process of deification by which a person can be set apart from a sinful walk to a holy practice.

Robert G. Gromacki

How does sanctification take place? Sanctification takes place when we occupy ourselves with the Word of God and focus on spiritual exercises.

Martin Luther – Luther’s Large Catechism

The Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospels, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  In the way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the entire Christian assembly on earth.

Martin Luther – Luther’s Small Catechism  

LORD is our God, LORD is one! You shall love LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

The Holy Bible Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Reflecting on Chambers, every day we are at a fork in the road, we can deliberately give up our right to be ourselves and wrap ourselves in the blanket of Christ or we can deliberately embrace our right to be ourselves and wrap ourselves in the blanket of our own lives and convictions.  We have Free Will, so the choice is ours, which one will be pick and wear on our travels? But remember this, God is displeased with compromises.  Finally, sanctification is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all that you do.