Posts Tagged With: John 4:23-24

God is Spirit: Like the Wind

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, ESV).

A recent post pondered the meaning of the word “spirit” in relation to several scientific theories. The Bible tells us that God is a spirit but never specifically explains what a spirit is.

However, the Bible provides an illustration, if not a definition. In both Greek and Hebrew, the word for “spirit” can also mean “wind” or “breath.” The Greek word is pneuma, the root of such English words as “pneumonia” or “pneumatic.” The Hebrew word is ruach. Pneuma is translated as both “spirit” and “wind” in John 3:1-8:

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit’” (John 3:1-8, ESV; emphasis added).

So, although the Bible does not clearly define “spirit,” it allows us to associate it with “wind” and notice some of its traits.

First, the wind is invisible, but it is real. We do not see wind, but we see its effects. When we see a tornado, we do not actually see the wind. We see the stuff that the wind is blowing around: dirt, debris, some rain or water vapor, etc.

An F5 tornado. Photo by Justin Hobson via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Wind can have some powerful impacts. During Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, we got a lesson in the power of wind. At the height of the storm, we could feel our house shaking! The house survived, but not long thereafter we saw fire trucks pulling up in front of our house. Apparently, the tree in front of our house did not survive. It had fallen, yanking a power line down, which then sparked a fire on a utility box of the house next door. Fortunately, the firemen responded quickly enough to avoid any serious fire damage to either house. There was also minor damage to our chimney and some roof tiles missing. All this damage from an invisible force.

One of the trees in front of my house could not withstand the winds of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photograph by Michael E. Lynch

I share the story about Hurricane Sandy because I remember it most vividly and can share a few pictures. Having lived for eight years in Missouri, I could probably share a few tornado stories, but I was usually a few blocks away when the tornado actually hit and did not take photos.

Another photo I took after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This is all that was left of a segment of the boardwalk in my childhood hometown, Long Beach, NY. Wind and water tore away the boardwalk, railings, benches, etc. Photograph by Michael E. Lynch.

Yes, wind is invisible and powerful. It is also uncontrollable. We cannot predict when the wind will pick up or slow down. Yes, meteorologists can tell us it will be windy and that the wind will come from this or that direction. But, we do not know when a sustained 20 MPH wind will suddenly speed up to a 40 MPH gust.

Nor can we do anything about it. In the words of the”Alive, a Bee Gees’ song from 1972, “And I can’t change the wind or make it blow the other way.” Try to make a northerly wind change direction. Make it slow down. Let me know how that works for you.

Wind is like spirit. This becomes a beautiful illustration of what God is like. We cannot see Him, but we can recognize His presence and power in what He does. Not everything He does is like Hurricane Sandy or a tornado; some of it is like the windmills one sees in rural areas, providing electrical power for local communities.

Windmills. Image by Piotr Zakrzewski from Pixabay.

Nor can we control God. Sometimes it is tempting to think that we can coerce or manipulate Him with our prayers or piety. Don’t try it. He is God. He is Spirit. He is powerful. He is unchanging. He is uncontrollable. He is Lord. God blows where He wishes; if you look with the eyes of faith, you will see Him in action, but you do not know where He comes from or where He goes. But, you can trust and worship Him.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Is Spirit: But, What Is a Spirit?

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

In some recent posts, we have thought about some of God’s majestic attributes, the qualities that set Him apart from everything He created. He is self-existent. He is eternal. These qualities are beyond full human comprehension.

Jesus also tells us that “God is spirit.” This can exceed our comprehension as well, even though we have a spiritual nature. We bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26–29); Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling within us (Romans 8:9–11); and we can be spoken of as “spiritual people” (1 Corinthians 2:15). In spite of that, we have a hard time understanding the meaning of the word “spirit.”

Perhaps most of us imagine something spiritual as being somehow less real than the physical world we see. We imagine life in heaven seeming more like a dream than an awakened reality. I suspect that we will be surprised and find that heaven seems even more real than life on earth; after a while in heaven, we might think our earthly lives seemed like a dream we had while asleep. We hear “spirit” and we think of a shapeless transparent ghost.

People in twelve-step recovery groups will say that theirs is a “spiritual program.” Yet, many describe it in terms that can more accurately be described as “psycho-social” rather than “spiritual.” The same confusion can exist in the church.

In light of this, I will share a few thoughts I have had about the concept of “spirit” from the world of science. Keep in mind, I am not a scientist. As an editor, though, I spend a lot of time reading scientific papers. I often watch science programs on television. I am fascinated and curious about many of the theories that float around. As a Christian, I often look at these theories and ask, “Can this relate to the Bible, the Gospel, my faith, etc.? Can this science inform my faith?” So, here are just a few thoughts.

Is the spiritual realm somehow intertwined with the natural realm we see? More than 15 years ago, I came across a book (I wish I remembered the title and author’s name) which looked at the concept of “intelligent design” from a Hindu perspective. Much like Judaeo-Christian creationists, the author believed a divine being created the universe and his handiwork could be seen in the natural realm. He believed you could see scientific evidence supporting the belief that our world was created by a deity. Frequently, he would refer to electrons as “spiritual particles.”

Electrons are interesting. As we learned in high-school chemistry and physics, atoms are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Electrons have very little mass: so little that, when we refer to the atomic mass of an element, we mean the combined number of protons and neutrons, ignoring electrons. Yet, they have a charge, equal and opposite to that of a proton, which makes them essential to most chemical reactions. The merger or exchange of atoms in the formation or change of molecules is largely the result of electron transfer. They are very small, but they wield great power in the natural realm.

Could electrons or some other subatomic particles be “spiritual particles”?

Is the presence and work of God and spirits evident in the universe, but not adequately explained? Scientists now believe most of the universe is “dark matter” and “dark energy.” They propose that most of the mass and energy in the universe cannot be measured or directly observed. However, this so-called dark matter and energy must be there, because you cannot explain the universe without it. Galaxies are moving apart too quickly. There must be inobservable forces or matter preserving order.

Could it be that the effects of dark matter and energy are nothing more than the work of God Himself as He sustains the universe that He created? Scripture says this about Jesus:

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Are scientists using the term “dark matter” or “dark energy” to refer to the work of Christ?

Does the spiritual realm perhaps exist parallel to the natural world that we see? We think we live in a three-dimensional universe, where things are measurable in terms of height, width, and depth. Albert Einstein’s theories proposed that it is actually a four-dimensional universe, with time being intertwined with these three spatial dimensions. However, some theories propose that space-time has eight or more (I think some scientists have suggested 20 or more) dimensions: They are just as real and physical as the ones we know, but we cannot observe or experience them. Is the “spirit realm,” including heaven, linked to dimensions of space-time that we simply do not see or experience, even though they exist alongside the four dimensions we experience? Could the spirit realm be in, with, and under our natural world, fully a part of it, yet manifested in dimensions we do not see or hear?

Like I said, I am not a scientist, so perhaps I misunderstood and misrepresented some of these theories. I share these ideas to encourage thought, dialog, and reflection. We say that God is a spirit. Christians believe in the presence of spirits, including angels and demons, and we believe that our spirits and souls will live after we die. This is not mere symbolism. When we say that God is a spirit and there are other spirits, we are making a statement about reality, even though we may not fully understand what that reality is. Perhaps one or more of these ideas can help us to envision the spirit world described by the Bible as something that is real, not merely a dream, fantasy, or symbol.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Real Worship—John 4:23–24

“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23–24, NASB)

Worship wars never cease to end in the church. To listen to some Christians, the method with which you worship determines whether you are going to heaven or not.

When I surrendered my life to Christ (almost 32 years ago), I attended a church that had lively music—often with a rock beat. The worship service could be spontaneous, sometimes quite long. People would dance, clap, praise God in tongues, and a host of other ecstatic emotional expressions.

I have attended other churches where there was some more restraint. In some, rock music was considered demonic. They thought that God obviously likes southern gospel, or slightly more soft pop types of music. There might be a little more restraint in the worship, but it might be somewhat casual in its format.

Now, I attend a church that has a lot of upbeat music (we have some guitarists who can rock out!), but the worship service otherwise is very structured. We follow a strict liturgy, based primarily on the Book of Common Prayer, with elements that will seem familiar to many Roman Catholics. We receive communion every Sunday. We say the Lord’s Prayer at every service; many of the prayers are read from a book, or are written before the service. Although we profess to be charismatic, you may not always hear the pastor say an off-the-cuff spontaneous prayer that just pops into his head.

So, which form of worship is correct? In a sense, all of them have elements of true worship; yet, none of them are truly worship in themselves. While some people may be tempted to call my current church’s structured liturgy “dead worship,” it is a false accusation. Actually, a close study of Scripture would show that the liveliest worship (in terms of volume, tempo, and energy) can be the deadest of all, if it is not conducted “in spirit and in truth.”

When Jesus made the statement in John 4, He was speaking to a Samaritan woman, who had asked Him whether God wanted people to worship in Jerusalem (as the Jews did) or on the mountain where the Samaritans worshiped? The Samaritans and Jews, despite having a similar heritage and sharing the books of the Old Testament, had the ultimate bitter worship war. Jesus was not really being a “good Jew” by talking to this heretic woman. Yet, His response cut through the fog of tradition: The woman was asking the wrong question. It did not matter where she worshiped God. The question was whether she was worshiping God in spirit and in truth. Is her worship alive or dead?

When is worship dead, and when is it alive?

  • Worship is alive when it is led by the Holy Spirit. Some people confuse this with emotionally-charged worship, or with certain up-tempo styles of music, or if it is spontaneous. All of these can be elements of worship in spirit, but it is not always the case: For example, while genuine worship will generate an emotional response in many cases, it is possible to seek an emotional high through worship activities. In that case, we are really worshiping the experience instead of worshiping God.
  • Real worship is focused on God, not on ourselves. Far too often, we are tempted to confuse worship with entertainment. We think, “If I enjoyed it, the worship was good. If there is nothing in it for me, I will have to find another church.” Is your worship focused on yourself, or is it focused on Jesus? Are you more concerned with praising God for who He is, or with singing your favorite songs and having good feelings?
  • Worship is alive when it yields to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Genuine worship will strengthen our relationship with Christ. It will enable us to bear more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23).
  • Worship will be grounded in truth. It is grounded in the truth about God as revealed in Scripture. It will be consistent with Scripture. This does not mean that every single element of our worship must be mentioned specifically in the Bible (this has led some churches to do some weird things, just because of an isolated misunderstood verse somewhere in Psalms). However, worship should be consistent with the spirit and tone of Scripture, and it should not contain any elements that are specifically prohibited by Scripture.
  • Worship will draw us into truth. A genuine worship experience will give us both a greater vision of God’s glory and holiness, contrasted with a deeper awareness of who we are in relation to Him. A good example of this can be found in Isaiah 6:1–5. Through a vision (many commentators believe it occurred in the Jerusalem temple, during worship), the prophet catches a glimpse of worship in heaven: He becomes even more keenly aware of God’s glory as well as his own sinfulness. But then, he learns more about God’s forgiveness and sanctifying power, and is emboldened to volunteer to be sent by God into ministry.

When it comes to worship, take your eyes off of yourself. Stop focusing so heavily on the style of worship or music. As the classic worship song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face. And the things on Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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