How a zoning law could make people homeless – Current Events Q1 2020 – Affordable Housing, Part 1

Photo by Dean Bennett on Unsplash

Last month Penn Live reported on a PA Commonwealth Court appeal ruling that took place January 10th, saying that the ruling said, “Should spell doom for a long-running, but apparently never officially permitted boarding house,” which is located in the far southeastern corner of East Lampeter Township. Perhaps even more importantly, Penn Live said, the closure, “could also set the tenants scrambling for new accommodations.”  What the article was referring to was the potential eviction of 14 tenants, because of a zoning law.  What happened?

Let me tell you the story.  In so doing, I’m going to weave together stories reported by Penn Live and Lancaster Newspapers.  Here goes:

The owner of the boardinghouse, Granny N Pops LLC, bought the property in June 2015. It had been operating as a boarding house for 25 years prior to that. The problem was that the new owners never checked with the township as to whether a boarding house was permitted in the Village Commercial Zoning District where the property sits.

Instead, they relied on the seller’s assurances that township officials knew about the use of the 1.3-acre site, which was advertised for sale as a “multi-family property with 13 units.”

Nearly a year later, in May 2016, the East Lampeter Township zoning board issued a violation notice, because the boarding house should not have been permitted in that kind of commercial zone. Current and prior owners insisted the township knew the boarding house was there for decades. Granny N Pops, which is owned by an adjacent property owner, argued, therefore, that the previous long-term use of the site as a boarding house should require the township to issue a variance allowing that use to continue.

So they petitioned for a variance with the East Lampeter Township Zoning Board.  The owners, who bought the property for $460,000 and made over $130,000 in improvements, testified at the 2017 zoning hearing that they did not research the property’s zoning because it had been operating as a boarding house for years and a real estate broker represented the property as a boarding house.

The zoning board voted 2-1 to deny the owners’ request for a variance.  The board’s majority said anyone “who purchases property based on the representations of the seller, rather than making an independent investigation of the true status of the property, proceeds at his or her own risk.”

Thus, that year, the township voted to shut down the facility.  The owners appealed in Lancaster County court, and the County Court upheld the township zoning decision. So the owners appealed to PA Commonwealth Court, and last month the court ruled that “A landowner is duty-bound to check the zoning status of a property prior to purchase.” The judge providing the ruling wrote that, “This court is sensitive to the impact this decision will have on the property’s vulnerable tenants who shall be forced to find other housing. Despite such concerns, the court is bound to adhere to well-established case law and precedent.”

The owners of Granny N Pops Boardinghouse have said that they might appeal to the State Supreme Court.  The East Lampeter Township manager said last month that if the owners don’t appeal further, the township will notify the owner that they have to stop using the property as a boarding house. 

I am telling you this story because with this blog post I am starting a new series about Current Events.  It won’t be a consecutive week-by-week series, but instead one week per quarter, and I won’t pick the topic until that week, striving for something from the headlines.  It could be local, national or international.  The goal will be to apply biblical principles to what is going on in our world. This first topic is local, as the property and building of my congregation, Faith Church, is located in East Lampeter Township.

The purpose of every current events post will be to examine how Christians can think about a that particular event.  In this case, the issues are complex.  Clearly the owners did not follow the zoning law.  It seems that theirs was not a willful, intentional breaking of the law, but it was a violation nonetheless.  And the zoning board as well as the various courts are justified in upholding the law.  So is that the end of the story?  Is that all Christians should care about?  That the law was upheld? 

What if the law is not just?  And what about mercy?  Should there be exceptions to the rule?

Think about the most vulnerable people in this story, the tenants.  Even the state judge called them vulnerable, aware of the reality that, if appeals fail, those tenants will likely have to find other housing, and may not have the means to do so.  Affordable housing is hard to come by in our area, and Granny N Pops’ boardinghouse was providing an affordable option for tenants like Charles Adams who Lancaster Newspapers quotes as saying, “If I have to move, I don’t know where I’m going to go.”  Adams, who has lived at the boarding home for 17 years, remarked, “I don’t really have money to find another place.” 

The owners of the boardinghouse said “We give (our tenants) an opportunity to get restarted.  Some of them have had legal issues. They come out (of jail.) They don’t have much. We give everybody a chance.” 

Another tenant, Lonny Pacana, a smorgasbord dishwasher who receives Social Security disability, said he has no Plan B if evicted. “I have nowhere to go,” he said.

Ron, a two-year resident of the boardinghouse who did not provide his last name because of a criminal record, said he had no idea where he would live if evicted.  “Probably my car again,” he said. “I have a hard time finding a place because of my credit and background.”

This reminds me of House of Ruth, which is owned Potter’s House in Leola.  Potter’s House is a discipleship ministry, helping men transition from incarceration.  Knowing that there was a need for women coming out of jail, too, Potter’s House purchased a home in the Forest Hills neighborhood to the west of Leola, hoping to minister to women there. Neighbors caught wind of the plan and began to oppose it strongly.  They didn’t want formerly incarcerated women living near them. 

There are many people struggling with housing in our area.  Rents and home costs have consistently gone up over the years.  We’ve learned about people living out of their cars, and Wal-Mart graciously allows them to park there overnight.  You may have heard that a number of people live in hotels to the point where one had been a school bus stop.  In the past year one of those hotels along Route 30 was razed, displacing people.  Where did they go?  And an even better question, what is God’s heart for this?

Check back in to the next post as we seek to learn God’s heart for affordable housing in our area.

How to rip off labels stuck to you – Our Identity: Citizens of God's Kingdom, Part 5

Have you ever been a part of a sports team that wears jerseys with labels on them?  Usually a jersey has a team name, logo, and your player number. Some also include your last name and maybe a sponsor name and logo.  NASCAR driver uniforms have, perhaps, the most labels of all.   We, too, can wear lots of labels, and I’m not talking about clothing company logos.  These labels give us identity, but they are not our identity.

What are our labels?  Dad, Mom, Grandparent, student, sports player, sports team supporter.  Those are positive labels.  Sadly there are negative ones too.  Failure.  Divorced.  Sinner.  Victim.  Criminal. What labels do you wear?

But those labels are not our identity.  Instead as we have seen, we are children of God, adopted into his family, made alive to new life in Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit, citizens of the Kingdom of God.  Let’s allow those identities to inform us and motivate us. 

Let me conclude with this reminder from Ephesians 5:1: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Throughout this Identity series I have been asking you to reflect on who you are, who you REALLY are, who you are in Christ and what that means.  It should change how you carry yourself. It should change how you walk into situations.  It should change how you relate to co-workers, to family members, to neighbors.  We are heirs of the King.  We are adopted children of the living God.  We have access to all of who he is.  He wants to be in relationship with us.  We have the Holy Spirit living in us, and we should be desiring to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be walking in step with him.  We should desire to be guided in thought and deed by our identity with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and this past week we were reminded in what Kingdom we have our true citizenship.  We have been reminded of where our heart should be turning to for guidance and direction about how we view the world, how we view people, and how we make choices in life.

Commit to stepping into your real identity, to remembering whose you are in a more significant way, to saying “Yes, I carry the Holy Spirit with me, I am an adopted child of God and I want it to change how to make decisions.”

How fantasy football helps us identify as Citizens of God's Kingdom – Our Identity: Citizens of God's Kingdom, Part 4

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Did you know that Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven is like fantasy football?  When you play fantasy football, you normally draft onto your fantasy team players that are from teams that you don’t root for. All of a sudden, now that they are on your fantasy team, you start being interested in that player.  You want them to do well, because when they do well, they are getting you points for your fantasy team.  Previously you didn’t care a lick for that player, and maybe you didn’t like them, but now your viewpoint has changed!  The same works for just about anything we spend time on. You start watching a TV show, for example, and before you know it, you’re talking about it to everyone. 

So how do we live out our identity as citizens of the Kingdom? We focus on the Kingdom!

There are so many places that we could turn to in the Bible to reflect on this, but I want to read one that I haven’t blogged about before, as I think it summarizes Kingdom-living very well.  Turn to 1 Thessalonians 4, and read verses 1-12.  Here Paul is writing ancient Christians living in the Roman Empire.  Even if they were Roman citizens, like Paul himself was, how should they live so that their identity as citizens of the Kingdom is primary? 

Do you see how that passage is loaded with wonderful teaching about how to live as citizens of the Kingdom?  As I said before, Paul is teaching those early Christian what it looks like to live like Jesus.  I would encourage you to read it every day this week, asking God’s Spirit to speak to you about it.

Another way to live as citizens of the Kingdom is to focus on that Kingdom.  Jesus talked about this.  Read Matthew 6:19-34. Jesus’ point is that when our focus is on the Kingdom, it will affect our thinking.

Jesus said a great way to apply this principle is through how you use your money.  When you start to pay for stuff on your own, you tend to become more interested in it.  Yesterday my daughter and I went to the cell phone store so she could get a new cell phone. Not a hand-me-down this time, and a first for her: a data plan. Why? Because she recently started her first job, is earning money regularly, and can pay for her plan, which are requirements we’ve given to our kids in order for them to have a cell phone with a data plan. She also bought a screen protector and a case for the phone, because she wants to care for the investment she is making. That goes for nearly everything we care about. We steward it because we care about it. How, then, are you stewarding the God’s money? One way some churches are leading the way stewarding God’s money is by paying off medical bills for people in need. RIP Medical Debt negotiates with health companies so that every dollar donated by the churches will pay off 100 dollars in debt.  What a great way to focus on the Kingdom.  There are so many similar ways to do, such as giving to your church, giving to local social services agencies, and helping people in need.

How Christian dual citizenship matters to politics – Our Identity: Citizens of God's Kingdom, Part 3

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Christians, we have dual citizenship.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, and we are citizens of an earthly kingdom.  Where I am writing from, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, most Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus, and we are citizens of the United States of America.  We say, “I am American,” and we are.  But we are also Christian.  How do these two citizenships work together or differ?

In a country with a strong Christian heritage like ours, it can sometime be very hard to know how to see that these two citizenships are different. In many countries, however, it is very easy to see the difference.  Think, for example, of the earliest Christians.  Many of them lived as citizens of Rome, and yet Rome did not accept their Christian faith and persecuted them.  Some early Christians didn’t have Roman citizenship.  They were literal strangers and aliens in the Roman Empire.

It might be like Christians in a persecuted country today.  Take China where the church is often underground, secret, hidden.  People in China know that their citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven leads them to hold a far different set of values and beliefs than their Chinese citizenship.  Their two citizenships are drastically at odds with one another, and to follow their citizenship in the Kingdom of God, they sometimes have to disobey the terms of their citizenship of China.  Many earthly nations actually say that it is illegal to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  We saw an example of this in the story of Daniel and his friends a month ago in our Characters series, when in order to follow God’s ways, they had to defy the way of the earthly king.

For us in a free nation like America, it can be much more difficult to distinguish our two citizenships.  Historically there have been many ways which our two citizenships have been aligned.  Being a good Christian and a good American, for some people, seemed to be identical.  But are they? 

First, citizenship in heaven does not equate to an earthly nation or political party.  That’s where it gets confusing.  Some Christians will tell you that in order to be a faithful Christian, you must be in a certain political party. That is false. It is impossible to identify whether or not you are a citizen of the kingdom of God simply based on which political party you are registered with.

Therefore is to be expected that your church likely has members from both major American political parties, and maybe some of you support third parties too.  That diversity is okay.  Our true citizenship is in heaven and transcends political parties.  Therefore we should never allow political differences to get in the way of our family bond in Christ.

Second, our citizenship in heaven means that our affinity and brotherhood with Christians is our top priority.  We can say that we are supportive of Christians around the world, like our sister churches in Liberia or Mexico, and that we pray for the persecuted church.  But because of our common citizenship in heaven, we have more connection with those Christians around the world, wherever they are found, then we do with our next door neighbor who, though an American citizen, is not a Christian.  That next door neighbor might be a really good person, flying the American flag, and they might look, talk and even think like us in many ways.  And that international Christian might be halfway around the world, speak a different language, and think very differently than we do.  Because of our citizenship in heaven, though, it is the international Christian with whom we share the bonds of Christ.

That does not mean we don’t love and interact and get to know all of our neighbors. It means that we must recognize that our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven is a deeper connecting bond – no matter the political party, no matter the country we live in, no matter the language we speak, no matter the color of our skin. We will all be serving the same God, learning to walk with Jesus the same way, desiring to understand and be more and more filled with the same Holy Spirit.  

Think about what that means for your views on foreign policy.  Citizens of the Kingdom, in other words, think, talk and act in line with Jesus, above all else, above their political party, above their earthly citizenship. 

So there is an election in our earthly country coming up soon. Have you heard?  And yes, we are citizens of Heaven, and yes, we should vote, and depending on your views of how biblical teaching relates to politics, it is more likely that you will vote for one political party or the other. Our citizenship in heaven should influence how we vote here on earth. How, then, should our citizenship in heaven inform our vote?

First of all, we need to be people who can have healthy discussion about the issues. So often what happens within a group of Christians is that political discussion begins and the walls go up, making it impossible to have a healthy discussion.  When that happens, it is almost certainly a signal that those people have allowed their citizenship in an earthly nation to supersede their citizenship in heaven.  When our citizenship in heaven is our priority, though, we are able to worship with and love people from all other nations and political parties, even if we strongly disagree with the way they view politics.  Thus we can be willing to hear and learn from people, especially including those who say they are citizens of the Kingdom, and yet believe differently than we do. We do not want to fall victim to echo chambers. What is an echo chamber, and how does it matter to Christians and politics? I wrote about that in a series starting here.

Second, we should examine whether we have allowed one political or social issue to dominate our thinking to the detriment of all others. Let me illustrate. A person, in keeping with their view of citizenship in the Kingdom of God might believe that abortion is wrong, and thus they should vote for the pro-life candidate. Or a person might believe that that their citizenship in the Kingdom leads them to vote for the candidate who wants to help people in poverty. Many times Christians have directly opposing political views, but those on either side believe they are aligned with the Kingdom of God. My encouragement to you as you consider candidates and their politics and how they do or do not align with the Kingdom of God, is the avoid letting a single issue dominate your opinion. Try to step back and see the broader view. Admittedly, this is complex, but it can be done, if we start from a position of humility and seek to learn from Jesus.

And that goes for me too.  You might not agree with my political views.  That’s okay.  We Christians have a higher authority, as Jesus is our King!  That’s where we find common ground, far above any national leader or politics.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of God.

The Already, but Not Yet Kingdom – Our Identity: Citizens of God's Kingdom, Part 2

We are citizens of the Kingdom of God now.  What does that mean?  How does our citizenship in God’s Kingdom matter now?

The answer to that question is something called, “the already, but not yet”.  We are a part of the Kingdom of God already, but that Kingdom has not yet come in its fullness.  One day it will be complete.  But not yet.  Now, however, in our day, the kingdom has already come in part, and we are truly Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven now.  When Paul said that our citizenship is in heaven in Philippians 3:20, he did not say it will only be in the future.  Instead he was speaking in the present tense. Our citizenship in God’s Kingdom started the moment that God the Spirit indwelled us, as we talked about last week.

So how do we live as citizens of God’s Kingdom now?  To answer that, we first need to answer another question.  What is the Kingdom?

A Kingdom is a realm ruled by a king.  Simple, right?  A realm and rule.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, we must first clearly declare who the King is.  As we have seen in the Identity series, our King is God, who is a Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit.  He is our sovereign, our monarch, our leader, our Lord, and we follow him.  There is no other king that we follow.  God, as expressed in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the ruler, the King. 

So what is the realm where our King rules? 

Typically we think of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place that we go to after we die.  Heaven is that.  But Jesus talked about his Kingdom in more ways than a spiritual realm where we go when we die. Actually, Jesus talked about the kingdom quite a lot.  The first mention is possibly Mark 1:14-15.  There we read the following:

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Hear that.  The Kingdom of God is near.  It is not far away.  So it cannot be only a place, a heaven, that people can enter after they die.  Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is near. 

Another time he went even further than that:

“Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Luke 17:20-21

Jesus was saying that we can experience the Kingdom of God now.  In what might be his most famous teaching on the Kingdom of God, the Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6:10, he said, and many of you can probably recite it: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

God wants his will to be done on earth, as his will is done perfectly in heaven.  And when his will is done on earth, that is evidence that his Kingdom has come on earth. 

So the Kingdom is any place where God’s rule and reign enters, where his ways and his heart is being lived and acted upon.  Like when we worship by serving the community on Church Has Left The Building Sundays, including digging out tree stumps for neighbors. 

Jesus told parables to illustrate this.  Turn to Mark 4:26 where Jesus tells two parables in a row.  In both, Jesus is talking about the mysterious powerful nature of the Kingdom that is at work even when we don’t see it. It flows, it is on the move, it is at work. 

Go back to Mark 1:14-15. When Jesus said the Kingdom was near, he himself was ushering it into the world in a new way.  No longer was the Kingdom of God contained to the physical borders of the nation of Israel. The Kingdom of God is not defined by borders.

Consider earthly kingdoms where we pass through entry and exits points of a country’s borders.  In earthly kingdoms or nations, they have defined boundaries (for the most part) and those boundaries almost never move.  With our passports in hand, and sometimes visas, we the people of the world move in and out earthly countries.  But God’s Kingdom is totally different.  God’s Kingdom has no boundaries. Instead it his kingdom that is on the move.  So while we enter and exit earthly kingdoms, God’s kingdom enters and exits us.

This has great implications for us as citizens. Citizens of an earthly country are expected to live and act a certain way. So how should citizens of God’s Kingdom live out their identity? We will be different.  Just as people from different cultures act, speak and think differently, Christians should be known for acting, thinking and speaking differently, flowing from our core identity.  Remember our core identity: we are adopted as children into God’s family, we have new life in Christ and we are temples of the Holy Spirit.  That is our identity, and because of that identity, we will live a certain way. 

That way of life will look distinctly Christian.  To look Christian is to behave and live like Christ.  A Christian is one who is of Christ.  If you want to learn more about that, check out the posts on our Identity in Christ.   Our citizenship should be Christ-shaped, or shaped by Christ.  This is why it is so vital for us to study the life of Jesus as written in the Bible.  He was showing us how to live as citizens of the Kingdom.  We should do, therefore, what he did, having the same heart as he did.  What breaks his heart should break ours. What excites him should excite us. We should pattern our actions after his and our heart and mind will be transformed.

Does where you were born matter? – Our Identity: Citizens of God's Kingdom, Part 1

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Where were you born? I’ve lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for most of my life, but I was born in Alexandria, Virginia. What that means is that I am a citizen of the United States of America. What country are you a citizen of?

I’m bringing this up because in our Identity sermon series, we’ve talked about how Christians are adopted children of God, with new life in Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit.  But how do we live out this identity in the world?

The earliest Christians taught the principle that we live out our identity in the world as Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  In our church fellowship hall, we fly flags from various countries that we are associated with, but we hang the Christian flag in the center.  We wanted the the Christian flag to be the focal point because while we represent earthly nations, we are truly citizens of God’s Kingdom, not of any one earthly country.  As with any claim like that, we need to ask, “Does the Bible talk about this?”

Let’s examine what the biblical writers had to say, starting with what Paul taught in Philippians 3:18-21,

“For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Paul taught something similar in Ephesians 2:11-22. I encourage you to read it, and because it is a longer passage, I will summarize it. Paul says that in God’s Kingdom we have a new identity, a new home, a new people, a new citizenship.  We are no longer foreigners and aliens in the world, but we are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.  So we belong somewhere.  This is great news!

Keep your finger in Ephesians 2, and turn to 1 Peter 1:17.  In 1 Peter 1:17, Peter teaches the Christians to, “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  Then he repeats himself in 1 Peter 2:11 when he says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul.”  Do you hear that?  We Christians have a new identity.  We see ourselves not as citizens of an earthly nation, but as aliens and strangers here, because we have a new citizenship in God’s Kingdom. 

At first glance this could sound like a contradiction of what Paul said in Ephesians 2:19.  Compare the two.  In Ephesians 2:19, Paul says, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens,” and in 1 Peter 1 and 2 we just read Peter say that we should live as aliens and strangers.  They’re talking about the same thing, but from different directions.  We are not aliens because our true citizenship is in God’s Kingdom, and so therefore we should see not see our national birthplace as our true identity.  When we make the choice to follow Jesus, we are granted citizenship in his kingdom, and that identity trumps all other citizenship.

Think about your various forms of ID. We get our first one when we are born: a birth certificate.  As I said earlier, I was born in Virginia. Then we get our Social Security number. And eventually our driver’s license.  And a voter card.  And a passport.   And maybe you have other ID too.   Believe it or not, I have a pastor’s ID card.  I also have a clergy ID from our local hospital.  These IDs relate to our various associations, but only a couple of them relate to our citizenship.  Our birth certificates and our passports.  In my case, they are official forms of ID authenticating my citizenship in the United States of America.  There’s been a lot of talk about the new REAL ID, which is basically a driver’s license with the yellow star symbol.  But ironically, for Christians REAL ID is not our real ID.

Christians, we have a new identity.  We are not only children of God, adopted into his family, alive in Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit, we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God, and that means we are strangers and aliens in this earthly realm. 

My citizenship in God’s Kingdom, of course, does not eliminate my American citizenship. Christians are dual citizens.  But our citizenship in God Kingdom is far superior to our earthly citizenship.  In fact, what Peter is teaching is that our citizenship in God’s Kingdom is much more real and important, and that our earthly citizenship pales in comparison to the point where we see ourselves as strangers and aliens on earth.  Our earthly nation is not our true home.  Our citizenship to an earthly country is far inferior to our citizenship in God’s Kingdom. This has great ramifications for how we view the world and make decisions.  We should filter everything through our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. 

The writer of Hebrews suggested something similar in Hebrews 11:13, talking about some of the so-called heroes of faith.  The writer says that those people, “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth,” and that “they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one.” Just a few chapters leater in Hebrews 13:14 he says, “For we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” 

We know that one day in the future in heaven, as we read in Revelation 7:9, that all Christians from every tribe, tongue and nation will be together.  There will no longer be earthly nations, but all will be together in God’s Kingdom. 

What that means is that our earthly citizenship is temporary.  You might have seen the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal.  The official summary of the premise of the movie says, “When Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), an Eastern European tourist, arrives at JFK in New York, war breaks out in his country. Because of the war, the US Department of Homeland Security won’t let him enter or exit the United States. He’s trapped at JFK indefinitely.”  Because of the war in his country, it wasn’t certain what his country was anymore.  In effect he was a citizen of no earthly country.  That could happen to anyone, right?  I’m writing as an American citizen. Before 1776 the United States of America did not exist.  There could be a time in the future when it will no longer exist.  Furthermore, when we die, our earthly citizenship ceases to have any importance.  But our citizenship in heaven is permanent, eternal. 

Let us not make a mistake, though, of thinking that our citizenship in God’s Kingdom is only in the future.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of God now. 

What does that mean?  How does our citizenship in God’s Kingdom matter now? In the next post, we’ll try to begin to answer that question.

How to walk with the Holy Spirit every day – Our Identity: Temples of the Spirit, Part 5

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If you are a Christian, you carry the Holy Spirit around with you everywhere you go. So what? What does that matter? How do we live out our identity as temples of the Spirit?

It starts with confession and repentance for the sin in our lives.  Admit it, and turn away from it.  One of those of particular importance, when it comes to the Spirit, is an apathy toward the Spirit.  Imagine how that must feel to the Spirit.  Here he is, God, coming to live with us, to indwell us, which is an amazing gift of himself to us, and we can be very apathetic to him, often treating him as if he doesn’t exist.  And yet he is with us!  Imagine how your spouse or child or parent would feel if you spent most of every day ignoring them, though you are living together in the same house.  It would feel incredibly offensive to them.  Likewise imagine how the Holy Spirit feels if we rarely talk with or listen to him, though he is indwelling us?

Many people go through the act of being married.  They have a ring on their finger, a signed marriage license, but that does not mean they have a healthy, thriving, loving marriage.  To achieve that you need to invest in listening, spending time together, growing in communication, prioritizing the other.  You are still married if you don’t have a loving healthy marriage, but it is not, and you are not, all that you can be and all that your marriage is meant to be and intended to be.

In the first post in this series, we looked at John 16 where Jesus said that he was leaving the disciples, but that was a good thing for them. He was giving the disciples something better, and what he said is true.  Because having the Holy Spirit indwelling us and filling us is so good, then we should desire a close relationship with the Spirit to be a regular part of our heart, mind, and life.

To that, I want to talk about how we address the Spirit.  I did it right there.  I wrote, “THE Spirit.”  On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with that.  The biblical writers and Jesus himself addressed the Spirit that way.  It is proper English.  The Spirit does not have a given name, but instead a title.  Kind of like “God THE Father,” and “God THE Son,” but when it comes to Jesus, we can feel more personal with him because he does have a given name.  Jesus.  So we never say, “THE Jesus” because he is Jesus.  We call him by his first name, as is totally normal, and yet the byproduct is that we can feel closer to him.  Likewise, we can feel more distant from the Spirit because of how we address him.  But as we’ve seen in this week’s posts, the Spirit is actually closer to us than Jesus.  The Spirit is living with us.

So I am going to make a suggestion.  What if we start addressing the Spirit directly, as if that is his name?  For example, and this might sound odd at first, but how about this conversation starter, “Spirit, how are you doing this morning?”  Notice how it is more personal?  More relational? 

We sing songs like this, don’t we?  “Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.”  “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.”  We don’t sing those songs, saying “The Holy Spirit, you are welcome here,” because we are addressing the Spirit directly.  You can do the same as you pray to the Spirit, in order to help develop a closer relationship with the Spirit.  Make it personal.  Maybe we need to start with confessing and repenting of a neglect of the Spirit.

Next, be filled, ingest the Spirit into your life, but not just alone.   Do it together with people.  We so often think of this individually, or done in isolation, as if that is all that Paul intended.  For the early Christians, Spirit-filled life was a group thing.  When the Spirit first indwelled them, as we read in Acts 2, that group of disciples and followers of Jesus were praying together.   Of course the Spirit can work individually, but it also very important to see the filling of the Spirit in a group.

How do we do this?  Certainly by spending in time in prayer, talking with and listening to the Spirit.  Include Scripture in these conversations.  Read it, asking the Spirit to help you understand it, and listen for what he is saying to you through.

In a recent conversation with a friend, they told me that in their teen years they decided to read the Bible cover to cover. They were committed to it, but all that reading did nothing, they said.  I appreciate the honesty of that. Maybe you’ve felt the same way.  Just deciding to read the Bible isn’t a guarantee of growing closer to God.  So I recommend that you connect with someone.  Get someone to teach you how to read the Bible, and do it along with you.  Remember when we talked about ways we can quench the Spirit?  One of the ways is by looking at scripture intellectually and not as in relationship with God.  How are you reading scripture? Read Scripture, asking the Holy Spirit within you to help you understand what God is saying to you through his Word.  Include time for listening to the Spirit speak, through Scripture, through others, and for those mysterious impressions we call the voice of the Spirit.  Throughout this Identity series, I’ve been advocating reading one chapter every day for a week, and then getting together with others and discussing it.  Have a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, spiritual discussion.  If you believe the Spirit is talking with you, don’t keep it to yourself, but bring it to the group for confirmation.

You are children of God, alive in Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit.  So live out of that identity.   Serving, Giving, Sacrificing.  Walking into situations with the personal knowledge and understanding that you are carrying Holy Spirit with you.  In conclusion, just as Paul taught us in Galatians 5, walk in step with the Spirit, and you will see the fruit of the Spirit flowing from your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control.

How to be filled with (and quench) the Holy Spirit – Our Identity: Temples of the Spirit, Part 4

Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Is it possible that you might have grieved or quenched the Spirit?

We learned in the previous post that the Spirit of God is hard at work in lives.  But what if we don’t know it, or realize it, or feel it?  That would be a bummer, right?  The God of the universe is living in us, at work in us, and yet sometimes we can barely realize it.  That’s a problem.  What we see in Scripture is that just because we are indwelt with the Spirit at the moment of placing our faith in Christ, that doesn’t mean we are filled with the Spirit.  There is a difference between being indwelt and filled. 

What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?

Does it mean we will demonstrate some special powers?  Some people say that if you really have the Spirit in your life, you will know it because you will be speaking in tongues, or you will be slain in the Spirit, or you will be able to do miracles, or you will be able to hear messages from God that he wants you to deliver to other people.  Should we expect this to be standard or normal in the life of the believer in the church?

If you go back to the time when the Spirit first came to the church in Acts 2, that is definitely what it meant.  In a previous post this week we read verses 1-4, but take a look again at verse 4.  After the Spirit filled the disciples, they were speaking in other languages.  The implication of the text is that the disciples did not previously know those languages.  The Spirit of God was empowering them to preach the Good News of Jesus in the home languages of the people who were gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish celebration of Pentecost. The first time the Spirit gave people the gift of speaking in tongues, those people were speaking real languages for the purposes of introducing people to Jesus.  Later in the letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, some 30 years later, he talks about speaking in tongues a bit differently.  I’m not going to take the time to do a deep study of 1st Corinthians 14, but essentially he says that there is an angelic tongue of sorts, and people, by the Holy Spirit, are gifted to speak that language, which can sound like ecstatic speech.  He also says that not every Christian will speak it or understand it, so there will also be people who are gifted to translate the language to the rest so they can understand.  Furthermore he says that we shouldn’t forbid speaking in that kind of tongue, but he believes that kind of speaking in tongues is far inferior to speaking in a language that everyone can understand.   

The problem is when there is a requirement for these kinds of manifestations of the Spirit to prove that you are a true Christian.  Some Christians say that unless you speak in that angelic tongue, you are not truly a Christian.  There is nothing in Scripture, in my reading, that would substantiate that claim. Instead you can be indwelt with the Spirit and filled with the Spirit, and you might never speak in tongues, or do miracles.  What, then, does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?

In Ephesians 5:15-21, Paul gives a fairly clear teaching about being filled with the Spirit.

He uses alcohol to illustrate being filled with the Spirit.  As Paul indicates, when you consume alcohol, it gets in your bloodstream and starts to debilitate you.  You lose your faculties.  That is what inebriated means.  You are intoxicated.  You are no longer in control of your life.  This is why the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments issue strong warnings about the consumption of alcohol, and both are clear in their condemnation of drunkenness.  Paul takes that image and says, do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.  Interestingly, alcohol is called spirits.  Paul is saying don’t allow alcoholic spirits to control you, but allow The Holy Spirit to control you.  That is the difference between indwelling and filling.  For some of us, the Spirit is living in us, he is indwelling us, but he is not in control of our lives.  When he fills us, we are giving him control. 

So when you make the choice to give your life to Christ and follow his heart, he gives you his Spirit to indwell you.  But for the rest of your life you have a choice about filling, about who is controlling your thoughts, your actions and your heart.   

Paul says that though we are temples of the Holy Spirit, we are not always walking with the Spirit.  We read this in Galatians 5.  When we allow sin to flow from our lives, Paul writes, we are not walking in step with the Spirit.  In Ephesians 4:30, he says that we can grieve Spirit.  And in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 he teaches that we can quench the Spirit, or put out the Spirit’s fire. 

We don’t use the word “quench” all that much, so what does it mean?  Most commonly we use it as “quench your thirst”.  It is to satisfy or to put out.  When it comes to a forest fire or thirst, you certainly want to quench it.  But not the Spirit.  My NIV Study Bible notes make a very interesting comment about this idea of quenching the Spirit. 

“There is a warmth, a glow, about the Spirit’s presence that makes this language appropriate.  The kind of conduct Paul is opposing may include loafing, immorality and the other sins he has denounced.  On the other hand, he may be warning against a mechanical attitude toward worship that discourages the expression of the gifts of the Spirit in the local assembly.”

Leon Morris

In other words, if we choose to live sinful lives, we can quench or grieve the Spirit, meaning that we are less filled with the Spirit, and we are not giving him control of our hearts, actions, and words. But it is also very possible that if we take a mechanical or intellectual, rather than a personal or relational view of the Spirit, that too can quench the Spirit.  You can study a driving book, learn all the ways of the road, maybe even pass the test and get your license, but that does not mean that you are a driver. Becoming a driver takes getting a car, putting the keys in the ignition, starting the engine, then driving it onto the road, and navigating it around other vehicles.  Just knowing about something does not mean it affects your day to day thoughts and movements. Knowledge is not the same as real interaction.

Check back in to the final post in this week’s series on our identity as temples of the Holy Spirit as we seek to answer the question of how that identity matters in the real world of our day-to-day lives.

How the Holy Spirit works in us – Our Identity: Temples of the Spirit, Part 3

Your body is a temple.

Have you ever heard that? What does it mean? If you google it, you’ll find lots of images of people exercising. When people say, “your body is a temple,” they are often referring to health and wellness.  So to treat your body right, you should exercise, eat healthy, and sleep well.  They are not wrong in saying that.  We absolutely should care for our bodies.

But the idea that our bodies are temples is an old one, and it’s ancient meaning is very different from how it is commonly used today. As we continue this third week of our Identity series, you might have noticed that the previous two posts this week have the subtitle: “Temple of the Holy Spirit.” That is the ancient meaning, that humans who are true followers of Jesus, in their bodies, are temples of God’s Spirit. In the previous two weeks in our Identity series, we’ve seen how our identity must be rooted in the truth that we are children of God, adopted into his family, and how we are made new, alive in Christ. So after seeing our identity in the first two persons of the Trinity, this week we are looking at our identity in the Spirit. In 1st Corinthians chapter 6, verses 12-20, Paul teaches the amazing truth that the Spirit of God lives in us, and thus our bodies are his temple. 

Paul’s image hearkens back to the Old Testament, where in 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 we read that Solomon dedicated the temple and the glory of God filled the temple.  Paul takes this image and appropriates it for us.  No longer does God dwell in a building, but we are temples that carry the Spirit of God with us.

What do we do, though, if we don’t feel like temples of the Spirit?  How many of us feel very little or nothing of the Holy Spirit in our lives day to day? 

We need to trust that the Spirit is at work in you, and we need to pursue the filling of the Spirit, which we’ll talk more about in the next post. For the remainder of this post, we’ll look at some ways the Bible tells us that the Spirit works in us, even if we don’t feel like anything is happening.

First, the Spirit illuminates, or shines light.  How?  In John 16:13-16, we read that He illuminates truth and brings glory to Christ, like sports stadium lights illuminate the field. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:12, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

Second, the Spirit convicts of sin. Jesus said in John 16:8, “When he comes, the Spirit will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment”

Third, the Spirit also helps us in prayer. In Romans 8:26-27, Paul writes, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

These are just three of the many ways the Spirit is of God is hard at work in our lives.  But what if we don’t know it, or realize it, or feel it?  That would be a bummer, right?  The God of the universe is living in us, at work in us, and yet sometimes we can barely realize it.  That’s a problem.  What we see in Scripture is that just because we are indwelt with the Spirit at the moment of placing our faith in Christ, that doesn’t mean we are filled with the Spirit.  There is a difference between being indwelt and filled.

Check back in to the next post as we’ll look at what the New Testament writers had to say about the filling of the Spirit.

What is the Holy Spirit? And how do we receive the Spirit? – Our Identity: Temples of the Spirit, Part 2

Photo by Josh Marshall on Unsplash

What is the Holy Spirit?

As a spirit, you cannot see the Spirit.  The Spirit is invisible.  But the Spirit is God, God’s true spiritual being.  The Spirit is equal to God in every way. 

In Scripture we see various descriptions of the Spirit. The Spirit came like a dove alighting on Jesus during his baptism.  That doesn’t mean the Spirit has the actual physical form of a dove.  The Gospel writers were simply trying to put into human words and ideas a concept that was ultimately beyond complete understanding. 

In Acts 2, we read that the Spirit arrived, just as Jesus promised.  I encourage you to open a Bible and read Acts 2:1-4.  It’s wild. 

Did you read the two ideas used to describe the coming of the Spirit? Wind and fire.  In both cases, just like the dove at Jesus’ baptism, the writer does not say that the Spirit is wind or the Spirit is fire, but that the Spirit is like those things.  You can see the writer grasping for words to describe something that was not fully possible to describe.  A “sound like the blowing of a violent wind.”  And then “what seemed to be tongues of fire.”   I love reading this account, but what I really wish is that I could have been there to experience it!  The writer is doing his best to help us have a semblance of an idea of what must have been mind-blowing.  It reminds me of a few years ago when there was an earthquake.  We were living in the city of Lancaster at the time, and I remember the sound and shaking.  We lived only a block from the hospital, and I thought an emergency helicopter which would normally land on the hospital roof, must be landing on our roof.  In those times when something new and unexpected is happening, we do our best to describe it, but we can’t quite fully understand it or articulate.  When it comes to the Holy Spirit, therefore, we have a dove, we have wind, we have fire. 

One other element to add to this is that in both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, the word for “spirit” is the same word that is used for wind or breath.  The movement of air. 

What all these images and words tell us is that the Spirit, though a spirit, though invisible, is quite real and powerful.  In the busyness of our lives, we can forget that.  As we studied in Part 1, Jesus said that it was good that he left so the Spirit would come.  That means we have can have access to the very real, very powerful God the Spirit. But how do we have that access?

How and when does the Spirit come upon the life of the believer?

The simplest answer is that we receive the Spirit when we accept Christ as our Savior.  But you might think, “Yeah, but I never had a moment where there was a sound like a rushing wind, or a tongues of fire, or a dove…none of that…do I have the Holy Spirit?  Am I truly a Christian?  Am I saved?” 

The Bible teaches something called the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament the Spirit only came on people for special purposes.  It was not the norm.  We heard about this when we studied Samson a few months ago in the Characters series. The Spirit came on him, empowering him to fight in battle, but it didn’t last.

In the New Testament, Jesus promised that his Spirit would come on his disciples in a much more complete way.  For example, in John 14:16 he says that if the disciples obey what he commands, he will give us the Spirit to be with us forever.  This is the indwelling of the Spirit.  Indwelling means that the Spirit comes and lives with us. 

Here are some other passages that talk about this:

1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

Ephesians 1:13 “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

This is why Paul could say in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

So how will we know if the Spirit is in our life?  Will we feel something?  Or is it just something that we must believe, even if we have no evidence of it happening?

Paul went on to answer that.  Romans 8:15-16 “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” 

There is no doubt that what Paul says here is mysterious and requires faith and trust, but what Paul indicates is that the Holy Spirit communicates a confirmation to us that he has indwelt us, and thus we can embrace our identity as children of God.  I wish I could scientifically describe the indwelling of the Spirit for you, so that it was obvious and unmistakable, but God prefers us to place our faith in him rather than in undeniable evidence.  But there is more we can point to.

You can also know that the Spirit is with you because you will see the fruit of the Spirit coming out of your lives. Turn to and read Galatians 5:16-26, which is where Paul teaches about the fruit of the Spirit.

One person from Faith Church told the story about how she rededicated her life to Jesus, and as a result she saw things differently, and she thought differently.  Things she never thought about as sinful she now thought of as sinful.  She had repented, and she was changed.  She saw the evidence of the Holy Spirit flowing from her.  For the rest of us, the same is true.  We’ll know we have the Spirit in our lives when we start thinking differently. 

She said, “Everything was a different color, everything was brighter.” I love that!

So when we place our faith in Jesus, and give our lives to follow him, he promises that God’s Spirit indwells us, seeking to transform us. 

Because God lives in us, Paul says we are temples of the God’s Spirit. Temples? More on that in our next post.