It wasn’t the best of mornings when you get down to it.
My wife had an appointment scheduled that put her on edge because it had the potential to determine the course of the rest of her life. Jangly nerves and a tremor in her voice all said, “I really need you to pay attention to me right now.”
My son, watching his summer vacation slipping away, fell into that desperate state of attempting to pack as much living into five days as was humanly possible. Flubber had nothing on the kid. He was bouncing around the house begging for things to do, his sole mission to get me to pay attention to him right now.
Meanwhile, I’d awakened to a malfunctioning Internet connection and a deadline to meet. As the materials had to be emailed, that posed a bit of a dilemma. With my IT background, I normally don’t blanch when tech things go awry. But after some computer finagling, I came to the terrible realization that it was nothing on my end that I could correct; my ISP was down, no matter what the blinking lights on the modem said. It was the kind of situation I needed to deal with right now if I was to make my deadline.
And right at that moment of stark tech realization, kid yelling, wife anxious, the doorbell rang.
“Dad, there’s two people standing at the door,” my son added to his tirade.
I knew in that second exactly who it was.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses.
While that’s enough to start some people hyperventilating, I greatly enjoy talking to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I know their theology very well, know what verses to share with them out of their own (flawed) New World Translation bible, and generally throw a box full of monkey wrenches into the cogs of their apologetics. In short, I know exactly what to say to them. And I do it in a very neighborly and loving way.
Most times, that is.
Normally, I would invite them in, but the hyperactive son and the anxious wife who had to leave for her appointment in a few minutes did not make for the best environment. So I offered to have them sit down on our front porch in our three porch chairs—except two of the three chairs seemed to have gone missing.
So we stood around. Ugh.
I then began to commit a series of errors. Instead of steering the conversation toward the divinity of Jesus (as the JWs believe Jesus is a created being, the archangel Michael), I let myself get dragged to the end of that discussion prematurely, as we somehow jumped right to the Trinity, which requires nearly a full overview of Scripture to present accurately (as the JWs do well at dismantling piecemeal Scriptures on the Trinity, especially when presented standing around on someone’s front porch). When I attempted to go back to the issue of Jesus’ divinity, I asked for the junior JW’s New World Translation and immediately realized I couldn’t read it; the words were too small. This meant going to find either of the two pair of reading glasses I now own—of course, both eluded me. Then, I got the “brilliant” idea while looking for my glasses to pull out my Aland Greek New Testament in case we stumbled into differences between the NWT and the genuine text. Five minutes later, I think, I got back outside, hoping to talk more about the tirpartite nature of man and how it reflects the Trinitarian nature of God, but somehow I spent most of that time thumbing my way through my Greek NT and not enough concentrating on the tripartite explanation. Meanwhile, the truth of Jesus’ divinity was receding into the murky past of the conversation. At this point, my wife informed us that she must leave and the JWs’ car was blocking our driveway. Seeing this as the perfect out, the senior JW said it was obvious they and I were at completely different places and were never going to come to any agreement on anything, so so long, buh-bye.
And with that, there was no joy in Mudville; mighty Casey had struck out.
The postmortem of this moment doesn’t need the team from CSI to enunciate what went wrong. Anyone want to venture the answer?
It wasn’t that I was stressed by the events of the morning.
It wasn’t the time crunch or the blocked driveway.
It wasn’t an inadequate knowledge of the theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
And it wasn’t an inadequate knowledge of Christian doctrine.
What made the morning less than stellar was that I left the Holy Spirit out of that golden opportunity.
We’ve been talking for the last few weeks about what it’s going to take to get the American Church educated in the deep truths of the Faith, but what I want to add right now is that all the Bible-learnin’ in the world is pointless without the Holy Spirit to pull it all together and make it scintillate in our spirits.
I know plenty of Christians who can handle the Bible well. I know plenty of Christians who claim to know the voice of the Holy Spirit. But the kind of Christian I rarely meet is the one who puts both together.
You have on one side the intellectuals with their systematic theologies who could mount an apologetic that rolls like thunder but are tone deaf when it comes to listening to instructions from the Holy Spirit. On the other side are the charismatics who are always talking about the revelation they’re receiving by the Holy Spirit but who will search for hours if you ask them to locate the Book of Hezekiah in their Bibles.
My problem that August morning was that I didn’t ask the Holy Spirit to take charge of the time and guide me His way. I barged ahead like one of those deaf intellectuals, smug in my learnin’.
If we’re to make a difference in the education of Christians in America, we have got to start bridging the gap between the word of God and the Spirit of God. Because in truth, the only gap that exists in that gapless relationship occurs because of you and me. We’re the problem. The Spirit and the Scriptures are perfect.
And so I ask, what churches out there are teaching people how to listen to the Holy Spirit when it comes to correctly handling the Scriptures?
Because it doesn’t work if we know the Bible but can’t hear the voice of the Spirit tell us how to understand and use it. And it doesn’t work if charismatics go on and on about their spiritual gifts but then don’t give the Spirit of God the fodder of His learned word to work from.
If you are in a church that does a great job teaching the Bible but not listening to the Spirit, then you may be getting only part of the story. And chances are, your use of the Bible in those cases when you really need it are going to fall under the label of “the flesh,” and your effectiveness will be diminished. Likewise, if you are in a charismatic church that teaches how to hear the Holy Spirit, yet the average person can’t string together five verses to show why Jesus is God, then you are not putting it all together, either.
If we are to be effective ministers of the Gospel, we have to rely on the voice of the Spirit to lead us in all situations, especially in how to correctly handle the Bible. And we have got to ensure we know the Bible if we are to give the Holy Spirit living in us the free access to the discipline of our study.
Jesus didn’t drop Biblical knowledge into the heads of the disciples at Pentecost. He made what was already there more clear and more transformational. The Spirit brought to mind the time those men had shared with Jesus and amplified the Savior’s teachings. The Spirit made use of what had already been implanted.
And so it must be with us. It’s not enough to know the Bible or say we have the Spirit living in us. Unless we learn the synergy of the Spirit and the word (and—unlike me—ALWAYS rely on it), we’re going to whiff again and again.