I have the wildest memory from high school — and it’s not what you think. 😉 It’s actually my friends and I sitting around a campfire, at a campground, with my parents. And we’re dressed up. Not fancy-like, but ‘in character.’ Perched in our folding lawn chairs, we role-played a murder mystery game under the summer night sky.
One friend wore her dad’s Navy uniform. Big white hat and all. So many other ‘characters’ slipped into their personas as we giggled our way to figuring out whodunnit. And all of it happened around the fire in the middle of our circle. Wild.
As we finish our fall series, “Reigniting Hope,” I want to direct our eyes to the flame that remains at the center of all we are as Christ-followers: the Holy Spirit.
- A campfire’s warmth might draw us near on a cold night, but the Holy Spirit’s faith-heat pulls us with a gravitational-like force toward Him.
- A campfire certainly captures our eyes, mesmerizing us for hours, but the Holy Spirit’s flame of hope takes hold of our souls – forever.
- A campfire pulls us closer to one another around the circle, but the Holy Spirit’s love knits all our hearts together.
Thank you for staying on this Spirit-led journey with me as we’ve explored our trio of Christian graces. Before we step into the Advent season, let’s receive all that God has for us, immersing ourselves once more in the purifying flames of faith, hope, and love so that we come away transformed. Strengthened. Equipped.
Faith’s Full Assurance
In chapter ten, the writer of Hebrews weaves our three-gifts-that-remain into an exhortative, benediction-like speech – building upon the preceding nine chapters’ case for why the new covenant is needed. Simply said, the old one fell short. But in Jesus, everything is fulfilled, completed, made righteous.
What came before Jesus was good and right at each stage of God’s Redemptive Plan, but “the law [was] only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves” (Hebrews 10:1). Priests and animal sacrifices could never really take away sins (vv.4,11), nor could they create the reality that Jesus ushered into the world.
So when the Holy Spirit testifies to us that God’s new covenant has been written on our hearts and minds, we can take this as truth (vv.15-16). As fact. As our reality.
Our sins have been forgiven! They’re no longer remembered by the Author and Perfecter of our faith (vv.17-18); therefore, we can enter the Most Holy Place with confidence (v.19). Just as we don’t have to keep sacrificing animals to get right with God, we also don’t need to beat ourselves up or clean ourselves up to enter God’s presence (v.22b).
Christ has taken care of it all. And that’s faith’s assurance – we can “approach [God] with a sincere heart” (v.22a). Because Jesus.
This assurance strengthens each time we consume God’s truth. Without the nourishing Word in us, our faith can fade, just as a campfire’s flames die out without fresh logs to burn. We must feed the flames of our faith everyday, or our faith runs the risk of becoming cold. What fed our faith yesterday isn’t enough to nourish it today.
Here’s a wild thought – the very act of stepping into God’s presence feeds us so that we can keep coming back to Him. The faith we need to come to our Father is perpetuated by the act of dwelling with Him.
Our Hebrews author goes on to encourage us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (v.23). We know by now that ‘the hope’ is an anchored belief in Jesus, who is already our Savior and will be our Full Restorer upon our resurrection. ‘This hope’ is no whimsy-wish for something we don’t really believe will happen. This hope-in-Jesus is an unwavering trust that He is with us now and every day to come.
In this season of uncovering all the ways I tend to misplace my hope, I’ve been addressing my habitual responses to life’s stresses that aren’t God-centric. Each time I hand over my lists and agendas and plans, I receive grace upon grace. And I feel my hope holding firm.
Friends, wherever we are, the Spirit desires to capture our attention and ignite the hope within us – the kind of hope that withstands stormy winds and rain. The kind of hope that trusts God because we’ve learned He is faithful to keep His promises (v.23). And where trust is growing, hope bursts into flame.
Spurring on Toward Love
Momentum builds as the benediction exhorts us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v.24). Love has so many facets. The Greek language, in which the New Testament was originally written, has multiple words for our one ‘love.’
Each of the Greek terms splinters off one of the layers of love – such as, eros, romantic love; philia, friendship or brotherly love; and storge, familial love.
Our passage employs a fourth Greek word for love, agape, which is thought of as the most God-like love, full of good-will and benevolence. I have always been taught it’s the unconditional love between Christians. In other words, agape is given without any expectation of reciprocation. It’s given because it’s what “God prefers.”1
It’s important for us to differentiate the kind of love we’re being called to as believers. It’s not that we aren’t meant to experience the other ‘flavors’ of love, but what God calls us to reigns above them all. Agape love motivates us for good deeds – and to spur one another on.
I’m loving that this particular gift, the greatest gift (1 Corinthians 13:13), is the one that we both receive and give. But, as wild as it is, it’s often harder for us to receive. Maybe it’s the maternal gene that pushes us to be givers. Or maybe it’s because somewhere deep down we believe we shouldn’t need anything from anyone (not true!).
Whatever our reason for being reluctant receivers, we must accept the love God offers. Then, as we give it space to do its healing work in us, we can give it away. But if we don’t receive God’s love, then the love we offer isn’t His. It’s not agape. It’s a Shelley-brand (fill in your name) of love that comes with hidden motives and unloving expectations.
Now. Here’s what this exhortation is not about – chastising ourselves for not loving well or criticizing ourselves for not getting this love thing right. With God there’s no guilt, no condemnation (Romans 8:1). With God, there’s grace. For us. For the world.
Filled with this Spirit-laden love, we’ll be knit together and able to ignite agape love in each other!
There’s one more verse in this semi-sermon that pulls in a theme we’ve been exploring the last two weeks – that of unity in the body of Christ, that of not “neglecting to meet together” (v.25).
Having been made in the image of our Three-In-One God (Genesis 1:26), we’re hardwired for community. We need people. Specifically, we need to be with other Jesus followers, and coming together at the heart-and-soul level is just as important as physical presence.
With that in mind, let’s pull our folding chairs closer to the campfire and consider this “meeting together.”2 Let’s imagine being with three or four people around a firepit whose flames have died out. We awkwardly lean in, unsure of ourselves, to see if there’s any hope of restarting the fire. Someone breathes on the embers as they introduce themselves, revealing hints of orange under the ashes. There’s some heat! With a little more confidence, we start talking, sharing bits of our under-the-surface lives. As we do so, we stoke the embers of the truth of the state of our souls – and a flame flickers. Then, we throw in some kindling as we speak of the sins that entangle us and the ways we’ve given up hope or lost faith or struggled to love. Now we’re fanning the flames. And the more we meet together – sharing, repenting, encouraging, praying – the more logs we add. The fire grows until it’s burning so bright others can see it. And over time, campfires around us start popping up until, one day, they combine as one big wall of fire, and it begins moving through families and churches and communities. A fire of faith blazes! Hope is not just reignited, it spreads. Love catches on. What began as a cooling campfire is now a red hot wildfire.3
With the Spirit at our center, ‘meeting together’ sparks spiritual growth. Coming together in our honesty and sincerity turns up the heat on spiritual lives that have struggled to stay lit. ‘Banding’ together strengthens our faith until it becomes our holy confidence.2 It sets our hope ablaze and fuels our agape love, which ignites other hearts with more faith, more hope, and more love.
Friends, receive this benediction knowing that God prefers it for you. Allow its truths to saturate your heart, mind, and soul in whatever state they’re in – because it’s a holy love that blows in like the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, filling you with a power to have faith again. Reigniting within you a hope that will forever burn bright.
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:22-25 NIV
Our new Advent series begins next week! A Thrill of Hope will span all five Sundays of December, bringing us up to the new year. Invite someone to join us on this adventure through an all-time favorite Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night!”
Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
- PS — I’m adding this note after I already had this scheduled, ready to go — because I read a “tweet” from Beth Moore the day after I wrote this that I want to share. Here’s the truth. After I labor over a post like this one, sometimes I can doubt that what I’ve said is good or right or needed. Then, the Lord will swoop in through someone else with a word that affirms it all. It’s like He’s saying, “Yup. You’re hearing right. Keep it going.” So. Here it is. This week’s confirmation that the Spirit is moving:
“Love is intentional. It’s not just something you feel. Not just something you say. Not just something you do. It’s something you practice. Over & over. None of us is great at love by human nature. Enduring love comes by Holy Spirit nurture. Day in, day out. We cannot give what we will not receive.”
- 1 – Biblehub.com definition of agape
- 2 – This ‘meeting together,’ or ‘banding,’ is discussed more in the resource section of the previous post. The campfire scene pretty well sums it up.
- 3 – Pastor and prayer leader, Pete Greig, helps to host an annual British prayer event called Wildfires. Its description is affirming for what we’ve been learning. We’re onto something! “Over the festival, thousands of all ages gather from different church expressions and communities, hungry to see revival in our time; gathering around Camp Fires that deepen friendships and community; pursuing together Holy Fire through worship, prayer and teaching; and encountering the Wild Fire of the Holy Spirit to take back to our homes, communities and our nations.”
- Thirteen weeks of listening to our Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist! You must be ready for a change. Never fear — an Advent playlist is near. I do have to say I love how things come together. The “From Whom All Blessings Flow Doxology” as our final Flames of Faith, Hope, and Love playlist couldn’t be a more fitting benediction.
- Did you receive our first ever The Abiding Life Newsletter? If not, you can subscribe here. It’ll hit your inbox the first week of each month, packed full of behind the scenes tidbits, sources for inspiration, and other exclusive info that I hope will help us engage more fully in this abiding life we seek. And, if you’d like to receive the first newsletter, just email me and I’ll get it to you.
- On Wednesdays I’ve begun posting 5-7 minute teaching videos on my Facebook Author Page and Instagram (@shelleylinnjohnson).
- Rhythms — Well, did you find some time for some stillness last week? If not, don’t kick yourself — rather, calendar it out for the rest of December. It’s only going to get busier, and we need to feed our faith so that we run with agape love through the holidays. So that our hope-flames glow bright.
- Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light of His hope into the world!