3 Stages of Christian Growth (and how to avoid them)

Quenching and grieving the Spirit is the topic today, but first a little context on the role of the Spirit in our growth as followers of Christ.

We learned from Philippians 1:9-11 that there are 5 essentials in Christian growth.  We also learned that what sets this growth in motion is the Christian’s focus on God’s glory.  Lastly, we learned that what aids this growth is the Spirit.  If God’s glory is our focus, the Spirit will be at work in us – helping love abound in us, producing spiritual excellence in us, establishing personal integrity in us, and empowering genuine good works in us – all to God’s glory.

Simply put the Spirit’s work in us is to move us along a path to holiness.  Holiness means separate.  His work is to separate us further and further from sin, from temptation, from a preoccupation with the things of the world and thus closer to God.  This is the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

Today’s reading issues a warning not to retard the work of the Spirit.  (1Thessalonians 5:19)  Today we will cover three things with a quick summary of each: 1.) the three stages of Christian growth, 2.) quenching the Spirit and 3.) stoking the Spirit.

The 3 Stages of Christian Growth:

  1. Babes. Babes in Christ know the name of Jesus.
  2. Young Men. Young men in Christ are strong. They know the Word and use the Word (the truth) to overcome the deceiver.
  3. Fathers. Fathers in Christ know God.

12 I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.  13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.  I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.  14 I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father.  I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.  I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.  15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. – 1John 2:12-16

Quenching the Spirit:

1Thessalonians 5:1-11 and 1Thessalonians 5:6-22 give us instruction on Christian living.  In this instruction, there is a warning not to quench the Spirit.  Throughout Scripture, the Spirit is revealed to us as fire.  When a believer quenches the Spirit, the Spirit is grieved. (Isaiah 63:10, Ephesians 4:30)  When the Spirit is grieved it slows the Christian’s growth.  It is as if the Christian says “I’ve got this” to the Spirit by ignoring it and tosses a bucket of water on the fire.

Stoking the Spirit:

Stoking the Spirit is a term to illustrate the opposite of quenching the Spirit.  Here are three simple steps to stoke the Spirit.  The three steps for the recovering Christian:

  1. Read the Bible. (reading the Bible feeds the Spirit.)
  2. Listen to the Spirit. (quiet your life to be able to hear the still small voice and test what you hear against the Word.)
  3. Obey. (Luke 11:28, James 1:25, if there were a fourth step it would be: rinse, repeat.)

Stoking the Spirit is valuing the Spirit.  It is recognizing the Spirit as the source that empowers us to glorify God.  The Christian’s heart seeks God’s Glory, the Spirit sees it through. 

God, we need You.  Fill us with Your Spirit LORD.  May You reign in our hearts and may our eyes be Yours and Yours alone.  Amen.

Thy Word

Today’s reading is Acts 18.

Here we learn about three new champions of the Gospel in Priscilla, her husband Aquila, and Apollos. Although we don’t know for certain that Paul was responsible for Priscilla and Aquilas’ conversion to Christianity, the text does say in Acts 18:2 they were Jewish, so I have to believe Paul may have had an impact on their conversion, or if nothing else, helped them grow in their knowledge, understanding, and love of Christ. How did he do this? We see in Acts 18:3 that “he stayed with them and worked.” He didn’t just give them the Gospel and move on..he invested not only time with them, but was in the trenches with them working which may have been why they were receptive to the message of Christ. It also says in Acts 18:5 that “Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

What I then find so cool is this investment by Paul leads to Priscilla and Aquila going with Paul in Acts 18:18 to Syria. Now, they are determined to spread the Word. In Ephesus, they come across a man named Apollos who it says in Acts 18:24 was “competent in the Scriptures.” However, it seems he was missing some key things about Jesus and “knew only the baptism of John” from Acts 18:25. Instead of Priscilla and Aquila just saying he was a good man and well intentioned, they go a step further and in Acts 18:26 it says, “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” It then says they invested in him like Paul did in them and “encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him” in Acts 18:27. As a result of his speaking and teaching the Word that Christ was Jesus, he greatly helped others believe in the grace of Jesus we are told in Acts 18:27-28.

Wow..it is amazing how investing in one person and showing and teaching them the Word can not only change the course of their life and where they will spend eternity, but likely where their  family and future generations will spend eternity, as well as some of those whose lives they cross paths with during their lifetime. When the Holy Spirit starts to move in one, the trickle-down effect and impact is mind-boggling. This is how Christianity went from a few of Jesus’ brave disciples to where it is today in the world, and even right down to you and me knowing Jesus Christ. We owe a great debt to those that had the courage to speak the Word before us.

John 1:1-2 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” John 1:14 then says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father full of grace and truth.” The far-reaching effects of Paul’s witness and investment in Priscilla and Aquila and then their witness and investment in Apollos happened because they focused on teaching the Word. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we learn that “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” We must ask ourselves constantly if we personally, and even the church we attend, are truly following the Word or are instead following traditions passed down that are not in the Word or things present day society tells us is normal and okay because things have changed. If we choose to discredit or ignore even one thing in the Word, then all the rest of the Word is discredited and we are in effect saying not all scripture is breathed out by God. If we pick and choose which parts we want to believe and follow, then none of it is true.

We may be hesitant to correct others when they stray from the Word because we ourselves are not perfect, but Priscilla and Aquila show us the far-reaching effect of helping a man who was well intentioned but just a little off like Apollos. Jesus knows we are not perfect, but tells us we must do so (and also how) in Matthew 18:15-18. Galatians 6:1 says the same and reminds us to take watch ourselves. When we correct others and bring them back to the Word, we must also do so with “grace and truth” just as Jesus (the Word) did in John 1:14 from above. As a side note, isn’t it interesting, and I don’t believe a coincidence, that grace comes before truth here and many other places in the Word.

I will leave you with the words of a song you may know that my 4-year-old son and his classmates recently sang at the Cornerstone Christian Academy Spring concert. The song brought back memories, as I can remember singing it as child. The lyrics to “Thy Word” are just as true now as they were then and as true as the Word has been forever and ever. I pray that today and every day we will let “Thy Word” be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path and that we share it so it can be the same for others we know and then others they know…

 

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet

And a light unto my path.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet

And a light unto my path.

 

When I feel afraid, And think I’ve lost my way.

Still, you’re there right beside me.

Nothing will I fear As long as you are near;

Please be near me to the end.

 

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet

And a light unto my path.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet

And a light unto my path.

 

I will not forget Your love for me and yet,

My heart forever is wandering.

Jesus by my guide, And hold me to your side,

And I will love you to the end.

Nothing will I fear As long as you are near;

Please be near me to the end.

 

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet

And a light unto my path.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet

And a light unto my path.

And a light unto my path.

You’re the light unto my path.

 

Boldness

Acts 4

I’m fired up to be studying the book of Acts. Although some of the financial advisors and interns I coach joke with me that I use the term “fired up” a lot, I chose those words strategically here. We moved to Bloomington-Normal, IL in 2011 and began attending Eastview Christian Church during a yearlong study of the book of Acts. Although I’ve attended church most Sundays my entire life (except for a hiatus away in college which I pray our children don’t do), I didn’t know much about Acts except for the story of Saul, who was later called Paul and wrote a good portion of the New Testament, going blind for a brief time. Reading and learning about the disciples’ dangerous witness and the new church’s ridiculous love caused me to catch “fire” for the Lord like never before, and I’m praying I recapture that contagious excitement again and that you do as well.

I believe one the biggest pieces of proof that Jesus was who he said he was, the one true Messiah who was resurrected from the grave, lies in the fact Peter denied Jesus three times and most of the disciples were not to be found during and right after Jesus’ crucifixion. They were scared for their lives. Yet here in Acts 4, Peter and John speak boldly (that’s putting it lightly) to the same Jewish Council who just scourged and killed Jesus when questioned about a lame man they just healed in Jesus’ name in Acts 3. Can you imagine being captured and questioned for speaking in the name of the same person they just tortured and martyred not long ago? Still, Peter says in Acts 4:8-12…

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus[a] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.[b] 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men[c] by which we must be saved.”

I can just see Peter sending a text message to a friend a few days later telling him of what he said followed by Bitmoji of himself dropping the mic with #Boom after! Would Peter, who just denied knowing Jesus three times not too long ago, really have spoken at all, let alone with the boldness he does here, to the those who just killed Jesus if he had not seen Jesus alive with holes in his hands and side? To me, there is almost no greater proof in the Bible of the Resurrection and everlasting life than this!

Have you ever made a statement or done something under pressure in the heat of the moment that worked out really well and then thought after, “That was really dumb! What was I thinking? I’m glad that worked out ok, but I would never do that again!”? Well, Peter and John do the exact opposite here. After releasing them, the Council brings them back a second time to question them and tell them to not speak of Jesus and to go on with their lives threatening punishment. Still, they say in Acts 4:20, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Wow.

It may seem strange, but I’ve often thought about what I would do if someone put a gun to my head threatening my life and asked me if I believe in Jesus. I’ve always believed I would speak with courage if I faced this situation. Instead of asking myself this question about the scenario which is (I hope) is highly unlikely to ever happen, I should be asking myself if I will tell my neighbor, co-worker, friend, or even a family member about the love and saving grace of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection on Easter. We will talk with them about the game last night (as I have the NCAA Men’s basketball championship on right now and will probably be discussing it tomorrow), a TV show, a movie we just saw, or even a controversial political or social issue, but not about our knowledge, faith, and relationship with Jesus. Gang..this is serious stuff! We are talking about where they will spend eternity…as in “for-ev-er!” I had to lighten a serious topic up a little bit with The Sandlot reference there for movie fans. We must trust the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say as the Bible states here in Acts 4:8 and Acts 4:31. Let us not stop speaking boldly to others about what we have seen and heard today and every day. It may be the difference in where they spend eternity. I know that sounds like a lot of responsibility, but it’s NOT ON YOU once you decide to speak, it’s on the Holy Spirit, and most importantly, it’s NOT ABOUT YOU either!

Glowing Box

Imagine a box in a dark room. Inside the box is a source of light that makes it glow. Now a pinhole is made in the box. The pinhole in the box gives off a thin beam of light piercing through the darkness of the room. You move to align your eye with the beam of light to peer inside the box. What you see, you see clearly, yet you can not see all the contents of the box, only what is within your field of view from the hole. What is shown is shown clearly but not all is shown. This is how I have come to understand a parable to reveal the truth. John 16 tells us that while Jesus revealed the truth in parables, He will send the Spirit that will open up the box completely and reveal truth plainly.

John 16 tells us that while Jesus revealed the truth in parables, He will send the Spirit that will open up the box completely and reveal truth plainly.

I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. – John 16:25

The word here translated as ‘figures of speech’ is paroimiais in the greek. Some versions translate this word as figurative language, some as allegories, some as proverbs and some as parables. A paroimiais is a pointed but veiled statement. Throughout His entire ministry, Jesus spoke in mashal which is the Hebrew word for the same veiled but pointed statements. These parables are very clear illuminations of the truth but they purposefully leave much hidden. (Luke 8:10)

An interesting fact, Jesus taught in parables, but from this point forward, from the end of the Gospels on, no one else ever gives a parable. After the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, and after the coming of the Holy Spirit, everything is unveiled. Everything is given to us plainly.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:12-13

When I think of the disciples being given one parable after another, I think of our glowing box and their having another hole made for them to see in. Their box had many holes from all of Jesus’s parables. So much truth yet so much truth still veiled. 

Now imagine our box again. The four vertical corners of the box are split. The box now completely opened up, lays flat on the ground. Everything inside the box is now perfectly visible and accessible.

The Spirit has given us the perfect account of Jesus ministry in the Gospels, the beginnings of the delivery of His promises in His Church from Acts, the clear and plain explanation of His teaching we get from the theology from the epistles, and the complete unveiling of the future from Revelation. This is Jesus delivering on His promise to unveil all the truth. (John 14:26) This is the perfect and complete testimony of God revealed to us in Scripture. This is the box, the truth, completely opened and accessible to us.

God this morning we thank You for the gift of the New Testament and for revealing all the truth to us in plain ways. We praise You LORD God! God, we confess to not placing the proper value on Your revealed truth and ask that you would give us a strong desire to arm ourselves with your revealed truth and use it to Your glory. May Your Kingdom come LORD. On earth, as it is in Heaven. Amen.

 

Jesus, Our Father, and the Holy Spirit In-between

 

Today’s Reading: John 14

Today we begin our time with Jesus the comforter in John Chapter 14. Jesus is reassuring his disciples that he will go before them and prepare a place for them in heaven.  I love that he describes his Father’s house as having “many rooms.” It’s a wonderful reminder that there is a special place for each one of us that fits us perfectly.  Just as a child might decorate their bedroom with a favorite color or drawings, Jesus is preparing a place for each of his followers that reflects our unique relationship with Him. I can really identify with Jesus’ apostles in this chapter.  They are realizing that he is leaving, and they are afraid.  They don’t know how to go on without Him. Have you felt that way in your life? Have you lost someone you love and depended upon? Even though Jesus hasn’t died yet, his apostles are grieving. Thomas says,

Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” John 14:5

 Such a short sentence but so powerful. Lord, we want to follow you but we do not know where you are going.  We can’t possibly find our way when we don’t know the destination. As a new Christian, this statement represents my life before Christ.  I really didn’t know the way.  I was just experiencing life as it happened, not understanding that there is a plan for me. Part of drawing close to Jesus Christ for me, is making connections between His life and mine. Here are his disciples so dependent upon him desperate to understand the future but not able to hold on to what they believe is their only connection to God the Father. Jesus responds to their fear and apprehension in verse six:

 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

 This verse is foundational for us. How can we know the way to God? Only through Jesus. Jesus is that way because he is both God and man. By uniting our lives with His we are united with God. This seems so simple but really, it’s life changing. Jesus is our direct connection with God.  We don’t need to mourn the loss of Him on the cross. I find this so encouraging. Of course the apostles are still doubtful.  They still feel lost, maybe even a bit abandoned.  Philip pleads with Jesus:

“Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us.” John 14:8

 Oh, don’t you just feel for Philip here? How many of us have gotten down on our knees and begged our Heavenly father to just show Himself so that we may believe that everything is going to be ok! Jesus responds but reminding Philip that knowing Him means knowing our Father. Then, he makes a promise:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever,even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:15-17

 Enter: THE HOLY SPIRIT!! If you are like me, you might struggle to really conceptualize The Holy Spirit.  I often think to myself, what is it exactly?  Is it a person, a spiritual being, is it just a representation of Jesus’ love for us? My NIV study Bible says this about The Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit is the very presence of God within us and all believers, helping us live as God wants and building Christ’s church on earth. By faith we can appropriate the Spirit’s power each day.” I did lots of reading and research about The Holy Spirit this week. I think he or she or it is underestimated.  For me, it’s easy to forget about the strong power of The Holy Spirit in my day to day life. Jesus told us in John 14 that The Holy Spirit is another advocate to help us and be with us forever. Isn’t that what we all want in this life? An advocate to comfort, counsel and encourage us? I’m going to challenge myself and our readers to focus our attention this week on The Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is truly one of the greatest gifts given to us by Jesus. Are we watching for and listening to the voice of the Spirit in our lives?  Are we quiet enough to hear?

“You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming.” John 14:28-30

 Have a great week with Jesus and the gift of The Holy Spirit

                                

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Father

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” Luke 11: 2-4

Today’s Reading: Luke Chapter 11

One of the things that I’ve learned in the past year (hey…yeah I’ve been writing for a year now!) is that the sharing of our personal testimony, no matter how simple is so very powerful.  In so many ways, I’m working to strengthen my faith in what I call the post-honeymoon phase of Christian journey. Being a Christian isn’t so new and shiny anymore, it’s more about holding myself accountable to go deeper into God’s word and mature in my faith.  It’s not just about the having faith anymore but about growing in my faith.

When I read Luke 11 today I was struck by the coincidence that in the first several verses we hear the Lord’s prayer that was literally a cornerstone of my Catholic upbringing. The famous painting pictured above hung in both my grandmother’s kitchens as a symbol of their faith. Then, just a few verses later I read the verse that actually opened the door to real faith for me. I want to share that story with you today. I grew up in a strong Catholic family. I attended Catholic school my whole life from elementary school through my doctorate degree at Creighton University.  I wouldn’t trade my Catholic roots. I learned about social justice, about self sacrifice and most importantly about the strength that can be found in a group of believers. Even now, as we approach lent I will observe some Catholic traditions as a way to connect with God through discipline and intentional prayer.

In October of 2011, I realized for the first time that I needed a lot more spiritual strength than I had. I hit a literal spiritual rock bottom. Our son had come through a very severe illness and was seemingly healthy again. Until one day he wasn’t.  A whole new and different problem arose that had been silent since his conception. Our pediatrician found the problem with Ollie’s heart purely by accident.  He heard a murmur that was actually unrelated to his actual more serious diagnosis. I’ll never forget that day. In fact, I now work at the same hospital that we went to for his first cardiac echo.  Would you believe that just last week I ran into the technician that performed that echo while at work? Just seeing her face brought that day back to me with full force.

It was a Wednesday.  I was supposed to be at work but instead I just drove home and sat alone on my couch. I kept thinking that I should call this parent I knew from work, but I really didn’t know why.  I know now that it was the firm hand of the Holy Spirit guiding me.  Amy acted quickly.  She showed up at my door with her bible in hand and those infamous yellow cards.  I have all my cards as you know if you are a frequent reader here.  The other thing I have are the memories of the words she said to me. On that day, I was hopeless. I viewed what was happening as a kind of punishment.  I was searching for a way to bargain with God to make this go away. Through tears I asked Amy why God was “doing this to me?” What had I done wrong and how could I appease him again so that he would take this suffering from my child. Her answer was this passage from Luke:

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

For the very first time in my life, I saw God as a gracious and loving Father.  For the very first time. I understood that my pain and sadness were not something He was “doing” to me rather something that He was using to bring us closer to Him. Now, when I face these types of situations, and I often do, I have the ability to look to God for strength and trust in Him that there is a greater plan.  What a miracle! Our Father is there for us. In the daily ritual of a prayer and in the bigger chasms of our life. I hope you’ll read Luke Chapter 11 today and receive the comfort and strength that our Father has for us. Certainly, there are lessons to be learned but also the reminder that He is with us always.

 

Faithfulness

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. -Psalm 36: 5-7

God’s love was hard to miss and yet sometimes people missed it or turned away — sometimes I did too. But why? I knew God was sovereign and would do as He pleased, but did he use affliction and sin to draw us closer? That was sure how it had worked for me, but still I wondered, did He ever cause it? Perhaps affliction and sin were not only the natural consequences of turning away from God, but also the way God drew close to us. This was starting to make sense.

The History of the Jewish nation and the story of David both offer examples of God’s love and power. They are examples of how people respond to God and how God responds to people. These stories are historical treasures and lessons in both faithfulness and spiritual transformation, lessons that still speak truth and power into the lives of people today!

Israel cried out to God:

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace. Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners. We have become fatherless, our mothers are widows. We must buy the water we drink; our wood can be had only at a price. Those who pursue us are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest. We submitted to Egypt and Assyria to get enough bread. Our ancestors sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment. Slaves rule over us, and there is no one to free us from their hands. -Lamentations 5:1-8

Despite being chosen by God to be a holy nation and despite God’s frequent demonstration of his love, Israel turned away from God over and over. Their sin of disobedience resulted in affliction that many times led to repentance and reconciliation. When the Israelites were “on track” with God, His grace came in the blessings of provision and remarkable victories over powerful foes.

The stories of God’s anointing of Saul and Saul’s disobedience, when compared to David and his adulatory and act of murder, are in stark contrast to each other. Despite David’s transgressions, because he never stops trusting and loving God, he has a different outcome than Saul who turns away from God, eventually in arrogance and self righteousness as God’s Holy Spirit retreats along with His blessings. On the other hand, David’s faithfulness leads to his forgiveness by God who “washes him white as snow” and separates him from his sin, “as far as the East is from the West.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” -1 Samuel 16:1

In the examples of David and Saul, it sure looks like, if we remain faithful, God remains with us, despite our shortcomings. But our permanent separation from God appeared to be a possible consequence if we turned our backs on God. This was true with Pharaoh, and Saul, and even Israel. God in His sovereignty reserves the right to take back the gift of “free will”, which could allow our hearts to harden. I certainly didn’t want that to happen to me, but what if in my hesitancy it was possible?

Today’s reading: 1 Samuel 20; 1 Corinthians 2; Lamentations 5; Psalm 36

I often wondered how God’s wisdom was revealed? And how could I know God’s spirit? Often this seemed beyond my understanding. And then there were times when I felt God’s presence so powerfully I couldn’t believe I ever favored my prescription for happiness over God’s. But without the stark contrasts in my life, would I have been able to understand my relationship to God? The list of thoughts and words and deeds that I had chosen that “grieved” the Holy Spirit were too long to list, and yet God still poured His Holy Spirit into me when I turned to Him, when I asked. I was so moved by God’s Grace it literally brought me to my knees.

However, as it was written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. -1 Corinthians 2:9-10

Somehow I knew, if I sought God’s will above my own, it would be revealed. I would never know the depth of God’s love and wisdom if I continued to pursue my own understanding and worldly wisdom. I knew I had to change. I was changing.

Somehow I learned that life was so much more than being cool and having fun. As cool and fun as that was, it often became the “honey pot” that distracted me from finding real treasure, a treasure more vast and magnificent than any I ever imagined.

This is what I hungered for. This is what I found. Thank you Jesus.

Faith and Righteousness

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. -Psalm 18:28

After wrestling with the idea of righteousness, it turns out it wasn’t exactly what I thought. Mostly I believed righteousness was what God required from us to be worthy of His fellowship and our salvation. But how righteous did we need to be? Holiness was impossible and if the standard was anything less, how would anyone determine where that line was drawn?

I believed we were all called to pursue righteousness, but there was a different kind of righteousness, the one that Jennifer clearly described in yesterday’s Bible Journal. It wasn’t the kind that came from discipline or hard work, though they both offered rewards. It was the kind that came from faith, something that comes easy for a child; from the kind of faith that we discover in moments of helplessness, when we surrender to One far greater. This was the righteousness that came from our belief in the existence of a God who loved us so much he took on flesh and allowed himself to be murdered for our un-righteousness. This was the righteousness that came by the grace.

Today’s reading: 1 Samuel 4; Romans 4; Jeremiah 42; Psalm 18

In today’s text (Romans 4:6-8) Paul talks about grace, quoting scripture: “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). He also shares David’s proclamation from Psalm 32:1-2 about the blessing from receiving undeserved righteousness. Abraham received this blessing and was credited righteousness by faith, not only Abraham but his descendants, and not only his biological descendants, but his spiritual descendants, for “….He is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).

I find it fascinating that the message of the gospel, this “new covenant,” was anticipated from the beginning of time. It is mentioned throughout scripture, and offered to all humanity. Jesus’s disciples shared this message of grace and hope to both the Jews and Gentiles of their day, and to us. They offered compelling evidence found in the teachings of the Old Testament and from their personal experience with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And thier message is still alive today: Jesus lives, God is real and through Jesus, God’s Holy Spirit manifests in millions of lives that are remarkably transformed each day throughout the world.

If an old man with a barren wife, to whom God appears and blesses with children is credited righteousness for his faith, What does that mean for us? A little faith goes a long way with God, faith that He is even willing to provide to us if we ask!

The Holy Spirit

White Holy Dove flying in the sky panoramic view

Joshua 20–21; Acts 1; Jeremiah 10; Matthew 24

In Acts 1, the disciples are hanging around Jerusalem after Jesus’ death. While they wait, Jesus comes to them.  He talks with them about the kingdom of God. Talking to the one who died on the cross, brought them hope.  Hope that their dreams of a new life had not ended. In fact, their life with Jesus was very much alive. The disciples could feel the new world order upon them. This was the time that they had waited for. Jesus would now rule the world! Israel will finally be restored and all of God’s promises would now be fulfilled. The Bible explains these promises with words like freedom, liberty, fearlessness and peace, along with promises about healing our physical ailments and living prosperous lives. This was it. Israel will again be on top, the leader of all nations. Let’s go! But, Jesus wasn’t ready. He was holding them back. When they ask when it will happen, he responds, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business” (Acts 1:7, Message). For now, he continues, “you will receive the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that will enable you to be my witnesses.”

In that moment, upon hearing Jesus’ answer, do you think the disciples were disappointed? Seriously, the victory party they were anticipating seemingly vanished into thin air. No doubt, they did not fully understand. Yet, they remained silent. Consider that their silence is an indication of their acceptance and submission. They trust Jesus with whatever is coming. Or, perhaps their hope is kindled in Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. With his presence, Jesus explains, the disciples will receive power. In Greek, it is called “dynamis.” If you hear our modern words “dynamite” and “dynamic” in there, you are getting the idea. The Holy Spirit brings power that is explosive. His power provides “energy, ability, efficacy, and meaning.” With the Holy Spirit, Jesus explains, the name of Jesus will be extended “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

I readily admit that this scripture reveals my ignorance of the Holy Spirit. To be sure, this American Christian often misuses and misinterprets the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, selfishly claiming His good work for myself.  Similar to the disciples, I want to use this power to reign over all.  If I cannot reign over all, I’ll settle for health and good fortune.  You see, when the Holy Spirit indwells us with the power of God, we can easily use His gifts to get ahead in this world.  According to John Maxwell, this is a defensive posture resulting from focusing on my short life and not on servicing all of God’s creation, extending His rule for eternity.

Contrast that with true Holy Spirit indwelling. Jesus releases the Holy Spirit to us so that we can share God’s love and meaning with the world. Aligning with Him means that I will use my gifts in concert with His vision, not mine. This is what the disciples were able to grasp. They quickly dropped their own pursuits and limited vision in favor of His. As we move through the book of Acts over the next several days, we get to watch the Holy Spirit work through the lives of Jesus’ disciples. The Spirit gives power is both dynamic and explosive in the lives of everyone that the disciples meet. It is the beginning of Jesus’ great vision to take God’s message of love and hope to the ends of the earth.  Today, we continue to carry out this vision.  How are we doing with it?

In his book Forgotten God, Francis Chan offers several great questions that help us evaluate our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Take some time to consider them.

  • Can you say with confidence—from the depth of your being—that you know God and are known by Him?
  • Do I want to lead, or do I want to be led by the Spirit?
  • How would you be missed if you left this place? What would change? Basically, what difference does your presence here make? Or, as my youth pastor once asked me, what would your church (and the worldwide church) look like if everyone was as committed as you are? If everyone gave and served and prayed exactly like you, would the church be healthy and empowered? Or would it be weak and listless?

SELFISH

With wonderment I began to see for the first time how truly selfish I was. Now the question was; what was I going to do about it?

Today’s Reading: Deuteronomy 17; Psalm 104; Isaiah 44; Revelation 14

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” A second angel followed and said, “’Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.-Revelation 14:6-8

The Book of Revelation is mystical and strange, but there is no mystery that it proclaims the glory of God over all. And like the entire Bible, it draws constant attention to God’s holiness and the importance of seeking restoration with God before the final day of judgement.

Lately I have wrestled with bad behavior of others which has both surprised and disappointed me. Fortunately, now, when I observe this “bad behavior,” I am learning to see myself, like in a mirror, one that I am not afraid to look at anymore.

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. -Matthew 7:5

In the interest of time, due to a crazy week of home improvement colliding with travel plans on both ends and lots of work related opportunity and challenge (as usual); I have selected a page from the epilogue of a book I hope to be releasing next year.

I am able to speak with authority about selfishness and self righteousness, because I have struggled with this disease my entire life, and still do. What I am certain of is this: anytime my focus is more on me than on God or others, I am heading for trouble. This happens time and time again. Fortunately I have been rescued by God, and in His power I have hope of restoration, through the blood of Jesus Christ.

God please grant me the faith and power to surrender my will to yours. Amen.

Here is a page from “Wisdom of The Hidden Places; A Search For God”

American writer John W. Gardner once wrote: “Self pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it gives pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” Eventually I came to see that any focus on self, unchecked, was profoundly destructive, the basis for all that was evil; the very foundation of sin! Slowly, over time, I began to emerge from the poisonous fog of self obsession, trying to escape the prison of my narcissism — my alternative reality.

I was a cultural Christian drowning in the spiritual hydraulic of my narcissism only to be rescued by a collaboration of principled atheists and agnostics, true believers and the Holy Spirit. God was everywhere, even in the places he was not invited or rejected. His Spirit didn’t have to be embraced or even acknowledged, but it couldn’t be denied.

My story is not the proclamation of personal holiness, or a testimony of some great spiritual achievement, it is rather a story about a lost boy who struggled to find the love of an earthly father, who wrestled with grief, personal power and other powers while learning how to love.

I found my Heavenly Father in the end, but in no way do I consider myself better than anyone I have met along the way — I remain a sinner. The difference is this — I have been set free from my slavery to sin and have chosen to follow the righteous path; and only in God’s power, not my own, did this journey became possible.(Romans 6:6)

Through my father’s struggles and mine; and in the struggles of my children to find their place with God, I learned who I was, and who I was meant to be. As I began to rest more and more in God’s perfect will, I was less inclined to over-reach for the things of this world. That’s when everything finally started to fall into place. The more I learned to trust God, the greater my peace and joy. Situations that had once caused anxiety were now turning into anticipated opportunities to see God’s hand in my life.