Posted in Luke, John, Romans, Ephesians

Who is the Holy Spirit?

“But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”  John 16:13-15

The Lord’s vision for the church was not based on His disciples’ abilities, but on the ability of the Spirit who would indwell them. Nothing has changed today. God’s vision for your life is way beyond your own personality and gifts – you and I were created to have the Holy Spirit indwell us, speak to us, empower us, and guide us. Without the Holy Spirit’s presence, we are like cars with no gas in the tank. They may look nice, but they aren’t going anywhere.

The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a force. We don’t refer to Him as an it, because He is an intimate personality who Jesus says “hears,” and “speaks.” In other places we find the Spirit rejoicing (Luke 10:21) and grieving. (Ephesians 4:30) He is a Person who feels, communicates, and wills.

He is the Spirit of truth. He will convict us of our deception, and will always bring us back to being real. Sometimes we think God wants us to put our religious best forward when we come before Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. He wants us to be gut wrenchingly honest with Him, so that He can truly forgive us, and truly fill us with His power. If we fake it before God we end up with an empty heart. 

Not only will the Holy Spirit tell us the truth about ourselves, He will also bear witness to the truth of the Scriptures and to the Person of Jesus Christ who is the truth. He wants to disclose to us all that Jesus has for us, and guide us in the way we should go. None of us are qualified to be in charge of our own lives. We don’t really know ourselves, we don’t know the future, and we don’t know what other people are going to do to affect us. God, who knows all, invites us to live beyond mere “common sense” as His children. “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

Posted in Hebrews


“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God … Imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7

I was late for a pastor’s cluster being held at a nearby church, so when the way into the parking lot was blocked by cones, I decided to drive around them even though it meant going over the grass. No one was watching, I thought, but as soon as I had maneuvered my vehicle to the other side of the cones, the worst possible person appeared in the parking lot as if by magic. It was a maintenance person from the church who was a friend of mine from the past. I rolled down the window and told him how sorry I was for ignoring his cones. He was genuinely upset.

“Do you know what happens when people sneak around the cones?” he asked.  Not waiting for my reply he continued, “It leaves tread marks in the grass that encourages others to do the same thing. How are we supposed to get people to do the right thing when even the leaders don’t do it?”

I told him how sorry I was and asked his forgiveness which he gave (I think). After he left I just sat in the car and let God deal with me. This small event was a picture of my life at the time. I had become very busy running from one meeting to another; meetings at church, meetings with family, meetings at school, meetings with pastors… I didn’t seem to be able to stop. What was being cheated was my private time with God where I don’t prepare sermons or plan anything, but only worship and enjoy Jesus for His own sake. I still prayed, because I needed God to help me with all of my responsibilities, but I had lost the first love, that delight that finds its reward in who God is and not in what He can do for me.

No one else noticed except my wife and the Holy Spirit. I could continue on in this way and fool most people, but it was clear to me that if I did it would lead to more and more compromise in private that would leave tread marks which others would certainly follow. But I had a choice. It wasn’t too late to stop, I felt the Holy Spirit say. I just needed to acknowledge my sin and seek a new passion for God.

What about you? Are you leaving treadmarks of compromise that pave the wrong path for those following you? It’s not too late to repent and give a better example.

Posted in Luke, Psalms

Friend of Sinners

“This man is the friend of sinners.” Luke 15:2

The speakers at a Power & Love conference a few years ago empowered us with messages of God’s love and the worthiness of Jesus, so that we could be sent out and demonstrate His power and love wherever we went. We were taught to be unafraid of people and unapologetic in our approach to them. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live it.” (Psalm 24:1) Everyone we meet was created by God, redeemed by Christ, and is borrowing air that God gives them to stay alive. We don’t need to feel like we’re trespassing when we ask them if they’d like prayer.

I approached one woman who was walking with a limp in Panera and asked her politely if I could pray for her. She was upset: “I have my own religion and I’m offended by you and think that you should ask people before praying in the future!” I didn’t feel like it was my place to point out that I had asked, so I just smiled at her and told her to have a nice day. It’s okay to experience rejection for Jesus’ sake!

The day after the conference, my wife and I were walking near our house when I spotted a woman through the pine trees who was sitting on her back porch smoking a cigarette. I raised my voice to say, “Hi, how are you?”  She replied, “I just moved here to be close to my mom because my two brothers have died in the last six months and I lost my job in Chicago.”

I led the way through the trees up onto her porch. I told her how sorry I was and that God loved her even though these bad things happened and we wanted to pray for her if that would be alright. She was more than willing. As we prayed, tears started to come as the presence of God rested on her. When the prayer time was over and we had invited her to church she was amazed. “Think about it, I just decided to come out here and you were walking past at exactly the right time.” 

Jesus is the friend of sinners. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts and not be afraid to bring His love and power to those around us.

Posted in Romans

More than Conquerors

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we face death all day long: we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:35-37

Bruce and Athena Jarman are pastor friends of ours in Montevideo, MN. They adopted a two year old Chinese boy named Judah who came to them with deformed feet. China had a one child policy at the time, so if parents didn’t like the child they birthed they could choose to put them in a state orphanage and try for another child that might be more acceptable to them. Because of Judah’s deformity, his parents didn’t want him.

Bruce and Athena did. They set their love on this little guy and at great expense brought him back to their home in Montevideo. After much prayer for a physical miracle, they felt God leading them to a different plan. Judah had to have both feet amputated and was fit with prosthetics.

Bruce assured his wife that when he gets older and understands all the facts, he will agree with the decision. But there was no way to explain at the time. 

When we “love God and are called according to His purpose” none of our suffering is wasted. It is accomplishing some purpose in us for the glory of God and the good of mankind even when we can’t possibly understand how. One day, when we get all the information, we will agree with God’s dealings. For now we need to hold on to His great love in the midst of circumstances He’s allowing. Nothing can separate us from His love!

Posted in Mark

Embracing Our Cross

“And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?’” Mark 8:34-36

Jesus went to the cross for our salvation. We must go to the cross for our sanctification. This is a painful and difficult process that requires our participation. We must take up (embrace) the cross for God to do His transforming work in us. When we resist the cross, we change very little over time even though we are Christians. Maybe an illustration will help to understand this.

When my mom reached 80 she began seriously considering moving to an apartment which would require her to sell her house. To prepare the house for a sale she thought that a new dining room floor would be nice because the old one was visibly faded. This change would require minimal cost and could be done fairly painlessly.

Then she brought in a realtor and asked this woman, who was a trusted friend, what she thought needed to be done. Getting a new floor in the dining room would be a good start, this woman advised, but really, all the floors needed to be changed. And not just the floors, but the counters, the cupboards, the appliances and the lighting. All of this would be very expensive, but this woman, who was the professional, felt these things would be the minimum changes needed to get the house ready for a sale.

The realtor didn’t demand these changes, but only recommended them. The final decision belonged to my mom because she’s the one who would have to pay the price. 

God wants to change us for our good and His glory but He won’t do it without our participation. He brings difficult circumstances and difficult people into our lives so that they will help us see what is left undone in us. When we embrace the cross by trusting God and asking for His grace in the midst of our trials, His beauty begins to replace our ashes. We can’t change ourselves any more than my Mom could rip up flooring and lay tile, but we can invite Him to do whatever it takes.

Let’s embrace our cross and let Him do the difficult work of change in us. We’ll enjoy the results and so will everyone around us.

Posted in Mark, Philippians

A Habitat for Growth

“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows – how, he himself does not know.” Mark 4:26-27

The seed of the kingdom of God is the Word of God. (Mark 4:14) When the Word of God is in us a change begins to happen from the inside out. Its miracle working power to change us only needs to be in the right habitat for it to complete its wonderful, transforming work. What does that habitat look like?

First, it is a habitat of grace. After the Word is planted, “he goes to bed at night…” We must rest in God instead of continually watching ourselves for growth. Could you imagine that seed surviving if every night the man went out and dug it up to see how it was doing? We need to rest in God and trust that the One who began a good work in us will also finish it. (Philippians 1:6) 

Second, it is a habitat focused on God, not man. Jesus said that some seeds dry up when “persecution arises because of the Word.” (Mark 4:17) When our focus is on people we try to live up to their expectations and time demands. When we’re seeking to follow the Word, God’s agenda and man’s agenda will come into conflict and then a choice needs to be made. Will we please God or man? 

Finally, it’s a habitat that is thorn free. Jesus gave three main thorns that will have to be continually weeded out of the garden of our hearts or the Word of God won’t grow to maturity in us. (Mark 4:19)

  1.  “The worries of the world…”  Worrying is the opposite of trusting God. If you find yourself anxious, stop, ask God to take control of whatever situation you’re anxious about and let go of it.
  2. “The deceitfulness of riches…”  Money and what money can buy promise happiness and safety but once you get them you find yourself empty and anxious after just a little while. Who’s in charge? Is it God or is it money? Choose this day which one you will serve.
  3. “The desires for other things…” Anything can choke out the word if it becomes the central focus instead of Jesus. Hold everything you have and want loosely while holding on to Jesus tightly, and you’ll find you can enjoy life to the fullest.
Posted in Luke

Being Available to God

“But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:40-42)

In the summer of 2010, we were contemplating putting two churches together and I was a bit overwhelmed. I asked a good friend and counselor how I could possibly be in charge of this potentially large church when I was already feeling overwhelmed. He suggested a study day once a week where I would only be available to God, and he told me about his pastor back in Michigan who had done this.

“Because he did this he touched fewer people,” he explained. This didn’t seem right! Why would it ever be good for a pastor to touch fewer people? But then he went on, “He touched fewer people because he had less availability, but because he did this, God was able to touch many more people through him.” He said with great soberness, “I don’t remember a Sunday where people didn’t get saved, healed, or filled with the Holy Spirit. Somehow God touched him in that time away and then God touched through him Sunday after Sunday.”

The next week I asked our elders for a study day every week and it’s been part of my regular routine ever since. What does this have to do with Martha and Mary?

Martha is a good person who is doing good work but she is carrying an expectation for her sister. For Mary to continue to do what Jesus wants her to do instead of giving into the pressure Martha is applying will mean at least three things: a Christian sister is going to be disappointed, a real need is seemingly going to go unmet, and Mary’s not going to look “good” to anyone observing.

But Mary has chosen the “one thing.” She is more available to God and less available to people, so she only serves when God tells her to go. She is no longer called by every need in the world or by every expectation of the people around her. She is listening only for the voice of her Lord.

Because of her devotion something wonderful happens for Martha. She gets her own encounter with Jesus where her motives are revealed and her priorities are challenged.

Posted in Acts, Isaiah, Mark, Matthew, Philippians, Proverbs, Romans, Titus

Getting Back on the Wall

“No longer will they call you Deserted, or name you Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (My delight is in her)…for the Lord will take delight in you.” Isaiah 62:4

Yesterday we gave several ways those God genuinely sets on the wall (in a place of authority to pray) fall off of it. Today we look at how to get back on it. “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16)

  1. Accept your calling. Romans 11:29 tells us that God’s “gifts and call are irrevocable.” Just because you don’t like the place God has given you, or feel like you’ve failed at it, doesn’t mean you get a new call. Our lives won’t work until we embrace God’s plan and flow with it. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14)
  2. Forgive as you stand praying. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25) If we insist on justice, eventually God will have to give us the justice we want for others. (See Matthew 7:1-4) We don’t need someone to be sorry for us to forgive them. If we do, forgiveness will always be difficult. Here’s why – let’s say someone does say they’re sorry for the way they’ve treated you. How will you know if they’re really sorry? And even if they appear to be sorry, are they sorry enough? If they’re sorry enough, will that for sure mean they’ll never do it again? All we need to forgive is to remember that the greatest injustice didn’t happen to me; it happened to Jesus. The truly innocent Lamb of God died in my place – that’s injustice. Part of my worship is to lay my injustices at the foot of the cross and freely forgive those who hurt me. This is part of what it means to know Jesus “in the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10)
  3. Embrace your identity. The strength to stay on the wall is not in seeing your prayers answered; it’s in the fact that God’s delight is in you. We are favored sons and daughters not because of our works, but because of His great mercy toward us in Christ. (Titus 3:5-6) We don’t gain favor by praying; we pray from His favor. Our great reward is not in what He does for us, but in our relationship with Him. Until we grasp this reality it will always be hard to stay on the wall.
Posted in Hosea, Isaiah, Revelation

Falling Off the Wall

“The prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac. The prophet, along with my God, is the watchman over Ephraim, yet snares await him on all his paths, and hostility in the house of his God.” Hosea 9:7-8

Even though God sets people on the wall (Isaiah 62:6-7) to align with His purposes and to pray for His will to be done on earth, it’s easy to fall off the wall. Here are five reasons why people who are genuinely called to watch over the church in prayer, fall from the ministry God set them in:

  1. Self-doubt. Watchmen have prophetic experiences to inspire them to pray, but because everyone doesn’t experience the same things they do, they are called “maniacs;” or in our day, made out to be “weird.” It’s easy to question whether God really did speak and to question why He would tell you and not everyone. “Who do I think I am?” is often an accusing thought. 
  2. Rejection. “Hostility in the house of God” means everyone doesn’t appreciate your intensity. Sometimes church leaders feel threatened by people’s “revelations” and seek to shut watchmen down. 
  3. Suspicion. Revelation 12:10 tells us that Satan is “the accuser of the brethren.” He will mimic prophetic experiences (He disguises himself as an angel of light) to watchmen that sow suspicions in their hearts about leaders and churches. He uses things that have actually happened and were actually said to make the case that God is against His own church because of their many sins. 
  4. Discouragement. In a pragmatic world that supremely values action, it can seem like prayer is a waste of time. When Mary poured precious perfume on Jesus, the church leadership said, “Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8) Needs will always exist and there will always be time to do practical things after prayer, but please know that the highest calling is to “waste” time worshiping Jesus. 
  5. Depression. In a place of intercession God shares some of His burden with us. We see clearly how wide the gap is between how things are and how they should be. Our burden must be prayed back to God because the government is on Jesus’ shoulders, not ours. (Isaiah 9:6) The enemy would have us be self-proclaimed martyrs who are carrying everyone’s burdens for them.
Posted in Isaiah, Matthew, Psalms

Set on the Wall

“I have set watchmen on your walls, oh Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” Isaiah 62:6-7

Why does God set people on the wall to ask Him to do what He already said He wants to do? He wants His church to agree on earth with His purposes as free moral agents, so that we share with Him in every victory that is won. We cannot bring His kingdom without Him, and He won’t bring His kingdom without us wanting it, and asking for it.

In this heaven and hell are alike: both seek agreement on earth from human beings so they can bring their purposes to pass on the earth. “I thought God was sovereign,” you may argue. He absolutely is. The only reason it is like this is because He planned it to be this way. “Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him.” (Psalm 115:3) This necessary agreement by earth is what pleases Him.

If hell can get people to live in fear, anger, pride, greed, and lust then this darkness will be increased by demons who will dwell in these strongholds. The Father allows it because He has chosen to not force Himself, or His ways on us.

But listen to the promise heaven gives: “I tell you that if two of you agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in My Name, there I am.” (Matthew 18:19-20) When we agree together for the beauty and purposes of heaven to be manifested and ask the Father for this, Jesus Himself will come and establish on earth what we have agreed on.

Our text makes it clear we must persist in our asking and expect a progressive answer as we “give Him no rest” until He has done all He has promised. Some of the greatest heroes of the church are the prayer warriors. Their primary labor is not horizontal but vertical, where God has set them on the wall for this purpose. Without prayer, what we do horizontally as a church will have little lasting effect.