Posted in 1Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews, Romans

Walking in the Spirit

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 1Corinthians 2:14-16

Beware of one facet of the carnal nature in you Scripture calls, “the natural man.” The natural man wants to believe and obey only what he understands completely. He won’t do anything until he knows that he won’t look stupid or foolish in front of others, therefore our natural man is incapable of living by faith and cannot please God. (See Hebrews 11:6; Romans 8:8)

It is easy to be born of the Spirit at some point in the past, but not walk in the Spirit today. When that happens we are miserable as Christians, kind of like fish out of water. Our proper habitat is the spirit realm, so when we go back to living like those in the world we become spiritually choked.

Signs of a Christian living in the natural man include anxiety, joylessness, cynicism, discouragement, and feeling spiritually drained all the time.  The answer is not complicated; put off the old man and walk in the Spirit. (Ephesians 4:22-23; Galatians 5:25) Start by asking God to forgive you for trying to live the Christian life by the natural man, then remember that your rightful breath is the Holy Spirit, your proper food is the Word of God, and your sure hope for eternity is heaven no matter what happens down here. You have only God to please, so it doesn’t matter whether others approve of you or not.

The language of the Spirit does not contradict our minds, but it does transcend it. His many ways of whispering to us must be spiritually appraised, so we must stay alert to the spirit realm. God is in charge of planning, protecting, providing, and guiding.  We are in charge of trusting and obeying. It’s a nice arrangement when we do our part and don’t question His!

Posted in Ephesians, John, Luke, Zechariah

Being Filled with the Holy Spirit

“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18

The greatest need of Christians today is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Not as a one time event, but each and every day. The literal Greek would read, “be being filled with the Spirit.” How can we be filled with the Spirit?

First, by recognizing the need. In Zechariah 4:6 God says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts.” God’s work does not go forward by human strength, will, or cleverness, it requires the operation of His Spirit. We must be convinced this is true, or we will not sincerely seek the Spirit’s filling.

Second, we must be thirsty. John 7:37-39 reads, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me (Jesus) and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, who those who believed in Him were to receive.” God wants a river of life flowing out of you and me to bless this hurting and dying world, but it starts when someone is thirsty enough to receive. Are you thirsty for more, or content with what you have? Our hearts are created to thirst for God, but many seek to quench that thirst with stuff, alcohol, entertainment, human relationships, or fill in the blank. If these other things have dampened your thirst for God ask Him to forgive you, and tell Him you want to thirst for Him again.

And finally, we must ask. Jesus said, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” (Luke 11:13) The Amplified Bible brings out the Greek tense, “to those who ask and continue to ask Him!” This is not a one time asking, but a continual relationship of dependence. As our cars regularly need to be refilled with gasoline, and our bodies regularly need to be refilled with food, so our spirits need to be regularly refilled with the Holy Spirit.

The main reluctance Christians have about asking is that they don’t feel they’re good enough to be filled. While God may lead you to repent of areas before He fills you, He wants you and I to know that His Spirit is a gift, not a reward for good behavior. In fact, He starts off this wonderful promise by alluding to his own disciples as “being evil.” He’s saying that our sinfulness is not preventing Him from pouring out His Spirit, rather the Spirit’s filling is actually the solution for our evil. No one washes up before taking a shower – that’s the point of the shower!

Posted in Acts, Ephesians

Grieving the Holy Spirit

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30

You and I can make the sweet Spirit of God feel sad about how we’re living. Although all people can resist Him, no one can bring grief to Him like the children of God He indwells. In a similar way, no can hurt you as much as those who you are closest to. How and when do we grieve the Holy Spirit?

One way is by allowing hatred to fill our hearts, and slander to fill our mouths. The verse immediately after the one quoted above says: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31) God loves, and Jesus died for every person you know and don’t know. When we treat others harshly it hurts God and He takes it personally. Jesus said, “whatever you do to the least of these, you are doing to Me.” When we accuse and tear down each other we are actually doing the devil’s work for him. He is called the “accuser of the brethren,” who accuses people to God day and night. When we do the same we are participating in darkness, even if in our opinion the accusations are true. God alone has the right and the purity to pass judgment on others. If you want the Holy Spirit to hang out near you, then learn to be loving and kind in your words. Seek to find the best in others and try to encourage them.

We also grieve the Holy Spirit when we ignore Him or limit what we think He can or should do. Jesus said to His disciples: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be My witnesses…” (Acts 1:8) In Acts 2 we have the initial pouring out of the Spirit and then the rest of Acts tells how they changed the world through the Spirit’s power. Many Christians today seem to be slightly afraid of the Holy Spirit because they’ve heard of the experiences of others that sound scary. Yet God’s plan today is the same as then. He wants to partner with ordinary people to do extraordinary things through the power of His Spirit. God wants to speak through us, heal through us, and bring His gifts through us today. When we say “no” to Him, or try to dictate to Him what He can and can’t do through our lives, we grieve the Spirit.

Search your heart and ask God how you may have grieved the Holy Spirit. If you have, ask for the forgiveness He offers us through Jesus, and tell Him you want to walk close to Him again.

Posted in Ephesians, John, Luke, Romans

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 1Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians

Grace

“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13

The Christian life is not difficult, it’s impossible. No one can produce what God desires in us other than God Himself. Religion of man may do a great deal of work and have impressive spiritual disciplines, but for all of its efforts, it cannot please God.

True Christianity is about grace through faith in Christ that produces both desire and power within a believer to do the will of God. It leaves no boast in the mouth of the believer except: “I am what I am by the grace of God.” (1Corinthians 15:10) In the way of grace, the believer stops “trying” to do good and learns to yield to the goodness of God inside of them.

The verse before the text quoted above reads: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12b) The recognition that God Himself is in us means that our “work” is learning how to yield to, and release, His wonderful grace within us. If we reflect more on what this means, there will be a greater sense of awe (fear and trembling) in our ordinary lives. Think of it: the uncreated God of eternity; the God who created the entire universe – lives in me. Wow!

We don’t read our Bibles, pray, worship, go to church, or do good works to gain intimacy with God. Intimacy is His gift to us through the cross. Our part is to accept this gift daily, and to learn how to “do” all spiritual things from the place of freely given grace instead of by a performance mentality of works.

Rejoice in the grace given to you by personalizing the following verse: “In love He predestined us (me) to be adopted as His children (child), in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace which He has freely given us (me) in the One (Christ) He loves.” (Ephesians 1:4b-6)

Posted in Ephesians

Mother’s Day

“Honor your…mother.” Ephesians 6:2

My little brother, Jimmy, and I had a disease when we were babies that caused us to vomit up our food. Whenever this difficult period was referenced growing up, all mom would say was: “Never forget Mother’s Day!”

To honor my Mom, who is now with Jesus, I’d like to highlight a few of the things she instilled in her children.

Education: For Mom education meant opportunity, so from a very early age, education was celebrated. Each of us read our first book out loud to the family on a blanket Mom laid down on the living room floor while the rest of the children ate popcorn and encouraged the reader.

Instead of getting toys or treats, all of her grandchildren would receive a savings bond every birthday. The bond wouldn’t come due until they turned eighteen and was to help them pay for a college education. These seeds produced a harvest as all 18 of her grandchildren went on to graduate from college.

Gratitude: Whenever we received a gift or kindness from anyone, Mom sat us down to write a thank you note. One time all of her six children received $1,000 from our great Aunt Ruth whom we had never met. Mom insisted that we write thank you notes, but we were all in college or beyond at that point, so she couldn’t monitor our follow through. Only Sheila ended up writing a beautiful thank you note telling Aunt Ruth how grateful she was and even specifying how she used the money. The rest of us learned a lesson when Sheila alone received a second check from Aunt Ruth!

Faith: Mom didn’t spend a lot of time questioning God and she never expected her church to be perfect. Mom and Dad were at church every week, so we were too. When I had a conversion experience and everyone thought I was in a cult, Mom stayed by me even though she didn’t understand what I was into. She was proud of me being a pastor and was happy to visit our church, but she remained a faithful Catholic until the end.

I was so blessed to have her as my mom and miss her everyday but I know one day soon we will be together again forever. I hope you take time to honor your mom in some way this Mother’s Day.

Posted in Acts, Ephesians, Matthew

The Secret Weapon

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matthew 18:18-20

The secret weapon is a game changer. When Popeye is down and out, when all hope seems to be lost and Bluto is certainly going to defeat him, we all wait for the secret weapon – his spinach. The spinach changes everything; once it is eaten, the victory is secured.

Aladdin is trapped in a cave left to die. He tries to escape but it’s hopeless until he discovers a lamp. The lamp is a game changer because using it gives access to a genie who can transcend all human limitations.

The church has a secret weapon that changes everything: the Father’s response to agreeing prayer. We see it in Acts 2:  The church had been in unified prayer for ten days until the Father responded with “a mighty rushing wind” and “tongues of fire” which so empowered the early church that 3,000 were saved in one day.

We see it in Acts 4:  The persecuted church gathered and in agreeing prayer asked the Father to “do signs and wonders by Your holy Servant, Jesus.” The response: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31) Abundant grace was released and signs and wonders were performed (Acts 5:12) while multitudes were saved. (Acts 5:14) Heaven invaded earth in response to agreeing prayer by the church.

But my favorite example of the secret weapon is found in Acts 16. Paul and Silas were put in prison and at the midnight hour began to pray and worship together. Here’s the Father’s response, “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” (Acts 16:26)  Natural earthquakes destroy, they don’t open doors and release people from chains. Were Paul and Silas asking the Father for everyone’s chains to fall off? Unlikely. This is about the extravagance of a God who is able “to do above and beyond all we can think” (Ephesians 3:20) in response to agreeing prayer.

Posted in Ephesians, Hebrews, Matthew, Micah, Proverbs

Why We aren’t the Judge

“All the ways of a man are right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the motives.” Proverbs 16:2

For years growing up my brother, Jimmy and I would come home from school, eat a bowl of cereal, and watch Gilligan’s Island. From time to time the entire episode would be about something that happened on the island in the past.

Skipper would start telling about the event and all of a sudden we were back there; but it was all from Skipper’s perspective. He was in the middle; he was doing the right thing while those around him were doing questionable things.  He was the hero; that’s how he remembered it.

The episode would return to the present, and then another character would start to give their version of the story (Ginger, the professor, sometimes Mr. Howell) and in their memory they were the hero. And then finally, Gilligan would start talking about it and we’d go back a third time. Where others’ versions had Gilligan at blame, Gilligan always had himself being somewhat heroic. Yes, bad things happened but he was actually part of the solution, not the main problem. The funny thing was we were never told what actually happened – only three different perspectives of the same event.

This is why Jesus told us not to judge. (Matthew 7:1) We experience life only from our own perspective and even our own motives are often hidden from us. When we feel others have wronged us, or betrayed us, it’s important to realize that that’s probably not how they see it. Instead of believing the worst and playing judge, we’re called to believe the best and let God be the judge. Where there has been definite sin, we’re called to forgive “as God, in Christ, has forgiven us.” (Ephesians 4:32)

All things are laid bare before Him to whom we will give an account. (Hebrews 4:13) God calls us to do what’s right in His eyes: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)  It’s humanly natural to have mercy for ourselves, love justice for others, and walk in the pride of being a judge, instead of submitting to God as the only one able to judge rightly. The Holy Spirit wants to help us live differently. He wants us to apply justice to ourselves while giving mercy to others. This is part of what it means to walk humbly with God.

Posted in Ephesians, Joshua

Entering the Promised Land

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

I was talking with a business man recently who was going through a time of tremendous fear and despair. He was so gripped that he questioned whether he could do his job anymore. In the midst of our conversation he said, “I’m right at the Jordan River.” What he didn’t know was that I was working on a message from Joshua 1, where the Jordan River is between Israel and the promised land.  To be “at the Jordan River” is to be at a place where a decision has to be made: Do I go forward in faith, or do I retreat in fear?

In nine short verses God tells Joshua to be “strong and courageous” three times. Why is this? I believe it’s because we have a role in whether we go into the promised land or not. God will defeat the giants and take down the walls that oppose us; but He won’t do it apart from us agreeing with His purpose and power working in us. (Ephesians 3:20)

The previous group that was at the Jordan River didn’t make it into the promised land because of fear. Twelve spies had gone out and brought back two narratives of what was happening:

One narrative, given by ten of the spies, went something like this: “We are in big trouble. There are giants in this land that make us look like grasshoppers. There are impenetrable walls that we could never take down. If we go forward we will fail – God has deceived us. It’s time to retreat to Egypt.”

The other narrative, given by Joshua and Caleb, went something like this: “There are giants and walls, but it’s an amazing land, and God has given it to us. The giants and walls are nothing compared to God and He is going with us. He is so good to give us this spacious land that flows with milk and honey. Let’s cross the Jordan and take our land!”

Whichever narrative we agree with will be reality we live in. God doesn’t make anyone go into His promised land for their life. He encourages, He plans, He invites, but He doesn’t force us. If we choose to listen to the voice of fear instead of the voice of faith, we will wander in the wilderness and never become all that He wanted us to be.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Acts, Ephesians, Galatians, Matthew, Psalms, Titus

Four Marks of a Godly Life

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14

More than clever, gifted, or successful, I want to be godly. We live in such a secular society that many people may not even know what that means. Here are four marks of a godly life from the text above:

  1. The godly live close to God. Jesus loves us and gave Himself for us so we could be forgiven and live close to God, in fact, in union with God every day. The godly don’t endure God; they make Him their greatest delight. (Psalm 37:4)
  2. The godly say “No” to all that is in them that would take them away from God. We have a sin nature that must be put off or died to every day. The sin nature is at war with the Spirit but the Spirit gives us power to overcome it. (Galatians 5:16-17)
  3. The godly are eager to do good. Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed. (Acts 10:38) The truly godly aren’t known for what they’re against, but for the good works they do. (Ephesians 2:10; Matthew 5:16) Their willingness to serve those in need gives people a taste of the goodness of God in this present age.
  4. The godly know the best is yet to come. Every problem will not be solved this side of heaven, and every pain will not be removed, but a better day is coming. Jesus will appear one day to take His bride and we will then be with Him forever. This is the living hope which burns in the godly and gives them strength for the journey. They are convinced that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2Corinthians 4:17)