Posted in Galatians, John, Romans

The Orphan Spirit

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:15-16

As I was preparing a sermon on the prodigal son returning home, I remembered a family in Minnesota who had adopted three siblings from Guatemala. The three came from an orphanage where there was never enough into a family where provision was abundant.

All three children had trouble grasping their new identity. They used to hide food and lie about it when confronted by their new parents. I couldn’t help wondering how long it took for them to be totally free of the orphan spirit, so I found a phone number and had an opportunity to chat with the mom. (She gave me permission to share their story.)

“How long,” I asked her, “did it take for the kids to stop hiding food?”

“Two years,” was her sober response. Think about it.  Adopted into a home, loved and favored by their new parents, abundance surrounding them, yet it took two years to actually believe that they didn’t have to be afraid of not having enough to eat.

“When do you think they were completely free of the orphan spirit?” was my second question.

There was a long pause. Finally she replied, “That spirit’s a bugger. Two of them have been able to find their identity in Christ, but I don’t know if any of them are completely free in all areas of their lives.”

Our heavenly Father has chosen to adopt us and to give us the full inheritance and privileges of the children of God. (Galatians 4:5-7) He has given us the best robe (the righteousness of Christ), put sandals on our feet (removing shame), put a ring on our finger (access to heaven’s resources), and has thrown a party for us (the Father’s joy in having us home).

Only eternity will reveal all this entails, but for now He wants each of us to know we don’t have to live in fear. We’re home, we’re accepted, there’s always going to be enough, and He will never abandon us!

Posted in 1Corinthians, Galatians

Should We Expect Miracles?

“Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you have heard?” Galatians 3:5

The early church was “filled with awe” because of the “many wonders and miraculous signs” done in their midst. (Acts 2:43) From the text above, we can see that miracles continued in the midst of the local church, even in the church at Galatia which was struggling to stay true to the gospel.

A miracle can be defined as an intervention of the immediate presence of God that changes the natural course of things in such a way that transcends human explanation. It is understandable that awe, wonder, and surprise would be the human response to this level of grace. Does God really still want to move in this way today?

If we take the Bible seriously, there’s nothing in it that suggests that somehow the Holy Spirit would stop working in these ways in the future, or would in any way change who He is and how He acts. If this is true, why don’t we see more? I’m reminded of the old song: “Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need. Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.” God is moving today by His grace in ways which we need to celebrate, but I am convinced we also need to contend for more. The Bible tells us to “pursue love, and desire earnestly spiritual gifts.” (1Corinthians 14:1) Maybe we don’t see more because we haven’t earnestly desired more?

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 Galatians, John, Matthew

The Root of all Fruit

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

The problem with this passage is that God allows people to do a lot apart from Him. People are busy everywhere promoting themselves and their ambitions, building their little mini-kingdoms, and constructing towers that reach to heaven just like Babylon of old. And God allows it all, for a time. When Jesus says, “…apart from Me you can do nothing,” He means nothing that is born of God, nothing that is beautiful, and nothing that will last. The fruit He would give those who allowed His life to live through them, He promised, would remain, not just through time, but for all eternity. (John 15:16)

The root of this fruit is a humility which agrees with God that we can do nothing truly good apart from Him. Without this agreement our Christianity amounts to sincere people trying to look like Jesus by their own commitment and constantly failing, instead of fully surrendered lives which allow Christ to live His powerful life through them. The gospel doesn’t just call us to do good, it shows us the way. We must die to our old selfish nature, not dress it up with the appearance of good, and then we must allow Christ to live through us by the new nature He has given us. Paul, one of the most fruitful Christians who ever lived, said it this way: “I am crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Jesus gave in the first beatitude the secret to all the other ones, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1) When we agree that we have no righteousness of our own, we are able to embrace His. When we embrace our poverty apart from Him, all of heaven’s resources become ours. Four times in the gospels Jesus says the words, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Benjamin Franklin, a deist who never embraced Christianity, sought with all his power to master the virtues. He claimed that after many years of seeking perfection there was only one virtue that escaped him: humility. The difficulty was that whenever he did a good job being humble he found he was proud about it. The pride in a human heart can only be conquered by the Savior.

Posted in Colossians, Galatians, Hebrews

The Old Self

“But now you must rid yourself of all such things as these: anger, rage, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Colossians 3:8-10

One day  my wife gave me her strong opinion on my favorite apparel, “I don’t want you to wear those sweaters any more. They make you look old.” She continued with conviction: “In fact, one day they’re just not going to be in your closet anymore.”

I love sweaters and especially my sweaters. They all fit me perfectly and most were birthday or Christmas presents because my family knows I love to wear them. What’s worse is that all of these sweaters were in my winter starting line-up of what to wear to work. They were practically part of me.

Hebrews 12:1 talks about easily besetting sins that need to be put off or they will hinder us in our race. Each of us have different easily besetting or comfortable sins. Think of them as sweaters in your closet – there’s one called lust, another anger, there’s hatred and slander, lying, filthy talk, and addiction; and then, of course, there’s pride. Often there’s one that fits so well it seems like it’s part of us.

The problem with these sweaters is they make us look like the old self. It’s confusing to the world when we claim to be Christians but don’t look like Christians. Why didn’t Alice just remove those sweaters from my closet? She didn’t want to violate relationship. If she removed the sweaters against my will, I might resent it. She gave her opinion but left them there, so that ultimately it would be my choice. God does the same with our old self. Paul is writing to Christians when he says to take off the old self and put on the new. God won’t do it for us.

Alice bought me new clothes to wear. She didn’t just tell me to put off the old; she purchased new clothes that she likes on me. Jesus has done the same. Here are some of the clothes available for the new self to put on: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) Jesus bought these clothes with His own blood so we could be and look, new in Him.

Every day we need to look in our closet, reject the old self and put on the new. It will get easier and easier in this life, and in eternity, those sweaters won’t even be there anymore!

Posted in Galatians

Stand Firm

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm, therefore, in your freedom and don’t become enslaved again to a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1

When I was 44 I started having back pain I couldn’t get rid of. I complained about it, prayed about it, and had others pray for it, yet it persisted. My wife told me to go to the chiropractor several times, so eventually I humbled myself and went.

The chiropractor made an adjustment to my back that I could never have performed myself. I literally heard something snap in my back and felt something move into place that had been out of alignment. I was thankful and ready to leave, but the doctor wasn’t done. He told me to stop carrying a wallet in my back pocket and gave me a list of exercises to start doing so my back would stay in place.

How intrusive! I just wanted to feel better; I wasn’t looking for a new lifestyle, so I ignored his instructions and went on with my life. The problem was that my back started hurting again in a few weeks, and I had to return. I didn’t want him to know I disobeyed his instructions, so I left my wallet in my coat pocket before going in to see him.

After the appointment, I realized I had a decision to make. I could either spend my life going back for adjustments or change my lifestyle. Today, I use a money clip and have a regimen of exercises I do every morning for my back. I haven’t needed an adjustment in years.

God loves us so much He sent Jesus to die on the cross to free us from our sins. Only Jesus can make the adjustment in our lives that aligns us in a right relationship with God, and if we fall back into sin, He is more than willing to forgive us and put us back into alignment. But God has something more for us. He wants us to learn how to live in alignment and not have to be constantly repenting. He wants us to stand firm in the freedom He has won for us and never live in bondage again.

The world is too proud to come to Jesus for an adjustment. The church is often too apathetic to make lifestyle changes that would allow us to walk every day in the freedom Christ died for. Let’s shake off unbelief and apathy; let’s purpose to get free, and then to live free, for God’s glory and our good.

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)
Posted in 1Samuel, Ephesians, Galatians, Revelation, Romans

Understanding Authority

“All authority comes from God so the one who resists authority is resisting God.” Romans 13:1 

“We have been seated with Christ in heavenly places.” Ephesians 2:6

I fear that most American Christians don’t understand how God feels about positional authority. We tend to honor those who we feel are honorable while withholding honor from those we don’t think deserve it.

All authority has been instituted by God and therefore should be unconditionally honored. It doesn’t matter whether your dad is an alcoholic; if you learn to honor his position, God’s blessing for those who honor their parents will rest on you. David, the man after God’s own heart, refused to raise his hand “against the Lord’s anointed.” (1Samuel 24:6) Saul was demon oppressed at the time, so the anointing was not on the man, but on the position he held. (Notice, honoring authority does not mean remaining in a place of abuse as David fled when Saul started throwing spears at him.)

If we only honor authority that we feel is worthy, we will never take the place God has given us unless we feel worthy to take it. How often does that happen? The gospel isn’t about us being good enough, it’s about God’s grace and about a position He wants us to take in Christ. You have been made a child of God (Galatians 4:6), a priest of God (Revelation 1:6), and have been given the “the gift of righteousness,” so that you can “reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

We need to understand and honor positional authority, so we can honor the position God has given us in Christ. The late Reinhart Bonkhe didn’t begin to walk in the miraculous power of God until one day when God said, “My word in your mouth is just as powerful as My word in My mouth.”  Africa was never the same as unprecedented miracles led to millions of recorded salvations. 

I believe God and the world are waiting for each of us to take our position in Christ!

Posted in Galatians

World View

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

William Temple (1881-1944) was a philosopher, professor at Oxford, and ultimately the archbishop of Canterbury. His great concern was that Christians would embrace a world view that puts man in the center instead of God. Here is an excerpt from his writings:

“The least popular part of traditional Christianity is Original Sin. I was doing it before I could speak, as has everyone else. I am not ‘guilty’ on this account because I could not help it. But I am in a state, from birth, in which I shall bring disaster on myself and everyone else unless I escape it.  Education may make my self-centeredness less disastrous by widening my horizons. But this is like climbing a tower which widens the horizons of my vision while leaving me still the center of reference. The only way to deliver me from my self-centeredness is by winning my entire heart’s devotion, the total allegiance of my will to God, and this can only be done by the Divine love of God disclosed by Christ in His life and death.

In making the world, God brought into existence vast numbers of things, like electrons which always have to obey His law for them and do so. But He made creatures – men and women – who could disobey His law for them and often do so. He did this in order that among His creatures there might be some who answer His love with theirs by offering to Him a free obedience.

This involved a risk in that they would naturally take the self-centered outlook on life, and then, increasingly become hardened in that selfishness. This is what has happened. To win them out of this, He came on earth and lived out the Divine love in human life and death. He is increasingly drawing us to Himself by the love thus shown, but this task of drawing all people to Himself will not be complete until the end of history.” (Devotional Classics; page 224-226)

Posted in Galatians, Romans

Who’s in Charge?

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit.” Galatians 5:16-17

The last time I was in Honduras we worked with a family who was temporarily taking care of a two year old named Angel. Angel couldn’t talk yet, but he had no trouble communicating what he wanted to the three older girls in this family who watched over him. There was rarely a big scene over Angel because all he had to do was threaten displeasure and his desires would be instantly met. He ate what he wanted when he wanted it, and slept only when he was in the mood.

I started calling him, “Little Napoleon”, because he was a tyrant over these three girls. One image I clearly remember was Angel listening to music with an ear piece while walking around in circles (nothing on but his diaper) while one of the girls held the CD player and frantically tried to stay up with him so the ear piece wouldn’t come out.

There’s a “little Napoleon” that lives in you and me called the sin nature. It has endless desires and wants to be catered to constantly. It wants to be immediately gratified and complains if there is ever a delay in meeting its needs. The sin nature finds reading the bible, praying, fasting, or going to church boring, and much prefers the instant thrill of the media industry. It doesn’t forgive, but rather uses anger and pouting to get its own way. If the sin nature is denied its way in one thing, it immediately seeks to find comfort in any number of other ways without thought of what’s right and wrong, or of how it might affect those around. It doesn’t like to serve, but lives to be served.

Parents need to decide early that they are  in charge, and not their two year old. Have you given notice to your sin nature that it will not run your life? It will submit if you count yourself dead to its power through your identification with Christ’s death and then live by the Spirit through identifying with Christ’s resurrection. (Romans 6:1-14)