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, 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 2Corinthians, John, Psalms, Romans

The Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God

“The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17

Scripture is clear that one day the kingdom of God will come visibly on earth, but for now the way it comes is to human hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you and I want to live and grow in the kingdom of God we must look not to what we can produce in ourselves, but to what God wants to do in us through His Spirit.

The kingdom of God is righteousness in the Holy Spirit. It is appropriate that this is listed first as there will be no joy or peace unless there is first righteousness. The way into the kingdom is through righteousness, not our own, but the righteousness God provides for sinful humanity by the cross of Jesus Christ. The main sin that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of is not believing in Jesus as their Savior. (John 16:9) When we come to Christ our sin becomes His, and His righteousness becomes ours. “He made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Corinthians 5:21) Once we are in Christ the Holy Spirit leads us continually away from self righteousness and into the fruits of true righteousness only He can produce. 

The kingdom of God is peace in the Holy Spirit. Jesus said “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27)  The world only gives you peace when every circumstance in your life is peaceful and under control. Jesus can give us peace through the Spirit in the midst of outward troubles and strife. It is called “the peace that passes understanding” because people that understand your situation can’t believe you have peace. True peace doesn’t come through being in control, but by trusting the One who is in control!

The kingdom of God is joy in the Holy Spirit. You can do your Christian duty and make your children do theirs on your own, but no one can truly delight in God or in their Christianity apart from the Spirit’s touch. “In Your presence is fullness of joy…” (Psalm 16:11) Happiness depends on what’s happening in your life. Joy is much deeper, and depends on your relationship with God no matter what’s happening outwardly.

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 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 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 Hebrews, Leviticus, Romans

The Sacrifice Answered by Fire

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1

At one convention I went to the theme was, “Altared,” with a verse from Leviticus 6:12 on never letting the fire go out on the altar. Each speaker brought up the theme and gave reflections on what it looked like to have the fire of God’s presence burning in the altar of our hearts.

One speaker asked us to consider what comes into our minds when we hear the word “worship.” Then he suggested some possible answers: a too short or too long time of singing before a sermon, hymns or choruses, singing that is too fast or too slow, a key too high or low to sing in, or maybe even the graphics that are now behind the words of songs because of modern technology.

Then he talked about the Bible’s version of worship which he said was more PG 13. Worship in the Bible always involved something dying. From Abel’s sacrifice to animals required for sacrifice in the tabernacle and the temple; Jews knew that there must be a death to satisfy the holiness of God who said the wages of sin was death. After the sacrifice God required was given, God Himself would answer by fire. The priests didn’t need matches.

Elijah said the God who answers by fire, He is God. When the Holy Spirit came after the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, there was a tongue of fire that rested on each head. Truly our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) and wants to baptize us in His purifying fire so we can easily live for Him.

So here’s the problem. The only offering that is answered by fire is death. If we try to give God a partial offering instead of making ourselves living sacrifices, we won’t have His fire in our hearts. We will end up with a powerless version of Christianity that looks and acts just like the world. It sounds kind of like the American church today, doesn’t it?

In view of His mercy, let’s give Him what He died for by offering ourselves as living sacrifices for His glory and our good.

Posted in 2Corinthians, John, Matthew, Psalms, Romans

Satisfaction in God

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

Jesus knew what it was to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the deep satisfaction that came when He did the next right thing the Father was calling Him to do. When He was at a well talking to a woman, the disciples offered Him food, but Jesus told them He had food they didn’t know about. When they asked about this, He replied, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:34) When He was tempted in the desert, He told Satan that man lives on “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) The will of God and the word of God are how Jesus walked in righteousness and it’s how we experience the sustenance and life God gives today.

When natural hunger and thirst is satisfied by a delightful meal and beverage, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never be hungry and thirsty again. So it is with the will of God, the more you do it, the more satisfaction you have in it, and the more hungry and thirsty you are to have more of that which satisfies in the future.

But to do righteousness, you first have to be righteous. When we believe the gospel, God makes us right with Himself in Christ. He calls it the gift of righteousness. (See 2Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:17) From this place of right standing with God, we can now hunger and thirst to do righteousness.

The good Shepherd promises to guide us “in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3) He will always lead us to do the right thing (righteousness simply means doing what’s right) no matter what the circumstance. Even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death or find ourselves in the very presence of our enemies, we never have to fear; all we have to do is choose to do what is right. If we will be led by righteousness, God promises that “goodness and mercy” will follow us all of our days. Jesus said something similar, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

We aren’t driven by fear that we won’t have the things we need; we are confident that we only need to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and God’s abundant provision will follow us. Yet our satisfaction transcends our bills being paid, and our mouths being fed; we get to experience the joy of knowing God and doing His will.

Posted in Hebrews, John, Romans

The Purpose of Pruning

“Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2

When we lived in Montevideo, MN we had some friends that decided they were going to surprise us while we were away at a conference by working on our yard. Included in their work was the pruning of our front bushes. When I first saw them I was shocked. Our once large, robust bushes looked like they were little, puny twigs stuck in the ground that were about to die. Fortunately one of the women saw my concern and assured me that this was actually a good thing, and that the pruning process was important for the bush. I took her word for it, but still thought that anyone passing by in the near future would be very unimpressed with our bushes.

Jesus said that if we please God by bearing fruit, God will prune us back, so that we will eventually bear more fruit. God always sees things from His eternal perspective. He sees our pain, but He still does what is best for the long term with, what seems to us, little regard for our short term comfort. As human beings we usually consider short term comfort before long term benefit, and can easily be offended that God doesn’t see it our way. “If God truly loved people then He would…” Our own ideas of what God’s love should look like can easily rob us of faith.

God’s end is to transform us into the image of His glorious Son. (Romans 8:29) He is firm in His purpose, so our lives will be a lot easier if we agree with His plan and try to work with it instead of resisting it. Hebrews 12:5 gives the two wrong responses to the pruning process called the Lord’s discipline:

  1. Don’t take it lightly – embrace God’s dealings with you and respond quickly. Blowing off conviction will only lead to God bringing the correction at a later time and usually in a bigger way. 
  2.  Don’t become discouraged – when life is hard we often conclude that God is angry with us or is somehow not pleased. Don’t jump to conclusions! Check your conscience, and if everything is clear then just trust that the God who delights in you is doing a little pruning so that your long term joy will be maximized. 

Part of God’s plan is that we supply comfort to each other while they are being pruned. Let’s be sensitive, gentle, and loving to people who are going through difficulties knowing full well that we may need comfort from them tomorrow.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Isaiah, Romans

The Righteousness of God

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17

The good news (gospel) is that a righteousness from God is available to us today because of what Christ did on the cross. This righteousness cannot be earned but only embraced through faith; it is God’s gift to those who will receive it. God is so holy that even our seemingly righteous acts appear like filthy rags to Him, (Isaiah 64:6) so He sent His Son to do for us, what we could not do for ourselves. “God made Him who had not sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Corinthians 5:21)

God’s Spirit made this passage in Romans come alive to a young, miserable monk named Martin Luther while studying in Wittenburg, Germany in 1513-1515. Here are his words about the experience:

“I sought day and night to make out the meaning of Paul; and at last I came to apprehend it thus: Through the gospel is revealed the righteousness which availeth with God – a righteousness by which God, in His mercy and compassion, justifieth us; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Straightway I felt as if I were born anew. It was as if I had found the door of Paradise thrown wide open. Now I saw the Scriptures altogether in a new light – I ran through their whole contents as far as my memory would serve, and compared them, and found that this righteousness was really that by which God makes us righteous, because everything else in Scripture agreed thereunto so well. The expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ which I so much hated before, now became dear and precious – my darling and comforting word.”

No religious effort or philosophical ideal can produce what God Himself has done for us in Christ. In Him we are righteous! Embrace it, speak it, and walk it out because this simple truth has the power to save everyone who believes.