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 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 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.

Posted in Isaiah, Psalms

Standing Firm in Your Faith

“If you don’t stand firm in your faith, you won’t stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9

The words of the text above came to my mind unbidden in June of 2012. Weeks earlier I had received a letter from a lawyer threatening a lawsuit against our church because of some changes we made at our school. I did everything I could to get them to drop it, including begging God to intervene on our behalf, but it was all to no avail. The lawsuit was filed anyway and fear gripped my heart.

As I considered the possible devastation a lawsuit could have on our church, the sentence above came to me. Was this a Scripture? I went to my concordance and found it. The context was a warning to King Ahaz who had two armies mounted against him which had caused his heart to be “shaken as trees of the field are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2) The same Holy Spirit who was warning him many years ago was now warning me.

It was game time. I talked about trusting God all the time, I’m a preacher after all, but now it was time to actually believe like a Christian should. God didn’t tell me how the lawsuit would end, He just warned me that if I gave into the fear speaking to me, it would not go well.

A believer’s main job is to believe. Are you facing something right now that is filling you with fear? This is not the time to abandon your faith; it’s time to practice it. Tell God you trust Him, speak to the mountain you’re facing, and live in the freedom Christ paid for even while the circumstances are unchanged.

That’s what I did. Months later I received an email that said the lawsuit was dropped, but the greater miracle was that it wasn’t even that big of a relief. I had found rest in God and knew it would be okay, whatever happened.

Why not give God your fears today and claim Psalm 34:4 for your life, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

Posted in Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs

Hidden Shame

“The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Proverbs 28:1

A man once described his walk with God as being on a treadmill. He felt he could never make progress because eventually he would stumble again in the area of lust. Every other area, he found, he could set his will and be victorious, but he was utterly defeated in this area and it was robbing him of confidence with God.

How do we overcome immorality and the shame it brings?

  1. Wage war against it. Jesus died on the cross so we could be forgiven and have a new beginning. Many today have stopped fighting and changed the gospel to a license to keep sinning in this area. They say something like this to themselves: “God understands how weak I am and why I’ve stopped even trying to be sexually pure.” No, He doesn’t. He didn’t stop when it was difficult for Him, He shed His blood, He took the shame and pain of the cross and drank the cup of the wrath of God for us. How can we stop fighting to be pure because it’s too hard?
  2. Wage the right war. After we’ve set our heart to be pure it is easy to get into wrong thinking, so here is a warning: If we try to wage war against our own sexuality we will become angry with God. God made us sexual beings. The fact that you’re attracted to the opposite sex is not sin, it just means all the equipment is working. Jesus said lust in the heart is like adultery, not a thought in the mind. When a lustful thought comes into your mind, you are being tempted, you haven’t yet sinned. Don’t let the thought have a place; press delete instead of downloading it. It’s not a sin to be tempted!
  3. Get into the word of God. “Your word have I treasured (hidden) in my heart, so I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11) God wants our fantasy life, and all hidden thoughts to be transformed by the word of God.   
  4. Delight in God’s love for you. We are dark but lovely to God. (Song of Songs 1:5) I honestly don’t think anyone can win the lust battle without experiencing the higher pleasure of God’s love for them. It can be hard for men to connect emotionally with God, but it is really important. In Christ, we are the favored, beloved, children of God. His plan is for our success, not our failure!
Posted in Luke, Mark, Psalms

Redemptive Abandonment

“Now as for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I will never be moved.’ O Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong. You hid Your face, I was dismayed. To You O Lord, I called… ‘Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper.’ You have turned for me my mourning into dancing…O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 130:6-8, 10-12

Whenever God favors us we can come to the wrong conclusion that we have life, and God figured out. When things are going well, we can easily assume we are strong, immovable, and in control, but all this is a dangerous deception. Because God loves us so much, He breaks the power of presumption in our lives through something a speaker I heard recently call, “redemptive abandonment.” God hides His face during seasons of our lives, not because He doesn’t care, but because He cares so much.

Peter declares, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not… Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” (Mark 14:29; 31) Peter has been favored as the top apostle and has come to the wrong conclusion. He believes he is strong, a veritable mountain of faith, immovable from his devotion. We can hear in his words, “all may fall away, yet I will not,” disdain for others who aren’t as strong as he presumes he is. His future leadership would be very limited if he continues with the false impression that he is somehow better than those he is leading, so Jesus explains to him the reality of prophetic abandonment.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32) Before he falls, Peter despises the weakness of those around him because he presumes he has it all together. After he falls and is picked up again by God, he will see clearly that the plan is about Divine grace, not human strength. Peter will now be able to lead weak people with gentleness and understanding as a humble servant instead of as a know it all.

Because David (the author of the passage above) and Peter experienced the reality of how weak they were apart from God (abandonment), they were in a position to experience the favor of God (redemption) without becoming proud. Mourning can become dancing when the burden of presumption is broken off our lives.

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, Isaiah, Psalms

Laying a Solid Foundation

“Let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works…” Hebrews 6:1

On August 1, 2007 a bridge in Minneapolis that crossed the Mississippi river collapsed killing 13 and injuring 145. The irony was that work was being done on the bridge at the time of the collapse; but it was the wrong work. One article summed up the types of things that were being done: “The construction taking place in the weeks prior to the collapse included replacing lighting, and guard rails. At the time of the collapse, four of the eight lanes were closed for resurfacing.” Because the foundational work was left undone, all the other work proved to be in vain. This is how it is in a Christianity that lacks repentance. It doesn’t matter how much we do, if we haven’t really repented and aren’t living a life of repentance, all our works are dead in God’s sight.

Hebrews 3:7-8; 3:15 and 4:7 all say the same thing: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” Repentance is not possible until God speaks to us. He can speak through His word as we read it, or through a preacher at church, or by a dream or vision in the night, or through an honest friend, or in difficult circumstances.  God has lots of ways to speak to us when He wants to get our attention.

When God speaks we need to agree with Him. David said, “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak.” (Psalm 51:4) When we agree with what God says we justify Him; when we defend ourselves by making excuses for what we did, we justify ourselves. Hardening your heart toward God can actually mean softening your heart toward you by giving yourself unwarranted and unsanctified mercy for evil you have said, thought, or done. “It wasn’t that bad,” “he had it coming,” “I only spoke the truth,” “I was tired,” “Yeah, but she did that wrong thing first,” are just a few excuses that quickly come into our hearts when we seek to justify ourselves.

Let’s not live resurfacing the bridge when what it needs is foundation work. Rather, let’s each take time to seek our hearts and fully repent. Isaiah 30:15 gives the blessing that will result, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

Posted in John, Philippians, Psalms

Wanting what God Wants

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

Jesus gives us here the secret to authority in prayer. When we truly abide in Him by His Spirit, and allow His word to abide in us, our desires are transformed in such a way that what we want will be what God wants. Then we only need to ask with faith, so that heaven’s will can be done on earth. The difficulty of course is that no one perfectly abides in Him, nor does His word perfectly abide in anyone, so we are confined to a process of transformation. As we walk with Him there is more and more authority in our prayer life because we become more and more filled with His desires.

This truth also gives light to another remarkable promise: “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) Some have thought this to be a simple matter of tagging the name of Jesus on to your prayer and you will get whatever you ask for. After praying in this way, you will find that this isn’t how it works and may conclude that Jesus exaggerated in His promise because you “… prayed in Jesus name according to this promise and it didn’t work!” Praying in His name means more than a postscript to a request we make of God. It means to be in union with Him, it is in fact a matter of the vine (Jesus) giving life to the prayer that comes out of the branches (us). As we live in His name, we will find increasing confidence to pray in His name.

The Old Testament scripture that underlies this truth is found in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When we delight in God by allowing His Spirit to dwell in us and His Word to be our daily food, He gives us His desires and puts them in our hearts, so that what we want is what He wants. True freedom is not just having the power to do what is right; it is having the desire to do what is right. As we become one with God through Jesus our life becomes easier and easier because our own carnal desires are put down and His desires become stronger in us. As Paul said: “It is God at work in you, both to will (desire) and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

Posted in 1Corinthians, John, Luke, Mark, Psalms

An Intimate Appearance

“Go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him just as He told you.’” Mark 16:7

Jesus told His disciples at the last supper that He would meet them in Galilee after His resurrection. The angel is repeating what he overheard Jesus Himself say to them at this last meeting, but he has also witnessed the devastation of Peter. His instructions from heaven evidently include this special reference to the fallen leader who has denied Christ three times after promising to die for Him: “…tell the disciples and Peter.”

Jesus, Himself, appeared first to Mary Magdalene, not in Galilee, but in Jerusalem on the day He was resurrected. This appearance was unpromised and unexpected. He also appeared the same day to two men on the road to Emmaus. And then, that same night, as the two of them were retelling their story, He appeared to all of them (except Thomas), and the details of this visit are given to us in Scripture as well. (See Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20)

But there is one appearance that happened where we are given no details. Jesus appeared personally, on resurrection day, to Peter. Two different New Testament authors reference this appearance, but give us no specifics. In Luke 24:34, while the men who saw Jesus on the road to Emmaus were telling their story, the disciples respond by saying: “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon (Peter).” In 1Corinthians 15, Paul is referencing all the resurrection appearances to men, and says: “I passed on to you…that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the others…” (1Corinthians 15:4-5)

Why aren’t we told of this interaction with Peter? What did Jesus say to him? What did Peter say? Maybe there are some interactions with the Lord that are so intimate they aren’t for others to hear about.

Here’s what we know for sure: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) He loved Peter so much that He singled him out on the most important day in history. He took time to come close and restore one who was being crushed by his own sin and failure. Isn’t He amazing?