The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Resolutions or Regeneration - Part 2

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! - Romans 7:24-25a

We’re looking at an alternative to resolutions, regeneration. It’s common at this time of year for people to make resolutions. As we saw in the first part of this study, resolutions are not effective ways to work changes in our lives. If people want to change they don’t need resolutions, they need regeneration. How can a person enter into this state of regeneration?

First, realize your real problem is sin. Sin is the destructive cancer like thing within you that is keeping you from successfully changing for the better. The Bible says:

Romans 3:10, 23 - 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; . . . 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Sin keeps us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and it is God alone who can work true change in us. Sin keep our focus on sinful self where we will wallow in defeat and despair.

Second, realize only spiritual birth or spiritual life can make a true lasting eternal change in you It is the gospel that is the power of God to save us from sin (Romans 1:16). Jesus told the religious Pharisee Nicodemas that he “must” be born again. Jesus said:

John 3:3-7 - 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

Here we see by way of comparison that Jesus taught Nicodemus just as he had been born physically he needed to experience spiritual birth as well. This is not something we can work in ourselves, which leads us to the next realization.

Third, realize regeneration is a work of God offered by His grace through faith in His only Son Jesus. The Bible says that salvation is a work of God (John 6:29). The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and our need of salvation (John 16:8-11). It is God who draws us out of our sin to Himself (John 6:44). And God draws us to Himself by dealing with our sin through faith in Jesus (John 6:29).

Here is the beauty of how God resolves our sinful predicament. He has sent Jesus to pay for our sinful debt (because we are unable to pay that debt off on our own). And He has done away with our sin as we put our faith in Jesus and His work (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is why at the end of Paul’s passage in Romans 7 he is inspired to proclaim:

Romans 7:24-25a - 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

It is a glorious thing to turn over the reigns of your life to God. We need to stop trying in our own strength (i.e. weakness). We need to turn form our way of doing things and surrender or turn to God and His way. This leads us to our final realization.

Fourth, realize you need to repent or turn humbly to God from your sinful self ways and rely fully on God’s gracious provision and strength. We can’t work our way out of the mire of our sin (Psalm 69). It is only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ that this regeneration can occur (Ephesians 2:4-9). If we turn from our self efforts and self interests to God then we can expect times of refreshing from the Lord (Acts 2:38-39).

It has been said:

Our lives are fields that primarily contain weeds. We cannot produce strawberries. We can mow the weeds, but that effort alone will never produce acceptable fruit. If we really want that fruit we will have to go deeper. We must plow up the whole field and start again with new plants.

We can’t change by resolution. We need the regenerative work of God to change.

But I’ve Done that and I’m Still Failing and Faltering

Sometimes those who have experienced regeneration continue to have difficulties in their lives; why is that? Those who have received God’s gracious gospel provision in Christ need to realize a few things too.

First, realize transformation is only begun at regeneration and is a life-long process. The Bible refers to Christians as “being sanctified” (Hebrews 2:11; 10:14). Change is a process that God works in us over time as we live a life of surrender to Him (Romans 12:1-2). Regeneration is when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell a person (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20). It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to overcome our weaknesses (Romans 8:26). The work of the Spirit in us is to transform us into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). This is God’s purpose for us and should be our goal and target in life.

Second, realize the problem is that many who have been regenerated continue to live to please self rather than to please God. There are what are called carnal Christians who live to please themselves rather than to please God. The Christian who lives to please self will only find discord and disruption in their lives much the same as before they were regenerated (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; James 4:1-6). To overcome this problem the Christian must turn their focus on God and seek to please Him by faith (Hebrews 11:6). Paul explains this well when he is inspired to write:

Romans 8:1-9 - There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

When we are regenerated through faith in Christ we are called by God to walk no longer after the things of the flesh or to walk in the power of the flesh, but we are called to live in the Spirit (8:1). It is this life in the Spirit that can set us free from our futile fleshly lives (8:2). God does away with the destructive and depressing affects of sin in a person through faith in Christ (8:3-4). This new life of spiritual regeneration is an entirely new way of life and an entirely new way of looking at life (8:5). If we continue to have a fleshly mindset after regeneration we will continue to experience its destructive and depressing ways (8:6). It will hinder our relationship with God (8:7) and prevent us from pleasing God (8:8). In fact that is exactly the issue; in our flesh we seek to please self; in the Spirit we seek to please God. The truth is when we seek to please ourselves no one will be happy. But when we seek to please God everyone benefits. Without the Spirit in your life, you don’t even belong to God (8:9), which leads us to our final realization for the believer.

Third, realize victory comes through abiding in Christ. The closer we come to Jesus the more power we will have over sin in our lives. We are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). In other words, get as close to Jesus as possible, as close as your very clothes, and you will have more and more power over the flesh. Drawing close to Jesus is the way of escape from many a problem issue in the life of the Christian (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus put it this way:

John 15:4-8 - 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

We need to “abide” or stick close to Jesus. When we get away from Jesus we shrivel up spiritually like a piece of fruit plucked from a tree. If we stay connected to Jesus, we will grow and become fruitful in Him.

How do we do this? How do we abide in Jesus? The key is in the words “My disciples.” A disciple is a learner who studies the words of Jesus (verse 7 i.e. the Bible) and surrenders to the Spirit to apply those words to their lives (John 8:31-32, 34-36). Disciples also “ask” (verse 7) or pray because prayer is a declaration of dependence on God and a means of relating verbally with God in Christ. A disciple lastly does all they do to bring glory to God which is the culmination of spiritual fruitfulness (verse 8). The more we seek to bring glory to God the further away from self we move. The further away from self we move and the closer we come to God, the more power to live victoriously in life we will experience.

In his book The Power of the Spirit, William Law, writing in the early 1700s, makes the following statement about the church living in the flesh rather than the Spirit:

A letter learned zeal has but one nature wherever it is, and can only do that for Christians which it did for Jews. As in ancient times it brought forth scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, and crucifiers of Christ; as it afterwards brought forth heresies, schisms, popes, papal decrees, images, and anathemas; so in Protestant churches it will do the same things, only under different names. The empty idolatry of Rome will show itself even without crucifixes and indulgences. Images of wood and clay will only be exchanged for images of doctrines. Grace, works, imputed sin, imputed righteousness, and election will all have their worshipping advocates, dividing the body of Christ in their very zeal to defend their own good opinions about Scripture doctrines. And so great will be the blindness thus generated that every kind of gossip, slander, and hatred will be pursued by brother against brother, all of it done in the name of Him who prayed that we might be one. . . . Our divine Master compares the religion of the learned Pharisees to ‘whited sepulchers, outwardly beautiful, but inwardly full of dead men’s bones.’ How was it that a religion so serious in its restraints, so beautiful in its outward form and practices, and commanding such reverence from all that beheld it, was yet charged by Truth itself with being ‘inwardly full of hypocrisy and iniquity’? It was only for this one reasons: because it was a religion of self. Wherever self has power and keeps up its own interests, even in teaching or defending sound Scripture doctrines, there is that very same Pharisee still alive whom Christ with so much severity of language constantly condemned. The reason for such heavy condemnation is that self is the root and sum total of all sin. Every sin that can be named is centered in it. Self is nothing else but the creature broken off from God: the power of Satan living and working in us the sad continuance of that first turning from God, which was the whole fall of our first parents. (Emphasis added.)

Unfortunately what William Law wrote 300 years ago was not heeded by much of the church and today we have a church that is more carnal and centered on its sarx, than it is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We cannot afford to allow our flesh to rule us; we need the Spirit to overcome it and empower us to do all that God has wonderfully laid out for us to do. If you are a Christian and have slipped back into the futility of a life lived for self and in the weakness of self, surrender to God anew and He will empower you to victorious Christian living. That would be a great way to start a new year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Resolution or Regeneration? - Part 1

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! - Romans 7:24-25a

Every year on New Years Eve people make New Year’s Resolutions promising to change themselves for the better. But New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure. If people want to change they don’t need resolutions, they need regeneration.

How Successful are New year’s Resolutions?

How successful are New Year’s resolutions? Statistics in a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology showed the following:

40 to 45% of American adult make one or more resolutions each year.
• Among the top new years resolutions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and stopping to smoke. Also popular are resolutions dealing with better money management / debt reduction.
• The following shows how many of these resolutions are maintained as time goes on:
- past the first week: 75%
- past 2 weeks: 71%
- after one month: 64%
- after 6 months: 46%

Another study estimated that 97% of New Year’s resolutions do not work. In this study entitled New Years Resolutions: Why Don’t They Work ? Michael York of the Michael York Learning Center theorized the reason why resolutions don’t work is because people expect to fail and that they don’t know how to properly set goals in order to keep their resolutions. But I would say that the reason people don’t expect to keep their resolutions is because they have learned from experience that they can’t keep their resolutions and no amount of proper goal setting is going to change that.

So what’s the answer; how can we change for the better? The answer is that we need regeneration not resolutions.

Why Resolutions Can’t Work

The reason why a resolution can’t work is because it depends on me, myself and I; it depends on my own “strength.” The Bible refers to this self-centered dependence upon self as the flesh. Paul was inspired to speak of the predicament of the flesh when in Romans he writes:

Romans 7:18-24 - 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Do you see the futility of relying on your own strength to try to do good things? The New Living Translation (more of a paraphrase) of the Bible renders this portion of scripture in the following way:

18 I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. 19 When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. 20 But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. 21 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?

These words express the futility, frustrations and ultimate failure of attempts at self-reformation and that is exactly what a New Year’s resolution is. The reason such attempts at change are doomed to failure is because they depend on an inadequate power source, the sinful self. Read what the Bible says about our self, the me, myself and I of who we are:

Genesis 6:5 - 5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
• Job 14:4 - Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!
• Job 15:14-16 - “What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous?15 If God puts no trust in His saints, And the heavens are not pure in His sight,16 How much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity like water!
• Psalm 5:9 - For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is destruction; Their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with their tongue.
• Psalm 51:5 - Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
• Isaiah 64:6 - But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.
• Jeremiah 17:9 - “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
• Mark 7:21-23 - 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
• Ephesians 2:1-3 - And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

These verses are ample evidence that anything that depends on this flesh or us, is doomed to fail to reach its goal. If that is the case, then how can a person change successfully?

Regeneration the Way to True Transformation

Sometimes we can have what we believe are the best of intentions, but they are the wrong intentions. Our motives are not always what they ought to be. We may want to change, but if our motive is only to please our self, then we are only compounding our problem and off the mark. What we need is an entirely new way of looking at things and an entirely new way of doing things. What we need is REGENERATION.

What is regeneration? Regeneration is a work of the Spirit wherein He gives spiritual eternal life to a repentant sinner. In Paul’s letter to Titus he is inspired to write:

Titus 3:3-7 - 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The term “regeneration” (παλιγγενεσία - paliggĕnĕsia, pal-ing-ghen-es-ee´-ah ) means new birth, regeneration, or rebirth. This is a compound word made up of the Greek term palin which means “again” and the Greek term genesis which means “birth.” Regeneration is the work of God to change us from death to life spiritually. God regenerates the person who receives Jesus as Savior. All of this is a work of God offered graciously as a gift to be received by us.

Jesus described regeneration with the following words:

John 5:24 - 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

Regeneration is passing from death to life spiritually. Just as we are physically born, we must be spiritual born again if we are ever to be changed from our present state of sinful futility. Before we are spiritually born again we don’t even understand our true need (1 Corinthians 2:14). We need to be born again, we need to be spiritual born of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, 5).

How do I get this regeneration? If you want to change for the better you have to realize the following. That is what we will consider in the second part of this study. Start seeking God now and don’t miss the next part of this study! God be with you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

“Why Did He Come?”

Christmas has become such a busy time of year with decorations, parties, shopping, cooking and such. There is a magazine called Garbage magazine and years ago it gave the following stats about Christmas:

Americans used 28,497,464 rolls and sheets of wrapping paper, 16,826,362 packages of tags and bows, 372,430,684 greeting cards, and 35,200,000 Christmas trees during the 1989 Christmas season. Garbage Magazine, quoted in Signs of the Times, 12-1991, p. 7.

Who can doubt that the garbage produced by Christmas today is even greater? Jesus didn’t come to produce garbage. But why did He come?

With all the activity it is easy to forget about the meaning of Christmas, the reason for the season. Why did He come? Why did Jesus come? If we really want to know the reason for the season we should go to Jesus and see what He said. What did Jesus say was the purpose of His coming? The specific phrase, “I have come” (in which Jesus indicates why He came), is uttered by Jesus 10 times in the gospels. Let’s look at what Jesus said about why He came.

Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to give a message. Jesus said, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”(Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43). He came to preach. Jesus even gave the content of His message saying He came to bear witness to the truth (which is the word of God according to Him - John 17:17). He said, “. . . for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:37). Have you heard His message of truth and have you received it by faith?

Jesus didn’t only communicate His message verbally, but He communicated it by His nature. Jesus said He came in His Father’s name: “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.” (John 5:43). To come in someone’s name meant you came as a representative; you came in a way to convey the will and nature of that person. Jesus came in His Father’s name in that He revealed the nature of God because He was and is God in the flesh (John 1:1-2,14; 10:30; 14:6-11; Colossians 1:19; 2:9-10). That is the real communication of Christmas.

Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to divide. It is common to think that Jesus came to unite, but in fact Jesus’ own words indicate He came for just the opposite purpose; He came to divide. The evidence of this provocative statement is found in Matthew 10:34 where it states, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Jesus goes on to say that there would be family division because of Him (see Matthew 10:34-39). Family gatherings at Christmas can often erupt into all out war. But the tension and stress and division Jesus is talking about here is not caused by family squabbles or wrong or bad gifts, it is caused by taking a stand with Jesus.

Our hearts are often filled with divided loyalties. We are divided between the world and Jesus; our own self centered desires (lusts) versus our relationship with Jesus. In the process of change for the better, for something to be made right, it must often first be broken down. Sometimes before peace comes, there is a battle, even a war (e.g. Before Romans 8, there is a Romans 7). A divided heart has to be broken before it can receive what God has for it (Joel 2:12-14). Jesus is either Lord of all in your life or He is not Lord at all. For Jesus to do His work in your heart, in your life and beyond that to your family and loved ones, He must be first and Lord. If Jesus is not Lord in your life, when He gives instruction by the Holy Spirit, you may not follow it, or you may only partially follow it and make things worse than they already are. You have to lose your life in Him. You have to totally trust in Jesus for Him to work effectively in you (Acts 8:37).

A time will come when we will need to take a stand for Jesus in the presence of our unsaved family members and friends. We are not to take such a stand in and unloving insensitivity or harshness. That would bring shame to the name of Jesus. But we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 3:15-16). We need to put Jesus first and care more for the lost souls of family members than merely keeping the peace or status quo of Christmas. That is the real challenge of Christmas.

Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to do God’s will. Early in His ministry and life Jesus said: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38). To accomplish God’s will Jesus would have to give His life as a ransom, a payment to God’s justice for the penalty of sin (Matthew 26:36-46; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21). It is because of Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice that we can be saved from our sin (1 John 1:7, 9; 2:1-2). That is the real compassion of Christmas.

Why did Jesus come? Jesus came “for judgment,” to be the deciding factor in life. Jesus said: “For judgment I have come into this world, . . . ” (John 9:39a). Not everyone accepts that Jesus is God or even that they are separated from God because of their sin. Jesus came as the deciding factor; He came that those who are genuinely seeking can find eternal life in Him and that those who are playing games will be exposed for their hypocrisy. Jesus is the fulcrum, the watershed, the deciding factor in your eternal destiny. What you do with Jesus will determine whether or not you remain lost in or are saved from your sin. Give Jesus your heart; trust your heart to Him and He will give you a new heart suited for eternal life with Him (Jeremiah 17:9-10; Ezekiel 18:31; 36:26). That is the real call of Christmas.

Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. The result of Jesus sacrifice was to disarm Satan and ultimately all his works. The New Testament says: “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8; see also Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14). Never forget that you are in a spiritual (Ephesians 6:10-18). Satan is a loser and he knows it. But he still has some fight in him. Christmas time is a battle of the bulge in more ways than one. That is the real combat of Christmas.

Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to comfort the hurting. Remember, though there is often pain in following Jesus, He will not let you be tested beyond what you are able (1 Corinthians 10:13) and He will not allow you to be broken beyond repair. Whatever breaking God allows in your life will be used for His good purposes (Romans 8:28-29). Of Jesus it was said, “A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20; Isaiah 42:3). Trust Jesus with everything. That is the real comfort of Christmas.

Why did Jesus come? Jesus came to serve and redeem the lost world. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45; see also John 3:16-21). Jesus said: “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). Some go on search and destroy missions; Jesus went on a search, save and disciple mission. And we are called to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). That is the real commitment of Christmas.

That is why Jesus came, that mission was begun at Christmas, the birth of Jesus. Jesus came a long way for you and me. Jesus gave a lot for us; He gave His life so that you and I and every sinner could be brought out of darkness into God’s light and experience salvation from our sin, by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. Has His mission been accomplished in you? Jesus has a gift that surpasses any Christmas gift you’ve ever known, life in Him. To receive that gift of life is as easy as ABC, all you have to do is:

Admit you are a sinner (like all humans are) – Romans 3:23. Understand that sin left unattended to will lead first to physical death and then eternal death (eternal separation from God) – Romans 6:23a; Ezekiel 18:4. Turn from your sinful life to Jesus and God will give you a fresh start (Acts 2:38).

Believe and receive Jesus as your Savior (Romans 6:23b; Romans 8:9-10). Don’t depend on your works, they can’t deal with your sin, depend on Jesus; Jesus completed work on the cross is what deals with sin (Ephesians 2:8-19; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Titus 3:5).

Commit your life wholeheartedly to Him; live for Him (Acts 2:42; 8:37; Galatians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6).

M.R. Dehaan, founder of the Radio Bible Class wrote the following poem that is a good summation of the reason Jesus came.

Can This Be Christmas

What's all this hectic rush and worry?
Where go these crowds who run and scurry?
Why all the lights -- the Christmas trees?
The jolly "fat man," tell me please!

Why, don't you know? This is the day
For parties and for fun and play;
Why this is Christmas!

So this is Christmas, do you say?
But where is Christ this Christmas day?
Has He been lost among the throng?
His voice drowned out by empty song?

No. He's not here -- you'll find Him where
Some humble soul now kneels in prayer,
Who knows the Christ of Christmas.

But see the many aimless thousands
Who gather on this Christmas Day,
Whose hearts have never yet been opened,
Or said to Him, "Come in to stay."

In countless homes the candles burning,
In countless hearts expectant yearning
For gifts and presents, food and fun,
And laughter till the day is done.

But not a tear of grief or sorrow
For Him so poor He had to borrow
A crib, a colt, a boat, a bed
Where He could lay His weary head.

I'm tired of all this empty celebration,
Of feasting, drinking, recreation;
I'll go instead to Calvary.

And there I'll kneel with those who know
The meaning of that manger low,
And find the Christ -- this Christmas.

I leap by faith across the years
To that great day when He appears
The second time, to rule and reign,
To end all sorrow, death, and pain.

In endless bliss we then shall dwell
With Him who saved our souls from hell,
And worship Christ -- not Christmas!

God bless you with His coming and have a meaningful Spirit filled Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Circumcision of the Heart - Part 3

Colossians 2:11-13 - 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,

The circumcision of the heart results in a glorious life and freedom from slavery to trespasses. “Trespasses” (παράπτωμα - paraptōma, par-ap´-to-mah) refer to a false step, blunder, “a lapse from uprightness, a sin, a moral trespass, misdeed, is translated ‘fall.’” Prior to conversion we are out of step with God. Earlier in Colossians Paul stated our need to be reconciled because we were out of sync with God (1:20). Here Paul points to the wobbly walk we have apart from Christ. We walk wobbly because we walk with a heavy burden of sin. This existence is characteristic of the one who is, “being dead in your trespasses.” This is the person who needs to be born of the Spirit; born again; saved from their sin. And God provides by grace a way for this person to be forgiven their trespasses; the cross (2:14).

But there is a further application to be made here. Paul refers to “the uncircumcision of your flesh.” Notice he states a twofold condition. He states of the Colossians, “And you, being dead in your trespasses . . .” That’s the first condition which needs salvation. He then uses the conjunction “and” to add a further condition. The “and” can refer to something concurrent or an addition, or it can refer to something that follows. Paul says, the second condition is, “and the uncircumcision of your flesh.” That is the second condition and that needs the circumcision of the heart. Sometimes these two aspects are dealt with concurrently or at the point of accepting Christ as Savior. But at other times there is a lapse of time before the flesh is recognized as an unwanted unreliable tenant and then is circumcised.

The flesh is like a tenant who crosses the line of boundaries. The flesh doesn’t stay in its place but barges into your living space. Like a rude boorish visitor who comes in and takes over like they own the place, eating your food, wearing your clothes, turning your TV to the channels it likes, and just taking over. The flesh is a pest and makes your life miserable once you accept Jesus into your life. Why? because your flesh intrudes on your every attempt at conversation with Jesus. When you want to go out with Jesus the flesh is an unwanted presence. When you want to celebrate with Jesus, the flesh crashes the party. You get sick and tired of the flesh’s constant presence. But he’s persistent and powerful and wont’ go away. You try to get rid of him but he just won’t leave you alone. The flesh can be an oppressive bully. Jesus can and will step in to free us from the bully flesh. He will help us to drop the flesh like a bad habit. He will help us to throw the flesh off like a smelly shirt. Jesus will circumcise our flesh away from us.

The flesh is also very deceptive. It influences us in subtle ways that hinder our walk with Jesus. The flesh tempts us to be self-confident. It tricks us into thinking we can do it ourselves in whatever we are doing, even good things for Jesus. This leads to let downs. At times we live an up and down existence as Christians. We walk wobbly as Christians. It’s as though we are still dead as we attempt to live right but in our own fleshly power. Life is a struggle living in the flesh in our own strength (e.g. Rom. 7:24). We are dragged down by trespasses, or stumbling and bumbling as Christians.

When I was a kid I had a toy called a gyroscope. It was a round circular object inside another circular ring with a rod in it. Both spun independently of each other. You could spin it like a top and it made for a fun past time. You’d spin it and watch it to see how long it would last before it ran out of energy and toppled over. It was especially fun to watch it spin close to the edge of a table until it slowed down and fell crashing to the floor. My point is when we try to live as Christians in our own strength we are like that gyroscope. We may spin fast and perfectly at first, but eventually we will run out of energy and topple over into sin. We need to be energized by the Lord, by the Holy Spirit in particular. His energy does not dissipate. We, because we are humans, need regular re-fillings of the Spirit (e.g. the early church filled with the Spirit in Acts 2 and then again in 4:31). The Holy Spirit is always ready to oblige us. Our flesh gets in the way of this. That is why it needs to be circumcised out of the way.

A Subsequent Work?

It should be mentioned that not everyone accepts the idea of the possibility of this circumcision of the flesh or baptism with the Holy Spirit as being a subsequent work to salvation. Not everyone accepts that a second work of God’s grace in the heart is a valid proposition in the Bible. They state that a person receives the Holy Spirit at conversion and that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is conversion. But there is good scriptural evidence to show the reality of a second work of God in the believer. The second work of God in the believer is also confirmed in the personal experiences of believers.

Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the “Promise of My Father” which He described as “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). He breathed on the disciples and commanded them to “Receive the Holy Spirit” at the end of the gospel (John 20:22). This imperative of Jesus confirms the ones He spoke to were born again or had received the indwelling Holy Spirit prior to the empowerment Jesus was speaking about that was fulfilled in Acts. Can there really be any realistic doubt that the disciples were not born again after the resurrection of Jesus at the end of the gospels?

In Acts Jesus clarified that the Promise of His Father and this power was linked to the Holy Spirit coming “upon you” (Acts 1:4-5, and 8). The fulfillment of this empowerment occurs in Acts 2 and was subsequent or after the conversion of the disciples. This empowerment is referred to as the baptism with the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 19:4-5). It is also described in terms of a purifying of the heart (Acts 15:8-9). And it is this last aspect of this subsequent work of God that is pertinent to the circumcision of the heart.

The circumcision of the heart is God’s means to purify the heart. The heart needs to have spiritual surgery to cut away the flesh or sinful selfish nature of a person. It is the flesh that constantly contradicts and wars against the voice and will of the Holy Spirit. The flesh is like an obstinate aggravating unwanted entity that intrudes on the Holy Spirit’s conversations with us. The Spirit speaks to our heart but the flesh is there to intrude and contradict what the Spirit says. The flesh discourages us from obeying the Holy Spirit. The flesh must be surgically removed. The Holy Spirit is the surgeon. We need only present ourselves to Him for surgery to remove the flesh. That flesh, once removed, will grow back if we choose to feed it by following its tempting incitements. If we walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh and we will experience victory and an empowered life (e.g. Gal. 5:16).

The circumcision of the heart involves God providing us with a new aliveness where we live victoriously over the momentary lapses where we succumb to the enticing of the flesh. There always remains the potential or possibility of falling because we are never immune to temptations. But if we do sin Jesus remains our Advocate (1 John 2:1f).

We can live victoriously in this life. Victory is the product of living “together with Him.” It is a life where we exalt in God’s forgiveness. God forgives all our sins at conversion. And He will even cleanse our hearts from our fleshly sinful nature as we walk with Him. That work is ongoing too. We will never in this life be free from the possibility of sinning. And in all likelihood there will be times when we sin. We will sense that within as any sin or fleshly behavior grieves the Holy Spirit. Therefore this is not sinless perfection. But it is a life of victory over fleshly lapses due to spiritual immaturity.

God created humanity in His image (Gen. 1:27). God’s plan and purpose for humanity is to be like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). The serpent tempted Eve with the prospect of becoming like God (Gen. 3:5). The serpent took God’s holy plan of Christlikeness and warped it; desecrated it with a sinful selfish proud motivation. You can’t achieve God’s purposes by relying on the sinful nature; or on the flesh (Gal. 3:1ff.). That is because the fleshy sinful nature is inherently sinful and at war with God (Rom. 8:7). The flesh is always warring and competing against God for control and rule. There can be only one Lord or Master in our heart and life. Therefore the heart needs to be circumcised and the flesh removed from power.

The flesh or sinful nature has a proclivity to proudly assert itself as “God.” The flesh is always trying to take the place of God. It is the flesh that wants us to rely on the Law or ritual so that it can say, “See what I have done. See what I have accomplished.” That is a religious mindset. That is the flesh. The gospel is all about what God has done in Christ. We relate to God on the basis of His grace and provision for us. The perfect holy life involves loving God supremely because of what God has done for us. We love God supremely out of thanks. We love others sacrificially as a way to offer God an appreciative offering of our love for Him. We present ourselves in full surrender to God because we have been bought by Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We belong to God; He is Lord of our lives (Rom. 10:9-10).

Have you experienced the circumcision of your heart by Jesus? Are you a wobbly Christian? Do you struggle with an unwanted tenant within who intrudes and pushes you around like a bully? Jesus wants to free you from such wretchedness. He wants to cut your flesh away. He wants to help you throw off your flesh and have a freer closer relationship with Him. He wants to circumcise your heart. Seek Him and ask Him to cut your flesh away. Throw your flesh off and let it follow as a defeated foe in your victory procession in Christ.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Circumcision of the Heart - Part 2

Colossians 2:11-13 - 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,

Beyond identification as one belonging to God Paul tells us in Colossians that circumcision had a deeper spiritual meaning. Circumcision symbolizes through the removal of the foreskin the removal of the flesh or sinful nature from the heart. The flesh is to be cut away so that it is no longer our source of guidance and strength. The “flesh” in scripture represents the sinful nature. The sinful nature is sinful because it centers on self (me, myself and I). The sinful nature centers on self because of pride. In the Garden of Eden Eve and Adam sinned because they discarded trust in God and His word for self-reliance and self-promotion (Gen. 3). The serpent’s temptation involved bringing God’s word into question (Gen. 3:1-3, contradicting God’s word (3:4), and tempting with the idea that by disobeying God, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). As soon as they chose to disobey God in pursuit of becoming “like God,” the fleshy sinful nature was born.

One of John Wesley’s most noted and most used sermons was entitled The Circumcision of the Heart. It is the seventeenth sermon in the popular set of Rev. N. Burwash’s Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons. In this message Wesley defines circumcision of the heart as:

That "circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter;" — that the distinguishing mark of a true follower of Christ, of one who is in a state of acceptance with God, is not either outward circumcision, or baptism, or any other outward form, but a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of Him that created it; — is one of those important truths that can only be spiritually discerned. And this the Apostle himself intimates in the next words, — "Whose praise is not of men, but of God." As if he had said, "Expect not, whoever thou art, who thus followest thy great Master, that the world, the men who follow him not, will say, ’Well done, good and faithful servant!’ Know that the circumcision of the heart, the seal of thy calling, is foolishness with the world. Be content to wait for thy applause till the day of thy Lord’s appearing. In that day shalt thou have praise of God, in the great assembly of men and angels."
To be more particular: Circumcision of heart implies humility, faith, hope, and charity. . . . At the same time we are convinced, that we are not sufficient of ourselves to help ourselves; that, without the Spirit of God, we can do nothing but add sin to sin; that it is He alone who worketh in us by his almighty power, either to will or do that which is good; it being as impossible for us even to think a good thought, without the supernatural assistance of his Spirit, as to create ourselves, or to renew our whole souls in righteousness and true holiness.

The circumcision of the heart is a removal hindrances to holiness by God in the heart of one fully surrendered to Him.

What is the circumcision of the heart? Before we look at the particular statements by Paul in our passage we need to understand a few things about Circumcision. Physical circumcision was a rite of identification performed the eighth day after birth (Lev. 12:3). What we should consider is that birth preceded circumcision. Similarly, the new birth in the Spirit can precede the circumcision of the heart. Some people accept the Lord in a way that the circumcision of the heart is concurrent with conversion. At other times the circumcision of the heart is more of a subsequent work.

A phrase similar in meaning to the circumcision of the heart is The baptism with the Holy Spirit. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is a subsequent work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer (compare John 20:22 with Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:1-4). This is a work that involves two aspects heart purifying and empowering. In Acts 2 we see the empowering aspect of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 15:8-9 we see the purifying aspect of the baptism with the Holy Spirit as described by Peter. The circumcision of the heart emphasizes the purifying aspect of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Circumcision represents something done to a very private part of a person. Similarly, God wants to do a deep work that affects even the most private and personal areas of our lives. God wants us to surrender every part of ourselves to Him. He wants us to withhold nothing from Him. Circumcision, therefore, is a very apt choice of God to illustrate this desire of His.

Circumcision was also something that was celebrated. As we look at what Paul says about circumcision of the heart let us receive the work of God in our hearts by faith and hen celebrate what God is doing and will do by faith in us.

First, Circumcision of the heart is something we experience in our relationship to Jesus. Paul says, “in Him” (2:11a). This points us to our relationship with Jesus which is based on God’s grace and trust in Christ as our Savior and Lord (John 1:16-17; Eph. 2:8-9). It refers to an abiding relationship with Jesus (John 15). It starts and ends with Jesus.

Second, Circumcision of the heart is a work of God in us. Paul refers to it as, “you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands” (2:11b). This is not something done with human hands; it is not a work by us on our selves. It is a work of God in us (e.g. Phil. 2:13). This is a work of God on our heart. And if it is a work of God it involves receiving it by faith. Our part is to cooperate with God. He is the surgeon, we are the patient. The patient merely needs to present themselves for the surgery. We simply have to come to Him in faith surrendering to Him to do His work in us.

Third, Circumcision of the heart is putting off the flesh. Paul then says, “by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh . . .” (2:11c). As we have said the flesh refers to our sinful nature which is bundle of self-centeredness: selfishness, self-reliance, self-satisfaction, self-exaltation, self-promotion, self-serving, and lust. “Putting off” (ἀπέκδυσις - apĕkdusis, ap-ek´-doo-sis) means to divest, put off, renounce. The idea involves the disarming of an enemy who is then led off in the victor’s procession. It involves undressing. We undress or disarm the flesh.

Prior to this circumcision of the flesh we wore our flesh; it was what we were known by, like a uniform. The flesh was worn like a uniform that represents a team, company or some other group we belong to. And like a team, company or group, we did things in a certain way; in this case, the ways of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). But by the circumcision of the flesh we put off or throw aside the uniform of the flesh and put on the uniform of those who live by the Spirit.

What enemy is disarmed here? “the body of the sins of the flesh.” The flesh! How is it disarmed? “by the circumcision of Christ.” The Christian is still tempted by the sinful flesh nature. But the sinful flesh nature is disarmed in Christ. Jesus has cut it off from its supply of blood. Our sinful nature is something we will need to be aware of our entire lives. But through the circumcision of Christ it is defeated and can only follow in our victory procession as a conquered foe.

We appropriate this circumcision of the flesh by faith and conquer it in the Spirit. We put it off in that we don’t wear it. The control and influence of the flesh is broken. It may still entice us. But it only has power as we yield to it. Instead we by faith must yield to the Spirit (e.g. Romans 6). Instead we invite Jesus to clothe Himself with us and we too submit to and surrender to Jesus; we put Him on.

Fourth, Circumcision of the heart is about Christlikeness. Paul refers to, “by the circumcision of Christ” (2:11d) This circumcision is particularly “the circumcision of Christ.” Jesus does this circumcision to us as we present ourselves to Him in faith. And the nature of this circumcision takes on the nature of its Author, Jesus. It is His circumcision. God’s plan is for us to be like Jesus (Rom. 8:29; cf. also 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6).

Fifth, Circumcision of the heart involves dying to self and rising to new life by faith in God’s working. Paul finally says we are, “buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (2:12-13). We identify with Christ’s death in our baptism. Jesus died on the cross. We who come to Him willfully die to self. This is God’s purpose for us (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:14-15). We do this by faith. And we are raised to newness of life with Jesus by faith (e.g. Rom. 6:4). Our faith is in “the working of God.” We surrender to Him and trust in Him to do the work in us. God is real. He really does make a difference. He really will circumcise your heart if you present yourself to Him and trust Him to do it. The proof of this is in Jesus’ own resurrection. If God raised Jesus from the dead, He will circumcise our hearts and subdue the flesh in our lives too.

Are you controlled by your flesh and its lusts? Is it defeating you or are you defeating it? Are you led by the flesh or the Holy Spirit? Are you growing in your faith and becoming more and more like Jesus? Or are you self-centered and worldly? Ask the Lord to search your heart and listen to His honest appraisal of you. In our final part of this series we will consider the subsequent nature of the circumcision of the heart. This is a work that can happen after our conversion experience. If God has something more for you, wouldn’t you want to experience it? Don’t miss the last part of this three part series to find the answers to these questions.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Circumcision of the Heart - Part 1

Colossians 2:11-13 - 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,

Are you living an up and down unstable Christian life? Do you feel pulled in two different directions when it comes to following God or following less than godly ways? Do you frequently feel as though you’ve run out of spiritual steam? If any of these questions are answered in the affirmative, this teaching on the circumcision of the heart will be of interest to you.

In Colossians Paul states the Christian is “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10). Jesus has what we need to live victoriously and abundantly in this life. But there was a problem at the Colossian church and that problem is often found in the church today.

Some at Colosse were claiming that spiritual maturity and acceptability to God was based on keeping outward rituals like circumcision. Now you might not see how this relates to your present situation but bear with me. There is something very important to see in Paul’s discussion about ritualism.

One commentary accurately states, “If someone claims to be super-spiritual because of meticulous adherence to some religious practice that believer is to be reminded that new life comes in the power of the Spirit and solely on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross ([Colossians] 2:13–15).” You do not need to be circumcised to be saved. You do not need to be baptized to be saved. All you need to do to be saved is to accept by faith the good news of the gospel that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead. Saving faith by nature is repentant; it turns away from sin; it does not continue to live in sin. But that is a product of your salvation not a work to earn your salvation. In faith you turn from your sins to God through faith in Jesus Christ and God then forgives your sins and gives you spiritual life by the indwelling regenerative work of the Holy Spirit.

The value of a ritual is its use as a symbolic shadow of something related to Christ and our relationship to Him. Circumcision was a badge of identification for the Jew. It represented the mark of belonging to God. It symbolized being set apart to God and was introduced by God to Abraham (Genesis 17). But the outward ritual of circumcision was never meant to be a superficial mark that didn’t include the heart condition of the one circumcised. Circumcision was always to indicate a heart stance toward God. Abraham was circumcised after God stated he was counted righteous because of his belief in God (cf. Gen. 15:6). The history of Israel indicates that there was a tendency to rely on the outward ritual of circumcision separate from a heartfelt trust in God. Circumcision was always meant to symbolize more than a mere outward sign.

The prophet Jeremiah was inspired by God to point to this deeper meaning of circumcision when he wrote:

Jeremiah 4:4 - Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Lest My fury come forth like fire, And burn so that no one can quench it, Because of the evil of your doings.”

Through Jeremiah God reminded the wayward sinful people that outward ritual separated from heart decision was meaningless and deserving of God’s judgment. Why? Because they may have been outwardly circumcised but their hearts were still full of evil and it showed in their “doings.” Through Jeremiah God exhorted, “take away the foreskins of your hearts.” Circumcision symbolized something to do with the heart.

This is what Paul was inspired to clarify to the Jewish believers in the church. The early church had to deal with transitional questions related to Judaism and the church (cf. Acts 11 and 15). How much of Judaism was to be adhered to by those in the church of Christ? Some, (known as Judaizers) were saying that salvation in Christ must include a requirement of being physically circumcised as well as adopting and adhering to other Jewish rituals and laws. But the New Testament clearly disagrees with this. Circumcision and ritual served their purpose in pointing people prophetically to Christ. The church is now to be a coming together of Jew and non-Jew gentles in Christ (Eph. 2:11ff.). The gospel is by God’s grace alone and does not include additional works (Eph. 2:1-10; Galatians 1-3). You do not need to be circumcised to be acceptable before God. You do not need any other ritual to be right with God. All you need is saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and LORD.

Paul was inspired by God to warn against tacking on to the gospel religious rituals and works. The Jewish rituals of sacrifice and the law were only a “shadow” of Christ (2:17). These were meant to point us to Christ (Gal. 3:24) He speaks to Jewish believers in Jesus concerning the place and true deepest meaning of circumcision when he writes:

Romans 2:28-29 - For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

All the laws, sacrifices, ceremonies and rituals of Judaism, the entire Old Testament point to Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:7). There was and is great blessing in the Old Testament types and symbols that God used to point us prophetically to Christ (Rom. 3:1-2). There is rich revelation and understanding to be gained by a study of the Old Testament. Indeed, one cannot truly grasp and understand the New Testament without studying the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed. The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The best commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament. And therefore, when we want to understand the most significant aspects of Old Testament rituals, we need to look at them through the illumination of the New Testament.

Have you been relying on outward rituals that are disconnected from the reality in your heart? How is your heart spiritually? Is there a fight going on inside you? Do you feel like there’s a war within you? If so, you won’t want to miss the second part of the series on the circumcision of the heart. What does that mean? Why is it important and valuable for us to know about? That is what we will consider in part 2 of this three part series.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Merry Christmas, My Friend - By James M. Schmidt, a Marine Lance Corporal

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live
As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.
With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.
I'd heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.
He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?
His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.
He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
"Santa, don't cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don't ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps."
With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.

Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

Why Did He Come Down?

No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. - John 3:13

Jesus said those words to the Pharisee Nicodemas the night he came inquiring. That’s an appropriate context for Christmas time. Christmas is about Jesus coming down from heaven. And this verse tells us why Jesus came down.

Christmas brings a lot of religious people out of the woodwork. There are people who wouldn’t think of stepping into a church except on Christmas (and maybe Easter). That is the product of religious blindness. That is the bad fruit of shallow superficial secularized religion. God has so much more than that for us. Nicodemas was a Pharisee and as such, a very religious man. We can learn a lot from Jesus’ conversation with him. We can learn why Jesus came down.

The Pharisees were a religious sect who lived to uphold Jewish traditions and the Mosaic Law (Mark 7:3, 5-8). They were well educated, underwent rigorous training, and had a privileged position in Jewish society. They were sticklers for outward details, fasted regularly and were zealous for Judaism (Matthew 23:23; Luke 5:33; 18:11-12; Matthew 23:15). But they were walking contradictions. Scripture indicates they were covetous and lived to impress people with ostentatious outward displays (Matthew 23:5-7; Luke 7:36-50; 16:14). They were at times cruel persecutors of their opposition (Acts 9:1; Phil. 3:5-6). Jesus called the Pharisees “vipers” (Matthew 12:24, 34), spiritually “blind” (Matthew 15:12-14), “serpents” (Matthew 23:33), “children of the devil” (John 8:13, 44) and “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13-19). He said they manipulated the Scriptures to make a profit (Matthew 15:1-9). They were “lovers of money” who Jesus said, ”justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:14, 15). Not only did they not know the truth or God, but Jesus said they hindered others from finding and knowing God (Matthew 23:15). The Pharisees for the most part rejected Jesus (Matthew 12:24-34). Religious people reject Jesus and His truth. That’s why Jesus came down.

Nicodemas was honest enough to recognize Jesus had something he didn’t have. Jesus taught something that was foreign to him and his religious sect, something otherworldly, heavenly. He recognized Jesus was “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2a). He had power to work miracles and it was obvious to Nicodemus that “no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2b). There is evidence that Nicodemas eventually became a follower of Jesus (John 7:50-53; 19:39-42). But how did Jesus break through the religious hide of this Pharisee? He came down.

What Jesus said to Nicodemus is the same thing He says to all those who approach God in a religious way. Jesus said to Nicodemus the religious man, “No one has ascended to heaven . . .” Why did Jesus say this? He said this to make the point that no one can work their way to heaven. That has been true since the first religious effort of humanity at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Religion focuses on human efforts and what people must do to get to heaven. Our efforts to be righteous, appease God our Judge, and ascend to heaven, are as filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). There are none righteous, not one, and all fall short of the glory of God, all have sinned (Romans 3:10, 21). Sin separates a person from God (Isaiah 59:2). God is holy and will not look on wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13). If we regard sin in our heart God will not hear us (Psalm 66:18).

Without God we are doomed to hell, spiritually dead, destined to eternity in a dark loneliness tormented by regret and separation from a Holy Loving God (Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:8). There is nothing we can do on our own by our own efforts to rid ourselves of the curse of sin (Galatians 3:10). Indeed, Jesus started His conversation with Nicodemus with the halting words, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus didn’t understand. He voiced his confusion by asking Jesus how an old man could be physically born a second time (John 3:4). Jesus elaborated by saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7). The point is Nicodemus was religious, but he had no spiritual life. This is why he couldn’t understand the heavenly message Jesus brought. Nicodemus needed spiritual life. Just as he had received physical life at his birth, he needed a second birth, a spiritual birth. This second birth was a spiritual work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8). Like the wind it couldn’t be seen, but like the wind it can move powerfully. John the Baptist said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27). That’s why Jesus came down.

Nicodemus still didn’t understand (John 3:9). Jesus gently but firmly challenged Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” (John 3:10). As a teacher of Israel Nicodemus should have known these things, but without the Spirit there is always a lack of understanding of spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). Jesus had a heavenly message and Nicodemus wasn’t receiving it (John 3:11-12). Nicodemus, like so many other religious people, was missing the whole point of who Jesus was and what he was offering. That’s why Jesus came down.

There is a second reason Jesus told Nicodemus “No one has ascended to heaven.” Jesus meant to pave the way to introducing Himself as the unique, holy, Savior. Jesus set the contrasting tone between Himself and all others by saying, “but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man . . . .” These words would have had shock value with the Pharisee. Some Jews believed that Moses ascended to heaven to get the Law directly from God. But a proper study of God’s Word reveals that Moses ascended Mount Sinai and God met him there to deliver the Law (Exodus 19:3, 14, 17, 20, 24). Jesus was correcting this false notion and at the same time communicating to Nicodemus the truth of the incarnation of Jesus “the Son of Man.” No man, not even Moses, has ascended to heaven, only Jesus had a heavenly origin. But there was a connection between something Moses did and Jesus. That’s why Jesus came down.

In the Old Testament journey of God’s people from Egypt to the Promised Land they frequently grew impatient and weak in faith and complained against God. On one such occasion they were particularly ungrateful toward God and God disciplined them by bringing “fiery serpents” who apparently had a fiery venom. Many died and the people repented. God instructed Moses to make a fiery serpent out of bronze, put it on a pole for all to see and all who looked at the bronze serpent would live (Numbers 21:5-9). Jesus referred back to this historical event and applied it to Himself saying to Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). That’s why Jesus came down.

These words of Jesus must have caused Nicodemus, the religious man, to ponder just who it was that he was talking to. It must have really caused him to think when Jesus also referred to Himself as, “the Son of Man who is in heaven.” “Son of Man”? “In heaven”? What could this mean? There is no other like Jesus. He alone has a heavenly address. He left His heavenly abode to be the “the Son of Man.” Why did Jesus refer to Himself as “the Son of Man”? Jesus wanted Nicodemus to know that He was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament (Daniel 7:13). Jesus was the One foretold in the scriptures (Luke 18:31). He is not only a son of man; He is the Son of Man. Jesus came to reverse the curse that came through Adam’s sin. That’s why He came down.

As the Son of Man Jesus brought heaven down to earth. Jesus the Son of Man had command and Lordship over the most holy parts of the Law such as the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). As the Son of Man Jesus had the authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6), to save and redeem the lost on the basis of His substitutionary atoning death (Matthew 20:28; Luke 19:10), and resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20), assign eternal rewards (Matthew 16:27; 19:28), spoke of future judgment of the world (Matthew 13:41), and His ultimate actual return in glory (Matthew 24:27-37). And as the Son of Man Jesus came with glorious good news from heaven; news revealing God’s great gift:

John 3:16-21 - 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

These are earth shattering, Pharisee shaking words. The Son of Man is the “Son of God.” Salvation from sin is offered by God to everyone! There is a way to escape the curse of sin and not perish! Belief in Jesus is the determining factor in whether a person is condemned or receives eternal life. People are condemned to perish because of their sin. The word “perish” (GK. APOLLUMI) means literally ruined, or lost. Those who refuse to believe in Jesus are condemned because they loved the dark evil of sin more than the light of God’s loving provision in Jesus. Believing in Jesus leads to eternal life and that life is a life of truth; that truth is found in God’s word (John 17:17). That’s why Jesus came down.

The “belief” (Gk. PISTEUO) that saves is not mere ascent. This belief is more than mere intellectual ascent. “Belief” here means “adherence to, committal to, faith in, reliance upon, trust in a person or an object, and this involves not only the consent of mind, but an act of the heart and will of the subject.” Saving faith is characterized by repentance, turning away from sin and the life of sin to God for forgiveness and to following Him obediently. Saving faith is defined by the acronym Forsaking All I Trust Him not my religious works, for salvation. God has offered the greatest gift; His only Son Jesus. He has offered Him to pay the penalty for our sins. He has provided a free gift of salvation from our sins and eternal life through faith in Jesus. That’s the greatest gift. That is the greatest gift of Christmas. Will you receive it? That’s why Jesus came down.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Revival Praying - Part 2

Revival praying is praying with urgency. It is prayer that ushers into the presence of God as our shelter. It is prayer whose petitioner is humble and teachable before God. It is prayer that asks God to answer for His name’s sake. Have you ever experienced prayer like that? That is the way God desires we pray. In this second part of Revival Praying we will look further at what revival praying is. God help us to pray revival prayers!

The spirit’s urgency (143:7). Answer me speedily, O LORD; My spirit fails! Do not hide Your face from me, Lest I be like those who go down into the pit.” David approached God with urgency in his heart. He was in a desperate situation. If the commentators are correct he was either fleeing for his life from King Saul or dealing with the betrayal of his own son Absalom. Each instance was a life or death situation. David was at the end of himself. He ran to God and pleaded with Him to not hide His face. If He did, David said he would just die. God was his last hope.

Sometimes that’s where we need to be to really get serious with the Lord. Sometimes God allows us to experience trial and suffering or situations where all other resources are exhausted and He is the only One left to turn to. It’s sad that God is often our last resort when He ought to be the first! God often allows situations to reach critical mass in order to bring us to our knees before Him. Revival is birthed out of urgency.

The soul’s shelter (143:8-9). >“Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, For in You do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, For I lift up my soul to You. 9 Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies; In You I take shelter.” No matter how bad things get, David knows he can find shelter and solace with the Lord. What a blessing it is to know the God of the universe. That is the essence of eternal life (John 17:3). What a blessing it is to go to God and have Him put His loving arms around us and to experience His lovingkindness.

Knowing the love of God and experiencing it first hand through the gospel (John 3:1-21) makes it easy to trust Him. Once we are born of His Spirit we continue on with Him. Once we experience His salvation, we progress on in sanctification by walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5). This sanctifying walk involves obedience. We can’t say we love God if we aren’t willing to obey Him (e.g. John 14:21). Obedience is essential if we are to see revival. If we regard iniquity in our heart the Lord hits the pause button (Psalm 66:18). But when we repent off our sin and seek to follow Him He will help us and protect us when we face the enemies of life in their various forms.

The Spirit’s goodness (143:10). >“Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness.” All of this is a work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8-11). He regenerates us to eternal life (John 3:1-21). He communicates and testifies of Jesus helping us to know Him (John 14-16). The Holy Spirit empowers us to serve the Lord (Acts 1:8; 2:1ff.). It is the Holy Spirit who is “good.”

The adjective “good” here means good in every way. It is a very broad word. The Holy Spirit is good in every way. He will lead us in an upright way, a balanced, straight, right way. The Holy Spirit is good and will direct us in the way we ought to go.

It is the Holy Spirit that works revival in answer to our prayers. And yet, such blessing is often left on the table due to passivity toward prayer. Leonard Ravenhill comments on this problem saying:

“One wonders why this is such an isolated experience in the Church today. True prayer is Spirit-born. True prayer is praying ‘in the Holy Ghost.’ Those filled with the Spirit are filled with prayer. There is something very questionable and unbiblical about those who claim a baptism of the Spirit and yet know nothing of extended periods in prayer. I am sure Jesus prayed before the Spirit descended upon Him at the Jordan, though there is no record of it. . . . We are in a tough spiritual battle these days. Yet the church that prays will be a prevailing church. Praying in secret means prevailing in public. . . . Revival can be brought to this generation by prayer, by faith, by cleansing, and by obedience to the will of God.”

The Holy Spirit is good and offers us so much. It would be foolish to ignore the work of the Spirit. It would be foolish to leave the spigot closed when through prayer we can experience the torrents of living water of the Spirit that comes in revival (John 7:37-39).

Revival for His sake (143:11-12). “Revive me, O LORD, for Your name’s sake! For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. 12 In Your mercy cut off my enemies, And destroy all those who afflict my soul; For I am Your servant.” Here we come to the climax of the psalm, David’s prayerful cry for revival. “Revive me, O LORD” David cries. David uses the Almighty name of God, the “I Am” name. The English word “LORD” when it is in all capitols refers to the Name of God first given to Moses in the desert of Sinai. It is the same name Jesus used in reference to Himself and His deity (John 8:58). It is the Name for God that communicates His vast capabilities. He is all that He ever needs to be all the time. To Almighty God, to the LORD David cries out for revival.

Now notice something very important. David, despite all his needs and difficulties does not call for revival for himself. David calls for revival “for Your name’s sake!” This is a key for revival to come. God will not answer calls for revival that our motivated by self. Again Leonard Ravenhill comments on this saying:

“The tragedy is that this miserable self hinders revival, for it sabotages its own praying. . . . If we pray with one eye on success, there is no hope of revival for us, and if we are praying with an idea that we might be projected to the forefront, we bury every hope of revival. We must not pray for revival as a cure for the empty seats in the churches. We must not pray for a heaven-sent deluge merely to extend our particular body of believers. Prayer for revival must be pure. In pure prayer not one element of double interest can be allowed. Our first request concerning revival must be that God be glorified; afterwards, not before, will come our request for sinners to be saved and a believing that the heavens will be rent. God’s conditions have been met.”

If we want revival, we must pray for it to God with the right motives. Our first motive must be that God would be glorified that His righteousness and will be done. Only when this is our preeminent motive can we then seek the salvation of the lost and that God pour out His Spirit upon us. The heart is deceitful above all things and we are often self-deceived (Jer. 17:9-10). We need God’s help to purify our hearts from wrong selfish motives (e.g. Acts 15:8-9). We need to first seek His glory, the glory of His name. Then we can seek His help to destroy the enemies that afflict our souls. In all of this we remain His servant.

Revival praying begins with God and ends with God. We enter into it as God’s servant being led by the Spirit in our praying. And so, if revival is to come we need to seek Him, humbly, on His terms.

We need revival. That should be at the top of all our prayer lists. We live in a busy world with many distractions. But we have to take time to seek the Lord in prayer if we are to see our need for revival and experience it. That is the crux of this concluding poem.

Seeking Thee

Lord, I seek Thee for renewing
Of my faith and of my love.
Rush and care are my undoing –
Touch me, Savior, from above.

Pass me not, O holy Savior.
Leave me not to grope and fail.
Through Thy blood I seek Thy favor.
With Thy grace I can prevail.

Faith moves in to claim the promise.
Peace revives and floods my soul.
Make me now Thy chosen chalice,
Giving drink that makes men whole.

Seeking Thee, seeking Thee,
Touch and give me liberty.

We’re seeking You O LORD for revival. Please glorify Yourself in our midst, not for us, but for Your name’s sake. We surrender to Your service. We look to You. Revive us, O LORD, for Your names, sake!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Revival Praying - Part 1

Ever been persecuted or have an enemy try to crush you to the ground? Ever feel overwhelmed not only by personal distress, but community, state, national, or the world’s “distress of nations”? In such times the only valid response that bears hope of relief and redemption is to turn to the Lord. In such times what we need is revival.

Why revival? Maybe that’s not a familiar word to you. Weley L. Duewel defines a revival as:

“when God manifests His presence in overwhelming reality. . . . God’s presence and power are so mightily and extensively at work during revival that God accomplishes more in hours or days than usually results from years of faithful nonrevival ministry. . . . During revival people are moved toward Christ, people who can be moved in no other way. Many prayers that have gone unanswered for years are gloriously answered.”

We need a revival. Look around at breaking and broken marriages, divided families, confusion over identity (sexual and otherwise), addictions, lusts gone wild, betrayal, busyness, and poverty (material and spiritual). Look around you, look inside you, look and feel the pain and lostness. We need revival.

When we look at our nation today it’s not difficult to see, we need revival. When I look at the world, the wars, the terror, the rebellion and unrest, the injustices, the suffering, the atheism, the religious fanaticism, the lost souls, and the overall ignorance and even apathy toward God, I say, we need revival. We need the presence of the Lord. We need a mighty work of God. We need for God to make His presence known in a powerful and pervasive way. We need revival.

How do we go about getting a revival? Revival is not something we can just formulize into being. Only God, in His sovereign determination and will, can give revival. But there is evidence that we can beseech God for that revival. There is evidence that we can pray to God for revival. Prayerful supplication coupled with trust in Him who knows what we need before we ask, can bring revival.

Psalm 143 is an example of revival praying. Some believe the context of the psalm is Saul’s persecution of David. Others believe this psalm was written by King David when his son Absalom had rebelled against him. When those in power persecute you or those you love betray you it can be discourage you even devastate you. David knew what he needed to do in such times. He needed to pray. He needed revival as we will see. If you are going through a difficult personal time or burdened over the state of the world around you, I encourage you to join me as I take in this psalm prayerfully and seek the Lord for revival.

The prayer of supplication (143:1). Hear my prayer, O LORD, Give ear to my supplications! In Your faithfulness answer me, And in Your righteousness.” The basis for and reason we pray is God’s faithfulness and His righteousness. David begins his psalm by looking to God. And he looks to God with heartfelt devotion. A supplication is a passionate cry for God’s favor in a given situation. David is not merely repeating some memorized words of prayer. David is pouring out his heart to God.

We come to God in prayer on the basis of His faithfulness to His word and the promises contained therein. We come to God in prayer on the basis of knowing He is righteous and all His answers are right. Prayer begins with God. It is the Holy Spirit who puts the desire to pray within us. Prayer ends with God. God is the destination of our prayers. God is the One who is going to make the difference in whatever it is we are praying for.

When we look at this through the lens of the New Testament we can have great confidence before God. John was inspired to write:

1 John 5:14-15 - Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

If we pray according to God’s will, He hears us, and if He hears us we know that our great loving Father in heaven will answer our prayers and do what is best. Now you might be thinking, that’s well and good, but how do I know what God’s will is? How do I pray “according to His will”? Let’s continue in the study of our psalm to see.

The servant’s surrender (143:2). “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no one living is righteous.” We don’t come before God in our own strength or with any attitude that we are worthy in our own right. No, we come to God in total humility realizing in the sight of God who is Holy “no one living is righteous.” We come in full surrender.

That is what Isaiah felt when He came into the presence of God (Isaiah 6). All he could do in the presence of God is utter a deep woe is me as the holiness of God convicted him of his utter destitution before God. God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:6). A “broken and contrite heart” is what is acceptable to God (Psalm 51:17).

It’s so important that when we come to God we do so in humility. We can only come into the presence of God who is Holy because of Jesus and His atoning work (Heb. 4:15-16). Because of Him and His shed blood we can come before our Heavenly Holy Father with the confidence of a child before their father.

The spirit’s distress (143:3-4). “For the enemy has persecuted my soul; He has crushed my life to the ground; He has made me dwell in darkness, Like those who have long been dead.4 Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart within me is distressed.” Man’s extremities are God’s opportunities. Revivals are often birthed out of hardship and distress of spirit. David speaks of persecution, being crushed to the ground, darkness, death, being overwhelmed, and distressed. It is out of his distress that he calls out to God.

Leonard Ravenhill has written:

“Prayer – protracted prayer, groaning prayer, fasting prayer, weeping prayer, speechless prayer – belongs to those initiated into a spirit of prayer, that is, into ‘praying in the Holy Ghost.’ To the uninstructed, terms like these mean ‘works.’ But praying friend, faint not; such critics may yet learn. In the language of Horatius Bonar it may be said of protracted, groaning, speechless prayer, ‘It is the way the Master went. Should not the servant tread it still?’”

And it is out of the distressing circumstances of our lives and this world that we lean on the Holy Spirit to help us pray. And from the depths such prayer in the Holy Spirit often takes the form of unutterable groans.

It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to pray. Scripture tells us:

Romans 8:26-27 - Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

We are weak and limited. We don’t even know how to pray at times. That is why we need the Holy Spirit to help us. The Holy Spirit within us is able to connect with the Father so that our prayers are empowered and according to the will of God. This is why we are advised to pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20). When the circumstances of life push us to our limits, our extremities, it is an opportunity for God to teach us to come to Him in prayer by the Holy Spirit.

The soul’s selah (143:5-6). “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands. 6 I spread out my hands to You; My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Selah.” “Selah” means pause. This is a pause to take in all that has come to this point in what has been written. David begins this verse by looking to God’s works of old. He then “meditates” on them or ponders them. To meditate is to think about and concentrate on something. David ponders the works of God in the past in order to feed his present faith.

As he ponders and takes in what God has already done in his life, he is blessed. It moves him to spread out his hands before the Lord in worship. Haven’t you ever just thought about the things God has done in your life and worshipped him for it? Think of how He saved your soul, delivered you countless times, prospered and provided for your needs, how He made His presence known to you. We aren’t to live on our own past accomplishments. But we are to feed our faith on God’s faithful provisions throughout our lives. Selah. Think about that. Think about God’s faithfulness. If you do, like David, you will be moved to worship Him and long for more of Him in your life.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Feed the Fire

I was at a friend’s house fellowshipping and they had a beautiful fireplace. It was warm and cozy as they lit it up and we all felt the heat it gave off. But as the night wore on something became very apparent, a fire tends to go out. There is a spiritual lesson to be learned from that truth.

The Holy Spirit is associated with fire. John the Baptist announced that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mat. 3:11; Luke 3:16). Jesus said He came to bring fire on the earth (Luke 12:49). The fire He spoke of there was contextually the fire of judgment. But can’t we say that judgment fire was aimed at burning off sin? I think we can. Fire is a purifier. It melts metal allowing impurities to be identified and removed. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is an empowering work that by nature involves the purifying of our hearts (Acts 15:8-9). We need the fire of the Spirit to burn off that which hinders our walk with Him.

Paul warned those at the church in Rome to keep the fire of their zeal alive (Romans 12:11). He wrote Timothy:

2 Timothy 1:6-7 – “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Earlier Paul commended Timothy about his “genuine faith” that was also in his grandmother and mother (2 Tim. 1:5). Paul would not have said this unless there was a possibility that “the gift of God which is in you” might in some way wane or dim. The baptism with the Holy Spirit that leads to God’s empowerment for service and holy life is a gift of God to be received by His grace through faith in Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:18-20; 10:45). If the presence of the Holy Spirit is represented by fire, and fire has a tendency to go out, then as Paul remarked to Timothy, we need to stir it up, or fan it to a flame; we need to feed the fire of the Spirit within us.

Paul didn’t want Timothy to neglect the fire within. Perhaps Timothy’s flame was flickering. Perhaps the light from the fire of the Spirit that dispels the darkness was dimming and Timothy was fearful as the darkness was creeping in. Paul reminded him when the flame is burning hot and bright, there is power, love and soundness of thinking. When those things are absent or diminished, we need to stoke the fire of the Spirit within.

Now it isn’t as though the Holy Spirit in some way is going to go out within us. It is that if we don’t feed the fire or zeal produced by the Spirit, it can flicker. The fire from God kindled on the altar must be fed (Leviticus 9:24; 6:9-13). God’s fire in our hearts must be attended to. Like a fire in a fireplace, we need to feed it. We need to be stoked. How do we feed the fire of the Spirit’s zeal within us?

First, stoke the fire of the Spirit with prayer.The baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire promised by the Father was delivered as God’s people were united in fervent prayer (Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:3). We need to get serious about our prayer lives. Nothing will suffocate the fire within faster than a prayerless life. It is in fervent prayer that God renews us and rekindles His fire within us.

Second, stoke the fire of the Spirit with the word of God. The Lord told Jeremiah that He would make His words he spoke “a fire” (Jeremiah 5:14). God said His words were “like a fire” (Jeremiah 23:29). Therefore the second thing we need to do is stoke the fire with the word of God. Prayerfully dig in and consume God’s word. Even if we don’t feel like doing so, we need to step into God’s word by faith and seek a word from the Lord.

Third, stoke the fire by dealing with fire quenchers. Paul was inspired to warn the Thessalonians to not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). When we look at the context we see that fire quenchers could take the form of:

1. Rendering evil for evil and not pursuing good for all people (1 Thess. 5:15)
2. Joylessness (5:16)
3. Prayerlessness (5:17)
4. Thanklessness (5:18)
5. Despising prophesy (5:20)
6. Permissiveness; lack of scrutinizing things with God’s word (5:21)
7. Involvement with evil (5:22)
8. Failure to trust God to entirely sanctify you (5:23-24).

These things in our lives throw cold water on the flame of the Spirit. When you go to prayer ask the Lord to search you for any such fire quenchers (e.g. Psalm 139:23-24). God’s fire will test each one’s work (1 Cor. 3:13). God’s plan is that we be on fire for Him in the power of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 1:7; Psalm 104:4). He makes “His ministers a flame of fire.” How’s your fire? Get stoked!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


“in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

It’s funny how sometimes truth gets lost in translation. Many times we reinterpret words to fit our own understanding or our own plans. We like things to fit just right in our own understanding and our own plans. This verse challenges such a notion. We would like to think that the word “everything” doesn’t really mean everything. We subtly think, “Surely God couldn’t mean for us to be thankful in times of tragedy, pain, hardship, loss, offense, persecution etc.” Such thinking is the cause of missing or losing God’s truth in our personal translations. The word “everything” is translated from the Greek term pas means, “all, any, every, the whole . . . all manner of, all means), always, any (one), everyone, everyway, as many as, thoroughly, whatsoever, whole, whosoever.” In other words, in the Greek the word “everything” means everything!

You might say, “Now wait a minute, I’m sick, should I give thanks to God for that?” Or you might say, “Wait a minute, I just flunked my test . . .” or “I just broke up with my spouse . . . boyfriend . . . girlfriend . . .” or “I just lost my job . . . got demoted . . . wrecked my car . . . stubbed my toe . . .” or whatever bad thing you can imagine; should I give thanks for that? Well, not exactly.

A Subtle Distinction

You see there is a subtle distinction we need to make here. The above verse says, “in everything give thanks,” it doesn’t say, “give thanks for everything. Now that doesn’t mean we can be Mr. or Ms. Grumble or Complainer (see Philippians 2:14-16). But it does mean that we can be thankful in spite of whatever befalls us; we can be thankful IN everything.

What Does It Mean to Be “Thankful”?

The word “thankful” in 1 Thessalonians is translated from the Greek term eucharisteo which means, “to be grateful, . . . to express gratitude . . . to say grace at a meal; (give) thank (-ful, -s).” This is a compound word derived from joining the word “good” (̂ ĕu, yoo - . . . good . . . well . . . well done) and “favor” (charizŏmai, khar-id´-zom-ahee - to grant as a favor, i.e. gratuitously, in kindness, pardon or rescue:— deliver, (frankly) forgive, (freely) give, grant) which is another form of the word “grace” (charis, khar´-ece; . . .graciousness (as gratifying), . . . the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; . . . gratitude . . . acceptable, benefit, favor, gift, grace (-ious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank (-s, worthy).

Therefore, to be thankful is to express gratitude and appreciation toward God for His good favor and blessing.

Reasons to Be Thankful

No matter what we are going through, we should give thanks to God. On what basis and for what reason should we give thanks to God in all things? We should obey this Spirit inspired exhortation of Paul’s based on the following truth from God’s word:
1. This is God’s will for you – 1 Thessalonians 5:18
2. God has a plan for you – Jeremiah 29:11-13
3. God promises to bring good from ANYTHING and EVERYTHING for those who love Him and answer His call in the midst of trials – Romans 8:26
4. God uses EVERYTHING, the good and the bad in our lives, to make us more like Jesus, to help us know Jesus better through experience in situations – Romans 8:29
5. God uses trials to build and purify our faith – 1 Peter 1:6-9
6. If it weren’t for hardship, we would not know that God’s grace really is sufficient – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
7. Any hardship now doesn’t even compare to what awaits those who thankfully trust the Lord in everything – Romans 8:18

Eight Good Reasons to Give Thanks to the LORD

In Psalm 92 we are told it is good to give thanks to the LORD. And in this Psalm we are given some good reasons to give thanks to the LORD, even when enemies rise up against us. Let’s see what these good reason are to give thanks to the LORD.

Psalm 92 reads:

“1 It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; 2 To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, And Your faithfulness every night, 3 On an instrument of ten strings, On the lute, And on the harp, With harmonious sound. 4 For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands. 5 O LORD, how great are Your works! Your thoughts are very deep. 6 A senseless man does not know, Nor does a fool understand this. 7 When the wicked spring up like grass, And when all the workers of iniquity flourish, It is that they may be destroyed forever. 8 But You, LORD, are on high forevermore. 9 For behold, Your enemies, O LORD, For behold, Your enemies shall perish; All the workers of iniquity shall be scattered. 10 But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil. 11 My ey e also has seen my desire on my enemies; My ears hear my desire on the wicked Who rise up against me. 12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 Those who are planted in the house of the LORD Shall flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing, 15 To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
In this psalm there are many reasons given to give thanks to God but we will mention eight of them.

1. It is “good” to give thanks to the LORD – 92:1. The word “good” ( [towb /tobe/]) occurs 559 times in the Old Testament being translated as “good” 361 times, “better” 72 times, “well” 20 times, “goodness” 16 times, “goodly” nine times, “best” eight times, “merry” seven times, “fair” seven times, “prosperity” six times, “precious” four times, “fine” three times, “wealth” three times, “beautiful” twice, “fairer” twice, “favor” twice, “glad” twice, and translated miscellaneously 35 times. A similar word (Strong’s #3202 טֹוב (towb)) has the meaning of either: 1 good, i.e., pertaining to the moral opposite of evil (2Ch 30:18); 2. good, i.e., pertaining to having good value (Ge 1:4); 3.generous, formally, good, i.e., pertaining to giving much in relation to one’s possessions (Pr 22:9); 4. festive, i.e., pertaining to a joyful time or feeling (1Sa 25:8); 5. beautiful, i.e., pertaining to being pleasant to the eye (Gen. 6:2; 2Sa 11:2), 6. pleasing, i.e., pertaining to a feeling of fondness and enjoyment (1Sa 29:9); note: further study may yield more domains All of this and all it implies gives us good reason to be thankful to the LORD.

2. Thanks helps us to focus on God’s loving-kindness and faithfulness – 92:2

3. Thanks to God puts a song in our heart and lifts our spirit – 92:1,3

4. Thanks brings us into proper focus in that it helps us concentrate on God’s work not our own – 92:4. This is the pathway to triumph in life.

5. Thanks to God is based on His thoughts for us – 92:5-6. Psalm 139:4,17-18. Think of it, the Creator of the universe taking time to THINK about us!

6. Thanks to God in the midst of the rise of our enemies is based on the understanding that God is in control, He is allowing enemies to show themselves so that He might expose them and deal with them – 92:7-9.

7. Thankful trust in God in the midst of trials and enemies leads to triumph and fresh anointing of the Spirit – 92:10-11. (Acts 4:31 in context).

8. Thanks to God is based on God’s promise to make us fruitful and flourish in the process of life – 92:12-15. Palm trees grow and flourish where others wilt and die. Cedars of Lebanon are the strongest of trees. These trees remain fruitful even in old age.

It is GOOD to give thanks to the LORD in EVERYTHING.

Wrong Thanks

Jesus spoke a parable that showed the wrong attitude of thankfulness when He said:

Luke 18:9-14 – “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.11 “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.12 ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’13 “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’14 “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We need to guard against being self-righteously thankful. Thankfulness should be in humility and humble adoration of God for all His grace and provision. (See Acts 24:3; 1 Corinthians 10:28-33).

Thankfulness – Sign of Spiritual Maturity

Jesus expressed thanks to the Father (Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21). If we want to be more like Jesus we need to seek Him to help us live a life of thankfulness.Paul practiced thankfulness in his life (Romans 16:3-4; Ephesians 1:16; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he is inspired to write:

Colossians 2:6-7 – “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”

This is a call to spiritual maturity and growth by the apostle Paul and it is punctuated with, THANKSGIVING. Thanksgiving is a sign of spiritual maturity; lack of thanksgiving is a sign of spiritual superficiality. We need to ask the Lord to help us grow in Him and be more thankful to Him.

Yes, in EVERYTHING we should give thanks to God. The following poem paints a picture of why this is true and the reasonable thing to do:

If you never . . .

If you never felt pain,
Then how would you know that I'm a Healer?

If you never went through difficulties,
How would you know that I'm a Deliverer?
If you never had a trial,
How would you call yourself an overcomer?

If you never felt sadness,
How would you know that I'm a Comforter?
If you never made a mistake,
How would you know that I'm forgiving?

If you knew all,
How would you know that I will answer your questions?
If you never were in trouble,
How would you know that I will come to your rescue?

If you never were broken,
Then how would you know that I can make you whole?
If you never had a problem,
How would you know that I can solve them?

If you never had any suffering,
Then how would you know what Jesus went through?
If you never went through fire,
Then how would you become pure?

If I gave you all things,
How would you appreciate them?
If I never corrected you,
How would you know that I love you?

If you had all power,
Then how would you learn to depend on me?
If your life was perfect,
Then what would you need Me for?

Sickness, pain and hardship can become a blessing when these drive us closer to God into His saving arms through faith in Jesus. The greatest healing is not healing from cancer, or some other terminal disease, it is healing from the terminal disease of sin. The greatest healing is when the chasm of sin is spanned by the love of God in Christ in the cross and by faith I trust in Jesus and cross over to His side. That healing comes by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. That is the greatest healing. And that is reason to be thankful in EVERYTHING!