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.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Work of the Spirit with Unbelievers and in and upon Believers – Part 1

The night before Jesus went to the cross He met with His disciples and one of the last things He taught them about before He went to the cross was about the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His disciples that He was going to pray to the Father and that “another Helper” (literally “one just like Him”) would come to abide with them forever. Jesus said:

·         John 14:16-17 – “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

Jesus used two prepositions in the above passage to describe the relationship of the Holy Spirit with people. The Holy Spirit is “with” a person prior to conversion communicating God’s “truth” and persuading them of their need of salvation. The Holy Spirit comes “in” a person when they accept Jesus as Savior by faith and are born again. The Spirit comes “in” a person to regenerate them with eternal life.

Before we can examine the three works of the Spirit in the life of the believer, we need to consider the work of the Spirit in the unbeliever. The Spirit begins the work of salvation in the unbeliever by convicting the unbeliever of their need of salvation. Once saved, the Spirit begins the sanctifying process.

The Spirit’s Work in the Unbeliever – The Spirit “with” you

The first work of the Spirit in the unbeliever and the world is that of a Restrainer.  The Spirit works through the church to restrain evil in the world so that the world is not totally overcome with evil. This is supported by the following verses:

  • 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 – “And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.” 

“He who now restrains” is s reference to the Holy Spirit and His work in the world. The Holy Spirit creates an environment where evil is checked enough to allow a person to exert free will to make a decision regarding salvation.

The second work of the Spirit in regards to the unbeliever is that of Convictor.  The Spirit convicts the unbeliever of their need of a Savior. Jesus defined this work of the Spirit with the following words:

  • John 16:8-11 - “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:9 “of sin, because they do not believe in Me;10 “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;11 “of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judge.”   

The Holy Spirit “convicts.” The word “convict” is translated from the Greek term elegcho meaning, “to confute, admonish; convict, convince, tell a fault, rebuke, reprove.”  The idea conveyed is to “expose; refute, show one’s fault, [and] . . . convincing of that fault.” We find the sense of this term in the following verses:

  • John 3:20 - “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” 
  • Ephesians 5:11 – “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” 
  • 1 Timothy 5:20 – “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” 
  • James 2:9 – “but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” 
  • Jude 14-15 – “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints,15 “to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” 
  • Revelation 3:19 - “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” 

What is it that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of or exposes? The Holy Spirit convicts the unsaved world of three things.

First, “of sin because they do not believe in Me.” Jesus paid the penalty (death) for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2); the sin that dams to hell is rejecting the Spirit’s plea to accept Jesus as Savior (Mt. 12:31 – also called the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). A persons’ eternal destiny is determined by whether or not they believe in Jesus. This is what the Spirit convicts the world of.

Second, “of righteousness because I go to My Father.”  Jesus died for the sins of the world and was raised from the dead. His resurrection indicates God was satisfied with His sacrifice for sin. Jesus then ascended to heaven and was seated at the right hand of God demonstrating that He is the standard and only acceptable means by which a person can enter heaven (Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 10:11-18; 1 Peter 3:22). The Spirit convicts the world that works are inadequate to make one righteous and gain access to heaven because the standard of righteousness is Jesus, nothing less will be acceptable. Nicodemas was a very religious man but Jesus said he needed to be born again (John 3). The Holy Spirit exposes the futility of trying to do religious works to make oneself acceptable before God.

Third, “of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged.” The Holy Spirit convicts the world that the god of this world, Satan was judged on the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:13-17). The hold of Satan on the unbeliever can be broken when a person accepts Jesus as Savior because when Jesus comes into a heart He is greater than Satan (1 John 4:4).

That is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unbeliever. Have you experienced this in your life? If so, how have you responded to the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life? I pray you have turned from your sins, trusted in Jesus as your Savior and Lord and received God’s offer of forgiveness for your sins. That offer from God is by grace; it’s a gift to be received. When you receive this gift the Holy Spirit will give you spiritual life. That leads us to the next part of this study. What does the Holy Spirit do in the life of a believer? We’ll answer that question in part two of The Work of the Holy Spirit with Unbelievers and in and upon Believers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Align Yourself with Jesus at Work – Part 2

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

– Colossians 3:23-24

 Let’s dig right in to the nitty-gritty of how work can become a victorious venture in faith rather than a vicious dog eat dog cage match.

Third, we align ourselves with Jesus at work by heartily working for the Lord (3:23-25). Paul writes, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Here is the key to overcoming any bad work situation. You may be in the most unfair working environment possible or you may be in the worst job possible. You may be in the most boring most dead end job imaginable. But there is a way for any job, even the one you hate, to become meaningful, purposeful, valuable and victorious. The key is knowing Who you work for. If you see yourself merely working for people, you will always struggle. But if, as Paul instructs here, you work “heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” your job becomes a mission rather than a morass.

When you work first for the Lord, your job becomes a behind the lines mission from God in this unsaved world. We aren’t Navy Seals, but we can be Nazarene Seals on a mission to save the lost from the clutches of a ruthless enemy. Our mission is to be used by God “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). That’s important!

It’s important we serve the Lord wherever He puts us. That doesn’t mean we don’t seek advancement or different jobs, but we do so at the leading of the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2). We present ourselves to God to serve Him wherever He puts us. God has you where you are for a reason. You may be the only one who can reach your coworker or employer. Not everyone can be a pastor. And not everyone can be an accountant, banker, cashier, doctor, fireman, homemaker, lawyer, mechanic, nurse, office worker, park ranger, policeman, politician, professional athlete, sales person, sanitation worker, teacher, and a host of other job positions. If you understand you work for the Lord, your job comes alive.  

Now understand, as we said before, this doesn’t mean we take (or steal) time from our employer to “witness” to clients, coworkers, or anyone else. You need to put in an honest day’s work. If during your breaks or in a way that does not impede your work, or if approved by your employer, you are able to share your faith, then go for it! But we need to work “heartily” from the heart, doing our best for the Lord and for those we are employed by.

Sometimes we feel like no one appreciates our hard work. God does. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love . . . .” (Heb. 6:10). Don’t cheat who you work for, cheat yourself, or cheat God with a halfhearted effort in whatever work you do. Instead, work with all your heart, always. It’s always worth it.

Actually, since you are working for the Lord, you should be the best worker! And that is because you know, “knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” We have eternal life as our inheritance (Eph. 1:11, 14, 18; Col. 1:12). But we will also reap according to how we live our lives as Christians. Christians will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:9). At the Judgment Seat of Christ we will not be judged as to whether or not we have eternal life. The Christian is secure in that certainty by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. But Jesus will judge us based on how we lived as Christians. Our works will be tested with fire. That which was temporal will be burned up and we will suffer loss. We will be rewarded for the things we did of eternal worth (1 Cor. 3:12-15). This reality may be challenging, even unsettling for some. But it is true. This one life will soon be past, only what was done for Christ will last. That is the truth. In this regard we will reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7-9).

Paul warns, “But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.” God is just. And as we have seen, God is watching. He will repay us for what we have done; for how we have worked. The word “wrong” means unjust, hurtful, causing injury, or in a way that offends.  The worker who is slothful, deceiving, dishonest, insincere, half-hearted, who only care about themselves, God will repay accordingly.

Therefore, we should work with eternity in our hearts. We should labor for that which lasts. And when we work in secular temporal settings and do so with an eternal mindset working with all our heart for the Lord, our mundane jobs become factories producing eternal dividends. When you work your job for the Lord, you sanctify it and it becomes of eternal worth. If you wash floors, cook meals, clean homes, argue in court, serve in a hospital or on the battle fields of the world, if you do so prayerfully, with all your heart, serving the Lord, God takes that into account. God will take your work that is offered to Him and sanctified for His purposes and will translate dividends into your heavenly account. Working with all your heart for the Lord, no matter the setting, brings purpose, meaning, worth, eternal worth to your job.

Fourth, if we align ourselves with Jesus at work we will be just and fair employers (4:1). Paul writes, “Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” Employees are warned to not do “wrong” (adikeo). Employers are instructed to be “just” (dikeo) or ,right,  ethically correct,  righteous and just. The idea is to judge fairly and justly. They are instructed to be “fair” equitable or impartial. Masters or employers are to oversee and treat their workers fairly. Being a just and fair employer would include looking out for the safety and health of employees. It would mean rendering a fair wage. It would mean operating impartially as opposed to prejudicially for whatever reason. Employees are to work heartily “as to the Lord,” but so should employers. Paul reminds employers, “you also have a Master in heaven.” You may be in charge on earth, but you still have a Master in heaven. We must all  appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, including employers. Employers should use Jesus as their Guide and Model just as much as employees. Look at the Father’s provision and protection for those in His service. Look at how Jesus cared for His disciples. Employers, care for your employees. Look for ways to bless them. Look for ways to reward those who work for you. Encourage them; make them feel a part of the work at hand. Be a good godly employer.

Let’s do whatever we do in the name of the Lord. Whatever you do is a “work of faith,” and a “labor of love” (1 Thess. 1:3). Work for the Lord in the power the Lord provides (Col. 1:28-29). If our labor is done for the Lord it is never in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). We will be rewarded in heaven for labor done on earth to the glory of God (1 Cor. 3:8). Victory on the job and in life comes from understanding we labor shoulder to shoulder with Jesus (1 Cor. 3:9). Serve and labor to please Him (2 Cor. 5:9). Don’t give up or lose heart but press on in your work (Gal. 6:9).God will not forget what we have done or how we have done it (Heb. 6:10). Jesus knows our works (Rev. 2:2). But for now, the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few, pray God send more fellow laborers to labor so that we can reap a harvest of souls saved and disciples made (Luke 10:2). All to His glory! Pray! And let’s get to work!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Align Yourself with Jesus at Work – Part 1

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
– Colossians 3:23-24

It’s estimated that we spend over thirty percent of our life working in some way. That is a conservative estimate for many people. Work should be good not bad. Before the Fall of humanity God ordained for our first parents to work the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). It was only after the sinful rebellion of humanity that work became “toil” (Gen. 3:17). For many the workplace whether it is in or outside the home, is a place of toil and drudgery. It doesn’t have to be that way! If we align ourselves with Jesus in the workplace, we gain victory, meaning, purpose, and we become better employees and employers. How do we align ourselves with Jesus in our work? The context of our study verse is Colossians 3:22-4:1. Let’s look at that practical section on how to align with Jesus at work.
First, we align ourselves with Jesus at work by having an obedient attitude (3:22a). The first thing we see is that, “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, . . .”  Slavery was outlawed in the United States in 1864 and it is not legal anywhere in the world today. Yet there are claims that there are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in history. Some estimates are that there are 27 million slaves in various parts of the world of today. [1] There is a dark but prospering human trafficking industry that deals in sexual exploitation (forced prostitution; forced marriage), forced labor, forced begging, and child soldiers to name a few examples. Human beings are sold for prices that range for $80 to $5,000. These human chattel have drastically reduced life expectancy. They are abused and misused. It is a modern day horror story.

Slavery was common in Biblical times but was more of an industrial work-for-hire or work-to-pay-debt arrangement. There are provisions in God’s Law to protect slaves and treat them with kindness. Under the Law a slave was to be set free in the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:39-46). In our day we may not be familiar with or feel able to relate to slavery. There is a similar parallel found in the employer-employee relationship. That is how we will apply the verses of this section. We will interpret bondservants as employees and masters as employers. Some might be chuckling at this point or cynically thinking, Ain’t that the truth?

In the things of the “the flesh” or the physical labor we do in our secular jobs, to align ourselves with Jesus means to have an obedient attitude. This doesn’t mean we can’t voice our concerns over injustices or unfair labor practices or dangerous conditions. But it does mean that we should be looking to obey our employers if at all possible.

The word “obey” here is the same word used by Paul when speaking of the child’s need to obey their parents. The idea is here is that as workers we should always see it as essential to be attentive to our employer and follow their instructions. This should be true in regard to “all things.” Some employees look to take advantage of or control their employers. They think that through employees banding together they can build a force to influence their employers. There is a place for what we would today call unionization. Unions were created to protect and give their members a voice against unjust employers who forced labor to work in unsafe environments for a pittance of pay. But in our day unions seem to be more about getting as much money for their members as they can, even if it means putting the employer out of business. That is counterproductive. That too is unjust. There is an alternative. Jesus said the key and path to greatness is service (Mark 10:42-45). Jesus Himself came to serve not be served, and to give His life a ransom for many.

Obedient service has a number of advantages. When we obediently serve and take the initiative in our work it puts us ahead of those who slack off. It also separates us in our employer’s eyes from those who do just enough to get by or who do only what is required. Industriousness in obedient service will lead to advancement and greatness. That is our Lord’s instruction.

But more importantly, having a servant’s heart brings us closer to Jesus. We learn His heart. And we communicate His heart to others through service. We are His ambassadors and obedient service is the first step in representing Him well at work and wherever we are (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-21).  Remember, Jesus calls us to follow His servant’s heart, even if it means washing feet (John 13:15).  We are to follow in His steps, even if pain and suffering are required (1 Peter 2:21). We who claim to abide in Jesus are to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). To be conformed to Jesus’ likeness has been God’s plan from the beginning (Rom. 8:29). It is through service that God sculpts us into Christlikeness. Remember that when you feel you’re being unfairly treated or taken advantage of. Service is a tool to crucify the flesh. That is important, essential to experiencing The Perfect Life (cf. Gal. 2:20). Your workplace could very well be God’s workbench to build you into who He wants you to be. Be thankful.

Second, we align ourselves with Jesus at work by sincerely working (3:22b). Paul writes, “not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.” Someone has said the true revelation of who you are is who you are when no one is watching. The same can be said on the job. Paul doesn’t support an employee going through the motions or merely looking like they are working hard when in fact they are hardly working. No, he says our work should not merely be “eyeserviceor sight-labor. We shouldn’t only work hard when the boss is watching and we shouldn’t only work to make ourselves look good. That is to be “men-pleasers” or men-courting. When we work we should work, in sincerity” generously, not self-seeking, liberally, bountifully. We should actually work so that our company and its owners turn a profit. And we should put our “heart” the depths of our being into our work.
Why serve from the heart? Because our incentive is “fearing God.” God is our Highest Employer. He is always watching us (e.g. Psalm 14:2; 33:13; 2 Chron. 16:9). We should do our sincere honest best in all our work and do this out of reverence for God. It reflects poorly on God when those who claim to represent Him are slothful and poor workers. It does not honor God when a Christian worker is doing more witnessing than working when they are on the clock. Your employer is paying you to do a job. Do it! Your sincere from the heart diligent effort is just as much if not more of a testimony to your employer and those around you as lengthy arguments or discussions that prevent you from turning in an honest day’s labor. Are you sincerely working hard, or sincerely hardly working?
We’ve only just scratched the surface of how work and working environments can be made a blessing rather than a curse, a meaningful and purposeful as well as rewarding effort rather than a futile, frustrating and a place of feeling as a failure. In part two we will look at the nitty-gritty of not only employees but employers and work. Until then, have an obedient attitude and sincerely do your best. I pray people praise God because of how you work!

[1] Made by Survivors website -

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Why Do You Want His Power?

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss . . .” – James 4:3

In The Way to Pentecost Samuel Chadwick asks the provocative question, "Is it not possible to be more anxious for the achievements of power than for the Spirit of Power?” He continues, “We want visible results, dramatic wonders, mighty works; and it is not always for these that the Spirit of Power is given. Power may be as necessary for silence as for speech, and as mighty in obscurity as in high places. He comes to make us effective in all the will of God. In the one Spirit there are diversities both of function and manifestation. . . . The work of the Spirit depends upon the power of the Spirit. . . . Carnal resources are no asset in spiritual enterprise. The weapons of this warfare are not carnal. Prayer brings power, for the Spirit of Power is given to them that pray. . . . 'It is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.'" (Page 90).

I read that and the Spirit whispered in my ear, why do you want My power? That is an important question. Our motive in wanting the power of the Spirit in our lives can be a determining factor in whether or not God grants it. The heart is deceitful. Without God’s help we can’t know it (Jer. 17:9-10). That is true even after we become Christians and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we need to pray, “Search me O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

When I read Chadwick’s question I had to honestly ask myself, why do I want the power of the Spirit? Then I had to repent for wanting His power for achievements more than simply wanting His presence dwelling powerfully within me. That's an easy thing to get sidetracked on. In ministry numbers are important otherwise we'd have none mentioned by God in scripture. But they are not all-important. We find true spiritual satisfaction when our top priority is having the Spirit dwell in us in His fullness. That is true in ministry. That is true in life.

What do we really want the power of the Spirit for, our own purposes? A revived church? A rekindled or mended relationship? A job? Health? These desires all have their place, but they can also be out of place if they are our top priority. God must be the priority. What about wanting the Lord simply for the Lord’s sake? What about just wanting Him and only Him? Aren’t we supposed to love God supremely? “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mat. 22:37-40; Deut. 6:4-5). Perhaps the reason we ask and aren’t empowered by the Spirit is because, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures”? (James 4:3).

The heart is so deceitful that even holy ambitions can be polluted with selfish underlying motives. We need to come clean with God. Have we offended Him with a duplicitous motive? We need to walk in His light as He is in the light and be cleansed by the blood of Jesus from impure motives if we are to fellowship with Him (1 John 1:7). Then, when fully enveloped in fellowship with Him, whatever He calls us to will be satisfying and completing. That will be true whether together with others or alone, in obscurity or celebrity, in a quiet closeted prayer ministry or overseeing the outward manifestations of His works.

I am constantly challenged by this as are others. The questions we ponder as we seek to be used by the Lord are, God have I done enough for you? Have I accomplished enough for You? As we get older we begin to ask the Lord, Has my life been meaningful enough for You? Have I followed You in all my ways? Those questions are all a smaller part of the bigger question, Lord, has Your will been done in and through me? If we have the Spirit, our Helper and Comforter, our Counselor dwelling in His fullness within us, then it is simply a matter of entrusting the answers to Him. Then obediently follow His lead. That is what Paul was talking about when he penned, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). He leads. We follow. We rest in Him. We enjoy Him. We can't always see what He is doing. That is when "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7). We do our best, and trust Him for the rest. If we wander off course, He will tell us.

Someone has said, “Two natures struggle in my breast: The one is foul, the other blest. The ‘new’ I love – The ‘old’ I hate. The one I feed will dominate.” Our hearts are so deceitful and prone to self-serving that we can even corrupt the pursuit of the Holy Spirit with our sinful carnal motives. Romans 7 speaks of the war within the Christian between the old and new man; the sinful nature and the renewed spirit within. Paul describes the person in that struggle as a “wretched man” (Rom. 7:24). It’s not a pleasant place to be. It’s the difference between living with a constant sense of condemnation versus affirmation in the Spirit (Romans 8:1-2). It’s the difference between having peace with God versus having the peace of God (Romans 5:1 and Philippians 4:6-7). It’s the difference between partial surrender versus full surrender (Romans 12:1-2). It’s the difference between thinking like a child versus putting away childish things (1 Cor. 13:10-11).

We need the power of the Spirit to live abundantly and to minister successfully. One of the greatest lessons to learn is that we shouldn’t rely on human power or might but on the work of the Holy Spirit (Zech. 4:6; cf. also Psalm 20:7; 33:16; 44:3-7). Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but growth comes from God (1 Cor. 3:7). We serve the Lord in life. It is our honor and a privilege to serve Him (Luke 17:9-10). Serving Him is our reward. We are not our own but belong to Him who died for us (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 2 Cor. 5:14-21). The bottom line is He must increase and we must decrease (John 3:30). When we totally surrender to Him, including all our ambitions, dreams, hopes and plans, then we are ready for the fullness of the Spirit. The Spirit does not force His way in; He is a perfect Gentleman. When we yield our will to His, when we abandon ourselves to Him, no matter what, that’s when the Spirit comes in His fullness. Relinquish control. Give Him control.

Why do you want His power? Are you ready and willing to, "Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret - it only causes harm." (Psalm 37:3-8)? I pray the Spirit gives us the grace and faith to come to Him in full surrender. When we do that, the work has just begun.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Nothing Surprises God!

Known to God from Eternity are all His works – Acts 15:18

Nothing surprises God! An attribute that makes God, God, and which separates Him from us is His foreknowledge. God is not limited by time. He knows what is going to happen before it happens. When and if you get to heaven God is not going to be surprised you made it or didn’t make it. He knows. God has a plan for the world, for Israel, for the church and for each of us individually.

It is God’s plan for the world that everyone be saved. Peter is inspired to write, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God loves the world and sent His only Son Jesus to make a way for the world to be saved. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus and His redemptive work on the cross (John 3:16). God made it as simple as possible for people to be saved. He provided one way for salvation, Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:10, 12). It grieves God terribly when people are not saved (Ezek. 18:32; 33:11). Hell and eternal separation from God was never God’s intention. Hell was prepared for the devil and His demons, not for people (Mat. 25:41). But if people persist in their sin and reject God’s salvation He will sentence them to eternity in hell (Eph. 5:3-7; Col. 3:5-6; Rev. 20:11-15). Sin is like cancer; it is never benign; it is always malignant. Therefore God will not allow sin into heaven (Rev. 21:27). That too is part of God’s plan. God has a plan for the world, salvation not hell.

God has a plan for Israel. He says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” All Israel has to do is, “. . . call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.” His promise is, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:11-13). At the time of these inspired words God’s people were in captivity. These were words of hope in a time of great despair and disappointment. His promise to Israel was, “I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive” (Jer. 29:14). God was faithful to do this the first time. On May 14, 1948 He did it a second time with the creation of the establishment of the nation of Israel. He did all of this because God has a plan for Israel. He has a plan and purpose for Israel known to Him from eternity. God isn’t finished with Israel yet (cf. Romans 11).

God has a plan for the church. “Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15:18). The context of this verse is the Jerusalem Council where the church was discussing the transition from legalism to grace, from Old Testament to New Testament, from Israel to the Church. In the beginning the church consisted mostly of Jews who accepted Jesus as the promised prophesied Messiah. But in Acts 10 the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius and his household created a question as to what if any Jewish laws were to be kept by newly converted Gentiles? Some were saying that unless Gentile converts were circumcised they could not be saved (Acts 15:1). They were attaching a work to the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. This led to a great and pivotal discussion for the church. It was decided that it would be wrong and outside the will of God to put “a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). Instead it was asserted that “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved . . . .” (Acts 15:11).

None of this surprised God. In fact He spoke to Peter three times in a vision telling him that what God was cleaning up should not be called unclean (Acts 10). A letter was drafted with the stipulations that Gentile converts should merely “abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). This was all God’s plan for the church.

The church is where we learn of the riches we have in Christ (Eph. 1). The church is the instrument to bring salvation to a lost world (Eph. 2:1-9). The church was to be the place where Jews and non-Jews, everyone, could be united in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11ff.). The church is where we learn of the love of God and how He is eager, willing and able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” to His glory (Eph. 3:13-21).The church is the place where people are equipped to serve the LORD and bring Him glory (Eph. 4:11-12). The church is a light in a dark world (Eph. 5). The church is where God helps us put our spiritual armor on (Eph. 6:10-17). The church is where we learn to pray (Eph. 6:18ff.).

But God also has an individual plan for each of us. We are God’s poetry. We are His work of art. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Each Christian is a letter from God to a lost world (2 Cor. 3:2-3). God’s plan for you is to make you like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). When we realize that it helps us understand why we experience some of the things that we do.

We shy away from and try to avoid at all costs anything that causes discomfort. That is our temporal earthly mindset. But God looks at us and ministers to us from an eternal heavenly perspective. The most important thing for us from God’s point of view is that our faith be established and proven genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is in and through trials that we gain the greatest insight into Jesus and who He is and what He is all about (1 Peter 1:8-9). God’s plan for us is to know Him, to know Jesus; that is eternal life (John 17:3). His plan is not only that we know Him through the power of His resurrection, but that we know Him also through the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3:10; cf. also Phil. 2:1-16).

Yes, God has a plan for us. At times that plan will involve discipline and even pain in order to bring us “out to rich fulfillment” (Psalm 66:10-12). Because God loves us He disciplines us (Heb. 12:3-15). God uses everything for good in the lives of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). Don’t ever forget that. God is for us (Rom. 8:31-32). He wants what is best for us. “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” The world, Israel, the church and we are His works. No matter what, trust Him. He knows what He is doing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Is It of God?

"If there arises among you a prophet . . ."

How do we determine if something is of God or not? This is an important question because we are in a spiritual war in which our adversary the devil is a master liar, deceiver and destroyer. The Last Days will be characterized by “deceiving spirits,” “doctrines of demons,” and lies spoken by psychopathic hypocrites (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Satan’s aim is to murder you spiritually and physically (John 8:44). His main tactic is appearing as something good and luring people into evil. Therefore, if we ignore or take this question lightly we risk being victimized by the enemy or worse, being manipulated into a position where we give the enemies of the Lord reason to blaspheme God (2 Samuel 12:14). Because of this God has given us clear precautions in His word to help us discern what is of Him and what is not of Him.

There are many scriptures in the Bible which help us discern whether or not something is of the Lord. Below we list these scriptures with questions we ought to be asking when we are seeking to discern whether or not something is of the Lord.

Is it scriptural? Just because someone uses scriptures does not mean they are of the Lord? Satan used scriptures (out of context) against Jesus in the wilderness temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). Cults use scriptures, as do false teachers. How can we know if scripture is being used in the right way?

We need to see if the interpretation is correct based on the context, or the way it was used in the letter or book in which it is found. Usually you can determine this by reading before and after the scripture to see the proper interpretation of the verses. You may have to read the entire letter or book in which the verses are found. You should also ask whether or not the interpretation in question contradicts other parts of the Bible. God’s word does not contradict itself. We need to determine God’s truth based on the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Does it bring me closer to God? You should ask if this use of scripture or thing in question is drawing you closer to or pushing you further away from God. The Bible tells us to draw near to God and move away from the devil (James 4:7-8). This is a question that can be tricky because our hearts are deceitful and we can’t know them on our own (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We need to ask God to search our hearts and see the truth in us (Psalm 139:23-24). And the way we do this is to bring our hearts and thoughts prayerfully to the altar of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12).

There is an interesting scripture in this regard and it states the following:

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 - “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.

Notice it is not the sign or wonder or impressiveness of something that determines whether or not it is of God. It is whether or not something draws us closer to God and moves us to love Him more and more that determines whether or not something is of God. Jesus said eternal life is to know the One true God and Him (John 17:3). That in a nutshell is the prime reason Jesus came to be with us (John 17:4). We should be asking, “Is what I’m doing bringing me closer to the Lord? Is it making me more spiritually sensitive to His voice? Is it helping me to know Him better? Can I see Jesus involved with what I’m doing?”

Is it causing me to worship the Lord? God is looking for true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth. Those who are trying to determine if the music they listen to is of God should be asking themselves, “Is this causing me to love God more? Is it causing me to worship the Lord in spirit and truth?”(John 4:23-24). Does the music put me in awe of the Lord and cause me to fall at His feet in worship?

Does it bring pleasure to God? Contrary to the popular philosophy of the day, we do not exist for our own pleasure. Humanity was created for the Lord and His pleasure! (Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11 KJV). Christians have been purchased by God and redeemed from their sin by the precious blood of Jesus on the cross (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Christians should especially be asking questions like, “Is what I’m doing pleasing to God? Is it selfish? Does it risk displeasing God in some way?”

Is it really worth it? Is what I’m doing really worth the time? If I’m being tempted to do something that is questionable, is it worth risking my walk with the Lord in any way? Nothing is worth risking a single drop of closeness to the Lord. Greg Laurie once shared some questions we could ask to help us make good sound spiritual decisions. When you come to something that is questionable or really in any situation you should ask yourself five evaluative questions: 1. Will it build me up spiritually? (1 Corinthians 10:23; Hebrews 12:1-2). 2. Will it bring me under its power? (1 Corinthians 6:12; Romans 6:14). 3. Do I have an uneasy feeling about it? (Romans 14:23). 4. Will it cause someone else to stumble? (Romans 14:15). 5. Will it bring glory to God? (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17, 23).

Satan is a brilliant enemy who is the master of deception. He disguises himself as something good when he is really the worst of the worst. Those he uses practice the same deception (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Satan does not usually try to sidetrack or victimize people with what is blatantly bad. No. His tactic is to rob people of God’s best by tempting them with what is second best. Unfortunately too many Christians have passed up God’s best because they were impatient and settled for something good, but not God’s best. The choice is not necessarily between good and bad as much as it is between God’s best and an alternative. That tactic is as old as the Garden of Eden, but it is no less effective today (Genesis 3). So beware, pray to the Lord and ask Him for help to discern. Go to God’s word and let His peace be your guide (Colossians 3:15-16). But above all, care whether or not something is or is not of God.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Victory in Jesus!

But to each one of us grace was given accoding to the measure of Christ's gift. - Ephesians 4:7

What did Jesus do during the three days between His death and resurrection? You might not know this but during that time Jesus led a victory procession. There are great blessings for Christians as a result of the victory march of Jesus.

In Ephesians 4:7-10 it states:

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

These verses describe a victory procession led by Jesus.

Victory in the grace of Jesus.Paul says, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7). The first benefit associated with this victory procession is “grace.” Grace is God’s provision. It is described by the acronym God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is what we need from God when we need it. Grace describes God’s sufficient and superabundant provision. Grace is only received as a gift. You can’t earn God’s grace. Salvation is offered by God’s grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-9). We don’t deserve God’s grace. God offers it to us anyway. That’s what makes grace, grace.

Victory with the gifts of Jesus. Paul then speaks of “the measure of Christ’s gift.” Paul is not trying to quantify an amount of God’s grace. He is paving the way to describe various forms of this grace. He is introducing the topic of spiritual gifts and doing that in a wonderful way.

Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8. He says, “Therefore it says: When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” These words allude to a victory procession. Battles in biblical times often involved a king leading his army against a fortified city. There were many ways in which such a fortification could be overcome. None of them easy. Some cities, like Babylon for instance, with walls 300 feet high and twenty-five feet thick, were nearly impregnable. Cities were attacked by laying siege to them trying to starve out the inhabitants. Large rolling contraptions were moved up to the walls to allow soldiers to climb over and into the city. Catapults were used to hurl large stones at the walls in order to break them down. And there was always the option of trying to find someone to open the gates of the city from within, (which is what happened with Babylon – see Isaiah 45:1-4).

Once the city was invaded and its inhabitants defeated the king and his men would collect the treasure of the city. The king would then return home riding proudly on his white horse through the city gates followed by his troops in shinning battle array. Following this victory procession of himself and his troops would be a long line of the captives from the defeated city. These captives had no rights and suffered total humiliation in these processions. They were trophies of war. The Romans coined the word triumph to describe these victory processions.

Once the procession made it to the royal palace the next order of business was sharing the treasure. Every citizen was given some token of the king’s victory. This is important in order to understand what Paul is depicting here. Ephesians 4:8 is a picture of Jesus Christ parading to heaven in triumph and as He completes His triumphal procession He gives tokens of His victory, spiritual gifts, to the citizens of heaven, us!

Victory over sin, death and the devil in Jesus. Over whom and what is Jesus victorious? To answer that question we have to know about Hades (NT) or Sheol (OT), the abode of the dead. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus describes Hades as a place with two compartments; one for the unrighteous; the other for the righteous. Up until the cross of Christ when a person died they would go to either of these places depending on whether or not they were righteous or unrighteous. This was determined by faith in God (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4 and 5). The righteous section of Hades is referred to as Abraham’s bosom. It is here where those who were righteous through faith in God went after death. Up until Jesus actual atoning death on the cross God forgave the sins of those who put their faith in Him and passed over them. This was until they could be actually atoned for on the cross by Jesus (cf. Romans 3:25-26).Until then, they would wait in Abraham’s bosom.

Peter gives us further insight into the activities of Jesus between His death on the cross and His resurrection. In 1 Peter 3:18-19 we are told that Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison who formerly were disobedient . . .” Jesus proclaimed His victory and that His redemptive work was “finished” (John 19:30). Jesus proclaimed to the unrighteous and “disarmed the principalities and powers” (Colossians 2:14-15). He also preached to the righteous OT saints to explain the gospel to them so their salvation would be confirmed (1 Peter 4:6). In doing this Jesus reestablished His just claim on creation and the basis for life changing freedom from sin (see Revelation 5). Jesus was victorious over the devil, death and hell!

To prove His victory Jesus rose from the dead and gave gifts to us; tokens of His victory to the citizens of His heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). With these gifts we follow through to fulfill Jesus words, “on this rock [i.e. the gospel proclamation that Jesus is the Christ] I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). When the apostles were inspired to write the Word and spread it, they proclaimed victory in Jesus. Throughout history when prophets proclaim, evangelists witness, and pastor teachers equip the flock of God, the church moves forward as one united mighty army (Ephesians 4:11-16). Our battle cry is victory in Jesus! I pray the Lord revives that cry and that He gives the lost an ear to hear it. (Pastor Claude T. Stauffer is the Pastor of Calvary Chapel of Hope, 803 County Line Road, Amityville, NY 11703 / 631-224-1761 / /