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, November 28, 2012

The Giver and His Gifts

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. – James 1:17

Of all the holidays celebrated Christmas generates the greatest economic boost. (Halloween is second.) It seems each year stores push for an earlier beginning for this holiday. We used to see Christmas decorations go up around Thanksgiving. Now it is not uncommon to see Christmas decorations go up around Halloween. The day after Thanksgiving is called “Black Friday” because some companies get out of the red and into the black in their accounting records solely based on sales from this day. Some companies succeed or fail based on the income generated in connection with Christmas. It’s a big money maker. Merry Christmas!

Gifts are the topic of conversation at Christmas. What did you get? How many did you get? How much is it worth? How much did it cost? How big is it? What feature does it have? Can it do this? Can it do that? Does it fit? Can I exchange it? Can I return it? There’s a whirl of questions and thoughts and they focus on the gifts. We have been deceived and distracted from what Christmas is truly all about.

Christmas is about giving. And it is about a very special Gift. But we have drifted far from the root meaning of Christmas. We have gotten far away from the Giver and His original gift of Jesus the Christ at Christmas. We have put first things last and last things first. We have cluttered and covered what is eternally important with the wrappings of material things that will not last.

That’s sad. It shouldn’t happen. It doesn’t have to happen. In fact, why don’t we seek the LORD to help us get back on track? Lord help us get back to the proper and more valuable eternal perspective of You our Giver and Your gifts? This Christmas let’s challenge ourselves to reconnect with the Giver and His gifts. Let’s get back to that original Gift.

A gift is something given by one person to another without compensation. It is something freely given, freely received, not earned. At least that is what a gift is supposed to be. On the human horizontal plane gifts are often instruments of manipulation. We soften people up with a gift. That is not entirely unscriptural (cf. Prov. 18:16). But I think the sinful nature has taken this to an entirely lower level. We have perverted gift giving.

I want to state a bold and too often forgotten Biblical truth. Every good gift is from God. Look around you,  think about it, every good gift is from God. Every good thing we receive that we don’t deserve or that requires no compensation, is from God. The Bible states, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:16-18). Those are words that should fill us with thanks to God.

James says, “do not be deceived.” These words imply there is some sort of deception about the Giver and His gifts (v. 16). He writes to people he cares about. We see that in the words, “my beloved brethren.” He cares that those he writes to know the truth. He doesn’t want his beloved readers to be deceived about gifts and the true Giver, God. What might the nature of the deception he is concerned about be? It could be a deception that disregards or neglects to pay homage or thanks to God as the Source of all good gifts. It might be a deflecting deception that “every good and perfect gift” comes from a source other than God. Or it may be the focusing on gifts to the neglect of the Giver. The aim of the enemy is always to deceive us and deflect glory from God.

When we focus so much on gifts that we forget about the Giver, we are deceived. Distraction from God is the work of deception. Anything that distracts us from the true meaning of Christmas, from the Giver, is a part of deception. Santa Claus, therefore, would be considered a deception because the story distracts us from God the Giver and Jesus the Gift. You may see that as a bit Scrooge-like, but it is true. Think about it.  

The word “every” (Greek pas) is an adjective that means every, all, any. The word, “good” (Greek agathŏs) is an adjective that means good,  upright, kind, benevolent, useful, acceptable, wholesome, beneficial, goods, good deeds. The word  “perfect” (Greek teleios) is an adjective that means complete, perfect, whole, full grown, mature, or adult. That which is perfect is made up of good that comes to full bloom or full maturity. Good gifts are things on the horizontal plane of life that point us to the vertical realm of God. They become perfect when we see them from an eternal perspective.

A “gift of God” is an act of His grace. James is inspired to write that good and perfect gifts are, “from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” God the Father  is described as the “Father of lights.” He is the Creator of the universe with its entire starry host. As Father of lights He is of a holy pure character. There is no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5).

That “there is no variation or shadow of turning” with Him refers to His unchanging stable dependable nature. The moon for instance is not always full; its reflective light is blocked by the earth as it orbits. But God is never blocked out, diluted or diminished in any way. His truth and faithfulness are steady and sure. He isn’t wishy-washy or capricious. He is dependable and true. And He bestows every good and perfect gift upon us all.

Verse 18 states, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” This points us to His great eternal gift of salvation. He brought us forth by His will and word of truth. He planted His word in us and caused it to grow in us by prevenient grace and ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.   

Some gifts are unappreciated. When we think of gifts and what are in particular good gifts, we are frequently further deceived. We don’t always appreciate some of the things God allows into our lives. We don’t see certain things as gifts from God or good. The context of James 1:16-18 sheds light on the things God allows into our lives. What are some gifts God allows into our lives that we often do not appreciate?

First, trials are unappreciated gifts from God (James 1:1-8). Trials are allowed by God into our lives to build faith through patience and then character so that we will reach a point of perfection or spiritual maturity (1:1-4). Trials move us to pray (1:5a) and teach us how to add faith to our prayers (1:5b-8). There is a precious fellowship of suffering that God gives (Phil. 3:9-11).

Second, lowliness and loss are unappreciated gifts from God (1:9-11). God allows us to be in need so that it will draw us to Him for provision. When we lose the temporal it demonstrates that we ought to invest in eternal things that cannot be stolen or destroyed (Mat. 6).

Third, temptations are unappreciated gifts from God (1:12-15, 19-21). While temptations are not from God but from our sinful nature (1:12-15), God allows them so that we are put in a situation where we have opportunity to choose to follow Him. Without the potential for defeat there could be no victory (1:19-21). Without the possibility to disobey, we wouldn’t be able to know what true love is (John 14:21).

Fourth, God’s word is an unappreciated gift from God (1:22-25). We don’t realize how great a gift God’s word is. We can choose to listen to it being taught or read it with no effect on us. But only when we apply it to our lives do we discover its full value. Too often we do not appreciate God’s gift of the Bible.

Fifth, hardship in others is an unappreciated gift from God (1:26-27). Religion is a human attempt to reach God. It is ineffective in changing people. True religion is to help those in need such as widows and orphans; those who are unable to help themselves. But it is helping not to attain favor with God, but because we already have favor with God through faith in Jesus Christ. We don’t help others to attain righteousness. We help others to show our appreciation to God for the righteousness He provides in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). We serve God by serving others. We love God supremely and so love others sacrificially. Such situations are unappreciated opportunities to be God’s ambassadors. As we help others bear burdens we fulfill one of the most important aspects of what it means to be a Christian (Gal. 6:2).

So the challenge been made. Will you put the Giver and His gifts in their proper place this Christmas? Will you exalt the God the Giver for His most precious gift of salvation through Jesus the Christ?


Monday, November 19, 2012

Is This a Time for Thanks?

“OH, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! . . . .Let the redeemed of the LORD say so” – Psalm 107:1, 2       
Our nation has been in an economic slump teetering on recession if not depression for quite some time now. We are losing more and more of our freedoms. Holy institutions like marriage are being desecrated at the altar. Our ambassador to Benghazi and three others were murdered in a terrorist attack. Our government, to its shame, has handled the situation like those trying to cover up a frat house prank that went too far. And to top it off, we recently were hit with the one-two punch of super storm Hurricane Sandy and a Nor’easter. Millions have been hurt by the storms. There has been unprecedented loss. So I ask you, is this a time for thanks?
Governor William Bradford made a decree on December 13th 1621 that a day of feasting and prayer was to be set aside to thank God not only for His material provisions, but for blessing them with religious freedom to worship Him as the Spirit led them. And he did this in a time of famine and great trial.
In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln officially set aside the last Thursday of November as, “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” And he did this during a time of bloody civil war.
In 1941 Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as a legal holiday to be called Thanksgiving Day. And this was done in a time of world war.
An argument can be made that it is especially during times of hardship and trial that we ought to give thanks to the LORD. If Christians are not going to stand firm and thank the LORD in tough times, then who will? Psalm 107 opens with the words, “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, . . .” We ought to give thanks to the LORD! I like what J. Vernon McGee says here about this Psalm:
We need more “say so” Christians. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so. Don’t go around complaining and criticizing. If you are a Christian, tell others how good God is. He is good, but He doesn’t have a good name in the world today. God’s reputation is bad—a reputation is what people think about you. God does not have many friends in court among the multitudes of people in the world—no champion, or defender, and few to testify on His behalf. There are few to take the witness stand and say a good word in His behalf. If you doubt that, look around. Consider the pagan and heathen religions. Their conception of God is terrifying. He is pictured as a god that will destroy, not save; a god that is difficult to approach, and takes no personal interest in his creatures, nor does he love them. The average person today lives in a land with a veneer of civilization, a modicum of education, with a little Christian culture smeared on like face cream. To him God is not a Person to be cultivated; He is kept at arm’s length. He is not considered a good neighbor, and He is very hard to please. Most people think of God as sort of a policeman, waiting around the corner to catch them in some wrongdoing. A little girl accidentally gave the average conception of God when she recited a Scripture verse and got it a bit confused. She said, “If God be for you, you are up against Him.” That is the thinking of many people. If anyone is going to say that God is good, it will have to be His redeemed ones. God is good. That is not an axiom; it is a proposition that is subject to proof. It is not a cliché, nor a slogan; it is not propaganda. It is true. [1]
Why should we give thanks to the LORD?  “. . . For He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1). God is GOOD! God is MERCIFUL!  The word “good” means good in the broadest sense. Goodness is associated with beauty, grace, pleasure, joy, kindness, prosperity, sweetness, and wealth and God is a dispenser of such things. “Mercy” refers to lovingkindness, faithfulness or steadfast love. It is a beautiful word, one of the richest in scripture. God’s mercy is eternal. It is because of God’s goodness and mercy that we exist, are offered a way of salvation from our sin and invited to enter an eternally blessed relationship with the God of the universe. Our salvation and every good thing in existence come from God’s goodness and mercy. God is described in a wonderful way here, a way that should move us to bow before Him in thanks.
Who especially should thank the LORD? The psalmist goes on to exhort, “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so . . .” (107:2). Have you been redeemed from your sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ? If so, THANK THE LORD! Remember that the price of your redemption was the precious blood of Christ, the Son of God (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Can you thank the LORD for that? I hope so.  Your difficulties may have been what was needed to save your eternal soul! This Thanksgiving, despite all the difficulties or opposition the enemy can muster the redeemed need to proclaim their thanks to the LORD. Thanking God is not optional; it is the only reasonable thing for the redeemed to do.
Psalm 107 gives us five reasons to thank the LORD. Four times the psalmist pleads, “Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psalm 107:8,15, 21, 31). We will briefly touch on each one, but you are encouraged to make this Psalm a source of study for this Thanksgiving season.
First, thank God for His redemptive deliverance from the enemy (107:2-7). The Psalmist recalls how God delivered His people from Egypt and through their wilderness wanderings. God heard the cries of His people and acted on their behalf. God will hear our cries and act on our behalf, even today. Man’s extremities are God’s opportunities. How many have turned to the Lord in the storm to find eternal life? Many and that eternal salvation is worth more than any temporal loss. None of our plight today has caught the LORD off guard. God is in control. He has a plan. He makes a way to live victoriously in life now (Rom. 8:37-39). He defeated Satan on the cross (Col. 2:14-15). He is there for you; the good and merciful God of the universe is there for you. Trust Him. Pray to Him. He will answer. For that we should thank the LORD.
Second, thank God for satisfying the longing soul and filling the hungry soul with goodness (107:8-14). Even when people experience darkness, bondage, and affliction as consequences to rebellion against God and His word, even when we despise His counsel, God doesn’t forsake us. He disciplines us and humbles us until we return and cry out to Him so He can save us. He does this because He loves us (Heb. 12:3-15). God will break our chains, even self inflicted ones, if we will only repent and cry out to Him. For that we should thank the LORD.
Third, thank God for His healing word (107:15-20). Again the psalmist speaks of those who, “because of their transgressions, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted.” The blame for our affliction is so often clear. We may deny our sin in self-deception (1 John 1:8). We may deny our sin and in effect call God a liar (1 John 1:10). The bottom line is that when we repent and cry out to God, He forgives us and sends His word to heal us and deliver us from our destructions. But even if we are suffering because of no fault of our own, we still find solace and peace in His word (Phil. 4:6-7). “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). For that we should thank the LORD.
Fourth, thank God for His protection in a fallen world (107:21-30). These verses speak of the awesome rolling waves of the sea. God preserves those who travel them. Did you ever think about the immensity of the world and universe? Yet God bends down to help us. We blame God for natural disasters and there consequences. But there may be an enemy at work in such situations too (cf. Job 1 and 2). We shouldn’t argue with the God of the universe who in His sovereign determination allows things we don’t understand. He alone can make those decisions from an omniscient and omnipotent position.  It is wiser and more blessed to trust our good merciful God and thank Him, no matter what.
Fifth, thank God for His ultimate justice (107:31-43). God is able to dry up a river or make water flow. He is able to discipline sinful authorities and preserve the poor and weak. He is able to bless and “multiply greatly.” He is able to make the righteous rejoice in the end and shut the mouths of those indulging iniquity. God is in control. The solutions to our problems is not  elections as much as it is God’s empowering and using the elect. The answer is not politics or government. The answer is not in military might, science, technology, or education. The answer is the LORD! “Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the lovingkindness of the LORD.” “The Lovingkindness of the LORD,” that is what we ought to thank God for, His lovingkindness.
Is this a time to give thanks? Yes! Look around you, all is not lost. God is in control. He has a plan and will carry it out. Indeed, if you are paying attention, you can see the prophetic word of God being fulfilled quite nicely. Jesus is coming back! Soon and very soon we will see our Savior and King of kings, our good and merciful God. For that we should be most thankful. “Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD . . . .”

[1]McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (2:830-831). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Spirit Built Church is Friendly and Growing

“Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:47

All that we have seen as byproducts of a Spirit built church culminates in these last two aspects. We have seen that the Spirit built church has a passion for: God’s word and it’s teaching, fellowship, worship, prayer, and is reverent, miraculous and giving. These Spirit built qualities flow into a friendly and growing church.

The Spirit built church is friendly. Verse 46 says:

  • Acts 2:46-47a – “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.   

When the Spirit comes He pours His love into our hearts and that promotes a friendly spirit. That friendliness leads to a desire to reach out to the lost. What a glorious blessing it is when brothers and sisters in Christ enjoy each other’s fellowship and come together spontaneously and frequently to worship the Lord and enjoy one another in the Lord. It’s a powerful magnetic force to reach a lonely world.

The church is too frequently unfriendly. This is because the church is often divided. Where there is disunity and division, the Holy Spirit is grieved and the sense of His presence quenched. Paul wrote about this when was inspired to write:

  • Ephesians 4:30-32 – “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” 

The next time you are tempted to gossip, backbite, or be the party to a division causing act, remember, you will hurt the church of God that Jesus died for and calls His bride (Ephesians 5:25-26), and you will grieve the Holy Spirit. Don’t be a part of anything that would cause division whether you are directly or indirectly involved. Rather, “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” That’s the way God’s church functions in the Spirit. And that is the church that is winsome and that reaches the lost and lonely.

The Spirit built church is a growing church.  It states in Acts:

  • Acts 2:47b – “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” 

These people were not concerned or worried about the growth of the church; all they could do was praise God for all He was doing. The reality of Jesus was so great in their hearts that they were brimming with the love of the Spirit that overflowed into the lives of those around them (Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15). How couldn’t they find favor with “all the people” around them, wouldn’t you look favorably upon those who had a loving servants heart and a Spirit produced glow?

You don’t see any “Church Growth” programs in this church do you? These early disciples didn’t go to any church growth seminars and the early apostles didn’t hold any either. The apostles didn’t rush out of the upper room or after the tremendously impacting Pentecostal event and try to duplicate what had happened. What we see in Acts is an ongoing, living, relating to the Holy Spirit. Here in Acts 2:42-47 we do see products of the Holy Spirit working in the life of God’s people and we can draw certain characteristics of God’s church that should be common in all of His churches, but we should never attempt to put God in a box or make hard and set ways in which we limit the acting of the Spirit. The creativity and varied nature of the way the Holy Spirit works in and through the people of God is far more exciting.

When the Spirit comes upon people He instills in them a burden, a passion for the salvation of the lost. John Wesley knew this passion and instructed his ministers accordingly:

"You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most. Observe: It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring them to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in holiness without which they cannot see the Lord."

A.W. Tozer described this passion to win lost souls in the following way:

Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. --Psalm 126:5-6

The testimony of the true follower of Christ might well be something like this: The world's pleasures and the world's treasures henceforth have no appeal for me. I reckon myself crucified to the world and the world crucified to me. But the multitudes that were so dear to Christ shall not be less dear to me. If I cannot prevent their moral suicide, I shall at least baptize them with my human tears. I want no blessing that I cannot share. I seek no spirituality that I must win at the cost of forgetting that men and women are lost and without hope. If in spite of all I can do they will sin against light and bring upon themselves the displeasure of a holy God, then I must not let them go their sad way unwept. I scorn a happiness that I must purchase with ignorance. I reject a heaven that I must enter by shutting my eyes to the sufferings of my fellow men. I choose a broken heart rather than any happiness that ignores the tragedy of human life and human death. Though I, through the grace of God in Christ, no longer lie under Adam's sin, I would still feel a bond of compassion for all of Adam's tragic race, and I am determined that I shall go down to the grave or up into God's heaven mourning for the lost and the perishing. And thus and thus will I do as God enables me. Amen. [1]

That is a passion for souls. And that passion is from the Holy Spirit. That is what happens in the heart of the Christian when the Spirit comes on them. And that results in a church that God adds to regularly. The Spirit filled church is a growing church.

Years ago at a Moody Bible Institute Missionary conference a large TRAFFIC SIGNAL was hooked up with lights that flashed:

·         AMBER LIGHT - Flashed every 35 hours to signify a missionary being sent out.

·         GREEN LIGHT - Flashed every 24 hours to signify $.02 cents spent on missions in this country.

·         RED LIGHT - Flashed three times every two seconds to signify a person dying without Christ.

That’s a sobering illustration of a sobering truth. The baptism with the Holy Spirit breeds a passion for the lost. There is work to do; souls to be saved. Let’s pray for the Lord’s empowering. Let’s pray the Spirit comes upon us and lights a fire within that burns with a passion for the teaching of God’s word, fellowship, worship, prayer ,reverence, the miraculous, a giving spirit, a friendliness and passion for souls. That is what we need. That is what a lost world needs. Come Holy Spirit we need You!

The Lord wants His house full (Luke 14:23). And He wants us to make every effort to reach the lost and bring them to Him (Mark 2:1ff). In our own strength the task is insurmountable. We need the Holy Spirit’s power. We need the Holy Spirit to come upon us. We need a revival.

Wesley Duewel in his book Revival Fire [2]which is an overview of various revivals concludes his book with some valuable and informative words for anyone interested in seeing the Spirit come and revival manifested. In the last chapter of his book, Revival is Coming Duewel writes:

God at His own initiative voluntarily gave us, His people, the covenant of revival in 2 Chronicles 7:14. He must be true to His covenant word, and He waits for us to fulfill our part of this revival covenant. Thousands of times God has fulfilled the revival covenant for a family, a local church, a community, a region, or a nation. The more deep, widespread, and total the prayer and obedience of His children, the more widespread God’s outpoured revival through the power of the Spirit can become. [3]

We need the Holy Spirit to come upon us today. That is true for the church. That is true for our world. Pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon you and His church. Pray the Lord use the Spirit filled church to reach a lost world that is perishing at an alarming rate. Come Holy Spirit we need You!


[1] A.W. Tozer, The Next Chapter After the Last, p. 36

[2] Wesley Duewel, Revival Fire, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995)
[3] Wesley Duewell, Revival Fire, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995) pgs 354-357

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


"This hope we have as an anchor of the soul," - Hebrews 6:19a
Disappointment is a part of life. We live in a fallen world with fallen people and disappointment is inevitable. Disappointment is the first step toward despair. Despair is the vanquishing of hope. Disappointment is the result of unfulfilled hopes. Disappointment is a product of horizontal living; living with a godless “under the sun” perspective as Solomon put it (e.g. Ecclesiastes 1:3).

Those closest to us can be the greatest or most deeply grieving sources of disappointment.  Nabal was literally a fool of a husband. His wife Abigail was a good and wise wife. Nabal’s foolishness almost caused them to lose everything, including their lives. A foolish spouse can cause great disappointment (1 Sam. 25:23-31). The wife who causes shame to her husband is said to be “like rottenness in his bones” (Proverbs 12:4). Eli’s sons were immoral and shamed him with public displays of their lustful indulgences. This was a great grief and disappointment to Eli (1 Sam. 2:12-17). Our children, who we love so much, can be one of the greatest sources of disappointment in our lives.

Disappointment comes from our own personal failures or being rejected by others. Sometimes this leads to thoughts of suicide. Ahithophel gave good counsel to the usurper King Absalom, but his counsel was rejected. He was so disappointed and crestfallen that he got on his donkey, went home, put his house in order, and then hanged himself (2 Sam. 17:23). There is a better way to handle disappointment.

We may think that reason and understanding hold the key to alleviating disappointment but that’s not what Solomon was inspired by God to say. Solomon said, “My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge” (Ecclesiastes 1:16). But he went on to say, “For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Knowing why things are the way they are does not necessarily mean they will be changed. In fact, it may add to our disappointment. You may understand the reason why a person is the way they are, but that may not mean they will change.

Rejection and persecution can cause us to be disappointed. Jeremiah was rejected by the people along with the message God had given him to share. He went so far as to say he would give up and not speak the word of the Lord anymore. But God’s word was in his heart like a fire and he couldn’t stop sharing it (Jer. 20:7-9). Here we begin to see the first trace of how to overcome disappointment.

Sometimes the mission or calling of God Himself on our lives is a source of disappointment. Like Jonah, we don’t like what God is telling us to do. Jonah hated the Assyrians. The Assyrians were a ruthless terroristic and merciless people. But God called Jonah to go and preach to these lost people. Jonah knew if he did that, they might repent and God would be merciful to this hated people. He was disappointed. He wanted God’s wrath on them. He wanted them to experience what he felt was the just judgment of God. He wanted them annihilated; to taste a bit of the suffering they had caused others to suffer (Jonah 4:1-9). It’s hard to love our enemies as Jesus calls us to do (Mat. 5:44-47). We’d rather see them get what we believe are their just deserts. We don’t like it when God tells us to love or forgive our offenders. And that is frequently a cause of disappointment to us.

When God’s promises don’t seem to be coming to pass it becomes a source of disappointment. Cleopas and his friend expressed this when they spoke of Jesus’ death (Luke 24:17-24). They, along with many others, had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, a political Messiah who would deliver Israel from the oppression of Rome. That was not God’s plan for Christ’s first coming.  It took Jesus’ enlightening exposition of the scriptures about His resurrection to rekindle the fire in their hearts (Luke 24:27-32). Are you disappointed in an unfulfilled promise of God?

There is an antidote to disappointment. That antidote is the hope we find in the Lord. God tells us that His word was given to dispel disappointment and replace it with hope (Rom. 15:4). And the hope God gives does not disappoint. God promises, “Now hope [His hope] does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). The hope God gives is not a pipe dream, vain or an empty hope. God’s hope is a living hope proven and verified, as sure as the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-4). Therefore, even though our lives may at times seem fruitless and empty, barren and filled with roadblocks, we can say, “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like the deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills” (cf. Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Disappointment comes when we make our interests a priority over the LORD’s interests. When God’s people returned from the Babylonian exile to Jerusalem at one point they became very disappointed. They sowed seed, but harvested little. They consumed the fruit of the land but never seemed to be full. They clothed themselves but were never warm enough. They earned wages, but it never seemed enough to meet their needs. This led to disappointment. Why? God said, “Consider your ways!” The people had put their own personal interests ahead of God’s. And the result was that God withheld His blessing. God called for a drought on the land (Habakkuk 1:1-11). This disappointment wasn’t dispelled until the people got right with the LORD. They got right with the LORD by putting Him and His mission interests first again in their lives. They obeyed the LORD and revered His presence once again in their lives (Habakkuk 1:12). When the people did that, the LORD responded, “I am with you” (Habakkuk 1:13). The LORD stirred up the spirit in their lives and blew away the disappointment as they got back on track with Him. And here is the key; deliverance from disappointment comes through devotion to God. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33).

Disappointment comes when we don’t feel what God is doing is good enough or what we had hoped for. When God’s people returned from exile to rebuild the Temple, those who had seen the original Temple built by Solomon were greatly disappointed. The rebuilt Temple, in their eyes, was nowhere near as glorious as the original Temple. They were disappointed that their sinfulness had led to a diminishing of the glory of this great place. There are times where we sin and suffer loss. We don’t think we will ever be happy again; ever rejoice again; ever experience the fullness of God again the way we once did. To that God says, “My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!” (Habakkuk 2:1-5). God told the returning Israelites that He was going to “shake heaven and earth” and “shake all nations” and  in time the glory of the rebuilt Temple would, “be greater than the former” (Habakkuk 2:6-9). God gives us hope when we have to rebuild portions of our lives. God is able to restore us (Joel 2:25). Our lives may not be exactly the same, but if we look to Him, wait on Him and His work, we will find satisfaction and joy in exchange for disappointment.

In the end disappointment is a loss of trust in God. This can manifest itself by ignoring the Lord and His word resulting in sin. It can be in times of uncertainty or confusion when because we don’t understand what the Lord is doing, we indulge the disappointing thoughts slung at us by the enemy. When that happens we need to protect ourselves with the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16). We need to trust in the goodness of God who has a plan He is working out and that in the end His good will prevail (cf. Jer. 29:11-13; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 2:10). God doesn’t forget our labors of love on His behalf (Hebrews 6:9-10). And if we know God remembers our lives lived for Him, we can be sure of “better things” that our loving heavenly Father will bestow on us. This is a rich hope that deals a death blow to disappointment. Indeed, God can be trusted; He doesn’t lie and He isn’t capricious or wishy-washy. The hope we have in God is dependable; it serves to anchor our soul (Hebrews 6:18-19). Don’t be disappointed, be devoted to God. 



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Spirit Built Church is Reverent, Miraculous, and Giving

“Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed . . . had all things in common. . .” – Acts 2:43-45

The Spirit built church is reverent. It continues, “Then fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43a). The word “fear” (Greek phobos) here probably means “awe” or “reverence.” When the Holy Spirit is working in a church there will be a reverent sense of the presence of the Lord. This is something much of the church has lost today. In our efforts to emphasize relationship rather than a religious pursuit of God, we often become overly informal and lose the sense of God’s presence and awe. There was a holy awe amongst the people in this Spirit filled early church (e.g. Acts 5:5, 11; 19:17). 

When we look at some of the incidents of people coming into the presence of Holy God in the Bible what we see is humble bowing to the ground and worship (e.g. Gen. 17:3; Exodus 34:8; Num. 22:31; 2 Chron. 20:18). Even stone pagan idols bow before Holy God (1 Sam. 5:1-5). Reverence should be reflected in our prayers (Neh. 1:4-7). We are to come into God’s presence with a sense of His holiness.

When humanity comes into the presence of God there is an convicting awareness of one’s sinfulness (e.g. Isaiah 6:5). When Jesus brought the huge catch of fish to Peter and the other fishermen who had unsuccessfully been fishing all night, Peter exclaimed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8).

The Bible states:

  • Psalm 89:7- God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, And to be held in reverence by all those around Him.
In the last book of the Bible the heavenly picture is one of humble worship before Almighty God and the Lamb Jesus (Rev. 4:8-11; 7:11-12).

The Spirit built church is miraculous. This section goes on to say, “and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43b). The word “wonders” as described above refers to the fact that there were things happening that only God could have done, there was no natural explanation for what was being done in and amongst God’s people. “Signs” tell us that the wonders done were not just for entertainment or to incite excitement, but they were like road signs that directed people to Jesus. When we see the miracles and wonders done in Acts those used to bring them about always point to Jesus as the Source of the miracles and the works are used to bring people to glorify God.

When considering wonders and signs it is important that they are kept in proper perspective and priority. In Mark when Jesus mentions signs He says they will “follow” or come after the preaching of God’s word:

  • Mark 16:15-18 – “nd He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.17 “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;18 “they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” 

The Spirit is able and willing to do signs and wonders today. The problem is that much of the church often seeks the signs and wonders first, before the teaching of God’s word. That is a mistake. Some evangelism strategies seek to manufacture a a miracle in order to bring attention and then preach the gospel. This is opposite to Jesus’ plan.

When signs and wonders are put before the priority of teaching the word of God, the church becomes unstable and emotion oriented. Such a set of priorities also lends itself to the trap of seeking bigger and better signs and wonders, kind of a can you top this mentality. There needs to be a balance, a balance like that held in God’s model for the church in Acts.

Acts is filled with accounts of miracles. One incident of “unusual miracles” is found in Acts 19. Paul traveled to Ephesus and ministers to some seekers who had an incomplete understanding of the gospel and baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7). Paul ministered there for an extended period of time (Acts 19:8-10). Then we are informed that “God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11). Handkerchiefs and aprons were used by the Spirit to bring healing of those who were sick and diseased (Acts 19:12). These were “unusual” signs. You don’t see the apostles package these handkerchiefs in order to mail them out to make a profit. Some in our day do just that. But this was unusual. It wasn’t something that would commonly happen.

 Some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of Jesus to exorcise but were soundly humiliated and defeated by the demons (Acts 19:13-16). But at the end of the account it states, “fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified” (Acts 19:17). The magnifying of the name of Jesus is the aim of the Spirit in all things. And when Jesus is magnified it leads to life-changing work in people (Acts 19:18-20).

The Spirit built church is giving and helps people. This section continues:


  • Acts 2:44-45 – “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” 

This is not Communism. In fact when we look at the result of such communal type of living we see problems associated with it. It was out of this communal type of living that the first major in church problem arose when Ananias and Sapphira sought to lie to the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:32-37 and 5:1-11). We also see a disturbance associated with the distribution of goods later in Acts when the believers with a Hellenist background felt they were being neglected by the believers who had a Hebrew background (Acts 6:1-7). Later Paul needs to take up a collection for the church in Jerusalem because it would appear that very possibly their communal living has led to a financial problem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

In light of these associated problems, it seems best to understand from these verses that when the Holy Spirit is at work in the church, He creates a helpful and giving spirit among believers. God has a heart to lift the poor and needy “out of the ash heap” (Psalm 113:7). Those in Jerusalem may have taken this spirit to an extreme. In giving and helping one another we should proceed in the Spirit as in all things.

When the Spirit comes upon a church there will be a giving spirit. That will start with the tithe. Some discount the tithe stating it is a product of the law. They state to encourage the tithe is legalism. However upon closer study we see that tithing is something we find 400 years before the giving of the Law (Gen. 14:20). In the New Testament we see Jesus affirm the tithe (Mat. 23:23). And while Paul teaches that we should not give grudgingly (2 Cor. 9:7), a bad attitude about giving is not a reason to not tithe. Tithing is one of the areas God calls us to test Him on. Bring in the tithe to the storehouse and see if He won’t open the windows of heaven and pour out blessing (Malachi 3:7 ff.). Go ahead, test God in this. Tithe to the church where you are getting spiritually fed. Then see what happens. Pray about it.

In light of what God has given for us, (His only Son Jesus), we should give cheerfully (2 Cor. 8:9). We are not our own. We belong to God. We have been bought with Jesus shed blood (1 Cor. 6:19-20). When the Spirit comes upon us, this point will be brought home to us. The Spirit will convict us of any ungiving spirit in us. Hopefully we will repent and get right with God.