Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Spirit-filled Life


A young boy asked his father, “How can I believe in the Holy Spirit when I never see Him?” The father, who was an electrician, said, “I will show you.” The boy went with his father down to a power plant in their town. There, he showed his son the generators. “This is where the power comes from to heat our stove and give us light. We cannot see the power, but it is in that machine, and in the power lines.” “I believe in electricity,” said the son. “Of course you do, but you don’t believe in it because you can see it. You believe in it, because you can see what it can do. In a similar way, this is what takes place with the Holy Spirit. We may not see Him, but we see what He can do.” Jesus says a similar thing to Nicodemus in John 3, when he tells him, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (3:8)

We come to a memorable section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:18-20). Some might argue that it is the most important message in the letter, especially as it relates to Christian living. I would be remiss if I did not mention what it is not first, and that is -- an argument for acapella singing in assembly. I have heard the argument…and have made it myself...and I am not necessarily saying it is wrong to do so. But, I believe that this does not respect the context in which it is written, as this passage (along with v.21) describes five ways that we should be filled with the Spirit of God. Paul also shares in Romans 8:16ff that the Spirit helps us, and works with our spirits to help us know we are God’s children and to empower us. It is only by His power that we are able to live in harmony with one another. Paul shares a very important message for believers that are seeking to live as spiritual people.

Paul’s imperative is “to be filled with the Spirit” plural, meaning “Y’all.” This is something that is able to take place for all Christians, and not just a select few. And this is opposed to being “filled with the spirits” (alcohol), which Paul calls dissipation. Dissipation literally means a loss of self-control, which is just the opposite of the Spirit, who offers “the fruit of self-control.” God’s desire is for Him to be “in control”…Satan’s way is to be “out of control.” The drunk makes a fool of himself and calls attention to himself, whereas the Christian glorifies God and is a witness for Christ.

Referencing the John 3 passage once again, Christians experience a “water and Spirit birth” (3:5). We are baptized, cleansed in order to walk in a newness of life…a life filled with God’s personal power at work in our lives…a life filled with His Spirit. As John mentions, we are baptized once, whereas we are able to be “continually cleansed” when we ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:7). This is closely related to the fact that we are able to be continually filled with the Spirit. When we are cleansed, the Spirit is able to fill that void where sin once was residing. For any English enthusiasts, this is a present tense verb – “keep on being filled with the Spirit.” And passive voice, as we do not fill ourselves, but it is God who “fills us.” Once again, this is to be controlled by God’s power…our mind, our emotions, our will under His guidance. When our lives are made full by the Spirit, we are able to experience His fruit – love, joy, peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23). We Christians are able to experience contentment, confidence in spite of circumstances around us. Instead of rising and falling with the temperature of the issues around us like a thermometer, when we are “filled with the Spirit”, He…like a thermostat…helps to determine the spiritual temperature of the circumstances. There is a significant difference between these two.

Spirit-filled people have songs in their hearts and on their lips. Through singing or listening to Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs from our hearts, we give glory to God and exemplify Christ. The Spirit is revealed in our eyes, smiles…in our lives. A famous preacher once said, “When speaking of heaven, let your face light up, let it be radiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with a reflected glory…but, when you speak of hell, then your ordinary face will do.”

We must remember that Paul is a prisoner when he writes these things. Yet, he is thankful for what God is doing in him and for him. It is not so ironic that the words “gratitude” and “grace” have the same word root. As Paul indicates, if we have experienced the grace of God, then we ought to be grateful for what God brings to us. As the saying goes, “if God brings you to it, He can bring you through it.” When Spirit-filled people find themselves in difficult situations, they give thanks to the Father, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit to resolve any fears, anxieties, or worries that seek to undermine their spirits. Being thankful to God is a great secret to a happy home and good relationships.

I want to finish with this – “standing on the deck of a ship in mid-ocean, you can see the sun reflected from its depths. From a little boat on a mountain lake, you can see the sun reflected from its shallow waters. Looking into a small mountain spring, you can see the same great sun. Look into the dew drops of the morning, and there it is again. The sun has a way of adapting itself to its reflection. The ocean is not too large to hold it, nor is the dew drop too small. So, God’s Spirit can fill any person, whether their capacity is like the ocean or the dew drop. Whatever be the capacity, there is opened up the possibility of being filled up with the fullness of God.” Perhaps, you are feeling empty -- being filled is just humble submission away…all we have to do is ask. We are not going to be able to put aside the distractions and difficulties of this life by tackling them on our own, but inasmuch as we allow God to fill us and battle for us are we going to be able to find success in the spiritual battle, and greater faith.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Lord’s Prayer – The Personal Version, pt.1


James Chandler shares this story – “I was driving the other day with my family when a car cut me off. I pulled out to go around him. As I sped up so did he. Faster and faster we both accelerated. Finally I put on the brakes so I could let him go. AS I slowed down, he also slowed down. Now I was furious. (Stop me if this has never happened to you). I looked over at the driver so I could give him a piece of my mind and when I did, I saw a good friend and church member driving the car. He was laughing hysterically. Sometimes on the highway of Christianity, we allow little things to annoy us, to distract us, to make us forget where we are going and why we are going there. I know that I have better days and “worser” days in relationship to this. Sometimes, spiritually speaking, we need to pull over at a rest stop, look at the map and make sure that spiritually we are going the right direction to reach our destination." In a sense, this is what Jesus is modeling by offering His High Priestly prayer on behalf of Himself, the apostles, and for all of His followers. He certainly knew precisely where He was going, as He shares with Thomas and the other disciples back in chapter 14. But, He wants to be certain that we know where we are going, and He offers some significant encouragement along the way. This prayer has been an inspiration to untold millions of people. If we want to be successful in reaching our destination, we need to make what is closest to His heart close to our hearts.

This is the greatest prayer ever prayed on earth and the greatest prayer ever recorded in the Word of God. This chapter is what one has described as “the holy of holies” of the gospel record, and we much approach it with a spirit of humility and reverence. This is all especially fascinating in that we are all privileged to listen to the Son’s conversation with His Father just before He is about to give His life up for (all) sinners. Jesus has just encouraged His disciples by telling them that He has overcome the world. (16:33) And now He prays for their security, their joy, their unity and their future glory. Jesus’ final session of equipping is to ask the Father to be present in a very real and personal way for all of them. As mentioned, He is also praying for us. This is not a cultural thought, but a message with universal and eternal ramifications. He knows that we, likewise, need encouragement.

R.A. Torrey shares, “A prayer for self is not by any means a selfish prayer.” Jesus’ burden was the glory of God, and this glory is going to be fully realized in His finished work on the cross. And the servant of God has every right to ask His Father for the help needed to glorify His name. “The hour has come” reminds us of the divine timetable that Jesus was living according to while He was on the earth. Jesus has known this from the beginning of time as we know it, and He knows that He has been in the will of the Father.

The important word glory is used eight times in this prayer, so we know that this is an important theme. Jesus glorified His Father through the various miracles He performed…but, His greatest glory was thorough His sufferings and death. From our perspective, this is difficult to understand, because Calvary was a terrible display of man’s sin. But, from a divine point of view, the cross revealed and magnified the grace of God. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV) Jesus anticipates His return to heaven when He says, “I have finished the work that You have given me to do.” (17:4) The word give is also an important word, as it is used in one form or another, seventeen times in this section. A number of these uses are related to the fact that Jesus says that believers are the Father’s gift to the Son. We are accustomed to thinking that Jesus’ is the Father’s love gift to us, but the Lord affirms that we are the Father’s love gift to His Son…which is pretty amazing. He is the bridegroom and we, as the church, are His bride.

Yet another important theme is eternal life. It is also mentioned seventeen times. This is God’s free gift to those who believe on His Son. The Father gave His Son the authority to grant eternal life to those whom the Father gave to the Son. From a human perspective, we receive this gift when believe in Jesus Christ and obey the gospel. Eternal life is not something we earn by character of is a gift we receive by admitting that we are sinners, who repent and believe on Jesus Christ. Going back to the end of chapter 16 once again, and coming full circle – because we share His life, we are overcomers, for we also share in Jesus’ victory! As John also shares in his first letter, “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4 NIV) This is Good News indeed!

“Some men become proud and insolent because they ride a fine horse, wear a feather in their hat or are dressed in a fine suit of clothes. Who does not see the folly of this? If there be any glory in such things, the glory belongs to the horse, the bird and the tailor.” St. Francis de Sales. It is good for us to remember such things. It is not our place to glory in ourselves, but to accept and live for Jesus’ glory and to magnify Him. It is on the basis of Jesus’ finished work, that we believers have the gift of eternal life. And we are called to the life that our Savior lived. He shares with the disciples back in chapter 13 that a student is not greater than His Master…if He was going to be persecuted and suffer, that we will as well. The matter of suffering and glory must be kept in proper perspective. The Christian experience is not one of grim determination which causes one to face a life of suffering and sorrow with glory to follow later. The Christian life is the abundant life (John 10:10b). It is one of joy and peace...right now! In times of difficulty, our faith is deepened, our fellowship with God is enriched, and we experience deep joy in the midst of difficulties (John 17:13; 1 Peter 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:10). It is through suffering and adversity that we come to appreciate God as our great reward, as well as our Rewarder. When all of our human resources have been spent, we find our sufficiency in Christ alone (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

As one person has shared, "We have a good measure of life’s pleasures and fulfillments. These the Lord sweetens with His presence and peace, blending the bitter and the sweet in such a way as to bring about His glory and our good." We can rest in these things.

Blessings, Don

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturn Peekaboo


Any picture containing Saturn in it is automatically going to be a favorite for me. There is just something about the rings, of course...but it is also about the colors on the planet itself. Here, in a picture by Jens Hackmann who captures the planet phasing from behind the moon in an intriguing "close-up".

Blessings, Don


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Considering Jesus' Message concerning the Sheep and the Goats


A handwritten paper pinned on the wall of the chapel where Mother Teresa worked in Calcutta, India said: "When I was homeless you opened your doors. When I was naked you gave me your coat. When I was in prison, you came to my cell. When I was lonely, you gave me your love. Searching for kindness you held out your hand. When I was happy, you shared your joy. Every person, often the ones closest to us, is offering a gift -- a chance to love.” This sounds familiar, doesn't it? As one of her humble friends relates -- Mother Teresa was a powerful servant of God. She was more than a Christian saint...her entire life radiated love and service.

Jesus tells this story in Matthew 25:31-46 -- "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

There is a lot to consider here...and most of it is difficult. As I think about it, I do not believe that most people like this story, or they are at least uncomfortable with it. We certainly do not want to be with the goats, yet everyone believes that they are sheep. The truth is likely somewhere in between. Much of this is due to the fact that we like such stories it as they relate to other people, but we do not like them so well as they relate to us. We have been discussing the end times on Wednesday evenings in recent weeks, and some have expressed certain discomfort with passages like the one above, as well as Matthew 7:21-23, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

It has been well-documented that, as a comprehensive church culture, we have become more so a group of consumers (or takers), rather than producers (or givers). To quote a common refrain, “Everyone’s business is nobody’s business” is not a good principle to live by as it relates to the Christian walk for individuals and churches, but it happens all too often. I believe we have come to the point where being challenged, and getting out of our comfort zone is not only not in vogue, it is no longer welcome at all for many believers. We must be what Jesus called us to be – servants in the kingdom of God. We don’t have to preach a sermon or give a lesson…all we have to do is be the hands and feet of Jesus, and share a smile. Some might think that …concerning a service project or difficult ministry situation…“this is not my thing”. Try it! Surprises will be in store, and blessings will be the result. We have to be challenged in order to grow.

Busyness has become an idol (perhaps the predominant idol) in our culture. We are all busy…yet, we have the same 24 hour period as any group of people in history. I truly don’t believe the Lord expects us all to be Mother Teresa…but when we stand before the Lord on judgment day, He is not going to say, “Well, you were awfully busy – terrific.” He is going to ask, “What did you do to prosper the kingdom?” “What did you do to serve?” And, if we say, “Not much, I was too busy.” He might say – “Go take your place with the goats.” Let’s not be as the saying goes – “Most people wish to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.” Knowing full well that we are saved by grace thorough faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and our salvation has been paid for and we have responded accordingly, we have an obligation and a responsibility to live like “saved” people. This is indeed the other side of the coin. From time to time over the years, some have expressed concern to me as to whether they “have done enough” as it relates trying to get there…or trying, in essence, to work for their salvation. This is simply not possible. Others have expressed concern over whether they have done enough in working out their salvation. (Philippians 2:12-13) I believe that this is a much more important question to ask. I will offer this in closing…to quote the famous musician, Keith Green -- “The difference between the sheep and the goats is -- what they did and did not do.”

Blessings, Don

Monday, September 2, 2013



Perhaps you have heard about the guy who fell in love with an opera singer. He hardly knew her, since his only view of the singer was through binoculars - from the third balcony. He was convinced he could live “happily ever after” married to a voice like that. He scarcely noticed that she was considerably older than he was. Nor did he care that she walked with a limp. Her mezzo-soprano voice would take them through whatever might come. After a whirlwind romance and a hurry-up ceremony, they were off for their honeymoon. She began to prepare for their first night together. As he watched, his chin dropped to his chest. She plucked out her glass eye and plopped it into a container on the night-stand. She pulled off her wig, ripped off her false eyelashes, yanked out her dentures, unstrapped her artificial leg, and smiled at him as she slipped off her glasses that hid her hearing aid. Stunned and horrified, he gasped, “For goodness sake, woman, sing, sing, SING!” (From Charles Swindoll, “Strike the Original Match”)

It was easy for the man to think and say that her voice would take them through whatever might come. But he didn’t realize what he was getting into. I suppose that this is why Paul tells the Roman Christians in 12:9-21, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Words come easy, but actions are not always so easy to follow through. This thought leads off a series of important virtues that Christians are to live in relationship with others. It is these characteristics that we will explore today. Paul tells the Roman Christians that they have a responsibility in their service to the Lord and to one another. There are several principles that they are to maintain in their lives. These also apply to us in helping us to experience good, growing relationships.

Many interpret God’s love to be some “wishy, washy” matter...but Agape love is not about happy, happy, happy (although I love “happy, happy, happy”). It is about doing something for people. It is about being active in our service for someone else. It is “the circulatory system for the spiritual body.” And it needs to be sincere…that is, “without hypocrisy” – there is nothing fake about it. We should strive for honesty and trust in all of our relationships, because these are foundational principles to building relationships.

Paul asks that we show loyalty in our devotion to each other, being concerned that we treat one another with honor. And this is certainly as it should be in our relationship with God. We should be as loyal to Him as He was to us through His Son. This is a virtue that…in a great way…has gone missing in our culture. People will be loyal as long things are good, or as long as it is going their way…but as soon as there are difficulties, many will bolt. They do not realize that it is “weathering the storms” with our friends and church families that draw us even closer, and grow us spiritually.

Diligence is important…having an attitude that is focused upon serving to the best of our abilities….looking for opportunities to do good. I am afraid that this is also often found wanting. Many may serve on occasion, but only when it is convenient…and many are not going to be inconvenienced, or diligent to serve.

Hospitality is shared by those who love one another. This used to always be having people over for dinner…and this is still important. But, many times, it is going out to meals with friends, or even sending them out on a date with a gift card – whatever works.

Paul asks that we share sympathy with one another…that we feel with one another when there are joys and sorrows. These things build our relationships and make us stronger, as well.

Humility is the key to keeping relationships straight…if we are in the wrong, we swallow our pride and seek to make things right. If we have been wronged, then we live with a forgiving heart.

Jesus speaks about how important it is to make peace with one another to the best of our ability (Mark 9:50, etc.)…and Paul says that as far as it depends upon us, this should be the case.

He goes on to tell the Roman believers that their attitudes and actions are regularly under scrutiny by those who are non-believers. We need to be careful that our conduct upholds the standards of our Lord. Even when we do the right things and say the right things, everything is not always going to go right. As Paul indicates, we always need to do what is right, regardless, and often we can win over our enemies or those who oppose us. Christians live at a higher level, returning good for evil. Good for evil requires faith. As we love, serve as our Lord did, we learn to grow in grace, and become better servants for Him!

“Never cast aside your friends if by any possibility you can retain them. We are the weakest of spendthrifts if we let a friend drop off through inattention, or let one push away another, or if we hold aloof from one for petty jealousy of heedless slight or roughness. If there is coolness or unkindness between us, let us come face to face and have it out…quickly, before love grows cold. Would you throw away a diamond because it pricked you? One good friend is not to be weighed against the jewels of all the earth.” – Anonymous

I close with something I wrote a few years ago – freedom to love. True love cannot be the result of decree, force or manipulation. Anything that I do to deprive someone of the right to choose is a violation of his or her personhood. When I sense that my own right to choose is being threatened, then I know that I am not being loved...and the doors to ministry are not open. Paul tells the Corinthians that "love does not seek its own" (13:5b). Many times, the best solution is to yield until I feel free to make the right choice. Many in our society, and even some believers, see submission as a sign of weakness. I think that all we have to do is look to the life of our Lord and Savior to understand that submission is indeed a sign of grace and strength.

Blessings, Don