Born to grow

It should be no secret to anyone who reads my little thoughts that the Gospel of John is my favorite book. It should be clear that when I say it is my favorite book I don’t just mean my favorite biblical book either. No, it is my favorite book of all time. Moreover, my favorite part is the prologue section (verses 1-18). There is so much depth, beauty, and theological truth in that one section that it captivates me every time I read it. I will be honest, and I am sure this does not happen to you, but sometimes I have a tendency to read my Bible and skip over things I am familiar with and while this does happen on occasion with John’s prologue I always go back and re-read it carefully because it draws me in.

As I have mentioned elsewhere the main point of this section is verse 12 because it sits right in the middle of the chiastic pattern. The beauty of it is highlighted by John 20:31 where John says that everything that has been written was written so that you might believe Jesus is the Christ and that in believing you might have life. The beauty is that Jesus just wants you to live and to be a child of God.

But as many as received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believed in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12-13 (NKJV)

I have been following Christ for a long time now and I am still captivated by this simple idea that God loves me and wants to call me son. He does not have to but He wants to. He does not require me to do something to earn that sonship, He does not force it upon me, and He does not threaten to take it away. He just loves with a passion for me. I cannot escape that simple yet profound truth.

God’s great and wonderful love compels me to be different. Yes, Christ places commands upon me but His love compels me to comply. I do not do things differently because I must but because I desire to please the one I love. I desire to be better because He believes in me. I desire to grow, to live sacrificially, and to mature because the one who loves me sees me that way. The funny thing is that the more I grow and mature the more I realize I am not as good as I previously thought. The more I control my temper the more I realize I have much work to do. The more I give the more I realize I am not as giving as I desire to be. The more I love others the more I realize I do not express it enough. The more I become like Christ the more I realize I am still too Mike.

I catch glimpses of who I am to be but the picture is not clear. I daily confirm what Paul says in 1 Cor 13:12 that I see in dimly in a mirror. My prayer is that of the hymn Come, Jesus, Reign in Me “All foes cast out, let this poor heart Be filled with love divine; Securely fixed, no more to part. From this poor heart of mine.” And to be clear it is not a pressure or a feeling like I am not good enough but a desire to be more like Him who loves me. I desire to be that man. I desire to be that son.

The love of God should change you and if it does not you should question whether or not you understand that love. It would be like saying that you do not desire to be different for your spouse. Not that you have to change for them to want you or love you but because you are in a relationship with them you naturally want to be a better husband or wife. The love that exists between the two of you creates an environment where you can grow. If you do not think you have growing to do then I would suggest there is much growing to do. The relationship you have with God our Father does not only create the environment to allow for change but because the Holy Spirit indwells believers you also have the power to change. God gives us the desire, the environment, and the ability to change. All we need to do is walk it out in humble obedience. Trust me on this, the walk is worth it.

For perfect love I long have groaned,
I would be wholly Thine;
Yes, I would have the Lord enthroned
In this poor heart of mine.

Come, Jesus, reign in me,
My heart Thy throne shall be;
Oh, tarry in Thy throne,
’Tis Thine, and Thine alone.

All foes cast out, let this poor heart
Be filled with love divine;
Securely fixed, no more to part
From this poor heart of mine.

Let perfect love my portion be,
To Thee my all resign;
O Holy One, come dwell in me,
And rule this heart of mine.

No earthly language can express
The love in Christ I find
’Tis boundless and it’s measureless,
In this poor heart of mine.

Come, Jesus, Reign in Me

H.R. Jeffery, 1885

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Acts 19 – Four Responses to the Gospel

In Acts chapter 19 we are given four responses to the Gospel message. It is sort of a unique chapter in that regard because it shows how different people or people groups can react to the message of the God’s love and grace in one short space.

The first group that is presented with the Gospel is a group of John’s former disciples. These were ones who knew of the message of repentance that was taught by John the Baptist and they had participated in John’s baptism. They had some knowledge of Jesus and desired to do the will of God but they were missing some key parts of the message. When Paul heard this, he explained to them what they were missing and baptized them into Christ and they received the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting to me that they worked with what they knew and were humble enough to admit they did not know what they did not know. I think we can all agree that we only know so much after all 1 Cor 13:9 says we know in part so we should be humble enough to admit that. The question is not do we know in part but what do we do with that fact. We should not believe every spirit but we should be willing to listen to those who are experienced in the faith and learn because there is much to learn. More importantly, we should learn that when God brings new knowledge to us we need to them walk in that knowledge. We are called to learn and grow in Christ and part of the growing is walking out the new things God brings to us.

The second group was the members of the synagogue. Paul went and preached to them for three months and their response was to harden their hearts and become angry. They had no desire to turn from what they knew and instead spoke evil of the Way (Christianity).

There are some people who no matter what will not want to hear that God loves them. They have their own ideas and preconceived notions of who God is and anything outside of that is wrong. Maybe they have been hurt by the church or maybe they are just bitter but for whatever reason, they do not want to hear the Gospel. Like Paul, I would suggest you tell them anyway because some water and some reap but God gives the increase. Our job is not to decide who gets to the hear Gods message of love and reconciliation but to tell everyone. We are not in a position to decide but to deliver.

The third group is interesting because they knew the power of the Gospel and the power of Jesus but it had no place in their hearts. There was a group of men trying to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name and the demon essentially jumped them. This demon said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I acknowledge but who are you?” Jesus was known by the demon. Paul was known to belong to Jesus but these men were unknown because they were just using the name.

For the Gospel to have any power in your life, it has to be something that is in you not just known by you. I can know that cold medicine will help my cold but if I don’t get it in me then nothing changes. You can know all about God but if the love of the Father is not in you then you have nothing. James says, you believe in God good, even the demons believe that and shudder. It is not enough to know the stories or to know about God, you need to know Him and be known by Him. You can say God all day long but the question is do you respond when He says your name?

The last group just got mad because it messed with their livelihood. These men where makers of idols and for someone to walk around talking about a God who exists without human hands or intervention was not good for them. The message of the Gospel is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die on a cross taking our sin and shame and then rose again three days later claiming victory over sin and the grave. This message gives you no wiggle room to please God on your own and idol worship is all about pleasing God and yourself on your own.

To move it to today you could say these men were like pimps, hustlers, and charlatans. They made their living off people trying to please themselves through self-fulfilled worship. You need this to make you happy because you are the one who needs to feel that connection. Take this drug to feel good. Take this stuff to feel better. Take this person to feel powerful. Take this to please yourself. Listen to my great wisdom to be better. Anytime you come across someone peddling that message you are going to run a high risk of making them mad telling them that you cannot please God and you cannot find satisfaction in your efforts to feel better.

Again, I would reiterate that our job is not to judge who is worthy of the message but to deliver it and to pray for all those we share it with. I would also suggest that sharing the good news is not always about giving a full presentation of the Gospel message and trying to get someone to “say the prayer.” Sometimes if not most times it is just about being real and being true. It is about letting people know that God loves them and you love them. It is about praying for people and letting them know you will pray for them. We need to be real with people and in turn, I think we will find they will be real with you.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Praying for gifts

Today I want to talk about the Holy Spirit. There are many things that can be discussed when talking about the Holy Spirit because as an equal member of the Godhead He is holy and magnificent. The Holy Spirit is, along with the Father and Son, the power that raised Jesus from the grave. If you don’t believe me read Romans 8:11, John 10:17-18, and Acts 2:24. When we read Scripture in its totality we get a bigger and better picture than if we just read one part. When we read Scriptures together we start to see a picture develop that we cannot see by reading a verse here and a verse there and so partly that is what I want to do here. Now granted I will be using a verse here and a verse there but that is also the difference between writing about Scripture and a personal Scripture reading. What I think might be helpful is to look at a few things that Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit does or offers.

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to speak Acts 1:8; 1:16; 2:4 and so on. The Holy Spirit gives us direction see Acts 8:26 and 13:2. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts see 1 Cor 12:8-11. The Spirit also has fruit for us see Gal 5:22-23. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us the ability to confess that Jesus is Lord see 1 Cor 12:3. The Holy Spirit also seals us for salvation see Eph 1:13 and 4:30. Now we could certainly spend an entire post just talking about what the Holy Spirit does and offers but instead, I would like to talk about two specific things – The gifts and the fruit.

This is not meant to be an in-depth talk on either of these things. There is much debate on whether or not the gifts of the Holy Spirit are applicable for the church today and spoiler alert I believe they are but regardless let’s at least look at the ones that are not questioned. Generally speaking, most Christians will agree that wisdom, knowledge, faith, and discernment are active gifts today. That is a long enough list for me right now.

If we look at the Fruit of the Spirit we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I would dare say that all Christians believe this list to be correct and active and while the lists are quite different they do have some things in common.

I have belabored my point long enough so the topic for today is this – Is your praying for the gifts or fruit of the Spirit in vain? Now there are quite a few reasons why it could be in vain. You could have sin in your life that prohibits God from pouring out these gifts and allowing that fruit to be produced. You could simply not actually believe in Jesus as the risen Lord in which case the gifts and fruit are of no use. You could be wasting the gifts and spoiling the fruit you have been given to which no more would be added. Lastly and I think much more common you could be asking for these gifts with the proper context.

First, if we look at the gifts of the Spirit we have again wisdom, knowledge, faith, and discernment which all carry a common thread throughout them. These gifts are mostly for you to use on or with someone else. If you add healing and interpretation of tongues back in the mix we see even more that the gifts are for you to use on or for others.

What good would it be for God to give you a message wisdom if there is no one around to deliver this message to? Yes, you might be built up but for what purpose? What purpose does a message of knowledge have if there is no one in need of that knowledge? Yes, you may receive some insight but to what end? A gift of faith is great to help you get through the situation but lacks any real power without others to receive a bolstering to their own faith or encouraging from it. As to discernment like the others, it has some personal benefit but if you are struggling for discernment that much alone you have bigger problems.

For the gifts to be used to their full capacity you need others to receive the benefit of the gift. So, my question is this, how often are you spending time in community? If you are praying for or simply desire for the gifts are you also in situations that requires the use of them? If not, I think you may pray and desire in vain. James says that often we pray and do not receive because we pray with the wrong motives. We often link this to material prayer requests but could spiritual gifts not also be included here? Do you pray for these gifts so that you may spend them on others? Why pray for something that must be used in community if you do not want to spend time in community? Additionally, if you are not already spending your time in community then would you really spend the gifts of the Spirit in community. If we do not spend what we have freely in community then why would we think God would give us more to spend in community? If you desire the gift of wisdom but refuse to be around people who need wisdom then what good is the gift? If we desire the gift of faith but avoid those who are suffering and need someone to intercede then what good is the gift? I might as well live on a sailboat and pray for a motorcycle. I might receive it but it has no value.

If we desire the gifts of the Spirit and more importantly if we desire the Spirit then we must be in places and with people who need those gifts to be active. This requires us to be around broken and hurting people and the good news is that is all of us. We need to be around each other. We need to be active in each other’s lives. We need others and they need us. They receive gifts to spend on us and us on them and this is the community of the early church. Many times I have heard of people asking how do we live like the early church and I do not think it is living in communes, although I am not necessarily opposed to that idea, it is by allowing their lives to intersect with ours. It is by allowing them to be a part of our lives and by that, I mean an actual part. Not a social media part. Not a snapshot of the happy moments part but an actual part of our ups and downs. A part of our good and bad. It is about being willing to let someone pray for your need and correct your sin. We have to be transparent with one another and often this is painful. We need others to be so involved that they can tell when we need help and when we need correction and we need to be willing to accept both.

Next and naturally I think is the fruit of the Spirit which has another common thread which is that the in order to receive the fruit you need adversity. If we look at the list again it is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and if you notice these gifts all require something to make them useful. To group them might help us save space. Love, joy, and peace require hostility. Love must be shown in action and situation because anything less is only a word. Joy requires a trial for you to remain joyful in. Peace should go without saying but peace requires hardship for you to remain peaceful in. The next grouping would be patience, kindness, and goodness and these require trial. Patience requires you to wait for something. Kindness is only shown when you involved with another person who needs that kindness. Goodness or the quality of being good means you have something that requires that goodness. For the last grouping, we have faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and these require a situation that is not yet complete. Faithfulness means we are waiting and believing for something. Gentleness is the ability to be gentle regardless of the situation. Finally, there is self-control and what use is self-control unless you are being tempted in some way to be selfish and not hold on?

Much like the gifts of the Spirit, the fruit requires and environment to be shown and we should understand that most of the time community will be that environment. Either way, you pray in vain for the fruit if you do not allow situations where hardships and trials can come. If you shut yourself off from community and situations that require you to grow you in a sense refuse the fruit of the Spirit.

 

I for one and am ok with admitting that I need community but it has taken me a long time to get there. I need others to come alongside me and help me grow and mature in my faith. I also realize that in order for me to walk in the gifts that the Spirit has given me I need to be around others to let those gifts be used. This is not hard as it requires sacrifice. It requires time to be spent. It requires you to open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt and you will be. Living in the context of community is one of the hardest and most painful things you can do but I say do it anyway. I am not there, none of us are. As we learn to live in that context God reveals a little more of how we are not doing it and we open a little more. The only way to walk like the first-century church is to walk in the community and I think we can do that.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

 

When Jesus calls

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When Jesus calls your name you turn around.
Seas may roar and storms may rage but when Jesus calls your name you turn around.
Life may scream “look at the pain” but when Jesus calls your name you turn around.
Fear may try and hold your gaze but when Jesus calls your name you turn around.
Death may shout “I have won” but when Jesus calls your name you turn around.
Do not weary do not be cast down because Jesus is calling your name.