Thursday, April 4, 2013

Believing is Seeing

Wow! It has been almost a year since my last blog post. I said it would be an occasional blog, but THAT wasn't what I intended.I want to share with you the column I wrote that will be published in our local newpaper, the Cook County News-Herald, this coming Saturday, April 6, 2013.

    “Seeing is believing,” the old adage says, and that may work for science and skeptics, but in the faith based life, the opposite is true. Believing is seeing.
    She was an elderly Haitian lady whose eyes had succumbed to age and the rigors of living in poverty in the poorest nation in the world. She  came to the medical clinic led by the hand of a family member. They met with the nurse, got a few vitamins, maybe an aspirin or two, then she came and sat down in the chair behind me. She came for prayer.
    Everyone who came to the clinics we held in Haiti was guided from the nurses to the prayer teams. No condition, no need, no request was left in the hands of mere humans. We took every person and their need to the Lord. The elderly woman sat before the two women from our team. They could see the gray film over her eyes. She asked that they pray for her family. They asked if they could pray for her eyes. She said, “Yes.” They prayed for her family and her eyes.
    After they prayed, they asked the woman if she could see any better. She was hesitant. “No,” she said, “well, maybe a little more light.”” The women asked for permission to pray again for her eyes. Again, she agreed. Again, they prayed for healing in Jesus’ name. Again, they asked if she could see.
    The lady said, “Yes.” The women said, “Really? Are you sure? Can you find my hand (which they raised to various positions)?” The woman found their hands wherever they placed them. She named her family members as she pointed to them. Still, it was the prayer team’s turn to be a bit hesitant.  ““Are you sure you can see?” they asked. The once blind woman reached out and grasped the prayer team member by the face and drew her close. “Jesus has healed me. I can see!” The woman who had been led by family members to the clinic led her family members home.
    A little girl came to a class on prayer. She came with her mother. For two years her knee had been frozen from an accident. She could not bend her leg and her foot was turned outward in an unusual angle. Her mother helped her to the chair in front of me and asked through the interpreter that we might pray for her daughter’s knee.
    We kneeled on the dirt floor of that church made from sticks and mud, gingerly placed our hands on the little girl’s knee and asked Jesus to make himself known in power and wholeness so that those who believed in his love might see it with their own eyes. I did not realize I was praying for myself.
    We prayed, trusting that whatever was going to happen would be the will and way of God our Savior. I opened my eyes while we prayed, wondering what God might do. I saw the movement with my own eyes as the girl’s foot began to move back to a normal position. We continued to pray and I saw this little nine year old girl bend a leg and knee, on her own, that she had not been able to bend for two years. I watched her leave that church walking on her own rather than being carried.
    And I saw with my own eyes  the Lord Jesus deliver a teenager from spiritual bondage to an evil spirit. I saw them drag her rigid and catatonic into the church. I lifted her from the floor, a human board, and placed her in a chair. I watched and felt it as we laid hands on her and spoke the name of Jesus. The more insistent we spoke his precious, powerful name, the more the spirit convulsed the girl.
    I saw with my own eyes the moment the spirit yielded after attempting twice to throw her against the concrete wall at the back of the church. I heard with my own ears as the name of Jesus came from her lips and tears of joy came from her eyes. I saw her sitting up at the end of the service tying ribbons in her hair. And I saw her father, who, the day before had been unable to walk, dancing circles around the church waving his crutch in the air.
    I have always believed. As long as God has given me faith I have believed that work of God I saw in the gospels at the hands of Jesus was real, genuine, and trustworthy. In Haiti, I saw what I believed, and I believe what I saw. When God gives faith, we do not need to see in order to believe. We do not need to have been standing at the door of the tomb the morning Jesus rose from the dead in order to believe He is alive, but oh! how we love it when he proves it before our very eyes. There is no real faith when “seeing is believing.” But great is the faith and great is the joy when believing is seeing. So do not ask today to “see,” but to believe, and let “seeing” come on the heels of faith.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Most Important Aspect of the Resurrection

     What is the most important aspect of the resurrection for the contemporary Christian? I believe it is this: Jesus is alive. Because He is alive faith leads us not to a system of belief based on ancient texts, nor an ethical persuasion based on certain acceptable moralisms, but to a living, breathing, loving relationship with Someone who can receive our love and respond with love at all times and in every way.
      If Jesus were not alive, it might not be so important that I discover what his actual will is for me in the moment. If he were not alive I might be excused if I settle for a bit of self-interest and human wisdom when it comes to determining the values and course of my life. But Jesus is alive. That means, if I am to have a real and worthwhile relationship with him (him being God and all) I need to actively pursue his interests in my life. I need to seek out his opinion, his direction, his purpose for me and the life we live together. Because Jesus is alive I cannot in good conscience ignore his personal interest in our relationship, nor can I relegate his will to a mere passing consideration. If Jesus is alive (and he is), and if he is God (and he is) and if I have a relationship with him (and I hope you do), then I must bend my will to his, make his heart mine, and live and love as he does.
      If Jesus is alive (and you know he is) then he cannot be disregarded as a personality from history moldering in a grave somewhere, nice to think about but not particularly relevant to the current situation. If Jesus is alive, then by virtue of who he is, he must be first and foremost in the lives of his disciples. If Jesus is alive then he should be sought and found and surrendered to. If Jesus is alive, then those who put their trust in him must honor him as their living, current, present, active Savior and Lord.
     Jesus is alive. If you are married and your spouse lives, tell me, do you treat them as if their opinion is irrelevant, as if their presence were annoyance, as if their desires and hopes for your marriage are nothing more than a wearisome burden to be discarded and disregarded at will? Of course not! Why then would we treat Jesus as if he were only some old dead guy when in fact he lives? Why treat Jesus as if he is merely a bit of theological theory rather than a real, current, vital, vibrant living Person with whom we are deeply engaged in a meaningful and substantial relationship? We might treat him in such a way if he were entombed somewhere in the environs of far away Jerusalem, but he is not. He is alive. Jesus is alive.
      Jesus can be known. He can be loved. He can speak and be understood. His heart can be felt, obtained, and communicated. His thinking can be adopted in this day because Jesus is alive today and therefore relevant to a living world. Some live as if Jesus were dead and buried, depending on themselves and their thinking and their efforts. Some live as if Jesus is dead and cannot build the church, the nation, the Kingdom, or even a renewed heart and spirit. Some live as though Christ is dead and cannot function in the real world anymore leaving the path of accomplishment up to them.
     The greatest truth the world has ever known, and the most important aspect of the resurrection for contemporary lives is this: JESUS IS ALIVE! And his goal is to live in His people and in his church until the day he comes again. Look for it, because Jesus is alive.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What You Can Do in the Storm that Rages in Spite of You

Paul and Larry and I loved to hit the road to Nags Head when the hurricanes were landing. We were college students, single guys, with cars, and time, and more dollars than sense. Nags Head, on North Carolina's Outer Banks, was only a short drive from Norfolk, VA, maybe as far as Duluth from Grand Marais. We'd hear of an impending landfall and off we went, road tripping to meet the storm.

There is only one bridge to and from the barrier islands where Nags Head and Kitty Hawk are located. The sheriff's department usually turned both lanes into one way to the mainland as the storms came in, and closed the bridge entirely once the storm arrived. We had to get to the beach, do our gawking, and leave while the bridge was still open. If we waited too long, we'd be stuck on the island in a hurricane with no where to go.

It was worth the risk back then. There is something incredible and frightening about an advancing hurricane. You can see and feel the power in the wind, the surf, the clouds, the rain. You can see it, feel it, taste it, hear it, and smell it, but you cannot, not even in the least, control it. A storm is something that happens in spite of you. You can run and hide, but you cannot stop its onslaught nor divert its arrival.

Once, Jesus was in a boat with his disciples on the Sea of Galilee when one of the infamous gales that spring up suddenly and violently on that inland ocean overtook their skiff. The fishermen in the group fully realized the danger they were in. The boat was in danger of capsizing as wave after wave crashed over the gunwhales, the wind relentless in its assault. They were helpless before the power of the storm. It raged in spite of them and in spite of their Passenger.

The men baled. They did what they could. Finally, they went to Jesus, who had been sleeping the entire time in the stern of the boat. "Teacher!" they cried, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" They were terrified and more than a little desperate. Jesus woke up, rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still." And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Storms blow in spite of us. Life can take ugly turns and suddenly the winds of adversity or trouble overtake us, and there is nothing we can do. Well . . . almost nothing we can do. If you are facing a storm in your life today, you can do what Jesus' companions did. First, you can realize the storm is bigger than you and stop wasting time and energy on paltry efforts that might make you feel better but aren't going to save you.

Second, you can humbly concede that there are some situations that are beyond your control and require a power greater than you possess. Third, you can turn to Christ in faith, even desperate faith, because you know if anyone can save you, he can. Then, tell him what you need. Expect him to do something. Count on the fact that he loves you and because he loves you will act inyour life for the greatest good. You don't have to be calm, just be trusting.

The disciples saw Jesus still the storm, not because they attempted to save themselves, but because they turned to him and asked for his help. They experienced God's peace because they came to the right state of heart to ask Him for it.

Are you in a storm? Trouble raging in spite of you? Not much you can do to make it better? God waits to pronounce his peace in your life. Just turn to him in faith and ask.

That's the Good News.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Something More

It should mean something to us that we belong to Christ. It should mean something more that the life we labor to live in devotion and obedience to him. It should mean something about who he is more than what we attempt to be, no matter how noble or faithful the reason for our efforts. Jesus, God's beloved Son and our beloved Savior should mean more than just a reason to try harder.

How might we arrive at this "something more"? First, we must put forth faith in the Lord Jesus revealed by the Spirit in the word of God. He is who he says he is, and this we must see with the eyes of faith, else we will only see what we allow him to be. If we gaze upon Christ with only the eyes of duty and obedience we may see only a taskmaster worthy of our efforts, a Master to be served but not a Savior to be loved.

If we look upon him with only the eyes of grace, we may see an equal friend worthy of our consideration but not necessarily of our loyalty. If, though, we consider Jesus with the eyes of faith, we will see the promise-making, promise-keeping Savior, the King of kings and the Lord of lords who, in love and mercy, sacrificed himself to make the least of these like unto the greatest, most Beloved of all.

Second, we must surrender to the Spirit of God who alone makes known to us the deep things of God. That which is spiritual makes no sense to the unspiritual man until the Holy Spirit illumines the mind and turn the Light of God upon the spirit of a man. All is darkness in a room before someone knowledgeable flips the switch on the wall. Darkness is the natural phenomenon until light sheds its grace.

We must set before the Holy Spirit all our "I don't knows" and "I don't get its" and allow him to fulfill his role as Teacher and Guide. If we resist him, spurn the methods and tools he uses; if we quench the Spirit, we turn out the light and there is nothing left for us but the blackness and bleakness of spiritual ignorance.

How hard it seems for the people of this time to be students. Each wants to be his own teacher, master of his own thinking. Mary's earnest position at the feet of Jesus remains empty while many take the role of Martha, preferring not to listen but to make demands, telling Jesus what to do and defining for him what role he ought to have in their lives.

How might we arrive at this "something more" we already have in Christ? We must set aside our arrogant self-indulgence and learn to listen with all our heart. We must let Christ set the terms of our relationship with him. Love is the better thing, from him and for us. He will not abandon love to satisfy us with some lesser thing. He will have us come to treasure Love best of all. Love with him is the best thing and he will not suffer us to lose love to lesser things.

Finally, like Sir Hilary attaining the summit of Everest, we must press on, in faith, in surrender, in learning, and in love, for Christ is the prize of perseverance and most worthy of the climb.

"Will it be easy, this climb to Christ?" It will not. The mountain to be climbed is Calvary and at the top a cross and none may pass but through it.

"Will it be fraught with obstacles and peril?" It most certainly will. There more who would have you fail than would support your success. But there is One who overcomes them all, who both waits for you and walks with you.

"Shall I be discouraged, fearful, anxious?" At times, but as well there will be exhilaration, adventure, insight, and accomplishment which fill the soul with purpose and overflow in praise.

"But will it, in the end, be worth it, this attaining 'something more,' this gaining Christ?" Eternal life in the presence of the Glory who created us and redeemed us for indescribable joy testifies it is so . . . very . . . worth it!

Do not falter today or turn aside to lesser pursuits that attain no more than the temporary and fading pleasures connected to this world. Just beyond that dark and threatening ridge, just a mile further down the winding and wearisome road lies a city whose builder and maker is God.

We are almost home to the city of Something More, our eternal habitation. We are almost home where Christ is the all-satisfying answer to every question. We are almost home, dear saint, where the shadows of doubt lurk no longer in the silent recesses of the heart and mind and spirit, for the Son is the sun of that city and nothing is hidden from his sight. We are almost home, almost home to that place where secret sin no longer hobbles us, where fear no longer frightens us, where guilt no longer plagues us, where pride no longer burdens us, where comparisons among men fade forever in the incomparable glory of the One Who sits upon the throne and of the Lamb.Take heart, my brother. Be of good courage, my sister. For "he who endures to the end will be saved." It is only a little farther. We are almost home.

The final means of gaining this "something more" is looking ahead, watching where you're walking, and heading where you actually want to go. If you want to go to Target, don't drive to Walmart. If you want more of Jesus, don't bury yourself in Asimov. Take the appropriate action for the outcome, for, in the end, you will arrive exactly where you were headed. Only if action and intention coincide will destination and expectation meet.

In the infinite, inexhaustible God, there is always something more to be known and experienced. He invites us to spend our life energy exploring our desire for him and his glorious availability to us. Put forth faith, surrender to the Spirit, learn of love, press, look ahead. Gain your heart's something more in Christ alone.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Second Sunday in Advent:: Finding Peace with God

Scripture Focus (GOSPEL)        Matthew 10:34-39
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Message    Advent: Finding Peace with God

Does it seem odd to you that the Prince of Peace himself would declare from his own lips that peace on earth is not his purpose? Does it seem kind of weird that instead of resolving the conflicts people have with one another, Jesus seems intent on making them worse, creating conflict in the most basic and precious of relationships? On this second Sunday of Advent, when our hearts turn to the cry for peace, it is important we understand the reality of the truth Jesus proclaims in these words.

People long for peace. Conflict is hard. Conflict is costly. It takes great emotional and spiritual energy to fight against God, against other people, against circumstances, and even against our own conscience and will. Deep within us we know that we were made for peace. We know that we were created for rest in the goodness of our sovereign and trustworthy God. We know that our lives are meant to radiate his perfections. But we struggle against His purpose for us, demanding for ourselves the glory that belongs to God. We want to be our own gods, determine our own paths, set our own goals, fulfill our own desires. We have no delight in the righteousness and holiness of God. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We hear “peace, peace,” but we know there is no peace. We long for peace.

At first glance, the answer Jesus provides here to our cry for peace seems somewhat disappointing, at the very least. Jesus appears to say that peace is not his mission. But, consider this, in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus reads the passage from Isaiah 61:1-4. Find the passage in Luke 4:16-21.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.    And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,  to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”     And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
At that very moment, Jesus tells them, everything they looked forward to in regard to the Messiah they longed for was sitting right in front of them. He himself was the One who would deliver them, set them free, bless them, redeem them, and bring them peace.

Now, along with these verses, consider also the words of Jesus to his disciples in the hours just before he is betrayed and taken away to be crucified: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27).  

How then can Jesus say he did not come to bring peace on the earth? I believe what Jesus means for us to understand is this: the peace he brings to those who commit themselves to him will be rejected by others creating a spiritual division between those who surrender their lives to him and those who do not. Following Jesus as Savior and Lord may cost you your most precious relationships, but only those who are willing to pay the price are worthy of the peace Jesus brings. Following Jesus will always require a trip to the cross where we lay down our lives to him just as he laid down his life for us.

The faith to count the cost and trust Jesus with our lives is the path to real peace. Jesus calls us to a singular love for him above anyone and anything else in this world. He is quite clear about this. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Many Christians today live with Jesus as simply one of many loves. They are as committed to him as they are to their own self-preservation, or their own families, or their own futures. Few throw themselves upon the Savior as the love of their life for whom they would do anything, even lay down their lives. But wholehearted, single-hearted love for Jesus is the way of peace, so it is no wonder so many today have found a religion in Christ but have not found a true and lasting peace.

Think with me, for a moment, about Jesus, through whom we do in fact find peace with God. Jesus fulfilled every requirement of God’s covenant with man. There is no longer a reason to fear God as the just Judge, for Christ’s obedience and God’s choice to accept Jesus’ death on the cross fully satisfy all the demands of the law. We are free by faith to engage with God on the basis of love, not fear. And where there is no fear, peace reigns. Peace is possible for everyone who puts their faith in Jesus.

Through Jesus Christ, the just wrath of God against us is removed. Through Jesus Christ, the mercy of God is applied. Through Jesus, the forgiveness of God is offered. Through Jesus, the way to God is opened. Through Jesus, peace with God is gained.

But peace with God only comes through Jesus. If we do not come to God through faith in Christ, then we must come bearing our own sin and shame and guilt and stand before God as rebels who have much to fear in the light of eternal justice. Finding peace with God means finding faith in Jesus Christ alone and loving him above all other loves.

And how do we come to faith and love for Jesus? Through repentance. Through acknowledging and confessing to God our rejection of him and turning to him for forgiveness and the ability to live in loving accord with him. We find peace by baring our hearts to God and asking him in faith to make us new and keep us new as we live in obedience to his commands.

The second candle is the peace candle. It beckons us to come to Jesus, not because we will necessarily find our peace with everyone else, but because in him we will find our peace with God. And only when we are at peace with God can we be at peace with ourselves, with others, and with the lives we live in a world hostile to true peace.

Sometimes, God removes his peace from us in order to create a deeper sense of dependence on him. Sometimes, the believer’s peace is interrupted by the effects of living in a fallen world (illness, etc). Sometimes, we permit our attention to be turned away from God and engrossed in our trials. Sometimes, we forget that the faith to which peace is promised is a working faith that expresses itself in good works. Sometimes, and I believe more often than not, peace flees because of sin, and most often that sin is loving something or someone more than Jesus. We know that Jesus is not in the position of Lord and Savior and Love that he deserves to be in our hearts and our confidence before him is undermined, our trust in him is sabotaged, our reliance on him is abandoned, and we are left on our own to stand against the world.

The way to peace is through the cross to the Christ. Wherever you are today, whatever your heart condition, the invitation of Advent is to prepare your heart for peace, to find your peace with God through new or renewed faith in Jesus Christ.

God loves you. He has made the path to peace crystal clear. Jesus has come. Jesus is coming. Come to Jesus. Find your peace with God.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Love One Another (Part 3) John 15:9-17

Love One Another (Part 3)
John 15:9-17

The question of love IS a question of specific, quantifiable activities that actively and accurately express an internal commitment to radiate the character of God toward other people. But this love, this love with which Jesus loves, before it can be adequately or accurately portrayed in action, must be experienced as condition. Before we can do love, we must have love.
Before we can love one another as Christ loves us, the moral and spiritual character of God must be instilled in us as it was in him. If we attempt to follow the command to love without accepting the invitation to be filled with God’s love, we risk becoming merely another generation of Christian Pharisees, following the letter of the command without the heart or spirit of the One who issues the command.

Jesus warned the Pharisees of his day, acknowledging their commitment to doing what they were told, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23) When Jesus answered the man’s question about what is the greatest commandment, he defined the “weightier matters of the law” again. Love was what the Pharisees left undone. They followed the letter and left the love out. Unless we gain Christ’s own character, his own heart, we may well become men and women who speak the words of Christ but lack the substance of Christ; who do the works of Christ, but lack the Spirit of Christ; who follow the command of Christ but lack the love of Christ; men and women described by the apostle Paul as having a “form of godliness, but lacking the power thereof.” [2 Tim. 3:5]

The command to love as Jesus loves is more than a command to action. It is a command to become, a command to spiritual formation, a command to BE, in spiritual character and physical action, like Jesus.

Now, practical-oriented people, when they encounter the requirements of spiritual formation, of becoming like Jesus, often want a grocery list of specific actions. They think to themselves, “I don’t really need all this spiritual, theological stuff. Just tell me what I have to do.” Be concrete. Be practical. Speak to my hands, not my spirit.

Let me remind the practical-oriented folks among us of two important truths. First, when God created human beings, he created them for what they would be, not for what they would do. Read the creation account in Genesis 1. Pay special attention to Genesis 1:26-27. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Human beings are created in the image of God. Before they are sent to multiply and fill the earth they are created to BE the physical and spiritual representation of the moral character and spiritual nature of God. They were not created to be God, but to be God’s personal portrait in the physical world. In our persons and in the relationship as male and female, we were created to give all the created order an accurate picture of who God is by being like him.

If we do the things God does, but we do them without manifesting God’s true character in our character, then we actually represent our selves and not God. Only when external action flows from internal godliness can we fulfill our purpose as those who bear the image of God. The condition of our hearts, our spiritual conformity to the moral nature of God is absolutely essential to validate the things we do. We’ve got to get the heart right first so that what we do, we do out of the right heart.

The second important truth we need to remember is this: God redeems and re-creates human beings first and foremost to be conformed to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.) Hebrews 1:3 reveals the Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” He perfectly fulfils the purpose for which human beings were created by God. When we are born again, when the gospel of Jesus Christ comes to us and we are enabled to believe unto salvation by the Holy Spirit through faith, God makes us a new creation which is to be like Jesus. The man Jesus Christ bore the image of God, redeemed men and women are to bear the image of Christ. That means, believers, that experiencing the moral and spiritual nature of Christ must be as high a priority in our lives as doing the mercy and compassion and righteous work of Christ.

Practical-folks, being like Jesus is no less important than doing like Jesus. Being like Jesus requires that we be filled with the Spirit of Jesus who, according to God’s word, is responsible for spreading abroad the love of Christ in our hearts.

Are you prepared to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Are you ready to let God have full, complete, unhindered control of your heart, your life? Are you prepared for God to make you into what you are not yet, conformed to the image of his Son?

When the Holy Spirit comes, he will not merely make room for Jesus in your life, he will take over your life for Jesus. When the Holy Spirit comes, Christ will not be just one of several guiding influences in your decision making and value system, he will be the decision maker and THE guide. When the Holy Spirit comes, you will no longer belong to yourself, but to God, who purchased you with the blood of his Son. When the Holy Spirit comes, you will want Jesus more than life itself.

When the Holy Spirit comes pride falls, jealousy fades, hatred ceases, arrogance ends, selfishness dies, greed grovels, immorality withers, anger wilts. When the Holy Spirit comes, love will be your priority, joy will be your reward, peace will be your outreach, patience will be your clock, kindness will be your response, goodness will be your character, faith will be your agenda, gentleness will be your manner, and self-control will be your witness.

God is prepared to fill you with his Spirit. Are you prepared to be filled with the Spirit? When the Holy Spirit comes, you will be endued with power and you will be witnesses of Jesus to the uttermost ends of the earth. When the Holy Spirit comes he will convict the world of sin, and righteousness and judgment. When the Holy Spirit comes he will teach you all you need to know and remind you of everything Jesus said. When the Holy Spirit comes he will be your comforter and your counselor. When the Holy Spirit comes, he will turn the world upside down through you. Are you prepared to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Some of you are prepared, but many of you are not. The disciples were not prepared. To them Jesus gave these instructions: “Stay where you are and actively wait for God’s promise.” Get together with God and stay there until he pours out his blessing. Pray, fast, seek, ask, and when he has prepared you, receive. If you are to fulfill the command of Christ, then you must be filled with the Spirit of Christ. Practically-oriented people, are you prepared to be filled with the Spirit?

And let me speak this morning to the spiritually-oriented people as well. Spiritually-oriented people often just want to be left alone. They think to themselves, “I am tired of being told what to do. I have Jesus in my heart. I’ve been saved. I have a relationship with God. That’s all I need. I’m spiritually aware and theologically sound. I pray. I read my Bible. I know Jesus and that’s enough. I love people in my heart, now enough with this ‘to do’ list stuff.”

Let me remind the spiritually-oriented folks among us of two important truths. First, you were created to do good works. The Spirit reveals through the apostle Paul that Christians, true followers of Jesus, are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). The apostle writes to those who are “created in Christ Jesus.” He writes to those who have Jesus in their hearts. He writes to the saved, to the people of faith, to the spiritually aware and theologically sound, to those who glory in the Spirit and word of God. (Come on, spiritually-oriented people, you know you want to put your name in that verse!) The Spirit writes to those who have been worked on by God and instructs them to got to work on God’s “to do list!”

God has a list. Did you see that? We were created in Christ, redeemed by his blood, saved by his grace, transformed by his love, given a new heart and a new spirit, made a new creation to do the good works which God “prepared in advance for us to do.” “Prepared in advance.” God has a list. Spiritually-oriented folks, God actively works in the world to spread his glory and advance his kingdom. He created you to participate, to be in the world but not of the world, so you could actively, through daily engagement, spread his glory and advance his kingdom.

Now, please listen, spiritual-oriented people, if you fail to do the good works for which God has saved you, recreated you, you fail as well to actively and accurately bear his image in the world. God’s love for people is practical and personal. He cares for both the spiritual AND the physical condition of these people for whom he sent his Son to die! Jesus fed. Jesus healed. Jesus wept. Jesus touched. Jesus gave. Jesus died. Jesus loved. Wounded, hurting, lost people loved by God abound. There is more than enough work to do. There is work for you.

The second truth I need to set before the spiritually-oriented folks is this: knowledge of God leads to godliness and true godliness leads to good works. Read Paul’s letter to Titus, please. He opens the letter by telling us his whole purpose in ministry is to assist God’s people in gaining the knowledge of God that leads to godliness. Godliness is the spiritual condition of heart and life whereby we are conformed to the likeness of Jesus. He summarizes the teaching in the letter with these instructions: (Titus 3:8) "The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people." Then he concludes the letter saying, “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14).

Godly people do good works. Godly people engage in lives that reflect God’s moral character and his active concern for others. Godly people don’t avoid the “to do list.” Filled with the Spirit they are empowered and enabled and motivated to accomplish God’s “to do” list.

Spiritually-oriented folks, being like Jesus means doing what Jesus does for the reasons Jesus does them. Being like Jesus means doing like Jesus. And doing what Jesus does requires that we be filled with the Spirit of Jesus who, according to God’s word, is responsible for spreading abroad the love of Christ in our hearts and drawing that love out of our hearts.

Are you prepared to be filled with the Spirit? Are you ready to let God have full, complete, unhindered control of your heart, your life? Are you prepared for God to send you into the world to manifest the very heart and life of Jesus among spiritually dead and blind people whose greatest need at the moment is to see Jesus with their own eyes by seeing him in you?

When the Holy Spirit comes, he will bestow spiritual gifts, divine enablements, so that you can serve him according to his will. When the Holy Spirit comes, he will thrust you into the life of the church and the life of people to manifest the power and grace of God. When the Holy Spirit comes, worship and service will be all one glorious, purposeful activity. When the Holy Spirit comes, Jesus will fill the vistas of your desire and your life’s purpose will be bound up in him. When the Holy Spirit comes, you will think of Christ first and yourself last. When the Holy Spirit comes, all that God loves will be your love. When the Holy Spirit comes, nothing will matter more than Jesus. When the Holy Spirit comes you will take up your cross daily, deny yourself, and follow Jesus.

God is prepared to fill you with his Spirit. Are you prepared to be filled with the Spirit? When the Holy Spirit comes, you will be endued with power and you will be witnesses of Jesus to the uttermost ends of the earth. When the Holy Spirit comes he will convict the world of sin, and righteousness and judgment. When the Holy Spirit comes he will teach you all you need to know and remind you of everything Jesus said. When the Holy Spirit comes he will be your comforter and your counselor. When the Holy Spirit comes, he will turn the world upside down through you. Are you prepared to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Jesus commanded his followers to love one another as he has loved us. Practically-oriented people will want to make sure their hearts and spirits are right before God, that they are aligned with him and conformed to the image of his Son, in order to fulfil this commandment properly. Spiritually-oriented people will want to take specific action toward the people around them in order to fulfil this command properly. Each will want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with Christ as they set out to keep the command.

But let me ask, is there a risk? Is there a risk in just shrugging all this off and treating it as just more Sunday morning words? Is there a risk to not examining our heart condition or not engaging in God’s good works? I’ll close this morning with two passages of Scripture, both from the lips of Jesus himself, one for the practical people and one for the spiritual people.

The first is found in Matthew chapter seven in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’  On the day we stand before God, it will not matter what we have done in Jesus’ name. It will only matter that we have borne Jesus’ name. It is not what you’ve done, but who you know, more so, who knows you. Make sure that relationship is in place.

The second passage is also found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31-46: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Ultimately, the risk of ignoring God’s messages can be eternal. God is here today. His Spirit is among us, speaking to us about the condition of our hearts, our spirits, our lives. I know what he is saying to me. You know what he is saying to you.

Perhaps God is calling you out of sin and selfishness into a new relationship with him. Perhaps he is pressing you to surrender your all to him and be filled with his Spirit. Perhaps he is laying some person or some need upon your heart to which he would have you lay your hands. Whatever God is saying, now is the time to respond. Now is the time to say “yes” with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Now is the time to say “yes” to God with all your yesterdays, today, and all your tomorrows. “Now,” is the appointed time. Today is the day. Say “yes” to God.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Love One Another (Part 2)

Love One Another (Part 2)
John 15:9-17

Jesus gave his disciples a specific command, and told them that if they loved him they would keep his commandments. He added to the authority of the command the requirement of relationship. Their obedience is more than a fulfilment of obligation, a duty performed. Their obedience is an expression of their own heart for Jesus himself (just as their disobedience would be an expression of their true heart toward Jesus.) If they truly loved him, their love for him would show in their love for one another. If they did not truly love him, it would show in their disdain for one another.

This is the commandment that Jesus gave to his followers then. It is the commandment that comes through the eternal word to His followers today: “That you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 5:12)

We have begun to identify three broad categories into which Jesus’ own acts of love fall into place. Jesus loved incarnationally. He was and remains the embodiment of God’s love, love both for God’s glory and the people God creates. When a man came to Jesus and asked him what is the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” He continued by pointing out the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus embodies these two love commands. Every act and every attitude toward God and the people around him expresses the love within him. He loves the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength; he loves his neighbor as himself.

We know that because Jesus was raised from the dead that he perfectly fulfilled every command of God upon men without failure or flaw. We know then, by virtue of his resurrection, that Jesus is the perfect embodiment of love for God and love for one another. Jesus loves incarnationally and commands his followers, the Body of Christ in the world, to love incarnationally as well, to embody in our lives, individually and corporately the love of God for God’s glory and the love of God for God’s people.

We also identified that the only way we can love incarnationally, as Jesus loves, is to be born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. We cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit until we are genuinely born again, and we cannot genuinely love incarnationally until we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

The first and greatest fruit of the Spirit, the true evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is love, love for Christ and love for one another. Paul listed the fruit of the Spirit for us in Galations 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” In the middle of his discussion on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14 Paul points to this fruit of the Spirit as the greatest priority in the entire discussion, suggesting that the condition of our heart in the Spirit is of greater priority than the work of our hands in the Spirit. He writes, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love” (1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1).

Within the context of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts and Christian life and community he essentially says, above all, be filled with the Spirit from whom you gain the ability to love, for, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3) Without love, we are nothing. Love is the condition of faith and the command we follow, but unless we are filled with the Holy Spirit we cannot love as Jesus loved.

But let’s take a step back here and ask an important question. What is this love that we are talking about? Is Jesus commanding us to have a specific and consistent emotional response to the people around us? Is he asking us to feel about everyone the way we feel toward our beloved spouse or our precious children? Is Jesus saying that in order to follow and obey him we must have a warm, fuzzy feeling about all the other Christians we may encounter? Is Jesus commanding us to take a specifically prescribed action toward every other Christian we encounter? Are we being asked to treat the people around us in a “cookie cutter” fashion, doing the same thing for everyone as though love has only one single strategy we are to continually and consistently apply? Is love an emotional response or a prescribed action?

Before I give you a “yes” or “no” answer to that question, let me suggest this: Love, as Jesus loves, is a condition of the heart that influences the emotions and directs the will toward seeking the greatest good for those who are the objects of love.

Emotions serve an important purpose. Created within us by God himself, emotions provide the context in which we respond from the world within us to the world around us. Emotions are about us. They are personal. They are self-derived. They are self-focused. They give a means of self-expression for self-experience. They are created by God to be self-centered so that we have a way of interpreting and coping with our life experiences.

When we talk about love as an emotion, we are often talking about the feelings of joy, security, pleasure, encouragement, meaning that we derive from someone or something else. It is possible that taking seriously Jesus’s command to love one another will result in some pleasant responses from within ourselves to the people with whom we develop these relationships, but it is also possible that our investment of love in other people will reap sorrow, pain, anxiety, fear, or some other unpleasant emotional response to our experience. While we will undoubtedly experience some emotional response as we love one another, I do not believe Jesus is primarily commanding us to seek an emotional response for ourselves when he command us to love one another. I believe he is commanding us to obtain from him, through faith and the Holy Spirit, a condition of the heart that influences our emotions AND directs our will toward seeking the greatest food for those who are the objects of love.

Love as Jesus loves, may be accompanied by a pleasant emotional response or it may not. When Jesus, dying on the cross, looks upon those whom he loves and who have demanded his death and nailed him to a cross, he says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Whatever Jesus’ emotions may be at that moment, he makes a choice. He expresses an act of will. He chooses what is the greatest good for them regardless of what it costs him or what he may or may not feel in that moment.  That is the way Jesus loves. The condition of his heart is love and he brings his emotions and his will into conformity with love and does that which is best for those he loves. He gives his life for them. And as he said, “No greater love has any man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Love as Jesus loves is a condition of the born again, Spirit-filled heart that influences the emotions and directs the will toward seeking the greatest good for those who are the objects of love.

Now, since love seeks the greatest good for those who are the objects of love, let’s nail down two ideas. One, Jesus commands that fellow believers be the objects of our love. There are other instructions, commands and life examples that apply to non-believers, but this command is to Jesus’ disciples that they are to love one another. The followers of Jesus focus their love under this command on the other followers of Jesus they encounter in their lives.

Take a moment and look around you. While Jesus does require us to think and act globally in our discipling mission, he commands us to love locally, to love one another, to practice compassion for the world by expressing genuine, incarnational love for the Christians in our lives. Love one another.

The second idea we need to get a hold of is this: the greatest good for any person at any time, but especially for believers, is a genuine, vital relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Love one another means helping one another to have the clearest, purest, holiest, most Christ-centered, Spirit-filled love for God through a relationship with Christ that we can possibly have in this world. God is the greatest good there is. A relationship with God in which he is rightly cherished, adored, honored, respected, obeyed, loved is the greatest good to which we can possible lead one another.

We may need at times to provide resources to one another, point out sin to one another, extend forgiveness to one another, practice discipline of one another, offer comfort to one another, teach truth to one another, but whatever specific action we take, we must be guided by a commitment to seek the greatest good for those who are the objects, the recipients of our love.

The command to love one another as Christ has loved us is a command to do everything necessary, within the power of the Holy Spirit, to help one another know and love God, even if it costs us our life. Love aims for the greatest good in the life of the beloved, so Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He loved us with his life for God’s sake.

Now, if you truly love Jesus, love one another.