Wednesday, June 5, 2019

THE CONVICTING POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT



            A few months back, I started feeling the beginning of a sinus infection. I treated myself with some over-the-counter medicine that did little more than cover the symptoms, making them seem less intense for a short while.  While I avoided going to the doctor, the root of the problem was increasing in strength.  When it got out of hand, I went to the doctor.  I got the right remedy that not only made me feel better momentarily, but removed the root of the problem.  Treating only the symptoms had allowed a sinus infection to culminate into full blown bronchitis bordering on pneumonia.
            The root of sin cannot be eradicated with manmade remedies. It’s like trying to change the color of your hair. You can cover it, but you can’t change it from the roots.  The real color will show again before long. Try as we may, we cannot control our tendencies to sin.  When we think we have things under control, we find that jealousy, temper, lust and bitterness pop up to prove us wrong.  We cannot control ourselves against the power of sin because it is inherent, part of our makeup.  We can’t get rid of it with OTC religion.  We can’t do enough good deeds, give enough money to the church, or learn enough doctrine to make us righteousness.  We need sin uprooted, not just covered or controlled. Nobody likes to admit that they can’t conquer sin.  But that confession is the first step in being free from it. Jesus can set us free from sin because He changes us at the root – from the inside out.  He removes the old root (sin) and replaces it with His root (righteousness).
            Jesus told His disciples,“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.  And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”(John 16:7-12, NKJV)
            Jesus is speaking here about the Holy Spirit as the Helper. But how is convicting us of sin being a Helper to us? Most people confuse conviction with condemnation. Conviction and condemnation are two very different things.  Conviction means to tell someone their fault or to bring it to light. Conviction uncovers the wrong in order to allow for repentance and change. It offers a better way.  Condemnation offers no hope.  It accuses and sentences with finality. It usually comes as a spirit of darkness and doom that overwhelms us. Jesus clearly stated that He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to bring life and light. There will come a day of final judgment when there will be no recourse.  But for now, we live in a day of grace and hope. That is why it is so imperative for the Spirit to show us our need for a Savior now while there is still time. It is a great kindness to us. If I was going to stand before a group to make a presentation and you saw that I had a terrible stain on my white blouse, I would much rather you tell me while I could do something about it rather than keeping quiet and waiting until I saw it myself when it was too late for me to change. Conviction is like a friend warning us of danger ahead and directing us around it. It shines the light on the sin in our lives to make us aware of the problem, then offers a way to change it.
Why is it so difficult for us to admit that we are sinners and go to Christ for a transformation?  1 John 1:8-10 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” Until we come into agreement with God, we cannot be forgiven and changed by receiving a transformed heart. Agreeing with God about our sin is where our journey begins, a journey of righteousness that leads us on the path of everlasting life.
The Holy Spirit will also convict or convince us of righteousness. According to Strong’s Concordance, righteousness is “the state of him who is as he ought to be.” We can be righteous when our heart is changed and made good.  Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good, and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil.  For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45, NKJV) 
If our heart is born sinful, then how can we get a good heart? Scripture says, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6, NKJV) There are other references to the cutting away of the sin nature and our hearts being replaced with a heart of flesh, soft and pliable in the Potter’s hands. (Colossians 2:11, Ezekiel 11:19) This righteousness is not in memorizing all the dos and don’ts and making sure we keep each one.  That is the law. We can’t do it. It has already been proven. So, God changes our hearts. He places a good treasure in our hearts, His very own Spirit. That’s when we begin learning to listen to the Spirit of God within us and trusting Him enough to walk out what He tells us. That is when we become as we ought to be.
God often speaks to us in our hearts, but if they belong to another we cannot hear Him.  He will lead us in the ways of righteousness that most of us already know in our minds. But Jesus wants us to go deeper than just following rules.  He wants us to know Him intimately and learn to walk in His righteousness, His ways.  As we practice walking with Jesus, there may be times the Holy Spirit will convict us of a behavior or attitude. We may think it is petty and nothing to be concerned about, but the Holy Spirit convicts us so we can deal with it in the early stages before it has time to take root and cause heartache later. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled”. (Hebrews 12:14-15) If we cooperate with Him, the Holy Spirit will help us to walk in peace, holiness and grace.
There are also times He may convict us of a direction we have taken that will lead us outside of His will. He speaks to us so we can change our course and not be turned aside. In Acts 16:6-7, we see how the Holy Spirit corrected Paul’s course. It wasn’t a sin, but a wrong direction.  “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.”  He forbade them to go certain places, then gave Paul a vision of a man saying, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.”  The Holy Spirit will guide us and position us for the assignment we are to do next if we will learn to listen to and follow Him even when we don’t understand.
Conviction is good.  It shines on our sins to make us aware of our need of a Savior and it continues to serve us in our walk with Christ if we will listen to the voice of God’s Spirit.  Ephesians 4:30 says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We are also told not to resist the Holy Spirit.  We need to learn to trust Him and work with Him.
            The Holy Spirit will also convict us of coming judgment. Judgment can mean several different things.  Justice and condemnation are two of them.  Satan has already been condemned. His sentence is set. He has been justly sentenced because the terrible wrath of God is against evil.  It was not God’s intention for us to be the object of His wrath. Yet, He was not caught off-guard when sin entered the picture. He had a plan in place so our destiny doesn’t have to be bound up in Satan’s destiny. If we received justice, we would share Satan’s condemnation. But there is time for us to receive a new heart and change condemnation to glory!
            The Holy Spirit convicts of the guilt of our sin and our desperate need for a Savior. Allow the convicting power of the Spirit to draw you to Jesus. Don’t turn away. If you have refused Him a hundred times, don’t refuse Him today. We are not promised tomorrow. We are not promised another opportunity to hear His voice.
            Righteousness is within reach. The Holy Spirit may be speaking to you now about walking in integrity, godly character and true holiness with a new heart that will love and obey God.  Don’t resist His calling. Jesus paid the price for you to be holy, not just forgiven.
            Judgment is certain. It will come to all of us. You don’t have to have a part in the condemnation of the devil.  He is a liar and deceiver.  He wants to draw you in to his fate.  Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit by placing yourself in the onslaught of God’s wrath against evil instead of having His favor. He never intended you to be destroyed by sin.  He intended you to live in perfect harmony with Him.  If you are reading this, you still can.
            Allow the Holy Spirit to stir you to the depths of your soul and raise you higher and higher into the presence of God, so you can shine as a light of His glory in this world.

 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Saturday, May 4, 2019

WHICH CHURCH?




            When a professed sinner behaves as a sinner, we should not be surprised; grieved for sure, but not surprised.  But when those who profess to belong to Christ live according to the world’s sinful pattern, we should be shocked and grieved. Yet for many it has become the normal pattern of “Christian” life.  Many professing Christians are living in the world instead of the kingdom of God. I would like to take a look at two “churches” that are active today.  I realize we cannot point out individual congregations as being in one category or another.  We should never try.  Just as God’s true church is made up of all born-again believers from every nation and every generation, so is the church of man.  Let’s look at them both to bring it to a personal level and determine in which we as individuals have our membership.
THE CHURCH OF MAN – I have read accounts of the “great awakenings” and revivals in the 1700’s, 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s. In recounting their experiences, several of the revivalists noted a common problem. Many of the old established churches were the root of the greatest opposition to what God was doing. I saw that personally in the 1970’s. It seems some churches had left their first love and were carrying on in the power of man. There was no evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit among them. They, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had exchanged the power of the Holy Spirit for the traditions of men.  Jesus said, “so you nullify the [authority of the] word of God [acting as if it did not apply] because of your tradition which you have handed down [through the elders]. And you do many things such as that.”  (Mark 7:13, Amplified) They were so accustomed to their false religion that when the real came, they thought it was false and rejected Jesus. What about our day? Have we not done the same? We need to examine our beliefs in light of Scripture, not traditions. Be careful what you accept as truth.  Know the Word of God and follow it.  The church of man has attempted to lower the standards of God’s Word and limit the power of the Holy Spirit. But God’s standards, commandments and teachings cannot be lowered or His Spirit limited.
I heard a message from a pastor who spoke passionately for the church to return to the teachings of Jesus.  His heart was broken because the church has stood by and said nothing as the Word of God has been compromised. Church leaders have lowered the standards to allow what Jesus does not allow, and they have had no resistance in doing so in most cases. Jesus never compromised truth. He did not run after the rich young ruler who wouldn’t submit to the cost of discipleship. Yet no one loved him more than Jesus. Jesus laid down His life for that young man, but He did not make an exception to allow Him to enter the kingdom of God without full surrender because the kingdom of God is a place of full obedience to the will of God. Jesus has not changed, but the church has. It is not only a matter of allowing what Jesus condemns, but of not doing what Jesus gave us power to do. It is alarming to see that much of the church has evolved into a powerless, sin-ridden organization devoid of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Where is our brokenness and repentance for what we have lost?
The church of man convenes to rethink the commandments, judgments and teachings of Jesus so they can keep the Word of God updated and in step with our culture. Instead of changing the world, they attempt to change the Word. But God’s Word is timeless, just as God Himself. It never changes. “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, But the word of the Lord endures forever. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:24-25) Who are we to take the Word of God to task, and try to adjust His words to be politically correct for our times rather than standing firm on the permanence of God’s commands? We are here but a moment. God has always been and always will be. Yet the church has reestablished itself on the foundation of human wisdom and a changing world rather than the truth of God’s enduring Word and the power of His unchanging Spirit. The church of man is very tolerant of those who practice what God says is sin and, in fact, takes pride in its alliance with the world. It has a full house of compromised Christians with no spiritual power. It is a religion strong in number that soothes the conscience of those who profess Christ with their mouths but continue in ungodly lives. There are no uncomfortable conditions of discipleship in this religion. Every person is free to do as they please with the leaders’ guarantee of their place in heaven. They have made their gospel so soft and cheap that when the real gospel of truth is spoken, they draw back and say that surely God would not expect that of anyone. They are like the crowds in Jesus’ day who said, “This is a hard saying” and quit following Him. When we read the Bible as it is, we find that Jesus never side-stepped issues of truth.  They are too important to water down. Why do they try to change God’s Word?  To make it easier to gain members, to allow for worldly pleasure, to avoid persecution and to create a sense of assurance of heaven, among others.
Religion runs deep, but the true character and authority of Christ are missing from the church of man.  Many moral doctrines are taught but there is no regeneration to transport its members into the kingdom of God.  The church of man is void of the presence of God, the power of the Holy Spirit and the conviction of sin that accompanies the Spirit’s moving in both saint and sinner. It offers a neatly packaged religion that assures you of a home in heaven, no problems or difficulties on earth, and no need to abandon your worldly pleasures and sinful lifestyle.  It allows one foot in the kingdom and one in the world.  It is a dangerous place to be because it is false.  It is an organization of man with no power and no life.  God does not accept such doctrines.
Many believe we are okay as long as we are sincere in what we believe. That is not true.  We are not right with God until we are born again and surrender to Him. We cannot enter the kingdom of God by joining a church, observing the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, turning over a new leaf, paying tithes, giving to religious causes or any other works. Those are all good things to do, but they will not save us. If they could, there would have been no need for Jesus to die for us.
The church of man is an apostate church. They have abandoned the faith of Jesus Christ and created a church instituted by man for man. It is not the true church. They have left behind the genuine foundation, leading many to spiritual ruin and destruction.  The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about such a ‘church’ in the last days.  “Holding to a form of [outward] godliness (religion), although they have denied its power [for their conduct nullifies their claim of faith].  Avoid such people and keep far away from them.” (2 Timothy 3:5, Amplified)  When we deny the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from sin, the power of God’s Spirit and His grace to make us a new creation and to empower us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we are turning our backs on our only hope of entering into the kingdom of God.  There must be a regeneration, and only Jesus can accomplish that. Then, on our part there must be a full surrender to Jesus, leaving this world behind us.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 tells us clearly that practicing sin will keep us from the kingdom of God.  Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Are you free to practice these things? Yes! But the consequence is not worth it. God will not change His commandments for any of us.  He has not only made a provision to cleanse us from sin, but to deliver us from it, too. It was with great love and sacrifice that God made that provision. Those who refuse His sacrifice and continue to practice sin (make it their lifestyle) are allied with this world. They are the enemies of God. If we are to live in the kingdom of God, we have to let go of our former love and live true to Jesus. “You adulteresses [disloyal sinners – flirting with the world and breaking your vow to God]! Do you not know that being the world’s friend [that is loving the things of the world] is being God’s enemy? So whoever chooses to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4, Amplified)  When we read such passages of Scripture, we tend to skim over them and think we are better than that, so it doesn’t apply to us. We consider our good qualities and say, “God wouldn’t keep me out of His kingdom.”  But we keep ourselves out if we are not living in obedience to His Spirit and Word. God is a God of love and comfort, but He is also a God of wrath against all ungodliness and sin. We decide which side we will be on. If we align ourselves with sin and live according to this world’s dictates, we set ourselves against God as His enemy.  We don’t have to do that!
The power of God is available to change us from sinner to saint, from an enemy of God to His child; but we must abandon ourselves to Jesus.  He will accept no less.  He does not accept membership from a manmade religion. Search your heart and the Word of God.  Don’t compare yourself with other people, it may give you false security and make you seem to be a pretty good person.  Compare yourself with Jesus and His teachings.  Are you sure you are in His church? The church of man gives false hope.  Wake up before it is too late, and listen to the voice of Jesus calling you away from the world, into His kingdom.
                                    
THE CHURCH OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST This church is made up of people who have acknowledged their utterly sinful state in contrast to the holiness of God. They recognize they are hopeless on their own merits, but have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to make them righteous. The conviction of their sinfulness has thrown them on the mercy of God and has brought about true repentance and remission of their sins. They are like Isaiah. When he stood in the presence of God his hopelessness was overwhelmingly evident, and he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am ruined.” He had no way to purify himself. He confessed his sinful state in the presence of God and an angel was sent with a coal off the altar to cleanse Him.
Our “coal from the altar” is the blood of Jesus Christ. He is the only hope we have to be cleansed and to appear righteous before God. We cannot save ourselves.  We cannot change ourselves.  We cannot please God in our flesh. We must be born again. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, NKJV)  What? Did Jesus realize who He was talking to? Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law of God. He was about as holy as you could get. Was he not allowed into the kingdom of God? No! Not in his present condition. Our natural, fleshly self cannot enter the kingdom of God. It is a friend of the world. We must be transformed from the sin nature of mankind to the righteous nature of God. It is a spiritual transaction that takes place. John G. Lake said, “the secret of Christianity is not in doing.  The secret is in being.  Real Christianity is in being a possessor of the nature of Jesus Christ.” Through the blood of Jesus, our penalty has been paid, but we must accept it and be born again. Then we leave the world behind and surrender ourselves to follow this new nature, the nature of God.  We begin to grow from our infancy of the new birth into men and women of the kingdom.  Born again believers live and move and have their being (existence) in Christ.  They live in His presence and grow more like Jesus every day, exhibiting His character, power and authority. The world is of little interest to them, not because they have a duty to leave it behind, but because they have found a greater, lasting joy. This world pales in comparison to the revelation of Jesus Christ in their lives. They have been raised in newness of life in Christ.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2, NKJV) Those in the true Church seek the heavenly things and find them.  They have their eyes enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” (1Corinthians 2:9-10) Their understanding comes from the Spirit of God, not man’s intellect. They understand God’s Word and His ways because they are taught by His Spirit and led by His Spirit.
The true Church seeks to have the vision of Christ, His compassion for the lost, and His power and authority. They do not follow the path of the world. They have no desire for it. They overcome the world because they are born of God. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith.” (1 John 5:4)  They overcome the pull of the world because of the Spirit of God within them, not by the strength of man.  The grace of God is at work in them; the Divine influence in their hearts, changing them more and more like their Master. They have a zeal for the presence of God. This transformation flows out of their lives as a witness to the world. “And they overcame and conquered him” [Satan, the accuser of the brethren] “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, for they did not love their life and renounce their faith even when faced with death.”
You might say, “What powerful people!” Yes they are, but they are not powerful in themselves. It is only by the power of God within them. They are not proud or arrogant. They are keenly aware that without Jesus they are nothing! They want to do nothing outside of Him. And with Him, they can do anything.  They are ordinary earthen vessels, but filled with the glory, power and character of God. If the world can see an example in the lives of those in the true Church, their eyes will be opened to believe in His love and glory. The world has seen so much from the church of man, that they do not believe Christ. But if we are living, shining examples of truth and power, we can make a difference in the world, showing them there is hope and transforming power in the new birth.
The true Church follows the teachings of Jesus, and is living from the new nature, the nature of God.  The closer they come to Jesus, the less the world appeals to them. But they also know that those who live godly will suffer persecution.  They know the world will not love them and the church of man will oppose them. Jesus didn’t hide anything.  He said, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love [you as] its own and would treat you with affection.  But you are not of the world [you no longer belong to it], but I have chosen you out of the world. And because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:19, Amplified) Yet we are left in this world to be light in the darkness and examples of the work of God in these earthen vessels. We are living witnesses of the miracle of the new birth! Jesus has given us everything we need to be overcomers.  Are we living up to our full potential in His Spirit? Are we members of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Once again, please note that I speak of the church at large, both false and true.  I would never attempt to label local churches or denominations as one or the other of these two categories because there may be a mixture of members in each local congregation as was the case in the church at Sardis. Jesus said to them, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:2-5)
 The point is to narrow down our focus to the individual. You and me. Which church holds our membership?  Are we a member of God’s kingdom or the church of man? We need to examine ourselves according to the Word of God and allow God to change us into His image more and more every day. If we do not have a consistent personal encounter with Christ, we are not alive in the Spirit. It may appear on the outside that we belong to Christ, but Jesus knows His own, and those who are imposters. Consider this parable of Jesus’.
  “Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24-30)
The enemy, Satan, has successfully sown evil seeds among the good. So the wheat and tares grow together.  But the day will come when the tares will go into everlasting torment and the wheat into eternal life in the kingdom of God.  Make certain you know which church you belong to while the grace and mercy of God is still being extended. One day it will be too late. Don’t wait.


Saturday, March 30, 2019

LIVING IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD




            A.W. Tozer wrote, “The happiness of all moral creatures lies in the giving of obedience to God, the Creator.  The angels in heaven find their complete freedom and highest happiness in obeying the commandments of God.  They do not find it tyranny – they find it a delight! Here is something that we should know and realize: Heaven is a place of surrender to the whole will of God, and it is heaven because it is such a place.”
            The Garden of Eden was a perfect place.  But when the surrender to the whole will of God was broken there, darkness entered the souls of mankind, and peace was lost to them.  Sin ruled in their hearts and they were evicted from the Garden. They found themselves outside the presence of God.  That sinful state was passed on to us, the seed of Adam. 
From that root of sin in us, acts of sin spring up everywhere, like weeds multiplying at an uncontrollable rate.  We have no means to remove it. A perfectly sinless sacrifice was the only way to save us from the destruction set in motion by the devil, and that excluded all of us.  We are completely helpless to save ourselves, and hell was our destination until Jesus changed that for us at great cost to Himself, the shedding of His blood.  Why did He take our place?  Because He loves us and He wants what is best for us. He wants us to have all that He planned for us in the beginning.  Adam brought sin on us all.  But Jesus brought righteousness to all who will receive Him. Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19, NKJV)
We now have a choice to enter the kingdom of God or remain rooted in this world.  “God has made it plain that hell is a real place, a final abode for people who do not want to love God and serve Him!” (A.W. Tozer)  God doesn’t force us to live in His kingdom. He doesn’t force us to love Him or serve Him. If we so choose, we can stay rooted right where we are in this world’s kingdom until we face God in the judgment, at which time hell will become the “final abode”.  We are free to reject Jesus’ sacrifice, but we will never live free without Him.
Heaven is not the home of those who reject Jesus Christ. However, we can choose to live in the kingdom of God. If we do, our roots must to be taken out of the soil of the world and transplanted into the good soil of God’s kingdom.  From roots planted deep in the rich soil of God’s kingdom, the fruit of righteousness will prevail.
Jesus always operated in the realm of God’s kingdom while He walked in human flesh on this earth. That is why He remained sinless and unmoved in the face of opposition, temptations, danger or confusion.  He was never swept into camaraderie with this world. Nor was He caught up in the drama of circumstances.  He simply took charge of them.  Jesus stayed firmly rooted in the kingdom of God.  He was free to hear the voice of the Father and obey Him. We can be, too.
            A kingdom is “the territory subject to the rule of a king.”  We can submit ourselves to Satan, the prince of this world’s kingdom, or we can be born again into the kingdom of God, submitting to the King of kings. These two kingdoms are diametrically opposed.  We cannot live in both.
            The world as we know it is full of evil and has a ruler, Satan.  Yet Satan has his boundaries that God will not allow him to exceed.  Many people, some knowingly and others unknowingly, listen to Satan and try to find fulfillment through other avenues of spirituality, but they remain outside of God’s Kingdom.  There is only one Truth, one way to God and one way to receive eternal life.  His name is Jesus. 
Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came into the world to “destroy the works of the devil” and “to seek and to save that which was lost.” What was lost?  Our right standing with God that allows us to live, move and have our being in His kingdom. We, as Adam and Eve, were standing outside the Garden. But when we enter a covenant with God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we can move into the kingdom of God with the living Word and the light of God’s Spirit within us to reveal the will of God. Our part of the covenant is to “surrender to the whole will of God”. By His grace we are free to surrender to His will and walk in the Spirit.  There we will find freedom, power and wisdom beyond anything this world has to offer.  It is a delight to walk in the will of God.
Jesus came preaching and teaching the kingdom of God, inviting us to enter in.  “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed or with a visible display; nor will people say, “Look! Here it is!” For the kingdom of God is among you [because of My presence].” (Luke 17:20b-21, Amplified Bible)  The King James Version of the Bible says, “the kingdom of God is within you.”  Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, His presence, to live in us. He will not reside in us if our hearts, minds and actions are still submitting to the world.
We need to carefully comprehend the words of Jesus when He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) It is very clear that insubordination to the will of God has no place in the kingdom of God.  Those who choose to reject His will also reject His grace and salvation. 
Recently I have felt God calling His people to become more aware of His kingdom and more responsive to His presence.  He spoke to my heart one day to ‘listen’ to Him, then repeated the message from two other sources.  Since then, I have found that God is speaking to many of His children to ‘listen’.  Not to listen to just any voice, but to listen exclusively to the Spirit of God. We need to be attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit to know the mind and will of God.  He has something significant to say to us.  When we hear what the Holy Spirit is saying, we are being led by the Spirit.  As we follow what we hear from Him, we are walking in the Spirit.  In that way, we are living in the realm of the kingdom of God although we are physically very much in this world. He may speak to us about something in our lives that needs to change, a person we need to speak to, or a place we need to go. I have found the more I listen, the more He reveals to me of His Word, His will and Himself.  There are times I feel overwhelmed in His nearness.
The most precious part of the kingdom of God is that the presence of the King is there.  And that should be our greatest delight. There is perfect peace and harmony in the presence of God, and in releasing our will to His will. That is where Jesus found strength to completely humble Himself to the will of the Father, even unto death – in the realm of God’s kingdom.  There we have access to the throne through prayer. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Jesus instructed His disciples to pray differently than the long, showy public prayers offered by the Pharisees. They were all performed so other people would see and hear them. Jesus told His disciples when they prayed to ”go into your most private room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6 Amplified Bible)  What is our reward?  The presence of God.  He wants us to really know Him, to leave the world behind and come close to Him. One on one.
Remember what God told Abraham?  “Fear not Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”  God had promised Abraham a country and descendents as the stars of the heavens and the sands of the sea.  But the greatest reward Abraham received was God Himself.  How could Abraham stand in God’s presence?  Abraham “believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)  His faith led to obedience. Obedience led him closer to God. Abraham made some mistakes, but he believed God and acted accordingly, and he was called the friend of God.
To submit to the Word and will of God is evidence of our belief in Him. Disobedience is evidence that we do not really believe.
To those who believe, God has given “exceeding great and precious promises.” But our greatest reward is to know Him and to live now and forever in His presence.

“Heaven is a place of surrender to the whole will of God,
and it is heaven because it is such a place.”

Saturday, March 2, 2019

THE BOLDNESS OF HUMILITY




            In last month’s article, we explored the humility of Jesus Christ and how we are to follow in His footsteps by being emptied of self and filled with God’s Spirit.  But what does the humility of Christ look like in our daily lives? Most people think of humility as being quiet and never doing or saying anything to rock the boat.  If you have read the gospels and the book of Acts, you know that is not what humility looks like.  Jesus said to learn from Him, so let’s look at the lives of Jesus and His followers.
We already know that Jesus was humble and submitted to the Father.  However, it did not mean He was quiet, passive and apathetic.  It meant He was not self-oriented.  His whole purpose was to do what the Father did and say what the Father said – no self agenda.  And the results of this submission were powerful deeds and powerful words!  Deeds that brought healing, made the blind to see, cleansed leprosy and even raised the dead. And teachings that delivered truth with authority the people had never heard before.
Jesus’ words were not always popular.  Especially when He warned the scribes and Pharisees of their pride and hypocrisy saying, “ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”  He spoke clearly and plainly to them to show them the error of their ways, not to condemn them.  (See John 3:17)  People need to hear the truth if change is to be initiated. This wake-up call could have released them from the trap of pride and freed them to follow God.  Instead, it made them angry to the point of plotting to kill the Messenger.  The disciples, on the other hand, eventually heard Jesus’ words with their hearts and followed them. Again, speaking to His disciples and the multitude about the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said, “But all their works they do for to be seen of men…and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren…But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23) Jesus was teaching His disciples and the multitude the right voice and the right example to follow. He was telling them not to follow the example of the religious leaders or fall in step with their motives. They were to follow His example and His voice.
Henry David Thoreau said, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”  If we step to the music of the Pharisees, it will lead to emptiness and religious bondage.  But if our heart is open to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, He will lead us into all truth, power and freedom.  When we have ears to hear the rhythm of God’s kingdom, we will not be in step with this world.  We may be considered fanatics, narrow-minded, dreamers or trouble-makers.  But that is okay if we are following Jesus.  He challenges us to listen, then “step to the music” of His Spirit, “however measured or far away”. Jesus was bold because He was humble. He simply carried out the will of the Father with no thought for self. He calls us to do the same.
Remember how the disciples were afraid right after Jesus was arrested and crucified? They were afraid to be identified with Him because they did not want to suffer the same fate.  They were protecting self until Jesus appeared to them, alive from the dead.  He was with them for forty days teaching them the things of the kingdom of God. His promise to send the Holy Spirit was fulfilled not many days after His ascension.  When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, self was forgotten. They began to listen and follow the Spirit’s leading. They began to do what Jesus did and say what Jesus said because they had the same power living in them, and the same voice guiding them.
They received the power of the Holy Spirit.  The word is dunamis from which we get the word dynamite.  It is the force of God’s Spirit changing us and working through us with His energy and force.  The word dunamis means “inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature (God’s nature in us), or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth.”  The power within them became the river of living water that poured out of them and changed the world forever. We can be world-changers, too, when we receive the power of the Holy Spirit and keep in step with Him.
After the infilling of the Spirit, Peter stood up and addressed a huge crowd of people including the religious leaders who killed Jesus and the crowd that had called out “Crucify Him”.  His message was all about Jesus.  Here are a few of his words.  Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know- Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it…Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Peter had no guarantee that those words would not cause the crowd to do to him what they had done to Jesus.  But he boldly proclaimed the truth with no thought for himself because the people needed to know the Truth that would set them free. And the Spirit brought in a harvest. “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”…Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:22-24, 36-40, NKJV) 
Bold! Selfless! Purposeful! Dynamic! Would we have been bold enough to plainly tell the religious leaders and the people that they were murderers of the promised Messiah? But Peter and the others were filled with the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead and they had a holy boldness to speak the truth Jesus spoke.  Have we received this Spirit?  We have the same Holy Spirit available to us today, right now!  We can ask and receive.
            After Peter’s message, about 3000 people believed in Jesus, were baptized and joined with the disciples. On another occasion, Peter and John went to the temple to pray.  Outside the temple a lame man was asking for money.  Peter told him he had no money, but what he did have he would give him. What do we have to give? The things of this world will pass away, but if we are filled with the Spirit, we can pour out spiritual blessings on others.  They will last forever. That man was healed in Jesus’ name and began to walk, leap and praise God.  Once again, a large crowd gathered and Peter took the opportunity to preach Jesus to them.  The number of believers grew to 5000. This time the religious leaders arrested them, and demanded to know by what power or name this man had been healed.
            Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12 NKJV)
            The rulers were highly upset because they were preaching and healing in Jesus’ name.  But a notable miracle had been done and witnessed by the whole crowd, so they just threatened Peter and John and told them not to preach or speak in “this name” again. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20 NKJV)  That is listening to the Holy Spirit and keeping in step with Him.
                        Peter and John left the rulers and elders and reported what had happened to the other followers of Jesus. Then they all began to pray. “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29-31)
            They prayed for boldness, not self-preservation or even a change of heart from the religious rulers.  Notice they immediately received the boldness they requested and continued to speak in Jesus’ name, just like Jesus had told them to do.  What happened to their meekness and humility?  Shouldn’t they have kept quiet? No! Were they not being defiant? No!  They would have been defiant if they had disobeyed Jesus’ command.  Jesus told them to preach the gospel to everyone regardless of what happened to ‘self’, and regardless of whether they were rejected or accepted. Meekness is bold as a lion proclaiming the Word of God and doing His works, yet it is quiet in proclaiming self and never tries to use the power of God for selfish causes. It is not showy, arrogant or vindictive.  We need to pray for boldness to keep speaking God’s Word. In this day of political correctness imposed by those who hate and deny Jesus, it is easier to stay quiet, but the world needs the light of truth now more than ever in this present darkness.  We are to speak the truth plainly and point others to Jesus Christ in love so they can repent and be baptized.  Souls depend on us.
            Listen!  Do you hear the music of the kingdom?  When you do, be sure to “step to the music” you hear, “however measured or far away.”

Be Humble - Be Filled with the Spirit - Be Bold


Monday, February 4, 2019

BELIEVE IN THE ONE WHOM HE SENT



            What do you believe?  I mean really, really believe…enough to base your life on? Do you believe Jesus is truly the Son of God Who lived, died and was resurrected so we can be saved?  Do you believe He really meant what He taught? It seems many professing Christians do not believe everything He said. Instead, they are trying to make his teachings more acceptable to our society so more people will “accept Christ”. But have they really accepted Christ, the real Jesus? When we change what He said by giving our interpretation of what Jesus “really meant”, we have ceased to share the truth Jesus taught.  Oh, that instead of trying to change Jesus, we would allow Him to change us and transform us to His image.  Oh, that we would allow the “hardness” of His teachings to draw us closer to the Christ of the teachings.  When we really know Him, His “commandments are not grievous (burdensome).”
I fear we have become too much like the crowd who said, “This is a hard saying”, and walked away from following Jesus. If the first century Christians had softened all the “hard sayings” of Jesus, Christianity would have disappeared before it ever began.  But God always has a remnant of those who truly know Him, who will take Him at His Word and submit to Him. When the crowd left, Jesus asked the twelve disciples if they would leave too.  Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68, NKJV) They stayed because they believed. They believed because they knew Him.
Some of the crowd that Jesus had fed asked Him, “What are we to do, so that we may habitually be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God: that you believe [adhere to, trust in, rely on, and have faith] in the One Whom He sent.”  (John 6:28-29, Amplified Bible) We cannot do the work of God without a belief in Jesus Christ that we base our lives on. If we don’t trust Who He is and what He said, we cannot do the work of God, because we will not follow Him.  Jesus loves us so completely and undeservedly that He not only gave His life for us, but boldly told us the truth.  He never backed down to gain a convert because compromised truth ceases to be truth and loses the power of truth.  Yet real truth is there for anyone who wants it.  And only the truth can set us free.  We need to explore the teachings and examples of Jesus and begin to do the work of God.  Let’s look at His humility, because we find that many other teachings are also understood and accomplished through humility.
            Jesus was selfless.  He had no interest in fulfilling the dictates of His flesh. He wasn’t seeking fame, position or money.  His whole purpose was to do the will of the Father.  1 Peter 2:21-24 tells us that is to be our purpose also. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:  “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself [His cause]  to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed.”  We are to follow His example even unto death.  This is the humility that Jesus taught and lived.  He wasn’t setting His own agenda.  He listened to the Father.  Then He said what the Father said, and did whatever the Father told Him to do.  It was not always easy.  He proved that in the Garden of Gethsemane when He struggled against His flesh, but obeyed the will of the Father.
            Jesus was completely submitted to the Father. He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19, NKJV)  We do well to follow Jesus in His humility and submission to God.  God can do great things through a submitted vessel.
            Andrew Murray said, “I feel deeply that we have very little conception of what the Church suffers from the lack of this divine humility, the nothingness that makes room for God to prove His power…Let us consider deeply how far the disciples were advanced while this grace was still so terribly lacking, and let us pray to God that other gifts may not so satisfy us, that we never grasp the fact that the absence of this grace is the secret cause why the power of God cannot do its mighty work.  It is only where we, like the Son, truly know and show that we can do nothing of ourselves, that God will do all.”  He goes on to say that humility is the “place of entire dependence on God” and is the “root of every virtue”.
            If we want God to do great things through us, we must stop trying to do it on our own.  The effort we expend is to be in carrying out what God says, not in using our own wisdom and power to accomplish our will.  The hearts of those who have a real desire to follow Jesus, are broken when we learn how far we are from His humility.  But it can also create a stronger desire to cut off self to make room for God alone.  That is what Jesus did to His flesh.  He gave it no voice, no thought, no chance to act of its own accord.  Allowing self to dictate even part of our lives is to allow pride to have its way. 
            Think of the purity of heart Adam and Eve had when they were first created and placed in the Garden of Eden.  They simply fellowshipped freely with God and obeyed what He had told them.  Why?  They believed Him.  That all changed when Satan entered the Garden and they listened to him.  They believed him and began to distrust God.  Satan had the root of pride in him, and he was able to transplant part of that into Adam and Eve through His deception and cunning. He said they could have so much more, but, instead, he caused them to lose the best and trade it for sin, sorrow, pain, lies and eternal death.  That is what pride does to us.  It strips us of our belief in God and causes us to believe in self. It removes humility and purity.
            It was pride that caused the downfall of Satan.  He was thrown out of heaven because he tried to usurp God.  He tried to be God.  He didn’t succeed.  But he still tries to sow the seed of pride in every human heart.  He told Adam and Eve that they could be like God through their own wisdom, and power.  He lied and they lost out.  Pride binds us and kills us.  Humility raises us to new heights with God.  Remember how Satan tried to pull the same scam on Jesus?  He promised Him instant comfort, fame, and worship.  Everything that appeals to the pride of the flesh. He will try that scam on you, too. But Jesus showed us and told us the way to all these things is humility, emptying ourselves of self and allowing God to fill us.
            How do we attain this humility?  Ask Jesus.  He said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls.  For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.”
            When some of Jesus’ disciples asked for the seats of honor in Jesus’ kingdom, the other disciples found out and were angry.  Then Jesus called them all to Him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but, whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28, NKJV)  Jesus said if you want to be great in His kingdom, you have to learn to be the servant of all.
            Serving God is one thing, but serving others? What about the other “disciples” who are not as important as we are?  Let’s see what Jesus said about that.  So when He [Jesus] had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:12-14, NKJV, emphasis mine)
Take note that Jesus even washed the feet of Judas.   Which brings us to another question. What about our enemies?  I believe Jesus had something to say about that, too.  You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NKJV)
            What do we do when someone does something “unforgiveable” to us? What did Jesus do when He hung on the cross?  And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:33-35, NKJV)  Jesus also told us, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15, NKJV) Hard sayings?  Yes, but they are truth that will free us!
            Humility frees us from bitterness, plotting revenge, anger, jealousy and hatred. It empties our souls of self and leaves room for the Spirit of God to fill us, lead us, comfort us, and work miracles through us. 
Believe Jesus
Learn His humility
Empty of self
Filled with God