Spiritual Openness

Recently, several conversations have centered around unique and interesting occurrences.  I have had the opportunity to participate in some of these and others, simply listen (some might call it eavesdropping but I prefer passive listening).  Some of these conversations have revolved around a particular experience with Christ and the Holy Spirit while others are void of any Christian influence altogether.  I am probably late to the game in this conclusion but it is interesting to note the spiritual openness of the coming generation.

It should come as no surprise.  the Post-Modern world values experience and feeling above all else.  Modern thinking relied almost exclusively on reason.  The modern influence of the 20th century on the American church often unknowingly sought to rationalize every supernatural work of the Holy Spirit of God.  Often churches were left void of power and dependent upon their own ingenuity and creativity to fuel church growth.  These are certainly broad generalizations and exceptions are not rare.  However, a new day is coming…

The post-modern way of thinking (in regards to spiritual openness) is having a tremendous influence on the church, both in positive and negative ways.  Positively, the church at large seems to be more aware of the need of the work of the Holy Spirit.  Ephesians 6 clearly explains that the battle is not against flesh and blood, whether warring with the body or with the mind.  The battle is spiritual and in a realm that we cannot control nor explain.  We are dependent (as we have always been) on the work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work God has called the Church to take on.  Negatively, the next generation appears to welcome this experiential faith with less regard for doctrine and Truth.  Experience trumps reason.  It is the battle cry of the post-modern era.  But this opens a dangerous door to heresy in the Christian Church.  And it is a heresy that will deeply divide.

So what do we do?  We return to the Truth of the Gospel. We become Berean (Acts 17).  We embrace the next generation and encourage their faith through discipleship and mentoring.  Whenever God has moved powerfully throughout history, the enemy usually acted to confuse and distort the genuine work.  We can expect the same.  For those raised in the age of reason, may we wake up to the reality of the spiritual realm and be moved to pray asking God to work, dependent upon His Spirit.  For those embracing a post-modern world, may we remember the foundational truths of Scripture.  They must interpret our experience and not the other way around.  Experiences cannot create beliefs.  Otherwise, we will give in to the greatest post-modern heresy believing that everyone determines what is right in his or her own eyes.  Let us learn from one another in all humility, examining the Scriptures to see exactly what God has said on the issues.  Finally, may we pray that this time of spiritual openness would lead others to embrace the Truth of the Gospel.

Peace, Fear and Comfort

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirt, it multiplied.” Acts 9:31

These verses synopsize an interesting time in the early life of the Church. Contention arose in Jerusalem and Saul was looking to “wreak havoc” throughout the Church all over Israel and beyond. However, an experience with Jesus on the road, traveling to Damascus changed all that. For a short time, the Scripture records that peace settled in on the Church as it was being built up.

I have witnessed a similar phenomenon in my life and that of others. There are periods of time where God provides peace. Yet peace didn’t last long in the church, and frankly, doesn’t last in our lives. Throughout the past 2000 years of Church history, there have been periods of peace but many more periods of difficulty and challenge we might call war. Some “wars” within the Church have been and remain legitimate defense of orthodox theology and appropriate expression of faith lived out. Some “wars” throughout history have tragically been inappropriate having little to do with the Gospel or Christ.

The key to this verse, however, is not peace but instead the challenge that follows. They walked in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the church multiplied. These two things seem to almost contradict one another. Fearing the Lord appears to be a lost practice in the 21st century American church. Fear and reverence naturally leads to submission and obedience. A relationship with God should naturally lead our hearts to revere His name and faithfully follow His Word. Living in that reverent fear brings an amazing comfort that the Holy Spirit applies at the most needed times. The story of Scripture iterates the same message throughout its pages. True comfort from God in the face of life’s incredible difficulties only comes when we acknowledge God for who He is and worship. We get a glimpse of the bigger story and find comfort and peace knowing that while storm may be coming – there is One greater than the storm.

When choosing to worship, it seems that the questions of “why” give way to comfort and peace – even in the midst of the war.

The Gospel…Everyday

The word “Gospel” can carry with it powerful connotations. For some, it is the word that enabled freedom from a the entrapment of a destructive lifestyle. Others immediately think of an outdated religious word heard attending services around Easter or Christmas. And sadly, some associate “gospel” with corruption stemming from spiritual abuse often caused by a pastor or church leader. The true meaning of the word is actually quite simple if we can leave the baggage behind. It means “good news”.

For the early believers, the good news was that Messiah had come. Though Jesus appeared and lived in a unexpected fashion, He brought freedom from oppression and hope, eternal hope. He didn’t establish a warring kingdom and liberate the Jewish people from Roman occupation. He didn’t stop corruption nor worldwide abuse or even slavery. He didn’t heal every disease and remove poverty from the vernacular. He did something much greater, He gave us Himself.

Born of the most humble means, Jesus spent His early life in relative obscurity. Though facing all of the pressures and struggles of His time, He remained sinless. He was tempted, as Scripture indicates, in every way, yet remained pure – completely pure. Following this sinless life, He chose to lay it down to pay for my sin and yours. He chose to become a payment to satisfy the very justice of God in the world He created. God sent His Son to die on the cross to meet the standards of holiness the world was designed to work within. Because God is holy, and we have sinned – He made a way. And on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave, conquering sin and death and establishing a way for God’s most amazing creation to forever remain in a relationship with Him. It is a relationship built on the sinless life, substitutionary death, and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The gospel is the good news, the story of Jesus restoring our relationship with God when we place our faith in Him. And we need the gospel everyday. Placing your faith in Jesus Christ forever seals your salvation for eternity. You are made new and are being daily transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And it is in that daily transformation that we need to remember the gospel. It is not just good news for our eternity, it is good news for our present. Jerry Bridges in his recent book, Respectable Sins stated it this way; we should preach the gospel to ourselves every day. We should remember that the good news is just that, even though I continue to struggle with sin. When we take time to discover the Gospel each day, two amazing things begin to happen. We live in a constant state of thankfulness remembering Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Second, we learn to live free from the chains of our sin and free to pursue God as we are daily made more like Him.

Today, you will likely hear story after story of bad news. Let’s learn to start with the life changing good news and let the the Gospel bring everything else into proper focus.

The Body of Christ

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16

We often rightly talk about the church as the body of Christ. Scripture clearly teaches about this concept and it is an amazing illustration of the believer’s relationship with Christ. Corporately, we are the body, and He alone is the head.  All of us have a tendency to either want to be the head or be able to influence it. It is a foreign concept to follow One we cannot see nor completely understand. The Israelites shared this same struggle to which they cried for a King, like all of the other nations (1 Samuel 8). The body must have a head, but it cannot be a man. Only One is qualified to lead the body. Only One has the wisdom, foresight, understanding, patience, love, and righteousness to lead perfectly. Understanding this then, leads to an amazing realization. Jesus chooses to use His body to accomplish His work.

The Head, who is Jesus Christ, perfect in every way, chooses to work though hands and feet that will spend their entire lives here struggling with their flesh. It is astounding to meditate on the simple reality that God not only loved us so much to send His Son to die on the Cross, but that He now chooses, in His patient love, to draw humanity to Himself through you and I. With our imperfect voices and lives, He speaks boldly and courageously. In our scattered priorities and busyness, He works to accomplish His purposes. Though I fail, He succeeds, and yet still uses me. The body of Christ is an intricate tapestry of believers gifted to live to the glory of God. Each hand, finger, leg, foot, and even toe is designed for balance to accomplish the work of the Head, who is Jesus Christ.

Thinking on these two truths, we can apply Ephesians 4:15-16. May we grow up into Jesus, who is the head of the body. May we align our lives to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). May we walk in such a way that we represent the Head well, whatever part of the body we are called to be (Ephesians 4:1). We are to be built on love and truth we are held together in Christ. Praise God that He chooses to work through His body. He has written us in to the great story of life. Let us play our role well, to His glory.

How strong are your walls?

img_1482.jpg

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28

I vividly recall walking through a grapevine in Israel examining each step attempting to avoid rolling my ankle when my gaze lifted above the vines to notice the remnants of a massive wall on the hillside above. Taken back by the enormity of the wall, I soon realized I was gazing at the remnants of one of the most powerful cities of ancient Israel, Lachish. The city was vitally important, protecting the valley leading to Jerusalem. The city gates and walls of Lachish were enormous and complex providing the greatest assurance of the time. Yet, 2 Kings 18 records the conquest of Lachish by Assyria. The walls of Lachish had fallen and Jerusalem was vulnerable to attack.

City walls were designed for one purpose, protection. An ancient city built without walls would have been easily destroyed and plundered by any invading force. Proverbs 25:28, written in a time of massive city walls, makes a startling comparison: “A man without self control is like a city broken into and left without walls.“ Essentially, a man who cannot control himself is one who is without protection. And I tend to believe that protection extends beyond himself to those he is designed to be a wall for. A man who cannot control his tongue towards his wife and children exposes them. A man who cannot control the integrity of his actions when no one else is watching exposes those closest to him to life’s looting.

Galatians 5, when listing the fruit of the Spirit, lists self-control. God designed us to live by the power of His Spirit enabling us to make choices that have either positive or negative consequences. A man who exercises self-control has an incredible opportunity to provide security to those he encounters, especially those closest to him. Living with integrity by controlling what he thinks, sees, touches, tastes, and hears builds a wall of protection around his own life and those he leads and loves.

God is described in Scripture as a fortress time and time again. He is the place we run to for protection. Living according to His truth builds the walls in our lives. We will still face the challenges of life but our walls will remain secure, built in Him. The rest of the story of 2 Kings 18 describes Hezekiah leading the people to trust the Lord, their fortress. God defeats the entire Assyrian army miraculously. The walls of Lachish had fallen, but the man who walks in self-control, rooted in Christ, will be protected.

In a day of instant self-gratification, how strong are your walls?

Think about these things…

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Philippians 4:8-9