May 22, 2018

Pros and cons of being Spirit-filled

As I pray for God to have His way in my life — which is not easy — I also pray that He has His way in all His children. That is not easy either. It is His desire that we yield to Him and be filled with the Holy Spirit. That may be an easy and lovely thing:

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.” (Matthew 3:16)

It also may be a dramatic event:

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1–4)

When the Spirit comes in, He changes things: fear to boldness, ordinary people performing signs and wonders along with a powerful ability to speak God’s Word:

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29–31)

The Spirit produces attitudes too, attitudes that replace our old sinful thoughts and actions:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23)

There is more, such as unity, loving care for one another, an ability to grasp the things of God, and a deeper understanding of His will. Being filled with the Spirit is not for independent, complacent people. It is like being injected with a power and motivation never experienced.

Tozer’s devotional has this line about some of these New Testament passages: “’Pay no attention to that,’ we have been told by ‘interpreters.’ ‘That is not for us.’ So it has been ruled out by interpretation and the blessed Dove has been forced to fold His wings and be silent.”

This is a valid statement, yet that interpretation is not the only reason God’s people are not praying for the Holy Spirit to fill and use them. Some of us realize that when this happens, we are spiritually energized yet can be physically spent. Doing the work of God is exhausting. While His strength is perfected in weakness and others see the power of God in His people, we who have it feel our human weakness! That isn’t much fun either.

Today, I am tired. My heart has been in a-fib since January and I’ve had a couple of injuries and problems with medications. A well-meaning friend put her hands on me and said, “Be healed” and then said, “Now act like it.” If only it was that easy! The will of God is not always great power and boldness. Sometimes it is suffering with the Spirit giving grace to bear it.

Jesus, today I’m not sure what You want for me other than I know I need You, no matter what shape I am in or what is going on around me. You supply peace, contentment, and trust. These and other good attitudes are from Your Spirit who lives in me. Help me say NO to the self-centered stuff like feeling sorry for myself and being fearful of losing a meaningful lifestyle. Thank You also that I can express the desires of my heart to the One who is in charge of my heart.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

May 21, 2018

A royal encounter

This week’s royal wedding was a spectacle that many will never forget. It seemed a perfect day, sun shining, brass polished, wedding party and guests dressed for the occasion. I’m not a royal-watcher but enjoyed seeing bits and pieces on the news the next day and tuned into the message brought by an American preacher who added the power of God and God’s love to the mix.

This morning as I read this familiar passage, I tried to imagine the difference between a glorious royal wedding and this solemn encounter between a man of God and the King of kings . . .

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:1–7)

Those in the presence of royalty at the wedding felt honored to be there and important. This man in the presence of God felt deeply convicted as he faced the King, the Lord of hosts. He didn’t feel as if he belong there and was ashamed of his own sin and the sin of his people.

Those at the wedding saw glory and beauty. The man in the temple saw angels, a shaking foundation, smoke and burning coals of fire. The scene made him cry out in deep sorrow for his lost condition and the realization of seeing God Almighty.

Isaiah’s response would have been highly inappropriate for those attending the wedding of a royal person. As prominent and significant as they are, the royal family has nothing on the King of glory. The wedding party are all sinners as are the guests. Compared to the One Isaiah gave honor to, we have no reason to bow before them. The Bible tells us to respect them, pray for them, but not worship them.

Tozer makes note that Isaiah’s encounter with God happened to him while he was alone, pointing out that even if he had been in a crowd, God must “cut every maverick out of the herd and brand him all alone.” Being struck by the glory and presence of God is not anything like a mob mentality where emotions become contagious. As Tozer says, crowd conversion or being filled with the Holy Spirit rarely happens in a large group setting. God speaks to me alone, even in a crowd when all are listening for Him. We may want to help someone hear, but no human effort can control someone else’s encounters with the Lord.

Another thing I notice in this passage is that a personal encounter with God can be both deeply convicting and deeply reassuring. Isaiah was undone by this experience, but he was also assured that God had taken away his guilt and atoned for his sin.

When God confronts and sin convicts, the love of God makes certain that I hear the entire message. He does not want me to be so awed by His presence that I stop at that and go out to tell everyone. His light is intended to expose my darkness. However, He will not stop there either. He does not want me to wallow in self-pity and regret over all the junk exposed in my life. Instead, He wants me to know that I am forgiven. Because of Jesus Christ, my sin is atoned for and removed from me, as far as the east is from the west.

Lord Jesus, You give me glimpses of Yourself each day. I’m honored, but more than that, seeing You as You are puts my ideas about myself into perspective. I’m nothing, yet You don’t leave me undone just as You didn’t leave Isaiah wallowing in his total sense of sinfulness. You touch and heal where healing is needed because Your death on the cross atoned for all our sin. Meeting with You can be painful at times, yet always ends well — a ‘happily ever after’ story that You bless me with every day!

May 20, 2018

Religion or . . .

Two cousins are involved in two different churches. They talk about God and are involved in various religious activities. While I don’t know their hearts, the Bible points out that knowing all sorts of things about God and doing all sorts of things for God does not mean that a person knows God and has eternal life.

This is a difficult issue that requires discernment and a thorough knowledge of what the Bible says about salvation. Jesus makes it clear that being His disciple involves new life from above and a personal relationship with God. He also calls people to love God and one another. Paul explains that salvation is by grace through faith, not works. James says that without works, any claim of salvation is bogus. All of these are true, even though they seem to contradict one another. Yet no one can grab hold of one statement and disregard the others.

Regarding a personal relationship, in His prayer for us Jesus said, “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” (John 17:3, NLT)

Regarding biblical knowledge and understanding of our responsibilities toward God and others . . .

“One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
“Jesus replied, ‘The most important commandment is this: “Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” The second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” No other commandment is greater than these.’
“The teacher of religious law replied, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.’
“Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God.’ And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:28–34, NLT)

Note that this teacher had this theology correct, but he was not yet ‘in’ the Kingdom of God. As Jesus told another religious leader, “You must be born again.”

Yet Jesus also said, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7:21–23, NLT)

As I ponder these verses, when salvation total descriptions seem to be confusing. They make sense only to those who have been given new life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

“And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.” (1 Corinthians 2:12–14, NLT)

Does this mean that I cannot explain it to my cousins? Not according to God’s Word or to history. The Gospel of salvation is imparted through teaching, preaching, sharing but without the illuminating grace of God’s Spirit, it becomes a confusing jumble of words in their ears. The Spirit knows the listener’s readiness to hear and is the agent to make that happen. Yet He also knows human pride and that willful ‘I will do it myself’ attitude of those who are religious but unwilling to admit their need. Salvation requires a YES yet the Spirit is a must in this amazing work of grace.

Jesus, I need to remember all this, not only for myself as a reminder of what You have done, but as a reminder that I cannot argue, cajole, persuade or convince anyone of how they can be saved from sin and enter the Kingdom of God. You alone do that, with or without me or anyone else. The eternal destiny of all those on my prayer list, including those two cousins, is in Your hands.