Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Holy Spirit is my witness

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:13–17)

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit . . . .”

A witness tells what has been seen. In this verse, the witness is the Holy Spirit and His telling is into my mind. He says to me what He knows is true — that I am a child of God. This knowledge is not based on how I behave or how I feel. It is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and on the grace of God which God has given to me by faith.

The witness of the Holy Spirit is powerful. He speaks to me about who I am when I most need it, such as in the middle of those choices between the deeds of the flesh and the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ. He speaks to me when I am fearful, when I need to remember that the Father is my Father. He reminds me of our relationship, even that I can call Him ‘Abba’ (the Aramaic for ‘Daddy’). He speaks to me when I stumble, when I doubt my identity, when trials come and I suffer as Jesus suffered. The Holy Spirit is my assurance of eternal life and of my identity in the kingdom and family of God.

Chambers makes much of my role in obtaining this witness, that it will not come unless my attitude is right, again putting me in charge of what God will or will not do. But if my resistance, reasoning and arguments kept the Holy Spirit from speaking to me, then I would never have been saved in the first place. The grace of God is just that: grace = undeserved favor, goodness given by God not based on my worth or my goodness.

External circumstances often challenge my assurance of salvation. Satan’s lies will certainly cause me to question who I am. Others might look at me during my dismal worst and question that I am a Christian. When I sin I might question my identity as God’s child, yet despite those attacks and denials, the Holy Spirit is faithful to reassure me. It is His reassurance that gives me hope against those circumstances and lies.

Truth is truth. The witness of the Holy Spirit is to tell me what is true, not to reward me for my performance. Actually, when I fail, that is when I most need to be pointed back to redemption, and the Holy Spirit is faithful to do that. He wants me to obey but true obedience is impossible when my eyes are on my performance or on any kind of back-patting.

That said, performing well as a child of God is a blessing but also a danger. As a little child, I love the praise that comes when I do my best. As a little child, I swell with pride, take my eyes off Jesus and fall on my nose.

As a more mature child of God (hopefully), the Holy Spirit reminds me who I am so that when I do well, it is clear that the doing was by the grace of God and I turn all praise toward Him. Instead of pride and that internal pat on the back, humility and gratitude fill my heart. I know I am a sinner, but I also know that God is my Father because of Jesus. The Holy Spirit keeps my eyes on Jesus and assures me that all of what He has done put me into the family of God and keeps me there.

To God be the glory!

Friday, October 21, 2016

A calm strength

Chambers’ devotional for today is about the folly of living by impulse. He says an impulsive person must learn to live by “intuition” which is refusing the distraction of impulsive thoughts and listening to the Holy Spirit who puts the thoughts of God into our minds. He calls this the way to build our faith.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 20–21)

Chambers says this ‘building up’ comes by discipline. However, in my experience it comes by obedience. Perhaps these words are interchangeable, but for me they have different connotations. To me, “discipline” comes across as “I must do this” and it requires much self-effort. Living that way brings frustration because my self-effort is drawing on me rather than the power of God.

However, obedience is hearing God say, “You must do this.” I know my weaknesses ask Him for the grace and power to do what He says. The more I live that way, the more my faith grows as I trust Him, not my self-efforts.

Jesus lived that way. He never got in a flap nor was He distracted. I’m to be like Him and the Bible says I can because the Holy Spirit changes me into His image by using life’s circumstances and by keeping my eyes on Him. In other words, His calm strength does not become mind by training and discipline, but by seeing Jesus, and being given the grace to obey His Word. His faithfulness builds my faith because that calm strength comes from knowing that He is in control.

Chambers says spiritual growth is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God, not on impulse. Peter walked on water with an impulsive desire to be with Jesus, but as Chambers also says, walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a different thing. Humans often stand firm in a crisis for all sorts of reasons including a rush of adrenalin, but every one of us requires the grace of God “to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus.”

Immature Christians want to do exceptional things for God; but He wants me to be exceptional in the ordinary things. I’m to be holy and devoted to Him when no one is looking, when my to-do list is mere housework, when ordinary people make ordinary requests, even when the telephone interrupts my work or my nap. As Chambers says, this is not learned in five minutes.

But it is learned by obedience. I need to obey that still small voice in all things, such as: “no TV tonight” and “check your email later” and “be kind to this telemarketer” and “get your groceries at the other store today” and “finish that project later, do this instead.”
As I listen and do, based often only on discerning where these intuitive thoughts come from, the Lord often shows me the ‘why’ of them later. It is in seeing His rationale that my spirit becomes more and more settled on Him with a calm strength.

To Him be the glory!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Set Apart for Holiness

When the Bible calls God ‘holy’ it means He is ‘other than’ or totally unlike humans, set apart from us in all ways. Even though we are made in His image and are to reflect His likeness, we fall short of His glory because of our sin.

‘Sanctification’ is a term meaning ‘set apart’ for God. It is like designating a china bowl only for one use; it cannot be used for any other purpose. God sanctifies those who put their faith in Christ, and for the rest of our lives, He perfects that sanctification.
Holiness and sanctification come from the same Greek root word. Its usage shows that God’s desire for me is to be like Him and be ‘other than’ I once was and ‘other than’ those who do not know or believe in Him. While the Bible clearly shows this is His desire for all that I am and all that I do, many passages focus on some of the major issues. This is one of them . . .

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–8)

I notice the words “just as you are doing” and “that you do so more and more.” Christians are set apart for God, yet being restored to what God intended in creation is a process. He encourages what I’ve learned and obeyed thus far, but we are not to stop growing and changing.

One big area of human life is our sexuality. God’s Word clearly describes what this means for us, and contrasts it here with what it does not mean. I’m not to be controlled by passion and lust like those who do not know God. Living like them exploits and manipulates people and God will avenge those who become impure in this way. Sexual immorality not only disregards others, but disregards God.

The last phrase shows how doing what unbelievers do is a rejection of God. He “gives his Holy Spirit to you.” The Spirit of God is holy, unlike any other spirit, set apart to serve the glory of God and has been given to God’s people so we can be like Him.

I cannot think of any deep illustrations for the seriousness of this, only trivial examples such as: this is like driving an old rusty and worn-out car when I have a Lamborghini Veneno sitting in the garage, filled with gas, and ready to go. Living by my own strength is bad enough, but when offered the strength of Almighty God to live a ‘set apart’ life only to refuse it so I can go on a joy ride in a junk heap is more than a slap in God’s face; it is irrational and totally foolish.

Making that choice not only hurts others and harms me, it rejects with contempt the only One who loves me with an everlasting love and sacrificed His own life that I might forever live a holy and sanctified life with Him in eternity.

This passage is about one kind of sin, but it is true of everything that is contrary to holiness. No matter what I do, God has set me apart for His own — and I’m to live that way!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The World vs. the Kingdom

Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:33–36)

Pilate seemed ambivalent. He was intrigued with Jesus and not eager to put Him to death, but he also was worried about losing his position of power. He wanted to please the Jews and avoid any appearance that he had lost control in the realm where he ruled.

As I read this passage, I thought about Jesus’ character. He shows no fear concerning His arrest. Pilate must have wondered at the calmness of this man. What made Him tick?
The disciples were often puzzled too. Jesus calmed the stormy waters and they wondered what sort of man was this. Who can speak to the weather and make it behave?

On another occasion they went for food and came urging Him to eat, but he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” They figured someone had brought Him food, but He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:31–34) This was another puzzle. What was He talking about?  

From childhood to the grave, most of us are trying to figure out how the world works. Our heads eventually become full of adages, philosophies, even songs and stories as attempts to explain things, like how to be happy, how to make money, how to form relationships, and so on. Book stores are full of practical ways to run my life, even how to live my Christian life. I once asked a Christian book store owner, “If people read the Bible more, would you go out of business?” He was horrified.

As Chambers says, there are many conceptions of how Christians should do things, but the emphasis is often on the wrong thing. The kingdom of God is not from this world nor is it like this world. Jesus said “The kingdom of God is within you” and it is that inner life with God that give me both power and direction.

Every time I take my marching orders come from the world, I get caught up in the rush of activity that the world seems to regard so highly. My to-do list gets out of control and my motivation slips from pleasing God to whatever seems to fit the need of the moment.

Instead, I am to be like Jesus. He was busy, but He did exactly what the Father told Him, no more and no less. He trusted the Father to engineer His circumstances, to allow whatever challenges He would face, and to give Him what He needed to do what He wanted Him to do. He lived in an entirely different kingdom from the one that tells me I need to do this, avoid that, and do such and such if I want to be successful.

The kingdom life is as Chambers says. Living according to it, I must be rooted and grounded in the King, not in the ideas and methods the world develops. Even the church can get sucked into the world’s idea of ‘success’ — such as ‘bigger, better, and more.’

When I take my cues from Jesus, people might think I am totally bonkers, but those who understand the kingdom will support and encourage me because they too have been soaking up the mind and will of God and will understand what it means to rely on Jesus and be obedient to the amazing principles of His kingdom.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Praying for missionaries

Several years ago a man spoke at our church. He had just lost his daughter in a car accident, yet his focus remained on the Lord Jesus Christ and the work he had been called to do. He was a missionary to missionaries, encouraging and helping them. These verses remind me of what he said . . .

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 5–8)

I cannot always support missionary efforts with money, yet I can support them in prayer, and in keeping contact through letters and email. One couple working in Africa told me how much my letters meant to them. They also said they got more letters from me than from their families back home.

Personal support is important, hence the man who spoke about his work. However, he emphasized the importance of prayer and offered an outline that I’ve used for many years when praying for my missionary friends. It is easy to remember and covers the major issues missionaries face.

GRACE: to adjust to culture shock. This is a big struggle in the beginning, but even those who have been in another country long enough to feel it is their home will continue to encounter differences in cultural thinking and practice. Grace is needed to understand these differences so they will not become a barrier. More important, grace is vital so as to know which practices are not vital and which must be challenged and changed because of the gospel. A tribe in the jungle must give up cannibalism, but they don’t need to wear t-shirts and play soccer.

LOVE: for those they serve. Christian love is like the love of Christ — making sacrifices for the sake of others. Merely going into a difficult place is a sacrifice, but there is also a need for love in the daily stuff. One missionary told me that her greatest challenge was the way people dropped in for a visit anytime of the day and without concern that she had work to do. Those interruptions required the love of Christ.

SUBMISSION: to coworkers and to their sending agency. Getting along with other believers and respecting authority are significant commandments in the Bible, probably because these are effective ways to witness to the power of the gospel. God changes us from independent thinkers to members of His family, the body of Christ. We are to act like Jesus when He said, “Not my will, but thine be done” — without resentment or as a sense of duty — whether at home or in a mission field.

DEVOTION: to the Lord. This means not letting the busyness and demands of the task prevent missionary workers from quality time with God in study, prayer, listening, deepening their relationship with the One who is their source of grace, love, and submission. Of all prayer requests, this one is the most important. As Jesus said, His people must abide in Him, for apart from Him, we can do nothing.

Chambers says “The key to missionary devotion means being attached to nothing and no one saving Our Lord Himself, not being detached from things externally. Our Lord was amazingly in and out among ordinary things . . . .”

Jesus kept His focus on the will of His Father. He knew His mission, but He also ‘ate and drank with sinners.’ He had His heart set on the goal, but did not neglect any moment of the day. For Him, nothing was considered unimportant.

For me, knowing the will of God is important in praying for missionaries. It is also important in my own life, whether in Christian service or in ordinary daily life. Like them, I’m to let my devotion to Him dominate everything I do. It is the only way that the Holy Spirit can use ordinary people like us to praise and glorify God in this very needy world.