Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ask God for His Spirit

Time to be honest. I've been struggling against pretty substantial discouragement off and on for the past year or so. Even those who know me well may not have noticed because it never washed over me in one big wave. It has been more gradual, like the tide coming in a little more each day. My family, my job, my life are all wonderful. I am very blessed. I really can't complain and I am not. Yet as I look around at my I look back over the years of ministry that have led me to this point, I can't help but feel that something is missing. Where's the fruit? Where are the souls saved? Where are the lives changed?

Now don't get me wrong. There has been some fruit and for that I am grateful. I just can't help but feel like a farmer who comes up with a small harvest year after year. At some point any self-respecting man would have to stop and ask himself, "Am I doing something wrong? Is there a better way?"

Recently I turned to an old book hoping it might help: D.L Moody's Secret Power. It has been a blessing to me. And in the second chapter I believe God revealed to me a significant portion of my problem. Moody is discussing an old minister who has lost his power in the ministry. His health is failing and he isn't able to do much anymore. He says this:
I don't believe that man broke down at first with hard work, so much as with using the machinery without oil. It is not the hard work that breaks down ministers, but it is the toil of working without power.* (Moody, p.66)

When I read this I thought to myself, "That's me!" I have been working in my own power for too long. Returning to my farming metaphor, a farmer can fertilize, spray, hoe, irrigate and do many other things to help improve his harvest; but at the end of the day he can't make the harvest come any sooner. He can't even make the harvest come. That is dependent on things only God can control like the weather. It is the same in ministry and in our lives. There is much that we can do to prepare ourselves, our families, and our ministries for a good harvest; but at the end of the day we can't make it come. We can't draw people to salvation apart from the Spirit. We can't raise our children up to love the Lord apart from the Spirit illuminating the truth of the Bible to their minds. And we can't change the evil in our own hearts apart from the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

Since God revealed this to me I have taken comfort in Luke 11:9-13.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Pray for God to pour out His Spirit on us. Certainly every believer is already indwelt with the Spirit. Scripture makes that clear, but Moody isn't talking about the Spirit being in us. Rather he is talking about the Spirit being upon us. He is talking about an anointing of the Spirit to bless God's work in our lives. I know God's Spirit is in me, but I am not ministering in the power of that Spirit and I am not daily walking in the Spirit as I should. So join me in praying for God to pour out an anointing of His Spirit for the work of the ministry. Pray for your ministers. Pray for yourselves. Pray for me.

For further reading...
Luke 10:38-42- I've been too much like Martha in my ministry life. Join me in choosing Mary's way.

*Secret Power. Moody, D.L; Regal Books, Ventura, CA:1987.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When Love is Bad

Quick! Stop and make a list of ten things you love. What's on your list?

Now read today's passage.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life- comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
I John 2:15-17

Now evaluate your list of loves in light of this challenging command from God. Where is your heart focused? Do you love this world and the things of the world or do you love the things that come from the Father? Well, to answer that question you first need to understand that Scripture often uses the term "world" as a metaphor for all the things, people, actions and attitudes in this life that are set against God in rebellion. The term is sometimes applied in such a way as to include all that finds its origin in this posture of rejection of God and all that is tainted by it. Thus, when the Apostle John says "do not love the world or anything in the world," he is not speaking of the planet Earth, as though we would be safe from this sin if we lived on Mars. Nor is he saying that it is wrong to love physical things in this world like dogs or Dr. Pepper (my current indulgence of choice). Rather, he is telling Christians that we must not love this attitude of opposition to God or the many sinful things that often accompany or spring from it.

The Apostle John taught a lot about the love a Christian should have. And rightly so! The Bible says a lot about it. In a sense John is urging believers to do nothing other than what the book of Proverbs said so long before: "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Prov. 4:23). Jesus also spoke of the importance of loving the right things.  He said that the greatest commandment is for us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). It makes perfect sense, then, that loving rebellion against God and those things which find their source in this rebellion is wholly contemptible to God. Christians must be wary of the seduction of this world. If we are not careful, then little by little, our enemy draws us in with promises of entertainment, threats of missing out on something good, hints of endless pleasure, and hopes of a relaxing escape from the daily grind of life. Before we know it our hearts are captive to sin.

It is a terrible thing when something so noble as love is degraded by having lit upon something so debase as sin. Love is the noblest of all emotions. The Apostle John himself says that God is love and that we know true Christian love only because we have seen it personified in Christ's death for us. This helps explain why loving the right things is the greatest command. We love God first and our neighbors (especially our brothers in Christ) next. Having a heart that is bent towards these things in love not only makes obedience easy but is admirable. In the same way it is bad enough to participate in sin, to willingly reject and mock God, but to actually love these things, to have a heart that longs for them- what could be worse? Nothing.

This brings us back to what challenges me most about this passage, the second half of verse fifteen. "Do not love the world or anything in the world." Can I really say that I do not love anything in the world? Is my heart completely free of love for sinful entertainment, sinful behavior, jokes that make light of sin, sexual misconduct, the glorification of violence and killing. It saddens me to admit that there are still parts of my heart in love with sin. Thankfully there is hope in this passage as well. The command to love rightly presupposes that Christians have the ability to exercise control over what we love (presumably through the Spirit's help within us). So I lift my diseased heart up to the Lord in prayer and pray with King David,
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Psalm 51:10, 1-2

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to Spot a False Prophet

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
I John 4:1-3

There seems to be a never-ending stream of talking heads these days. Everyone - from pastors to political analysts, parents to pop stars, and professors to peers - wants to tell us what to believe about God and to what extent that should impact our lives. But how do we know who to trust? How can we tell the ones who are just spinning propaganda apart from the ones who are teaching us the truth about God? I John has some help for us.

A major issue facing the church(es) this letter was written to was a group of false teachers who were opposing the truth about Jesus and trying to lead the church astray. So the Apostle John provides his readers with a number of litmus tests to help us accurately evaluate the trustworthiness of those desiring influence over us. Here is a brief list of questions to ask ourselves about these leaders.
  1. Do they walk in the light as God is in the light (i.e. practice righteousness) or do they walk in the darkness (i.e. continue in sin)? (I John 1:5-7, 2:29, 3:3-10, 5:18)
  2. Do they honestly and humbly acknowledge their sinfulness? (I John 1:8, 10)
  3. Do they keep God's commandments? (I John 2:3-6, 3:24, 5:2-3)
  4. Do they love other believers? (I John 2:9-11; 3:10, 13-15; 4:7-8, 11-12, 16, 20-21; 5:1)
  5. Do they avoid the love of the world or the things of the world, i.e. the desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and pride in material possessions? (I John 2:15-16)
  6. Do they have continued fellowship with the church? (I John 2:19)
  7. Do they acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah? (I John 2:22-23, 5:1)
  8. Do they give of their resources to meet the needs of other believers? (I John 3:17-18)
  9. Do they confess Jesus as the Son of God who came to earth as a real man? (I John 4:2-3, 15; 5:5)
  10. Do they speak from God or from the world? Do those who know God listen to them or does the world listen to them? (I John 4:5-6)
  11. Do they believe that we receive eternal life through Jesus? (I John 5:10-12)

Be careful who you listen to and who you allow to speak into your life. As the Apostle John reminds us, there are many false prophets out there in the world.

For further reading... check out the links above.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Penny Swallowed is a Penny Earned

Here is an x-ray of my daughter's torso. You may notice a brightly shining orb in the middle. That is a my daughter's stomach. Yep. A few weeks back my daughter swallowed a penny. It was one of those things that happened so fast it couldn't be stopped. Even she was surprised. My daughter had this shocked look on her face as she pulled her hands away from her mouth. Of course my wife and I were concerned. We called the doctor and got x-rays and the whole nine yards, but thankfully our daughter was none the worse for the wear. And her body did its job. Less than a day (and roughly 14 prunes) later, the penny reappeared. 

It reminds me of Jesus' words in Matthew 15:17-20.
Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body, but the things that come out of the mouth are what you really have to worry about because they reveal the nature of your heart. Consider Matthew 12:34-37.
You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
Since our speech reveals the condition of our hearts it will be used to judge us one day. We will have to give account for every empty (lazy) word we have spoken. This is a sobering reminder to guard our lips. I admit I don't pay as much attention as I should to the words I say. It's a scary thought having to answer for every word. Commit with me to pray Psalm 141:3 over ourselves this week. "Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips." But even more than this let us pray Psalm 51:10. "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Only as this prayer is answered will our hearts naturally send forth good things again.

For further reading...
  • Proverbs 4:23 & 27:19- Not only our words but our actions also reveal the condition of our hearts. Unsurprisingly then our actions will also be called into judgment on that final day.