I AM the Vine…

John 15:5,8 (NIV)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Our Verse of the Day provides one more “I AM” declaration to us to ponder: I AM the Vine!  It is a great metaphor to communicate to us our absolute dependence upon Jesus for life itself!  What Jesus is teaching is that we are simply branches … an extension of Him who is the root … the foundation … the core being of the vine that God (the sole Gardener) planted for Himself.  Branches do not sustain the root or the structure of the plant; rather, they are an expression of the internal seed … of its DNA if you will. Branches arise out of the vine … extend its breadth and height … and provide positions where fruit can be formed and harvested. Indeed, a grapevine is the perfect picture of our relationship with Christ Jesus and reflects how we are to abide and function through that relationship….

John 15:1-12 (NIV)

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain (abide) in me, as I also (abide) in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain (abide) in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain (abide) in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain (abide) in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothingIf you do not remain (abide) in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain (abide) in me and my words remain (abide) in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain (abide) in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain (abide) in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain (abide) in His love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

I see some key concepts for us to consider from this teaching. One is that we must abide or remain in Jesus. We must live in Him and He in us through His Spirit. And how do we know if He is living in us?  We will be bearing fruit … much fruit. If you or I are not bearing the fruit of His Spirit … I believe it can be concluded that we are not abiding in Him. Fruit bearing is not a decision or an option; rather, righteousness and bearing fruit is the outcome of abiding in Jesus. We cannot help but bear the fruit of the Spirit in and through our lives when we abide in Jesus and He in us. As Paul in his experience affirmed: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Cf. Romans 8:9) Just as Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

So, what is the fruit of the Spirit we will bear as branches of the vine?  Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23 the following: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (longsuffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” And though this fruit will be manifested in different varieties, each unique fruit derives its expression from its seed which bears the image of Christ Jesus. The Apostle John exhorted: “We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands. Whoever says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did. (Cf. 1 John 2:3-6)

Question?  Do we live as Jesus did? Well, if we obey His Word and abide in Him, we are empowered to do so. The Apostle Peter affirmed: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3) And to receive that divine power (the Holy Spirit), we must come to Jesus and abide in Him … in order to bear much fruit as He appointed us to do … as we were created in Him to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) Remember, it is for the Father’s glory that we bear much fruit and show ourselves to be disciples of Christ. So, let each of us take delight in being a branch in the vine! You and I are in ordained positions to be nurtured and nourished … to grow and spread out … and to bear fruit!

Another thought that came to mind is that these I AM claims reveal an emphasis that I had not really considered; namely, each I AM statement requires an interactive response on our part. Let me explain. Here Jesus chooses the metaphor of a vine. He is the “true” vine and we are the branches. There is a connection … an intimate relationship between us. What is the invitation or response? Abiding – in order to bear fruit. We cannot produce any fruit except that we abide in Him. It provides great word imagery; and I thought that perhaps I should apply this same idea to the other “I AM” declarations we have studied.

For example, John 6:35 reads: Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.” What is the invitation or response? Eating – in order to be filled! For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. In John 6:51, Jesus stated, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world.” What is the invitation or response? Following – in order to leave the darkness! In John 8:12 we read: When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Jesus declared, “I am the gate.” What is the invitation or response? Entering – in order to receive salvation. In John 10:9 we read: I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

Jesus declared, “I am the Good Shepherd.” What is the invitation or response? Knowing – in order to hear HIS voice. In John 10:14-15 we read: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life.” What is the invitation or response? Believing – in order to experience eternal life! In John 11:25-26 we read: “Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

I believe you get the point. And I am excited that these patterns were shown to me in my study. I encourage you to consider each “I AM” claim Jesus made and to consider your own personal response in order for His declarations to have application for your life. Can you anticipate a response for “I AM the way and the truth and the life?(Cf. John 14:6) What is the invitation or response? And what about “I AM the Alpha and the Omega?(Cf. Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13) What is the invitation or response? Indeed, I believe you will find this exercise both enlightening and faith building…. If you have the time, please send me your responses to the study exercise.  I would be interested in your thoughts….

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Asking God To Fill You

Colossians 1:9 (NIV)

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…

Our Verse of the Day from the Book of Colossians is just a portion of an overall prayer that Paul offered up for the believers at that local church. I was blessed a few years ago to hear Dr. Charles Stanley preach on this prayer; and it has been one of my favorite passages to organize my thoughts for intercessory prayer ever since. Why I love this “model” prayer is its intent to align us with the will of God no matter what a person is going through. There is nothing contained in this prayer that is contrary to the will of God. As the Apostle John reminds us: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (Cf. 1 John 5:14) So I believe God will always hear this prayer and it will be granted. Let’s take a closer look:

Colossians 1:9-12 (NIV)

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light.

There is so much here to consider, but let me hit the high points for you:

First observe that intercessory prayer is to be continual. To pray without ceasing is a recurrent theme in the inspired writings of Paul. (Cf.1 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

The primary focus of the prayer is for the person “to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Excellent request!

Why do we ask for someone to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will? So that they “may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way.” Perfect!

How will living worthy and pleasing God be manifested?

Bearing fruit in every good work;

Growing in the knowledge of God;

Being strengthened with all power;

Having great endurance and patience;

Giving of joyful thanks

When you break it down, is there a better construct of intercessory prayer for us to utilize? Regardless of the issue, hardship, struggle, burden, suffering, or trial of faith; you can be sure that praying for your loved one, friend, neighbor, or even a stranger, will be impacted if they are “filled with the knowledge of God’s will.” And because God is Spirit, He communicates His will through the Holy Spirit – who is given to indwell us for this purpose. Paul shares a similar prayer for those in the church at Ephesus:

Ephesians 1:15-21 (NIV)

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, 19 and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 God exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

There are additional Scriptures to confirm what Paul is praying here:

Isaiah 11:1-3 (NIV)

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and He will delight in the fear of the Lord.

Daniel 5:11 (NKJV)

I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you.

Luke 2:40 (NKJV)

And the Child (Jesus) grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

Knowing the will of God in any situation we find ourselves affords us greater ability to respond to it as He intends. And being filled with the knowledge of God’s will through His Spirit leads us to walking and operating in His Spirit more consistently … exercising our gifts, services, and works as He determines. All the more reason for us to pray these prayers for knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. It is essential for the spiritual well-being of those we love and care about; and it is vital for the effective functioning of the Church … the Body of Christ:

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NIV)

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines (wills).

So, Lord, I pray that you would fill each of us with the knowledge of your will … through all spiritual wisdom and understanding … so that we may live worthy of you … pleasing you … bearing fruit in every good work … through the exercise of those gifts and talents you have given us in the Spirit according to your will. May we joyfully give thanks for all that you have done and continue doing to bring us into fellowship with you and with one another. In Jesus Mighty Name, I pray. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Competent and Confident

2 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV)

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

As I read our Verse of the Day, my first thought was to ask myself a question: “Do I feel competent as a minister of the New Covenant?” And then I asked another question: “Do I feel confident as a minister of the New Covenant?” As believers, I think each question should be explored because we are parties to the New Covenant that was mediated through the blood of Jesus. (Cf. Luke 22:20) We are recipients of its promises. We are bound to its terms and conditions. And in it we are given authority to invite others to join the agreement (confession) through faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, there is an expectation for us to live out and to share the Gospel of Christ so that others might become parties to the New Covenant as well….

The context for our verse is part of a larger defense that Paul makes to the Corinthian Church regarding his authority in preaching the Gospel … his apostleship as a minister of the New Covenant established through Jesus Christ. Paul has been dealing with “church discipline” matters, and it has ignited questions within the church regarding his leadership, teaching, and approach. Further, it has become a personal struggle for Paul to endure the pain of rejection after working so diligently to bring the brothers and sisters at Corinth to maturity in Christ. Therefore, I encourage you to read 2 Corinthians 1-4 to have a better understanding of what is happening as well as Paul’s response.

I think we need this context to understand the assertions Paul made to the Corinthians as he administered the truth to them. His confidence in doing so was not within himself or his own abilities. His confidence came from the trustworthiness of Christ Himself! Paul did not doubt the absolute certainty nor sufficiency of what Christ fulfilled through His death on the cross … the eternal atonement for our sin! In Him we received mercy and grace. Through Him we are raised to new life … we are born again! Faith in Jesus gives us the confidence we need to become ambassadors for Him and ministers of the New Covenant.

Likewise, we need to note that our competence or ability to minister to others comes through Jesus Christ. He alone is our sufficiency, qualification, and adequacy. There should be no question about “feeling” competent; rather, faith understands that the source of our abilities … our courage … our strength comes from Him who was victorious over death. Paul declared, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes….” (Cf. Romans 1:16) And the power to proclaim the Gospel comes from the same source! As Paul affirmed, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Cf. Philippians 4:13) And, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7)

With these thoughts in mind, let’s go back to discourse of Paul on evangelism:

2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (NIV)

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6 (NIV)

1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.4 Such confidence (trust, reliance, certainty, assurance) we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent (sufficient, qualified, adequate) in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence (sufficiency, qualification, adequacy) comes from God. 6 He has made us competent (sufficient, qualified, adequate) as ministers of a New Covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

I want us to focus on the Verse 6 a moment and ask some tough questions. Do you believe that you are a “competent” minister of the New Covenant? Do you believe the message of the New Covenant established by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ should be shared with others? If you do not feel confident in your own understanding of the New Covenant, what would help you achieve more knowledge? If you do not feel confident in sharing the message of Jesus Christ, what would help you overcome your concerns?

As we have seen, Paul declared that his competence in preaching the Gospel “comes from God.” And He is our source as well! Paul states, “God has MADE us competent as ministers.” Any idea how God did so? If we look at the life of Paul, we see his zeal for the Law and study of the Scriptures as the foundation for His competence; however, Paul was not an “ambassador” of the New Covenant until his encounter with Jesus Christ. His experience with the risen Lord changed everything!

Acts 26:15-23 (NIV)

15 Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the Lord replied. 16 “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” 19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; thus, I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to His own people and to the Gentiles.”

And so, I encourage each of us to consider our own competence. As believers, each of us has had an encounter with Jesus Christ. It may not have been a blinding light from heaven … but it was the light of His presence and His Spirit that captured us nonetheless. And the glorious revelation of God’s love, mercy, and grace washed over us as the spiritual new birth produced in us our new life in Christ. And we have never been the same since Christ entered our hearts and sent His Spirit to indwell us. “This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit.” (Cf. 1 John 4:13)

So, what might be inhibiting our competence to be ministers of the New Covenant like those who came before us? If through the past couple of millennia there had been no one “competent” to preserve the Word and to proclaim the Gospel, would we have even come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Even in the first century, there was a sense of urgency to protect the light and truth of God revealed to us through His Son. Consider what Jude wrote: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” Perhaps there is hesitancy on our part because we still have questions about our own faith or what it is based upon. Maybe there is a lack of confidence in our knowledge that stems from a lack of spending time reading and meditating on God’s Word. Ultimately our faith is based on our confidence in the Word of God.

A Final Thought:

John 15:5-8 (NIV)

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Apart from Jesus … apart from the power of His indwelling Spirit … we can do nothing. That means we cannot be “competent” as ministers of the New Covenant if we do not have an intimate relationship with Him. We have to be empowered and equipped; and that comes from His Holy Spirit. I have observed in my own walk with Christ, that the more time I spend studying and meditating on the Word of God, the more time that I spend in prayer; the more confident I become with WHO I know. And, like Paul, I am coming to the place in my life … in my walk … where I consider everything else worthless compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus!” (Cf. Philippians 3:8) So, I cannot communicate or demonstrate with “competence” WHO Jesus is or WHAT Jesus accomplished without truly knowing Him and abiding in Him! Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

His Word Endures Forever…

1 Peter 1:24-25 (NIV)

For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the Word that was preached to you.

Our Verse of the Day has a great observation and commentary from the Apostle Peter concerning the eternal and unchanging nature of God’s Word. To me, it provides an interesting contrast that Peter uses here to support his point, and I would like to explore it further….

1 Peter 1:22-25 (NIV)

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from a pure heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God. 24 For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (Citing Isaiah 40:6-8) And this is the Word that was preached to you.

I believe the context of our passage is anchored by Verse 23. Here we find reference to the born-again experience that Jesus discussed with Nicodemus. The Apostle John records this conversation, and I will reprint it here:

John 3:5-15 (NIV)

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”

With this in mind (being born of the Spirit), I believe we can infer from the premise made by Peter that the Word of God is what the Spirit uses to “effectuate” the new birth experience. He asserts that “we have been born again … through the living and enduring Word of God. And this “word” is unchanging … it is eternal. And this is the word that was preached to you. And this is consistent with what Paul asserted when he penned: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God.” (Cf. Romans 10:17) I cannot explain how this happens; I only know from personal experience that it does. When we allow the “thoughts” of God to penetrate and indwell our hearts, we WILL come to faith in Jesus Christ … which IS the born-again experience being presented here. Jesus said, “This is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Cf. Luke 22:20), and it was declared through the Prophet Jeremiah when he prophesied:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV)

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

(You will see the new covenant declaration quoted in the Hebrews 8 as well. And in Hebrews 9, you will find its theological development and the requirement for the sacrificial blood of Jesus to “seal” or “enforce” the covenant. So, I encourage you to read those fascinating chapters.)

Now for emphasis, Peter quotes the Prophet Isaiah regarding the temporal nature of man in contrast to the eternal nature of God’s Word. The Word of God is “living” and its truth endures forever in comparison to the brevity of our own lives. Perhaps Peter wanted to assure believers that the Word living in them affirms the Lord’s promise of our resurrection and eternal life with God. As we noted in Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is alive and active!” So, when we are born-again of the Spirit through the imperishable, living, and enduring Word of God, our physical lives may end but our souls will live forever. Jesus affirmed, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live … even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Cf. John 11:25-26)

It is certain each of us will face physical death. The statistics have remained unchanged at 100% since humans have been on the earth. Even Jesus died a physical death…. But Jesus taught us that faith in Him would overcome the power of death. When we are alive in Jesus … when we abide in Him … our physical death here will not be final. And this is why Jesus said, “You must be born again – born of water (the Word) and the Spirit – in order to enter the Kingdom of God.

As I meditate on these passages, I think I will conclude with this passage from the Gospel of John because Jesus can explain this better than anyone else:

John 6:63-69 (ESV)

60 Many of His disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” 61 Jesus was aware that His disciples were complaining, so He said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? 63 The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are full of the Spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and He knew who would betray Him.) 65 Then He said, “That is why I said to you that no one can come to me unless it has been granted to them by the Father.” 66 At this point many of His disciples turned away and deserted him. 67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” 68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Look at how much I love your precepts. Preserve my life, Lord, in accordance with your faithful love. All of Your Word is truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure forever. ~ Psalm 119:159-160

Be Transformed…

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Our Verse of the Day is another very familiar verse for most of us. Sometimes we just need a good “word” from God to address what we are experiencing in the moment. Too often, I think we rely on our own thoughts or patterns of thought to guide our decisions and choices without even considering whether our paradigms are aligned with the purposes that God has for our lives. Perhaps, we allow the narrative of the day or the wisdom of this world to shape or influence our thoughts more than we realize. Or maybe we are so filled with spiritual pride that we fail to consider the veil it casts over our minds to see ourselves or our kingdom roles with proper perspective. Whatever the case, Paul affords us some great advice to get back on track: Reject the patterns of this world; reset your mindset with the Word of God; and then align with the Will of God….

So, I want us to look at some other practical advice given in scripture to address the need to correct our thinking from time to time. And while the whole counsel of the Word of God should be utilized, I think there is some particularly useful meditations and instructions found in the Wisdom Literature, and Proverbs 19 in particular to assist us. I have reprinted it here and emphasized several of them here for our consideration:

Proverbs 19 (NIV)

1     Better the poor whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.

2        Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way!

3        A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord.

4        Wealth attracts many friends, but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.

5        A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free.

6        Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.

7        The poor are shunned by all their relatives—how much more do their friends avoid them! Though the poor pursue them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found.[a]

8        The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.

9        A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will perish.

10     It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury—how much worse for a slave to rule over princes!

11     A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

12     A king’s rage is like the roar of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.

13     A foolish child is a father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.

14     Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.

15     Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry.

16    Whoever keeps commandments keeps their life, but whoever shows contempt for their ways will die.

17     Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done.

18     Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

19     A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.

20     Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.

21     Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

22     What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.

23     The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

24     A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!

25     Flog a mocker, and the simple will learn prudence; rebuke the discerning, and they will gain knowledge.

26     Whoever robs their father and drives out their mother is a child who brings shame and disgrace.

27     Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.

28     A corrupt witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked gulps down evil.

29     Penalties are prepared for mockers, and beatings for the backs of fools.

When you survey these observations of human behaviors, you realize there is light and truth in the conclusions Solomon reached. Indeed, these precepts can transform and renew our minds. One of the verses I found useful was Verse 20: Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. Yes, the counsel we might receive from godly men and women can be invaluable; and yet, I am reminded about listening to those around us with diligence and discernment. Consider the implication of this verse:

Acts 17:11 (NIV)

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

The point here is that even the preaching and teaching of the Apostle Paul was “fact-checked” as we would call it in our modern culture. They wanted to know if the teachings and instructions of Paul aligned with the Holy Scriptures. And I think we need to apply the same principle as the Berean believers. Not every theological position or doctrine purported to be “Christian” that is being taught from pulpits today imparts correct wisdom or application when it is examined against the whole counsel of the Scriptures. It is important that as we listen to godly counsel and accept spiritual disciple, we need to be wise and examine the Scriptures as well … to see if what has been communicated is indeed a good “word”. Even now, I am reminded of the concerns that John referenced in his first epistle:

1 John 2:18-27 (NIV)

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what He promised us—eternal life. 26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it (His anointing) has taught you, remain in Him.

My desire is to encourage you to simply let the Word of God speak directly to your own heart. As David penned: “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Cf. Psalm 25:5) Let the Holy Spirit be your interpreter and guide into all truth. and He will confirm the Word. (Cf. John 16:12-14) Indeed, God speaks to each of us through His Word … providing us what we need individually to be transformed and to renew our mindsets. And that is my prayer for you … asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.” (Cf. Colossians 1:9-10)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

From Suffering To Hope…

Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I find it interesting that our Verse of the Day is an excerpt from the passage that I posted yesterday for our study.  The topic Paul addresses here is “suffering” and its intended spiritual purpose in our lives. Paul shares his insight from the tremendous amount of personal suffering that he endured; especially after becoming a believer and follower of Christ. I thought we might put this passage in the larger context to see this purpose:

Romans 5:1-11 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of GodNot only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hopeAnd hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodlyVery rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Notice the end goal of suffering is “hope”! And hope does not put us to shame. Why? Because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. It is our reconciliation with God through the death of His Son … through the atonement made by His blood … that produces the hope of eternal life within us! It is this reconciliation through the suffering of Christ that demonstrates the power and depth of God’s love for us! And I believe this is the context in which we should view our own suffering in life. Paul indicates that we should glory in any suffering that is encountered for our faith in and devotion to Jesus Christ….

Romans 8:18-25 (NIV)

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. 21 For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There is a correlation, an intricate relationship between suffering and hope for us to evaluate and to embrace. For we know that Christ Jesus, Son though He was, He learned obedience from the things that He suffered. (Cf. Hebrews 5:8) And Peter reminds us that suffering for doing good will be inevitable. Just as Christ Jesus suffered for us, we as believers have been called to follow in the example of His steps.

1 Peter 2:19-23 (NIV)

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. (See Isaiah 53 regarding the suffering of Christ)

So, Paul enjoins us to “glory in our sufferings” for the sake of Christ. For it produces perseverance of faith … Christ-like character … and affirms the hope for which we seek an intimate relationship with God. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Cf. Hebrews 11:1) And so, I think it follows that without suffering in our lives, we will not develop confidence in our hope or assurance through our faith. In other words, suffering is part of a necessary process to attain a faith that pleases God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) Faith is believing God and trusting Him even in the midst of our suffering….

2 Timothy 1:6-13 (NIV)

6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. 11 And of this Gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

It is my prayer that we as believers will come to a place in our walk with God that we will embrace the trials of suffering that come with the journey of faith. As we have learned, suffering produces tremendous spiritual growth in us … deepens our faith and trust in God and His character … and ultimately produces the obedience that comes from faith. Indeed, those are the worthy goals that accompany suffering and affliction. “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

The Workers Are Few…

Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Our Verse of the Day contains the last words Jesus spoke as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew; and I sometimes wonder if these words preceded those recorded for us in the Book of Acts. Somehow, I see these parting words of Jesus as a continuous narrative before His ascension into heaven. Indeed, His commandment to proclaim and share the Gospel so that others might come to faith (Cf. Romans 10:17) is quite clear:

Matthew 28:16-20 (NKJV)

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Acts 1:6-9 (NIV)

6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

Jesus said ALL authority had been given to Him by the Father … both in heaven and on earth! And why is this important for us to understand? Because there is no higher authority in all of creation than the authority bestowed by the God Himself. As Jesus declared, “I and My Father are one.” (Cf. John 10:30) This, too, signifies His sovereignty over all creation. I think this is why the people who encountered Jesus during His life on earth perceived His authority when He spoke and taught. (Cf. Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32). With authority, Jesus commanded unclean spirits to leave those oppressed and afflicted by them … and they obeyed Him. (Cf. Mark 1:27; Luke 4:36)

Now we know that His authority was challenged and doubted by the religious leaders. Jesus was confronted and questioned by the chief priests and elders asking, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” (Cf. Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:27-28; Luke 20:1-2) And can read further along in these accounts how Jesus refused to give them a response because of their unbelief. But Jesus does reveal the source of His authority in other settings recorded in the Gospel of John, and I will share a few of those to emphasize this point:

John 12:48-49 (NKJV)

48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.

John 14:9-11 (NKJV)

9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.

John 17:1-3 (NKJV)

1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

When Jesus was questioned about His identity but refused to give an answer, Pontius Pilate asserted that he had the authority to crucify Him. But Jesus responded that Pilate could have no authority except that it had been given to him by God. (Cf. John 19:7-11) His assertion is true for us as well. We have no authority except what we are granted. To think otherwise is quite misguided. And this is what amazes me: Almighty God delegated His authority to His Son, Jesus; and Jesus has delegated His authority to US … to those He called to abide in Him … to those He ordained to be members of His Body … to those He appointed to work together with one accord in the Holy Spirit to go and make disciples of all the nations of people, tongues, and tribes!

Luke 9:1-2 (NKJV)

1Then Jesus called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. 2 He sent them to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Luke 10:1-9; 17-20 (NKJV)

1 After these things the Lord appointed seventy-two others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. 2 Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. 4 Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. 5 But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. 9 And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’

17 Then the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18 And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Wow! The One who has been given ALL authority has delegated authority to us … His Church! And who among the Church is exercising the authority we have been given by our Lord Jesus? Who is proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand? Who is healing the sick? Who is casting out demons? Who is exercising power over the enemy in these latter days? These are questions each of us as believers should ask of ourselves? When Jesus sent disciples out into the field He told them, “The harvest if plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” (Cf. Luke 10:2) And I believe He is asking us in this generation: “Who among you is willing to go out into the harvest field? Who is sharing the Gospel and healing the sick and taking authority over demonic spirits?” Jesus has given us authority! The question is whether we are going to exercise the authority we have been given … or are we going to stand on the fence and watch as the harvest field is plowed under into darkness?

Indeed, the Church needs to be awakened and exhorted! The harvest in our generation is our responsibility … and Christ Jesus has given us power and authority to carry out our duties! So, I pray we will be moved in our spirits to begin exercising the spiritual authority we have received. For we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works which the Father prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) God has not asked us to say or do anything that He has not equipped us to do through His Word or empowered us to do by His Spirit! Yes, as the Lord spoke to Joshua, so I believe He is speaking to us in our generation: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Cf. Joshua 1:9) My friends, it is time for us to return to the fields the Father has sent us to harvest; and I pray we will be obedient….

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Fanning the Flame…

2 Timothy 1:13-14 (NIV)

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Our Verse of the Day is taken from 2 Timothy and I want to spend some time on the commentary this morning. For your convenience, I have reprinted the larger passage so that our verse can be understood in its context:

2 Timothy 1:1-14 (NIV)

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God.9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

This passage is full of theological material for us to ponder and pursue in our walk with Christ Jesus. Paul, in this letter to Timothy, is exhorting Timothy to “keep the faith” as he imparts his final words before execution in Rome. And so I think we would be wise to observe his instructions and to consider some applicable questions for self-examination. For example, Paul commends Timothy in Verse 5 for having “sincere faith” and being “Spirit-filled” (Cf. Verse 6). But notice with regard to the Holy Spirit, Paul “reminds” Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God.” What does this mean in practical terms? There is an implication that we have the capacity to “moderate” the work of the Holy Spirit. This verse reminds me of an alternate interaction with the Spirit of God found in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 where Paul in his instructions to the church exhorts: “Do not quench the Spirit.” So I see this “igniting” and “quenching” of the Holy Spirit as something intentional on our part; and I think we should be attuned to our relationship with the Spirit in this regard. According to Paul, we are to “be fired up in faith through the advocacy of the Holy Spirit and not quenching the power He produces within us.” Note what Paul says in Verse 7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” And Verse 8, I believe, connects the power of the Holy Spirit to “the testimony about our Lord Jesus” or the sharing of the Gospel. Similar to Verse 12, Paul professes with boldness: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Cf. Romans 1:16)

As we look further at the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives (the power of God within us); notice that Paul invites Timothy, and implicitly all believers as well, to join him in suffering for the Gospel. (Cf. Verse 8) What does suffering for the Gospel mean? What does that entail in practical terms? How does the Holy Spirit empower us to do so? Well, I think we can look at a passage of Scripture where Paul describes his suffering in detail:

2 Corinthians 11:21b-29 (NIV)

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Here Paul shares about the physical, emotional, and spiritual hardships he has suffered as an ambassador for Christ in sharing of the Gospel of salvation. And while the context is really intended to be a defense of his apostleship to the Church, it does speak volumes as to the Spirit-filled power Paul received and harnessed (fanned into flame) in order to endure “suffering for the Gospel”. Paul understood that suffering produces perseverance … perseverance produces character; and character produces hope. (Cf. Romans 5:3-4) Suffering for the Gospel was the experience of all the Apostles. Consider some of the record we have from the Book of Acts:

Acts 5:12-21; 25-28; 40-42 (NIV)

12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. 17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” 21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.

25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. 27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Although it might seem that I have wandered from our Verse of the Day, I do have a point connected with this discussion of the Holy Spirit … because we need divine power in order to be witnesses … in order to share our testimony of Jesus Christ. Why? Because believers will suffer disgrace and be persecuted … and in some parts of the world be killed … for professing faith in Jesus! Jesus Himself foretold that suffering for His Name would happen to His followers. (Cf. Matthew 5:11-12; Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12; John 15:20)

So Paul focuses on two issues in his letter to Timothy: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” As the Apostle Jude wrote, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Cf. Jude 1:3) There can be no compromise … no adulteration of the Gospel or its message. And it will take the full power of the Holy Spirit to guard that deposit of faith within us … to defend it … and to proclaim it to the nations. Consider what Paul preached to the churches in Galatia:

Galatians 1:3-10 (NIV)

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! 10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

We need the power of the Holy Spirit within us to not only share the Gospel but to live it ourselves. The righteous shall live by their faith. (Cf. Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11) The Gospel includes the crucifixion – the death of Jesus Christ who bore the penalty for our sin – but it also speaks to our own crucifixion and death to the power of sin. (Cf. Romans 6:5-7) As Paul shared in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Cf. Galatians 5:24-25)

So our application question is this: “Are you fanning into flame or quenching the Holy Spirit within you?” Are you “suffering” through putting sin to death in your members in order to experience His sanctification of your body? (Cf. Romans 6:12-14) Are you suffering because you actively proclaim the Gospel and its truth? “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him….” (Cf. Philippians 1:29) You and I cannot afford to quench the very source of power we have been given to endure the suffering; and yet, if we do not “stoke the fire” of the Holy Spirit within us … we are in essence allowing Him to “smolder” and eventually become extinguished in our lives. There will be no power to remove the stronghold of sin in our lives; and there will be no desire or urgency to share the Gospel with others. The Spirit gives birth to our spirits. (Cf. John 3:6) The Spirit gives life (Cf. Romans 8:10); the Spirit gives wisdom and understanding (Cf. Colossians 1:9); and the Spirit gives us power, love, and self-control. (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7)

John the Baptist gave this testimony about Jesus: “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” A final question: “How do we fan into flame this “fire”? How do we ignite the power of the Holy Spirit within us? Well, first you have to receive the Holy Spirit – and only those who believe in Jesus … who place their faith in Him will ever receive this gift. However, to engage the Spirit in your life, I believe this is achieved through fasting, prayer, and reading the Word of God. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (Cf. John 6:63) So we have to humble ourselves and yield our wills to the Holy Spirit so that we do not “quench” His presence within us. And by exercising these spiritual disciplines and submitting ourselves to Him, we can experience the Spirit-filled life Jesus intends for us to live. So I hope you will meditate on all of this Scripture and determine if you are igniting or quenching the Holy Spirit in your own life. And here are some ways you can know:

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

2 Peter 1:3-8 (NIV)

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 4 Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Renew Your Mind…

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Sometimes we just need a good “word” from God to address what we are experiencing in the moment.  Often we rely on our own thoughts or patterns of thought to guide our decisions and choices without even considering whether our paradigms are aligned with the purposes God has for our lives. Perhaps, we allow the narrative of the day or the wisdom of this world to shape or influence our thoughts more than we realize. Or maybe we are so filled with spiritual pride that we fail to consider the veil it casts over our minds to see ourselves or our kingdom roles with proper perspective.  Whatever the case, Paul affords us some great advice to get back on track: Reject the patterns of this world; reset your mindset with the Word of God; and then align with the Will of God….

So I want us to look at some other practical advice given to address the need to correct our thinking from time to time. And while the whole counsel of the Word of God should be accessed, I think there is some particularly useful meditations and instructions found in Proverbs 19, so I have reprinted it here and emphasized several of them here for our consideration:

Proverbs 19 (NIV)

1 Better the poor whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.

Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way!

A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord.

Wealth attracts many friends, but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.

A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free.

Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.

The poor are shunned by all their relatives—how much more do their friends avoid them! Though the poor pursue them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found.

The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.

A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will perish.

10 It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury—how much worse for a slave to rule over princes!

11 A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

12 A king’s rage is like the roar of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.

13 A foolish child is a father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.

14 Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.

15 Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless go hungry.

16 Whoever keeps commandments keeps their life, but whoever shows contempt for their ways will die.

17 Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done.

18 Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

19 A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.

20 Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.

21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

22 What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.

23 The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

24 A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!

25 Flog a mocker, and the simple will learn prudence; rebuke the discerning, and they will gain knowledge.

26 Whoever robs their father and drives out their mother is a child who brings shame and disgrace.

27 Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.

28 A corrupt witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked gulps down evil.

29 Penalties are prepared for mockers, and beatings for the backs of fools.

When you survey these observations of human behaviors, you realize there is light and truth in the conclusions reached.  And one of the verses I find most useful is Verse 20: Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.  Yes, the counsel we can receive from godly men and women can be invaluable; and yet,  I am reminded about listening to those around us with diligence and discernment. Consider the implications of this verse:

Acts 17:11 (NIV)

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

The point here is that even the preaching and teaching of the Apostle Paul was “fact-checked” as we would call it in our modern culture. They wanted to know if the teachings and instructions of Paul aligned with Holy Scripture. And I think we need to apply the same principle as the Berean Jews. Not every theological position or doctrine purported to be “Christian” being taught or shared impart correct advice or wisdom when examined against the whole counsel of the Scriptures. So as we listen to advice and accept spiritual disciple … let us be wise to examine the Scriptures as well … to see if what has been communicated is indeed a good “word”.

So I encourage you today to simply let the Word of God presented here this morning to speak to you directly.  I think some of the ones I highlighted for us will resonate with us more than others, but the point is that God indeed speaks to us individually through His Word … providing what we need individually to be transformed in order to renew our minds. Even now, I am reminded what the Apostle John has affirmed for us:

1 John 2:18-27 (NIV)

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what He promised us—eternal life. 26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it (His anointing) has taught you, remain in Him.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Delegated Authority…

Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

As I think about this familiar passage … the last words Jesus spoke as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew … I sometimes wonder if these words preceded those recorded for us in the Book of Acts.  Somehow I see the parting words of Jesus as a continuous narrative before His ascension into heaven; and His commandment to proclaim and share the Gospel so that others might come to faith (Cf. Romans 10:17) is quite clear:

Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Acts 1:4-11 (NIV)

And being assembled together with them, Jesus commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

Jesus said ALL authority had been given to Him by the Father … both in heaven and on earth! And why is this important for us to understand? Because there is no higher authority in all of creation than the authority bestowed upon the Son by the Father. As Jesus declared, “I and My Father are one.” (Cf. John 10:30) This signifies His sovereignty over all creation. Nothing is allowed to happen except that it passes through His will.  And we should be comforted by that knowledge in as much as His incomprehensible love is manifested through His will! This is why the people who encountered Jesus during His life on earth perceived His authority when He spoke and taught. (Cf. Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32). With authority, Jesus commanded unclean spirits to leave those oppressed and afflicted by them … and they obeyed Him. (Cf. Mark 1:27; Luke 4:36)

And we know that His authority was challenged and doubted by the religious leaders. Jesus was confronted and questioned by the chief priests and elders asking, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” (Cf. Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:27-28; Luke 20:1-2) Now Jesus responded to these questions with a question of His own … regarding the authority given to John the Baptist. Was it given from heaven or self-imagined? And when they would not answer, Jesus stated that He would not reveal the source of His authority either. So there is a lesson for all of us to learn as Jesus Himself reveals the authority given to Him by the Father:

John 12:48-50 (NKJV)

48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”

John 14:9-11 (NKJV)

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.

John 17:1-3 (NKJV)

1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given HimAnd this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

John 19:7-11 (NKJV)

The Jews answered Pontius Pilate, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power (authority) to crucify You, and power (authority) to release You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power (authority) at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

When Jesus was questioned about His identity, Pontius Pilate asserted that he had the authority to crucify Him.  But Jesus responded that Pilate could have no authority except that it had been given to him by God. This assertion is true for us as well. We have no authority over anyone or anything except that it has been granted (given) by God! And now we see Jesus proclaim that ALL authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him by the Father. Yes, the authority of Almighty God … Creator of heaven and earth … has been delegated to the Son of God, Jesus. And what an incredible thing is should be for us to realize is that Jesus has delegated His authority to US … to those who love Him and keep His commands!  Let’s read about it:

Luke 9:1-6 (NKJV)

1Then Jesus called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseasesHe sent them to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece. “Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the Gospel and healing everywhere.

Luke 10:1-9; 17-20 (NKJV)

1 After these things the Lord appointed seventy-two others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’

17 Then the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18 And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Wow! The One who has been given ALL authority has delegated authority to us … His Church! And I wonder … just as Pastor Steve did during his sermon this past weekend … who among the Church is exercising the authority we have been given by our Lord Jesus? Who is proclaiming the Kingdom of God is near?  Who is healing the sick? Who is casting out demons?  Who is exercising power over the enemy in these latter days?  These are questions each of us as believers need to ask of ourselves? When Jesus sent disciples out into the field He told them, “The harvest if plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” (Luke 10:2) So He is asking us now: “Who is willing to go out into the harvest field now?  Who is sharing the Gospel and healing the sick and taking authority over demonic forces?” He has given us the authority! Are we going to exercise the authority we have been given … or stand on the fence and watch as the harvest field is plowed under into darkness?

Indeed, the Church needs to be awakened and exhorted! The harvest is our responsibility … and we have been given the authority to carry out our responsibilities! The question is whether we have the individual and collective will to fulfill His mandate to go and make disciples of all nations.  Perhaps we should begin with the nation in which we live … the state … the county … the town … the local community. Perhaps we should look within our own neighborhoods … maybe we should start with our own households and exercise authority over the one who wants to steal, kill, and destroy our families! The battles we need to fight are not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Cf. Ephesians 6:12) “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

So I pray we will be moved in our spirits to begin exercising the spiritual authority we have received from our Lord Jesus Christ. For we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works which the Father prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) God has not asked us to say or do anything that He has not equipped us to do through His Word or empowered us to do by His Spirit. As the Lord spoke to Joshua, so I believe He is speaking to us in our generation: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Cf. Joshua 1:9) Yes, let us put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, we may be able to stand our ground, and after we have done everything, to stand.  Let us stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around our waists, with the breastplates of righteousness in place, and with our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, let us take up the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let us take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And let us pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, let us be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Cf. Ephesians 6:13-18) I ask all these things in the powerful name of Jesus.  Amen….

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Week!