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Holy Spirit

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26

About 10 years ago the church I attended began a series about the Holy Spirit.  I was fairly new in my walk with God and didn’t realize what a big deal this series was for this church.  As the pastor began his first sermon, he kept taking care to deal with the congregation’s feeling of discomfort.  And I kept wondering what the issue was. So, I finally asked someone.  I learned the Holy Spirit just wasn’t something this denomination talked about, ever.  I’ve also since learned other denominations avoid teaching about Holy Spirit out of a fear of being too “charismatic.”  

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 1 Corinthians 6:19

Oh, we crazy Christians.  How often is our religious life marred by fears of how we will be seen or downright lack of knowledge of biblical truths?  Christians who consider themselves “proper and dignified” because they don’t acknowledge the gifts of the spirit are denying Jesus’ own words.  But to deny the Holy Spirit as an equal part of the majestic trinity is very unbiblical!  Jesus, Himself, told us He would send another in His place to guide us.  If we deny this great gift from God what else are we prepared to deny from Him?  On the flip side I know of a young woman whose church taught that everyone has the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.  That also is denying biblical truths and the work of the Holy Spirit in each of our individual lives.

In the past I’ve described hearing from the Holy Spirit like a tap on the shoulder.  A whisper in my ear which spurs me to either act for God or to stop in my tracks for Him.  To keep my mouth shut when needed and to speak when the spirit puts the right words in my mouth.  I’m so thankful I know the Holy Spirit and love when the spirit weaves throughout my day.  I can’t do this thing called “life” alone; and I don’t want to. 

The Holy Spirit helped breathe life into us during creation.  It was the Holy Spirit that brought so many to Jesus at Pentecost. It speaks to us and guides us in Jesus’ stead. If you don’t know about the Holy Spirit, call on Him in your prayers.  Read what Jesus and the disciples said about Him. I, for one, am so thankful we have this Helper to bring us through our days until Jesus’ return.

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Step 2: Humble Servant

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” John 21:15

Since the resurrection of Jesus, Christians seem to have been in an interesting battle.  The concept of how we are saved has led to many sermons, books, and even paper nailed to church doors.  The prevailing answer in the modern church age is, of course, that we are saved by grace.  The grace of Jesus Christ dying for our sins.  

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  Romans 10:9

That passage from Romans couldn’t be clearer and yet the concept of being saved by works and/or financial contributions to the church ran throughout Christendom for a long time.  Unfortunately, much of our Christian thinking seems to have swung so far in the opposite direction that we have forgotten the other lessons in the Bible.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? James 2:14

As my BSGs work our way through a study of Revelation I keep hearing a few of the same messages.  1) We must repent of our sins and accept Christ today and 2) Our deeds will be counted in eternity.  That balance of accepting God’s grace and also working to please Him echoes so many other Christian balancing acts.

  • Expressing God’s Truth while showing God’s Love
  • His Word is both bitter and sweet
  • To live in this world but not of it
  • Accepting chastisement as a method of God’s love for us

I wonder how many of us each Sunday (or whatever day you attend church) receive constant training on how to walk those balance beams?

This week’s Jesus Mindset focuses on being a humble servant.  The character trait requires of us to first be somewhat practiced at being a loving friend.  For when we take action in the name of God without a loving spirit it becomes almost impossible to be humble.  I’m sure each of us can think of a person in our lives who took on responsibilities simply to gain some sort of recognition.  A church body that forgets Jesus’ primary character trait – loving friend – becomes like the church of Ephesus.  They were “doing” a lot and building larger, more grand buildings but doing it without love.

“The church used to be known for its good deeds,” said one wit, “but today it’s better known for its bad mortgages.”

The evolution from love of neighbor to deeds without love creates a hulking body that God eventually is clearly unhappy with.  And so, we find ourselves searching for the balance.  This week I will highlight three people.  Two sisters and a quiet, humble man.  Each has their own way of “feeding” God’s lambs.  Each have different personalities.  They each find a way to reach that balance of knowing they are saved by grace and yet God asks more of us.  

I love this quote from the book, “The Hiding Place,” which tells the story of love and servanthood in the face of extreme adversity.  This moment takes place as a member of the family is about to die.  They remind her of all the amazing things she did in life because “accomplishment” meant so much to her.  But in her final moments Jesus spoke to her heart and reminded her of God’s truths.

“How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?” she asked.  And then as we listened in disbelief she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands.  I thank you that You have done all on the Cross and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”

Tante Jans, The Hiding Place

With empty, well-worn hands.  Hands worn with the work for Jesus.  For when we die we won’t take the certificates of recognition, the medals, the bonuses with us.  But each person we have fed, in His name, will be etched in our hands and hearts.

Then He said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37

Jesus has plenty of work for us to do.  The majority of that work could be called “grunt work.” It requires us to get uncomfortable and place our trust solely in the Lord’s hands.  You probably won’t receive any money for it or a headline in the local paper.  What we will receive is a smile from Jesus.

My friend Betsy told me the other day how, while out shopping, she saw a homeless man in an adjoining parking lot.  He was in a wheelchair.  As she got into her car Jesus placed the thought in her head, “Go give him one of your ‘blessings bags.’”  Her church provides these bags to hand out to anyone in need.  She had never just walked up to someone and given them a bag. 

But that day she pulled out of her parking spot and drove over to the man.  He was struggling trying to get his wheelchair closed up so he could lie down on the same spot.  As she approached the man, she could tell he was drunk.  But she kept moving forward.  She inquired, “Do you need some help?”  And he said he did.  She helped him get situated and then offered a blessings bag, which he readily accepted.  As she left she acknowledged to herself that she wouldn’t have taken that action previously – some other force pressed her forward.

You see, Betsy has been a loving Christian for 60 some years.  She has always served her church and family well.  Recently she has been working on the “obeying God” part of her faith progression.  Listening for His voice and taking action to be His humble servant.  God has told her it’s time to move forward.


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The Sword of God

Life Lesson #15: Our best defense against false teaching is to stay rooted in the Word of God.

But even the archangel Michael, when 
he was disputing with the devil about 
the body of Moses, did not himself dare 
to condemn him for slander but said, 
“The Lord rebuke you!” 
Jude 1:9

We find ourselves at the end of the Tiny Yet Mighty series appropriately enough with a lesson on defensive strategy against false teaching.  False teaching comes in many forms.  We may initially think it’s just a televangelist telling followers if they pray hard enough all their financial woes will be eliminated.  But the world of false teachers reaches so much farther than our Christian leaders.

You’ll notice in our Jude verse today that even the archangel didn’t take up an argument with the devil using his own words or knowledge.  He relied on God’s Word.  And when unbelievers or doubters take verses out of context it’s our opportunity to use the truth of God’s Word in reply.

But we can’t stand for a God we don’t know.  

Too many Christians are not Bible scholars.  And yet, it is our greatest comfort and weapon against the devil.  I, for one, in the first 10 or 15 years of being a Christian rarely even opened a Bible.  During one season of sermons at my church we tried something “out of the box.”  The pastor wanted each of us to take the pew Bible and mark it up as he spoke.  You could see the hives break out on people instantly!

I’ve been in plenty of Bible study groups where more than half the people didn’t read any of the study, hadn’t been to church the Sunday before to hear the sermon, or hadn’t gone on-line to hear the sermon being studied.  And somehow we expect to be filled with the Word of God.

No soldier, no athlete, no surgeon, no salesperson would ever enter their arena of expertise expecting success without first preparing.  So why, as Christians, would we expect any different?

Put on the full armor of God, 
so that you can take your stand 
against the devil’s schemes.  
Ephesians 6:11

The full armor includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness given by Jesus, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit – the word of God.  Without any of these we are left to the evil devices of false teachers.

But let’s back up and start at the very beginning of false teaching.

"Now the serpent was more crafty than 
any of the wild animals the Lord God 
had made. He said to the woman, “Did 
God really say, ‘You must not eat from 
any tree in the garden’?” 
Genesis 3:1

We were babes in God’s glorious garden when the first false teacher spoke to Eve.  He tried to weave his way around God’s Word and deceive her.  One of the ways I’ve personally experienced this is concerning how God communicates with us.  How often have you heard someone say they received a directive from God but yet claimed God doesn’t “speak to them.”  I’ve heard famous preachers dismiss the idea of God actually speaking, using words, to speak to people.  We seem to have the need to define God “speaking” as someone standing before us speaking out loud.  This unfortunate definition has led so many people to feel as though God is ignoring them. 

I have a friend who has frequent interaction with God through others, music, signs, etc, and yet she spoke with sadness that she had never heard God speak.  The parsing of God’s messages, directives and laws to find the “out” or the “exception” is the devil’s work.  

“You will not certainly die,” the 
serpent said to the woman." 
Genesis 3:4

Sure, Eve wasn’t going to physically die (although she couldn’t know that for sure) but the death she was to experience would be much harsher.  Satan was relying on Eve not trusting the Word of God.  

In our modern times sexual immorality has become our apple in the Garden.  “What’s the big deal?”  “God didn’t actually say a man can’t marry a man.”  Like the statement to Eve of death, this one is true on its surface.  But God does, throughout the Bible state that a man shall take a woman for his wife.

That is why a man leaves his father and 
mother and is united to his wife, and 
they become one flesh. 
Genesis 2:24

But the Bible was written long ago and cultures change and we evolve, right?  There was only one great change in our Christian history – Jesus.  He did not come to remove the laws of God.  He came to fulfill the law.  God’s law reveals our sin, our brokenness.  We can never completely fulfill the law through our own means.  Jesus gives us the grace and righteousness needed to be right with God. 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday 
and today and forever. 
Hebrews 13:8

These are but a few examples of how both believers and non-believers twist and turn the truth of God’s Word.  It’s all an attempt to live in the world of the flesh.  We are called to be a people set apart.  To know God as best we can.  To stay in constant communion with Him.  

To him who is able to keep you from 
stumbling and to present you before 
his glorious presence without fault 
and with great joy— to the only God 
our Savior be glory, majesty, power 
and authority, through Jesus Christ 
our Lord, before all ages, now and 
forevermore! Amen. 
Jude 1:24-25

When we find ourselves in the midst of false teaching it is Jesus Christ who we can draw on, both in Word and Spirit, to keep us from the fire.  Stay close to Him and the devil cannot strip you of God’s blessings.

I hope you enjoyed this series, “Tiny Yet Mighty!” Stay tuned for my next series, “Fresh Fire — 25 verses to invigorate your faith,” starting March 29. Just in time to celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice and amazing resurrection!

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A Tiny Message #9

But mark this: There will be terrible times 
in the last days. People will be lovers of 
themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, 
abusive, disobedient to their parents, 
ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, 
slanderous, without self-control, brutal, 
not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, 
conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than 
lovers of God— having a form of godliness 
but denying its power. Have nothing to do 
with such people. 
2 Timothy 3:1-5

So often when we turn to God for help we look for comforting words. I’ve heard it said many times recently that our churches have mostly eliminated the “difficult” messages in the Bible. And while Jesus’ messages to love one another are powerful tools in our battle against the devil He never asked us to turn a blind eye to sin and lies.

Satan is constantly at work trying to turn us away from the entire message of God. In fact, when I went back to edit my post titled, “Identify the Enemy,” I ran into a number of technical glitches. You see, my original post didn’t include the name Satan. After praying about what I had written I received a clear message to highlight how Satan is the Great Liar. I first couldn’t access the document. Then my computer kept saying I was off-line. Then the document wouldn’t save. I closed my eyes and said, “I know this is you at work, Satan. I’ve got all day and God on my side.” And lo and behold everything started working!

Satan is in our midst. He uses the greedy, the boastful, the abusive, the deceitful and lovers of pleasure to try and destroy our faith. And if we choose to turn a blind eye to his ways then we become his instruments. When we face the enemy head on, with our God-given armor, we step on to the battlefield. Our weapons against these “terrible times” are the truth of scripture, prayer, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and our God All Mighty.

Here’s a prayer I read that we should all speak each day:

Lord, help me stand my ground and defend what I have gained, no matter how difficult it might be to do this. I know that with Your supernatural help, I can outlive and outlast the resistance. With Your Spirit’s power working inside me, I know I can indefinitely and definitely stick it out until the enemy realizes he cannot beat me and decides to retreat! I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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The Promise of Wisdom

Then the eyes of those who see will 
no longer be closed, and the ears 
of those who hear will listen.
The fearful heart will know and 
understand,and the stammering 
tongue will be fluent and clear.
Isaiah 32:3-4

When I started going to church regularly about 20 years ago, I thought for sure I was the least knowledgeable christian in the sanctuary.  I knew, for certain, that all the hundreds of other church members in attendance certainly knew the Bible inside and out and they had zero questions about what the pastor was saying.  That also meant that there was no way I was going to share my faith with anyone.  I wasn’t even sure what my faith really was all about.  And people might ask me questions.  

This fearful possibility reminds me of that show “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.”  When a contestant was unsure or downright stymied by a question, they could use a lifeline.  My favorite was to “Call A Friend.”  I always wondered what my reaction would be if I was the friend that got called.  I mean, you could be asked any random question and your friend’s chance at a million dollars could be on the line!

If only there were an encyclopedia-type book that was like that lifeline and it gave us answers about God.  You know, a book that would help us gain wisdom about God’s character and His promises.  A sort of history of how God has worked throughout the ages.  If there were such a book then I bet all christians would memorize it from end to end.  Their eyes would be opened to the majesty of God’s authority.  Their hearts would know how He wants the best for us and we would stop being fearful.  We would gain wisdom to be able to fluently and clearly share the Good News about salvation and eternity.  And, of course, we know such a helpful book exists – the Bible.

I have a christian friend who believes the Bible is just “some book written by men.”  And yet we could say the same about our very own selves.  We are in fact created by a man and a woman coming together and creating us.  But that doesn’t negate God’s Holy hand in our creation.  To dismiss the Bible as having been divinely commissioned is truly to dismiss God’s hand in all of creation.  And yes, we can nitpick over the specifics of a word – be it the Greek translation or the Hebrew – but even when we do that we are led to even greater understanding of the Almighty.  He promises that if we take the time to get to know Him, he will bless us tenfold. Ah, there’s that covenant, that agreement.

I spent the first 15 years of my christian life barely cracking open this amazing lifeline to the promises and wisdom of God.  It started when the church I was attending began encouraging us to pick up the pew Bible and start taking notes in it.  Oh, the heresy!  It’s funny now to think how uncomfortable so many people felt taking this action.  

This year, my BSGs have made it a point to select Bible studies which require us to do just that —  actually study the Bible.  We’ve done studies which focused on one chapter in one book (Proverb 31).  We’ve studied 1 & 2 Kings and discovered how much of the land around Jerusalem is still the same today.  And we’ve spent time in studies which take us on a broad spectrum of verses about what God wants from us as believers.  We’ve gnawed and chewed and scribbled in and soaked up our Bibles like never before.  We’ve grabbed a hold of our chance at a priceless prize – the knowledge of God and His unfailing love for us.

The Bible is an amazing, almost magical creation.  It seems to change each time I read it.  I believe when we grasp a Bible lesson, God, like the game show host, brings us up a notch and presents us with more chances to gain wisdom.  We get deeper as we learn not just about the basic words but how the people of that time lived, how the politics of the time were playing out, and the values they held dear.  We get insight when we see the more than 4,000 connections between the Old and New Testaments.

The people of the Bible were at a disadvantage.  We get to see the beginning, middle and end of the entire story.  But so often when the possibility of sharing His Word arises, we look like that contestant who’s been asked about nuclear physics.  

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now 
what I am doing, but later you 
will understand.”
John 13:7

Today is later.  That book on the shelf is God’s promise of wisdom for us.  One of the other lifelines on “Who Wants to be A Millionaire” is called “ask the expert.”  And while it’s good to have christian friends that can be a resource isn’t it nice to know we have an expert waiting to speak to us day and night through His Holy Word?  That sounds like a winning strategy to me.