Imagine following in the footsteps of Moses – how huge a task that would be. Moses is probably the most important person in the Old Testament. It was through Moses that the nation of Israel was delivered from Egypt. It was Moses that led and judged the people for decades. It was Moses that climbed Mount Sinai to meet with God, and Moses who shone with the Shekinah glory, terrifying the people by his closeness to God. It through Moses that God gave Israel the Law, the Priesthood, the Tabernacle, and the Pentateuch. He wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and most of Deuteronomy.
Just for a moment, turn back a page to Deuteronomy 34:10–12,
“And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
Those are big shoes to fill. Now, turn back to the first lines of the book of Joshua:
“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.”
Now there’s a big job, right? It’s no understatement to say that the people of Israel are a tough group to try to lead – and now Joshua not only has to deal with the daily problems of the nation but actually lead them in countless battles to conquer the entire Promised Land.
And Joshua has seen how this goes. He’s been Moses’ right-hand man since they left Egypt. He was there as Moses ascended Mount Sinai, and he saw Israel worshipping the Golden Calf when they came down. Joshua was one of the twelve spies Moses sent to explore the Promised Land and knew how strong the armies and how fortified the cities were. He watched as the courage of Israel fell, was there as they turned on Moses and Aaron, and saw the heartbreak in Moses’ face as the people lost faith in God. He saw that over and over. God makes a promise, the people break faith almost instantly, they blame or even try to kill the leader, and the nation suffers. I can’t imagine how trepidatious he must have been when Moses laid his hands on him, telling him he would be the next leader of Israel – and how difficult it must have been to see Moses die.
Tough for Everyone
What Joshua was feeling is something that all Christians can relate to. Like Israel and Joshua, someone enters our life to tell us God’s plan of deliverance, we then experience God’s power-saving us from our slavery to sin, and then we enter a new reality where we now live in relationship with God. And in that new reality, we are sometimes like Israel – rebellious, short-sighted, faithless, foolish – but eventually, we come around to God’s plan. And we are sometimes like Joshua – blessed to have a mentor who is close to God, get commissioned for some kind of ministry, and are released to go forth to win victories in God’s name.
But all along the way, like both Israel and Joshua, even though we have experienced God’s promise and power, it often seems unnecessarily difficult. People let us down – or we let ourselves down. The enemy sends temptations and lies that we fall for. We face a challenge – or series of challenges that look so daunting that we wonder how we could ever go through them. Whether it’s the ministry God has given you, the struggles of raising a family, or just your own, individual troubles, I’m sure you know how Joshua might have felt.
And I’m sure you wonder, as I have, just as Joshua and Israel did as they stood on the edge of the Jordan looking out over land full of enemies – how am I going to get through this? Have you asked that question? That’s not a question that God is unprepared for. God knows what’s going on in your heart, just as He knew what was going on in Joshua’s. God knew Joshua needed a message of hope and strength beyond himself, and so God, in His grace, gave him the recipe for success. And I believe it’s the same recipe for us today. It’s the same recipe I’ve been introducing for the past couple weeks as we’ve been covering the ascension of Christ.
I’ve been holding off going through the actual questions of the Heidelberg because I wanted to do some introductory stuff, but I think now’s the time to bring them in because, if you’ve been following the last two sermons they’ll make a lot more sense.
So, question 46 is,
“What do you confess when you say, he ascended into heaven?”
and the answer is,
“That Christ, before the eyes of his disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that he is there for our benefit until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.”
We’ve already covered a lot of that. Jesus, in His resurrected body, ascended into Heaven in view of many witnesses, is there “for our benefit”, and will come back again.
Question 47 comes next saying,
“Is Christ, then, not with us until the end of the world, as he has promised us?”
And the answer is,
“Christ is true man and true God. With respect to his human nature he is no longer on earth, but with respect to his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is never absent from us.”
That’s what we covered last week, right? Jesus is in heaven, but within the mystery of the Trinity, because of the Holy Spirit, He is also with us.
Brief Excurses: The Hypostatic Union
Question 48 follows up with a technical question,
“But are the two natures in Christ not separated from each other if his human nature is not present wherever his divinity is?”
In other words, if Jesus has a human body in heaven, isn’t it impossible for him to be two places, or a million places, all at once? The answer given here is,
“Not at all, for his divinity has no limits and is present everywhere. So it must follow that his divinity is indeed beyond the human nature which he has taken on and nevertheless is within this human nature and remains personally united with it.”
If you’ve been around me for the past couple weeks you know I’ve been dropping the term “hypostatic union” into conversations lately. That’s what this is all about. “Hypostatic union” is the complex term for how theologians describe that Jesus can have two natures at the same time – fully God and fully man. It’s not that we can really understand it, but that we accept it because it’s what the scripture teaches.
Keep your thumb in Joshua, but turn with me to Hebrews 1:1-4 which begins by explaining the hypostatic union saying, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
That term, “nature” is the Greek word HUPOSTASIS, where we get Hypostatic. Jesus, the man, has the same, exact nature as God. Jesus was born fully human, died a human death, had a bodily resurrection, and still has that resurrected, glorified body right now – the same kind of body we will get when Jesus comes back. His humanity takes nothing away from His godliness – meaning in adding flesh He never subtracted from His Godliness. And His godliness takes nothing away from His humanity – meaning that His life, temptations, pain, and death were the same as any human faces. One creed says it this way: that Jesus’ two natures are perfectly unified “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation”.Hence the term: Hypostatic Union. This is a critical part of understanding who Jesus is.
Three Benefits of Christ’s Ascension
But now we come to question 49, which is the kind of question we’ve seen all along,
“How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?”
In other words, “So what?” Ok, so Jesus ascended into heaven and a bunch of stuffy theologians come up with a weird, complex term to explain something nobody really understands. So what?
Well, the answer is what we’ve been talking about for the past few weeks. It says that the reason Jesus’ ascension is a benefit to us is that,
“First, he is our Advocate in heaven before his Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that he, our Head, will also take us, his members, up to himself. Third, he sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.”
So first, it says that Jesus is our Advocate before the Father. If you recall, I’ve brought up the image of Jesus as a lawyer a few times lately. That’s what an advocate is. Jesus, as our Advocate defends us before the Judge of the universe (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1). If it were not for Jesus as our Advocate, we could never approach God – not even in prayer.
Listen to 1 John 2:1,
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
When you blow it as a Christian, who stands up for you? Jesus does.
Listen to Romans 8:34,
“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
When Satan accuses you, shames you, makes you feel guilty, and says you deserve condemnation, who supports you, advocates for you, defends you, and stands with you between Satan and God? Jesus does.
If your still in Hebrews, turn to Hebrews 4:14–16,
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
When you are afraid, tempted, weak, in need, who makes it so you can come near to the throne of God and receive the grace you need? Jesus, the Son of God. The One who can sympathize with you, who has compassion on you, because He lived a human life and faced everything you’ve faced, but can also stand before God because He is without sin. If you are a Christian today, one who has asked forgiveness for their sins in the name of Jesus, then Jesus isn’t up there judging you, angry with you, disappointed in you – He’s advocating for you.
The second benefit we’ve already covered a lot, that what happened to Jesus shows what will also happen to all those who follow Him. He died and rose again, so will we. But look at the third benefit of Christ’s ascension: That Jesus “sends us his Spirit as a counter-pledge, by whose power we seek the things that are above…”.
We’ve talked about that a lot too – that Jesus had to leave so the Helper would come (John 16:7) and what I want to close on today is how that works.
Life With/By the Spirit
If Jesus is up there advocating for us and has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper, how do we tap into that power? How do we get that help? How do we face all the trials and temptations and pain and battles and disappointments that are going to inevitably come – and do it in a way that we know that God is at work? How do we tap into the supernatural power and promises that God has said He would provide?
This is something I’ve been chewing on for a while now and the answer is far simpler than you might think. And the answer is to live by, or walk with, or keep in step with the Spirit of God. Now, what does that mean?
For that I want you to keep your thumb in Joshua, but turn with me to Galatians 5:16-26. It begins,
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
There’s the problem, right? Our flesh, our sinful side, our former self, has desires that go against what God wants. Our bodies, which are still affected by sin, still have to deal with addiction, stress, fear, anxiety, depression, hunger, thirst, lust, and all the rest, and it is always pulling us in the wrong direction. Our spirits want to connect to God and live His way – to be kind, patient, self-controlled, joyful, temperate, loving – but our flesh fights against us. It wants to fulfil our desires in bad ways. Our fear fights with our faith. Our depression fights with our desire to worship. Our lusts fight with our desire for purity. Our willpower fails, we lose self-control, and we go for immediate gratification – even if it makes us sick.
So how can we win more battles than we lose? It says in verse 16, by “walking with the spirit”. That answer hasn’t changed for thousands of years. It’s the same answer that God gave Joshua. Look back at what God says to Joshua in 1:5. He was about to face a lot of enemies and was surrounded by a lot of weak, sinful, difficult people. He had his own weaknesses too.
So what was the recipe?
“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.’”
Over and over God tells Joshua to be “strong and courageous”. In our culture that might sound like God is telling Joshua to “suck it up”, “get tough”, “try hard”, “workout”, “do it right”. But that’s not what it means. God gives Joshua lots of promises. That He will always be with Joshua, that God will secure the victories, God will make sure they get what He promised them, God will make him prosperous and successful.
But how can Joshua make sure that he gets those promises? How can he be strong enough and courageous enough to do what God is calling him to do without blowing it? By walking with, walking by, living by the Word of God. Look at verse 7,
“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
The promises weren’t something Joshua and Israel would gain through their obedience – they were something they would lose by their disobedience. We often get that backwards. We think that if we do good things God will reward us. That’s not how it goes. It’s the opposite. All of God’s promises are already available to His people. The Armor of God, the Fruit of the Spirit, freedom from condemnation, the peace that passes understanding, answers to prayer and spiritual and temporal blessings are all ours already because they are promised to us – and God never breaks His promises. God secured those promises in Jesus Christ. That’s what the Lord’s Supper is about. But… but… God leaves it to us to access those promises. God told Joshua to eat, sleep and breathe His word – to read the Law over and over, to meditate on it, to remember everything that God had said – or Joshua would forget and turn away.
Now, turn back to Galatians 5 and notice how similar it sounds. Joshua wants to know how to conquer the Promised Land. God says, “Walk with me. Do things my way.” We want to know how to escape the works of the flesh, the sinful desires that keep us so messed up, and be able to live by the fruit of the spirit. God says, “Walk with me. Do things my way.”
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Look back at that list in verses 19-21 and take a moment to see yourself in there. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself. How do I get rid of this fleshly desire for sexual immorality? How do I rid myself of all the addictions I run to when I get worried or stressed out? How do I stop being so angry, argumentative, and bitter? How do I get rid of my penchants for superstition? How do I stop being jealous of people? You’ve been a Christian for a while, but these things still plague you. They’re almost automatic – your body seems to jump at the chance whenever it can – almost before you can even decide to. How do you deal with that?
Now, look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit. I’m sure you’ve prayed, “Lord, how do I experience real love? How do I find real peace? How can I become more patient and kind? How do I start doing good things instead of the bad things I keep doing? How do I become gentle? Where do I get some actual self-control, because my willpower just isn’t doing the trick?”
It comes by “walking by the Spirit”. What does that mean? It means the same thing it meant to Joshua. Joshua was told that the victories are already won. Just walk in and take the land. God is with you. God will fight for you. God will make sure it happens.
What did Joshua have to do? Cross the Jordan, walk with God, and remind Himself every single day that God is with Him. I’m sure there were times he said to himself “I don’t have to be terrified. I don’t have to be dismayed. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go. I don’t have to be terrified. I don’t have to be dismayed. The Lord my God is with me wherever I go.”
In the same way, Christians can say, “I don’t have to sin. I don’t have to be discouraged. I don’t have to be afraid. Christ Jesus has crucified my flesh with its passions and desires and I have new life by the Spirit. All I have to do is believe it, ask Jesus for help, and walk where He tells me to go.”
Ordinary Means of Grace
You see, it’s not about trying harder, going through a Bible in a Year program, pulling up your socks, and white-knuckling your way into becoming more patient, kind, self-controlled. It’s about reminding yourself that God has already won those victories in your life and invites you to simply take them. These promises are available – but they do not come to those who do not ask.
In Joshua 7 we see Israel blow it big-time. After the huge success of the fall of Jericho, Joshua and the people of Israel are feeling pretty confident. So confident they forget to ask God what to do next, someone breaks God’s law, and when they head off to their next battle they get utterly wrecked. Why? Because they stopped obeying God’s word and depending on God for their victory.
God was happy to give them victory – right up until they forgot about Him and started thinking that the victory was their own. Right up until someone decided to go against His word and do what they shouldn’t. Then they lost the blessing – until they dealt with the sin. That’s how it goes, and that’s how it always will go. God will give you the victory over that sin you want to kill. He will demonstrate great power in your life – but only if He gets the credit for doing it.
But let’s get practical. How do we walk in step with the Spirit? What does that look like? What did it look like for Joshua and Israel? What did it look like for Moses and Elijah? What did it look like for Peter and Paul? What did it look like for Jesus? Same answer.
Through what Christians have called the ordinary means of grace. If the question is, “How do I, as a believer, get access to all the Grace the Lord wants to give me for all the needs I have? How do I walk in step with the Spirit? How do I find Jesus every day? How do I hear His voice, find His wisdom, feel His presence, get His protection, sense His correction when I’m going wrong, and know His comfort when things are hard?”
The answer is so very simple and has been the same one forever: It is the simple, daily obedience of talking to God in prayer every day, regularly reading and sitting under the teaching of God’s word, participating in the life of the community of believers, and reminding ourselves of what God has done through the ordinances He provided.
That’s how it worked for Israel, for Jesus, for Peter, and how it works for us. Sure, there are special times when God shows up in a unique way, but God isn’t playing a game of “catch me if you can” where we have to go looking for Him. God makes Himself available everyday all day, and is interested in every part of our life, and has given us these ordinary ways to connect with Him regularly. Talking to God every day, sitting under the teaching of God’s Word regularly, participate in a community of believers, and follow the ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
That sounds too simple, too easy – there must be something more complicated that God wants, something that specifically targets my own sin, my own issue, my own fears – some special book or discipline or exercise – but ask yourself how easy is it really?
How hard do you find it to read God’s Word and pray every day? How hard is it to attend church once per week, 52 weeks in a row? How hard is it to fully participate in a worship service? How hard is it to commit yourself to serve in even the most simple ministry? How hard is it to fully participate in the Lord’s Supper with repentance, reverence, and celebration? How hard is it (or was it) to submit to baptism and attend someone else’s? How hard is it to have other Christians over for a meal? Or, how hard is it to ask other Christians to pray for you?
It’s actually very hard, isn’t it? Those ordinary means of grace sometimes feel almost impossible! They should be easy! There are a dozen things we do every day without even breaking a sweat. So why is reading God’s word and praying every day so hard? Why is Sunday morning such a struggle? Because the enemy knows that these simple things, prayer, studying God’s word, and being here together, are the single greatest weapon we have to defeat him.
If the enemy can get you distracted with 1000 good things – but keep you from your devos, you’re an easy target for temptation and lies. If he can get you bitter against just one person at church, and keep you from attending or being able to pay attention – you’re an easy target for temptation and lies – and then he can use you to divide the church and wreck it for everyone.
That’s why Sunday morning is such a battle, why prayer is such a battle, because the ordinary means of grace are so incredibly potent that they can dismantle the works of the enemy in our lives. They are what keep us in step with the Spirit. They are what help us bear fruit in our lives. They are what allow us to hear the voice of God. And they are the ways by which we are able to conquer sin.
My encouragement to you is to commit to these ordinary means so you can walk in the Spirit, walk with Jesus, and let Him destroy those sins and strongholds in your life.
Turn with me to Luke 24:50-53 and then we’ll be headed into Acts 1. Luke and Acts are actually two parts of the same work, both written in about 60-70AD by Luke, a gentile, Christian doctor who travelled with the Apostle Paul and was commissioned by someone named Theophilus to write a history of the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the Christian church.
So, let’s take a look at how Luke ends his first book. The events of Passion Week occur in chapters 22 and 23, the resurrection and Jesus’ appearing to His followers and disciples are covered in chapter 24 – and then at the very end of chapter 24, in verse 50, Luke closes off with a little summary of the Ascension, which he will describe in greater detail in Acts. It says,
“And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
If you recall last week’s message, you’ll remember that on the night of His betrayal, while He was still in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Supper, and then even more as they walked to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would be arrested, He was teaching them and preparing them for this moment. He told them of His imminent death, resurrection, and then ascension. He told them that even though He would die, and they would be in great sorrow, He would rise again – but even then He couldn’t stay long, but would ascend to the right hand of the Father to prepare a place for them (John 14:3). But even then they wouldn’t be alone because He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit who would continue His work – and do even more through them than Jesus could ever have done Himself.
That’s what we’re talking about today.
Turn over to Acts 1 and let’s read there. Acts 1:1–11:
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.”
Now skip down Acts 2:1,
“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
So, the timeline kind of works like this. Jesus was crucified the Passover and the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Pentecost literally means “the fiftieth day” and was on the 50th day of the Passover. So Jesus dies on the Passover, rose again 3 days later, and our passage in Acts here says that Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of 40 days. So, if you math that out, Jesus ascended on the 43rd day of the Passover, meaning that the disciples waited seven days in Jerusalem between Jesus ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, bringing about the next phase in God’s plan, the birth of the Holy Spirit empowered Christian Church.
Once the Holy Spirit comes we see a remarkable change in the followers of Jesus. Remember last week I told you how scared they were, locked away in a room, afraid to get the same treatment as Jesus? Not after Pentecost! Once the Holy Spirit comes we see a very different group of people.
Suddenly they can speak languages they could never speak before – not through education or study, but because the Holy Spirit just made it happen. Then, as a result of the sound of mighty wind and fire, and the commotion of the voices, a group of people starts to build outside. Let’s read that together in Acts 2:5–18:
“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.’”
Peter, the one who, over and over denied Jesus, who locked himself in a room afraid to be hurt because of what Jesus had stirred up, who had been rebuked by Jesus, along with the other disciples for his lack of belief, and had been given the great commission to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel” (Mark 16:14-15), had sat in that room for a whole week after Jesus ascended. But once the Holy Spirit came, what do we see?
We see Peter stand up before crowds of people, Jews, Gentiles, Pharisees, Sanhedrin, everybody, and boldly proclaim the risen Lord Jesus. This uneducated fisherman stands before thousands of people gives a powerful sermon, full of prophecies and scriptures, speaking with conviction, accusation, authority, bravery, and humility.
Look how he ends his sermon in verse 36,
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
These are not the words of a coward. This doesn’t even sound like the same man from a few weeks before, does it?
That’s the power of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life and was exactly what Jesus had promised. Jesus said that after He ascended, the Helper, the Holy Spirit would do something new. No longer would God be with them, as in, alongside them, but after Pentecost, God would come and live inside of them. (John 14:15-16) And from the inside, with promptings and empowerment, they would learn things and be capable of things that they would never have been able to otherwise. The Holy Spirit would help them in their walk with God by being like a Geiger counter for lies, always pointing them to the truth if they would listen. He would teach them more than Jesus had ever been able to, and take away the blinders so their hearts and minds could finally understand what He had been saying. He would help them love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, reconcile the irreconcilable, empower and guide them for the mission He was sending them on, and allow them – even when things were at their most dark and most difficult – to experience joy, peace, and patience that surpasses their understanding.
That’s what we see here in Peter on the day of Pentecost.
But keep reading. Look at verse 37.
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”
There’s another fulfillment of one of Jesus’ promises about the Holy Spirit. Remember what Jesus said in John 16:7-8,
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”
Here’s the fulfilment of that promise. Some of these people standing before Peter were ones that had been chanting “Crucify Him” at Jesus’ trial. Peter tells the whole crowd that it was because of their sin, their hard hearts, and their rebellion that they crucified their Lord Jesus Christ. That was only a month ago! How does a group of thousands go from “We hate Jesus so much that we want to mock Him while He is beaten, scourged, humiliated, paraded down the street bleeding in a crown of thorns, and then nailed to a cross” to being “cut to the heart” and asking the followers of Jesus what they need to do to be forgiven?
There is only one explanation. A movement of God, the promise that Jesus made that the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, cause them to feel guilt and shame, and change them into people who want to repent and be forgiven. No one changes that much or that quickly unless the Holy Spirit does it for them.
Maybe some of you know a story like this. Maybe this is your story. Someone in absolute rebellion, hates God, hates Jesus, hates religion – and then boom! they turn their life over to Jesus. A rebellious child or selfish friend that suddenly, and for no reason, comes to their senses and wants to make things right. A drunk or addict who didn’t just get off of their substance, but has fallen down before God in repentance and is now a new man or new woman, a new creation and you would have never guessed what their old life looked like. A prideful, arrogant, jerk turned into a humble servant. A person full of anxiety and fear, out risking it all in Jesus name. Someone crippled by grief and depression changed forever into someone with a thankful heart who encourages others. That doesn’t just happen. They didn’t just read a good book and get some counselling. That’s a miracle. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we depend on Him. That’s why we pray.
The Holy Spirit for Everyone
But now, look at verses 38-39, what Peter tells the crowd they must do in response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit,
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’”
I want you to notice three things here. First, I want you to notice that we don’t save ourselves, but it is the Lord our God who calls us to salvation. That way we can’t take any of the credit for it. He gets all the glory. Second, I want you to notice that the gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t just for the apostles or those people a long time ago, but for all believers, everywhere, for all time.
But third, I want you to notice the responses that God requires of those who feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The response of a person who wants to be saved is to “repent and be baptized”. To repent simply means to “turn around”, change your direction, change your behaviour, change your mind. Admit you’re going the wrong way and turn around. This is the first step of being saved. Admitting that you’re wrong and God is right. Admitting that you are a sinner who loves your sin and who needs Jesus to save them from that curse. There are many who will feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but not many who actually repent. You must admit yourself to have broken God’s law, broken your conscience, be in need of forgiveness, and then ask God for that forgiveness – or you will not be forgiven. Even if you get baptized and go to church your whole life, telling people you are a Christian – if you do not admit you are a sinner, repent of your sin, and ask forgiveness, you are not saved, you are still going to hell, and you do not have the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism doesn’t make you a Christian, nor does baptism make you cleansed from sin. Baptism is the outward sign of what has happened inside you. It is the first, symbolic act of obedience for a believer in Jesus. In baptism, you are saying that you have been cleansed by Jesus on the inside, the way that taking a bath cleans you on the outside. In baptism you are saying as you sink into the water, that you are dying to yourself, you are no longer your own, but now belong to Jesus, that your sinful self has died, has been pinned to the cross and buried in the tomb with Jesus – and then, as you come out of the water you are rising again as a new person, justified and sanctified by Jesus, utterly changed by the Holy Spirit, a new being with a new life. In Baptism you are publically identifying yourself as a follower and ambassador of Jesus Christ. That you love Him so much that you are willing to obey Him no matter what He tells you to do, and you’re not afraid to tell everyone.
So our response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit is to repent and be baptized. What does God do? He forgives us and gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. The moment we humble ourselves and ask forgiveness we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit inside us. Not upon baptism, not when a pastor or priest lays his hands on us, not once we’ve spoken in tongues or done some kind of miracle – the very moment of our conversion, the moment we admit sin and ask forgiveness, the Holy Spirit goes from “with us” to “inside us”.
And at that moment we are made new. From that moment we have all the promises that Jesus made to the disciples, all the promises of the New Testament, available to us.
Now, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, because we’re not actually supposed to talk about the Holy Spirit until Day 20 of the Heidelberg, but I really feel like we need to cover this, because it’s critically important that we realize as individual believers and as a church that all the things we want to see happen and every good thing God will do through us as individuals or as a church, will only happen if we are dependent on and in communion with the Holy Spirit.
We have family members, husbands, wives, children and grandchildren who we desperately want to be saved. Will they be saved by our own actions or words or nagging or discipline? No. They will be saved when the Holy Spirit moves in their hearts.
We are facing stresses and problems and anxieties and frustrations that are stacking up against us so high that we not only have no idea how to deal with it all, but we feel like we are always on the edge of collapse. How will we have the wisdom, discernment, patience, and strength to get through? By reading self-help books, trying a new diet, and making a really good list? No! It will only be by the presence of the Holy Spirit empowering us beyond our human capabilities.
We want to see our church grow and impact our community and raise up leaders and missionaries and motivated disciples who will go out and change the world – but we’ve got financial issues, and leadership issues, and volunteer issues, and practical issues. How will this happen? With clever posters and websites and ministries and music and fun events? No! It will only happen if we allow the Holy Spirit to show us what to do, convict us of sin, empower us to ministry, raise up new workers for the white harvest, and then only if He goes out and does the work of convicting the world and changing people’s hearts before we ever get there.
Look back at our passage in Acts 2:42, about what the church looks like when the Holy Spirit has free reign over a group of people – before it gets corrupted by politics and sin and selfishness; before the enemy sent corrupt leaders and brought down great persecution on them, and all the rest. Look at what the church looks like moments after it was born, as they experienced the new miracle of the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of them:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
That is my desire for me, you, your family, my family, this church, and the community around us. To love God’s word and each other. To see God’s power at work regularly. To be a united community of sacrificial love that takes care of each other, enjoys each other, worships regularly, and whose number grows because God keeps saving our family members, friends and neighbours. I’m sure that’s what you want too…
I don’t believe that’s something that only happened a long time ago. I believe that the same Spirit that inhabited them inhabits us today – but we no longer understand how to listen to Him. It’s my hope to talk about that over the next couple weeks, so we can all understand what it means to have the Holy Spirit inside us, and how to walk with Him so we can experience that kind of power and presence and hope here and in our homes.
My invitation to you is to read the Book of Acts and look at what the Holy Spirit does among God’s people, to whet your appetite and make yourself hungry, even desperate, for the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life – to begin to pray that you would know Him better, understand what it means to hear Him, feel Him, and have Him inside you.
Part three answering listener questions from Tim about whether or not faithful Christians should expect to be healed by Jesus from all their diseases. This time we concentrate on the danger of filtering our faith through personal experience.
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Part two answering listener questions from Tim about whether or not faithful Christians should expect to be healed by Jesus from all their diseases. This time we concentrate on whether miracles should be a normal part of gospel preaching.
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The full audio version of our CT:LIVE Season 3 Finale Q&A! It’s a long one, but there’s lots of fun and answers to some awesome questions. Check Facebook for the contest winners.
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If you remember last week, we learned that regardless of what the multitudes of unbelievers in this world think, there really is objective truth and objective morality, and those things were written long, long ago by God Himself. And therefore, despite all of the dramatic changes of opinion which seek to envelop us, and all the forces pulling us towards compromise, there are many things that Christians will not change.
The world around us is redefining itself at a remarkable rate.
- A hundred years ago few homes had a telephone, now almost everyone has access to the wonders of the internet in their pockets.
- In 1915 only a handful of people graduated from high school, and only 1 in 10 doctors had a college education – today you almost need a bachelor’s degree to be hired to flip burgers.
- In 1915 you could get Marijuana and Heroin over the counter from your pharmacist.
In just one generation, we have seen radical changes in the way the world looks and sounds.
- Tattoos used to be reserved for sailors, and piercings for women’s earlobes.
- Children have all but stopped going to the park and riding their bikes all over the neighbourhood – although Pokémon Go seems to have changed that now!
- Television wouldn’t even show a husband and wife in the same bed.
- We didn’t hear the first uncensored swear word until 1999.
- It took until 1971 before the sound of a toilet flush was heard on TV! Now we have Netflix and Game of Thrones.
And that’s just a little scratch off the surface. In an even shorter time, we’ve seen seismic changes in how the world views human sexuality, marriage and family, contraception and abortion, pornography and prostitution, the role of government, multiculturalism, religion, and more. And we’re not merely talking about fads and fashions, but complete reversals on these issues. What was once considered immoral, illegal, disgusting and even dangerous, is now part of our everyday mainstream media and culture.
It was incredible to me (though perhaps it shouldn’t have been) to see a woman at the US Democratic National Convention stand in front of a group of thousands of people and be applauded for having her first child aborted, and encouraging others to do the same. Or to watch prostitutes stand on the steps of the Canadian Parliament and shout how proud they are of their “valuable work”. That’s an incredible change from only a few years ago.
Christians, every day, everywhere, even in our little context here in Beckwith and Carleton Place, are faced with a dramatically and rapidly changing world. We can’t avoid dealing with it.
Last week we talked about the danger and foolishness of dealing with it by setting your moral compass by the “rulers” or authorities of this ages who’s “wisdom” is “doomed to pass away”, but we are to pursue spiritually mature thinking by staying connected to God and His Word.
In the passage of scripture we were looking at, we are reminded that today’s worldly wisdom will not only “pass away”, but those coming up with these new ideas are usually wrong. The quintessential example of how wrong they got it was that when they saw Jesus Christ, instead of seeing the sinless Son of God, they murdered him.
The passage continues and reminds us that if we want to understand what God is doing, then we have to listen to Him, because his plans are often “secret and hidden”, beyond our ability to discern through our own human abilities. No matter how much we study, we will never be able to figure out what God is doing because, as Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God’s] ways higher than [our] ways and [God’s] thoughts than [our] thoughts.”
God’s Plan is a Revealed Plan
But that doesn’t meant that God’s plan is impossible to learn, or His voice impossible to hear. We just can’t get there ourselves. We need help. Please open up to 1 Corinthians 2:9-12.
“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
There’s an important word there that we need to make sure that we see; it’s the word “revealed”. God’s will is a revealed will. God’s plan is a revealed plan. What God has “prepared for those who love him” is “secret and hidden” for most people, but it can be found by those who have received the Spirit of God.
Remember the context. The Corinthian church has been acting like a bunch of immature, unspiritual, babies, and Paul says that as much as he’d like to teach them about “secret and hidden” things of God, he can’t because they’re too immature to listen.
The reason we have Children’s Church, or Sunday School, here is so that those who are unable to understand me – who don’t have the attention span, vocabulary, or maturity to be able to sit through a sermon – can be taught about Jesus at their own level. It’s important that we do that or the children will be both confused and frustrated, and we don’t want that. We speak to them at their level.
The Apostle Paul had spent a year and half teaching the Corinthians, and after he had left, they didn’t grow more mature in their faith, but instead reverted back to acting like spiritual babies. They could barely handle Children’s Church, and would never be able to understand a real, deep, mature Christian lesson.
But, Paul says, these things are absolutely available! Anyone can learn them – but they need to be pursuing spiritual maturity in order to do it. I want to spend next week giving more details about the Holy Spirit, but today we’ll suffice with this: the only way to “comprehend the thoughts of God” is to receive, accept and walk with “the Spirit of God”.
These truths must be “revealed”. We can’t figure them out on our own, no matter how hard we try. He does this through us reading scripture and when we are in prayer – but both require submission to the Holy Spirit for it to work.
Here’s a great example:
In Matthew 16:13-17 it says,
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’”
A bunch of people had put their heads together and came up with some great theories about who Jesus was, and it was based on a lot of study. Herod and his experts thought that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life and that rumour spread far and wide. Others thought that Jesus was like one of the prophets of old brought back to life. Elijah had great power, and so did Jesus. Jeremiah had great wisdom, and so did Jesus, so perhaps it was him. But, as good as these guesses were, they were all wrong.
When Jesus turned to ask His group of disciples who they thought He was, it was the bold Simon Peter who spoke up.
“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
Do you see that? Jesus says, “Peter, you got the right answer, but it wasn’t you who came up with it. It was God who gave that to you. You wouldn’t have come up with that yourself!”
And we know that because within about 6 verses, Peter takes Jesus aside to tell him that He’s never going to be killed or raised from the dead, and Jesus says,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23)
Oh, Peter! When you were listening to God you were right on, but when you started to set your mind on the things of man – the worries you had for your friend, the plans you think you have in your mind, the ways you think Jesus should work, the belief that all suffering is bad – you started working for Satan and hindering the work of God!
Over and over in his letters, the Apostle Paul reminds his readers that everything from his conversion to Christianity to the sermons he preached were not His idea, but came because Jesus acted first. He knew the Old Testament better than anyone and hated Jesus. And yet Jesus save Him and taught him the truth. Jesus shone light in the dark places so Paul could see things that his great, human wisdom and learning, could never reveal. (Gal 1:12, 16; Eph 3:3, 5)
This is something we absolutely need to understand, and is something that I’ve been talking around for a number of weeks. Our human senses, knowledge, and understanding are not enough to figure out what God is doing in our lives, our family, or this world. His truths are revealed to spiritual people in a spiritual way. It is through the pursuit of God’s Spirit, by walking with God, that we are able to discern the secrets and mysteries of His plan.
But most of us still really, really want to believe our human wisdom is enough, which is why we spend more time thinking, talking and reading than praying and meditating. We believe that our abilities are enough to comprehend the mind of God. We think that with enough thought or study or effort, we’ll be able to figure it all out and/or save ourselves without having to trouble God.
When we are presented with a problem, we tend to trust our senses, our feelings, our knowledge, and our understanding. We seek out human experts, human wisdom and human answers for questions that can only be spiritually discerned.
- We are presented with suffering, fear, sadness, and pain, and we want to know why it’s happening and what to do about it. Immediately our minds fly into “human wisdom” mode and we start to try to figure it out. How can we fix this? How can we defeat this? Where does this come from? What do the experts say? How do I feel about it? If I think enough about it, and work hard enough, then I’m sure I’ll figure it all out and be able to make a plan that fixes everything for myself and everyone else.
- Or, maybe we’re presented with fighting, disagreement, and hard-hearts. We want people to either agree with us or all get along, and what do we do? We have imaginary arguments and see if we can outwit them before they even speak. We try to find ways to make everyone happy. We build walls and fences to protect ourselves.
We are surrounded by so-called experts who are full to the brim with answers and worldly wisdom to solve our problems – but most are only digging deeper graves for themselves and their followers.
Notice that the Bible here talks about two different spirits: the “spirit of the world” and “the Spirit who is from God”. Notice also that one is lower-case and the other is capitalized.
There are two ways of confronting these difficult issues, two different spirits we can choose between to trust: one is the “spirit of the world” the other is “the Spirt who comes from God.” You can see these as two different sources of power, or two different God’s we can worship, almost; two different places to find hope and peace.
The “spirit of the world” draws its strength from multiple sources. It draws strength from the wisdom of the world and this age, supposed rulers and experts of today and yesterday. These are the humanists and philosophers who have tried to riddle out human existence without the need for God. And coupled with that it also draws strength from the demonic realm. Remember, it was Satan who first offered Adam and Eve the opportunity to be like God, knowing good and evil. It was a temptation towards human knowledge, human power, worldly wisdom, that didn’t require God. It’s the same temptation we have today when we try to solve our issues or understand this world without God’s help.
The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, comes from God. He is God. He knows the mind of God the Father, and is fully God Himself.
This is not a new message, but one that has been preached for millennia. When you are faced with something in this world, you have two choices: human wisdom coupled with demonic influence, or dependence on the Holy Spirit of God. The question is, which will you choose?
Our Hiding Place
I’ll talk more specifically about what the Holy Spirit offers next week, but for now I want you to consider how you are reacting to what’s going on around you.
The world is rapidly changing – how are you seeking to discern truth from lies, good from evil, positive changes from negative ones? Are you trying to use human wisdom, or are you on your knees before God, reading His word, and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal his truth to you and give you discernment to understand it?
Many of you are in difficult places, struggling with areas of suffering. How are you reacting to it? Are you trying to figure it out yourself? Depending on worldly experts and worldly wisdom? Are you leaning on your friends, spouse, family, and everyone else, in hopes they will give you strength – but not leaning on God? Do your struggles drive you to Jesus and His promise to give you the Holy Spirit to help you “understand the things freely given us by God”, or do your struggles drive you away from Him.
It is the immature believer that runs from God during times of confusion, fear, and struggle. It is the mature believer that runs towards Him for help. Over and over in scripture God is called a “strong tower”, a “refuge”, a “fortress”, a “rock”, a “shield”, a “stronghold” (Prov 18:10, Ps 18:2, 61:3, 2 Samuel 22:3) Over and over, God is called our “hiding place” (Psalm 17:8, 27:5, 32:7, 119:114). The place where we run to and hide when things get tough. Jesus is called the “Saviour” because He saves us!
The world says that your pains are meant to make you stronger so you can handle more things. No! Our changing world, personal struggles, and pains are meant to drive us to Him so He can be our strength and our defender. God gives them us to show us our weakness so we can learn that we need God to handle everything!
What is stopping you from running to Him?
What is keeping you from crying out to your deliverer?
What keeps you from putting aside the wisdom of the world and leaning heavily on the Spirit of God?
What keeps you from confessing your problems to your Christian brothers and sisters and asking them to call out to God with you?
Is it your pride? You want to come up with your own answers? You want to be the one who saves yourself? You want to impress everyone, including God, with how strong and independent you are? Don’t be foolish. That’s the human path of destruction.
Is it your false humility? You think you are too far gone for God’s notice? You think that your prayers are too simple? You think that you need to do something good before God will listen? Then you don’t understand the Good news of the Gospel! To God, you were dead and dumb and His enemy – and He came to save you anyway. He knows the thoughts of your heart, and knows exactly how you feel – because Jesus has felt the same way. And there is nothing you need to do to be worthy of God’s attention – because He’s a good Father who wants nothing more than to have you come to Him.
It actually grieves His heart when you think that you are either too good or too bad for Him to help. It grieves His heart when you refuse to come.
The Prodigal Son
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The son looked at the father and said, “I wish you were dead. Give me my inheritance and I’ll pretend you are. I’m going to go live like the world. I’m going to listen to the world. I’m going to act like I’m not even one of your children. I’m going to take all the blessings you give me, and spend them only on my own selfish desires. Get out of my life, Father… I know better than you!”
And it says that after hitting rock bottom, the son got so sick of what the world was offering that he wanted to go home. But he thought he was unworthy. He wanted to come back and as a lowly servant. Like many people here, he figured his father would be angry because of how they have lived, or because of the neglect of his soul, or because he had made himself unclean, so he thought, maybe he could just scrub pots in the kitchen.
The moment his life changed was the moment he decided, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to Him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.’”. So he went home, with a three sentence speech planned, hoping to grovel for some grace.
But how was he greeted? His Father was looking for Him. As soon as the son was in sight, his Father ran out to him, and before the son could even get his little speech out, the Father was yelling at the servants to dress him, clean him, restore him, equip him, celebrate him! He was thrilled beyond belief to have his child with him again!
That’s the kind of God we have! He is the shepherd who leaves the 99 to go searching for the lost one and rejoices when they are found. He is the woman who tears apart the house looking for the one coin she has lost, even though she still has 9. He is the God who is jealous for His people and loves it when they come to Him. And promises, that when we do, He will help us understand what is going on, why it’s happening, and where we can find comfort.
Before the word is on our tongue, He is there, restoring, cleaning, helping, comforting, and embracing us. He’s not angry – He’s thrilled you are there! The Spirit of God has been waiting for you to open up to Him.
We like doing things ourselves, right? I think almost everyone here today takes pride in the skill and abilities they have, what they can accomplish, and how, for the most part, they don’t really need anyone’s help to get by. Sure – as I said last week – some of us are willing to admit our weaknesses and need for God for spiritual things, but when it comes to practical things – like home repair, cooking a meal, fixing a car, building a shed, manipulating a computer, or making clothes – we’re still pretty fond of the fact that we don’t need anyone’s help to do it.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Being a do-it-yourselfer is good. Actually, in scripture, God praises the one who learns skills and then applies them with diligence. It’s not only those who know the Bible and practice spiritual disciplines that get kudos, but God also shows His pleasure with those who work hard at growing their business, playing music, build, manufacture, teach, explore, or make art. During the building of the Tabernacle in Exodus 35, God called on all people who knew to spin yarn and linen, work metal, grow plans and herbs, carve wood, and more.
There were a couple of men in particular that God blessed to be able to do all kinds of practical things. It says,
“Then Moses said to the people of Israel, ‘See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.” (Exo 35:24-29)
Sometimes Christians look at men and women who know lots about the Bible, or write, or are able to preach, or teach Sunday school and assume that’s what God wants all believers to try to live up to – but it’s not true. God needed a lot of skilled workers to build His temple and serve His people, and Bezalel and Oholiab were specially gifted by God to be craftsmen. And it’s the same in today’s church. We need all kinds of people in this world, this community, and this church.
If they would have said, “Since I’m just good at doing artistic stuff and am not a priest or a lawyer or a holy man, then I can’t work for God.”, they would have been disobeying God. All the time that these men spent alone in their sheds, planning, carving, pounding, moulding, and polishing – and apprenticing others how to do the same – brought glory to God and helped the worship of the entire nation of Israel.
And the priests would be sinning if they were to look at them and say, “I can’t believe you’re wasting your time banging metal together and weaving strings! You shouldn’t be an artist or hunter or shepherd or politician or soldier – you should quit all that and start doing important things!”. That would go against what God built and asked them to do.
God has given skills to some people that others will never have – because He decided they should have them to use them for His glory and the good of humanity. Many of Jesus parables aren’t based in the spiritual realm but in the practical side of life. He tells stories about farming, banking, housekeeping, construction, wine-making, baking, fishing, management, and law – and we never get a hint of Jesus disparaging or minimizing any of these occupations. It is the priest and the religious expert who get blasted by Jesus, not the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.
Working in The Spirit’s Power
Why am I telling you this? Well, first, it’s important, but I also think it relates to our passage in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Let’s read it and then I’ll riddle it out for you:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
The simple message today is that there are some things in this life that God offers to partner with us on and some things that He is required to do all by Himself.
If you remember Paul’s story you will recall that Paul was a skilled guy with some of the best training the ancient world had to offer. Before he ever knew Jesus, his name was Saul, and he was already a formidable intellect, an unmatched student, and a force to reckoned with. He spoke multiple languages, had memorized huge quantities of not only scripture but also secular teachings, and was one of the most skilled lawyers in the world. He was a powerful speaker and no one could match his devotion or his resolve. He had the ferocity of a shark, the skill of a fox, the wisdom of an owl, the memory of an elephant, and the determination of a pit-bull. People feared getting on the wrong side of Saul.
When Jesus turned Saul’s world upside down, he became Paul the missionary. And did Paul still use his great powers for the sake of spreading the gospel? Sometimes, yes. He gave unparalleled speeches before great worldly counsels, brought wisdom and insight to the apostles, and figured out more theology than almost anyone ever. Even the Apostle Peter said that some things in Paul’s writings are so complicated that they require a great deal of study and effort to understand (2 Peter 3:16). He was a true genius.
And yet, if you remember the story of Corinth, when Paul came into town the first time, he wasn’t he mighty man of God we might think he was. No, he was a man at the end of his rope. Saul the powerful persecutor had become Paul the broken and persecuted. He was alone, exhausted, rejected, afraid, and perhaps even ready to quit being a missionary altogether. But God had met him in a special way, had strengthened Him, encouraged him, and told him to keep preaching.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians wouldn’t be like his message to the Athenians or the Jews, or anyone else. Instead of turning all his mental and intellectual powers towards convincing people about the truths of Jesus’ claims to be Lord, God and Saviour, he decided to keep things very simple and leave the convincing up to God.
When Paul came into Corinth, he had only been an active, traveling missionary for about 4 years, but he had learned some valuable lessons during that time. One main thing he learned was that he needed to speak to people in a way they understood. He tells the Corinthians later that
“I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law… that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor 9:19-23)
Paul learned the importance of contextualizing his message to his audience. Which was one reason he made the decision not to “proclaim to [the Corinthians] the testimony of God with lofty speech and wisdom”. As we’ve said before, that would have been a distraction to them.
But he had learned another lesson too: that the success of his work wasn’t dependent on his intelligence or abilities but on God’s blessing. His missionary journey had broken him down, and as he taught the Corinthians, he didn’t sound like one of the greatest teachers in the world – instead, he was weak, fearful, and even trembling. He didn’t use a lot of arguments and illustrations and human wisdom (what he calls “plausible words of wisdom”), which would have impressed them, but instead, he abandoned all of that and “decided to know nothing among [them] except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.
He didn’t talk about the idols in town and draw illustrations from them. He didn’t give them history lessons or impress them with poetry and quotes from great philosophers – which he certainly could have, and that’s how the most popular teachers spoke. Instead, he kept it simple: Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate, and the only way of salvation. He lived a perfect life, died at the hands of sinners, and rose again to conquer death, hell and sin, and offers forgiveness to anyone who would turn from their sins, and believe that He is their Lord, God and only Savior.
I’m sure there were many discussions and many challenges, but instead of trying to impress them with his great knowledge, win them with powerful arguments, twist them in circles with his intellect, he simply talked about Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save sinners.
He left the persuasion up to the Spirit of God. If God wanted the Corinthians to become Christians… if God wanted to plant a church in this pagan town… if God wanted to turn people in this crazily sinful city into disciples of Jesus… then God would have to do it.
Paul would be obedient and preach – but He wouldn’t try to do anything else. Not only was he was too tired and broken, but he had learned that if he tried to do it in his own strength, it would blow up in his face – especially in Corinth, the seedbed of Satanic influence. If he used his own strength, then maybe they would become disciples of Paul – but not Jesus. He wanted their “faith” to “rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” And so he left the persuasion of souls up to God, by leaving any demonstration of power up to the Holy Spirit.
Working With God
And so, I say again: The message today is that there are some things in this life that God offers to partner with us on and some things that He needs to do all by Himself.
God doesn’t need us to do anything. He is perfectly capable of doing whatever He wants, but sometimes He prefers to accomplish His will through His people, so He invites us to work with Him. He gives us skills, abilities, gifts, time, energy and opportunity – and then says, “Ok, go do the thing I just set up. I’ll go with you to make sure it works.”
It’s like when your three year old wants to help you build something. You buy the pieces, do the planning, make the measurements, organize the equipment, and figure out the best time to do it – and they hold the flashlight, pound in the final nail, or get to paint a little part of it. And then later, they can tell all their friends, “See that thing over there? I built that!” Are they right? Of course not. But what does mom or dad say? “Great job! What a big help you were! Do you want to do something else together?”
I think God is like that sometimes. He does 99.99% of the work, and then says, “Ok, now, I’ll do this last part with you. Go build this thing. Finish this up. Talk to that person. Draw that picture. Make that meal. Give them that book. Fix that thing.” And it takes a bunch of our energy and effort and time, but we finally finish, and then, when something incredible happens as a result, we sit back and think, “Wow, see that over there? I did that!” Are we right? No, of course not. But what does God say? “Great job! What a big help you were! Do you want to do something else together?”
I think it’s like that when we partner with God. Christians who walk with God a long time start to realize this and more and more turn the glory back to God. They realize that it wasn’t them that did anything, but God working through them. They may have partnered with God in obedience, but it was really God who gets the glory.
That’s similar to what Paul was doing. He knew that he was supposed to preach and teach. It was his job and he was using the skillset God gave him. Just like Bezalel and Oholiab were good at arts and crafts, so Paul was good at talking. He was called and built for that purpose, and would be disobeying God if He didn’t do his job.
But He knew that whatever happened, it was God’s show. He knew that the more he depended on his own abilities and strengths, the less God would shine through Him. The more they saw of Paul, the less they would see of Jesus. And so he resolved, especially in his weakened state, to show as little of Paul, and as much of Jesus, as possible.
Things Only God Can Do
We have to realize, as Paul did, that there is nothing of eternal we can do without God, and there are a lot of things that are completely outside of our control. And, if we want God to act (to demonstrate His Spirit and His power), then we need to stop trying to do it for Him.
It would be like the three year old taking the pencil out of the adult’s hands and saying, “I’ll plan out this project.” Or taking the skill-saw away and saying, “Stand back, dad, I’ll cut this wood.” Or saying, “Get out of the kitchen. I’ll figure out how to make Thanksgiving dinner myself! Last year you made something I didn’t like, so this year I’m going to do the whole thing on my own.”
That’d be crazy, right? A toddler can’t do that. They’d get hurt, hurt someone else, ruin the project, and likely burn down the whole house. “Here, let me wash that phone for you.
“Here, use this wrench to cut that wood.” “Here, let me decorate that car for you.” A child absolutely needs to depend on the adult to get the job done right and safely.
It’s the same with us. There are things that we simply cannot do, that require a demonstration of the Spirit, and a movement of the power of God. And if we try to do them, we just mess it up! There are a lot of things that I could list, but consider these for a moment:
As much as we want to argue and convince people that we are right, we cannot change people’s hearts – only God can do that. Faith is a gift from God, not a skill we can teach. The Gospel and all its implications can be defended and explained, but it takes God changing a heart before it will be embraced.
Or pride. We cannot kill the pride within us – only God can. We can pretend to be humble, but even then we start to get prideful about how humble we are! Only God can truly humble us.
We cannot remove fear from ourselves. We can do all manner of worldly things to try to control fear or even ignore it – but we cannot remove it. Only God’s perfect love can drive out fear.
We cannot stop worrying, and we cannot take away anyone else’s worry. We can give someone money, but we can’t remove worry from their hearts. We put someone in a safe place, assure them of their security, but nothing but a miracle from God can remove their worry.
We cannot generate love for someone, or make ourselves be able to truly forgive someone. We can chose to perform loving actions, and choose to forgive, but only God can ignite a love within us so strong that it overcomes our own hatred, bitterness or selfishness.
We cannot learn to hate our sin – that requires a miracle from God. We will make excuses for our sin, say how much we need it, explain it away, or bury it in a dark place so only we can see it. Even if it makes us sick, destroys our family, hurts our body, and destroys our minds, we can’t make ourselves hate it so much that we want to be free of it. Only God can do that. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can show us how hateful sin is. Unless God does that, we – and anyone we are praying for – will stay in their sin.
Let me give you two quick applications:
First, in all you do, partner with God. Sure, we can work with our hands, serve our family, fix something, and do a million other things without even thinking about God – and the unbelieving world does that all the time – but we can also do those things in partnership with God, which makes them an act worship and gives them everlasting value. That’s why scripture says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Col 3:23), “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31) “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17) When you acknowledge the presence and the partnership of God in whatever task, it will bring a new meaning to all you do.
Second, and more importantly, realize that you are also utterly dependent on God for everything in your life. Don’t live as a “religious Christian” for spiritual things, but a “practical atheist” the rest of the time. You will not be able to see a demonstration of the Spirit’s power if you are trying to do everything yourself and fix all your own problems. You are designed to need God, therefore stop being too foolish or prideful to ask.
It’s not your job to hold it all together, to be strong for everyone, to fight the good fight alone, or pull up your own socks. The more you exercise your control, the less you are giving to God. The more you work in your own strength, the less you will get from God. The more you try to figure it out in your own wisdom, the less wisdom you will get from God. If you’re trying to calm the storm, then you’ll never turn to Jesus who can do it for you. If you’re trying to make everyone safe and secure, you’re refusing the help of the one who can actually protect you. If you’re trying to plan your future without talking to God, you are performing a hopeless task.
There’s a great line in a song from Casting Crowns that says, “I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.” That’s a great line and an important truth. It’s not your job to hold on by your own power – what you need to do is acknowledge that in order to see God’s power at work in your life, you need remember that you just need to be held by Him.
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:5-25 ESV)
This story occurs months before Jesus was born, but is an important part of the story because it tells of the birth of the precursor, the forerunner, the last great Prophet of Jesus—the one who would come in the spirit of Elijah and preach repentence, paving the way for the Kingdom of God to be revealed in Christ.
Today I want to focus on one verse in this narrative – but it’s a great story, and we need context, so we should read the whole thing.
Because of his lack of faith, Zechariah was struck mute for months, but when he finally was able to speak, I’m sure he had a lot to say. He likely told the story of what happened in the temple, how foolish he was to argue with Gabriel, and what had been promised and commanded regarding Johns future and lifestyle. Verse 64 says that his first words were a blessing of God, and then it records a few verses later, a prophetic song he sang in praise to God.
Let’s read that together by skipping down to verse 57:
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke 1:57-80 ESV)
Notice that this song and prophecy wasn’t generated by Zechariah, but by God. It says, “Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied…”. The Holy Spirit filled Him and gave Him words of praise and promise.
Before that, when his wife Elizabeth received a visit from Mary, it says “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” (Luke 1:41-42)
During the promise that Zechariah received about his son John’s future ministry it says, “…for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15)
In Acts 2:4, at Pentecost, on the day of the birth of the Christian church, it says that all the Christians who were gathered in the room in Jerusalem “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance…” and then went out and proclaimed the message of salvation through Jesus Christ in the native languages of the people that were gathered there that day.
When the first round of persecution started against the Christians, Peter and John were arrested and brought before a very dangerous group of people – the rulers, elders, scribes, the high priest and more – and questioned about their motives and allegiances. It says that after they asked their first question, Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” before he had uttered a word (Acts 4:8).
After that the church began to be worried about retribution from the authorities, and prayed for boldness and divine assistance. It says, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)
After Saul, the murderous enemy of the church, was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, and sat blind and alone until a Christian named Ananias came and laid his hands on Him, called him “brother”, and prayed that he might regain his sight and “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17).
Later, that same man, Saul, who would be called the Apostle Paul, would bring it right back around to where we started – to a similar prophecy given about John the Baptist, but about us, and now phrasing it as a command instead of a promise, saying, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Eph 5:18-19)
God Inspires His People
Paul’s command to the Ephesians was written as a series of contrasts. Let me read the whole thing. It says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…” (Eph 5:15-18) Do you see the contrasts? Wise and unwise. Using time and evil days, foolishness and understanding, wine and Spirit.
Paul’s concern was that the Ephesian church was going to all the wrong places to get the what they need to survive in this world. He wanted them to find their source of wisdom, understanding, strength, joy and peace in God, through the filling of the Holy Spirit, not through wine or anything else.
This is a common problem, isn’t it? Going to the wrong places for our strength and comfort. Not believing that God is sufficient for our needs, and then putting our faith in something else.
It was Zechariah’s problem as he looked into the face of Gabriel and implied that there was no force that could make his wife pregnant – she was barren and too old. They’d tried and failed. “Gabriel, don’t you know that a biological issue is too strong for even God to handle?”
It was Saul’s problem as he put his faith in the Law of Moses’, and His own spiritual strength and fervour’s ability to gain him salvation. He felt His strength, passion and religious obedience was enough to impress God and make him worthy of heaven.
It was the Ephesian church’s problem as some of them resorted to drinking and orgies in order to gain strength, feel joy, and… somehow… gain wisdom and knowledge of God as they mixed pagan worship practices with celebrating the Lord’s Table.
And it is our problem too.
The Holy Spirit as Motivator
In keeping with last week’s sermon, I’m going to make this a one point sermon again. Last week we said that God finds value in waiting, and therefore so should we. This week my singular point is that if we are to live as Christians in this troubled world, we must be filled by the Holy Spirit.
Saying that sounds very spiritual, and I’m sure everyone here would likely agree with me, but the way we live it out shows that we actually find it to be quite counter-intuitive. We’ve heard the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” so many times that we think it’s biblical (It’s not. Benjamin Franklin said it, apparently, maybe.) . It sounds right, doesn’t it? God wants us to pray, of course… but He then wants us to act, right? He wants faith and deeds, right? Faith and obedience are tied together, right?
True, yes. But we must realize that all of our faith, obedience, deeds, and even prayers, are meaningless, unless they are filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Just as before we are saved our good deeds are meaningless to God (Isaiah 64:6; Eph 2:1-5; Titus 3:5), so, after we are saved, are our deeds meaningless unless they are empowered by the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t want our good deeds, prayers, songs, or religious activity if it is empty of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in Prayer
Consider Jesus’ words about prayer.
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others… when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. ” (Matthew 6:5-7)
If our prayers are merely repetitive, empty words, they are not only fruitless, but they are not heard by God, and stand as a condemnation to us. If we speak them in our own strength, or worse, mindlessly repeat phrases as part of a religious ritual, then we are showing that we are not in a relationship with God, and the Holy Spirit is not motivating our words and actions.
That’s why the promise of Romans 8:26-27 is there:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Just as we cannot pray unless Jesus is our mediator between us and God (Psalm 66:18; John 9:31; James 1:6-7; 1 Tim 2:5) so prayer cannot exist outside the presence of the Holy Spirit. God does not hear spiritually empty prayers. He doesn’t want special words – and sometimes doesn’t even want any words – instead he wants us to be in communion and communication with Him through the person of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in Works
1 John 4:8 says that “God is Love”.
And in John 15:9 Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.”
And we know that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives is “love” (Gal 5:22).
Therefore, if God is love, Jesus demonstrates love, and the Holy Spirit gives us love to share, then consider that when Paul talks about Love in 1 Corinthians 13, that he is talking about a life devoid of the Spirit of God.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love* , I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
(*couldn’t we read that, the presence of God the Holy Spirit within us?)
There is nothing of value we can do for or with God, if it is not done through the power of the Holy Spirit. No one does any favours for God. God works through those people that open themselves to His guidance and strength. And as long as you are working on your own plans, in your own strength, for your own reasons – no matter how good your motives are – you gain nothing if they are not done through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit in Worship
Consider that the Holy Spirit of God is the motivating force that convicts people of sin and brings them to repentance. John 16:8 says, “The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin and God’s justice and the judgment.” And Paul is continuously telling the churches to seek the Holy Spirit so they can remain united together (Eph 4:3).
So, when God’s people are living in sin and refusing to forgiven one another, they are actively grieving the Holy Spirit of God, and purposefully distancing themselves from Him. This means that whatever activity they are involved in: worship, discipleship, evangelism, service, preaching, prayer, bible reading… or getting married, raising children, working a job, making daily decisions, giving gifts, planning for the future, dealing with their financial issues, battling an addiction, visiting a friend, or anything else… it is separate from God.
How can I say this? Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 5,
“So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.” (Matt 5:23-24)
Why would Jesus tell people to walk away from the act of worship to make things right with another person? Isn’t worshipping God more important than working through some relational problems?
Here’s the thing: If you are not at peace with someone, and there is bitterness, unforgiveness, greed, or malice in your heart, then you cannot worship God! Anything you would have done in that room would have been rejected. Your gift would have been meaningless. You may sing songs, read the bible, learn something, write a cheque to the church, and get a tingly feeling from being around nice people – but God will not have been in it because our refusal to deal with your sin.
Remember Zechariah’s song! The Holy Spirit will always point to Jesus. Even as he was thanking God for His Son John, all the first words were of praise to God for Jesus the Christ, and all the words spoken about John were focused on Him being the forerunner of Jesus! It is the Spirit of God that motivates our worship, not we ourselves. God wants His Holy Spirit to rule our lives so fully that everything we do is motivated by Him, because only then can we live the life-style of worship that honours and glorifies Him best.
Grieving and Quenching
The terms that the Bible uses for what happens when we let sin and self rule our lives and faith, are “grieving and quenching the spirit”. (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19)
I need to clarify something though: The presence of the Holy Spirit is a gift to believers. (John 14:15-31) His presence is a promise, given to us by Jesus, that He would be with us always. All believers, without exception, are given the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There are no conditions placed on this gift, and there is nothing we can do to lose Him. Once you put your faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to reside in your heart. That means you start to hate sin instead of make excuses for it, your conscience is more sensitive, you have a greater spiritual awareness, and your hard heart begins to soften as you learn to prefer the things of God to the things of this world.
The presence of the Holy Spirit is like a down-payment, a verification, that you are a Christian and that you will be with Him forever in Heaven.
Now, I’m not talking about that. What we’re talking about today is “being filled” with the Holy Spirit. One can be a Christian, and have the presence of God with them, but also be grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit.
Admittedly, this isn’t a great illustration, but it’s sort of like being married. You are committed to one another until death – but there are times when you hurt one another, refuse to listen, refuse to love, refuse to care. That harms the people involved and creates barriers between them. That’s what it means to grieve and quench the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t leave you… instead… He backs off because you told Him to get lost because you prefer sin.
The Old Testament often equates this to “adultery” (Hosea). When we sin, we’re basically choosing to get love, joy, hope, and peace from someone other than God. We are saying that we are in charge and He isn’t. We’re saying that we don’t trust Him to do it right, so we’ll do it ourselves. We’re saying that we believe ourselves to be wiser and smarter than him. And we’re saying that He can’t satisfy our deepest desires, so we need to find something else that is better than him. That’s sin. And that grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit.
When we allow that to happen, because of our love for sin, idols and self, we do not experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives. Instead of having a free exchange of power, wisdom and peace coming from the Holy Spirit, making us fruitful for God, we step away from Him and seek someone or something else.
This can happen, as I said, by our actions, but also by our thoughts. Holding onto hatred, bitterness and fear quenches the Spirit. Preferring food, drink or a chemical to His presence quenches the Spirit. Believing ourselves to be so wise and spiritual that we have no need to talk to God grieves the Holy Spirit. Breaking the commandments grieves the spirit.
How to Be Filled
So how can we be filled with the Holy Spirit? The answer – and this may surprise you – is not to pray more. That whole list of people I gave before: Elizabeth, Zechariah, Peter, Paul, the first Christian missionaries, didn’t pray for a filling of Holy Spirit and then receive it. Instead, they were obeying God. “Sin hinders the filling of the Holy Spirit, and obedience to God is how the filling of the Holy Spirit is maintained.” (http://www.gotquestions.org/Spirit-filled.html)
The Christians were in prayer and asking for God’s help. Zechariah had just obeyed God by giving John the name God had commanded and by worshipping Him when he regained his power of speech. Elizabeth had just accepted young, outcast Mary in to her home. Saul had just repented of his sin and humbled himself before Ananias. Peter had willingly walked into a place where he would be persecuted for Jesus’ name.
The filling of the Holy Spirit doesn’t come as we ask for it, it is available to all Christians at all times – it happens as we seek to live out our Christian walk in obedience to God.
And so, the application this week is fairly straightforward. If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God and experience the benefits of a soft conscience, courageous witness, wisdom beyond your abilities, strength in the midst of struggle, patience to endure, supernatural love, unbound joy, uncompromised discernment, meaningful worship, a passion for God’s Word, newfound humility, evangelistic opportunities, and abundant hope in the person and work of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour – then I ask you to evaluate your obedience to God this week.
- When God convicts you of sin, do you kill it in your heart and then smash the idol that caused you to stumble? Or do you make an excuse and then let the idol stand?
- Some of you have heard hundreds of sermons about reading your bible and praying every day. Are you?
- God has told some of you to do some very specific things. Have you done them?
- God has commanded you to stop doing some things. Have you stopped?
If you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit and have a brand-new relationship with Jesus Christ, then it starts with your obedience to Him.
I thank God that He keeps taking me back every time I quench His spirit. Remember that if you are a Christian, there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation. All you must do is ask for forgiveness and strength, and He’ll give it to you. If you are not a Christian, then I encourage you to turn your life over to Him today. Ask God for forgiveness of your sins, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and then start walking in step with the Spirit who will be with you forever.
May I close with a dire warning? If you don’t care whether you have the Holy Spirit inside of you or not…. if you don’t care about knowing Jesus more… if you don’t care if you are more obedient to Him today than yesterday… if it doesn’t really matter to you that you are redeemed from Hell by the shedding of His precious blood… then I ask you to question whether you are even a Christian.
Yes, we stumble. Yes, we fail. Yes, we let God down all the time and keep ebbing and flowing toward and away from His Spirit… but a Christian feels the desire to get closer. We desire to put down sin. We desire to experience the presence of Jesus. We hope for more filling of the Holy Spirit. We want to worship the one who loved us so much He would trade His Son for us. We want to honour the one who paid our ransom with His life.
If you don’t care about what I’m saying right now, and think you are a Christian, I ask you to think again. Have you quenched the Spirit so thoroughly that you can’t even feel the sting of conviction anymore? That is a terrible place to be.
You are the life-giving God.
and give us the energy to call upon Your name,
for our minds are not enough to understand,
our thoughts are wayward
and we are easily distracted.
We love the world too much
and within our heart is still the struggle with unbelief and doubt.
It is only by Your Holy Spirit that our many weaknesses
can become strengths.
We approach You as our Father
and our Friend.
You are our portion forever,
the person from whom we get exceeding joy,
and from You comes the strength of our hearts.
We believe in You as the God of nature,
the God of all things,
the great Creator,
the one who set everything in motion,
the one who sustains the universe,
the one who controls providence,
and the one who sent Jesus to be our Saviour from Sin.
Inside each one of us today is a voice that makes us feel too guilty to come before You,
or too proud
to call upon Your name
– but today we choose to praise You
because of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
that we are able to be reconciled to You
because of Him.
May the truth that is in Him
illuminate in us all that is dark,
firmly establish in us all that is wavering,
still within us all of the storms of our hearts,
accomplish in us and through us all of the good plans that You have set before us,
and glorify in us the name of Jesus Christ.
Some of us are passing through a vale of tears,
through a difficult, almost impossible time
– but we choose to thank You
and bless You
for opening the gate to glory at the end of it.
Help us to realise that in You is something better than what we see before us,
help us keep heaven and eternity with You ever in our mind.
Prepare us for the journey You still have for us to walk.
Uphold our steps by Your word.
Keep us from any sin that would dominate us.
Teach us that if we put ourselves first,
then we are not walking towards Jesus.
Teach us that if we are trying to save ourselves,
then he cannot be our Redeemer.
Help us see the kinds of idols we are setting in our hearts
so we may have a better relationship with You.
Give us a strong faith that accepts Jesus as our Redemer
and Lord and our God over all.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
(Inspired by “Truth in Jesus” from “The Valley of Vision“)
I took a little break from the Gospel of Mark series and preached a very difficult (yet hopefully timely) sermon this past Sunday. The background of the sermon was that our church needs to make some big decisions about its future together. I didn’t give my own opinions of the situation, but shared 5 reminders that I believe God gave me from my reading of scripture.
It is my prayer that these reminders will help you make big decisions in your life and ministry. These certainly aren’t the only factors in your decision making, but I think they are very important. I hope these give you something to talk about, pray about and study your scriptures about.
Reminder 1: Christian Ministry is Hard but Rewarding
The first reminder comes from 2 Corinthians 6:3-10:
“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor 6:3-10)
The first reminder is this: Ministry is HARD but REWARDING. In my NIV Bible this section is entitled “Paul’s Hardships”. Paul faced a lot during his life – “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings…”, all because of his love for Jesus and his passion to obey the mission Jesus had given to him to preach the good news to the gentiles.
What I was impressed by in this section was Paul’s response to those hardships – how balanced his thinking was about them. Certainly he suffered, but through his suffering God built in him supernatural endurance. He was stronger because of the suffering he went through. He was on trial, distrusted and attacked – and though all of those trials he was able to see the Holy Spirit build his character, knowledge, patience, kindness and love. He didn’t get jaded, he became more like Jesus. He worked hard to be truthful and simple in his message, not trying to be clever or outthink God, and because of that he saw the power of God at work. There were times he was publically slandered and dishonoured, but it was during those times that he learned to praise and honour God – he learned the source of true joy and peace.
Being a Christian and doing Christian ministry is hard – the hardest thing in the world. Committing your life to Jesus, selling out with your faith, being active in the church, being a Christian who lives out their purpose, puts you into at risk! Demons will swirl around you and try to wreck your marriage, your family, your finances, your attitude, your health… because they want to shut you down. Jesus is always there, always available, and will always defend you… but that means dropping your own agenda and making Him and His your greatest priority.
Being part of a church is HARD, often painful, but is also wildly REWARDING. Paul endured much for the sake of Jesus, the church and the Gospel, and so have many ministers who have gone before us. He also knew Jesus more than any of us. My question is this: If we want the rewards of following Jesus, are we prepared for the hardship?
Reminder 2: Listen to God’s Voice First and Most
The second passage I read came from Mark 7:1-12 which is a story of Jesus confronting the Pharisees about how they care too much about their human traditions, even to the point of disregarding the commands of God. Check out verses 6-8:
“And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.’’”
Our second reminder is that we must be careful to listen to God’s voice FIRST and MOST… not our own voice or worldly wisdom. We must be very careful not to do things simply because they are traditional or comfortable. The ministry decisions we make, the church decisions we make must come from Scripture first, be supported by the Holy Spirit, and then obeyed wholeheartedly. When we make decisions in human wisdom, because of traditions, or because it is most comfortable, we are being hypocrites and Pharisees. When we default to making our decisions “That’s how we’ve always done it.” Or “We’ve never done it that way before.” we are not obeying God – we are worshipping traditions and comfort!
Obeying Jesus will not always be comfortable. He will be constantly pushing us to grow, change, adapt and renew our hearts, minds and strengths.
The last thing we want to be is people who worship God as our Lord, our Saviour, our Boss, the Motivator of our Hearts, on Sunday morning… and then go back to our homes or come to meetings and turn ourselves, human wisdom and our traditions into our lord and ministry motivators. That’s called idolatry.
Reminder 3: It is God Who Raises Up and Lowers Down
Psalm 75 was another passage God lead me to. Inside this chapter I found an important reminder for us in verse 7. It says:
“…it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.”
All over scripture we are reminded that God, for His own reasons, in His own time, for His own glory, raises some people up and brings other people down. It is God who RAISES UP and LOWERS DOWN.
“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.” (Daniel 2:21)
“The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.” (1 Samuel 2:7)
Listen carefully: It is not for us to hold up by our own power things that God has brought down… and it is not for us to give up on things that God is raising up. Both are acts of disobedience. We do not have the power to stop God from doing what He wants to do, but He seems willing to let us miss out on blessing because of our own stubborn hearts and lack of faith.
Wouldn’t it have been nice to buy stock in Microsoft or Google when they first hit the market? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have gotten out of Nortel before it crashed and burned?
I believe with all my heart that God, through His Word and His Spirit, gives us insight beyond our abilities, to allow us to know what to do and when to do it. He gives us warning when to walk away, and gives us strength to hang in there. He gives us wisdom to know when to let go, and tenacity to know when to stick to it because breakthrough is just around the bend.
We need to be spiritually sensitive to what God is doing, come alongside Him, and then, with joy, fulfill His will with all our hearts, souls, minds and strengths – united under one banner of faith.
It is wrong, and idolatrous to set up anything in place of God. We cannot make our jobs, church building, our leadership style, our constitution, our ministries, the Sunday School, the musical style, or anything else more important than listening to God. We must not create idol in place of God by keeping something going (giving it our energy, money, and attention) when God is opposing us and wants it shut down. And we cannot stop doing something (take away our money, energy, and attention) when God wants us to keep going. We do not want to oppose God’s will. We don’t want to be like Paul, “kicking against the goads” or like Balaam beating his donkey to go straight when he should have turned. We must, in faith and trust, follow God’s will wherever He points us.
Reminder 4: Wrong Fear Makes Us Lose God’s Blessing
My fourth scripture 2 Samuel 6, which is the story of David celebrating while bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. You’ve probably heard this story and you’ll remember that Uzzah put his hand on the Ark to catch it when it was going to fall. It was commanded that no was to touch the Ark and it says the “anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down…”
What struck me was David’s response to what happened. In the beginning, David was so happy to have the Ark coming to Jerusalem that he had organized a huge party. But when Uzzah was killed by divine judgement, he went from happy to terrified in a split second. Verse 10 says that
“David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”
Consider that because of David’s fear, he lost out on God’s blessing. WRONG FEAR makes us LOSE God’s blessing. The blessings was giving to someone else, the house of Obed-Edom, instead… because of fear. My Life Application commentary says that David’s fear wasn’t a “wholesome fear and respect for the Lord but an anxiety arising” inside himself. His anxiety over what happened to Uzzah led him to a wrong fear, which led him to make a foolish decision (something he did a lot during his life), which made him lose out on blessing.
When we are deciding things for our church, our lives or our families, we must not be motivated by fear, unless it is fear of God alone. We cannot do the wrong things (or avoid doing the right things) because we are afraid (that we might fail, that someone might misunderstand our motives, etc.). We also shouldn’t make decisions (or avoid decisions) and perform actions (or neglect to act) because we are afraid (that the church might close, that we might lose friends, that things might change too much, or whatever it is that is preventing us from obeying the voice of God). Wrong fear must not be the motivating factor in our decision making.
Reminder 5: The Greatest Answer is “That Which Shows The Most Love”
The Christian Church is an organization whose fuel is love, just as an individual Christian’s fuel is love. When we are loving God and one another, we have lots of gas in the tank, we will see the blessing of God, we will know His will, we will flee temptation, we will know peace, we will hear His voice, we will worship more and better, we will have more friends, we will grow spiritually and numerically, we will be more like Jesus.
When we are not loving one another well, we will have no gas in the tank. Ministry will be hard and lonely. We will not see God’s blessing. Decisions and meetings will be drudgery and decisions will be difficult. We will avoid each other and fall into greater temptation and sin. We will argue more, concentrate on trite things, and put ourselves first. We will not hear God’s voice. Our worship will be stale, repetitive and uninspiring. Our spirits will shrink and so will our numbers. Worst of all, we will be more like Satan than Christ because Jesus is the King of Love and Satan hates it (and Him).
The final scripture is from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
It is so easy to start asking ourselves, “What do we need to do?” and get caught up in all sorts of fruitless busyness. Everyone in every church has a dozen brilliant ideas for what needs to happen for their church to grow.
- We need to get more people into the church.
- We need to advertise better.
- We need a new pastor.
- We need a new board.
- We need a new constitution.
- We need a better band.
- We need to get rid of the pews and get chairs.
- We need to have more dinners.
- We need to have less meetings.
- We need to get into the community.
- We need to have more prayer meetings.
- We need to join another church.
- We need to go knocking on doors.
Every individual is chock full of ideas for how to make their life better too:
- I need a new job.
- I need better friends.
- I need a new resume.
- I need a new church.
- I need to spend more time with my family.
- I need to spend more time building my brand.
- I need to learn an instrument.
- I need to give to charity.
- I need to save more money.
- I need to start a hobby.
- I need to read more books.
Dozens and dozens of ideas, but which is the right one?
The Greatest Answer is “That Which Shows The Most LOVE”.
Not that which brings the most people, opens the most doors, costs the least amount of money, takes the least effort, requires everyone to do it, has food, or is my favourite.
We have no business calling ourselves a Christian or a Church of Jesus Christ, if we are not all about love! God first, our family second, the Christians who are part of our church third, and the community fourth.
Nothing we do in church matters if it is not primarily motivated by love. The music, the sermon, the coffee, the outreach, the meetings — none of it matters if we are not experiencing the love of God and sharing that love with others. It literally means… nothing. If we do not have a Christlike love within us – a love that dies to self – then we are a dead church! We are dead Christians. We are hypocrites who are merely play acting the faith.
A church is only alive when it is full of love for God and love for one another. Let us never get caught up in believing that there is any magic ministry, perfect decision, or miraculous plan that will pay our bills, make everyone happy and keep us going. It doesn’t exist. The only answer is the daily work of love.
What every one of us desperately wants and needs is for the people around us to show us real and practical acts of love. If we have a love for others that only exists for 3 hours on Sunday, then we are not a church of Jesus Christ. If we are not investing in each other’s lives, sacrificing our time, energy, talents, finances and all the rest for one another, then we are not being Christians.
In Acts 2:42-47 we read that after hearing the word of God preached by the Apostle Paul, thousands of people came to Jesus and the Holy Spirit was poured out in power. This new church’s response to the movement of God was:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
That is a church full of the love of God, a love for Jesus, the love of the Holy Spirit, and a sacrificial love for one another. That’s the church in its purest and best form. And I believe each one of us wants to be part of a group of believers like that.
It starts with us. We must make the choice to make the church a priority – to make a sacrificial act of loving devotion to the Christians around us. To talk to them during the week, even when we don’t have the time. To get to know the people we don’t know. To ask what their needs are and to seek to fill them. To chase them down when they are sinning, and encourage them when they are doing well. To spur them on to love and good deeds. To honour one another and greet one another often. To forgive and make peace with one another. To never let a bitter root grow between us. To not pass judgment on one another or be a stumbling block to one another. To be gentle with one another, bearing with one another in love. (Here’s some more.)
That is practical love, and it is the Greatest Answer to our deepest questions.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise!
Out of the depths we cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our voice and let your ears be attentive to our cry.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
who could stand.
But with you there is forgiveness.
Therefore you are feared. Read the rest of this entry »
Hello again! As I said before, I haven’t been posting much over the summer for a variety of reasons. Thanks to everyone who has been praying for my family. Here’s a little post-summer update for those praying:
- We had a wonderful visit with my parents who came up from Alberta. We went everywhere and did everything.
- After a year of commuting from Ottawa as the Intentional Interim, our family moved to Carleton Place to be the Full-Time Pastor of Beckwith Baptist Church. We had a tonne of help, the move went very well, we’re loving our new home and glad to be local.
- A couple weeks ago my son Edison jumped (not “fell” as he is quick to point out) out of a tree, dislocating and breaking (exploding!) his elbow. Five hours of surgery and a couple nights in the hospital later he is at home and doing great. Physiotherapy still to come.
- We ended up cancelling our end-of-summer vacation because of Edison’s elbow. Consequently , ramping up for September has been challenging because we are still quite tired. Pray that we will rest in God while things around us get busier.
God bless you all and thanks for reading!
The End of The Foundations Series
Can you believe we started this series on January 20th! We’ve certainly covered a lot of ground in this series.
We’ve talked about what Discipleship is and have gone through the Five Solas to define the what the True Gospel is. We’ve studied what it means to be a Christian and a Church. We’ve talked about the importance of finding a mentor and being one to others. We’ve learned how to be intentional about our discipleship process and what the costs of following Jesus are. We’ve talked about repentance and preparing our hearts before we get into Kingdom work. And we have, over the past 7 weeks, been concentrating on the practical aspects of Christianity – the Four Core Christian disciplines which are: Prayer, Bible Study, Church Attendance and Serving Others.
I’m sure there are LOTS of areas of the Christian faith that we haven’t covered yet, but I think this is a good start and I look forward to compiling all of this into some kind of book that can be used to help new believers get a good start on their walk with Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »
(For a video of this sermon click here.)
My intention when I started writing this sermon was to give some very practical steps on how to do the Four Core Christian Disciplines (Prayer, Bible Study, Church Attendance & Serving Others — first introduced here) successfully, but then God reminded me that I had missed a step.
I’ve covered the importance of counting the cost of discipleship and preparing ourselves for a long-term commitment. I’ve already said that God looks at our motives before our actions, so I don’t need to go over that again. No, what I missed is how to get our heart right with God before we get into these four disciplines.
It’s kind of like when you watch an F1 or Indy-car race where you see the drivers swerving back and forth keeping their tires hot so they can take the corners properly when the race starts. If the tires get cold, they won’t stick to the road as well. What I want to talk about today is the warm-up before the race, the qualifier, that which needs to be settled before we start practicing the Four Core Christian Disciplines. To make sure that when we come to God in prayer, to the Holy Spirit to learn from the Bible, to the church to fellowship with other believers, and serve others with the gifts God gives us, we have right motives and can get the most benefit from them.
Using Psalm 51 to Prepare Our Hearts
Psalm 51 has always been close to my heart because it reminds me of how much God loves me, and that I can be forgiven. I love the words of this Psalm and repeat them often in prayer. When I sin, no matter how much I sin, and how rebellious my heart is, God is ready to forgive me, restore me, and build me back up. That gives me great hope.
It was written by King David after he had been confronted by the Prophet Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. It is a pouring out of David’s heart about his guilt, shame and repentance – and a list of requests to God. After he accepted the guilt of his sin and confesses it to God, David gives a list of things that he wants from God.
It might seem strange to come to God with a list of requests after confessing such grievous sins, but David knows the heart of God, and the promises found within God’s law. What I want you to see is David’s heart here. He epitomises what I’ve been trying to say over the past while – that how we come to God and why we come to God are critical factors in how we are going to know, love, and understand God.
David pours out his heart, accepts his guilt, and faces God’s righteous judgement. And since his heart is in the right place, his requests are not driven by fear, or anger, or jealousy, or selfishness, or pride, but by the Spirit of God working within him. His desires are healthy, holy and a good model for us to follow.
Let’s go through this psalm together to see how it teaches us how to prepare our hearts for our times of prayer, study, fellowship and service:
Mercy, Love, Compassion
David’s first and most desperate need is a clean heart. This is where we all must begin. Look at the first few verses of the passage and listen for some key words:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion…”
“Mercy” is another word for pity or grace. “Show me pity, give me grace.” How could he ask for this in light of the sin he had commited? Because he trusted in God’s “unfailing love” and his “great compassion” for his people.
David had spent so much time with God that he knew God intimately. He has spent time in His word, pouring over His laws, reading the stories of God’s faithfulness to his people. His early life was spent alone in caves praying, begging God for help as he was under attack, hiding from a king who wanted him dead. After a long time of dependence on God and God’s plan, he became a “Man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) who had cultivated a very close relationship with His Father God. So even though his sins were terrible – unforgivable by human standards – neglecting military duty, plotting, lying, lusting, adultery, murder – David new that if his repentance was true, and his desire for forgiveness was genuine, that God would forgive and restore their relationship. Yes, there would be consequences to his actions, but no consequence could be worse than losing the closeness he had with God because of unrepentant sin.
Now, how could David know that God would forgive? Because he knew God’s word, and he knew God’s character. God’s love is an “unfailing love”.
Without a doubt David would agree with the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 (vs 31-39):
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
David knew of God’s love and desire to be in a right relationship with mankind. He would have also agreed with the Apostle John who said that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8) and with Paul’s definition of Love in 1 Corinthians 13 — which also describes how God relates to believers when they fall into sin. He’s not waiting for you to mess up so He can withdraw His love. When you sin:
“[God] is patient, [God] is kind…. [God] does not dishonour others, [God] is not self-seeking, [God] is not easily angered, [God] keeps no record of wrongs. [God] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [God] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Our Most Desperate Need
And so, knowing this, David comes to God with his first request — which is ours too:
“… Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
David fesses up, knows his sin, realizes his condition, and doesn’t hide from it or make excuse. He knows He broke God’s law. He admits that he’s been sinful since before he was born, that God is right in judging him, and that even on the insides, his “inward being” – the place where no one gets to see – he’s sinful. He admits it.
That’s where we all need to start! Before we come before Jesus in prayer, study, church or service, we must admit that we are a sinner in need of a Saviour. That is the beginning of our relationship with Jesus. We are in need. We are broken and unfixable without a miracle. God doesn’t need us, but wanted us and made a way for us to be cleansed through the shed blood of Jesus. This is the attitude that we come to prayer with. This is the heart behind our study. This is the reason we are faithful to our church. This is the motivation of our service.
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” (Colossians 3:23)
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)
David’s deepest desire is to be clean in his heart; to be in a right relationship with God. Listen to verses 7-10,
“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
That’s the prayer I pray all the time. The great desires of my heart are found in verse 10: a pure heart and a steadfast spirit.
A Pure Heart and A Steadfast Spirit
Consider the opposite of a pure heart and a steadfast spirit. The condition that most people on earth live with every day is so very depressing. They live with an impure, contaminated, defiled, polluted heart and a wavering, unsteady, shakeable, faltering, bendable, breakable spirit. Too many people live that way. Too many Christians. But they don’t have to!
We want to be able to go to bed at night guilt free. We want to have right relationships with those around us, and with God. We want to know we are forgiven, free, cleansed, and at peace. We want a spirit that can stand up against all the storms that the world throws at us. Unshakable! When sickness, death, fear, worry, and loss come crashing against our lives, we want a spirit that is strong enough to take it. We want to be able to have joy in the midst, not crumble when the earthquakes come. Right?
How can we get that? It’s not something we can create within ourselves. We can’t grant ourselves forgiveness, it must come from God. We can’t shore up our own spirit, it has to be built by God. We can’t calm our own storms, that’s something only God can do.
Look at the first word of verse 10: “Create”. It’s a very important word. The same one used in Genesis 1:1 where it says,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 2:1 says,
“Now the earth was formless and void [those are the words for chaos, wasteland, unreality, emptiness], and darkness [a word also used for obscurity, a dark prison, hell-like] was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
That’s the power of God. That’s what He does. He creates something out of nothing. Where we have brokenness, darkness, emptiness, and impurity He creates light!
We think we have to clean ourselves up to be ready for God’s forgiveness – we can’t.
We think we need to start doing better before we are worthy of God’s forgiveness – we will never be.
We think can help God out and try out best to be good, pure, holy and right – we are unable!
We need a miracle of God – a re-creation, rebirth, renewal – to clean our hearts and fix our spirits.
That’s why Jesus says we must be “born again” (John 3:3). That’s why Paul says we are a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). We are not fixed, added to, or readjusted. We are not basically good people who just need a little help. We are dead. We are sinful. Totally depraved to the very core. We don’t need a mechanic, we need a miracle. We go from dead to alive, from enemies to friends (Eph 2:1-10), as God creates a totally new being, a new heart, and a new spirit inside of us.
The promise of Ezekiel 36:25-27 is as much for you and me as it was for the children of Israel:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Professing But Not Possessing Christ
It is only after we have come to God for cleansing and rebirth that we are able to come to prayer, study, fellowship and service with a right heart. Only then. If we are not coming as people who have been born-again we are like those who Jesus prophesied against in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
There will be many who will profess Christianity, but not possess Christ! For their whole lives they may go to church, say some prayers, read their bible, and serve… and then go to Hell when they die! Why? Because they will have been giving only lip service to the Lord. They have been masquerading as disciples, but have known all along in their hearts that they have no real relationship with Jesus. Some will end up being teachers, and preachers… but many will just come week in and week out, putting in the time, trying to make some person happy – but never really repenting of sin and giving their hearts to God.
“Jesus is not impressed by thoughtless and heartless piety. Superficial religion might satisfy the casual observer, but Jesus demands obedience inside and out…. A shell of spirituality may preserve our reputation with others, but it undermines real growth. We are deluded if we think that God might be fooled by fake holiness. God desires ‘truth in the [inward being]’ (Psalm 51:6).” (Pg 141 – Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew)
There is absolutely no point in working through the Four Core Christian Disciplines if you have no real relationship with Christ. You will be merely heaping more sin, guilt and hypocrisy upon yourself. Get right with God, follow Psalm 51, come face to face with your sin, repent of your sin, and ask God to forgive you, and create within you a new heart and a steadfast spirit – then start working through the Four Core Christian Disciplines. It is then that they will have meaning!
The Worst Thing Imaginable
Psalm 51:11 can be one of the most terrifying verses in the whole Bible for people who don’t understand it!
“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
I’ve already said before that we cannot lose our salvation, so what is David talking about here?
He is sharing his greatest fear with his greatest love. He would rather lose the whole world than his connection to God. Let me quote John Calvin who says it better than me:
“It is natural that the saints, when they have fallen into sin, and have thus done what they could to expel the grace of God, should feel an anxiety upon this point; but it is their duty to hold fast the truth, that grace is the incorruptible seed of God, which can never perish in any heart where it has been deposited.”
This is the mark of a believer: that the whole world might be lost, and it would be bearable to them, but the one thing they cannot bear the loss of their connection to the Lord Jesus.
Asking for the Joy of Salvation
Look at verse 12 as we close:
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
This third request impacts me deeply and I hope it touches you as well. I desire a pure heart. I desire a steadfast spirit. And I desire to have the joy of my salvation — even though I forget sometimes. David isn’t asking God to restore his salvation – he never lost it – he wants the “joy” of his salvation restored.
I’m already in the practice of asking for forgiveness and strength. What I’m not in the practice of asking for is joy. It’s something that I think we all need to do more. Christians tend to have the reputation of being a dour bunch! This request is one I’m working on and I hope you will too.
When I sin, I lose my joy. As long as I am living with sin in my heart, in rebellion from Jesus, and with myself on the throne of my life, I lose my joy. My close fellowship with God is broken, and I feel it. But as soon as we repent from sin, turn our hearts back to Him, ask forgiveness and get it through the shed blood of Jesus, we have joy!
It’s sadly ironic that people spend so much time seeking joy in sinful, worldly things – and for a time, it can provide distraction and entertainment – but it does not provide true joy. Sin brings sorrow.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17)
It is a pure heart and a steadfast spirit that brings true joy. It’s knowing that we have been declared righteous when we don’t deserve it, that our treasure is in heaven where moth and rust don’t destroy, that our future is secure, our Lord is alive, the Holy Spirit is within us and God is on our side – that’s what brings joy! I read one commentary that said,
“The fact that the psalmist prays for so many things indicates how many things he knew he had lost when he plunged into sin.”
I know that feeling, and I’m sure many here do as well. Thank God for being a forgiving God who has much patience with His people.
There are a bunch more things I want to cover from this psalm next week, but this is a good start. Before we get into the Four Core Christian Disciplines we have to get our heart right and our motives straight which starts with repentance and seeking a pure heart, a steadfast spirit, and the joy of salvation. Then prayer, study, fellowship and service really bless God, impact our heart and bring our relationship with God to a place where He can use us to bring healing to the hearts of others.
(Here’s the link to the video. Warning, there’s some yelling…)
Last week I promised that we would be getting into the practical aspects of discipleship. I’m afraid we’ll have to put that off for another week because the Lord seems to have something else for us…
You Were Saved To Be A Disciple
Let me start with this first, and it’s something that I’ve said many times, but can’t be overstated: The call to salvation is a call to discipleship. When you are saved – when you give your heart and put your faith into the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, you are making Him your “Saviour” and your “Lord”. In other words you are not merely saved to be saved, but were made from a dead thing into a live thing, an enemy soldier into a faithful troop, a child of hell to a son or daughter of the Heavenly Father. You were saved on purpose for a purpose.
When Jesus came to you offering salvation He said, “Follow Me”. We follow a person, not a book, a doctrine, an idea, a way of life, or even a religion. We follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t say “Follow my rules”, He said, “Follow Me”. He invited us into a relationship with Him. He would be our God and we would be His people. He would be our Saviour we would be the saved. He would be the Teacher, we would be the disciple.
Discipleship is a Journey
Next, let me say this: Christian maturity is a process – a journey. Everyone is on a different part of the journey – a different phase in their relationship with God. We will never reach the end on this side of Heaven because there will always be more things we can learn about Jesus, more missions for us to follow, more sins that must be crushed. Each part of our life will have unique challenges and blessings, and Jesus will be discipling, leading and moving us along the path that He has laid out for us in different ways, at different speeds.
None of us will do this perfectly. There will be times we rebel, where we decide not to listen, where we let an idol into our lives. And while that’s not ideal, Jesus will be there to forgive and to help us get back up and walk further with Him.
There will be times when we are going to concentrate on different parts of our walk. At times we will be more about serving – giving of ourselves to Jesus and to others. There will be times when we are on a study binge because Jesus wants us to learn something – and we will be drawn to sermons, and books, and teachers, and of course, the scriptures. Other times we will feel a thirst for worship and will find that we can’t get enough of the Psalms, Christian music, concerts, and may even find ourselves writing music. And all of this is ok! This walk with Jesus will be dynamic and exciting at times.
There will also be times when God purposefully leads us through a dark time, “a dark night of the soul”, a “valley of the shadow of death”, which will be very difficult – prayer won’t come easily, doubt will always be at our door, the scriptures will be difficult, people will hurt us, and we will feel crushed and forgotten. It may have nothing to do with something we have done and is not a consequence of our own actions, but something God decides to lead us though and intends to use to demolish and rebuild some of the very foundational parts of our soul – a time when He is preparing us for something more – a deeper relationship with Him or a special purpose to serve a unique group of people. He will do this sometimes, and it will be very difficult, but He promises in Romans 8 never to waste any of that pain, and to use it for His glory, our good, and the good of others. It won’t feel good as we go through it, but He promises there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. He asks us to keep walking.
There are times where we will be disciplined by Jesus because of something we have done. We will need to walk through the consequences. He will be there to guide, teach, comfort and help, but He will not miraculously remove the discipline because as a good teacher He knows the best way for us to learn.
Count the Cost
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.’” (Luke 14:25-33)
As I said last week, it is vital that we get our motivations straight when it comes to this journey of discipleship. Yes, there is joy and a peace that passes understanding. We will find the greatest treasures of our life when we are walking with Jesus, talking to God, and filled with the Holy Spirit. There is no greater love than the love of God, and no greater life than the Christian life. But it is not an easy life, and Jesus never said it would be.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
That’s the crux. If there was ever a reason why someone would follow Jesus, this would be it – because what is the point of living a temporary life where we gain a bunch of useless possessions and fleeting nonsense if we lose our very soul and spend eternity in hell? What is the point of flailing about, spending our time and energy on things that will not last to the end of this generation, let alone eternity? If God offers a life that will matter – and will matter forever – then why would we waste our lives on anything else?
Many Fall Away
Jesus said in Matthew 22:14 about those who would hear the message of salvation that “Many are called but few are chosen.” There are many who will hear the message of the Gospel, the true message, but few who will listen to this call. In fact, just two chapters later in Matthew 24:10-11 Jesus says,
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
This happens all the time, and is a reality in many churches in Canada. When the heat is on, and the true Gospel is preached, and discipleship gets hard, many many fall away. The church starts to eat one another as brother betrays brother. False prophets start to stand up and proclaim an easy gospel, a Jesus who is easier to follow, a salvation without cost, and many will end up following them straight to hell.
A Hard Saying
People walking away from Jesus is not new. It happened to Jesus even when He walked the earth.
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:60-69)
That is my deepest prayer for each one of you here. That you would accept this hard teaching and not walk away. That you would accept the call to discipleship, to follow Jesus, and that you will not walk away. That you will hear the words of salvation spoken in the scriptures, and see that “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” and not be like those who did not believe, or those who wanted something else, those like Judas who would listen to Jesus, walk with Jesus, hear the message of Jesus, and still not allow it to sink deep into your heart, accept Him as Lord, and change you.
I have known too many Christians who simply said “it’s too hard.” I have known far too many who have said, “I know what the right thing to do is, what God is calling me to do, what the Bible says, but I don’t want to.” I have not known enough Christians who will look at the crucified, broken Jesus – and keep following Him to the cross. I have not known enough Christians who hear hard teachings like renounce your wealth, walk away from your comfort, go and fix that relationship, turn off the idiot box, purposefully and intentionally study the scripture every single day, be faithful to your church – and then accept them because they are right, good and commands from Jesus.
I have known too many Christians who have been offered a way out, and have taken it. I have not known enough Christians who look at Jesus through blurry, tear filled eyes, confused about what they are hearing, knowing the difficulty of the journey, and when Jesus says to them “Do you want to go away as well?”, say to him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.””
Commissioned by Jesus
Consider Matthew 10. In verse 1 we read that Jesus called his twelve disciples over to him and gave them spiritual authority and power before He sent them out to proclaim the Gospel. He has done the same to anyone here who has accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord. You were saved to be an active disciple, not a passive one. In verses 5-15 Jesus commissions them to go and spread God’s mercy and healing, to preach the good news and the judgement of God, to bless the homes of those who would accept the message and curse the ones who would not.
And then in verses 16-33 he gives them a warning about what it would be like to be on mission with Him. He did not send them out believing that everyone would listen, that their life would be easy, that He would solve all their problems, and that being followers of His would make their journey a happy one.
No, when He commissioned them He gave them dire warnings about persecution, betrayal, hard times, and death. He warned them that their own families would turn against them. He told them that they shouldn’t walk from town to town, but run because the time is short. He told them that even though they had the message of light, they would be so misunderstood that they would be called demons.
But after each of His warnings came a message of hope. Listen:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
26 So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
He promises elsewhere that the wisdom we need will be given when we ask. He says that when you don’t know what to say, God Himself will speak though you. He says that it will be hard, but you will never need to doubt your salvation, because that is assured. He promises that you will never have to go where Jesus didn’t go first – He knows everything you are facing. He says that you need not fear because God knows exactly what is happening and is a perfect, gracious, just God who will exact perfect justice against those who do wrong against you. He says that God knows every, tiny, little part of you, and not one hair, not one tear will fall without Him seeing it, weighing it, and accounting for it. The names of the faithful will be acknowledged by God Himself.
These are words of hope, assurance and a message that gets me very excited about serving Jesus.
What is the Real Cost?
I’m going to talk about the steps of maturity next week, and the activities of a disciple, but I was reminded this week about how it is important that we chew on the message God gave us last week, and is giving us still. I don’t want to rush into the application because I want us each to understand the cost, and the joys, of discipleship.
The costs of discipleship are easy to list – following Jesus costs us everything. Remember His words from Luke 14:33 “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Everything. Our plans, our career, our homes, our money, our future, our family, our pets, our hobbies, our prized possessions, our bank accounts, our retirement plans, our time, our skills and abilities, our pride, our excuses, our introvertism, our extrovertism, our control issues, our laziness, our books, our study time, our tv shows, our sins, our secrets, our passions, our loyalties – everything. Following Jesus costs us everything.
But, as Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “… what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” — So what if it costs everything?! What is the real cost? The cost is all the temporary things that we are going to lose anyway! The cost is only things that we have given a perceived value – not anything of real value!
And the alternative is so much better! We are trading the world, which is passing away, and all of our own worldly gain for eternal joy and glory.
Listen to some of the promises in scripture and consider the cost:
Some of us don’t want to give up control of our plans and our stuff. God says in Jeremiah 29:11,
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”
In Proverbs 3:5-8 it says,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
Why do you desire control of your life when God can do a much better job? What’s the cost of giving control over to him? Your own crooked paths? Give them up!
Security / Hurts
Some don’t want to give up the security of their religion because doing religious things makes them feel good. Some here don’t want to give up their hurts and bitterness because they have held onto them for so long – their bitterness is the fuel of their life.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-29,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
What is the cost of giving up your religion? The burden of trying to impress God, the guilt of not knowing if you’ve ever done enough, the self-righteousness is so tiresome to keep going. What is the cost of giving up your bitterness and hurts that fuel your life? Surely you are weary and tired from carrying that pain around for so long. Jesus says that when you join with Him, are yoked with Him, He will take that burden from you, and free your heart.
Wealth / Security / Comfort
Some don’t want to give up their wealth and possessions. Some have a lot to give up, others not as much, but you hold on to your wealth with a tight fist. You’ll give up a lot, but are not even willing to accept the possibility that Jesus might be asking you to give it up for a greater purpose. Some are not willing to consider that their retirement years are not meant to be years of rest, but years where they are freed to work more for the Lord. Some couldn’t even consider taking a different job, or pursuing a life of ministry or mission because it would cost them their comfort? What is the cost of releasing that wealth?
Jesus says in Philippians 4:19,
“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”
God has more than you do, and will give it as you need it! The riches you are holding on to may actually be keeping you from experiencing a greater blessing! Imagine what it would be like if you were to meet God and He were to say, “I had so much more I wanted to give you, so much more planned for you, so much blessing in store, but you didn’t want to put down what you already had in your hand. All you had to do was let go of the lesser thing, and I would have given you something greater. You desired comfort for yourself, but I wanted to use you to change the world!”
Some of you have a secret addiction or a guilty pleasure that you don’t want to give up because you enjoy it or believe it will be too hard to do. How heartbreaking it is that you would trade that temporary, addictive, worldly high, for what God wants to do with you.
Get Hot or Get Cold
Let me close with the words of Jesus to the church in Laodocia from Revelation 3:15-22. I read these all the time and they are greatly convicting to me. They shake me out of complacency and remind me not to trade earthly things for heavenly ones.
“This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation: 15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18 So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. 20 Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.
22 ‘Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.’”
I’m a HUGE fan of the AWANA program and had the opportunity to speak again last Thursday night. I gave a talk called “Wisdom or Foolishness” to a group of kids aged 5-12 and their leaders (which included some pretty fun pictures!).
Here’s the audio:
I want to play a game with you that I’m going to call “Good or Bad”. I’ll show you something on the screen and you tell me if it’s a “good thing” or a “bad thing”. Sometimes it’s easy to tell if something is good or bad, sometimes it’s not. Let’s take a look.
Now I’m going to show you something different. These aren’t “Good or Bad” — I want you to tell me if they are making a Wise decision or a Foolish decision.
You all seemed pretty good at that! You were able to tell if the person was doing something wise or foolish. But it’s not always that easy! So let’s look at how we can tell the difference:
Wisdom: You can tell something is a Wise decision because it is a good idea that will have a good ending. If you are wise, then you see things properly, you have a good idea what’s going to happen, and you know that after you have done it, God will be pleased, people will be blessed, and you will be healthier, happier and experience more joy.
Foolishness: The opposite of being wise is being Foolish. A person who is being foolish doesn’t do things properly, doesn’t think about what’s going to happen next. They don’t worry about what God thinks, they don’t worry about how others will be affected, they don’t really worry about how it will affect their lives in the long run, but only hopes they will be happy after they do it
Most of the time, it’s easy to tell the difference between something that is bad (a sin) and something that is good. God gave us a lot of teachings in the Bible that show us good from bad, right from wrong. We have the 10 Commandments, and the teachings of Jesus, and of the Apostles and Prophets that tell us right from wrong, good from bad, sin from righteousness. And God has given us a good gift called a conscience – and if we are a Christian, then we have an even better gift called the Holy Spirit – Who tells us the difference. Sometimes we don’t listen to our consciences, or the Holy Spirit, but in our hearts we still know if doing something is good or bad, right or wrong, sin or not a sin.
What’s harder than knowing if something is “Good” or “Bad” is knowing whether something is “Wise” or “Foolish”. Sometimes something will not be a sin, but it will still be a foolish idea. Sometimes it’s hard to think ahead to know if God will be pleased, if people will be helped, or if we will be happier in the long run. Sometimes this is because doing the wise thing takes a long time, and we don’t see what happens for a while.
Two More Examples:
The first is eating candy. Is eating candy a sin? Does God say we can’t eat candy? No, eating candy is not a sin. We are allowed to have candy, and I’m very glad for that!
But say your mom or dad buys you some Easter candy. They give you a chocolate bunny, some chocolate eggs, some marshmallow peeps, some m&m’s and a whole bag of jelly beans – lots of candy. Now, is it a sin to eat all of the Easter candy at once? No, it’s not bad. There’s no verse that says you shouldn’t eat all your easter candy at once. It’s not a sin. They were given to you to eat, and they are yours.
But let me ask you this… is it Wise to eat all of your Easter candy at once? It’s not a sin, but that doesn’t mean it’s Wise, right? No, it’s Foolish! Why? Because you will feel sick, and you won’t have any left for later, and you probably won’t enjoy it as much, and you won’t have any to share… there’s lots of reasons that Foolish. It’s not a sin, but it’s foolish.
Here’s another example. It’s Wednesday evening before bed, and you are all done your school and your chores. You just got a new game to play and you can’t wait to play it. So you ask your mom and dad if you can play your new game and they say YES!
You go to your room and then realize that you haven’t memorized your verse for AWANA yet. AWANA isn’t until tomorrow, but you know that you have a busy day tomorrow. You might be able to fit it in at lunch, but you’re not sure. What is the Wise thing to do?
Let me ask you this: Would it be a sin to play your new game? No! Your parents said it would be ok and you worked hard on your school all day. Playing games isn’t sin. Would be more Wise to play the game or memorize the verse for AWANA. Why? That’s harder to do though, isn’t it?
When you are trying to figure out what the wise thing to do is, it’s important to think about what’s going to happen later, do what pleases God, what blesses people and what will make you healthier and happier. Playing that new game might be fun, but it would be wiser to learn the verse so you can know more about Jesus, please God, be ready for AWANA, be able to help others, and have the joy of the bible in your heart. Sometimes wise living isn’t easy, but in the end it is the most rewarding.
Often, if you listen to your mom or dad, their biggest problem isn’t figuring out what is good or bad (what is sin or not-sin) but trying to figure out what the wisest thing to do is. They are trying not to do anything foolish. And more often than not, if you ask them why they are sad, or upset, or frustrated they will say “I did something foolish, or someone did something foolish to me.”
4 Ways To Help Make Wise Decisions:
If you come to a situation where you have a choice, and you know that it’s not choosing between something Good or Bad… it’s not about sinning or not sinning… but having to choose between what is Wise or Foolish, here’s what you should do:
1. Pray – If you are a Christian, then you know that Jesus loves you, He died for your sins, and He lives in your heart. He not only wants you to talk to Him in prayer, but if you are listening, He will also talk back to you. Not usually in a voice you hear with your ears, but one that you hear on the insides. I can’t say exactly how Jesus will talk to you, but I know that He does.
And if you’re not a Christian, and you don’t talk to Jesus, then I invite you to realize that you are a sinner, that you’ve done bad things, that you need to be saved from your sin. Ask Jesus to forgive you, and then to teach you how to live wisely as a forgiven Christian.
2. Read the Bible – Someone once told me that 95% of everything we need to know is written in the Bible, and that we don’t need to worry as much about the other 5%. Chances are, the advice you are looking for is written in the bible. In fact, when Jesus talks to you in your prayers, He will often speak by pointing you at Bible verses you have read, learned and memorized! That’s why your AWANA leaders work so hard to help you learn the Bible! So you can know Jesus and live wise lives. So, after praying, think of all the verses you know, and think if they will help you make the decision. If you don’t know any verses then here’s the next thing to do:
3. Ask an Older Christian that you trust – Talk to your brother or sister, mom or dad, or grandma or grandpa, if they are Christians. Talk to an elder at church, or your pastor, or the preacher on Sunday. There is nothing that older Christians like to do more than to listen to the hearts of the young Christians they love and help them live wisely! Make sure it’s someone that you trust, and that you know loves Jesus, otherwise they might try to give you worldly advice, or say something that sounds wise but is really foolish. It’s best to talk to older Christians who you know love Jesus.
4. Trust in God’s Love – If you are trying to be Wise and make the right decision, and you want to live wisely, and you want to do good, God is amazingly able to fill in all the bits you might mess up. The bible says that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pe 4:8) and what that means is that God is happy when your heart is in the right place. Sometimes God will work miracles to help you out, even if you’re make some mistakes along the way, because He knows you’re trying to please Him and live wisely. If your heart is in the right place, even if you mess up God will forgive you and other Christians will forgive you.
So, if you’ve prayed about it, and read the bible about it, and talked to older Christians that you trust, then go ahead and live out what you think is right. God loves the heart of a person who wants to do the right thing, and loves to help you out even when you might not be doing it exactly right. He’s pretty amazing that way.
My prayer, and the prayer of your leaders is that you will live good and wise lives, listening to Jesus, loving your bible, and learning from older Christians who love you.