Friday, October 11, 2019

Waves

The waves and the winds of the world seem to be growing larger and stronger. Are you tossed and blown about by the winds and waves of life? Well, I think we are all getting wet and chaffed, whether we want to or not. But I think we can protect ourselves somewhat from the deleterious effects.

I put on my Gortex® suit when the skies are gray and the rain is coming down. It helps a lot, along with an umbrella. However, last week my umbrella turned inside out as the winds blew the rain horizontal. You all know the situation and your response. We need the rain, but we don’t like the effects.  So what are the best protections or coverings for these storms of life?

James 1:2-6 tells us that all of God’s kids are getting it. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”  Trials and temptations will come, but we must ask for wisdom from God, not why, but what and how to do it. Otherwise we will be blown around like a wave in the wind. I can feel the spray on my face as I write. It can feel good when we know what we are doing on a sailboat as it reaches out, or not. It is best to wear a slicker and even a rain hat with a chinstrap to best ride out the storm.
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As Christians in an ever increasingly difficult world, we need to be prepared. How do we do that?  Start with prayer. This is asking God without doubt as James tells us. He answers all our prayers, unless we have the wrong motivation or have un-confessed sin in our hearts. Then He will not hear our cries. I believe if we pray in faith, God will answer us with directions.  Most of these are clearly stated in Scripture. God’s responses will be in accord with the Bible, His word. Remember, it was spoken into existence like the world.


God is preparing and building us up to be able to handle the seas of life. In Ephesians 4 Paul tells us that God is preparing His people for works of service, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and froth by the waves, and blown hear and there by every wind of teaching and cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-15).  He is telling us that we should be children of the light for in the world there is darkness that is corrupting whoever is ignorant of the truth.

I love the psalms that tell us “He will cover us with His feathers” (Psalm 91:4). God also covers our sins with His love. This is a message of His blood shed for us on the cross that our sins may be covered and/or forgiven.  Paul also tells us in Colossians 3:12-15 to be clothed or covered in “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity. Let the peace of God rule in your heart… and be thankful.”  You are being clothed with Christ as you are baptized in Him as Galatians 3:27 tells us. He is our protection and covering as He directs our paths in the storms of life.


Friday, October 4, 2019

The Only One

In the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, actually closer to 20,000, in Matthew 14 of the disciples saying, ‘We have only five loaves of bread and two fish… and Jesus responding, ‘Bring them here to me.’”  I am fascinated that only one person had any food, a little boy. I am also amazed that the parable is about the miracle of feeding all the people and even having bounty of 12 bushels left over. As I read it again, I marvel at Jesus’s ministry to thousands, and yet He did not call the boy forward to receive a blessing or thanks. Actually the Gospel of John is the only rendition of the story where Andrew, brother of Peter even mentions the boy saying, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish.”  The parable is about Jesus meeting human needs and points towards Himself as the Bread of Life.

Why doesn’t Jesus even recognize the boy and the lunch He took from him?  Perhaps He does by indicating that the boy’s lunch was given and provided for a massive lesson for all. Was it important that it was a child? I think it adds to the lesson’s power, since they were nothing in that culture. Even the “Little ones” are important to the kingdom. Jesus certainly makes that point in Matthew 19 on how important it is for the children to not be hindered in coming to Him, “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  Yes, children are important. But why not identify the child in the bread parable?  The child’s lunch was taken, but returned and more when all were fed. In other words, Jesus provided much more than the little one’s lunch. He wanted all to benefit. That does not say that the kid was selfish, it says that Jesus is bountiful.  The kingdom of God is for all who will come and so they did that day. Not all heard and believed, but all were provided sustenance. The child was available and that’s what He asks of us.

That’s the way today. God provides us all with lunch and life and everything else. But few recognize the “indescribable gift” and believe.


As I think about the parable, I would have picked up the kid and hugged him, saying how important he and his lunch were to the kingdom. Instead it is written in Scripture for all posterity to read and understand more of the Only One with God’s power to provide out of a small lunch or even out of nothing that the whole world may know.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Stronghold

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
Stronghold is a word with double-entendre or meaning. It is the strength we have in the Lord as identified in this wonderful psalm. It is also the besetting sin that holds onto you in life even when you try harder. The concept here is that our greatest strengths may also be our greatest weakness.

I love the psalms. In fact I wrote a book on them and their faithfulness to me, Great is God’s Faithfulness. They speak to emotions of every kind, joyful and peaceful as well as troubled and fearful. In other words, they speak to the real lives of all of us. David starts Psalm 9 praising the Lord with “all my heart.”  He praises His wonders with gladness and joy. It is a praise to God for His deliverance from his enemies asking Him to continue to do the same. “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9). What is this stronghold? It is the place where we can stand firm with confidence. David was exhorting the Lord for His strength in Psalm 27 and Psalm 9 in times of trouble. I did the same as I stood in the smoke and acrid steam standing between two cars in which I had once driven before a dramatic halt in a head-on accident in the Virgin Islands. The twisting, jungle ensconced and narrow, left-side drive trails along the mountains and beaches are a terrifying carnival ride I don’t plan on experiencing again soon. But there I stood staring at the crumpled cars, viewing the license plate, “Ps 27.” I immediately went to this empowering and steadying verse written above. He is my “stronghold” and the centering light of my life. I can trust and not be afraid.  Scripture is alive and dynamic, sharper than a two-edged sword and penetrating deeply. And so it did that day as it has on many others in my life of faith. It has become my stronghold.

But there is another side to stronghold and that is “besetting sin.” These are sins that keep coming back. They are sins or selfishness against God as all sin. They are perhaps bad habits where we go when feeling down or our low self-esteem is feeling sorry for itself. For Abraham it was lying. For some it might be sneaking a drink of alcohol or looking at pornography on the Internet. These sins can be overcome, but not easily. Some say we can become sinless this side of heaven. I don’t believe the Bible teaches us so. Although; we can and must become more like Jesus by the power of His Holy Spirit. Yet strongholds may still exist is us. Perhaps another word for stronghold is idol.

Idols are not necessarily carved images or gold, silver or wood as the third command speaks. But the concept is the same, as we may worship them.  Is your idol your work where you spend 16 hours a day and many weekends? Is it your constant training for another marathon run, even though your body and marriage are falling apart?  Is it your obsession with anything other than God? If you are struggling with this question you probably have issues.  For me over my lifetime I have struggled with weight resulting in an eating disorder in my teens caused primarlily by living with an alcoholic and mentally ill parent. This is an obsessive and serious psychological illness, usually needing intense therapy and even hospitalization to break. It can and does end in death for some who cannot let their dysmorphic or flawed view of their bodies go.  It may be pornography or alcohol, which are addictions and illnesses. Indeed they need help and much of it is spiritual illness. It is not being obedient to God’s commandments and the fruit of the Spirit, which is self-control. It requires discipline to break such habits and often, professional help. For me it includes having an accountability brother to hold me to my promises and walk with God.


So do you have a stronghold in your faith in a loving and ever-present God, or do you have a stronghold apart from God? You might have both, but need to ask God to take away your obsession with anything other than Him as your center and purpose for life. Pray about it, journal about it, share with another close friend or counselor. It will not go away by itself. Center your life on Jesus Christ, the only perfect sinless  human and model.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Be Filled

“I am filled with joy at His success” (John 3:29)
This is John the Baptizer being filled with joy when he heard of Jesus coming to baptize around the bend in the Jordan River where he was also baptizing. He is the one who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). This was the cousin of Jesus who baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit? Scripture says that when you come to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord that you will receive the Holy Spirit. When you are born again there is a new you in the Holy Spirit. But are you filled?

When we start our Christian life God makes us new, He transforms us. Yet Romans 12:2 gives the admonition to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  This is a process as being filled is in the future pluperfect tense, which means continually being filled. This implies that we can run on empty or be emptied. We do not lose the Holy Sprit, but we can grieve the Holy Spirit as Ephesians 4:30 warns us. So how do you do this? We grieve the Holy Spirit with our sins, which I imagine cover the Spirit of God with our filthy rags.  This image makes me cringe, which is a good thing because it should be the last thing we want to do.

The Holy Spirit is God within us, the Counselor, Comforter and “Convictor.” Yes, the Spirit convicts of sin and causes us to repent and go the other way, the way of the cross. That is the way of holiness and righteousness. We can’t do this on our own, we need the perfecting power of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:16 says, “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” This power within us brings us the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”  (Galatians 5:22-23). This is the opposite of lusts of the flesh. This is the life controlled by the Spirit. It should grow as we grow in Christ. Just as John, we become less of us and more of Jesus. That is the purpose of life. He needs to be our center, our everything. That is separating the sheep from the goats indeed.

I like to describe this as a process like filling a jar with water. But first the jar is full of rocks or our sins (original self). As we take out our rocks, or purify ourselves through the sanctifying and perfecting power of the Holy Spirit, we can pour in more water. Water is the Holy Spirit, and the more we have the more power we possess. This power increases until we have no more of ourselves and all of Jesus and His Spirit. Get it, it is the process of The Pursuit of Holiness, the title of a book by Jerry Bridges on “Running such a way they we get the prize” (1Corinthians 9:24). This is running the race to personal holiness. This is not the “pursuit of happiness” that the Declaration of Independence declares as an inalienable right. It instead is a much richer and grander goal of life. It is the pursuit of God and His ways to holiness. God provides and we have a responsibility to pursue. It is a holy partnership.

In this partnership, we are convicted of our sins if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We come to identify our issues like anger, selfishness and sloth or laziness. God hates these things and so should we. We need personal revival.


Psalm 80:18 (NKJV) prompts, “Revive us, and we will call upon Your name”. God is calling each of us to personal revival toward His holiness through His Holy Spirit. Yes, the world is falling into an immoral soup of political and fleshly correctness. This is not of God, but man. The revival can only start within each of us. Ask God to continue to fill you with His Holy Spirit that you might become more like Him. In Isaiah 6 the train of His robe filled the temple with glory. Ask God to fill you with His robe of glory, His Holy Spirit to overflowing.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Perfecting Power

The Apostle Paul had a thorn in his hip.  We are not told what it was, but I think it represents all of our trials and temptations- take your pick. For me there have been temptations and trials that The Holy Spirit of God has worked through me to overcome. Note the title of this essay is “Perfecting Power.”  This power is the power of the Holy Spirit of God working within us. Remember Paul’s crying out to God for his thorn to be removed and God responded with, “My grace is sufficient for you, My power is perfected in your weakness. When you are weak, then I am strong” (2Corinthians 12:9).  This is the perfecting power of God that works.  It is usually slowly and painfully. To some we are told that He gives miraculous powers. He healed me miraculously, but I don’t believe that He gave me the miraculous power of healing. He does continue to work in purifying me.

Moreover, God is working in me to overcome my thorns. I am praying and seeking and realizing that we have a role. “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence to God” (2Corinthians 7:1). Throughout Scripture God is admonishing us to purify ourselves. Yes, God has cleansed us of all sins on the cross, but our sinful nature is not totally gone. We are working out our salvation with fear and trembling Philippians 2:12 instructs us. It is a process and God is orchestrating it through the perfecting power of His Holy Spirit in those who believe.

I have written about “perfect,” the word of the decade that seems to be the common response to any offer. But only God is perfect and some day, God willing, we will see His perfect face and be perfected. But until then, we are to continue to purify or perfect ourselves. And remember that we cannot do this on our own; it is the perfecting power of the Perfect One working within us.

So how hard is this? Remember what Paul said in Romans 7:14-25 one of the most difficult to interpret passages that is clear on the subject of sin lest you should think you can handle it:
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”