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!”


Monday, September 9, 2019

Complete

Complete

Are we there yet? You have heard it from the back seat many times. How about, are you complete yet? I mean is God done with you? I hope your response is no, because God has “begun a good work in you” (Philippians 1:6). That’s good news for the believer that God has begun or started when you received Him as your Savior and Lord. But there is more good news. “He will complete (bring it to completion) it until the day of Christ Jesus”(v. 6 NIV, NKJV). The KJV says that He will perform it until Jesus’ return to rule and reign. The Living Bible says His grace is working to finish the task. The Message says that He will bring it to a “flourishing finish.” 

I am getting the idea that God is continually active in our lives guiding us in good works for His Kingdom from our salvation to His return. By the way, if you believe as I do that He will rapture His people before the tribulation, we will already be with Him as He is completing us. This is the sanctification process, which is continuous. The Thompson Chain Reference Bible speaks of this process as “Spiritual Renewal” in the Holy Spirit. This is the new man working in us. Isaiah 40:31 tells us that “those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings of eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk, and not faint.” 

I look to Romans 12:1-2, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” God is transforming us as we totally submit to Him. Don’t miss the blessings that come even in trials. This is a continual renewing of our minds to be like HIm. I don’t know about you, but this is very exciting for me.  

A Theology of Gentleness

Douglas Frank Photo

A Theology of Gentleness

Gentleness is part of the “Fruit of the Spirit.” I think that its supply is like the Napa 2017 harvest, burning up. Former President George W.H. Bush in his 1988 acceptance speech called for a “Kinder, gentler nation.”  Along with the 1,000-points of light hopes, I have trouble seeing either one through the wildfire smoke, savage hatred being spewed out in Congress or ravaging gunfire. The hatred and lack of civil conversation has reached an all-time high in these United States. I hear putrid speech from former presidents and presidential candidates as well as current office holders. I hear an entire political party saying that they want to obstruct and destroy the current president. That means that they want to destroy the United States, as we know it. What is this about?  It is the fact that mankind is not good, only God is good. It is only by redemption through the Son of God that anyone can begin a journey of righteousness.  Jesus said to the disciples, “Apart from me you are nothing (you can do nothing).”  (John 15:5). That is the truth, like it or not.

I suspect that there are many people considering what I have already written as hate speak. But before you write me off, read the Bible.  fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them” (Proverbs 14:3). There are 72 “fool” verses in the wisdom book of Proverbs alone. I just chose one about a fool and their pride. Don’t be a hothead and deceitful about it as proverbs suggests of the foolish who despises the wisdom of God. This is not political wisdom coming from the mouth of the Almighty; it is common sense from the One in control. Those that tear down are fools; those that build up are gentle. Encouraging and comforting is not weak. It is meekness or power under control. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). I am just hearing continual harshness that will bring the wrath of God. Proverbs 25:15 tells us that patience and a gentle tongue can break a bone. Yes, when we are gentle or weak, God is strong. 

The Apostle Paul tells the Philippians to let their gentleness be known to all for the Lord is near. He goes on in Colossians 3:12 to tell us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  These are descriptions of Jesus, the Creator of the universe through whom all things hold together. There is nothing weak here, this gentleness created the world and He will destroy it again, making it new again thereafter. Then He will come to rule and reign with those who love Him, the others will be no longer as they will have been thrown by their own choice into the Lake of Fire. All are welcome to come as, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”  (2 Peter 3:9).

Does that sound gentle and patient? The One who is gentle and riding on a donkey is also omnipotent and omniscient so be prepared for the end draws near. Therefore, I want to imitate Jesus and have His mind as Scripture admonishes us. This is being gentle and all the other fruit of the Spirit against which there is no law.
My quest in 2016 to be gentler continues, for I have not yet been made into having this Christ-like behavior as He would have it. So I will keep working with God’s help as Paul admonished his mentee Timothy, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness”  (1 Timothy 6:11). 







Friday, September 6, 2019

He is Able

Who is able, are you? Perhaps you can do many things for which you have been enabled. Perhaps others can do more. But only God can do “immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine”  (Ephesians 3:20). Only He is able. This verse is part of Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians:
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through out all generations, forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

“One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:6).  I am talking about the One and only who makes ALL things work together for good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose as Romans 8:28 tells us. Yes, He alone is infinite, and He alone is infinitely or immeasurably at work within His people. Look at the stars, can you count them? There are more than we count or ever will be able. More than we can imagine. He is at work within us, giving us His power through His Holy Spirit. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2Corinthians 9:15). I am talking about Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit.

Do not doubt it as you ask for it as James 1:5-8 tells us: “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. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do”  (James 1:5-8).  He is able and will give us more than we could ask or think to ask. Prayer is our most powerful tool. God knows what we need, but He wants us to get that it is beyond us and in His power to give.


The verse above this “wonderfilled” benediction is Paul’s admonition that God will give us power through His Spirit in our inner being as we grasp how wide, high, long and deep is His love and be filled to the fullness of God. That’s where our faith needs to take us- His power through faith. So today, when you are struggling with seemingly impossible problems, know that nothing is impossible for God for He is immeasurably able. May this immeasurably powerful gift be at work throughout His church, believers, forever and ever, Amen!