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Archive for the ‘Work of the Holy Spirit’ Category

Following after Jesus has its many rewards and challenges. The challenges all originate from our sin nature, and “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3) we really have no excuse. This enabling power given to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit helps us to “enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

God is at work in us for our sanctification, but He also commands us to be diligently about increasing our sanctification: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) Because of the lie of Satan that induced the original sin of Adam, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), we now have a sin nature. As a result “death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam” (Romans 5:14), and there is still “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Romans 7:18-19) To put it plainly, the lie of Satan was that you can do it on your own, that is, be good enough, be like God. Every religion is a way to work your way to heaven or attempt to please God. True Christianity is not this way, that is, works oriented, but grace oriented, because God has and is accomplishing all that is needed to please Him and secure for us a place in heaven. But we sinners by nature and by practice are hooked on the Lie and must throughout this lifetime be diligent to believe what God has said and done in and for us.

I love analogies and metaphors and thought of this situation today as I was describing a friend’s need to find a church where grace is preached. We should seek a church where truth is preached, the Gospel is preached, and the whole counsel of God is preached, right? Most definitely we should, but we are like an old pick-up truck that has a badly mis-aligned front end that constantly wants to steer us into the left ditch which we must persistently fight by holding the steering wheel to the right so that we may track straight. The mis-alignment is our works oriented sin nature; steering to the right is a constant placing of God’s grace before our eyes and in our thinking; the straight track is the narrow way that God is guiding us along toward Himself.

Or we are setting a course of the narrow way by turning the tiller of grace that has us tacking into the wind of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are always empowered by God, but He frequently accomplishes that through the effort of faith we put forth. This “steering” or “tack” is not a new level of works, but a clinging to God, the only source of life and godliness, joy and heaven.

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He said, “Do your best and let God take care of the rest.” I had heard this and similar phrases many times, but I went off on a mental tangent of evaluating it in the light of Scripture. I think that I understand the intent of the saying, namely that we have an active part to play in growing righteousness in our life and God completes what is lacking in us. Thus far I have no problem, but I think we may do better in our understanding and representation of the interplay of our effort and God’s empowerment. Toward a theology of effort and empowerment consider the following diagrams with their perspectives on the topic:

effort-empowerment-arrows

The arrows are somewhat self-explanatory, but I want to clarify them for my own benefit and yours. Though, as I said, the #1 was stated with right intentions, I believe that at face value it is really saying that I exert effort to the extent of my ability and then God kicks in for the rest. But the Scripture says,“for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28), and “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We cannot even breathe apart from the grace He provides, but the “nothing” here seems to me to be ‘nothing of eternal significance’. As Paul teaches in I Corinthians 3:11-15, For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 

I think that #2 is closer to the right perspective. God wants us to be involved and tells us through Paul to work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12b-13) Our part is working with God by faith that He provides all we need to obey Him. He is actually the one willing and working and He receives all the glory as only He should. We receive no glory for effort, seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (II Peter 1:3-4) The “magnificent promises” and “divine nature” afforded believers far exceed our efforts. For this reason I have the ‘me’ arrow inside the ‘God’ arrow. God is in, through, and around all that we do and amplifies it to a magnificent and divine level, “abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).The result is that “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11) and “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)

#3 is not only lazy but detracts from the glory of God by not proving His purpose and plan as revealed in such passages as Ephesians 2:10: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” We are not to be idle. Our flesh will consume us the moment we stop clinging to God and moving forward in the strength He provides, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Conversely, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

#4 may seem like a statement of working with God, but I have seen consistently that the people who use this phrase are just trying to be good in their own right and have little concern for godliness or God’s glory. He intends and expects of those whom He is saving and the whole world as well that they acknowledge Him in all things: ““Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” (Revelation 14:7) 

Our hearts tend to be lazy when it comes to spiritual disciplines, but I believe that God has ordained that His will is frequently accomplished and His kingdom built by enabling the efforts He orchestrates within us (#5), as we said above from Philippians 2:12-13. So we work hard and bring God glory as you see Paul and the Thessalonians did: For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (I Thessalonians 2:9-12) It is right and proper that we should work hard at spiritual progress in the strength God provides in order that others might be drawn to God and God be glorified.

And with all of this effort, remember that God needs nothing from us and can accomplish His will without us whenever and however He pleases (#6). “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) But He has made us involved in so much of what He is doing, “for this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19) For  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

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All the political hubbub with no real solutions. All the anxiety ridden news reports without real hope. All the suggested intrusions on freedom with no real security. We are not going to make progress and are going to regress rapidly without turning to the one and only solution. 

This poem actually began as two conflicting thoughts and considering the circumstances under which they came about. It seems to me now the first verse does not even go with the rest of the poem so I will separate it with extra space. See what you think:

I write poetry to keep from being bored
Focus mind when feet are nailed to a floorboard
Teasing out thoughts that are both far flung and near
Sorting through the hurtful and that which is dear

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When I think of all the wrong that’s in the world
Murders and abuse and war banners unfurled
My mind grabs for solutions to bring to bear
All beyond reach in a world cruel and unfair

There’s the pain to loved ones from me and others
Scarred relationships start with father, mothers
Friends and neighbors had words and are offended
Words out, actions done, cannot be rescinded

Is there no hope for mankind, is it all gloom?
Tearing down self and others, is this our doom?
No, there is hope, but it’s not in self-help plans
Nor is it in the police state or gun bans

Our hope is in God’s Son through His sacrifice
His death on the cross for sin paid the full price
By trusting in His work we have peace with God
Relationship growing in place of the rod

Repentance and forgiveness we have in Him
We may pass to others as a precious gem
When seeking to forgive and be forgiven
We have with sin and disharmony striven

This makes possible reconciliation
Moving past hurt beginning restoration
Extending peace to strangers and enemies
Doing right by neighbors knowing that God sees

Hope for the future and for the present too
Pointing people to purpose both real and true
Spending time and resources to relieve pain
Pointing to the Savior in Whom is real gain

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In danger of living as mere men
Calling survival a win
We were meant for more than bear and grin
In our fight with self and sin

But the mundane creeps in day by day
And we lose sight of the way
To walk in the Spirit and to stay
In His Word and ceaselessly pray

To be bold in witness to the lost
Kind, no relational frost
Not by every wind of doctrine tossed
In holy living count the cost

Recall we’re not the vine but the limb
More than conquerors through Him
Each dead work from the vine He must trim
The source of all life is the stem

Walk by the Spirit, quit the flesh race
All of life is lived by grace
At God’s behest and at His own pace
With His help we finish the race

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Humility should always be donned by a Christian. We were sinners; we are sinners saved by grace; we will one day not be sinners by the grace of God. Oh, that I could communicate by words and deeds a life of repentance and trust, repentance and trust.
Ups and downs and all arounds
The days go rolling by
No matter all the times we fail
We must again retry

Thank your God or take the rod
A smile or else a cry
Repent, forgiveness will prevail
Joy replaces a sigh

Trust Him now and so learn how
To overcome the lie
That Spirit's power has no avail
To cause the flesh to die

When upside down makes you frown
Recall God is on high
No matter what may you assail
He is all your supply

Jesus died to sin applied
Believe, do not deny
His power over death and hell
One day to heaven fly

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A pastor friend of mine put this quote on Facebook that he had read from Tim Keller: “For most of us, God hasn’t become our happiness. We, therefore, pray to procure things for our happiness, and not to know him better.” Sometimes quotes are black and white, absolute, and I want to say, no, only sometimes and partially. So I started to respond to this entry but as I tried to think how to respond the depth of my own culpability increased in my eyes. Things procured may not always be material objects, and most frequently are not things I most desire or pursue. They may be accomplishments, comforts, accolades, encouragements, skills, health, entertainments, work, love, a sense of purpose, and so on. They are not knowledge of God. Neither are the bad in themselves, used as tools for knowing Him and making Him known, but I don’t frequently acquire them for that reason. So I retreated from responding to the entry, but the impact of the statement would not fade. I have resolved by the Spirit to confront such idols in the past.

As these thoughts mulled over in my mind I was reminded of the verse in the hymn that goes, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come, and I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” The Ebenezer comes from a text in I Samuel 7:8-13: “Then the sons of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and Samuel cried to the Lord for Israel and the Lord answered him. Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel. The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel.”  The translation of Ebenezer is a “stone of help”. It is a monument raised by someone to remind them of help that God has given them. It is very easy to emphasize the act of raising the stone or the resolve that went into the help afforded but that is a totally man-centered dead end. God thundered and confused the enemy and routed and weakened to be struck down. Israel was active: pursuing, striking; Samuel set up the stone, but God did all of the heavy lifting and enabled all of the victory. So too in our victories over the temptation “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (II Corinthians 10:5) by the enabling power of the Spirit.

At my age and stage of life I have set up more than a few Ebenezers in field of battle. “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 I know His help, and I know how to call on Him, but in many smaller skirmishes and encampment quarrels and disease I am in great need of revisiting an Ebenezer set up where God enabled victory over evil thoughts, or the other one where victory was won over sluggish spiritual discipline, or yet another one where pride of accomplishment and tendency to show off was overcome. And on it goes. I need to take every thought captive by the power He provides, set up monuments to remind me of His victory and what was won, know Him more, and revisit those “stones of help” before or during great or prolonged battles.

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It was what church should be: lively discussion about the truths of God’s Word, challenging preaching that conveys God’s truth, hugs and handshakes, words of encouragement, a little extra effort to reach out to the hurting among us, words to get one thinking and rethinking, offers and procedure for help, appointments to get together later in the week to further the effect. God used my brothers and sisters to bless my wife and me both in terms of ministry offered to us and ministry offered for us to do. Was it perfect? Certainly not. Was it Spirit-led? More than I’ve seen in quite a while. Was it encouraging? Very. Was it an indication of things to come? Hopefully and in the longer term, absolutely. Was it a fluke? Not if we continue praying as I know for a fact was happening this past week. It reminds me of a quote we heard in VBS this past week: “Our good is for God’s glory; God’s glory is for our good.” I give Him the glory for all that He is doing at His church in this locale and know that it will in turn be for our best. May it draw others in to hear and taste the Gospel.

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