Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Monday, July 27, 2020
Thursday, July 23, 2020
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Acts 13:2 (ESV)
Acts 8:29 (ESV)
That is likely not the only way we listen to the Holy Spirit, but it is certainly one way to do so. Too often our approach is not to listen, but to talk. We talk a problem to death, come to a consensus, and make a decision, or we leave it for the next meeting. We are told to pray about it and we’ll talk about it at the next meeting. Few actually spend any significant time praying about the problem between meetings. We know how to make decisions, and we know how to put off making decisions. What we do not do well is listen.
The Spirit told Philip to talk to the Ethiopian Eunuch (Ac 8:29). The Spirit told the leaders of the church in Antioch to send Paul and Barnabas on a mission trip (Ac 13:2). The Spirit placed each leader in the church (Ac 20:28). Having been placed in leadership of God’s church by God’s Spirit, it is then important for us to actually listen to the Holy Spirit. How do we know it is the Spirit who is speaking, and not just our own ideas, or worse, some deceptive spirit?
The Spirit’s voice is often drowned out by the clamor of our own thoughts and desires. There are three principles that we need to keep in mind when we are learning to listen to the Spirit. First is the principle of indifference. The Apostle Paul wrote,
The second principle of hearing the Spirit is that the Spirit of God never speaks contrary to the Word of God that he inspired. 2 Peter 1:21 says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, who inspired the Bible will never speak contrary to the Bible he inspired. When we think we are hearing from the Spirit, we must test it against the Word of the Spirit. The Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, . . . . every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3). Not everything we hear is necessarily from God. It must be tested against what we know is true. It must be tested against the Word.
The third principle of hearing the Spirit is that what we think we are hearing from him must be tested against what others are hearing. “The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor 14:32-33). Throughout the Scriptures there is a principle of two or three witnesses. In 2 Corinthians 13:1 the Apostle Paul says that accusations against a brother “must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” That same principle is taught in Numbers and Deuteronomy. Jesus taught that “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Mt 18:19). Just three verses earlier Jesus taught us how to approach a brother who is in sin and will not listen. “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Mt 18:16). In 1 Corinthians 14:29 Paul taught, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” No one should say, “God said . . .” or “God told me . . .” unless it is first tested by others who are listening to the Spirit as well. May we learn to say, “I think I am hearing . . . from God. What are you hearing?”
If we are to learn to listen to the Spirit we need practice these three principles. We must be indifferent to what we hear. We must test what we hear against the Word of God. We must test what we hear against what others are hearing. The Spirit never contradicts himself, but we do not always hear clearly. I sometimes wonder if what people claim to be hearing from God is not just wishful thinking, or their own desires shouting loudly. When it comes to listening to the Spirit of God, we must come with humility, and a willingness to test what we think we are hearing. That being said, we must first be actually listening. He often speaks in a “low whisper” (1 Kng 19:12). It is time we stop making decisions and starting listening to the Spirit of God. He knows the heart of God. Romans 8 reminds us that we do not know how to pray, but the Spirit “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). The Spirit of God knows both the depth of our hearts, and the will of the Father. Maybe it is time that we learn to listen to him.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
One of the guiding principles of the church I am currently serving is that we are guided by the Holy Spirit. We are grounded in the Word, unified in the faith, girded in prayer, and guided by the Holy Spirit. If we are grounded in the Word then why do we need the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t we just do what the Bible says?
Unfortunately, in some churches we act as though that were true. Someone once said, “It is amazing what the church in America can do without the Holy Spirit.” That is a condemnation, not a commendation. The wealth and independence of the western church has, in some cases, almost replaced the Holy Spirit with money, education, and government protection. But, there are several reasons why the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary. I will not be able to address them all, but let me start with two.
First, we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit because it is the Holy Spirit that convinces, or convicts, “the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (Jn 16:8). Laws do not accomplish that. Governmental protection of the church does not accomplish that. Truthfully, even apologetics (reasoned arguments that defend our faith) do not convince the world. It is the Holy Spirit that draws people to faith. It is the Holy Spirit that convinces people of the truth of sin, righteousness, and judgment. It is the Holy Spirit that changes people’s hearts. Jesus told Nicodemus, in John 3:6, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
I have watched polished presentations of the gospel combined with methods of manipulation lead to people coming forward in a meeting, but I always wonder whether that is the Holy Spirit moving them, or simply the methods. Manipulating people into praying a prayer is not evangelism. True heart change starts with the Holy Spirit moving in people’s hearts. If God is truly drawing someone to faith, we don’t need to manipulate them to come forward. If God is not drawing them, then what is the point? “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jn 3:6).
We need to be guided by the Holy Spirit because effective evangelism starts with the Holy Spirit. Second, we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit because he is the one who guides us “into all truth” (Jn 16:13). It is the Holy Spirit who moved individuals to write the Scriptures. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). The Holy Spirit who moved men to write the Bible is the same Holy Spirit who dwells within each believer and gives understanding. Bible study methods are important. We can’t make the scriptures say whatever we want them to say. We need to learn to read Bible passages in context, and understand how language works in order to understand it well. But that does not mean that we do not need the Holy Spirit. I have met individuals who knew the Bible well, but it made no difference in their lives. For them it was simply an academic study. It is the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes and our hearts to the truth that we are reading. It is the Holy Spirit who gives insight into what we are studying. It is the Holy Spirit who brings conviction, instruction, and training through the Word that he inspired.
There are more reasons why we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit, but these two ought to be enough to make us realize that church without the Spirit is just empty religion. Effective evangelism starts with the Holy Spirit. Effective Bible study starts with the Holy Spirit. For all of our “effective” methodology, we are lifeless and dead without Him. Jesus said, “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” (Jn 16:7). That Helper is the Holy Spirit. We are not alone.
Monday, July 13, 2020
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Prayer is a significant part of the Christian life. Yesterday I wrote about three myths we often hold regarding prayer. Today I would like to share three more myths that seem to be common in the church.
Myth #4: God knows everything anyway so there is no reason to pray.
Yes, God knows everything, but he still invites us to pray. Matthew 6:8 reminds us that our Father "knows what you need before you ask him." But the very next words out of Jesus’ mouth are, "Pray then like this..." Prayer reminds us of our dependency on God. It enhances our intimacy with God. When we are honest with God in prayer it brings us to a place where we are better able to hear from God. The fact that God knows everything should motivate us to pray, knowing that God already knows our needs and is anxious to answer. Sometimes God is simply waiting for us to ask.
Myth # 5: God is obligated to answer my prayer, especially if it is formulated correctly (e.g. we get someone to "agree" with us in prayer, or we close our prayer saying, "In Jesus name...").
Prayer is not an incantation that God is obligated to answer if we get the formula right. Prayer is heart communication with our Father. Praying in Jesus name has nothing to do with tacking on the words, "In Jesus name, Amen" at the end of our prayers. Getting someone to "agree with us in prayer" is not what Matthew 18:19 is talking about. That passage needs to be understood in the context of the Old Testament principle of two or three witnesses. You don't walk up to someone who knows nothing about a case and say, "I'm going to testify in court today. Will you come and agree with me that what I'm saying is true?" Neither should we ask someone to "agree" with us in prayer. Rather, when two or three people independently sense that God is moving them to pray about something, that is evidence that this is truly from God. They are in agreement and can pray in agreement. If we were somehow able to obligate God to answer in a particular way because we have formulated our prayers correctly then God is no longer sovereign. We become the ones in charge. In that case, God must do what we tell him. He is no longer God, but god.
Myth 6: If prayer is not "answered" it is because you didn’t have enough faith.
Jesus said that faith like a grain of mustard can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). Obviously then the key to answered prayer is not the quantity of faith. A mustard seed is pretty small. The object of our faith is more important than the quantity of our faith. When we are focused on the quantity of our faith, we have faith in our faith. God calls us to have faith in him. Like a good father God knows that sometimes what we ask for is not in our best interest. Like children, we can't always see that, but God knows. God sometimes withholds answers to prayer because he loves us. Unanswered prayer is not necessarily about a lack of faith.
There are many more myths and misunderstandings about prayer that I have heard over the years, but these seem to be most prevalent everywhere I go. By exposing some of this wrong thinking my hope is that we will be more motivated to chase after what prayer is really about. May God truly teach us to pray.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Prayer is one of the guiding principles of the church that I serve. It ought to be one of the guiding principles of every believer. But to understand prayer we must first understand some myths about prayer that we have often bought into.
These are three myths that I have fallen for and seen people fall for over the years. There are others, and I intend to address more in a following blog. Sometimes I think we make prayer too hard. We think it is about finding the right formula. Prayer is just about being honest with God. Lord, teach us to pray.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
We say that prayer is important, that it is a priority. So why is it that we pray so little? Why is it that prayer is so hard? Daniel prayed despite a law against prayer, and despite the fact that it landed him in a pit filled with hungry lions. Would we have been with Daniel, or would we have complied with the law? Perhaps it is time that we make our first prayer that which the disciples asked of Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1).
Friday, July 3, 2020
John 17:20-23 (ESV)
God calls us to unity, not uniformity. Unity must have a focus or foundation. The foundation of our unity is that system of belief we call the faith. But why is unity so important? The truth is, that we sometimes find ourselves in a church where the only thing we have in common is the faith. We may differ on politics. Many people are quite passionate about their political beliefs. We may differ on our entertainment preferences. One person loves to talk about movies and the arts. Another person has no idea who an actor is, or what is significant about a play, but they love adventure sports. Still another is enamored with team sports. One family is African-American, another is Hispanic, a third is Native American, and still another has a Scandinavian background and thinks Christmas isn’t Christmas without lutefisk. How can there possibly be any unity among such a diverse group, and why should we work toward it?
Unity takes respect, honor, good listening, and hard work. If it is not a priority then we may decide it is not worth the effort. It is easier to separate and find a church where everybody is like me. There are at least three biblical reasons why unity is worth the effort. First, in John 17 Jesus prayed for unity. Unity is both the desire of Jesus and the answer to Jesus’ prayer. His words to the Father were, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” (Jn 17:20-21). This was his last prayer before the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest, and his crucifixion. It was his deep desire. When we do the hard work of unity we become the answer to Jesus’ prayer.
Second, there is a reason why Jesus prayed for unity. Unity convinces the world that God sent Jesus. He prays, John 17:23, “. . . that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me.” The world often points to the monochromatic makeup of the church, and the diversity of denominations as evidence that what we preach about Jesus is not true. How can it be true when there is so much divisiveness within the body? When we talk as though our church is the only church with the true truth, we actually hinder the gospel. When we are constantly pointing out how wrong everyone else is and why we have a corner on truth, we undermine the truth that God sent Jesus. Certainly there are churches that have abandoned biblical truth. We need to speak out about that, and preach the truth. But sometimes we act as though the only church in the world that preaches the truth is our little flock and we’re not sure about some of us. Unity convinces the world that God sent Jesus. Disunity does just the opposite.
Third, unity convinces the world that we are disciples of Jesus. Four chapters earlier, in John 13:34-35, Jesus said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Unity not only convinces the world that God sent Jesus, but that we are truly disciples of Jesus. When we, as believers, love one another, accept and honor one another, work to understand one another, and embrace our differences, that is something the world does not do. That is the amazing thing that convinces the world that we are disciples of Jesus whom God sent.
In short, unity is foundational to evangelism and discipleship. Disunity undermines our very purpose as a people of God. Why is unity important? Because it is the answer to Jesus’ prayer, and convinces the world that God sent Jesus and we are his disciples. Do the hard work of unity. Learn to listen, embrace, and love. Let the world see Jesus in his church.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
God calls believers to unity. Unity, as I wrote in an earlier blog, is not uniformity. We are not the same, but we are one in Christ. One of the guiding principles of the church I am currently serving is Unity in the faith. That raises the question: Why in the faith? Why not unity in purpose? Why not unity in diversity? Why not unity in love? Those are all good statements. To understand why unity in the faith is our guiding principle, we must first answer the question: What is the faith?
Acts 6:7 says, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” In Acts 13:8 a man of political rank was interested in learning more about Christianity. Elymas the magician sought to turn him “away from the faith.” In Acts 14:22 Paul and Barnabas were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith.” In Acts 16:5 “The churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”
The Faith is that body of beliefs that define Christianity. To be in the Faith means, to be a Christian, a believer. In 1 Corinthians 16:13 Paul encouraged the Corinthian believers to “stand firm in the faith.” Faith is the foundation of what it means to be a Christian. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Ephesians 2:8 says that we are saved by grace through faith. Faith is foundational.
When a person comes to Christ we do not tell them, “If you want God to forgive you, accept you, and save you, then you must agree to obey him perfectly by keeping these laws.” We do not say, “You must go through these rituals.” We say with the Apostle Paul, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). That is the foundation of Christianity, and as such, it is what unifies us.
Should we be unified in purpose? Certainly! As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to a unified mission of making disciples in all the world. Should we be unified in diversity? Absolutely! It is our diversity that gives us strength. The Spirit of God works through a diversity of gifts in the body. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:4). It is in that diversity of gifting that the church is strengthened, edified, and built up. Should we be unified in love? Of course! Jesus prayed for unity in John 17, “. . . I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (Jn 17:23). Jesus taught his disciples in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Of course we should be unified in love. But purpose, diversity, and love are all built on something more foundational. The faith.
Not all churches have great diversity. Not all churches are clear on their purpose. Not all churches love each other well. But it is the unifying truth of the faith that brings them together and prompts them to work toward unity in the other areas of community life. So, what is the faith? Paul clarified it for the Corinthians like this:
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