“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Jesus Christ)
“With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” (King David)
“Heis the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” (The Apostle Paul)
Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.” (The Apostle John)
These statements have some things in common, one of them is that they can be taken to sound outlandish, bold, and even arrogant…especially when one considers them from a standpoint that doesn’t share their confidence.  As followers of Jesus, we are recipients of the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead; yet so often we cower to our fears and don’t feel or act very powerful. In one way or the other, this is the result of sin.  What I mean is that sin, all forms of explicit disobedience and subconscious distrust, has a way of distancing us from the miraculous truths and transcendent experiences that are available to us as children of God.  Not only are they available, they’re supposed to be normal! 

I find that, when I’m not feeling powerful in my connection and empowerment with the Lord, there’s always sin involved.  It may be a sinful attitude or behavior, unforgiveness of a wrong done to me, materialism and greed, inner ambition and pride, the list goes on.  But the result always includes a sense of distance from my Master, dampered ability to hear the Spirit’s whispers, and loss of belief that He is guiding my steps and words with power and meaning.  In my opinion, this is the primary cause of the “sleeping giant” phenomenon of the American Church.  We don’t need better worship music or deeper sermons, we need more surrender and obedience!
But when I’m truly, fully, unobstructedly walking with the Lord; there’s nothing in me to make me stumble. That phrase from the Apostle John is from 1 John 2:
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”
The subject here is loving others, but this principle carries over into all others.  When we say NO to a sin in our lives, and thereby say YES to the Spirit’s promptings to sacrifice it in order to achieve closeness with Him, we open the door to those aspects of the Kingdom of God that are accessible to us in this life.  This doesn’t have anything to do with salvation for the next life, it’s about being victorious while we’re still in this one.  The feeling, vitality, and hope produced come with a sense of being unobstructed in our connection with our God….there’s nothing between us, no discord, no disagreement, no reservation.  This kind of trust in an essential element in experiencing intimacy with Him.  Intimacy is the foundation of right relationship with the Father.  He already knows us completely, inside and out; and when we banish sin there is nothing in us to prevent us from knowing Him inside and out.  I may be overstating the effects, but that’s the feeling and the joy that we experience in daily life when we allow God full-access into every nook and cranny of our lives!
It’s like running down a steep incline while trying to protect one’s knees.  The momentum of gravity wants to pull you down the hill faster and faster, but to control your speed you resist its downward pull with every step.  When I’m out of running shape, I have to go slowly down hills so I don’t injure my weak knees; but when I’ve been strengthened through prolonged training, I can run freely down hills without reservation.  The exhilaration of that speed, that fresh wind in my face, is what it feels like to walk (run) in the Spirit! 
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.”  (Hebrews 12:11-12)
What are you waiting for?!

Times Of Refreshing

I found a wonderful word picture this morning.  I was reflecting on how this year’s project season is winding-down right now, and how much we’re all looking forward to resting from our labors, enjoying the fruit of blessed lives that has resulted, and refueling so that we’re ready for next year.  I thought about the Biblical phrase “Times of Refreshing from the Lord”.  I’ve heard this many times, and meditated on it as well. It conveys this idea that God is with us in our rest, restoring us back to strength during times of rejuvenation…but it’s a lot more than that.
The phrase is part of a long, run-on sentence from Acts 3:19-21.  There are a lot of those in scripture, especially when looking at the original language…Greek in this case.  I spent some time looking into it this morning, meditating on the words and their application to my life.  I was surprised and encouraged by what I found, and wanted to pass along to you for your encouragement as well.
Here’s how the sentence looks in a few different English translations:
  • NIV – “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
  • NLT – “Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
  • NAS – “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”

Without getting too technical about translation theory, one can really get to the root of the meaning by looking at a direct word for word translation from the Greek.  Sometimes, the perspective we get is very different than the packaged translations that wrap it all up for us in religious language. I loved this section of God’s word, here’s a literal translation in raw form: 
  • “Change your thinking, therefore, and turn around for the wiping-out of your sins, so that may come opportunities of cooling-off in the breath from the face of the Lord and that He sends the one previously hand-picked to you Christ Jesus, whom it is necessary heaven indeed receives until times of restoration of all things of which spoke God by the mouth of set-apart ones from the age of His prophets.

I’ve underlined a few parts…let me elaborate a bit:
Opportunities – There are two different words translated as “time” in this sentence. This one refers to opportunities (qualitative), rather than time itself (quantitative).  
  • Are you seeing opportunities where God is working?  If not, that probably means you need to change your thinking and turn around from something.  He’s already there, right behind you.  What are you focusing on that’s preventing you from turning around?

Cooling-off in the breath from the face of the Lord – What a beautiful picture this is. Imagine a small child getting all over-stimulated and red in the face, being held face to face in her Father’s hands for a moment while He smiles with loving eyes and blows some fresh air gently onto her face to calm her down.  Their eyes meet, she takes a deeper breath, and feels His pleasure ease into her…encouraging her, literally pouring courage back into her.  Notice that He doesn’t offer to remove the stresses from our lives, only to be there with His cooling breath and His loving gaze.
  • What stresses in your life need the cooling breath of God?
  • Are you struggling with circumstances beyond your control, and You just need God’s courage?
  • Are you locked-up in some specific area of sin that’s causing you to get red in the face?
  • How can you change your thinking and turn around so you can engage with the Father’s face? 

He sends the one previously hand-picked to you Christ Jesus – It’s not that God blows into our faces, cools us off, and sends us away to work harder next time.  It’s that He sends the presence of Jesus into you, literally.  This isn’t a silly, childish fantasy idea; it’s reality.  This is what it means to “live by the Spirit”…the Spirit of Jesus fuses with ours, and we become like Him in this world: Spiritual beings walking temporarily in human form.  The enemy’s temptations & lies, and our own failings, tend to blind us to this truth.
  • Have you forgotten who you are as a son or daughter of the King?  
  • Are you experiencing the fullness of Christ in and through your life? 

Heaven indeed receives – We have a messed-up, limited idea of heaven.  There is, certainly a “heaven” that is spoken of in scripture that has not yet come…the one that is beyond this world, which we are waiting for. However, the heaven being talked about here has already started, it’s all around us, and it’s connecting to us constantly through the conduit of Jesus!  As Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 17, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”  It’s more like a different dimension than a different location, and it’s here now. The word “indeed” is a conjunction that amplifies what is being said.  It’s like saying “totally.”  The word “receives” is not written in future, present, or past tense, but in a tense called “aorist,” which means infinitive…aka it keeps going and going, it never stops. Let that sink in…
  • Are you feeling connected with the Kingdom of Heaven all around you?  Why or why not?
  • What can you do to increase your connection?
  • What can you release to increase your connection?

Times of restoration – Eventually, in God’s time, this world and it’s struggles will indeed be wrapped-up.  Praise God! We do have this to look forward to, and the hope it produces gives us great hope as we wait patiently, endure hardships, and go about the Master’s work with Him inside of us.  
  • Are you weary of the struggle?  Do you need to turn-around for a fresh blowing of God’s breath to encourage you and keep you going?

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.” (Psalm 37:3-6)


False Hope (Voting Day)

Today is voting day in America.
Whose America is it?  Which side is going to win?

I cannot remember a time when the political divide, or the constituency it represented, has been this wide…each ideology absolutely disgusted with the other to the extent that families and friendships are splintered along party lines, venom is being spewed in multi-million-dollar campaign smears, and positions are being fortified against the enemies among us.  It seems that we’re practically at war with each other…and there’s festering hatred on both sides. It’s embarrassing and demoralizing.

As a citizen of this country, who believes in the democratic process, I have cast my ballot.  It represents my wishes, which will be added to the thousands of others from my area, millions from my state, and hundreds of millions from my countrymen from coast to coast.  Whatever the results, I will keep on living my life as I did yesterday, with tremendous hope. I certainly have opinions and preferences, but my greatest hopes are not captivated by this maelstrom of vitriolic posturing and promising.

There is another Kingdom that I am a citizen of, whose allegiance I am delighted to be ultimately bound to.  Whether my preferred candidates win or lose today, those Kingdom values are unchanged, and my hopes pursuant to that Kingdom are unaffected.  There is a higher level of HOPE, which that Kingdom animates through its people, which covers-over any other lesser-hopes that this world contains.  The foundation of TRUE HOPE does not provide a promise that things will work out in my life, or on earth, as I would like them to be; on the contrary, scripture is clear that as time advances the opposite will be true…but that His Kingdom of Heaven will continue to break-through in spite of it all in the lives of countless individuals.  

A good look into the earthly life, teachings, and way of Jesus is like a glimpse through the prism of that other Kingdom.  It’s certainly supposed to affect us here and now, and through us to elicit transformation to that Kingdom’s values; but we make a grave mistake when we hijack that calling and attempt to divert it to self-seeking socio/political destinations.  That’s not what Jesus was interested in then, and His followers are not to be focused upon it now.  When we do, it makes a mockery of the Gospel and the transcendent hope that it promises.  It’s never been about “heavenizing” our own preferences or agendas for society, but about surrendering them in favor of our Creator’s Mission for the individuals and the world around each of us.  Anything other than that is heretical trickery, and countless misguided Christians are falling for it!

You who call yourself by the name of Jesus, or endeavor in some way to follow Him; I appeal to you to rise above the hype and name-calling and fears of loss, and regain a sense of compass toward “true north!”  Your political opponents are not your adversaries, there is only one adversary…and even if they were, how about we treat them with the level of respect that Jesus treated His enemies?  As we aim to live as good citizens of our country, and make our own lives matter for good, let’s cling to the HOPE that will never be shaken…and avoid being carried-away by lesser, false hopes.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
(Psalm 42:5)

Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’ to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then, even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. For the Lord’s sake, respect all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right. It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king….For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ sufferedfor you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2)

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
(Old Hymn: “The Solid Rock”)