“Stress” (engineering term): a load, force, or system of forces producing a strain or causing deformation
Live above Offense.
Are you more interested in winning an argument of keeping a friend?
We have all been “evangelists of offense” by convincing others of our offenses
Jerry talking about Harvey.
Choose not to be a victim. Jesus did it and He lives in me.
Offended people legitimize slander un-offend able people choose the highway Humility of rather than the off ramp of offense.
Our tendency is to run from tension rather than toward it.
Forgiveness is tearing up the IOU.
Story of Revival.
21 years ago. Contract for revival. Unpleasantness in soul. Getting back from Japan “keep praying the date is almost set”. “The Date is set”. Sometimes when we are emotionally invested in something it is hard to hear clearly God’s voice on the thing. Meeting Paul Anderson. Communitas time. Seed of revival, huge roots and big grove of trees.
Evidence of Revival
- Many of us are on fire. Small desire increasing. Hunger in individuals.
- Increasing of the manifest presence of God. Glory of God.
- Prophetic words. Not as much the Supernatural Power. Expect it. Do not stop praying for the miraculous healing.
- More people on fire. The lost will come to Christ.
What do we do?
- Pray like we have never prayed before.
- Repent of sins.
- Press in.
Growing up at North Heights Lutheran going to the Holy Spirit Conference.
Personal revival at collage.
Finding his wife at a conference.
Getting a call to South-East Asia.
Business steps and God’s guidance.
Ministry in South-East Asia.
Jacob’s Testimony of the trip to Wisconsin.
End prayer from worship
Becca giving testimonies from Crete in Greece
Prayer for Becca
Sermon on the Gift of Tongues.
This recording missed the first 2 points of repentance mistakes. Making repentance too general and applying it to someone else more than yourself.
Is there anyone I need to forgive?
What wounds on my heart do You want to heal?
Who would You like me to invest time into this week?
What are You trying to teach me in this season of life?
How do You want me to spend my times with You this week?
How do You want to bless me tonight?
What spiritual gifts do You want me to eagerly desire right now?
Which of these five aspects of my relationship with You are You wanting to relate to me in right now?
What ministry activities are You putting in my path right now?
What questions do You want me to be asking You these days?
Is there anything else You want to say to me right now?
If God is speaking to me now, what might He be saying to me?
1. Judge a tree by its fruit.
2. Does it glorify Christ?
3. Does it agree with the Bible?
4. Does it produce freedom or bondage?
5. Does it seem right to the Holy Spirit within you?
6. Does the word prove to be true?
7. Not all words are from God.
“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it” (Psalm 22:30,31).
“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18).
“…which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children…They would not be like their forefathers—a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him” (Ps. 78:5,6,8).
“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).
“May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation” (Ps. 109:13).
“One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4).
The prophets also made sure the faithful were mindful of the generations: “Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation” (Joel 1:3).
Truths regarding generational thinking:
History and destiny merge.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
Feasts “Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for generations to come” (Exodus 12:14).
Names used to mark generations
It is all about family.
God is a Father, Jesus a Son. A wedding is coming.
End-time revival is a revival of the family (Malachi 4:5,6).
Obedience is essential. Disobedience costs.
Jehu (2 Kings 10) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20)
Honor connects the generations.
presbys, senatus, sheikh We honor beauty, brains, braun
It was a sad day in Israel when “elders are shown no respect” (Lam. 5:12) and “the elders are gone from the city gate” (v. 14).
One of the curses for disobedience: “… “a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young” (Deut. 28:50).
- Warfare on the womb.
MAKING RESOLUTIONS WORK
By Paul Anderson
Most of us feel a need for some changes. If you don’t, check your pulse. And New Year’s seems like a good time for resolve. We are throwing away the old calendar, and we’d like to toss out some old habits just as easily. Something noble rises within us: “I am going to change.” Not a bad way to think, and there’s biblical precedent for doing it on New Year’s and on other special times, like…
Daily. The day started for the Hebrew the night before: “There was evening and there was morning—the first day” (Genesis 1:5). I carry in my Bible questions to help review my day. Here are three of the six: Did I live for others today? Did I miss any God-appointed opportunities to help someone? Is God pleased with me or do I need to ask forgiveness? That one sometimes stumps me, and I need to confess to a family member before retiring. Paul counseled the Ephesians not to go to bed with negative emotions (Ephesians 4:26). Let’s resolve to start the day right—as we hit the sack!
Weekly. Each Sabbath brought a new opportunity for a Hebrew. A day of rest meant more time for reflection. Worshipping Christians find an opportunity for self-evaluation in Holy Communion: “Let a man examine himself before he eats…” (I Cor. 11:28). Let’s start off new weeks right!
Monthly. Hebrews built their calendar around the moon. The new moon brought a fresh month. The thin crescent visible at sunset set the day apart as holy. Time slowed down and work ceased, bringing a chance for rest and review. Some of my friends take a day a month for reflection. Not bad for a marriage, a family, a business, a church.
Yearly. The Hebrew agrarian society harmonized with nature. Key seasons came at springtime and harvest, and with it the early and latter rains. Spring brought fresh beginnings, as did bringing in the crops. Calendars were especially important for Jews because of the celebrations attached to them. All the major feasts of the children of Israel cluster around spring (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost) and fall (Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles). Feasts were holy days, marked by worship, celebration, and reflection. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated in the fall. It gave them (and still does) a time of serious introspection, confession, and resolve.
The God who says, “Behold! I make all things new,” gives us the desire to make some changes as well. Businesses take inventories. Not a bad idea for human beings to do the same. And Paul did write that “each one should test his own actions” (Gal. 6:4). A new day or a new year can be an appropriate time to team up with heaven. Evaluating where we are at different seasons in life and initiating necessary changes make good sense. Nature and faith provide us with those seasons. But we must consider one liability—
We cannot change. Resolutions will fail if founded upon our ability to make them happen. Paul had to acknowledge that will power alone did not get the job done: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:15,18). He discovered that desire failed—every time. Resolutions, then, should perhaps start with the confession: “I can’t.”
God changes us through the Holy Spirit. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, not good advice. Jesus came because we couldn’t change. If we could, we would not have needed the cross. God works from the inside out, not by grit but by the Holy Spirit. He brings the changes we all want, like love, joy, peace, and self-control! And we would do well to remember that we become what we behold. The more we look at Jesus, the more we look like Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18). So if we simply concentrate on all those negatives that need to be reverse, we’re just digging the hole deeper.
You might want to state your resolutions as an invitation rather than as a challenge. Instead of saying, “I am going to exercise more,” try saying: “God, I am trusting you in this New Year to work in me self-control. And by your grace I am going to exercise two times a week.” That puts the focus on a faithful God rather than on introspective me. I do not change by becoming more self-conscious but by becoming more Christ-conscious.
Most resolutions center around physical and spiritual health. Add what people want to quit, like smoking or worry, and we have 90% of all resolutions. But less is more. When we expect more and get less, we grow discouraged and quit. If we catch the rhythm of change throughout the year, we don’t have to put all our marbles in the New Year’s basket. Otherwise we cave in by Valentine’s Day and give it a shot ten months later.
The Bible provides ample testimony of people whose resolutions changed their lives—and others. “Daniel resolved not to defile himself…” (Daniel 1:8) The KJV says that he “purposed in his heart.” Solomon purposed to build a temple to the Lord (I Kings 5:5), and he followed through. The psalmist purposed not to sin with his mouth (Psalm 17:3). We are to give of our financial resources as we purpose in our minds (2 Cor. 9:7). So resolutions can work—if we work them properly, if we do them under the guidance and power of the Spirit. The calendar provides us with a rhythm for resolution. We can be walking in a routine throughout the year. Then the New Year’s goals have a foundation for incremental change that makes them realistic. Resolutions can work!
One final word about change: who we are determines what we do. Conduct follows creed. Those who only focus on the imperative, “I must change,” or “I’ve got to start exercising,” don’t usually get the results that they want. The indicative leads to the imperative. The Christian life is more about receiving than doing. It is more a matter of finding out what God has done for us to make us who we are than asking how we are supposed to live. If we know that we are princes and princesses, how we live follows from that identity in Christ. We don’t live by shoulds and oughts as much as by ams and ises. We live by the work of Christ within us. Parents who focus only on behavior with their children will not see the kind of behavior they are looking for. But those who through love and affirmation give their children a healthy identity find that they live at that level. When we get the indicative down (who we are), the imperative (how we’re commanded to be) comes more as an invitation than as difficult standard. Identity drives behavior.
PROJECTS FOR YOUNG ADULTS
By: Paul Anderson
ASSESSMENT. Ask your parents to meet and share what your strengths and weaknesses are. Our greatest need is an accurate picture of God; second—an accurate view of ourselves. It allows us to relate successfully with others.
Your parents know you better than anyone else. Listen to them affirm you and reflect on weaknesses. We all have them. You may feel like getting defensive, but you won’t, because you are asking for this gift.
Do not disagree. Identity drives destiny. The better you know yourself, the more ready you are to walk into your God-appointed destiny.
GRATITUDE. Few things open the heart like gratitude. Young adults sometimes find themselves at a standoff with their parents. They go home for Christmas break and expect to see a change in Mom and Dad. After all, they have changed. They want to be treated differently.
Unfortunately, they are sometimes treated the way they always were. Offense overtakes gratitude. The best way to open the door to communication and a maturing relationship is to show gratitude. Did the lights go on when you flipped the switch growing up? Thank Dad for paying the utility bill. Did you ever find cookies when you got home from school? Did she carry you the distance, increasingly uncomfortable? Thank her.
Take nothing for granted. Write it down. It will become a living document for your parents, open up new communication, and tell heaven that you do want to honor your parents. Honor brings a good life and a long one.
CONFESSION. Most young adults have had a time when they took a detour and did things that grieved their parents. While you may have confessed times when you did wrong, it would be good to sit down with Dad and Mom and say something like this, “I look back with much grief in my heart for the ways I have disobeyed you, disregarded your counsel, thought I knew more than you did, tried to get out from under your control. I lied too many times and tried to deceive you. I did things for which I am truly ashamed (name them if you have not before). I am truly sorry.
I want to be a good parent when God grants me that privilege. So I want to clear these things with you, so they don’t hang on with me and keep me from receiving honor from my children. Thank you for being my Dad and Mom. I know God gave you to me. I bless you and always will.”
THE BATTLE FOR PRE-MARITAL PURITY
By: Paul Anderson
Sex is God’s idea. Yet Satan has managed to fool many with the idea that God’s commands are too limiting, that God must not know how to have the most fun, that “holy” and “happy” should not be used in the same sentence. So we have Christians asking, “Why must we wait? We are engaged—or almost. We don’t think it’s wrong, at least not that wrong. And forgiveness is available.” Others acknowledge that they wanted to abstain but regretfully crossed the line.
So why wait?
1. Waiting builds trust. If you can break the law of God now, you can break it after you are married. Karen and I have no doubts with each other. We started building that trust when we dated.
2. Sex includes the possibility of a child. Are you ready to have a child? Not if you are not married. The first command given was to “be fruitful and multiply…” Sex is the consummation of, not the preparation for marriage. To join together sexually and yet not be prepared to accept all the responsibilities that accompany such action puts a strain on the relationship that God did not intend it to have.
3. Jesus affirmed the order of creation. He said, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (Matthew 19:4,5). Physical union is the privilege of a man and a woman committed to live together for life. That is why Jesus added, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (v. 6). Until a couple has made that commitment and gone public, they are not ready to have physical relationships. Jesus said so.
4. Intimacy is for marriage. Paul wrote that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (I Cor. 7:9). The solution the Bible offers to one whose passions are getting the best of him is not to follow his passions but to get married. Solomon writes, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”
5. You’re not married until you’re married. Many are engaged and break the engagement. They give themselves away, then wish they had not, because now they have a broken heart plus a strong bond with a person no longer with them. The soul ties created by illegitimate sexual relations can wreak havoc on marriages. Using sex to get a mate could mean getting the wrong mate. Sexual involvement blinds couples to the will of God as the physical relationship takes precedence over the spiritual and psychological.
6. Sex needs boundaries. Like a power plant, strong and dangerous, it needs protection, which marriage provides. Sex without boundaries is a fire out of control. When sex does not include the borders of marriage, it cannot be enjoyed in the same way. Shame, guilt, doubt, distrust, and resentment often come from going ahead against the will of God. Peace, joy, and fulfillment result from doing it God’s way. Sex on the sly does not bring the greatest fulfillment, because it lacks the commitment that raises it to a higher level.
7. Restraint is not repression. Jacob waited for Rachel because he loved her. Some men use the opposite reasoning: “Because I love you, I want you.” Love can wait; lust cannot. Are you planning on being married for life? Then can you wait six months to prove your love? At the center of the cross is self-denial. Followers of Jesus know the value of crucifying fleshly passions. Our greatest need is not for pleasure; it is for holiness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” and that satisfaction lasts!
8. God knows how to enjoy sex. Satan does not. It is not that Satan is too passionate; it is that he is not passionate enough. He separates sex from commitment, from child-bearing, from loving our partner God’s way, reducing the intensity and the joy of sexual love to irresponsible intimacy. Sex is more than a physical act; it is spiritual—every time, and including God enriches it.
9. Look at the casualties. If you have stepped over the line, would you say it was worth it? How many people have you talked to who have said, “I wish I hadn’t waited?” You reap what you sow, and when you sow patience, you reap character. Once virginity is given up, it is never recovered. God forgives when we come in repentance, but forgiveness does not restore the original condition. Some brides and grooms wish they could give their partner the gift of virginity. A wedding day is heightened by two people joined together who have walked in purity. It can be clouded over by a pregnant bride or by a couple who have given themselves to multiple partners. Wondering if you are pregnant (and desperately hoping you are not) is a lousy way to enjoy sex. And abortions are out of the question for committed Christians. But then—so is pre-marital sex.
10. Character counts. There are better tests for the choice of a marriage partner than physical compatibility. Practice other ways of saying, “I love you.” Pre-marital sex is not inevitable. God provides a way to overcome the temptation (I Cor. 10:13). Accountability to Christian friends can help. Engaged couples that pray together and walk in the light with mature Christian friends will look back on their engagement period with delight, not with regret. Society clearly condones pre-marital sex. It has increased among Christian singles, but that does not make it right. According to the Bible, our bodies are not our own to do with them as we please. We give them to God to do as He pleases (Romans 12:1,2; I Cor. 6:19,20).
11. The Bible says to “flee sexual immorality.” That doesn’t mean seeing how close you can get to the fire without being burned. Don’t put yourself in an apartment alone if you want to live by biblical convictions. Why test yourself by making out until you lose judgment? Don’t fool yourself—and don’t test God. Acknowledge your weakness—and your hormones. Foreplay is meant to get your body moving toward culmination. Stay away from the triggers. If you are no longer in full control, you are in a dangerous place. If my children said, “Don’t you trust us, Dad,” I would answer, “Of course I don’t. And I don’t trust myself. That’s why I have constructed moral fences.” I am warning you because Jesus gave His listeners many warnings. So did the apostle Paul. Jesus Christ is Lord, and He is the Lord of every area of our lives, not the least of which is our relationships with the opposite sex. Learn to live under His Lordship with freedom and joy. Don’t assume that you can do what you want and simply play the forgiveness card. He does not forgive those hardened by sin and living for personal pleasure. He does forgive those broken by sin—and treats them as if they have never sinned. The grace that forgives is also the grace that empowers us to live in a way that brings more than God’s forgiveness; it brings His favor.
So what if you have already crossed the line? What if you have tried to come back and can’t? Sexuality takes in much more than the physical. A complex of issues could be involved, like abuse, poor parenting, mistaken identity, loneliness, or depression. We are not looking for people to blame, but we may need to look for the need behind the deed in order to find freedom. Without the grace of God to carry you, these eleven principles will only crush you. They are fulfilled not by grit but by learning to trust the indwelling Holy Spirit. This may require the help of a mentor or a counselor to bring you to freedom. Because the Christian life is described as a walk, a process rather than an event, you may not be able to count on one prayer ministry session or one talk with a friend to break the power of sin. Know that God has liberty for you, even if it takes time and a battle. Remember that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
DOES SATAN LIKE SEX?
By: Paul Anderson
He hates it. Sex is God’s idea. It pictures God’s passionate love for His people and Christ’s affection for His Bride. The Bible tells a love story from cover to cover. It begins with a walk and ends with a wedding. The supper celebration goes on for an eternity. Top that!
Satan is not into pleasure. Hell is a miserable, thankless place. No one ever has a good day. Satan perverts every good gift of God, including sex. God puts joy into sex—the devil extracts it. Why else would we feel fear and guilt when we follow his schemes? He doesn’t want us to enjoy sex or even food (I Tim. 4:3).
He keeps us from true pleasure. He turns sex into abuse, perversion, or domination. David knew that “at thy right hand are pleasure forevermore,” not with the enemy.
Sex shows up in the first two chapters of the Bible, for goodness sakes. God tells His creation to “be fruitful and multiply.” I know only one way that could be fulfilled. Then Eve shows up without clothes on, God’s gift for Adam. He says, “She is bone of my bone…”, which interpreted means, “Wow!” Physical union results. God has given those made in His image “the urge to merge.”
Satan shows up one chapter later to alienate Adam from Eve and both from God. Pleasure dissolves. Enter manipulation and blame.
Some remain unconvinced. They call desserts devilishly delicious or sinfully satisfying. “Nasty” means “delightful.” Decadent ice cream is supposed to be the best, as if Satan has an edge on ecstasy. He has not experienced pleasure since his fall. Some think that those not encumbered with the restraints experience more joy. Talk to them.
The psalmist struggled: “This is what the wicked are like—always carefree…Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure” (Psalm 73:12,13). He idealized their freedom: “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man” (4).
Think about it: fences define the game. Imagine baseball without a foul line. You just destroyed the sport. When everything goes, everything goes, including pleasure. Take away boundaries (we called it “free love” in the 70’s) and we just got lied to—neither freedom nor love.
The psalmist came to a true picture of life without walls: “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (16,17). They look happy, but you cannot cope if you have no hope. Try living in their troubled mind. Take away a person’s tomorrow, and you just robbed him of his today.
Say “Satan,” and you just named the most miserable person in the universe. He strategizes to remove the world from every pleasure. What a mission statement! If he convinces you to break God’s moral laws, his sinister delights keeps him pumped enough to do it again. Then he calls you a moron for being so stupid and heaps shame on you. What a destiny!
Young adult: say yes to God. Don’t let Satan turn pleasure into an irresponsible act that depersonalizes women desperate enough to sell their bodies for industry. Ask them about pleasure. Charge the devil with abuse and murder—and don’t play into his hand. Honor God with your body and live free from guilt and shame.
KAREN AND PAUL SHARE ON RELATIONSHIPS November 25, 2014
What did we do to build a strong relationship?
1. We consulted with mature people during our relationship, with our mentors, our parents, and the elders. We wanted people to speak into our lives. Many couples feel that their relationship is their private matter. Not true—not wise. People who loved us prayed for us and with us. It helped us build a strong foundation.
2. We talked about how we would express the physical side of our relationship. We didn’t let the physical take over the relationship and derail it. It had a place, but that place was not prominent. We walked in accountability with people we respected and trusted. We did not arouse love until its time—marriage. In that way we built trust that continues to this day. Trust is factored into every component of the relationship and it is worth building during the dating period.
3. We did not spend a lot of time together. We limited ourselves to two or three times a week. We were looking to our future in which we would be together almost every day of our lives. We didn’t need to be together five times a week to prove our love.
4. We did not spend any time together late at night. We did not put ourselves in situations where it would be easy to compromise our guidelines. When we kissed, our feet didn’t leave the floor and our hands didn’t wander.
5. One month of our short engagement (two months and two weeks) was spent away from each other. It is a good way to develop creativity in love’s expression. Couples who must be apart don’t need to panic.
6. We prayed for each other and with each other, but not until we knew we were in love and were heading to the altar. People who get overly spiritual too soon can also get physical too soon. We were careful not to to put ourselves in a circumstance where the emotions could override our commitment to purity.
7. Neither Karen nor I put all our marbles as single people in the marriage basket. Of course, we wanted to get married. But we managed as single people to find our joy in God. We knew that He was the center. Try not to make marriage the answer to your misery. May you find your life in Christ more than sufficient. As St. Paul said, “For me to live is Christ.”
PREPARING FOR MARRIAGE
By: Paul Anderson
Karen and I work with young adults. They hear a variety of voices. We want them to hear ours.
1. Give yourself to God. It’s a great way to prepar for marriage. To find the right mate, focus on being the right mate. If you are putting all your marbles in the marriage basket, you’re off your marbles.
2. If you are at point A, ask a B question, not an E question. The Christian life is described as a walk. You get to point E by first going to point B. An appropriate question: “God, I’m interested in Marsha. Unless I hear “no,” I’m going for it.” Passivity is like paralysis.
3. Make a wish list. Tell God what you want. You may think that God isn’t interested in your list. Wrong. Ask—don’t demand. It helps you to think through desires.
4. Stick with plan A. Don’t settle for plan B. You may feel that you are not that special to God, that your past has disqualified you from plan A. Ever heard of the blood?
5. Keep your morals high. If a friend requires you to loosen up, drop your friend. Know what gives God pleasure, not your friend.
6. Keep believing in God, even with difficulties. This does not mean that you hide your feelings from God or close friends. Being transparent allows you to live with hope. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Tell Him that you agree. The fact that you are not married says one and only one thing about you, that you are—single!
7. Give yourself away. People who are living for themselves are not as attractive as people living for others. Happiness is found in God—not in marriage. Take advantage of your single status. Don’t grab anything with skin on.
8. Join the 3M Club! Who will be our Master, what will be our mission, and who will be our mate. Don’t be independent as if you can make the third commitment on your own. Trust in the good counsel.
9. If you see yourself married, God does, too. The single life is meant for those called to it. If you don’t think you are, you aren’t.
10. Demystify the guidance process. Don’t worry about finding “God’s perfect will.” That might put stress on you and make you think that you could make the wrong choice. Look for the special mate that you can love. Waiting for “God’s best” might mean waiting a long time.
11. Find a vital church home. You may think that you need to hop around looking for a mate. That could get frustrating real fast.
12. Let God heal you. The process of moving from single life to marriage often includes wounding. Keep your spirit open to God by forgiving people who hurt you, who give you advice that you don’t want, or who give the impression that married people are automatically more mature. Don’t expect marriage to solve problems—it intensifies them. Work on your issues now and get healing prayer.
13. Check out values. The most important thing to find out about prospective mates is their values. Those are often hidden in a dating relationship. A guy sweeps a girl off her feet with his charm and generosity. She had better find out if he can hold down a job.
14. “Do not arouse love before its time.” Paul says that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Stay friends. You will have a lifetime to enjoy the physical side. A dating/courtship relationship allows you time to get to know your friend personally, psychologically, and spiritually. Set good boundaries.
15. Compartmentalization creates problems. Singles add as much to the life of a local church as do married people. “God sets the solitary in families” (Ps. 68:6). Families who include singles are enriching their own lives as much as the singles, so don’t isolate yourself.
16. Invest in the kingdom. Young adults have been largely responsible for many of the major missionary movements in the last six centuries. And yet they are largely an un-reached people group in the church. You as a single person can help turn around this unfortunate condition.
17. Don’t compare yourself with others. The foot doesn’t look good when it compares itself to the hand (I Cor. 12:15). Your station and gifting is right for you now. Comparison brings discontentment.
18. Advantages of the single life: a) Greater potential for single-mindedness. b) Good historical tradition for singles. c) Restraint helps bring maturity. d) Freedom and independence. Disadvantages: a) Living singly is not the norm in Scripture nor society. b) Stigma attached to living singly. c) Need to deal with many potential feelings (loneliness, self-pity, jealousy, resentment, insecurity).
19. Questions to help you evaluate potential mates:
a. Do they share my strongest convictions? Are life styles compatible?
b. Do they treat their family and my family with respect?
c. Are they committed without question to the will of God? Do they listen to God and can they hear Him? (Don’t think they will change when you marry them).
d. Can I live with their values? Do I know them, how they handle money, how they work, how they treat children? Have I known them enough to see their values?
20. A word to young men: The Bible says that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Prov. 18:22). Finding means looking and pursuing.
21. Expect God to surprise you. He will anyway!
God has proved able down through the centuries to bring together a man and a woman. And He can do it for you as well. Our prayers are with you that God will demonstrate His love for you in this important area as well and lead you into a satisfying married life!
(Use this also for your thanksgiving family. Ask people to finish the sentence of each major phrase below before reading what is written. Then read lessons and discuss. Happy Thanksgiving!)
PEOPLE WHO ARE UNGRATEFUL…
Make excuses for why they aren’t in a better place and blame others.
Have unfinished business, which seals their hearts from gratitude.
Stopped being grateful when they chose to hold onto a wound.
Feel entitled and expect the world to wait upon them.
Have a distorted picture of God, like the angry elder brother.
PEOPLE WHO ARE GRATEFUL…
• Have chosen be thankful, regardless, rather than living circumstantially.
• Have their eyes open to the kindness of God, even with struggles.
• Know, like the prodigal, that they don’t deserve what God is giving them.
• Are saying that God is good.
WHEN YOU SAY “THANK YOU”…
You recognize that God is in charge.
It is so easy to complain about the weather, the coach, the teacher, the spouse, the parent, even God, but you choose not to.
WHEN YOU DON’T SAY “THANK YOU”…
You are more open to sexual temptation. Those who have fallen morally could have kept themselves pure with gratitude. (Eph.5:3-5).
You are missing a chance to see God working. Gratitude invites His activity.
YOU CAN DEVELOP THANKFULNESS BY…
Choosing to serve rather than to be served. The higher up you see yourself, the less thankful you will be.
LESSONS ON THANKSGIVING
1. Ingratitude is a serious offense, and it makes us irrational. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).
2. Thankful people are poor in spirit, aware of how desperately they need God. Giving thanks is like humbling ourselves; it always works. It will help us get out of trouble and keep a divine mindset. If people want to know God’s will, here it is: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thess. 5:18).
3. Paul uses words like “continually” and “always” when talking about thanksgiving. He was full of thanksgiving. He rates thanksgiving high for the character of a leader. He speaks often about the need for gratitude. He writes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). Then two verses later he says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (v.17).
4. Thanksgiving, singing, and joy are cousins. They are often found together: “Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing” (Isaiah 51:3, Jer. 30:19). Thanksgiving is found in times of healing and restoration (Jer. 30:19). Thanksgiving and generosity belong together: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:11).
5. Thankfulness is sowing seeds for a rich harvest. What you give comes back. Sowing complaints reaps a bitter harvest. Grateful people overcome. They are not victims, they are victors.
By: Paul Anderson
…you thanked God when tested—and He turned it into a testimony?
…you thanked parents for what they gave and forgave them for what they didn’t?
…couples tossed expectations and chose gratitude?
…you changed your environment with gratitude and started an epidemic?
…you shed your whining, developed gratitude—and found it fun?
A STORY ABOUT GRATITUDE
“Now on his way to Jerusalem…” (Luke 17:11). Jesus had set His face for the showdown. What could slow Him down? Ten lepers. His last miracle in this region. Those who said, “Next time,” lost their chance.
Outcasts in every way, they didn’t dare get close. They knew the rules and cried out: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”
One command changed their lives: “Go show yourselves to the priests.” “And as they went, they were cleansed.” Priests were the Department of Health. They needed to act in faith for God to act. It often works that way. They went—it happened. One returned, while nine kept going: “That’s what He said to do.”
“I know, but don’t you want to say, ‘Thank you?’”
That guy was a Samaritan, the least likely to return to a Jew. Jesus asked three questions: “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Jesus expected people touched by love to show gratitude. Saying, “But He told me to go to the priest” doesn’t settle the issue. Who is Jesus waiting for you to thank—parents, a teacher, coach, neighbor, relative, policeman, Holy Spirit?
INGRATITUDE IS SERIOUS
It doesn’t go unnoticed in heaven. It disconnects us from Jesus. While gratitude sets us up for a miracle, ingratitude closes us off. It suggests entitlement. The elder brother said, “You never gave me a kid so that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15:29). The last days will highlight ingratitude (2 Tim. 3:2). Don’t you!
Ingratitude sets you on a path toward perversion: “Although they knew God they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).
On the other hand…
GRATITUDE IS CONTAGIOUS
Thankful people are fun. They exude a radiant countenance. Gratitude allows you to receive grace from heaven, because you don’t feel like you deserve it. Think prodigal. Gratitude connects you to the people for whom you express appreciation. If you want to grow relationships, develop gratitude. Works every time.
Far better to join the Samaritan who returned than the presumptuous group who just kept walking.
You are most likely a grateful person. As you read, you may think of areas where you can walk in greater gratitude. Suggestion: try “thank-you” in difficult times and wait for miracles—when you’re being tested, when temptation presses in, when irritation is rising, when pressures at work escalate, when tension at home mounts, when conflict in relationships bring extra tension. Thanksgiving shows that your God overturns evil with good. Hardship either discourages us or forces us to upgrade our confidence in the sovereignty of God.
YOU KNOW YOU HAVE A GRATEFUL HEART IF…
…your prayers sometime don’t get beyond thanksgiving.
…you often reflect on those who have impacted your life.
…you manage to give thanks in the midst of pain.
…you can only stand in awe of a God who has been so kind and faithful to you.
By: Paul Anderson
(Suggestion: print and use for your Thanksgiving time together. Happy Thanksgiving!)
1. Have I expressed thanks to my mother and father?
2. Have I thanked any teachers who made a positive contribution to my life?
3. Have I thanked coaches, pastors, siblings, people who serve me, like mail carriers?
4. Do I give thanks in the midst of difficult circumstances?
5. Do I resist the temptation to complain because my situation is not better?
6. Have I chosen to give thanks rather than hold onto a wound?
7. Do I give thanks instead of expect others to wait on me?
8. Am I content with what I have or do I deserve more?
9. Do I have a distorted picture of God that keeps me from thanking Him?
(The elder brother was angry and could not receive from his father).
10. Have I chosen as an act of the will to be thankful rather than waiting for proof?
11. Do I need to receive more before I will have a heart of gratitude?
12. Would people close to me say that I have an attitude of gratitude?
13. Has gratitude turned to skepticism because things turned out differently than expected?
14. Am I generous with my money? Generous people are thankful (2 Cor.9:10); ungrateful people are stingy.
15. Am I a happy? Grateful people are (Ps. 92:5).
16. Do I live in the peace of God? Gratitude keeps me there (Phil. 4:6,7).
17. Do I recognize that God is in charge? If so, I will be thankful (Ps. 97:1).
18. Is life for me a matter of giving? “Thanks—giving” means both thanks and giving.
19. Will I fit well with the atmosphere of heaven? It is full of thank-you’s (Rev. 7:12).
20. Do I struggle with lust? Thanksgiving is a guard against sin that takes from others.
21. Do I live close to Jesus who has a thankful heart? (Matt. 15:26, Jn 11:41,Lk 10:21f).
22. Do I express gratitude every day? (David appointed the Levites to give thanks twice daily: I Chr. 16:4, I Chr. 23:30).
23. Do I thank God in hard times, knowing that He will bring good out of bad?
24. Am I able to thank God even when my personal security is threatened? (Dan. 6:10).
25. Am I thankful for people God has connected me to? Paul gave thanks for people he wrote to.
26. Have I thanked God for healing and health? (“Where are the nine?” Luke 17:17).
27. Have I grown self-indulgent? (They are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money.. ungrateful, unholy…” 2 Tim. 3:2).
28. Am I thankful for God’s truth? (“At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.” Ps. 119:62).
29. Am I thankful for food ? (Acts 27:35; Ro. 14:6; I Tim. 4:3).
30. Am I thankful that God is gracious? (I Cor. 1:4).
31. Am I thankful for deliverance from death, even though I wasn’t aware that it was happening? (Angels attend to us and keep us from harm).
32. Am I thankful for government leaders? (I Tim. 2:1,2).
33. Am I aware that ingratitude can harden my heart? (Rom. 1:21).
34. Am I humble? Thankful people are humble people.
35. Am I modeling a thankful heart for my children and for others that I serve? (Col.3:15,17).
36. Do my prayers often include thanksgiving? (Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; I Tim. 2:1).
37. Do I enjoy singing? (Is. 51:3; Jer. 30:19).
38. Is my thanksgiving contagious? (Paul’s gratitude caused “thanksgiving to overflow” 2 Co.4:15).
“WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW…”
By: Paul Anderson
“…is love sweet love.” Sweet love won’t do it. Try agape. But that messes with the meter.
The Corinthian charismatics needed agape. Rival factions vied for control. They couldn’t stop fighting, even going to court. Love feasts turned sour. Gifts without fruit means flying with one wing—and crashing.
Paul address pastoral issues, then answers inquiries, now on spiritual gifts. He answers abuse with proper use. Love undergirds everything.
“And now I will show you a way that surpasses all others.” They had the gifts, but they were toys, not tools. They were toddlers fighting each other. People watching them said, “I don’t know what you’ve, but I hope I don’t catch it.” Paul is not contrasting fruit with gifts. He is saying, “Love is the only way the gifts operate. Agape: Self-less love, other-directed, demonstrated at the cross.
1. LOVE IS NEEDED.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Cor. 13:1). Knowing all mysteries and knowledge would come in handy. Not without love.
Then mountain-moving faith. Miracles along the trail. Sacrificial giving. What mercy! People willing to die for the faith. It profits me nothing without love.
2. LOVE IS A VERB.
Love is patient. These are verbs, fifteen of them; not one adjective. Love is an action, not a feeling. We move love from theories to the real.
We can measure the level of our love by the level of our willingness to suffer: “Love is longsuffering” (KJV). Better to suffer than cause someone else. That’s what Jesus did, so you can too!
Love is kind. Jesus put a face on God, a face of kindness. “God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). How would I treat those who cursed me? I’d say, “No rain for you today.” The Holy Spirit can make us kind even with people who are not kind to us.
Love does not envy. Eight negatives follow the two positives. Love wants others to outdo us. How Christ-like!
It does not boast, it is not proud. Humble people are easy to be around. Humility enhances unity. We need a big heart, not a big head. That is the mind of Christ—and you have it.
It is not rude. How easily unedited words can bruise. Let’s watch our manners. Jesus is not rude.
It is not self-seeking. When we play the victim, it is all about us. Dying reverses that and makes others more important. Because of Jesus’ death, you are good at it.
It is not easily angered. A friend said, “Just so you know, Paul, it is almost impossible to offend me.” I want to live like that. I once when I went from 1 to 7 in about two seconds, I understood the phrase “not easily angered.” I want to be sssssssssslow—just like Jesus.
It keeps no record of wrongs. Paul had a scorecard, and a good score. When he threw it away, he found living by grace satisfying. Want to toss the scorecard?
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Let’s rejoice with every advancement of others, not guard self with defensiveness.
Love always protects. You feel safe around true lovers.
Love always trusts. It’s a good feeling to be trusted. You can put the best construction on others.
Love always hopes. We need an anchor. People who give us hope enable us to get through storms.
Love always perseveres. Love makes us fight for people.
Love never fails. If you don’t know what to do, love will tell you. It’s failure-proof.
3. LOVE IS ETERNAL.
Gifts are temporary. Love travels with us to the new earth.
BEWARE OF THE BUCKTHORN
By: Paul Anderson
I was warned, but I didn’t listen. Karen and I were walking along the trail. A biology professor greeted us, then said, “You need to deal with the buckthorn on your property.” He told us that the buckthorn plant would eventually destroy everything within its range.
On the way back from our walk, Jerry was lecturing, so we stopped to listen: “The buckthorn plant is not indigenous to Minnesota. It was brought over from Europe because it makes a handsome hedge. It has an attractive berry. But these berries drop into the ground. One branch can hold 250 berries, each of which could potentially sprout forth a new plant.”
I was struck with the spiritual analogy. I was dealing with a pastor out east who was ruining his ministry. I said to Karen, “I know someone who won’t make it unless he deals with the buckthorn in his life.”
I told Karen that I had already been warned about the buckthorn plant by a missionary friend two years before. When I heard it again from Jerry, I took it more seriously. In like manner, I have worked with young men attempting to deal with buckthorn after much compromise. Rooting out habit patterns can take years, whether the pattern is gossip, laziness, or sexual immorality.
Are you convinced that you need to attend to your personal property? Do you need help from a close friend to walk in the light and expose the darkness? Does a mediocre marriage make you prone to find satisfaction in other places? Perhaps you like I need to be convinced of the necessity of dealing with the buckthorn. Let me share some Scriptures that will serve as a warning:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (I Cor 3:16). No disclaimers, like, “God really doesn’t do that,” just the simple truth.
Paul called for a separation from the sinning brother who was willful and unrepentant, to the point of not eating with him. Rather than extending grace so that they are won by kindness, they are won by realizing the ultimate potential of their behavior, being cut off from God. Showing compassion without the truth has the appearance of grace, but it is really a tolerance that God hates (I Cor. 5:1-12). It is not love not to warn a person in serious danger who has no fear of the consequences of sin.
“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers…will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9,10). People can be deceived into thinking that they can sin without recourse. The Scriptures say otherwise. He uses the same phrase in another warning, “Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction” (Gal. 6:7,8). Sexual temptation brings a deception, that this is who I am and I must fulfill natural desires, and God is forgiving and will overlook the sin because of my need. No, He will not. That kind of thinking could cause you to miss out on the Big Party.
Paul tells us, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (I Cor. 6:18-20). What a wonderful goal—honoring God, rather than fulfilling my personal needs. Is sexual immorality worse than other sins? Not necessarily, but it does more damage, not only violating the other person but violates one’s self at the same time.
Paul takes us back to Old Testament stories when the Israelites were disobedient. He says, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…” (I Cor. 10:11). He says, “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died” (v. 8). These are not simply ancient stories of an angry deity but warnings for the Christian community. In other words, we are not to say, “That kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore.”
When Paul speaks of the works of the flesh, the first one listed is sexual immorality, then impurity. He closes by saying, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). In the face of ongoing sin, Paul does not speak tenderly, like, “God forgives.” We have perhaps been told that we are secure, that grace is available to us. When Paul gives these strong warnings, he doesn’t add any words of grace, such as, “Of course, God forgives.” We need to look at this whole passage, not just the part about the good fruit, as if sin is not that serious. It’s no big deal because forgiveness is available. This makes God into a wimp, into a permissive father who has no control over His kids.
Similarly, when he tells the Colossians to put to death what belongs to their earthly nature, sexual immorality is listed first, then impurity, lust, evil desires and greed. And he says again what he has said in other places, “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:5,6). God is not happy. He doesn’t back off and say, “That’s all right. Sin makes Him mad. As a parent, I am not happy with disobedience. My kids have sometimes said, “Why are you angry?” as if I should not be angry with them. Well, God is angry, and He doesn’t feel guilty about it.
A similar warning comes to the Ephesian church after telling them that “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people,” he adds the warning, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Eph. 5:3,5-7). Two important words are “among you.” If it is among us, it can overtake us, just like the buckthorn. We have no right to partner with immorality or compromise of any kind. We are to “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness” (v. 11), lest we be destroyed by them. Paul urges us: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (v. 15,16). If buckthorn is on our property, it is just a matter of time.
Do you want to know God’s will? That is a common prayer of Christians. Here it is: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.” Then he again brings a warning: “The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you” (I Thess. 4:3,6). I do not want God to say to me, “Why didn’t you warn your children? Your congregation? It was clear in the Scriptures.”
This is the consistent witness and warning throughout the New Testament, and not only with Paul, the single man. The writer of Hebrews says, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). He doesn’t add any disclaimers, like, “Of course, that doesn’t apply to those who have received Jesus.” He just gives strong warnings that would be hard to misunderstand. A chapter later he writes that “marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
Pastors, we must warn people—because the Bible does. We live in an age of tolerance. My sadness as a pastor of a good church was that most of the peopleI married had slept together before marriage. When Tim Urban, a young adult in our ministry, spoke at our meeting, he said rather incidentally (he wasn’t speaking about sexual purity), that he told non-Christian friends at work that he had chosen not to have sex until he was married. He shocked his friends, but I thought, “How wise, not only to make that kind of commitment but to communicate it in a humble way to others.”
Young people, that is God’s will for you. I challenge you–make a commitment to live a pure life. It is far more exciting than the devil’s lie of freedom in promiscuity. God’s standard for you is to be a virgin when you marry. Is there forgiveness for those who cross the line? Yes, if there is repentance. But if they are looking for permission, the answer is no. In that case, there is judgment, not forgiveness.
Grace does not give permission to sin. The writer of Hebrews is contrasting the Old Covenant with the far superior New Covenant. He says, after speaking about judgment under the law, ”How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’” (29-31). Living this side of the cross in no way gives loopholes for selfish, sinful behavior. Because we believe in the blood of Christ, it closes the door to behavior that would defy the cross.
Two chapters later he returns to the same theme. He says, “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth (Moses), how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? (Heb.12:25). The New Covenant would in fact be weaker if it meant that now God is a pushover, that we can do what we want because we live under grace rather than the law. This section closes with sobriety like the last passage: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (v. 28,29). I have heard people contemplating a divorce for the wrong reasons saying, “We have grace.” No you don’t. Grace never gives leeway for self-centered indulgence. When one girl heard about the violent activity in the Old Testament, she concluded, “That’s before God became a Christian.” In reality, the standard is higher in the new. God does not lower the standard to accommodate our sinful desires. And His goal for us is not only to forgive us—it is to transform us.
Jesus always took the law to a higher level than a lower level. A lustful look was tantamount to adultery. Then he added, “If you right eye offends you, don’t worry because you will be forgiven.” No! He says to gouge it out and throw it away. This is Jesus, full of grace and truth. It says that “it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29). Consistent with the rest of the Scripture, He issues a warning that sinful behavior can keep us from heaven and send us to hell. Would you say that He was being gracious to give us this sober warning? Wouldn’t people who are careless in their life style and land in hell be justified to at least ask church leaders why they only forgave them but didn’t warn them as Jesus and the Apostles did? The commandments were given to warn us, to restrain us. The psalmist said, “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Ps. 19:11).
Maybe these questions could help you identify potential danger areas:
• What is the greatest threat to your destiny in Christ? Most of us have at least some buckthorn seeds in the ground with the potential to grow up to be tall bushes. If Satan wanted to reduce your life to unthreatening maintenance or destroy it completely, what would he use?
• What would need to change for you to deal effectively with buckthorn in your life?
• Are you keeping any secrets from people? (If so, they are keeping you). Do you have any small buckthorn plants that, if allowed to persist, could destroy your marriage or ministry?
Plateaus do not exist in the Christian life. You are either for Christ or against Him. Some feel that while they are not going forward, they are at least not backsliding. Yes, you are. There is not neutral ground, no demilitarized zone. I don’t want to be in a place of danger; I want to be dangerous.
The buckthorn plant doesn’t destroy the environment suddenly. It happens over a period of time. The same applies to our life in Christ. Few fall deliberately. Their heart is invaded—one seed at a time.
So how do you deal with buckthorn? Here is how we did it?
We identified the buckthorn. Even after having the plant shown to me by the missionary friend and by Jerry, I still asked my neighbor to make sure. Don’t pull out the wrong plants. We pulled out a few that we didn’t need to, and that made for extra work. Ask the Lord, “Where is the compromise in my life? Where could I fall? A friend at seminary asked me this question, “If Satan wanted to take you out, what would he use?” I answered, “Pride.” Then I asked him the question, and he answered, “Sex.” And he was right. That caused him to leave the ministry and break up his family. Identify your buckthorn—and deal with it!
We had a team. I am glad that I didn’t have to do the buckthorn job alone. I hired a group of guys to help me. Sometimes we resent those who tell us about the buckthorn on our property. They should be our best friends. Do you have people you are honest with who can help you root out your buckthorn? We are encouraging the young adults in our ministry to form into small groups for encouragement and accountability, so they can help each other.
We persisted. We did not finish the job in an hour—or a day—or a week. But we won over several weeks. But it is not totally gone, so we must stay alert. You can win five rounds and still lose the fight. There were battles along the way.
We used the right tools. Some plants were too big to pull out by hand. And cutting them down would not destroy them. They would continue to sprout and drop their berries. I was given a tool to make the job easier. A four-foot lever with a crank and a wedge on the end gave the leverage needed to uproot the plants. God promises to give us what we need to pull out the buckthorn. Paul writes that “when you are tempted, he will also provide a “way out” (I Cor. 10:13).
We followed the rain. The best time to deal with the buckthorn was after the rain has softened the ground. I went out after a night rain and was able to pull some out by hand. This is not a message on morality, on trying to live a better life, on attempting to clean up your life. It comes back to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. We are holy because we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, not because we have more will power than other people. We trust in God’s Spirit to enable us to live as He wants us to live.
Clearing out the buckthorn is a picture of repentance. But repentance does not come naturally to us. Here are some substitutes for the real thing:
1. Crying occasionally about all the buckthorn, even praying about it. Repentance and emotion are not the same thing. Be careful of substituting a feeling for real change. “Great sermon, pastor. You really took us to the cleaners today.” But he feels much better by Sunday afternoon football. What God wants is change. Judas was remorseful but not repentant.
2. Generalizing about the buckthorn, saying, “You are so right. We need to deal with buckthorn. I have felt this way for a long time. Thank you for bringing it up again. Yes, indeed. I couldn’t agree with you more. Our society is too tolerant of sexual immorality.” Words and repentance are not the same thing.
3. Rooting out other plants and thinking that we are dealing effectively with our problems. People who have a serious problem with gossip get religious when the pastor talks about immorality and says, “Yes, I need to deal with that in my life,” never allowing God’s Word to convict them of a destructive tongue—and they are working on the wrong plant.
4. Dealing with other peoples’ property. Repentance must be personal and ruthless. The flesh resists nothing like repentance. Before I started dealing with our problem, I was at a friend’s house. I went to the backyard and noticed some buckthorn plants. I suggested that he might want to get rid of it. I was an evangelist before I even began the process in my own yard. Some of us can be more persistent about others than we are of ourselves. Let me say clearly that you are responsible for your body.
5. Cutting back but not destroying. We can pretend that we have dealt with our buckthorn because we went forward at a conference and vowed to change. Good beginning, but there must be follow-through to annihilate the plant. We had to cut the plant down until only a stump remained. Then we stripped off the bark and applied a chemical to finish the job. Sexual sin needs to be rooted out, sometimes with deliverance ministry.
6. Just saying that we can’t do it and saying that God must is insufficient. We must do our part. I was tempted to say that, because it was too big a project. Do you feel like throwing in the towel? Our local newspaper reported that our county made that decision some years ago. They just decided to let it grow rampant because it was too big a matter to control.
If you are convinced that repentance is needed, consider some of these steps:
1. Don’t fantasize. What we dream about has power to become reality. Do you have pictures of old boyfriends or girlfriends? Throw them away. Have boundaries. If you start dating someone, speak together about your boundaries, and don’t cross them. Pastors who drive to a conference with the secretaries are not taking the necessary precaution against sexual sin. Don’t resent people who are more free to sin than you are.
2. Parents: don’t feed your children to the wolves. Know where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. And don’t assume the best. Don’t let them pair up and spend time together isolated from others. You are asking for trouble—and they will give it to you.
3. Have a realistic view of marriage. I have heard some say, “I need to be happy.” That is neither your right nor your need. What you need to do is die to yourself. That might mean serving your spouse even when you are not happy, and even if you are not fulfilled. The people I have spoken with who have affairs have spoken about the need for fulfillment, for personal happiness. The Bible says, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Rom. 13:14). People who say, “I need to be happy,” are saying, “I need to fulfill my sinful nature.” Paul says, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber…” (v. 11). Those who have affairs begin to gratify themselves in small ways. They begin to ignore the promptings of the Spirit. Karen and I are amazed at how much work marriage takes. It calls for us to die to ourselves. Marriage is a killer of the sinful nature if we truly serve our mates without thinking of our need to be happy.
4. A word to the singles: Paul says that you have an advantage over married people. Think of Jesus, Paul, and Mother Teresa. They were single by choice. You may be single by default. You can still use it to your great advantage. It enables you to serve God (see I Cor. 7). Single people are not an inferior group. According to Paul, they are a superior group.
5. Make holiness, not happiness, your goal. The angels in heaven are not crying, “Love, love, love.” They are crying, “Holy, holy, holy.” That is the essential character of God, that which brings non-stop praise from millions of angels. It is worthy of our attention. Don’t shoot for mediocrity. And don’t feel that you need to be happy; you need to be dead.
6. Keep truth balanced with grace. If you have crossed the line, there is grace, but then choose not the cross the line again. If you are seeking permission rather than forgiveness, there is no grace. Don’t assume grace without walking in truth. If your eye offends you, cut it out. Jesus is speaking stark truth to those flirting with sin, maybe considering an affair. The potential for losing more than a spouse is real. If you are contemplating an affair—die to yourself. Why should you ruin the lives of others? You are selfish, thinking of yourself. There are innocent casualties in sin. Achan’s sin caused 36 to die, plus his entire family. Amnon destroyed Tamar’s life, and then he lost his own. Learn to fear God under grace. The psalmist wrote, “There is forgiveness with thee, that you may be feared.” Forgiveness is not the door to license; it is the door to freedom. If truth is hedged, grace is reduced to sentimentality.
“Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” So we have freedom to sin, right? Paul says no, but many today say yes. Grace enables us to overcome sin. Grace leads to victory, not to permissiveness. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1). The response among many Christians with regard to sexual boundaries is a clear, “Yes.” But Paul says, By no means! Absolutely not. God forbid. We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? He gives no room whatsoever for this outlook that couples freedom to sin with grace. You’ll not find it in the Bible. Listen to this: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (v. 14). Grace overcomes sin. We are freed from sin, not free to sin. Those who have a lax understanding of grace and sin will never reach their destiny in Christ.
Some may be saying now, “Where is the grace?” I will tell you. It is in repentance, not in seeking permission. Jude writes strongly about “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4).
We may assume that because God is extravagantly forgiving He does not take sin seriously. The opposite is true. Look at the cross. Listen to the words of Jesus about sin. If you take sin lightly, it is safe to say that you are walking under the judgment of God, not under His mercy.
7. Leaders: you must be held to a higher standard. When I was a young adult working with a small youth group in Orange County, a woman from England came to our church with a prophetic gift. She said to me at the end of the meeting, “Others may; you can’t.” I didn’t know what she meant at first, but I came to understand it. If God was going to use me, I would need to pay a price, to say a thousand no’s. If you are called to lead, learn to say no—because in doing so you are saying yes to God, to all that He wants to give you, to His anointing, to His presence!
8. You may need deliverance. Derek Prince found that three things particularly opened people up to demonic assault—engagement with the occult, rebellion, and sexual immorality. Our society has opened wide the door to demonic deception and invasion. Some may need more than prayer—they will need deliverance.
Once I started rooting out the buckthorn on our property, I saw how we could landscape our wooded area. I can say now that we have a beautiful walkway in place of destructive buckthorns, and the chips of the buckthorn plants formed the path that we walk on. A dump became a garden. When we deal with our buckthorn, God will use even our past to His glorious advantage. Some of you need to clear out the buckthorn so you can wake up to your destiny. You need clarity about why you are here. Sometimes that is only clear when we have taken the steps to deal with what holds us back. Deal with your past and your destiny will be more visible. You are not a dump. You are a garden. You need to rebuild the protective wall around the garden, tear down high places and establish the holy place of the Lord. Take the steps and you will discover grace.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD
By: Paul Anderson
What if God was so good that…
when you experienced bad things, He overturned them with good?
you became good like God and imitated His kindness?
you received so much that all you could do in your prayers was to thank Him?
negative talk left your vocabulary because you didn’t need it?
His goodness came out somehow wherever you went?
instead of getting upset with your spouse you got good?
you soaked your problems in His goodness?
Am I in dreamland? God gave Paul a revelation of His goodness. He wrote, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). Sounds like there’s more!
The psalmist wrote, “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). You cannot experience taste vicariously. The goodness of God is not something to explain as much as to experience. We can talk about God’s goodness because we experienced it and were satisified. Those who haven’t sound hollow when they talk, like the preacher who changes his tone because he is speaking of something foreign. There is no passion in his heart. His faith is as deep as his esophagus. Do you want to read the menu or taste the meal?
The prodigal left home without seeing how good his father was. When he experienced a cruel world, he returned. Then he tasted his father’s goodness. He was ashamed—and his father forgave him: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he good; for his mercy endures forever” (Ps. 107:1).
The prodigal experienced goodness by way of mercy. “For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon you” (Ps. 86:5). When my dad forgave me for messing up his car, it opened me up to receiving the Father’s mercy.
The prodigal also discovered generosity. All the things he wanted in the world he received from his dad—a party, nice clothes, sandals, a ring. The psalmist wrote, “O how abundant is your goodness, which you have laid up for those who fear you” (Ps. 31:19). God is prepared to pour out goodness from His storehouse.
“Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
What if He targeted you? And you saw so much of it that it began to be reproduced in you. If no one is good but God, only God can manufacture it inside of us. And you gave it out like God. And the more you gave out the more came back. And the fruit of goodness grew in you.
Sadly, the elder brother received nothing. Here is his testimony: “…you have never given me a kid that I might make merry with my friends” (in other words, “have my own party”). He frustrated his dad’s kindness. Here is the father’s heart of goodness: “My son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” What if God said that to you? If we are joint heirs, it sounds like He did!
A wrong perception of the Father will keep you in spiritual poverty. The snake in the garden tampered with the goodness of God: “Did God really say…?” Eve bought the lie and bit the fruit. If pleasure or pain messes with your perception of God, you will shut off the storehouse of goodness, and like the elder brother, you won’t have any to give away.
A right perception will open up the treasure. David said, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with blessings” (Ps. 68:19). Because he experienced it in the midst of his struggles, he talked to himself and said, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). Then he named a bunch. I am not talking theory when I say this. I am experiencing the goodness of God. I hope you are too.
David said, “I would have despaired unless I had seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13). God’s goodness keeps His children from discouragement. In fact, we can’t get away from it: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” Goodness tracks me down like a hound.
What if God’s goodness changed people from the inside out, and He asked you to represent Him? The essence of spiritual warfare is bringing heaven down, not hell up. Because of the Spirit, you are good at goodness. People are more desperate to know how good God is than how bad the devil is.
What if your spouse drove you crazy and you retaliated by doing good? If it is God’s goodness that leads people to repentance, how much goodness do they need from you? What if you soaked your problems in God’s goodness? What if with every trial you opened the storehouse? What if you overcame your depression with God’s goodness?
Impossible? Paul said “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (I Cor. 2:9,10). God is so good that Satan had to deceive Eve to pull her away. He is so good that once you get it the fight is over. Once you submit to the goodness of God, resistance with the enemy works. This is by far your biggest challenge—to consistently overcome evil with good. You can get good at this!
Is there enough goodness to go around? I think so: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Ps. 33:5). Jeremiah said, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them; I will never stop doing good to them…I will rejoice in doing them good” (Jer. 32:40, 41). Let Him do it for you!
By: Paul Anderson
There is a lot of bad out there. What is our response? Tell them how bad it is? We are never commanded to do that. And we never have the convict the world of the bad it does. Our job—good works. We are to overcome evil with good. We do the reverse of what we see and hear. Too often we only get discouraged by what we see and separate from it. We are to do the opposite—infect it, change it, convert it, immerse it in goodness. Make good pictures when you see bad ones. Say five good things when you hear one bad thing. Jesus told a parable about the weed and the wheat making it clear that we are not responsible to deal with the bad.
We have been quicker with words and slower with works. The emphasis of new covenant people is on good works. There is much more about good works than good words. The Christian life is more about works than words. Our witness is stronger if it comes with works before words. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works…” not simply hear your good words.
We are to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).
We are to abound in every good work (2 Cor. 9:8).
We are to do good to all, and especially to the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
We were created to do good works (Eph. 2:10).
We are to be fruitful in every good work (Col. 1:10).
Paul’s benediction is that God would strengthen us “in every good work and word” (2 Thess. 2:17).
To be on the widow’s list for financial help meant being well known for good works (I Tim. 5:10).
The sins of some men are obvious…In the same way, good works are obvious (I Tim. 5:25).
The rich were to be commanded to be rich in good works (I Tim. 6:18).
The Scripture trains us so we are “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 317).
Young men are to set an example of good works (Titus 2:7).
God redeemed us so we could be His own and would be eager for good works (Titus 2:14).
We are to be ready for every good work (Titus 3:1).
Those who have trusted in God are to be eager to do good works (Titus 3:8).
Final words from to Titus—our people must be devoted to doing good works (3:14).
We are to consider how to spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).
The closing benediction of Hebrews…make you perfect in every good work (13:21).
Wisdom from above is full of mercy and good fruit (James 3:17).
We are to live good lives among the pagans that they may see our good works (I Peter 2:12).
THE GENTLENESS of JESUS
By: Paul Anderson
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28,29). He was speaking to people who had experienced the oppressive leadership of the religious leaders. They were weighed down with guilt, shame, and unreal expectations. People who came were treated gently by the Good Shepherd.
He demonstrated gentleness with the woman taken in adultery. The leaders wanted to condemn her, but Christ’s words set her free. He showed gentleness with the Samaritan woman who was on her sixth man.
He was gentle with the woman who crashed the party and anointed the feet of Jesus. The dinner host was ready to rebuke her, but Jesus publicly affirmed her. He was gentle with Mary, criticized by the disciples for wasting precious perfume, and he memorialized her extravagant deed.
We have ways of applying pressure to people, of imposing guilt with questions or comments that can sound innocent but end up demeaning them. Jesus was full of grace and truth, but what rubbed off onto people was grace. “Of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” One might have expected them to feel condemnation in his holy presence, but they loved hanging around this gentle man.
He was gentle with Zacchaeus when others didn’t want anything to do with the thief. Jesus treated him like he belonged—and it evoked a remarkable transformation of heart. Jesus looked past his faults to his future—and drew him into his destiny. He saw brokenness where others felt irritation. He knew how to respond, when others only knew how to react.
Gentleness feels like a hug when you’ve blown it, like a word of forgiveness when you stepped over the line, like an affirmation when you deserve a put-down.
Jesus was gentle to a blind man, taking him away from the crowd before praying with him. He welcomed blind Bartimaeus, ridiculed by the crowd for calling out to Jesus. He was gentle with the leper who said, “If you will, you can make me clean.” He could—and he did. He was gentle with a Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her demonized daughter, although it didn’t look like gentleness at first. Jesus saw her humble heart and drew it out for the disciples to also see before delivering the girl.
Jesus determined never to break a bruised reed or put out a smoldering wick (Matt. 12:20). He gave John the Baptist a word of praise at the point of his deepest uncertainty. He accommodated himself to doubting Thomas rather than giving him a well-earned correction. Even more remarkable is his gentle treatment of Judas, about to betray him.
Imagine the people who have needed forgiveness and were given a rebuke instead. Others needed an encouraging word to keep on and were given silence instead, and they decided to hang it up. Some needed a hug and got a backhand. They are misrepresenting a gentle God who was scandalized in the harshness.
Jesus was gentle with the professional killers who put him on the cross. His first order of business was to forgive them for not know what they were doing. He was gentle with the man next to him who had reviled him. When his outlook changed from mocking to asking for help, Jesus gently offered him paradise—just before he went there.
He showed gentleness to Peter after he denied Jesus three times. Peter probably wondered if it would ever be the same. It wasn’t. He loved Jesus even more because of the mercy shown him following the failure.
Paul made an appeal to hardened hearts at Corinth “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1). Seeing the way he treated people makes me want to be like him. The more we look at him the more we are changed. We become what we behold!
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS…GENTLENESS
By: Paul Anderson
That means that the Spirit is gentle. The Spirit knows how to convict without condemning. The Holy Spirit who came as a mighty wind at Pentecost came upon Jesus as a gentle dove.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28,29). He was speaking to people who had experienced the oppressive leadership of the religious leaders and were weighed down with guilt, shame, and impossible expectations. Jesus invited them to encounter his kind of oversight.
Jesus demonstrated gentleness with the woman taken in adultery. The leaders wanted to condemn her to get back at Jesus, but his kind words set her free. He was gentle with the Samaritan woman who was on her sixth man. He was gentle with the woman who crashed the party and anointed the feet of Jesus. She received a rebuke from Simon but affirmation from Jesus. He was gentle with Mary, criticized by the disciples for wasting precious perfume. He memorialized her extravagant deed. How kind of Jesus to defend those who love him.
We have ways of applying pressure to people, of imposing guilt with questions, even when we don’t need to: “Didn’t you call them?” can sound like an innocent question, but if the person already knows he didn’t call them, does he needs a question which has the impact of demeaning him. No one knows better than Jesus how to offload those feelings. He was full of grace and truth, but what rubbed off onto people was grace. “Of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” People who knew they were sinners received grace from the holiest man on earth. One might have expected them to feel condemnation in his holy presence.
Jesus was gentle with Peter after he denied Jesus three times. Peter probably wondered if it would ever be the same. It wasn’t. He loved Jesus even more because of the kindness Jesus showed him following his failure. Imagine the people who have needed forgiveness and were given a rebuke instead. Others needed an encouraging word to keep on keeping on. They were given silence or a question instead, and they decided to hang it up. Some needed a hug and got a backhand. Jesus knows what you need and invites you to receive from him. He is gentle.
Jesus was gentle with the professional killers who put him on the cross. His first order of business was to forgive them for doing something they didn’t know they were doing. It looks to us like they knew, but Jesus saw it differently. He was gentle with the man next to him on the cross who had reviled him. When his outlook changed from mocking Jesus to asking for his help, Jesus gave him grace and offered him paradise.
Jesus was gentle with Zacchaeus when others were anything but gentle. They didn’t want anything to do with this thief of a tax collector, but Jesus treated him like he belonged—and it evoked a remarkable change of heart in Zacchaeus. Others were no doubt saying, “We need to see a change in behavior before we treat him with respect.” Jesus, on the other hand, looked past his faults to his future—and drew him into his destiny in God.
We know what “gentle” feels like. It feels like a hug when you’ve blown it, like a word of forgiveness when you stepped over the line, like an affirmation when you know you deserve a put-down.
Jesus was gentle to the blind man, taking him away from the crowd before praying with him. He was gentle with the leper who said, “If you will, you can make me clean.” He was gentle with a Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her demonized daughter, although it didn’t look like gentleness at first. Jesus saw her humble heart, and drew it out for the disciples to also see, before delivering the daughter.
Jesus determined never to break a bruised reed or put out a smoldering wick (Matt. 12:20) like his adversaries did. He gave to John the Baptist a word of praise at the point of his deepest uncertainties. He accommodated himself to doubting Thomas rather than giving him a well-earned correction. Even more remarkable is his gentle treatment of Judas, about to betray him (John 13:21; Matt. 26:50). He lived out the prophecy, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets” (Matt. 12:19). He welcomed Blind Bartimaeus, ridiculed by the crowd for calling out to Jesus in his need. He affirmed Matthew’s decision to follow him, saying that people like him are the very ones he was called to reach, and announcing “mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13). Jesus never tripped over his religious zeal as the Pharisees did. Their wooden faith made them unkind and inconsiderate. His zeal made him caring, compassionate, and accepting. He saw the need behind the deed. He saw brokenness where others saw irritation. He knew how to respond, when others only knew how to react. Rather than returning evil for evil, he got even with love and forgiveness. It made sinners want to hang around him. Remarkably, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats” (I Peter 2:23).
Paul made an appeal to hardened hearts at Corinth “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1). He said that those called to restore a fallen brother needed to do so gently (Gal. 6:1), just like Jesus did. As a friend says, “Jesus is the kindest person I know.” Seeing the way he treats people makes me want to be like him. The more we look at him the more we are changed. We become what we behold. Let’s behold the gentle Christ.
HEALING FROM A FATHER WOUND
By: Paul Anderson
Sixty Minutes once interviewed a murderer in prison. When the host asked him about his father, he said that he was a National Football League star, but he added, “He’s not a star at home.” Then he broke down and cried. The father had not given time for his family and ultimately had deserted them. This prisoner spoke nothing but hate for the man who had withheld his love and had created a giant father wound in a young man who turned into a killer.
We once invited missionary families to come to our house and discuss an upcoming seminar on missionary kids. The next day, one of the mothers, whose children also came, told me that her daughter had said to her, “I didn’t know a father could love his children like Paul did.” All I did was to hold one of them in my lap playfully. Her missionary father had deserted his family while they lived in Africa, and she was feeling the wound.
One time a couple came up for prayer after the morning service. They said they loved each other but were separated. The wife confessed, “I guess I find it hard to trust people or God, because my father was mean to me. Now I can’t trust my husband.” The father wound can affect us our whole life if we don’t find healing.
A lady who struggled with depression once asked for prayer at a conference in Norway. As a child she would often ask, “Daddy, are you fond of me?” He would joke with her, “Let me see, what day is it?” He laughed–and she cried–inside. Thirty years later she still felt the injury and found it hard to receive God’s love.
WOUNDS IN BIBLE CHARACTERS
Jacob grew up with a father wound. One can easily understand why: “Isaac loved Esau, because he ate of his game; but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:28). God had chosen Jacob, but his father clearly had not, and it didn’t feel good to come in second place. The mama’s boy competed with a more athletic-type brother, scheming for his father’s attention and blessing. He eventually came to a place of healing and maturity, but not before he had made some grievous mistakes that almost cost him his life. Many children have grown up feeling like Jacob, that their father or mother loved a sibling more than them.
When Jacob grew up, he did the same thing with his children. He “loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all the rest of them, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him” (Genesis 37:3,4). No child wants to come in second with Dad, but being favored produces its liabilities, too. Jacob and Joseph both paid for the favoritism.
King David proved a better fighter than he was a father, and it effected Absalom, his son. When Absalom killed his half-brother in revenge for raping his sister, he fled home. Even after David was comforted in the loss of Amnon, he did not bring about the return of Absalom until Joab urged him to do so. Then when Absalom finally returned, David ignored him as if he didn’t exist. Had David healed the rift by receiving his son back into his heart and home when the fugitive returned, he might have saved his son from death and his own heart from awful grief. But he, like many fathers, seemed immobilized, and he took no action to repair the separation. It almost cost him the throne, and it did mean a bitter end for Absalom, so full of potential, so winsome, so charming, and so full of hatred for a man who loved God and who loved women, but didn’t know how to love his own son. When David heard the news that Absalom was dead, he cried, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). He died of dart wounds, but in his heart he carried a father wound.
Sometimes dads seem paralyzed when it comes to reaching out to their children. It is not that they don’t love them; they just lack the ability, the sensitivity, or the willingness to make the needed connection. If they didn’t receive the kind of love they needed as a child, they sometimes visit upon their children what was visited upon them—unless they receive healing for their own father wound.
As a young pastor I used to exhort moms and dads in their parenting skills. I preached sermons to them on how to more effectively relate to their children. Then I realized that many of them lived with father wounds. Trying to tell crippled parents to do a better job is like telling a wounded soldier to get back on the front lines; he needs critical care first. And that is just what a lot of people (and especially fathers) need.
MANY SUFFER FROM A FATHER WOUND.
Children naturally imitate their parents. My children enjoyed jogging with me in my younger days. Israel used to end up on my shoulders. When I ran, I had a habit of spitting. I didn’t spit at people; I spit into bushes. So when I spit, Israel would spit. But his didn’t travel as far as mine–about to the end of my arm. I would say, “Israel, that’s gross. Don’t do that.” Then a few blocks later I would forget–and spit. And so would Israel.
When I was coaching my son Andrew’s basketball team, we once called a time-out to talk to the players. Joe Lubinski, my assistant, was reviewing our strategy, and I was listening attentively in a crouched position with my hands on my knees. Israel, then two, left the stands, moved close to his dad, and assumed the exact same posture. I didn’t even notice, but his mother grabbed the camera and preserved the moment.
My son wanted to be like his dad in every way. He wanted to run with me; he even wanted to spit like me. God has put it in the heart of children to imitate their parents. They know that Mom is the most beautiful person in the world and that Dad is the strongest. (One little kid said, “My Daddy can beat up your Daddy,” to which the other little fellow said, “That’s nothing, so can my Mom.”)
God wants us to love our parents with all our heart and trust them completely, because according to His plan, parents will be the first to introduce children to a kind heavenly Father. When parents, whom we have every reason to trust, violate that love, it creates confusion and pain. When your heart has been open the most, it creates the deepest and most hurtful wound if torn. When a child concludes that work trumps them for importance, or another woman, or a hobby; or when promises are broken, when relationships are severed, when love is denied, when common courtesy is not extended, or when time is not given–a father wound can afflict the heart and remain for years. We all crave love, belonging, acceptance. It is meant to come first in the family. When we receive rejection instead, in whatever form, like teasing, harsh words, unfair demands, or avoidance, we wonder if we are worthy of love. And even sadder, we may wonder if God is worthy of love or if we are worthy of God’s love.
I am calling it a “father wound.” It may be a mother wound, a pastor wound, or a sibling wound. One lady, with a brother-wound, once came for ministry after a service. She and her brother worked together in business, but he had somehow managed to take it away from her.
The evidence of the wound varies. For the killer on Sixty Minutes it was anger. For the lady in Norway it was depression–anger turned in. For the woman in a struggling marriage it was distrust. Other symptoms include inferiority, fear of manhood or womanhood, unexplainable anxiety, an overly critical attitude, or an inability to receive God’s love. Wounds make it hard for us to say “yes” to God’s grace.
Why do you suppose that when St. Paul addresses parents for the first time in his letter to the Ephesians, he says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians. 6:4). Because fathers who don’t make caring for their children a top priority will do just that, and their children’s anger won’t go away quickly. Paul told the Colossian fathers, “Do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (3:21). I’ve seen a lot of discouraged children (of all ages) since I’ve been sharing this message, and sometimes the discouragement has lasted for decades. Not a happy picture.
One father played ball often with his boy. He would tell him, “Catch the ball ten times in a row, and I’ll buy you something.” He’d throw the ball to him nine times, then on the tenth throw he’d make it impossible for the boy to catch it. He thought he was teaching his son to try harder. He was, in fact, training him for failure. He was saying, in effect, “No matter how hard you try, it won’t be good enough.” He was creating anger rather than incentive, an anger which left the boy feeling as if he’d never make it.
Another father rejoiced when a son was born after two daughters, because he wanted to raise an athlete. This boy, however, was not athletic. At the age of twelve, the dad took him to a softball game and yelled, “Watch them! Learn!” After the game he asked his boy, “When are you going to grow up and become a man?” He really meant, “…grow up and become an athlete.” The boy felt his father’s rejection and hated him for it.
One son had hoped his father would some day ask forgiveness for the times he had hurt him. On his deathbed, the father said, “Jim, remember all times I disciplined you and you didn’t deserve it?” Jim leaned in, waiting to hear what he had longed to hear for many years. ‘Finally,’ he thought, ‘Dad is going to make it right.’ The dad went on, “Well, there were times I didn’t spank you when I’m sure you deserved it.” He died moments later and with him the hopes for the mending of a broken heart.
It’s not just the “bad” fathers that can stir up anger. When I served as principal of a Christian school, a junior high boy whose parents were solid Christians told me through his tears that they teased him about liking girls and that it didn’t feel good at all. He was hoping for support but received ridicule instead.
Parents, do whatever you can to connect with your children in a positive way. Listen to them, find out what they are thinking about, ask them questions, take them along with you when you go to the store. Reach out to them, play games with them, pray with them before they go to bed and when they get up, communicate, communicate, communicate. You’ll be glad you did when they thank you years later for loving them, even if they don’t always thank you at the moment.
America responds to this serious problem by saying, “We don’t need dads.” Fathers are mocked and made the brunt of jokes on sit-coms. When I was growing up, it was more often the women in the home who were the target of the jokes, “the dumb blond, the scatterbrain broad,” Lucy, Gracie and the rest. That’s all changed. Today it is Dad. Father no longer knows best; in fact, he’s a jerk. When it comes to family matters, Dad doesn’t have a clue. Even the good fathers, the Bill Cosby types, are laughed at, and both caricatures are damaging.
At a recent funeral, the pastor greeted us with the apostolic benediction, but with one word changed: “Grace and peace be to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” I thought, ‘Where did the Father go?’ What shame causes us to correct the Book to accommodate a social mandate? Many in the church and in society don’t see the connection between the killer and the father wound, the divorce and the dope, the workaholism and the truancy. But recent sociological studies have been making the linkup. When the data are all in, it will say what God said 2500 years ago, that the land without fathers rests under a curse. The last verse of the Old Testament reads that “revival will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). The option—the judgment of God. The nation without strong families and committed fathers lives with a curse. Repentance lifts the curse as fathers return to their greatest assignment—their children. When revival touches down, it affects relationships in the most important institution and building block of society, the home.
HEALING FROM A FATHER WOUND COMES AS…
1. WE ACKNOWLEDGE OUR WOUNDING.
When a pastor friend, Joseph Johnson, came to our church for a mission, he ended his message by inviting anyone who needed a hug to come to the front. These people were met by others who had agreed to give hugs to any who felt the need for comfort. I knew that my assistant had experienced some wounding from his father, but on that day he “went public.” He walked forward and was hugged by one of the leaders at Trinity—for twenty minutes, while he cried and cried. He was acknowledging the pain. Emotional reactions, like anger or depression, often anesthetize the hurt, and we easily deny or ignore wounding in the past. Allowing ourselves to go past the anger to feel the pain starts the healing process.
After speaking to a group of pastors in Norway, I invited those who needed special encouragement to come up for a hug. I stationed leaders in the front to receive them. We waited–and waited. When no one came, I prepared to sit down. I figured it was probably too hard for Norwegians to expose their needs in this way. Finally, an elderly pastor walked to the front. When he got near to my ministry partner, George Johnson, he began to cry and fell into his arms. Then others followed. He told us the next day in broken English: “Tank you for vaiting for us. It vas so difficult for us Norvegians–and so important.”
I once preached at a church in the Midwest on keeping score. The worship leader, a young man with a beautiful singing voice, came up afterwards with tears in his eyes. He said, “I guess I’m still trying to find my father’s approval.” He was acknowledging a wound.
Wounds are created not only by erring parents, but also by life experiences over which people have no control. Some missionary kids speak of the pain at being sent away to a boarding school at an early age. This is the way most missionary societies functioned, but that doesn’t help the ten-year-old girl sort out feelings of loneliness, isolation, and perhaps even betrayal, when she knows she is loved, but yet must say good-bye for another month or two.
A pastor friend of mine was a teenager when his father died of a heart attack. He was an All-Conference wrestling champ, and he toughed out the loss. Twenty years later he acknowledged that he still had a wound when an older minister at a pastors’ retreat said to him, “Come here. Let me give you a hug.” And he wept for the grief he felt at losing a dad.
One way to help us come to terms with our wounds is to finish this sentence: Jesus, I wish my father would have_________________. I have tried this with a variety of groups. Here are some of the responses: Jesus, I wish my father would have spent time with me…hugged me…told me he loved me…not abandoned us…talked to me…shown me respect…prepared me for adult life…cared enough to listen…been there…not put me down.
We’re not bashing dads; we’re taking a step toward restoration. What could have been, should have been, might have been–wasn’t, and it hurts to think about it. We begin the healing process by acknowledging that the wound is there. Time probably doesn’t make it any better, and it may even aggravate it. Too many have lived long years carrying a father wound and have not known how to deal with it. Many people have walked in loneliness or shame for an unknown reason, or have not known why they felt so insecure. It may be that they have a wound that needs to be exposed and healed. They need to know that Christ not only died for our sins; He also died for our sorrows: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4a).
2. WE FORGIVE IMPERFECT PARENTS.
A young man once came forward after a service. As I began to pray, I envisioned in my mind a picture of a boy being dragged through dirt. I asked him if he had been made to feel unimportant, like dirt. He said, “All my life.” I asked him if he wanted to deal with it, and he responded affirmatively, so we went through these steps. I asked him to write down on a piece of paper what he felt his dad owed him but had not given him. A few minutes later he had constructed his list. I told him that the list was like an I.O.U. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). An offense is like a debt owed. I explained to him that when he thought of his father, he would pull out the bill and demand payment, at least in his emotions. That is what it means to carry around unresolved bitterness. We somehow think that we are hurting the people we resent, but, in reality, we are hurting ourselves the most. Anger gone to seed is like a cancer in the soul that grows and poisons our whole life. I told him that forgiveness was often a difficult process and that I would understand if he couldn’t forgive his dad right away, but if he could, I wanted him to tear up the I.O.U. I explained that forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a contract. We are agreeing with God to release the offending person to His justice and mercy rather than taking it into our own hands. We are not saying that the person didn’t hurt us, but rather that we are releasing him from blame. It made sense to him, and the young man tore up the debt. That night he was praying at the altar for others with a new-found peace on his face.
Forgiveness means tearing up these I.O.U.’s we are carrying around. We tell God that those who have hurt us don’t owe us anything. (They probably won’t pay us back anyway). We release them from any obligation to us and into the hands of God. If people aren’t able to forgive, I encourage them to carry the note around as a reminder of what is happening in their hearts. Forgiveness releases us from the negative bond to those who have hurt us so that we can escape from our past and walk into a healthy future.
An older lady almost dragged a girl forward after I had preached on God as our healer. She said, “My friend must get healing.” I asked the girl if she wanted it, and she answered, “I must. I am destroying my life.”
“Who are you hating?” I asked.
“My mother,” she responded. “She’s been so cruel to me.”
We worked through the process, and she tore up the I.O.U. Then I introduced her to a counselor at the church who would continue counseling with her. Forgiveness is often both an event and a process. She took a big step that night by acknowledging the wound, but she would need to keep walking.
One day I was speaking with a woman whose husband had left her and two children for another woman. I explained to her that forgiveness is like tearing up an I.O.U. Then I told her that she had two choices: either to forgive the debt or to continue carrying it around. When I handed her the bill, she didn’t wait for me to explain what to do with it–she ripped it up. As one counselor said, “It is easier to act our way into a new way of feeling than feel our way into a new way of acting.” We may not feel forgiveness when we take the step, but it often comes later.
Parents who realize they have caused a wound can, of course, aid in the process by asking forgiveness of their child.
3. WE RECEIVE FORGIVENESS FOR IMPERFECT RESPONSES.
We are not responsible for what people do to us, but we are responsible for our responses. One can understand why children carry anger toward parents who betray them. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect them. So St. Paul writes, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31). When we ask God to forgive us for our wrong responses to the hurts of others, He tenderizes our hearts, making them more open to Him and to others. Unforgiveness blocks us from God’s love. Many of those who struggle with receiving God’s love are carrying unforgiveness, and it locks up the heart. The blood of Jesus brings deep healing to the hurting. God “heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). It was prophesied of the Messiah that He would be sent “to bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1).
He accomplished it at the cross, where He was afflicted with a Father wound: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). His Father wound caused the blood to flow that cleanses guilty sinners and enables them to forgive others. Jesus died for the neglect of the killer’s dad, for the missionary’s desertion, and for our wrong responses. He was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted,” that the wounds we carry may be healed.
Clearly, we are not addressing the subject of father wounds so we can criticize bad parents; it is just the opposite–we know our own failures. So as we receive God’s grace, we are able to extend it to others who have wounded us. We walk as victors, not victims, when we freely forgive and receive forgiveness.
4. WE RECEIVE THE FATHER’S AFFIRMATION.
The Gospels record two times that the Father spoke affirmation from heaven to or about His Son. The first came before Jesus even began His public ministry. God is so affirming; people often aren’t. Many of the wounded are like flowers that have been stomped on and bruised; they need to be built back up, supported, encouraged. No one does this better than “the God of all encouragement.” As we learn to listen to His voice, not the voice of a guilty conscience, the voice of the accuser, or even the voice of other people, we experience the strength of His affirming love. When we clear away the debris of resentment and unforgiveness, we hear His words of love. He is like a good father who says to his children, “I am really proud of you. I enjoy being with you. You bring me much happiness. I’m glad you are in our family. Your obedience gives me joy.” The Father’s love far surpasses that of any earthly parent. Paul prays that we can come to understand its height, depth, breadth and length. Those being healed of father wounds are able to receive this love, and they grow to live in its daily delight.
Has your sin or sorrow made you distrust God’s love? He forgives, heals, and restores.
5. WE SEEK TO BE LIKE OUR FATHER.
Paul writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). We’ve heard it said before, “Hurt people hurt people.” It’s also true that loved people love people. We are the objects of our Father’s incredible love (literally, His “agapied” children). He is fascinated with us; He can’t get us out of His mind. He is like parents of a new-born, staring down in joy, delighting in each movement.
As we accept this kind of compassion into our wounded hearts, we are healed sufficiently to pass the same kind of love on to others. This pleases our Father, who longs to convince a broken world that He is a healing, saving God. And rather than struggling to make God love us because others don’t, we relax and receive. Then we are empowered by His grace to serve as instruments of His love, the love that wept over our pain and overcame it.
BREAKING FREE FROM STRONGHOLDS
By: Paul Anderson
Most of my kids were afraid of dogs as toddlers. Erikka was especially terrified by big barkers, and she would run to me for cover. But when she was on Daddy’s shoulders, she said in happy tone, “Hi, Doggy.” She had found safety. Moms and dads are often safe places for children; so is God. David found security in Him and wrote, “I love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield…my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1,2). David needed somewhere to run, and he experienced God to be a reliable place, so he praised Him for it and called God his stronghold.
THE WAY TO BONDAGE
Unfortunately, we don’t always go to our Father when we are fearful or in need. We find other hiding places. At first, they seem to be safe places. But eventually, what we thought was a refuge becomes a stronghold that imprisons us rather than freeing us, and this is the way St. Paul uses the term “stronghold” (2 Corinthians 10:4).
David went on to write, “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help” (v.6). He was being challenged by “the cords of death” and he was afraid. He could have said, “In my distress I attacked,” or “In my distress I panicked,” but he wrote, “In my distress I called upon the Lord.” He chose the right response and received a favorable solution to his fear: “He delivered me from my strong enemy…” (v.17). What if David had chosen a stronghold other than God? He might have been captured or killed. He found God to be the perfect fortress. He wrote elsewhere, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1b). David went from danger to deliverance, from entangled cords to a broad place.
And David knew why God protected him: “He delivered me, because he delighted in me” (v.18). David didn’t succumb to the lies of the enemy, like “God won’t protect you,” or “God isn’t watching out for you.” He embraced the truth, and the truth set him free. Clinging to lies robs us of freedom. They bring us into strongholds that look like safe places but are really prisons.
Life is full of barking dogs that intimidate us. We were created to rule, but when we dropped the scepter through sin, Satan picked it up and now comes against us. He was called by St. Paul “the prince of the power of the air.” Jesus called him “the ruler of this world.” I cannot survive on my own against him and his army; I need outside help. The place where I turn determines whether I will find freedom or bondage, victory or defeat. For one woman, she turned in the wrong direction.
Trapped in the stronghold of using food for consolation, Anna (not her real name) looked in the mirror at her bulging body and loathed herself, though she was a mature Christian with a good marriage and a leadership position in her Lutheran church. The loathing was so painful that she compared herself to everyone she saw, looking for bodies that were more out of shape than hers. She engaged in a frantic search for clothes that disguised her size, but hardly anything did. The reflection in the mirror worked constantly to convince her that she was of less value than thin people, and Satan used every trick to limit her capacity to serve the Lord with confidence and joy. “They’ll remember when you were thin and gossip about how you’ve let yourself go.” “You can’t wear the latest styles—they make you look like a whale.” The cost of focusing on her image usually sent her back to the refrigerator to coat the pain with another root beer float or piece of pizza. My wife and I had no idea that our friend Anna was in such a prison.
A STRONGHOLD IS…
.something I run to instead of God. It is what I turn to when weak or in pain. I need a safe place in times of discomfort. As a child, I may not know how to run to God. A stronghold is a God-substitute, something I trust in for help. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord” (Isaiah 31:1). Anna learned to run to food. Others may run to religion or sleep or alcohol.
.a lie I continue to believe. Because I am vulnerable, I don’t realize that I am embracing a lie. It worked once, so I continue to try it. A lie is Satan’s domain. He is, according to Jesus, “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). When I accept a lie, I am dropping the belt of truth and I leave myself open to attack. The devil uses the lie to bring accusation, intimidation, and deception.
.something I don’t like talking about. It shames and embarrasses me, so I hide. A stronghold makes me feel like a wimp, because I seem powerless to break free from it. So I am afraid to talk about it with others, since it exposes me, makes me feel small, and condemns me, like it did for Anna.
.a secret, and sometimes I don’t even know the secret. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…” (I John 1:8). A stronghold may fool others, but it eventually fools me. It puts me in a place of self-deception. Satan’s number one weapon is deception (notice the battlefield—the mind). I make excuses for myself without realizing it. I blame others to keep the light from shining in my face and revealing the truth. I am in denial about my situation because I am ashamed.
.part of my identity. “I am the overweight person.” “I am a worry-wart.” “I am angry with life because of what my father did.” “I am the divorced person who is not loved.” “I am afraid and I always will be.” A stronghold defines me, locking me into my past and blocking me from a hopeful future.
.a prison that is difficult to get out of. At first I run to the stronghold because it seems like a safe place to hide from pain. Eventually it becomes a prison that keeps me bound up, so that I cannot escape even if I want to. I am addicted to my stronghold. It started out as a friend, but it has become an enemy. Sin is both choice and bondage, a decision I make as well as a prison from which I cannot escape. Once the pattern is established, it is difficult to act in another way.
.a terrible place to hide. It robs me of peace, joy, and freedom. It makes me a slave, when I am called to freedom in Christ. It puts me in the darkness, when I am called to be a child of the light. It takes things that could be a blessing and turns them into a curse, like food or a friend or even church.
.a habit pattern of thinking that affects behavior. The way I think is the way I will live. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). To break a stronghold, one must change the way of thinking, or as St. Paul wrote, “…take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
EXAMPLES OF STRONGHOLDS (and the destructive lies that sometimes accompany them)
Perfectionism (I’ll be okay if I do everything right. Then I will have earned my points).
Anger (People make me upset. I have a right to get mad. I wouldn’t pop off if people were different).
Self-pity (No one understands me; no one appreciates me. I’m all by myself).
Lust (I need a high right now, a moment of harmless pleasure).
Work (I am valuable because I am a hard worker; people need to appreciate me).
Religion (I am a devout person. I have value to God because I go to church and serve others).
Sickness (Now people will care about me; now they will feel sorry for me. See John 5:1-15).
Withdrawal (I’ll be okay if I can just disappear, if no one sees me).
Food (I’ll be happy if I can just eat something. Food will comfort me).
Rejection (People always reject me. They don’t think I am worth anything, so I’ll reject them).
Bitterness (He ruined my life, and I’ll never recover. If only he had not been so mean).
Depression (She robbed me of hope. I have nothing to live for).
Emotional detachment (They can’t hurt me. I’ll be okay. Just leave me alone).
Lying (It’s all their fault. I’ve always done the best I could).
Co-dependency (He does have his problems, but he needs me).
Fantasy (I dream of the perfect body, the perfect home, so I can live with my imperfect one).
Worry (I’ll think about it so that I can’t sleep).
Materialism (I am of value because of what I own).
The lies start as single thoughts, but they can eventually become destructive behavior. The lies are used to prop up a fragile self-image rather than repent and turn to the truth in Christ. It’s all right to keep an immaculate house, but if I use it to bolster my ego, I am believing a lie. If I wear five rings on my fingers to prove I have worth, I am really saying that I have been devalued. Wearing the rings may keep me from facing up with the truth and coming into real freedom.
LIES I’VE HEARD SATAN TELL
Because Satan is the father of lies, he has an idea of which ones I will tend to believe. Some of them have enough truth in them to make a believer out of me. He wants me to accept his lies, because he hates Christ with an unholy passion and doesn’t want me to find freedom in Christ and bring Him glory. He hates Christ with an unholy passion. This mental warfare is more about Christ than about me.
“You should not be teaching Sunday School. You’re not a good Christian.”
“You’re not beautiful.” “You’re dumb.” “You’re ugly.”
“God is angry with you for what you did as a child.”
“Most people have three times the talent you have.”
“God has abandoned you.”
“The only thing to do now is to run.”
“You’re far better at that than he/she is. Only problem is—people don’t know it.”
“You aren’t appreciated much. You are being neglected.”
“God isn’t hearing your prayers. And He doesn’t speak to you like He speaks to others.”
“You should probably tell Martha about that problem with Jane.”
“You’re overweight and everyone knows it.”
“If you just tried a little harder, you would be more worthy of God’s grace.”
“You don’t fit in anywhere. Why try?”
“You make people uncomfortable.”
“You’re demon-possessed. You’re going crazy. You’re getting more nervous. Just look at your hands.”
“You’re going to lose your job. Just watch.”
“Your spouse is having an affair.”
“There’s no harm in it. It won’t hurt you—at least not one time.” “Everybody’s doing it.”
“You’ll never have a good devotional time with God. You’ve tried before. It doesn’t work for you.”
“You are a failure and you’ll probably die that way.”
“People notice that there’s something wrong with you. You’re just not like other people.”
“Church members sometimes talk about you—and it’s not complimentary.”
“God speaks to people. He just doesn’t speak to you.”
“You’ll never get victory over that sin.”
“God is usually disappointed with your performance.”
“You’re too old. Let the young people do it.”
“You’re the only one who can do this the right way.” “If you don’t do this, no one will.”
WHY A STRONGHOLD IMPRISONS ME
.I get locked in to a way of thinking and find it hard to break the mental cycle. (“I’ve always been afraid of heights”…”of getting up in front of people”…”of praying aloud.”)
.I often learn the habit early in life. I may have been thinking this way or doing this for many years. It seems so much a part of who I am that I feel helpless to change.
.I can trust God for many things, but I find it difficult to trust Him in the area of my stronghold. I have little faith because I have experienced defeat so often.
.Demons sometimes attach themselves to strongholds, making me a prisoner to the enemy.
.Wounds from the past often accompany strongholds, which heighten the pain and the shame.
FALSE ATTEMPTS TO BREAK FREE FROM A STRONGHOLD
.Resolutions. ”I should stop doing this.” They usually have little power to break a stronghold.
.Extra effort, but often in an area where I don’t need deliverance. In my deception, I sometimes cover up a stronghold by concentrating elsewhere.
.Prayer, which often has little effect on a stronghold, but people may pray over their stronghold for a lifetime. They hope for change but they don’t expect it. That is why deliverance prayer from someone else is often needed to break the power of a stronghold.
.Religion. I do something out of duty to earn points and convince God to bless me. I have sometimes felt under a curse and do good things to dig myself out of my hole.
.Criticism. I concentrate on the faults of others to deflect attention from myself. I can’t stand being in the light, so I judge others to look better. Like Anna, I have a low self-image, and I bolster it up by unkind thoughts and words.
.Self-punishment. I get down on myself for being so stupid, for giving in to my addiction. I condemn myself, lash out at myself, call myself names (Dummy, Ugly, Unworthy, Evil…).
.Denial. As a friend once said, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.” A stronghold brings so much shame that it sets me on a course of defensiveness, deception, denial, and darkness. The Pharisees were religious people who knew much of the Scriptures in their heads, but they were oblivious to their own bondage. They announced to Jesus, “We have never been in bondage to anyone.”
THE WAY TO FREEDOM
1. I identify the stronghold. If I have lived with deception for years, this may be difficult. One way to identify a stronghold is to complete the sentence: I’ll be okay if I ___________ (run and hide…pity myself for my predicament…lash out in anger…get some food to comfort me…criticize everyone else…take another drink…go to church…try a little harder…blame myself for everything…give up…keep worrying relentlessly…do it perfectly).
2. I confess my attachment to the stronghold. I confess that I have run to this stronghold instead of to God. I have trusted something other than God for security, safety, pleasure, or hope. I acknowledge that I have believed Satan more than God, a lie more than the truth. I have rejected Jesus, who is the truth, by embracing a lie. “Dear Father, forgive me for making excuses for my sinful behavior. I realize that what I have done has hurt you, others, and myself. I confess my pride, my fear of being hurt by people, my overly sensitive emotions, my propensity for defending myself rather than the truth.”
3. I renounce the lies. A baptismal liturgy reads, “I renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.” Another translation says, “I renounce all the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises.” I acknowledge that Satan has never made good on any promise of comfort, well-being, or safety. I refuse to accept the lies any longer. I repudiate them in the name of Jesus. Breaking free from a stronghold is an act of aggression, a declaration of war. I say boldly, “I renounce my dependency upon the stronghold of __________ in my life.” The battlefield is the mind, the place where the enemy has taken me captive with lies. St. Paul reminds us that “the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5). My thoughts had been taken captive to Satan. I break that old cycle in the authority of Jesus, refusing to give it credibility any longer. I declare lies to be just that: Alcohol (or any bondage) is not my salvation—God is. I am not rejected—I am accepted and cherished by the Lord of life. I destroy the arguments of the enemy and bring my thoughts captive to Christ. What I really need is Christ, not porn or a drink or an escape or control or pity. I renounce vows I have made to protect myself (“I will never speak about this again.” “I’ll never trust anyone again after being hurt.” “I will get even”).
4. I forgive others. Because wounding often accompanies strongholds, I forgive those who have rejected, hurt, abused, or manipulated me. Without forgiving, I cannot be free from a stronghold. According to Jesus, I will stay locked in torment until I release people for what they have done (Matthew 18:34). Forgiving them does not mean they have not hurt me or are not accountable for what they have done. It means that I will not demand repayment in my heart or continually hold them guilty before God. I will not take personal vengeance. I leave that to a merciful and just God. “In Jesus’ name I forgive those who have hurt me (name them). I ask Jesus to heal me of the wounds in my life.”
5. I affirm the truth. I cannot break free on my own. I need the Strong Man to bring me into freedom. I have believed lies. Now I choose to live by the truth of God’s Word. I daily read the Scriptures, so that my mind is washed in words of truth. I speak truth into my heart: “I am free in Jesus Christ. God is bringing me victory. He is making me an overcomer. God loves me and accepts me in Jesus. He is cherishes me and looking out for me. I have a rich future in Jesus Christ. I have hope that no one can take from me. Because God loves me, I love myself, and I freely love others.”
6. I receive deliverance. Christians can be oppressed by demons, especially when they habitually open themselves to attack by embracing lies, putting them in enemy territory. Deliverance is needed to break the cycle and set prisoners free. And so we pray (for ourselves or for others): “In the strong name of Jesus I command all spiritual powers that have been associated with this stronghold of __________ to leave. They no longer have any power over me. I lay rightful claim to my freedom in Jesus Christ. I choose to make Him my stronghold. I break any generational tie that has given me a propensity toward this stronghold. I release its hold on me by the power of the blood of Christ.”
Anna recognized that she was caught in a web that seriously threatened her ability to live in the truth of God’s love and acceptance. Prayer for deliverance was the way to free her of the distractions that kept her from maximum service to the Lord. In our prayers for her, Anna saw the legacy of anger and disapproval that seeped through generations of her family and continued to bind her to sources of comfort that bankrupted her self-image, peace, and ultimately, her relationship with a loving heavenly Father. Strongholds from previous generations needed to be broken to give her the freedom the Lord had always desired for her.
7. I am filled with the Holy Spirit. I ask to be filled with the Spirit. I learn a new way of living. I discover that the Christian life is not trying harder but trusting more. I rely on the power of the indwelling Spirit to obey God. I learn new ways of thinking, which affects how I act. I know God loves me and is giving me power to overcome the darkness that has been in my life. I find strength to obey. I choose to serve rather than to survive. I understand that freedom is a walk rather than a hop, a process rather than an event. I experience increasing liberty as I apply the truth of God’s Word to my life.
GOD IS FAITHFUL
Every year during football season Lucy promises to hold the ball. Charlie Brown makes her pledge that she will not move it. He reminds her that she has tricked him many times. She vows, “Never again.” Naive as ever, Charlie charges toward the ball. Just before his foot makes contact, she pulls it away. He back-flips in the air and wipes out. When he protests, she chides him for believing in the human race.
Life teaches people to distrust. When divorce took a ten-year old boy from his mom, she promised often she’d be by. He finally learned not to expect her. When he is told later in life to trust in God, he may say, “Prove it.” Most people are born idealists. Cynicism comes along as a way of coping.
Infidelity trumps faithfulness in popularity. Politicians aren’t alone in making and breaking promises. You would hope that Christians would have an edge on responsibility. After a retreat in California, a woman from our church sent me a letter bemoaning irresponsibility: “Many people excuse themselves from meeting deadline dates, registrations, and donations without considering the inconvenience on others.”
It’s not a new problem. Solomon asked, “A faithful man who can find?” (Prov.20:6). And David wrote, “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men” (Psalm 12:1). All the more reason to look at the unchanging faithfulness of the Lord.
GOD IS FAITHFUL.
Faithful is the way God is. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). He is clothed with faithfulness (Isaiah 11:5). He has never missed an appointment, arrived late, or gone back on his agreement.
HE IS FAITHFUL TO HIS WORD. The Bible testifies that “the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised” (Genesis 21:1). Joshua told the Israelites, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled” (Joshua 23:l4).
Fulfilled prophecy reflects on a God who keeps his word. He said through Isaiah that “a virgin will conceive and bear a son and you will call his name Emmanuel.” 700 years later Mary birthed the Savior. I remember making an agreement with one of my children, hoping he would forget so I didn’t have to make good on my offer. My words stand in stark contrast to the unfailing faithfulness of God. “Let God be true, though every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).
GOD IS FAITHFUL IN HIS LOVE. Moses said, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is a faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations…” (Deut. 7:9). And Jeremiah wrote, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22,23).
HE IS FAITHFUL TO FINISH. I have books I’ve not finished, projects I’ve not completed, and so do you. Not God. Paul wrote his Philippian friends, “I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians l:6). His benediction to the Thessalonian saints says, “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (I Thess. 5:24).
HE IS FAITHFUL TO FORGIVE. God’s word promises: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John l:9).
HE IS FAITHFUL TO PROTECT. St. Paul told Christians, “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one” (II Thessalonians 3:3). When we get into difficult circumstances, he will give us a way out: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13b).
And what does God’s faithfulness call us to?
l) FAITH. Many of us have been let down by family and friends. We wonder, “Who can I trust?” The answer: You can trust God. He will never let you down. That is why the Bible says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews l0:23). Sarah “considered him faithful who had made the promise” (Heb. 11:11).
2) FAITHFULNESS. God calls us to share his character. “Moses was faithful in all God’s house” (Heb. 3:2). Daniel’s accusers “could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Dan. 6:4). Paul reminds us that “it is required that those who have been give a trust must prove faithful” (I Cor. 4:2). This is not short-term loyalty but obedience to the ultimate: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:l0). Jesus said that “whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke l6:l0). Faith-fulness does not start with grandiose visions but with paying the bills, returning what we borrowed, cleaning the kitchen when no one knows who messed it up, being kind to people we suspect may not like us.
Our faithfulness grows as we trust in a faithful God. Faith breeds faithfulness. It comes less by the grit of the teeth than surrender of the heart. The more we are looking to a faithful God, the more we will walk in his ways. The Spirit produces the fruit, and he can work faithfulness in you. Day and night God is proving his faithfulness to us in many more ways than we can see. We proclaim with Jeremiah, “Great is thy faithfulness.” And as we do, we grow in faithfulness.
MAKING A PRAYER LIST
By: Paul Anderson
I have been a slow learner with prayer. I often find it hard work. But at the age of 70, it is a bit easier than in earlier years. One thing that has really helped is a…
Prayer list. You’d think it would get boring to pray for the same things over and over again. It seldom does. It keeps me on track, because I easily wander. It is better for me than winging it. Not every item grabs me, but something always does, and not the same item each day.
Ever leave your prayer time wondering if you covered what you were “supposed” to? Not anymore for me. Hardly ever. And when a friend asks for prayer, I remember, as long as I add it to my prayer agenda. With a prayer list, my time feels more like a meeting than a random happening. God and I are doing business. Our meeting usually takes place the first thing in the morning.
A time later in the day is used for listening. Then God shares with me what is on His list! Paper and pen are at hand to jot down His concerns and priorities. I am sometimes surprised at how eventful that half hour can be. God talks—our job is to listen. I’m not good at teaching people how to do it, but one thing I say is, “Quit talking.” I try to let the Spirit guide my thoughts—and He does!
An acronym helps keep the focus. The morning starts with…
PRAISE, because we are encouraged to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Ps. 100:4). Pressing issues may trump this, as it often did for David in the Psalms (“Why?” or “Help!”), but the focus usually starts with God, as the Lord’s Prayer invites us to. A list of qualities of God helps to keep the flow, and the list expands periodically. One of them often catches my attention, so I stop and reflect, sometimes for the full worship agenda. A list of things to thank God for comes next and stays surprisingly fresh, even though it begins with thanks for trials, tests, tension and conflict. It then moves to more positive things like the new earth, open doors, and answered prayer.
WHAT GOD IS: Loving, invisible, eternal, righteous, just, forgiving, generous, faithful, sovereign, good, purposeful, unchanging, accessible, helpful, powerful, predictable
WHAT GOD DOES: forgive, justify, sanctify, glorify, seat us in heavenlies, rule and
overrule, discipline, enable, motivate, restrain, encourage, comfort, support, exhort
THANKSGIVING: trials, tests, tension, conflict, time, abiding, opportunities, new earth, open doors, healing, answered prayer, music, home, ministry, friends.
When Isaiah had a vision of the Lord “seated on a throne,” he heard angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” But then he said, “Woe is me.” When we picture the holiness of God, we are more prepared to confess our unholiness. So after I praise God, I…
REPENT. As a young man I got tripped up by sin-consciousness, thinking the more I thought about sin the better off I was. It didn’t work. We are changed by what we believe and what we behold. If we believe that we are dead to sin as Romans 6 teaches, we are. And if we gaze on Jesus rather than our sin, we are transformed (2 Cor. 3:18). As someone has said, “It’s about the Son, not the sin.”
So I don’t spend a long time here, but I have a list of sins that can trip me up. Confessing the whole list whether I am conscious of stepping over the line or not helps to keep me self-aware: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12).
Waste time, undisciplined, lack of passion, unloving, insensitive, uncaring, judgmental, critical, anxious, fearful, doubtful, self-conscious, overbearing, presumptuous, opinionated, stubborn, easily offended, unbelieving, careless, tolerant, selfish, unmerciful. Neglectful in witness Bible reading, listening, dying.
Sometimes as I go over the list, I remember a time when a corrective word came with too much force, so a confession is made for not being gentle. Once I have confessed, I can see more clearly and I am ready to…
ASK, the longest part of the prayer agenda. It includes asking for self, family, friends, people in my ministry, other ministries, the sick, pastors, missionaries, unsaved, special needs, and a few other concerns. Each item has specific names or needs, and some of the lists are long, like people who need healing. This is the part of the prayer agenda that changes most often. (Thank God for computers). Once I have presented all these needs and requests to our gracious Father, I am prepared to…
YIELD. I yield my time, resources, body, energy, plans, mind, heart, attitudes, goals, decisions, happiness, sorrows, opinions, problems, prejudices, weaknesses, sins, pain, struggles, anxieties, hopes, dreams, fears, regrets, failures, family, day, future, destiny to the Lord (Rom. 6:16-23). I want to think God’s thoughts, speak His words, and do His deeds, so as I yield up these areas to God, my mind is being renewed.
You might try using a prayer list and see if it works for you. It does for me, though sometimes I don’t use it, especially if on what I call a walky-talky. Two more things to consider: have a set time and place. We schedule what we are serious about.
I THANK GOD I SPEAK IN TONGUES MORE THAN ALL OF YOU!
By: Paul Anderson
Paul wasn’t bragging. He had simply discovered the great benefit of tongues and wanted to urge others on. If I said to my family, “I exercise more than all of you,” I would be encouraging them to do what I have found valuable. If the greatest apostle who ever lived uncovered some of the secrets of the mystery of tongues, wouldn’t you want to unwrap them as well? We have yet to experience all the hidden blessings from this gift, so let’s go for it.
When Clint, one of the leaders in our young adult community, spoke about purity with the guys, he finished his message with an exhortation to speak in tongues for blocks of time. I had never done that before. I repented for devaluing the gift and chose to exercise it much more. Here are some of the benefits I have observed in this season:
Speaking in tongues…
Awakens the spirit. We can easily grow passive in prayer—and in faith. Aggressive speaking (and sometimes it is good to raise our voices) calls our spirits into action and keeps us from a debilitating paralysis. We can easily go to sleep in prayer (when quiet times get really quiet), both in a physical and spiritual way. Jesus spoke strong words close to His death about the importance of keeping alert. The gift of tongues helps us stay sober and awake.
Bypasses the mind. When our mind must be engaged in other duties, such as driving, we can still speak in tongues and build ourselves up. Speaking in tongues allows us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions” (Eph. 6:18), as we are admonished to do. That exhortation was given in the context of spiritual warfare. We can fight the fight of faith, for ourselves and for others, while involved in other activities. Talk about redeeming the time!
The gift of tongues stirs the spirit. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful” (v. 14). Our mind sometimes gets in the way of the Spirit’s work. Speaking in tongues calls the spirit into service, so Paul encourages both kinds of prayer.
Paul writes, “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind” (14:15). We face the liability as we grow up and let go of childish ways and also relinquish childlike ways. Speaking in tongues is for children, not for adults. It disarms us, reduces us, even humiliates us. It cannot be accomplished through sophisticated adult mental analysis. That, in fact, will inhibit us from ever speaking in tongues. So one way that we can “become like little children,” as Jesus admonishes us, is to speak in tongues. Kids are good at simply making up sounds, and I encourage those who have trouble receiving this gift to makes sounds like a little child does. And because speaking in tongues is a childlike activity, it also helps us to take a humble posture before God.
I often pray with people who want to speak in tongues. The greatest hindrance to receiving it is simply not opening one’s mouth and making sounds. People fear making anything up, so they sit in paralyzed silence. I tell them as I told a pastor friend recently, “The Bible is a divine and human book. Jesus is a divine and human Man. To emphasize one side and not the other is to move into heresy. And the gifts of the Spirit are both divine and human. We decide when to open our mouths and speak. Scripture says that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). We do the speaking, and the Spirit does the enabling. So I encouraged my friend to do his part and begin to speak, assuring him that he would not be out of order; in fact, he would be participating in the gift. When he did, the language came quickly. After praying for a while, he stopped and said, “For a long time I’ve been hearing the phrases in my mind that I was just speaking.” Amazing! He had truly received the gift when he asked for it years before. He simply needed to open his mouth and begin. It has been my experience that when people are willing to go for it in this way, they enter into the gift quite readily.
Increases revelation. I find that I am more open to hearing the Lord’s voice after I have exercised my spirit through tongues. Paul wrote, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy” (I Cor. 14:5). The fact that he encourages us to speak in tongues in private and prophesy in public suggests that the more we speak in tongues and build up our spirits, the more prepared we will be for prophesying, and the experience of many confirms this. Some think that what Paul was saying is, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, and all the more in order that you may prophesy.”
Builds up the one speaking. Paul wrote, “He who speaks in tongues edifies himself” (14:4), and I don’t know of anyone who is overdosing on encouragement. The more we are built up, the more we are stimulating spiritual activity. We are standing in readiness both to encourage others as well as to fight our adversary. If it is true that we are built up by speaking in tongues, then the more we engage in this activity, the stronger we are. We need to take it on faith and practice this remarkable body-building gift.
Some Truths about the gift of tongues.
It is prayer. Paul says that “anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God” (I Cor. 14:2). This gift provides more versatility to the serious person of prayer who wants to increase the arsenal of spiritual warfare.
We are told to desire it. To say that we desire prophecy more than tongues does not mean that we reduce our desire for tongues. I love fruit, vegetables, salad, meat, and bread for a full evening meal. To say that I enjoy the meat more than the vegetables does not reduce their value. They go together and complement one another. Tongues and prophecy are complementary gifts. Speaking in tongues prepares us to prophesy. And according to Paul, our desire for the spiritual gifts is compatible with God’s sovereign designation of gift-giving. He “gives them to each one, just as he determines” (I Cor. 12:11), but that divine purpose works in concert with human desire. Our very desire can indicate God’s designation.
The gift of tongues is a mystery. “No one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit” (v. 2). Children of faith unlock the mysteries of the Spirit, and the gift of tongues is a manifestation of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:7).
The gift of tongues is given “for the common good.” Though it builds up the one practicing it, that action also builds the body. The stronger each marriage partner is, the stronger the marriage. The stronger each individual part of the house, the stronger the house. You are doing the body of Christ a favor by getting as healthy as you can.
A tongue interpreted is like a prophecy. “He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified” (v. 5). The church is built up by prophecies that they understand. They are given for “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (v. 3). An interpreted tongue serves the same purposes, and the net result is the same—edification. Paul is correcting the Corinthians because they were speaking in tongues but not prophesying, so he was encouraging this higher gift. Let’s not ignore the value of a tongue and interpretation in our worship life.
The gift of tongues is more for private than for public use. “In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (v. 19). This does not mean that speaking or singing in tongues during corporate worship is out of order. It happened when the Spirit fell at Pentecost and after.
The gifts must be exercised with the fruit. Tongues must cause us to go low, to consider others more important. If it creates pride, independence, or lack of concern for others, we are devaluing the gift (I Cor. 13:1-3).
The gift of tongues is perfect. “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (Js. 1:17). To say that tongues is the least of the gifts does not diminish its importance. Gideon called himself the least in his family, the weakest clan in Manasseh (Judges 6:15). David was the least in his family in terms of order. God loves to choose the least to do the best, as He chose Paul, who by his own designation was the least of the apostles. The liver is less important than the brain but is absolutely essential for life.
My friend Robert Walter was speaking about the gift of tongues. He quoted from James that “no man can tame the tongue” (Js. 3:8). Quite a revealing statement. He said that God’s answer to our inability is to give us a gift in which the tongue is not only tamed but called into action to offer prayer and thanksgiving to God. Just like God to use our human weakness to bring forth perfect praise.
Could you imagine God giving a gift that is mediocre rather than perfect? God did not give us eight gifts of the Spirit that are worth going after and one gift that does not compare to the others. Everything He gives brings the mark of perfection on it. We can easily diminish any of God’s good gifts by lack of understanding. Paul writes that “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” (I Cor. 12:22,23). Do we dare degrade a gift of God by calling it a lesser gift? If you lost your toe, you might need to learn how to walk all over again. I say to my own shame that I am only beginning to appreciate the rich value of the gift that I received more than four decades ago. I hope that you are a better steward than I have been.
I know there are many other reasons for the gift that we have yet to unlock. It enhances our worship, strengthens our resolve to fully Christ wholeheartedly, and enables us to intercede effectively when we do not know how to pray. Recently as I was speaking in tongues in the morning, I felt the Lord saying, “This gift helps us endure suffering, build faith, and keep away sickness.” What other discoveries are we going to make as we are wise stewards of a rich gift?!
HOW TO RECEIVE THE GIFT OF PRAYING/SPEAKING IN TONGUES
By: Paul Anderson
God doesn’t give us a manual on the gifts of the Spirit. He gives us history, the experiences of people interacting with God, and theology, the explanation of those experiences. So to understand and receive gifts of the Spirit, we look both at peoples’ experiences and the Bible’s explanations.
We need to demystify the gifts of the Spirit to make them more accessible to us. When people with mature prophetic gifts used to come to our conferences, they would call out people and give them spot-on messages, to the amazement of listeners. But the response in their hearts was, “I could never do that.” That is, until we began bringing prophetically gifted people with a greater desire to release the gift than to exercise it. When they taught people how to do it rather than simply demonstrating it, and even gave them experiences to practice it, the people (including my children!) said, “I could do that.” The gift of prophecy was no longer for the elite but for the elect!
To demystify the gift of tongues, we need to know something and do something. Jesus is the divine-human Savior. He isn’t half of one and half of the other. He is fully God and fully Man. In like manner, the Bible is a divine-human book. As a divine book it is the message of God to humanity. It is without error because God is not subject to error. We are told that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). But it is also a human book. The personality of Luke is revealed in the books he wrote. And a different personality and style are revealed in John’s writing. The Bible is not so divine as to obliterate the individualities of the authors.
In the same way, the gifts of the Spirit are divine and human. They are divine in that those who exercise them are revealing the Holy Spirit, not themselves. Paul says that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given…” (I Corinthians 12:6). Peter writes that “if anyone speaks [prophecy], he should do it as one speaking the very words of God…” (I Peter 4:11).
But the gifts are also human. The Holy Spirit does not speak in tongues—people do: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). Paul tells us that “if a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith” (Romans 12:6), suggesting that the gift matures as faith grows. We have a part to play. Faith has lips and legs; it says something and does something. We are called co-workers with God, and we see this clearly in the exercise of spiritual gifts. We are people of faith, not of fate. Fate says, “Whatever will be will be,” while faith makes us participants, not robots of the arbitrary and ironclad will of a distant deity. We actually make a difference.
And this affects not only how we exercise the gifts but also how we receive them. Our very desire has something to do with what we receive; otherwise Paul would not tell us twice to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (I Cor. 12:31; 14:1). There is a beautiful dance between heaven and earth, and our desires are not incompatible with divine will. The Spirit gives the gifts as He determines (I Corinthians 12:11), but our pursuit of the gifts is factored into the plans of the Almighty. So rather than saying, “I’m open to whatever God wants to give me,” a more appropriate and biblical response would be, “I am eager for the gifts of the Spirit, and I really want to prophesy.”
So I encourage people to take steps of faith in receiving the gift of tongues, not to sit passively with their mouths shut. My experience is that when people open their mouths and begin to speak words while at the same time shutting down their native language, God takes those sounds and turns them into a language. People sometimes ask, “What words and what sounds?” My response: “It doesn’t matter. Be a child and babble if you must. That is expressing faith in a God who wants to give you the gift of tongues.”
It is not uncommon for God to ask us to make the first move. He told the priests to step into the water when they were carrying the ark, and when they did, the waters would part (Joshua 3). Had they said, “We’re not moving until the waters recede,” their passivity would have cancelled out the miracle. In like manner, our passivity with regard to the gift of tongues may preclude our receiving it.
We are not offending God nor blaspheming the Spirit, as some might think, by trying. When a child attempts to walk and fails, the family standing by cheers on the struggling infant. When we make attempts at what we understand to be the will of God, rather than insulting Him, we are blessing Him. James wrote, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (4:8). In other words, take the first step of faith, and watch God take a step. Don’t wait silently until God does something, or you might be waiting at the riverbank a long time. This is not a time for passivity but for eager desire that motivates action. Faith pleases God. Opening our mouths and uttering something (anything), rather than testing the God who offers the gifts, is reaching up to receive what the generous heart of the Father chooses to give.
“Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), and dead faith is no faith. The greatest block to receiving tongues is passivity, just like one of the greatest hindrances to faith is non-activity. The part we play with the gift of healing may be to ask a friend if we can pray for him or to stretch out our hand and touch someone’s sore shoulder. Our part in the gift of prophecy is to open our mouths and speak the words that God begins to put into our mind. Our part in receiving tongues is to open our mouths and begin speaking unintelligible words. As we do, we are trusting the Gift-giver to turn it into a language of praise. And millions of people could testify that He does just that!
TONGUES—THE “LESSER” GIFT
By: Paul Anderson
Right. What is the less of perfection? The brother of Jesus knew: “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). Lesser, like five billion is less than five billion twenty. It is lesser in the sense that in corporate worship, prophecy is more valuable.
Some may choose to bypass the lesser gift for a greater gift like prophecy. They miss the point. Tongues prepares us to prophesy. It build us up so we are not focused on ourselves and can build others up: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (I Cor. 14:4).
If the apostles started with tongues when the Spirit fell, that’s not a bad place for us to begin: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). The same pattern occurred two more times as the Spirit fell in Caesarea and Ephesus.
Most of us need to confess to having stewarded this perfect gift poorly. We are weak and need the gift of tongues to build us up. We succumb to discouragement without the comfort of the Holy Spirit. We give in to frustration, resentment, taking up offenses, or biting back with sarcastic words. Our flesh needs to be crucified because it will never be Christianized. Our spirit needs to be built up. And tongues serves us well for that.
It awakens our spirit because we are prone to drowsiness in the early morning. We are tempted with passivity in the face of tests and tension. We need a fighting spirit, and tongues comes to our aid. Who wouldn’t want to be offering to God perfect pray and praise consistently? Who wouldn’t want his or her spirit being built up?
We sometimes find the Scriptures hard to understand, though we know that God reveals His truth to the babes, not the brilliant. Tongues enable us to receive revelation.
But here’s the deal: We can’t tell that our spirits are being built up. It is not an emotional experience. We must take it by faith. But that is what we must do with prayer in English, and in fact, with everything in the Christian life. “Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). So faith invites us to a regular and frequent use of the marvelous gift of tongues, strengthening the inner man, giving God what He deserves, linking up with heaven, and opening the door to many other gifts of the indwelling Spirit.
We have yet to unlock the joys and benefits of speaking in tongues. I just heard recently that at a drug center they were striking out until they prayed for the gift of tongues and used it consistently. It brought deliverance and freedom. I am convinced that depression will leave under the persistent use of this gift.
If the veteran apostles uncovered rich treasures from a generous use of the gift of tongues, should not we want to discover its value as well? Rather than discounting the gift because of our lack of experience, far better to expect rich dividends from a gift of heaven and begin to search diligently for them by exercising it in faith. Jesus marveled at two things—great faith and the lack of it. I would not want to hear God rebuke me as I entered heaven, “You devalued a gift I gave to you to strengthen your inner man, increase prophetic awareness, facilitate more effective intercession, and open the door to other gifts. Why didn’t you use it more?” I would rather hear Him say, “I gave it to you, and you were a good steward of it!”
By: Paul Anderson
My wife and I watched a documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was one of the few Lutheran pastors who saw through the optimistic vision of the rising Third Reich. The Church had been humiliated after World War I, and now it was gaining a new acceptance with the state. The vision of unity fogged their eyes to the corrupt values they adopted. Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested as a conspirator, and even though Berlin was crushed by the Allied Army, he was ordered to be hanged.
I was stirred by the blindness of religious people and reflected on whether such deception could happen again. In fact, it will, and of much greater proportion with the antichrist, and for the same reason. A glorious vision of world peace, promised and accomplished, complete with signs and wonders, will cause a believing world to overlook demonic values. So we must understand that…
VALUES PRECEDE VISION
Vision gives direction; values give stability. Vision answers the question of where; values answer the question of how. Vision drives the mission, while values give motivation for the mission. Vision without values leads to abuse, as in the case of Hitler. Values without vision leads to passivity. Some organizations are great at the process, but they are unable to deliver the product. They have good values; they just don’t get anything done. Others focus so much on the product that they abuse the process. For them, the end justifies the means. What they don’t realize is that the means become the end. They forget Paul’s words that is almost too obvious to state, “A man reaps what he sows.” If you sow discord while focusing intently on the vision and expect unity, you are just as deceived as if you sowed potatoes expecting to harvest corn.
The importance of vision rose on the radar screen in the eighties, urging churches to adopt a vision statement. It came as a corrective to church work that lacked a sense of mission. But another word must be joined to vision, and that is values. Vision flows out of, not into, values. You must know who you are and what you value in order to establish an appropriate vision, just as ministry grows out of relationship, not vice versa. Lyle Schaller said that “the most important single element of any corporate, congregational, or denominational culture…is the value system.”
Values don’t change, vision does. Values are non-negotiable; they are deal breakers. Vision without values can lead to deception. Values without vision means no leading. We have tended to emphasize vision over values, functions over relationships, what we do before what we are. If someone asks you about your church, you probably say something about the programs, the preaching, the worship life. More important is the level of unity or the health of relationships, but they are less likely to appear on the screen. Leaders are sometimes chosen because of their skills (how they function) rather than their character (who they are): “Jerry is not real mature, but he’s great with finances.” When the focus is on function, expediency overtakes integrity.
Vision is often overrated, while values are underplayed. Vision is the gift of healing; value is the fruit of love. The pastor needs a teacher for the Junior High program starting in three days and calls Harvey: “I know you hate kids, but we’re desperate.” Is he running the program or is it running him? He is willing to compromise values for the product. His product just became the skewed values. That is what he planted, and there is no way to reap anything else.
The definition of the church that I grew up hearing is a functional one: it is where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. Jesus gives us a relational definition: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” The Bible puts far more emphasis on relationships than on functions. Where relationships are divinely ordered, functions flow properly. To have a passion to get things done but not a passion for relationships eventually means that less gets done. Not surprising, then, that when Paul lists standards for leadership in the church, twelve of the fourteen (maybe thirteen) relate to values rather than skills. Which is easier, teaching accounting principles to a new bookkeeper or teaching a defensive person not to take up an offense?
The function or purpose of an organization is important to have in view, but only when people drive them and are not driven by them. A father who neglects his kids to accomplish his goals is being driven, and values are being compromised. Getting a bigger vision will cause his values to decrease even more. At some point you or I will be praying for his children who have suffered neglect at the expense of a father who flew with one wing—and the plane crashed!
Let’s see how important relational Christianity really is and whether it exists in your church and mine.
THE CHURCH IS MODELED AFTER THE HOME
The home is the first institution created by God. The Church is the first institution of the new creation. The home is built on relationships, not on functions. Who we are precedes what we do. Love drew Karen and me together, and love brought children into our family. We didn’t have children to get jobs done (although I told them we had them because the grass was getting long and the dishes were piling up). Our children had functions (jobs, work, school, hobbies) that grew out of our relationships. Our kids cleaned out the garage rather than the neighbor kids because they were Andersons, not Petersons.
The Church is sometimes compared to a family. God is our Father, Jesus is our Brother, and the Church is called the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Father God has a big family, in heaven and on earth (3:15). The Church was crafted to operate as a relational paradigm rather than a functional one. That means that relationships drive the functions, not vice versa. What we do grows out of who we are. The organism leads the organization. The skeleton supports the body, and when it shows, it’s broken.
When relationships are primary in the Church,
People are more important than programs
The process is as important than the product
Everyone gets a piece of the pie (just like in the family)
People are positioned where they are gifted to function, not simply to meet a need in the organization
People are appreciated regardless of their position or function
Transparency and vulnerability are valued in a climate of grace
Tensions and failures become opportunities to prove the strength of our relationships
When functions (what we do) supersede relationships,
People are secondary to the vision or the program
Getting the job done can appear more important than care for individuals
Values (those things most important to us) can be compromised for the vision
The process is less important than the product (the objective), and therefore…
The end justifies the means; but then
The means become the end
Communism had a theoretically valid goal, but the means to that end were corrupt, and the means they used to achieve the desired end became the end. This will always happen.
Here are some principles from Scripture to support the importance of relational Christianity:
Ministry disconnected from relationships is meaningless. Paul lists several ministries, especially important to the charismatic Corinthians: speaking in tongues, using the gift of prophecy to unlock mysteries (such as Daniel did), or using the gift of faith to move mountains (such as George Mueller did). Then he said that they are of no value without love, the kind love that is not rude, self-seeking or easily angered. I would have said “less value;” Paul said “no value.” And Jesus similarly said to people who claimed a ministry of prophecy, deliverance, and miracle working but disconnected it from relationship, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:22,23).
Worship disconnected from relationship is out of order. Jesus said to people bringing their offerings with the knowledge of a broken relationship, “Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23,24). We are a family. To worship in Spirit and in truth is to worship in unity. Corporate worship is out of order where disunity exists. Jesus said to the Pharisees, strong on giving token gifts to God but weak on loving relationships, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice‘” (Matthew 9:13). In other words, God does not find pleasure in what we give Him if what we offer to others does not come from a loving heart. A skewed horizontal invalidates the vertical. And John wrote that “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (I John 4:20,21). If we want to know God’s presence, it comes more through relationship than through worship. “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4:12,16). If you want to upgrade your worship, strengthen your relationships. If you want to know the presence of Christ, walk in love and unity.
The Great Commandment must precede the Great Commission. The Great Commandment speaks to our relationships, with God and with one another. It calls us to the value of love. The Great Commission spells out our vision, and is validated only if it grows out of love for God and others. The fruit of the Spirit is the supernatural character of Jesus. The gifts of the Spirit are the supernatural ministry of Jesus. Values undergird vision because character precedes charisma. We fly with two wings—the fruit and the gifts.
Our relationships convince the world of our message, not our worship or our doctrine. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34,35). Our doctrine, in fact, has often convinced the world that we are uncaring, because we have used theology to prove that we are right and our brother, our family member, is wrong. Division slanders the household of God, discrediting our message. Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).
This is because the Trinity operates in a relational paradigm. The Trinity is a “blessed community,” a fellowship of love. Before the earth was created, the Father, Son, and Spirit were together, enjoying the company of one another. God is not a doctrine; He is a person—in relationship. Unity, such as is found in the Trinity, can only be accomplished where relationships are primary and functions secondary. Some church bodies stress the importance of their doctrine to the exclusion of healthy relationships. Their doctrine becomes a wall to exclude them from other people. Consider this equation: good theology + bad relationships = bad theology. Paul said that our character adorns our doctrine (Titus 2:10).
The New Testament makes sense as a relational paradigm, especially from a micro-church outlook. For example: a) The Lord’s Supper as a fellowship meal and as celebrated by Jesus and described by Paul doesn’t make sense in a traditional church model, but it makes good sense in a small group context. b) Discipline such as Jesus describes in Matthew 18 assumes relational Christianity. And the resolution of conflict such as Paul exhorts the Philippians with regard to Euodia and Syntyche requires close personal relationships. c) The gifts of the Spirit cannot function well in a large group setting. The earliest picture of New Testament worship (I Corinthians 14) assumes a close-knit setting in which all are able to share a gift. Prophecy, for example, does not function well in a normal church setting. Spiritual gifts are pastored best in a small group. d) Jesus spoke of two or three gathered together in His name. He could have said 200—300, but He didn’t. Bigger is not always better—because of relationships. (One good way to get bigger is to get smaller!)
Some consider the writings of a mature John as the pinnacle of the New Testament, if the Word of God has pinnacles. His epistles are all about relationships, and yet they are all about truth at the same time. Apparently, the two cannot be separated. But we have tended to separate them in the church. You cannot have good theology with bad relationships. The Pharisees were dangerous because they were so close to the truth. They just didn’t put the truth into practice in the way they treated people. Were they good theologians? No, they were self-deceived.
So what would a relational paradigm look like in a church?
1. Business meetings include personal sharing. The organization does not bury the organism.
2. Relationships impact everything the church does, including its outreach. One church began its seminar on Mormon doctrine by people naming friends they had in the Mormon Church, so they were picturing real people, not just condemning heretics. I wrote an article on “What’s Good About The New Age Movement?” as a call to connect positively with New Agers in order to bring them the good news. (I was paid for the article but told it would not be printed because it would be misunderstood).
3. The people most able to value relationships without a bottom line are the mentally impaired. Churches that value relationships will see these people as heroes because of their example.
4. We meet people on their turf, not on ours. We go to them, as Jesus did, rather than expecting them to come to us. Jesus was “full of grace and truth,” but what rubbed off on people who came in contact with Him was grace upon grace. Relational churches will convince people that holiness does not mean separation from sinners but from sin.
5. We will care for our “customers,” but we will also care for our family. I am familiar with a missionary organization that has been highly fruitful in ministry but less successful in caring for its team. One of the most successful Fortune 500 companies changed the rules typical in business by saying, “Our employees are more important than our customers.” It didn’t hurt the business at all—and it sure spoke volumes to its team. May the people of God do the same, because we are a family, and we want to grow that family!
6. Healthy structures support relationships. Larry Christenson introduced the principle of unanimity on the church council where he was pastor. It was a structural means by which the Lordship of Christ was expressed through the relationships. The members knew that they came together to ascertain the will of the Lord, not to push their agenda. They listened to one another out of reverence for Christ, and the unity that followed was a beautiful testimony to the work of the Spirit among them.
Some ways to help a church become a relational paradigm:
• Reward people who take risks. Don’t treat innovators as mavericks. Unity is far from uniformity. People willing to step out of the box are gifts to the body of Christ if they are emotionally healthy and people of faith.
• Let everyone dream. It empowers people to pursue their destiny. Empowered leadership centers on the leader. Empowering leadership focuses on the whole body.
• Be intolerant of spiritual abuse in any manner. Shut it down, no matter where it comes from.
• Don’t be threatened by disagreement. Let people talk freely. Disagreement is not the same as discord. Division is harmful, but disagreement is productive when relationships are non-negotiable.
• The importance of healthy relationships must be modeled at the leadership level. People must see that the leaders like one another, that they enjoy being together, that they laugh a lot, that they are vulnerable, and that they are human! Where conflict leads to greater unity, it proves to the family that values are not tossed out in the face of tension. On the contrary, they are honored, making the community a safe place not just to survive but to thrive!
SUFFERING AND GLORY
By: Paul Anderson
It’s not the happy times that mess with us. It’s the suffering that threatens to derail us.
Nowhere in Paul’s writings does he rise to the heights as in Romans 8. And in this very context he gives a teaching on suffering. For Paul, pain-free Christianity is an oxymoron.
He is telling us what it means to be a son rather than a slave. It includes freedom from condemnation (v. 1), victory over sin (12), guidance from the Spirit (14), adoption into the family (15), and an inheritance as a child (17).
Then whammo! The massive word “if” shows up. Bummer: “…if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (17b). We were sailing; then we get hit in the gut.
Or do we? We usually don’t put suffering and glory in the same sentence, but Paul does—twice. If you want to understand what the apostle learned about pain, look at Romans 8. His purpose: help you go through suffering not with resignation but with the sound of victory trumpeted throughout this chapter. Here goes:
Our suffering is His suffering. We tend to over-personalize suffering. The next step is to make ourselves victims. Though Paul suffered more than any of us, we hear nothing resembling a victim mentality. He even speaks of “the fellowship of his sufferings.” If you are focused too much on your trouble, you are probably not focused enough on Christ’s cross.
Present suffering enhances future glory. Paul put all his marbles in the age to come. He said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (18). No “poor me” attitude. He won’t let us stop and feel sorry for him. He contrasted the trials to the coming glory and called them “light and momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17). When you see your sorrows in the shadow of a blissful forever, they fade in significance.
You are not home yet. Keep your bags packed; you won’t be here long, citizen of heaven. If you get sand kicked in your face or cramps in your legs, you can take it in stride and keep walking. You are learning to see the present in light of the destination. Today will be trumped by tomorrow.
Our cry for redemption matches the groans of creation. We share a common bondage, the longing for liberation, the hope of reversing the process of decay. Paul told the Corinthians that “we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:2). The kingdom is now—and not yet. We are poised between two worlds, and we feel the tension. Good news—the Spirit understands our struggle and prays that we may endure (26). And get this—so does Jesus at the right hand of the Majestic Glory. Could we ever build a more impressive prayer team? When you make it, credit the consistent prayers of the Spirit and the Son of God.
Nothing is wasted, and certainly not pain. Meaningless misery prolongs the agony. Purposeful pain enhances steadfastness. Paul says, “We know…” That knowledge gives us hope in the midst of trouble. It doesn’t look good, not even close, but something wonderful is going to surface. What do we know? That “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (28). You can upgrade your confidence in God’s sovereign work, right in the middle of your pain. With every trial, you can say, “You’re up to something good.”
Pain does not separate us from God’s love. We sometimes interpret pain as the absence of God. We think: “Everything went south. Did I take a wrong turn? Is God punishing me for something I did five years ago?” Trials throw us off center, as if it is a diversion from the otherwise happy trail. Paul says it is mainline Christianity. And it makes the love of God stronger than ever. He lists some of the greatest disasters, like persecution or the sword and concludes, “That cannot separate us.” Then he lists the greatest enemies, including demons and death itself and concludes with the same triumphant spirit that he began with, that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (39). Do I hear a halleluia?
A victim says, “I’d be happy if it weren’t for these trials .” A victor says, “Those are the things that helped to make me who I am.’ A victim says, “You’d be complaining too if you had the boss I have.” A victor says, “God has put me here to serve this man,.” A victim says, “Jerry doesn’t understand me.” A victor says, “God is using the hardship in marriage to make me more like Jesus.” Everything counts!
IS EXERCISING SPIRITUAL?
By: Paul Anderson
I first read it in the King James: “Bodily exercise profiteth little” (I Tim. 4:8). Even though the RSV made Paul’s statement slightly more positive (“bodily training is of some value”), we still heard the KJV quoted to those who went overboard: “Remember, bodily exercise profits little,” proving that the jocks needed to adjust their priorities. Maybe you know someone who never misses the trip to the gym, while the spiritual condition remains neglected. However, contrast this with the multiplied saints who don’t forget their devotional life but can only vaguely recall the last time they cared for their bodies.
The apostle does say that “physical training is of some value.” We know the value of consistent spiritual workouts. Let’s look at some advantages of physical exercise. On a trip to Finland, in which Karen and I were struck with the passivity in the church, a new friend confirmed our observation. Jesus observed a slumber in His day and urged people to “keep watch” (three times in Matt. 24 and 25), lest they be excluded from the Party. I exhorted them that exercise might help them to stay fit spiritually. My body often grows tired before my spirit does. A few push-ups bring me back on track. Too bad Peter didn’t lead the disciples in some jumping jacks in the garden rather than giving in to sleep.
Paul was offering counsel to his son : “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (I Tim. 4:7,8). Spiritual training exceeds physical training because it extends into eternity. But since the dress rehearsal counts for the life to come, let’s not neglect our bodies. How we live here does impact how we live in eternity.
We can find evidence that Timothy needed this exhortation. He possessed a servant heart, but he lacked the aggressive character of his father in the faith. Paul twice encouraged him to “fight the good fight,” a phrase he used nowhere else in his letters. The word for “fight,” “agonizomai,” is taken from athletic contests. He urged Timothy not to neglect his gift (I Tim. 3:14) but to stir it up and not remain timid (2 Tim. 1:6,7). He suggested the use of wine because of his “frequent illnesses.” Some have found that physical exercise helps to prevent spiritual passivity. I hope that Timothy discovered this.
Here’s a question: was the apostle putting down physical exercise, or was he simply comparing it to the exercise of our spirits? The fact that he uses the same Greek word for both (“gumnasia,” a word taken from the world of sports), first as a verb, then as a noun, could suggest the latter.
My body is related to my spirit. A Greek would say, “I live in my body,” while a Hebrew would say, “I am my body.” Which is true? The Bible was written in Hebrew and in Greek, which seems to presuppose a dual understanding. When God speaks to our spirit, our body must be prepared to respond in kind. But an out-of-shape body may not be able to fulfill the admonition. Divine mandates often impose stresses on the body that require physical endurance, like travel, staying up late, or rising early. Exercise allows the body to stay tuned so that it can serve the spirit.
“Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (Deut. 34:7). He took regular walks in the desert (like for forty years). I wonder how many of God’s people have died prematurely because they failed care for their bodies. While some debilitating diseases do sneak up on people regardless of conditioning, killers like heart disease can be overcome, if not fully eliminated, by proper food, exercise and attitude. (My kids all quit drinking pop years ago, not because we told them not to; they just knew how bad it was for them).
We have been guilty in the church of dividing the sacred and the secular. For instance, the call to the holy ministry is a sacred one, while most people enter so-called secular positions. By whose standard? In the same way we have unconsciously taken a Greek understanding of the body, assuming that our spirits count to God much more than our bodies. Such thinking runs counter to our Hebrew heritage. We declare in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” It must mean something to God if He chooses to raise up decomposed matter. It’s time for a healthy theology of the body, and the New Testament gives us one. But we have largely ignored it, and mature Christians are dropping dead because they exercised their spirits and not their bodies. We need vibrant 80-years olds like Caleb.
The context of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy offers us help. He was warning of false teachers influenced by demons, who “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods…” (v. 3). Demons portray the physical realm as unspiritual. To over-spiritualize is to trivialize. Eugene Peterson writes that “the gospel is the enemy of all forms of gnosticism. The gospel does not begin with matter and then gradually get refined into spirit…We are immersed in materiality from start to finish” (Reversed Thunder, p. 170). The test of a true spirit centers on God becoming flesh (I Jn. 4:2,3). To a world trying to get spiritual, God gets physical!
When Jesus said, “This is my body given for you,” the disciples saw His body hanging from a tree fifteen hours later. Our reconciliation came “by Christ’s physical body” (Col. 1:22). We cannot spiritualize the cross; real blood poured out. In like manner, we are called to offer our “bodies as a living sacrifice” (Ro. 12:1). In the Old Testament people were admonished to give the best, not the leftovers. And the New Covenant consistently calls us to a higher standard. Let us offer a body that is properly cared for. (Time out for another ten push-ups).
Jesus was concerned about His body as He walked into the the shadow of death. His disciples didn’t get it and took no care for where His body would be laid. The compassion came from a woman sensitive enough to pick up on His need, and He memorialized her kindness for all time: “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial” (Matt. 26:12). The women who went to the tomb demonstrated caring hearts—they simply arrived four days too late! Fortunately for Jesus, an unlikely member of the Sanhedrin provided the tomb. The religious leaders missed the cryptic statement from Jesus about destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days. The disciples found out after the resurrection of Christ that He was referring to His body (John 2:21).
The seriousness of sexual sin is complicated in the damage to our bodies: “All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (I Cor. 6:18). Paul goes on to give one of the greatest reasons for keeping bodies physically fit: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (v. 19,20). What a wonderful goal, what a high calling! May this charge give you the motivation you need to make it happen, even with a few minutes a day and with healty food, not junk. After all, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” (I Cor. 6:13-15). No spiritualizing there. Our bodies mean something special to God.
Paul knew the rigor of keeping physically tuned. He wrote, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (I Cor. 9:27). He saw the potential of losing the race, of being eliminated by having a body that made inappropriate demands on his spirit. Rather than allowing that circumstance, he made sure that his body was serving the purposes of God, not living in self-indulgence. He wanted to “run in such a way as to get the prize,” (9:24). He spoke of athletes who submitted to strict training to go for the gold. Then Paul didn’t simply apply this in a spiritual sense as we might have anticipated: he applied it to his physical body.
Sacramental Christians take particular strength in the words of Paul, “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (I Cor. 10:16). We taste and see that the Lord is good—in a physical way. In Holy Communion God is getting physical with us again!
A physically fit body is a gift we give the Lord—and our family. Why should we cause grief by dying early? Why not go for the long haul and serve ’til you drop as Moses did? Hit the tape on the run rather than retiring to the rocking chair. Exercising means investing in our future, and the dividends accrue with time. Exercise will add years to your life. If you use those years to serve the Lord, then you are making valuable installments, like investing money. And as with finances, a little over a good stretch time pays off. Why not start now, even for five minutes. Exercising is for health, not for looks.
My in-laws, Phil and Margaret, have modeled the clear spiritual value of proper care for the body. She walks and he bikes. He told me not long ago that he might like the idea of working with the elderly—when he gets old!
A physically fit body:
will normally live longer
will fight off disease and depression better
is a testimony as to how we steward the gift of our bodies
enables us to potentially listen to the Lord better
can likely concentrate more fully upon the Lord in prayer
can better stay awake spiritually and sleep better
can potentially deal with suffering better (exercise is planned pain!). Our bodies naturally prefer comfort to challenge and sleep to hard activity. As we test our bodies with exercise, we are preparing our bodies and our spirits for the tests that are coming our way.
My knees complain if I try running these days, so I do push-ups and sit-ups. I often find myself spiritually energized after my short workout, and my children tell me the same thing. We see a relationship between body and spirit. Some take the word “flesh” as used in the epistles to mean “body,” as if Paul is contrasting the body and the spirit in writing about our proneness to sin. The “flesh,” however, speaks of our inherited nature in contrast to the new nature in Christ. It is not contrasting the physical to the spiritual. Many have experienced spiritual growth (in confidence, courage, and peace, for instance) through physical workouts.
Any good thing can be overdone. An hour at the gym and a five-minute devo demonstrates scewed priorities. Exercise is not everything! We are told not to fear those who can kill the body, so we must keep this outlook in perspective. I doubt if we’ll need to do push-ups in heaven when we are given glorified bodies, but I suspect that we will engage in more activity than is sometimes imagined. So let’s stay in shape—and get ready!
Here’s a personal disclaimer: at seventy, I eat more than many guys half my age. But my metabolism has kept me slim. I feel for those friends more godly than myself who struggle with health or weight issues that make workouts grueling. May God grant extra grace for those who greet this article only as fuel for self-condemnation. Would to God that as you have overcome in more critical areas, like loving God and people, you could also find strength to walk in victory here.
RAISING UP A CULTURE OF HONOR
By: Paul Anderson
Are you good at showing honor? Is the church—or society? To whom does our culture show honor? Whom do we not honor that we should or honor that we should not?
WHAT IS HONOR?
The dictionary says that “honor” means “esteem, high regard, great respect, credit.” “Honor” translates the Hebrew word “cabod,” which is also translated “glory” and literally means “heaviness, weight.” To properly honor, we give weight or attention to what is deserving of it. It takes discernment to honor what is honorable. The Bible says that “it is not fitting to honor a fool (Proverbs 26:1,8). A debased culture honors the dishonorable.
WHY SHOULD WE SHOW HONOR?
BECAUSE GOD DOES. We take our queue from the Trinity. God honored us by making us in His image: “You made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). The Father honors the Son. “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17). The Son honors the Father. Jesus told the religious leaders, “I honor my Father and you dishonor me” (John 8:49, 54). Jesus said of the Spirit, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you” (John 16:14). And Jesus honored the Spirit. He left the disciples with the promise that the Spirit within them would be better than having Jesus with them.
BECAUSE GOD COMMANDS IT. Whatever God commands is worth doing. God instituted marriage, family, the church, and government, and He calls us to work. “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure…” (Hebrews 13:4). Redefining marriage is one clear example of not honoring this sacred institution. Husbands and wives are to honor each other (I P.3:1-8). In the family, children are commanded, “Honor your father and mother.” The best way to honor them is to obey them. And parents take after God when they appropriately honor their children. In our family, we use birthday times to show special honor to the birthday people.
In the church, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor…” (I Timothy 5:17). In civil life, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). And Peter writes, “Show proper respect to everyone; love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (I Peter 2:17). If we cannot honor the person, we still honor the position. Peter honored Nero as king, thought his character was despicable. And Paul honored the position of the high priest, though the high priest was not honorable, because Scripture told him to (Acts 23:1-5). Peter goes on to speak about the workplace, telling slaves, “Submit yourselves to your masters with all respect…” (v. 18). And Paul wrote, “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered” (I Tim. 6:1).
Bottom line: we honor everyone, as Peter commanded (I Peter 2:17). They bear the image of God. They are people for whom Christ died. These are good reasons to show honor. But special honor goes to honorable people.
HOW SHALL WE HONOR?
WE HONOR WHAT IS HONORABLE. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” Revelation 5:12; Hebrews 2:9). Paul wrote, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (I Timothy 1:17). “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 1:6). God came against the Israelites because they honored people in their family and workplace more than God. They gave Him second-rate sacrifices, which told the nations that they worshipped a second-rate God. And they thought they were doing Him a favor. We honor God by giving Him our best, our first.
WE HONOR THE WISDOM OF AGE. “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). Our culture chases after the fountain of youth, so it is no longer typical to rise in the presence of age. The elderly, especially women, do not want to give their age because they are getting older and of less value to a culture that respects good looks and muscles. We honor the elderly by listening to them, caring for them, and by valuing their perspective. Paul told Timothy that he was to address his elders differently than he spoke to peers and those under him.
WE HONOR CHARACTER OVER CHARISMA. Why? It is learned, not given. Those impressed by flash or hype will miss the true nature of things. They will end up calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5;20). In the end times people with charismatic gifts will deceive a world into thinking that they have values worth following. People with leadership gifts but without good values are dangerous. Think Hitler. We do not honor what is not honorable. It is good for Americans to honor people of character, like our forefathers, men of integrity.
WE GO LOW. We put others higher. “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). The RSV says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Our desire to give honor should trump our need to receive it. Then God will see that we are given it: “…humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 1812; 29:13). Asian cultures exhibit honor by bowing. When they present a gift to someone, they raise the gift above themselves. Going low is written into their culture.
TRUTHS ABOUT HONOR
HONOR BEGETS HONOR. “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained (I Samuel 2:30). It is highly favorable to have the honor of God.
HONORING THE DISHONORABLE BRINGS BLINDNESS. Those who change the price tags and value evil will be unable to recognize good and will be grossly deceived. Thus, the great deception before the end. Honor is connected to value. We discern what has value.
HONOR HELPS GUARD OUR ATTITUDE. Honor includes attitudes, words, and actions (obedience, deference, respect). We are more familiar with sarcasm than honor. And we often miss opportunities to encourage or honor.
WE BECOME LIKE WHAT WE HONOR. The Israelites made and worshipped metallic gods and became like them (Psalm 115:8). Honoring changes us. We become what we behold, what we treat as significant, as worthy of our attention.
HONOR IS GIVEN; IT IS NOT EXPECTED OR DEMANDED. Samuel did not honor Saul, though as king he requested it. Jesus urged people to walk in humility rather than seek to be honored (Luke 14:7,8).
SONS, NOT SLAVES!
By: Paul Anderson
Home is meant to be the closest thing on earth to heaven. For many, it is closer to hell. Even with good families and decent parents we can be left with love deficits and the feeling that we don’t really belong, that we are not truly valued. The pain of insecurity makes us wonder how much we are appreciated, if we are worth the time, if people really do care. Many carry these thoughts throughout their adult life.
Paul writes to show us how the Father love of God heals us from this fear and brings us the confidence of knowing that we are sons. (Ladies, if we men can be a bride of Christ, then you can be sons of the Father)! If we want to understand the Father love of God, we need to understand sonship. God has brought us into an eternal relationship with Himself in which we are secure in His family for time and eternity.
Paul writes to the Romans, showing the difference between living by the law and living by faith through the work of the Spirit. He uses the word “law” twenty-three times in Romans 7, showing the futility of a “we try harder” mentality, the frustration of wanting to do right but not being able to pull it off, the holiness of the law but the weakness of moral resolve. Sin and failure bring a strong inward tension: “How can this conflict cease? How can I win this battle? Is it possible? I have tried countless times. My sinful heart puts up constant pressure. I feel so defeated.”
He ends the chapter feeling enslaved to the law of sin.
Chapter 8 brings a different reality. He pronounces, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” How? “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). The Spirit is mentioned twenty-two times in this chapter, demonstrating God’s answer to futile human effort.
Paul writes later, “f you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship (“adoption”). And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings, in order that we may also share in his glory” (13-17).
Four truths about sonship surface in this passage, bringing us confidence of love:
1. Sons win over sin by the Spirit, not by self-righteousness. Paul discovered that righteousness was received, not achieved. He had done well by human standards, but it came purely by his own effort rather than trusting in the favor of a gracious God. He then traded the merit system for the mercy system and discovered that he had actually died to a performance mentality and received status as a son by faith in Jesus Christ. Many struggle with the relentless demands of a sinful nature, creating both guilt and shame. Sons experience freedom from both, not by earning or effort but by the power of the indwelling Spirit. Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36). And those who try it consistently find that it works!
2. Sons are led by the Spirit. God the Holy Spirit takes responsibility to lead them step by step into their appointed destiny and into the perfect will of God. They don’t have to make it up as they go. It has been determined already for them to walk in. Sons prove their relationship to the Father by the guidance of His Holy Spirit. This is not the experience of people in the world system. They do not know the Spirit even exists, let alone that He lives inside us to guide us into all truth. We are given as a free gift the GPS of the Spirit to assure a God-honoring daily walk and joyful confidence in our journey through life.
3. Sons experience freedom from fear. Sins that we commit and that are committed against us leave us feeling piles of guilt, shame, and condemnation. We wonder if the cycle of fear and failure will ever change. And some of us are so conditioned to negative things happening that we wonder when the rug is going to be pulled out from under us again. Then we are given to understand that God has made provision for this crushing spirit of defeat by bringing us into His favor and His family. We can hardly believe it could be true until we experience it.
Consider just one of the benefits of such a relationship—confidence in prayer. We are urged not to come timidly to God as a servant might come to a master, not knowing for sure how he would be received, but to come boldly as a child would come to a beloved father, fully convinced of his love and acceptance. The word “Abba,” though Aramaic, is used to this day by Jewish children in Israel in addressing their father. We come to learn that “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
4. Sons have a Father and a family. They discover that they belong. They are on the inside, not the outside—forever. Slaves do not have a father; they have a boss. They are unsure of their future. No guarantees keep them from wondering if they will be cared for. Sons, on the other hand, have an inheritance because the firstborn Son shares His with them. They are co-heirs with Christ, assuring them of an absolutely glorious future. And the suffering of the present only reminds them of what is to come in eternity. God’s Spirit and the inner spirit bring a double guarantee of our adoption into God’s family. John Wesley described his conversion as exchanging “the faith of a servant for the faith of a son” (quoted in F. F. Bruce’s Commentary on Romans, p. 167). We will never be lost, abandoned, neglected, overlooked, or discarded. Whatever we have experienced by human fathers and families is trumped by our eternal family and eternal Father. The Spirit teaches us to say “Abba” and to know that we belong. The affliction of living in a world broken by sin and deceived by Satan only serves to remind us of our eternal hope. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
Paul’s letter to the Galatians reinforces these truths. They had come to experience the liberating truth of sonship and had reverted back to the merit system,, putting them back under the demands of the law and human performance. Paul comes strongly against this fallacy and foolishness, saying that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (4:4-7).
We come out from under the guilt and condemnation of the law to the freedom of living by faith in Christ through the indwelling Spirit. And that Spirit reminds us that we have been chosen, accepted, adopted, and brought into God’s forever family. Fear dissipates under the overwhelming grace of the Father who “has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). Nothing could be more wonderful.
SONS OR SERVANTS
Family relationship work relationship
Secure, inheritance insecure, not future plans
God has plans for you
Celebration get it done; you don’t go to the party, not invited. If you are, it is
To serve the children.
My dad’s office they had a different relationship
Servants have a boss, not a father; a working relationship
Servants don’t inherit anything.
Fathers guide sons, not servants. You should take this class.
Fathers give an inheritance to their children.
Prodigal Elder son
Tax collector Pharisee
If you are a son, you know it is not about work. Martha couldn’t relax and enjoy Jesus. Mary could. It was about love.
A guy came up to me this week and said, “So what is a son?” What would you have said?
The prodigal knew that he had a place at home even though he had really messed up. A son knows he has a home. A slave has quarters, but he doesn’t have a home. A home brings security, a promise of love and appreciation. We did something that we do at birthdays at the Anderson home. Malachi.
Creating A Safe Place For Inner Healing Prayer Ministry
By: Bob Neumann
People’s tender hearts must feel safe around prayer ministers in order to them to be vulnerable, allowing the Holy Spirit to move. I am very careful to use a soft tone of voice. I try to connect with God’s heart and the person’s heart so they feel cared for and understood. I am not pushy. I don’t have to be loud or intense doing deliverance either. My authority is based on my position in Christ, not the volume of my voice.
It is important to respect people’s boundaries. We should ask people for permission before laying hands on them. I do not want to discuss sexual issues with someone of the opposite gender unless there is another person present of the same gender of the person receiving ministry.
There is often demonic activity connected to deep brokenness. The demons are not the root problem; the wound and accompanying lies are. If demons manifest, we have authority through Christ to bind and remove them. Demonic emotional strongholds are often rooted in unforgiveness and believing lies. If we cannot immediately stop the manifestation, take them to another room in order to maintain a safe environment for the rest to receive healing prayer.
A good question to ask during prayer is for the Holy Spirit to show who hurt the person and what specific things happened to them. God always gives the prayer recipient a memory he wants to deal with. The Holy Spirit leads in the healing process. As they forgive people for specific hurts, this breaks demonic strongholds of anger and bitterness. I will ask the Holy Spirit what lies they believed connected to this painful experience. The Holy Spirit will speak out the lies to the minister and the person receiving the ministry. We renounce the lies and the prayer minister should replace the lies with God’s truth as the Holy Spirit leads. It is often necessary to break word curses like: mistake, unwanted, rejected, nobody. I will ask God to bring to memory curses parents and others spoke over them. I lead them in forgiveness, we break ungodly soul ties and break the power of the curse. The power of life and death is in the tongue. (Prov 18:21)
We can lay hands on shoulders, foreheads, knees or feet. These are safe places to touch. It is good to show appropriate affection for the person receiving prayer if they are comfortable with it. Sometimes I will hug people (of my same gender) as I pray for them as I am led by the Spirit. I have seen this bear much fruit.
Expression of love releases healing and nurtures a broken heart. It is important to make people feel accepted. I like to speak blessing over the prayer recipient at the end of the ministry.
CHRISTIANITY & HUMANISM
By: Paul Anderson
Christianity Believes: Humanism Believes:
God is good Good is god
Man is not good Man is good, therefore man is god; innate goodness
We worship God We worship man: brains, bodies, brawn (Rom. 1)
God at center, man is servant Man at center, God serves us, God is in everyone
Sin is against God Sin is against man; God gets in our way
Sin leads to death. God says so. Sin can be means to good end (means become end)
The wages of sin is death The wages of sin is life, addicting people to sin
Sin is breaking the law of God Sin is hurting another; sin is ignorance
Salvation through a Man, Jesus Salvation thru man, self-improvement,knowledge
Jesus plus nothing Jesus plus whatever I add to it
Salvation means changing the heart Salvation means changing the environment
Joy through righteousness Joy through freedom, doing as we please
Optimistic about God, our hope Optimistic about man: we can do it, hope in man
Realism: see our condition, repent Blind optimism: we can change us & our world
We can’t do it but God can We can do it—and we will, and so help me God
Trusting more: believe Trying harder: behave
Relying on the Spirit Relying on self (the flesh)
Praise goes to God: humility Praise me, praise us: pride
Justified by grace through faith Justified by self; there is no grace
By grace; the mercy system By grades; the merit system
Just say yes, pictured in prodigal Just say no, pictured in elder brother
Righteousness from outside self Righteousness from within
Gospel: good news Law: good advice, rules, modify behavior
The law written on human hearts The law written in tablets, rule books, documents
Highest good: truth & righteousness Highest good: peace and unity; truth is relative
The wisdom of God—foolishness The wisdom of man—foolishness to God
Greatest sin: gods before God Greatest sin—intolerance, limiting freedom, judging
Satan: adversary of God & all good Satan in our minds only: silly imp in pajamas
Creation: In the beginning God… Evolution: no beginning; linked to animals
Matter is not eternal Matter is eternal; immortality of the soul
There is a beginning & an end No beginning and no end, glorification of matter
Judgment comes at the end No end and no judgment—and no judge; we judge
Heaven is a place We create our own heaven and hell on earth
Afterlife: we live for then No afterlife; we live on in memories; sentimentality
1. The way that we are saved is also the way that we are sanctified: by faith. Salvation is not the first step. It is the whole step. We preach the gospel to the saved.
2. What changes us? If it is effort, we are under the law. We become what we believe and what we behold. By saying ‘yes’ to God, we can say ‘no’ to the flesh.
3. Living by works encourages competition and comparison. We become score-keepers. Grace teaches us to throw away the scorecard.
4. We are not saved by works (Eph. 2:8,9), but we are saved for works (v. 10).
5. God is not opposed to effort, but He is opposed to earning. Even the effort of a Spirit-controlled Christian comes from the Spirit.
6. So does the law have a part to play? Yes. It shows us the perfection of God. It helps us receive the bad news when we are trusting ourselves. It helps us understand the ethical side to the gospel: faith without works is dead.
7. Jesus plus nothing is the gospel: “It is finished.” Jesus plus something says, “It is not finished.” We turn the good news into the bad news by adding to salvation.
8. Justification means that I have a perfect score, credited with the righteousness of God, and I don’t need any more credit. So I live “because of…,” not “…in order to.”
This song shows humanism at its worst:
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me
Let There Be Peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to be
With God as our Father, brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony (yeh, right!)
Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.
With ev’ry step I take let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me
Jesus told a seeker, “No one is good but God alone” (Luke 18:19)). Hebrew worshipers sang this refrain more than any other: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” The Bible tirelessly attests to the goodness of God. “Good and upright is the Lord” (Psalm 25:8). In the midst of suffering, Job does not shrink from declaring God’s goodness. God’s goodness comes to us not as a theology to embrace but as a reality to experience: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). As A. W. Tozer says, “The most important thing about us is our picture of God.” Those who can declare the goodness of God despite their circumstances will walk into His goodness and in His goodness.
Satan’s consistent attack against humanity is aimed at questioning the goodness of God (Genesis 3:1-7) and exalting the goodness of man. Eve bit the lie and the world embraced a new creed: good is god. God cramps our style, demands too much, punishes our behavior, withholds in a deceptive manner, and keeps looking over our shoulders as a micromanager. We possess innate goodness—without God. Instead of going after God, we go after good—the good life, the prosperous path, the happy way.
When the first couple ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they felt capable of going after good apart from God, a dangerous alternative. To separate God from good makes goodness a god, a pursuit that natural man strives for. If good is god, and man is good, then man is god. And the Almighty just got voted out of the center of the universe. We say that man is not good, because the Bible says that. But humanists speak of the innate goodness of man. The right training will bring out the goodness, a naïve conviction.
Where badness is observed, oppressive structures that must be thrown down, even violently. So we steal, kill and destroy for supposedly good ends. The end justifies the means, but the means become the end—always. Look at any Communist dictatorship. Stalin killed sixty million people in order to create a good society. Hitler was building a utopia. He just needed to exterminate those who stood the way. Evil is excused for a good cause, but the cause never turns out good.
The Bible declares that man is sinful. The psalmist smashed every humanistic thought of goodness by declaring, “There is no one who does good ” (Psalm 14:1,3). The problem lies not with the environment outside but with the heart inside. Humanity needs a heart transplant, not a change in the climate: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. ). That assessment comes from the prophet who for years observed the behavior of people claiming to be worshipers of Yahweh and kept yelling, “Peace, peace,” when there was none.
Never mind that countless centuries have testified to wars, bloodshed, inhumanity at every level, and the absolute corruption of power; if we just come up with the right conditions, we will pull off this good thing. So we keep singing the happy songs, hoping that change will occur. We vote in politicians who promise the change that our hearts long for. Most of them preach a philosophy that says, “We can do it.” We’ve heard that Santa is coming to town, so “be good for goodness’ sake,” which humanity believes that it can. And if it can, no need for a Savior. Jesus is reduced to a moral teacher. He is respected but not worshiped. He is nice, but he is not the God of the universe. “Let there be peace on earth” is a phantom dream that comes only when the Prince of Peace returns.
The Bible warns us against putting our trust in anyone but God: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 118:8). Blind optimism looks for human heroes and puts hope in what humanity can do, while realism looks at the work of one Man on the cross and embraces what humanism calls foolishness. But it is God at His strongest. While rationalists say, “We can do it and we will,” Christians trust in God and God alone. It is not good news to tell someone who has already destroyed his family, his work, and his future, “You can do it; try a little harder.” Nor is it good to to tell a teen hooked on drugs, “Just say no.” It is good news to tell him that God can forgive him, rescue him from his mess, give him a new life, and overturn bad with good.
Breaking the first commandment to have no gods before the true God means that all the others will be broken. When man is enthroned as god, anything goes, and it goes fast. The greatest sin in such a religious climate is taking away their freedom by telling them that God is a judge, not just a Father. Then the intolerance of this so-called tolerant bunch kicks in, rearing its ugly head. The psalmist shows kings crying out for freedom: “Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters” (Psalm 2:3).
Jesus never cried for freedom. He chose only to do the will of His Father. Like Jesus, His followers find true freedom in giving up theirs and going low as servants, not in doing what they want but what God wants. They find joy by choosing righteousness over pleasure and holiness over happiness, while humanists set personal joy as their highest goal, and even sin can serve their purpose if it doesn’t hurt others.
Sin is not an offense against God according to humanists, because they make god in their image. Progress that comes through knowledge eradicates sin little by little. So just as we are evolving into a stronger species, society is evolving through technology, which obliterates ignorance, the greatest sin of humanists. So poverty, AIDS, war and famine should be eliminated. How are we doing so far? Humanism often sounds more positive than Christianity; it just can’t change anyone or anything!
Satan doesn’t exist to natural man. If we can’t see him, he isn’t real. Satan is a concept that we have created in our minds to explain evil. We see evil all around us in oppression, intolerance, and prejudice. We must rid society of these evils in order for all humanity to live together peaceably. If it takes violence to make room for good, bring it on. The Bible, however, personalizes evil in a fallen angel called Satan, who with his host of darkness, seek to undermine the work of God through deception, accusation, and intimidation. Those who don’t believe in him are duped participants in his plan.
The Gospel declares that God can do what we cannot do. It comes as good news to people in a bad way. Humanists have no good news, only good advice: “try harder, improve yourself, change, live in peace.” It is the law revisited—external demand without internal supply. The grace that comes in the Gospel not only forgives but empowers us to change. Theologians call it an alien righteousness, because it is not constructed by our goodness but by the goodness of God.
The first words of the Bible tell us that God is eternal, matter is not. If it had a beginning, it has an end. Christians believe in a God who created the world, judged it with a flood in the time of Noah, and will judge it again when Christ returns the second time. “It is appointed to man once to die, and after that the judgment.” We are accountable to God for how we live. We are mortal, subject to death and decay. We only live together with God as we embrace the cross of Jesus Christ, who defeated death by His death and brings life to those who trust in Him. This also frees us from the wrath of God at the end of the age.
If man is good and matter is eternal, we are not subject to any judgment. We are free to live our lives according to our own precepts. Truth and goodness are whatever we say they are, not what God says they are. We create our own heaven and hell; they don’t exist outside our minds.
It is not that humanity knows too little and just need to be educated, which is humanity’s cosmic solution. It is receiving what it knows: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18). They prefer to do as they please to knowing and doing what is right. They have made a choice for pleasure over knowledge. “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:21,22). And these are the people that humanity puts its trust in. They don’t need more information; they need more obedience.
“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised” (v.25). “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). The prodigal was right on when he confessed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (Luke 15:18). He called evil what it was and was restored to his father.
The psalmist envied the wicked until he perceived their end. Wise people work from the end back, from the ultimate to the immediate. The wicked live for the present, because that is all they have. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (I Corinthians 15:32). Knowledge of the future puts a restraint on today. If we see no end in sight, we live as if we will go on forever. A cyclical view of history condemns us. A Hebrew view says that history is going somewhere and calls us to account for the way we live. ”There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). People would do right to ask, “Where is this leading? What road is this action taking me on? Will it dead-end somewhere?” Those who don’t see the end don’t care: “Without vision, people cast off restraint.” God spoke through the prophet, “I make known the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10).
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Revelation 1:8), giving us a clue to history and destiny. God and God alone is eternal. He was before the beginning and He is after the end. He marks out history. Matter was called into being by the eternal God. When God says, “Lights out,” history is over. Period.
The God who created the world will one day bring the universe to a finish, and humanity who believed it was not subject to God will find out differently. Following the judgment of humankind, the unredeemed will join the devil and his angels for an eternity cut off from anything good. The redeemed will enjoy an eternity of bliss, proving the faithfulness of God, who promised it and makes good on His promise. It will take an eternity to begin to appreciate how good God is.
The question of the ages is: Who will be worshiped? Satan presents his own Christ, called in the Bible the antichrist, while heaven offers the Lamb of God as the only worthy object of our worship. Those who choose the beast must share his destiny in the lake of fire. Those who worship heaven’s choice enjoy His presence for the ongoing ages.
Jesus spoke these strong words the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” Why would He say this to a woman who clearly had a problem with sin? An unrealistic command could have left her in hopeless depression. And after healing the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus told him, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (Jn. 5:14). Apparently, sinning had helped to get him into his mess, and Jesus wanted him to understand that he needed a drastic change of direction. It was the loving thing to do, lest sinning take him deeper into sickness, and thirty-eight years of paralysis was no joy ride. Neither was the life style of this woman encountered by Jesus.
We might have shown more tolerance of their past, acknowledging that it would take some time to transition into a life of holiness, providing them with a support system to sustain their new venture. Not Jesus. He called them to change–and expected to be obeyed, and the very call contained the promise of power.
The apostle who lived closest to Jesus while on earth, then walked in obedience to the exalted Lord for the longest, came to know His heart. He shared the conviction of the Master about sin and righteousness in the letter He wrote at about ninety years of age: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin” (I John 2:1). He has just told us that “if we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar…” (1:10), that “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves” (1:8), so John knew about the deceptiveness of sin and the human attempt to hide sinful behavior behind a pretense of holiness. But he seems also to believe that we can avoid sinning. And he, like His Lord, called his readers into it. In fact, his purpose in writing included this high call.
Not sinning isn’t an option most of us have heard about or entertained realistically. Many of us pastors have spoken more about grace and forgiveness than about truth and obedience. And unfortunately, the lack of Biblical proportion has lowered the bar for the expectation of righteous living. People hear John calling people to a life without sin and wonder who he is talking about. When we have taught on First John, we have probably camped on the Scriptures that follow the alarming invitation to holiness: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (2:2). That is familiar territory, and thankfully so. We must know the grace that forgives. And he has already made it clear that “if we confess our sins,” we are purified of all unrighteousness. Good news!
And yet the grace that forgives also empowers. Grace is not the willingness of God to lower the standards because of our predisposition to sin. It is the power of God enabling us to overcome sin. Paul’s great announcement to the Christians in Rome centers on empowering grace: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). In Lutheran circles we have taken the option of forgiving grace, which John says is available through our advocate. But we have reckoned less with the miracle of transforming grace, the power that never leaves us unchanged. That is why Paul says that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11,12). These Scriptures, and the whole letter of Titus, address the issue of holy living, not forgiveness.
All of Paul’s epistles contain lofty exhortations. We either obey them as if they belong to us or blame the writer for not addressing average Christians like us. Just two such commands from his Philippians letter will make the point. He writes, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation…” (2:14,15). I don’t often use the word “blameless” or the phrase “without fault” to describe my friends, but Paul calls us to this standard more than once. Two chapters later he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” I probably would have said, “Try to be joyful in difficult times.” Not Paul. Always. Then he repeats it so we cannot mistake him, “I will say it again: Rejoice!” He follows with this exhortation: “Do not be anxious about anything.” My first response to such a passage is to confess that I fall far below the Biblical standard, because Jesus said the same thing as Paul. But I am encouraged at the same time by reading these impossible admonitions, because I am being called to an outlandish life style that becomes attainable by the cross of Christ and the working of the Spirit within. I can say, “This command belongs to me, and I will take it seriously rather than settling for a mediocre goal.”
It is strange that Lutherans have struggled with the call to sanctification, since that stands as the very purpose of grace. God not only declares us righteous through the Righteous One, but He goes about changing us “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Paul continues with the Romans, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness” (Romans 6:22). The call to holiness cannot be presented as a remote option. “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). And the writer is not speaking of imputed but imparted holiness. He has just said that we undergo discipline, “that we may share his holiness,” a discipline that “produces a harvest of righteousness” (v. 10,11).
When John says, “”I write this to you so that you will not sin,” he doesn’t then leave this theme and trail off into Christian realities more attainable, as if he has just thrown out a sentence hoping the heavyweights pick it up. Two verses later he writes, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (I John 2:3). He takes obedience so seriously that it becomes the telling mark of our assurance. In other words, if we are not obeying, he questions that we have the real virus. A disobedient Christian for John is an oxymoron. We react at such black and white sketches; we want room for some gray. We think, “Where does he live? He must not be married. He certainly doesn’t have kids. He’s probably a eunuch who lives on an island,” which says much more about us than about John. Have our congregations been so conditioned by selective preaching and poor coaching as to believe in a wimpy Jesus and a sweet and tame Holy Spirit? We have pitted unswerving obedience against love as if they are mutually exclusive. But John says that “if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him (2:5). Then he adds for good measure, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (2:6). He said we “must,” which also means that we can.
A coach who convinces a team that they have a good chance at the State championship calls them to their destiny. Their identity shapes their behavior; they become who they are. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” They ponder championship, not as a distant dream but as a distinct likelihood. When they win the conference division, their captain declares, “I knew we could do it. This is what we aimed at all season.”
By contrast, the man who coaches a bunch of losers, who acknowledges they possess no chance of a league title, and makes no attempt at inspiring his players to achieve, will settle for a mediocre season—and get just that. And if you happen to think that a coach makes no difference in how a team plays, look at the astounding record of John Wooden and read about his strategy. A great coach who called his players to achieve their full potential amassed a record that is virtually untouchable—unless someone comes along like Mr. Wooden.
So what difference does a pastor make? Talk about forgiveness and people will know of a God who forgives. Talk about not sinning, as Jesus and John did, as the inheritance of every child of God, and draw people into a place of astonishing victory.
I grew up hearing these two definitions of grace: “God’s unmerited favor” and the acronym “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” The former definition sounds more like mercy than grace and was applied more to God’s forgiveness than to His empowering. The law of proportion would cause us to at least equal the score. James Kallas made the observation that 20% of the Apostle Paul’s writings focused on the forgiveness-reconciliation motif, while 80% focused on the theme of Christ’s victory over the demonic powers (James Kallas , The Satanward View (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), p. 32). Larry Christenson shared that this kind of emphasis “makes as an excellent counterpoise to the over-emphasis on grace, the pious insistence that recognizing and admitting our sinfulness is more biblical than declaring Christ’s victory in our lives.”
Grace as Power
No one could rightly accuse Paul of triumphalism. He simply believed radically in the power of the cross. I have discovered that most of those accused of triumphalism, an unbalanced emphasis on the resurrection over the cross, in fact are drawing upon the power that the cross offers, taking seriously Pauline soteriology. By contrast, understanding “God’s unmerited favor” as unconditional grace, always available to all people in all circumstances, cheapens the grace of God by pulling out the forgiveness card, expecting God to wipe out our “sins and shortcomings” so we are off the hook again. We end up excusing sin rather than overcoming it. We turn God into a doting father who can do nothing with his children, but fortunately for us, he is, alas, forgiving.
Consider this: “If grace is unmerited favor, why is it that only the humble get it? And if nobody deserves grace, why are the proud denied it?” (Guy Chevreau, Turnings, p. 59).
So, dear pastor,
Are we calling people to die to themselves, knowing that “death works in us, but life in you?”
Are we giving them a balanced diet of grace and truth? Do our people know of the grace that empowers as much as the grace that forgives?
Have we given them a picture of holiness that makes them want to pursue it, confident in God?
Have we tolerated sin as inevitable, or have we said like Paul, “Put off your old self” (in other words, “Stop it,”) and “put on your new self?”
John was not afraid to call his readers into a high and holy calling, and that is where he lived.
He talked about love and obedience in the same sentence. When John wrote about not sinning, he was not looking for some kind of religious façade, a righteous smile. John believed that the cross of Jesus Christ grants us a power that puts sin under our feet. Sin is not our inheritance from Christ. It is not willed to us with our new nature. It is a curse from our past, our fleshly side that has gone to the cross. And he tells the Galatians that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). Then he adds, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (v. 25,26). The life lived by the Spirit allows us to overcome conceit and envy and the like, otherwise the exhortation means nothing.
Our job: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). The Greek word translated “count” is an accounting term. It means to believe it and reckon upon it. In others words, you can take it to the bank. It is true, so you can act upon it. You don’t believe it in some fanciful way, hoping it all works out in the end. You live your life based upon the truth and see it worked out in your today. It is not like someone struggling for thirty years with paralysis saying, “I am believing that I am healed,” and hoping like crazy to see the evidence some day. You see it today in your daily experience.
Then where does Romans 7 come in? Aren’t we speaking to a few super saints who don’t have the same temptations that I do? Certainly John is not talking to average Christians, is he? In fact, he is addressing all of us—or the cross of Jesus Christ is powerless. Jesus died, as he goes on to say, “to destroy the works of the devil.” The cross makes victory over sin and Satan my inheritance in Christ. I am not just a conqueror—I am more than a conqueror.
Romans 7 reminds us that none of this is accomplished by working harder or trying more, as if we can pull it off by sheer grit. The Christian life cannot be reduced to personal effort. Only the Spirit can produce the fruit of the Spirit. The words “I” and “me” occur 41 times in Romans 7. The words “Spirit” and “Holy Spirit” occur 22 times in Romans 8. Paul gives us an answer to the frustrated Christian who is trying to live an impossible life; let the Spirit live it for us. This is not a lesson in morality; it is a call to surrender. The frustration over personal failure we find in Romans 7 will either cause us to give it up and go back to sinning or give it over and trust in the power of the cross.
Gordon Fee writes, “Nowhere does Paul describe the Christian life, life in the Spirit, as one of constant struggle with the flesh. He simply does not speak to that question. His point rather is the sufficiency of the Spirit for God’s new end-time people” (Power, Holiness and Evangelism, essays compiled by Randy Clark, p. 17).
John is not mocking us when he says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” He is simply taking the work of the cross and the presence of the Holy Spirit seriously. He is being neither naïve nor unrealistic. He knows the Coach well, and he is living the truth he invites us to experience. But he is quick to add the word about advocacy, knowing that as we set our sights on a holy life that brings God’s favor, we will fail and fail on our way to it. Otherwise the condemnation would send us spiraling into guilty morose and keep us forever from the place of victory.
Later he writes, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (I John 3:4-6). John never treats sin lightly; some of us do: “Hey, we’re all sinners. What’s the big deal? We sin every day.” John never talks that way, because the cross not only deals with the penalty of sin but the power as well. Sin produces guilt, and we don’t do well with guilt. It drives us crazy. Forgiveness deals with the penalty of sin, freeing us from guilt. But John here is speaking of sin’s power to keep us in its grip, which the context confirms. That’s doubly good news. The penalty issue frees me from a guilt-ridden past, granting me a new identity. The power issue gives me hope for today that sin will not be my master (Romans 6:14). That is the sense of John’s words, “…so that he might take away our sins.” Sin becomes less and less a power in our lives. We are becoming more like Jesus, and it is not simply a declared truth—it is a realized truth, because “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” The elder apostle has walked with Jesus for over six decades, and he speaks from experience, not from theory.
He then writes, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (I John 3:8,9). John calls Satan a sinner. He would not call himself or anyone walking in Christ as a sinner. The devil’s work makes us sinners like himself and convinces us that we can’t be anything else, so we keep sinning. But the work of Jesus in coming and dying reverses that process. The context once again shows that John is not talking about the work of forgiveness but the work of transformation. If John speaks with such consistency about the work of sanctification, should not pastors and leaders likewise speak of the powerful work of grace that brings internal change, not only a declaration of forgiveness?
The truth of forgiveness is required for us to be, and therefore see ourselves, as new creatures, washed and clean by the blood of Jesus: “Neither do I condemn you.” What powerful words. But let us not stop there. The cross of Christ not only cleanses—it also transforms: “Go and sin no more!”
Some might think this leads to a kind of camouflage, a holy pretense, far more damaging than just realizing that we’re not made of the stuff that brings holiness. It can. It did for the Pharisees, who preferred looking good to the real thing, who were content to fool the masses, gain their favor—and have God opposing them. But John, by contrast, went for the challenge held out by Christ for the righteousness that exceeded the Pharisees: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). What an outrageous demand coming from the lips of the Master. Like father like son works for an everyday human being, but when applied to the Almighty, it stretches the faith. Talk about an impossible standard—you could not come up with a more outlandish command. Jesus was not given to exaggeration. Either He meant it or He didn’t. Peter was listening, and years later quoted a similar admonition from Leviticus, “Be holy, because I am holy” (I P. 1:16), which is no less possible than what Jesus said. But rather than saying, “Of course, you can give it all you got, but you’ll never come remotely close,” Peter goes on to tell his readers how it is accomplished.
Christ and His fisherman follower were not calling us to climb a mountain that no one could scale, to forever attempt but always fall short, in other words, a hopeless endeavor. They were inviting us to live in God—letting God change us to model His very character, to “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). What frustrated the religious leaders opposing the early Christian movement was that the bold disciples looked, spoke, and acted like the Jesus they had put to death (Acts 4:13). Would that we could be similarly accused.
When I first published this article in our Lutheran Renewal newsletter, the many responses suggested that I had struck a chord. People instinctively knew that they were reading truth, and that being called beyond themselves, far from discouraging them with an unreachable goal, gave them hope for what they knew was a part of their heritage in Christ. If God commanded it, He wasn’t crazy. He hadn’t slipped off His throne in a moment of frenzy. He was prepared to make it true in the lives of those willing to believe Him for it. Will you be one of them? A five-year old girl is. She asked her father, a pastor, “Is it possible, Daddy, to live for a year without sinning?” He responded, “Oh no, honey, that would never be possible.” “Then how about a month, “ she inquired. “Not a chance,” he replied. “A week?” “I don’t think so,” he replied. “Well how about a day?” He said, “I guess someone could live a day without sinning, but I don’t know of anyone who has done it.” Then she asked, “Can anyone go a moment without sinning?” He smiled and said, “Yes, Dear, anyone could go a moment with sinning.” The little girl responded, “Well, Daddy, in that case I plan to live my life moment by moment for Jesus.”
The MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION
Joseph had waited nine painful months. The child’s real Father had been waiting since before the creation of the world. Now the fullness of time had come. That is what makes it hard. We somehow expect God to do things differently.
John speaks the truth in five powerful words: “And the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). You’ve heard of chili con carne, chili with flesh, with meat. Here is God con carne. He had lived forever in unapproachable light. No one had ever seen him. He had been with his Father in creation, and then he became a part of it. Incredible, that the designer of the universe would move among his creation–and that he would not even be recognized. That is because he came as a baby, not super-God. The Mighty One showed up–incognito.
He took on flesh. The untouchable could now be touched. The one who inhabits eternity entered time. The one whose voice once shook the earth cooed in the hearing of human ears. The one whom no one could see has been seen. He has opened himself up to sensory data. He who spans all time invaded our time-space world. As the hymn writer declared, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail incarnate deity.” God had skin on. The eternal life of the Almighty has been revealed to mortal humanity. Ours is the visited planet, forever marked by the divine entry. Immanuel–God is with us. The self-sufficient one has become a dependent. Look at the vulnerability of our eighteen-inch God.
John describes it this way: “That which was from the beginning, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–and the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1-2). God has become verifiable. The inscrutable has been scrutinized.
Did you catch the sense-oriented description? The Greeks said that the senses were illusionary, that they could not be trusted. The Hebrews, on the other hand, were down-to-earth folk, not taken up with the abstract. So John the Hebrew tells us in graphic terms that God came within reach. The Eternal One confined himself to a womb, a manger, an eight-pound body, a residence. As Charles Wesley wrote, “Our God contracted to a span; incomprehensibly made man.” As John proclaimed, “And the life was manifested…”
A FLESH AND BLOOD GOD
Flesh is what separates the creation from its Creator. “God is Spirit,” wrote John (Jn. 4:24). We are flesh and blood. To think of the One who called all life into physical existence encasing himself within skin and bones troubles our brain cells. It would be unthinkable to a Greek. Plutarch said it was abhorrent to involve God in the affairs of the world: “The life of God has not descended to us.” And it was blasphemous to a Jew. Yahweh had declared to Moses, “You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Exod. 33:20). The distance separating God and man was infinite. Man could not bridge it, and God would not.
Flesh in the Bible not only speaks of the physical part of humanity. It also stands for the whole race in its dependent, frail condition. We all share a common destiny–death. The writer of Hebrews says, “It is appointed to man once to die” (Heb. 9: 27). Or as a philosopher once wrote, “Man has a strikingly high mortality rate; ten out of ten die.” Isaiah declared that “all flesh is as grass” (Is. 40:6). Flesh is contrasted to spirit, to things eternal. To say that Jesus became flesh says that he entered this frail human race. He was “found in human form” (Phil. 2:8). To enter a virgin’s womb and be suspected of illegitimacy was a step down for divinity.
Every religion attempts to make man spiritual; Christianity makes God physical. We give it our best religious effort so we can ascend to God. God instead bends down to us. We want to reach the heights, but God descends to the depths. Our futile strivings to reach him by zealous works are in vain, but in faith we can recognize that he has come. The destiny of the human race was implanted in the uterine wall of a virgin girl.
He went from everything to nothing. St. Paul says that “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9). Elsewhere he says that Jesus “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7). He went from eternal wealth to personal poverty. He had his earthly beginning in back of an overcrowded motel.
Then he grew. Luke says, “and Jesus increased” (Luke 2:52). He experienced the same kind of growth pattern that takes place in every human being. He went from diapers (or whatever they used in those days) to children’s clothes. He grew out of things. His sandals got too small for him, so he got bigger ones. He “increased in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52). He grew wiser, and he grew taller.
The Father did not make his Son an exception to the human race. Scripture says that “although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). You would think that if he were God, he could have at least sidestepped pain, like testing out of trials. He did so well as a youth, couldn’t we say, “You passed? No more hardships for you.” But at the end of his ministry, he was still offering up prayers “with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). He was a man. And he was going to the limits as a man. “He was in every respect tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15). He “partook of the same nature” (Heb. 2:14), ate the same foods, suffered the same rejections, and faced the same frustrations.
–that man with flesh on was and is God. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19). God the Father packed undiminished deity into that six-foot frame. When Jesus spoke, it was God speaking. When he thought, it was the thoughts of the Ancient of Days.
Here’s our problem–the God/Man. We don’t have any models. No one could present a prototype for Immanuel. There was only one, never to be reproduced. We can handle the God-idea. And we can deal with a really good man. But putting both in the same person stretches us. That is why sects do weird things with the concept. The Ebionites of the early second century believed that Christ was endowed with supernatural powers at his baptism. They asserted, like the Jews, that his deity was incompatible with monotheism. Docetists said that Christ appeared to have a body but really didn’t. Others said that he had a real body, but denied that it was material. Greeks understood matter to be inherently evil.
Another group, the Cerinthians, separated the human Jesus from the divine Christ. Christ was the spirit that descended at baptism and left at the cross. The Arians believed that there was a time when Christ was not. He was not absolute divinity. The Apollinarians denied Christ’s human nature. The Nestorians denied the union of the divine and human natures of Christ. They said that the Logos dwelt in the man Jesus like an indwelling spirit. The Eutychians on the other hand said that Christ was divine, body and all.
Present-day cults repeat all these early church heresies in one form or another. The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the virgin birth and the physical resurrection. The Mormons say that Jesus was less than God but was exalted to become equal with the Father. Liberalism emphasizes the man Jesus, the perfect model, not the God/Man who rescues us from sin. Christian Science believes that matter is an illusion and must be overcome by the spirit. Jesus is the human man, Christ the divine idea. St. John identified all such heresies as the spirit of the antichrist, because they do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (I John 4:2).
At the very center of Christianity is this proclamation: “The Word became flesh.” We didn’t and we couldn’t get up to God. He came down to us. Paul writes, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifest in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16). He tells the Colossians that Jesus “has now reconciled (them) in his body of flesh by his death” (Col. 1:22). Peter writes that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh” (I Pet. 3:18). God put on skin–and he still has it. He told the startled disciples at one of his resurrection appearances, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). The person on the throne next to the Father is Jesus–and he is a man. When we get to heaven, we will see scars to prove it. Paul wrote, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5). Bethlehem says a mighty “Amen” to the promise of Immanuel, and a resounding “no” to every teaching that makes Jesus either less than God or more than man. He is both.
Why the big deal? What is at stake? Only the eternal salvation of humanity. We sinned. We carry the death penalty over our heads. God doesn’t. So we must die. But if we die, we die as sinners, separated in eternity as in time from the God who created us to know him. God had no penalty to pay, so he could die as our substitute, but only as a part of our race. Therefore, “since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Because he was God, he could defeat the devil who was stronger than we. Because he was man, he could step into the race and begin a new destiny as the second Adam. A man alone could not represent both sides. Jesus, the God/Man, brought both together.
Jesus took on flesh and blood; the Father didn’t. People who casually say that they know God, referring to him as the man upstairs, are in for a big surprise. No man can see God and live. Unless they have come to God through Jesus Christ, the awesome holiness of the unapproachable God will cause them to shudder in terror for all eternity. No one in the Old Testament thought it possible to see God. He was too removed, too different, too distant. And that is the God Jesus came to tell us about. John writes, “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus came to tell us about—Yahweh God. He explained him to us. Those who say glibly, “I am ready to meet my Maker,” have no idea of the absolutely blinding holiness, the inexpressible splendor and glory of the invisible, immortal God. Only the God/Man can bring us into his presence. And he took on flesh to make the way.
Plato said, “Never man and God can meet.” He was wrong. Celsus scoffed at the way Christians called God Father, because “God is way beyond everything.” He was wrong too. Isaiah prophesied that a child would be born, a son given. One of his names would be “Mighty God.” He became the meeting place of the divine and the human–and he brings the two together.
A Sunday school teacher asked her class to draw a picture from the Gospels. When she asked one boy what he was drawing, he said, “God.” So she explained, “But no one has seen Him. We don’t know what God looks like.” To which the boy replied without looking up, “They will when I get done.”
Jesus came to us. He identified with us. Do you suffer? So did Jesus. You feel cramped. So did he, especially on the cross. Do you ever feel lonely? Jesus did too, and forsaken. God didn’t look down on our mess and say, “I’ve had it.” He came down and got involved. He lived among us in Jesus, and suffered and died. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He said to Philip, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John l4:9). When he got done, we knew what God looked like—Jesus!
A THEOLOGY OF WORK
Karen and I took a trip to Japan in the 80’s. One thing that impressed me was the way Japanese people worked. When we pulled into a gas station, we are greet by happy faces and bowing bodies. They started right in on the windows. They bowed after they pumped the gas and brought the change. Then they went out to the curb to help direct us back into traffic. As we passed, they bowed of course. We got the idea that they enjoyed serving us.
Attribute the modern day miracle of a war-torn Japan becoming a major economic power to its peoples’ attitude toward work. It trumps our American work ethic, in which most folks put in their time, but when the weekend comes, “TGIF!” Most Japanese show pride in their work and their company and are quick to pull out their “meishi” (business card). Tokyo garbage men scour and shine their trucks every morning before work. Coffee breaks in the afternoon often include ten minutes of calisthenics with piped-in music.
Japan needs to learn how to relax. They play tennis and golf with the same seriousness that they work. But young Americans raised by “easy does it” baby boomers need to learn how to work. Japanese companies tell us no new secrets. They are simply preaching the value of hard work. We had it, but we lost it. Our country was birthed by people who knew the dignity of duty. Many of our early politicians came out of shops and farms to help run a young nation. A proper outlook toward work would go a long way to help bring restoration.
What if what you are doing on Monday is just as important as what you do on Sunday? What if the two hours you spend at church is invested in the thirty or forty hours you spend in the workplace? What if Sunday impacted Monday so much that Monday impacted Sunday? What if we saw no difference between “full-time ministry” and full-time work? What if there wasn’t any? What if we didn’t over-emphasize ministry and under-emphasize the value of work? What if work was a form of worship? What if the people who spent five to eight hours a day with the same people were able to see that job as ministry and went to work with the goal of letting their lights shine? They would quit saying TGIF. What if the workplace carried as much glamor as ministry? What if we heard testimonies of people who had a dramatic call to the marketplace as much as people who had a call to ministry?
Do you view work as a necessary evil or as a holy calling from God? I am writing to share a theology of work, either to hopefully change your outlook or to bolster your Biblical view.
WHY DO WE WORK?
It is godly. That means that it is like God. Scripture reveals that God works hard. He rested on the seventh day because He had finished six days of work. The Bible pictures the Creator as a manual laborer: “The heavens are the work of your hands” (Ps. 102:25). We might think that when He finished creation, He sat back and has not worked a day since. Jesus taught otherwise: “My Father is working still and I am working” (John 5:17). The Ancient of days did not wind up the world like a watch and observe it tick away. He stays personally involved in its preservation. If you like to work, credit God, who has worked from creation on. In fact, when He turned to His great redemptive plan, He laid bare his arms. Sounds like He rolled up His sleeves and went to work (Isaiah 52:10).
Jesus worked. The carpenter labored in the family business for eighteen years and an itinerant ministry for only three. That should say something significant about the value of work. He called men from the laboring class, not the easy aristocracy. He told them, “We must work the works of him that sent me while it is day. Night comes, when no man can work” (John 9:4). As evening approached He was able to say, “I have accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Now He directs the work of the Church from His throne in heaven and sustains the universe by His word.
If Jesus showed up at our meeting, where might we find him? I’d say praying in a side room with a broken-hearted person. Or maybe in the kitchen doing the dishes. You might think that someone as important as the Son of God would naturally be served while on earth. Not even close. After serving His family for almost twenty years, He served the poor for three.
Paul worked. The famous missionary mended tents. He worked so he would not burden people to provide for him (I Thess. 2:9). He told the Ephesian elders, “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me” (Acts 20:34). He did this, as he wrote, “…not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow” (2 Thess. 3:9).
We were created to work. Work did not come with the curse. Adam was employed before the Fall. God’s first command was to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Then God played a game with him called, “Name that beast,” and God did not micromanage. He gave us the earth, but it would need to be worked to sustain human life. “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Genesis 2:8). God made work for man; then He made man for work. The curse meant that work just got more difficult.
We work to eat. A man once said, “God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.” The Psalmist wrote, “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth” (Ps. 104:14). God told Adam, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food” (Genesis 1:29). St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian saints, some of whom were leaning on their hoes and waiting for Christ’s return: “If any man will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Try that in today’s America! We reward people for not working. We demoralize millions by not teaching the dignity of labor.
We work to help others. Many Christians do not understand this. They have adopted a capitalistic outlook that says, “What’s mine is mine? I worked for it.” Paul said differently, “In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). He had already written to them that each man should do “honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need” (Eph. 4:28). I know people who work to give away to the needy. Scripture promised the generous heart that “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).
We work to grow. Work teaches us Christ-like living. Jesus said that “whoever would be great…must be servant of all.” He came “not to be served but to serve…” (Matt. 20:27,28). Some young adults show reluctance to work or to serve because they are “looking for their ministry.” One’s calling, however, is as likely to be found in the shop as in the sanctuary. Dwight L. Moody pointed out that the people God called were busy at work: “Saul was seeking his father’s donkeys and David his father’s sheep when called to the kingdom. The shepherds were feeding their flocks when they had their glorious revelation. God called the four apostles from their fishing and Matthew from collecting taxes, Amos from the horsemen of Tecoah, Moses from keeping Jethro’s sheep, Gideon from the threshing floor, Elisha from the plows. God never called a lazy man. God never encourages idleness and will not despise persons in the lowest employment.”
HOW DO WE WORK?
With diligence. I was jogging through a park when I passed some workers plodding along. They were attacking the weeds like they were senile, and I wondered if they would ever finish. Twenty minutes later I passed them going the other way. They had progressed about a foot. Irritation turned to pity as I thought, “They probably had no father to model the joy of work.” My father taught his children, “Always leave a place cleaner then when you found it,” so we did. He rose early and he worked hard. The elders in the church where I served bemoaned the fact that they could no longer find good workers to hire. Fathers are forgetting to teach their children the wisdom of diligence.
Solomon wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccles. 9:10). The apostle Paul spoke similarly when he said, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men” (Col. 3:23). Successful people work hard. They don’t simply live for quitting time.
With responsibility. Those who work better when the boss shows up forget their accountability to the ultimate Employer. He reviews what the manager misses. He knows whether good work has been done for the paycheck. Those faithful with the little will be rewarded with much in the world to come. Paul exhorted believers to do honest work. He told employees to serve their bosses “with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ” (Eph. 6:5). The apostle had a high view of work
It does not take effort to cheat an employer in time or efficiency. Those who look through their bosses to Christ are less likely to cut corners or time. Hard work guards against dishonesty. Those without work are more likely to go after easy money wrongly acquired.
With thankfulness. Work comes as God’s gift, so we give thanks for it. A friend complained about his job—until he lost it. Then he realized his ingratitude. Working beats not working. We can thank God for health, for good backs and brains, for food on the table. TGIF really means, “Thank God I’m functioning.”
With joy. We need more Christians exuding joy as they go about their work spreading the fragrance of Christ. When God completed creation, He “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). A job well done brings personal fulfillment. Joy during brings joy after. Goethe said, “It is not doing the thing which we like to do, but liking to do the thing which we have to do that makes life blessed.”
Three stone-cutters at work were approached by a stranger. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” The man replied briskly, “Cutting stone. Can’t you see?”
He inquired with a second man, and his answer reflected only slightly more joy: “I’m making a living.” When he asked the third man, he raised his head and said with dignity, “I’m building a cathedral.” Thomas Carlyle said, “Blessed is the man who sings at his work.” And Jesus said, “I delight to do your will.” Productive, self-fulfilling work brings joy and fights off depression.
SOME LIABILITIES OF WORK
Working too hard. Those toiling in the fast lane need to remember that even God took a rest. Vocation without vacation brings stress our bodies ought not carry. God did not command Sabbath rest for His sake. And it wasn’t one of The Ten Suggestions. While in Japan I heard a man brag that he had not taken a day of vacation in thirty years. He might be working toward an early retirement! The Christian psychologist, Archibald Hart, author of a book on stress, encourages workaholics to look at faces of those around them. Do other people, like their children, also have goals, desires, and aspirations that call for attention?
Working too little. The Wisdom literature speaks poignantly about sloth: “He who is slack at his work is a brother to him who destroys” (Prov. 18:9). Scripture doesn’t take laziness lightly. I would not use wickedness and laziness in the same sentence. Jesus did (Matt. 25:26). One of the sins that destroyed Sodom was “careless ease” (Ezekiel 16:49). The prophets of Israel denounced the indolent: “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). Isaiah wrote, “Tremble, you women who are at ease…” (32:11).
In Rome the patricians had slaves to do their work. They considered labor below their dignity. The Greeks were better thinkers than workers, enjoying bull sessions more than work parties. Into this Graeco-Roman culture, the Master-Workman of the universe, sent His Son, who “took the form of a servant.” The Carpenter invited the lowly to walk with Him and change their world! A European who came to the States was struck by the parting statement, “Take it easy.” He had seen a whole nation taking it easy and thought another salutation might fit better. Japan could profit from such a farewell, but not an “easy does it” culture.
Working for self. Self-indulgence threatens hard workers. Whether we are pursuing more strokes, more bucks or another car, the focus points home. Jesus told a parable about a man whose work morphed into idolatry. After building bigger barns, he said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” The party was cut short. He dropped dead that night. We might have commended him for planning ahead and working hard; God didn’t. He didn’t call him a capitalist; He called him a fool (Luke 12:20).
A custodian worked at our church for over thirty years. Everyone loved this hard-working, cheerful servant. No job was beneath Henry. He didn’t wear clothes from Macy’s or live in a fancy home (some would have called it a shack), but he often gave money away to people more needy than himself. Henry not only worked to stay alive. He helped others stay alive.
Separating the secular from the spiritual. By working as a laborer, our Lord sanctified common toil for all time. The veteran apostle set an example for manual work. God’s grace gives divine value to any job done as unto Him. The plumber with his wrench and the secretary with her pen fulfill a needed service. I’d like to preach a sermon sometime called, “Engineers, Teachers, and Other Full-time Ministers.” Pastors would do well to give people vision for their jobs, so they turn work into worship and use eight hours to connect with people in life-giving ways.
I smile at the hype of the mission trip letters. This junior missionary is going to change the culture and come back tattooed with the cross. I rejoice at the new vision of the world, but “radical” does not mean flying to Mexico and doing VBS for two weeks. It is working hard for decades to the glory of God the Worker!
I admit that when I am sitting under a pile of assignments with deadlines screaming at me, retirement looms as a joyful relief. My dad, however, failed miserably at retiring. Bored with the option of ease, he returned to work, starting a new church at the age of 75. Now he rests from his labors—and prepares for more assignments. We will work in the new earth. In fact, we are rewarded for faithfulness with more responsibility. I thank God for a dad who modeled the delight of duty. Parents who so instruct their children are increasing their earning power, but more important, are teaching them how to live.
I AM RESPONSIBLE
Responsible—it has the word “response” in it. A responsible person is ready to give a response, an answer. Webster says that a responsible person is answerable. God made man on the last day of creation to rule (Gen. 1:26, 28). To rule does not mean to do as you please but to exercise responsible leadership. Dogs and pigs were not given that responsibility—man was. God went so far as to give Adam the assignment for naming the animals over whom he was given responsibility. He was made answerable for creation and specifically for the Garden of Eden. To say that we are responsible means that we are answerable—and ultimately to God who created us.
Lucifer wanted more responsibility but acted with gross irresponsibility. He was released of his responsibility and thrown out of heaven. He went after the crown of God’s creation to get back at God. His every act is an irresponsible one.He put doubt in man’s mind about about God’s trustworthiness and love, which led to the couples’ irresponsible disobedience. Sin is always an act of irresponsibility. We never have a good reason, a valid alibi. The most responsible thing to do when we have acted irresponsibly is to acknowledge it. When Adam acted with defiant irresponsibility, he compounded it by blaming God and his wife, who blamed the serpent, rather than accepting responsibility for his irresponsibility.
Irresponsibility often turns into excusing or blaming, playing the victim rather than the victor, reacting instead of responding. When Adam’s son Cain killed his brother and was called to answer to God, he excused himself by asking cynically, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In other words, “I am not responsible for him.” Irresponsibility defines our fallen nature. When sin entered the human race, irresponsibility ran rampant. Murder was the ultimate irresponsible act, taking out the person he was to care for.
We are sanctified into increasing responsibility, both in the natural and spiritual spheres. This is especially needed in a society that talks more about rights than responsibilities and for whom suing others has become epidemic. The message is, “I am not responsible, but you are.” An entitlement outlook focuses on my rights and your responsibilities. A victim mentality zooms in on what I needed, wanted, expected, and should have received—but didn’t, and holds the world responsible. The Word of God, however, points us to our responsibilies as redeemed people growing in our responses to God.
The airline tells us that it is not responsible for flight times; the hotel says it is not responsible for valuables left in the room; the restaurant says it is not responsible for the cars in the parking lot. In a society overdosing on rights and anemic about responsibilities, sanctified saints say, “I am responsible.” For what? For…
MY THOUGHTS. Thoughts can get away from us, so we are commanded, “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5b). If your thoughts are making you discouraged or depressed, have another thought. This is possible because “we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16). David wisely asks God: “Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me…” (Psalm 139:23,24). Peace comes from having a steadfast mind (Isaiah 26:3). Paul commands us to think only on those things that are true, noble, and pure (Philippians 4:8), a command that assumes we are equipped to carry it out. To do so is to love God with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). Our thoughts don’t control us; we control our thoughts. We don’t own all our thoughts, taking them in like receiving a stray dog looking for a home. We turn away those thoughts that do not reflect who we are in Christ. So check it out: any unhealthy thought patterns, any mental games that are producing bad fruit, any fantasies? I am responsible for correcting wrong thoughts—and I can by God’s good grace.
MY ATTITUDES. Attitudes are formed from thoughts. If my default position is judgment and disfavor, I need to challenge my attitudes. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), which was an attitude of humble and obedient service. And Peter likewise urges us: “Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude” (I Peter 4:1). If what Charles Swindoll has said is true, that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it, then a Christ-like attitude guarantees a healthy life. God’s Word judges not only our thoughts but our attitudes as well (Hebrews 4:12). I not only read the Book—it reads me. And attitudes include motives, not only what we think but why and how we think. I need to pray, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). So how is your attitude? Are you able to thank God in all situations, or at least in most? Are you letting Him work all things for good?
MY WORDS. Words matter to God, because they carry energy—for good or for evil: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). We will give account for every careless word (Matthew 12:36). Because the tongue is difficult to tame, those who do are called mature and complete (James 1:4). David commands us to keep our tongue from evil and our lips from speaking lies (Psalm 34:13). The speech of righteous people rescues them (Proverbs 12:6), keeping them out of trouble (Proverbs 21:23). Is your mouth keeping you out of trouble—or in it? Are your words gracious, well-seasoned, edifying, comforting, and encouraging? Any untamed words on the loose?
MY ACTIONS. Paul writes that “each one should test his own actions” (Galatians 6:4), and the light of God exposes our actions for what they are (John 3:17-21). The eternal destiny of the sheep and the goats is determined in the teaching of Christ by their deeds (Matthew 25:31-46). Paul says that God “will give to each person according to what he has done” (Romans 2:6). Our actions reflect our heart. So we are commanded, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Colossians 3:17). If actions speak louder than words, what are my actions saying? The Great Commandment tells us to direct actions toward heaven (worship, prayer, Bible reading) and toward others (deeds of self-denial and mercy).
MY RESOURCES. Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (I Corinthians 4:7). We are stewards, not owners; we manage what is God’s. We hold everything lightly because we own nothing. In the parable of the talents, a man entrusts his property to servants for investment purposes, and he judges the unproductive servant harshly. We will be judged for not using talents and treasures given to us. Are you a good steward of your resources—your car, your home, your space, your body, your ministry, your friends? Is God commending you? If I speak in tongues and prophesy, I am to faithfully steward those gifts, employing them like tools “as good stewards of God’s grace” (I Peter 4:10). People filled with the Spirit redeem the time, “making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15). Time, one of God’s gracious gifts, is to be invested, not spent. “So teach us to number our days…” (Ps. 90:12).
THE ENVIRONMENT. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” so we look after it, careful not to pollute it. Our assignment to rule over nature (plant and animal life) does not mean to do as we wish but as God wills. Contamination reflects irresponsible care.
MY BROTHER AND SISTER. In the body of Christ, we live with interdependence. Cain wanted to escape that responsibility. Paul writes that “each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). He says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Am I demonstrating responsibility in caring for others?
MY BODY. Paul reminds us, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:19,20). I am to care for my body. Call it temple maintenance. I am not free to eat what I want when I want. I am responsible for giving my body proper exercise and sleep. If I die early because of poor stewardship, I am not fulfilling my destiny in God.
MY SPACE. God gives us territory for which we take responsibility. Our space starts with our room, our car, our possessions. We are called to be faithful with the “very little” in order to increase our territory. If we fail to “take dominion” over our space, why would God give us the farm? What does “very little” look like to you?
MY CHILDREN. I cannot guarantee that they will join me in heaven, but I am responsible to do whatever I can to facilitate it. Wounding a child’s heart does not rate high with God. We are answerable for bringing up our children in the “training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4) and leave the rest to God.
THE LOST. The lost do not know that they are lost. Those who do know are responsible for them (Ezekiel 33: 7-9).
TO GROW IN RESPONSIBILITY
Posture yourself as a servant. We are children of the Father and servants of the Lord. “Grace be to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” We hold the two identities in natural tension. One complements the other. Servants make no assumptions, like, “I deserve a rest.” Jesus told His disciples, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10). It is not hard to spot a servant. They look for what needs to ber done and do it. Confess your passivity, find a need, and meet it. Don’t be like the elder brother who worked hard but said, “Appreciate me. I am killing myself for you folks.”
Consider the reward of responsibility—more responsibility. How you live now impacts how you will live in the new earth. You will receive a significant upgrade in responsibility and with it corresponding authority. Responsible people have the blessing of heaven on their life—now and in eternity.
To be responsible is to be response-able, able to respond to God. I respond to God concerning how I spend my time and resources, how I use my mind, my body, my words and actions as a servant of Jesus Christ. And may the One to whom I am response-able say when I am through, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The only problem is: I am all too often irresponsible. I have wasted time and words and actions. I have behaved as if I am accountable to no one. I can only come for mercy with my poor record to the one person in the universe who was and is responsible—Jesus Christ, lay hold on His forgiveness, and grow in grace—and responsibility. I need to move past the deception that says, “Because I know it I am doing it.” To know and not to do is not to know. The single difference between the man who survives through the storms of life and the one whose house crumbles is that the wise man hear the words of God and puts them into practice (Matthew 7:24). So I will repent about what I am not doing and believe God to empower me to change.
There are only two ways to live, one is by the law, the other is by faith. Either I trust in my innate strength and will-power to change or I go outside myself to trust in the resources of heaven. When I hear that I need to grow in responsibility, I can either try harder or trust more. I can either go to Mount Sinai where the people responded to the commands of God, “All that you have said we will do,” or I can go to Calvary’s holy mountain, where I hear the good news that it is already done. I can either operate under the merit system or the mercy system. If I believe that I can pull off the assignment to change my behavior and walk in responsibility, I am hearing the word as demand. But under the law, there is no supply to match the demand. If, however, I hear the word as an invitation to trust in the righteousness of Christ on my behalf, the supply of grace is limitless for me. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” The grace of God empowers me to walk in ever-increasing responsibility.
This is because God is the most responsible Person in the universe. He is responsible with His words: “Every word of God is flawless.” He is responsible with His actions: “…he is good, and his mercy endures forever.” He is faithful to the thousandth generation. We can depend on His word and His works. He never forgets an assignment or appointment. What He says He does. He never has to apologize or excuse Himself for falling short of expectations. He never stretches the truth or defends Himself for missing an opportunity. He is responsible as a Father for His children. As a shepherd He cares for His sheep with a watchful and compassionate eye. As a King He exercises His rule with righteousness and mercy. So I look to Him and He makes me responsible: “Faithful is he who has called you, and he will do it.”
REFLECTIONS ON HOUSE CHURCHES
If it works, don’t fix it. If it doesn’t work, thinking it might start working won’t fix it. We should learn from seventeen centuries that there may be another way of doing church. How about checking out the way church was done before Christianity became Christendom and lost its original fire?! If it took a Reformation to bring us back to a Biblical understanding of the gospel message, it may take another one to help us connect with a New Testament structure.
Not that there is only one way of gathering the saints together, but some wineskins may carry the new wine better than others. We’re not talking about tweaking the Sunday worship service or rearranging the pews; we are talking overhaul. That is exciting to some, terrifying to others. Change is costly, but not changing costs more—and the Church desperately needs change. Could house churches come alongside the traditional church model as an alternative structure? Would the Church be strengthened by having this wineskin for some?
Significant things happened at houses in the early church:
- Pentecost started in a house. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:1,2).
- The church grew as it met in homes, while larger gatherings occurred at the temple: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). Church Growth authors speak of three different groups for assembling together: cell (small house group), congregation (the traditional model today), and celebration (groupings of cells coming together for joint worship). “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42).
- Saul, who later became Paul, knew how to persecute the church: “Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).
- The Spirit fell on Gentiles in a house gathering with Peter (Acts 10:25).
- The Philippian church was likely birthed in Lydia’s house (Acts 16:15; 16:40).
- Priscilla and Aquila, leaders along with Paul, had a church that met in their house (Ro.16:5; I Cor.16:19).
- Others had churches in their homes, including Nympha (Col.4:15) and Archippus (Philemon 2).
- Paul met with people in homes. It was his evangelistic strategy to begin in the synagogue, but when he had a critical mass that believed, he met with them in homes. In his farewell to the Ephesians elders, where he stayed longer than any other place, he said that he taught “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
House churches include some advantages over traditional churches. Here are some:
Low cost. Just keep paying the mortgage.
Fellowship. It beats staring at the neck of the person in front of you. The sharing of lives may take place better in a home atmosphere than in a church building. It tends to be more relational than institutional. House churches are natural extensions of the nuclear family and have a family atmosphere sometimes lacking in a traditional church. A cell church pastor told me that he could see Christianity lived out on a daily basis in homes because life was less segmented, more organic.
Evangelism. It is more natural to invite someone to a home than to a church building. We want to impact our neighborhood. We can’t think of a better way than to plant a house church. And they multiply more easily than traditional structures.
Discipleship. Most people are spectators in congregations. The percentage of those involved as participants in house churches is larger. The structure of the house church makes application of truth a more lively potential, where the fellowship has created a sense of interdependence. We don’t need more knowledge; we need more obedience. Learning the spiritual disciplines might happen more readily in the setting of a house church. It is a place where gifts can be developed. It is probably easier in a house church to overcome the “what’s in it for me” syndrome. And because of the size, fewer people will likely fall through the cracks.
Leadership. Congregations often require a seminary-trained pastor, and the church is experiencing an epidemic shortage of them. House churches look for a mature leader, an elder in the faith. While church members in mainline denominations would be surprised to have an elder type who did not have seminary experience overseeing a church, most would not be surprised with the same person overseeing a house meeting. House churches can be one answer to the pastoral shortfall. They also answer to the clergy-laity gap. The very format of a house church works against the performance mentality that cripples many traditional churches, the one-man band.
Humility. It is more humble to meet in a home than in a grand and costly edifice. To expand, you don’t build an expensive building; you simply find another home.
New Testament model. Church structures flourished when Christianity became a state-recognized religion. Under persecution in the first two centuries, the house church model grew.
History. The success of house churches in places like China, Africa, South America, and Russia is compelling. Revival and awakening have often been accompanied by a house church movement, as in the case of the Pietists, Wesleyans, Moravians, Haugians, and Mennonites.
Transparency, an important quality for the release of grace, tends to happen more consistently and at a deeper level in house churches than in traditional ones. There’s much less chance to hide in small groups.
Healing. People wounded, disillusioned, or disenfranchised by a conventional church experience can find healing in the open atmosphere of a house church.
But there are some liabilities of house churches as well:
- Most have only known the traditional model of the congregation. We are unfamiliar with the house church model. It seems cultic to some. It will take a long time for many to think of meetings in homes as legitimate church and to view a leader as their pastor. A cell church pastor friend was asked by another minister, “When are you going to build a real church?” Others will wonder if it “counts” to go to a home church. People not familiar with the house church style that favors fellowship and relationship could think they have missed the main event if they don’t get a thirty-minute sermon.
- Having been fed on program-organized church with activities for all ages, the transfer to a relational-based church will take us through withdrawal. Programs (such as children’s and youth activities) may need to be replaced by stronger family ties, which for some households will prove difficult. We have relied on other people and programs to do the work for us (some of which have been vital). We would need to overcome the perceived need for a variety of programs.
- House churches could be the latest “answer” to the pressing needs of the church, another fad to be quickly tried—and discarded.
- Because the change is a radical one to a wineskin of the house church, it will take a spirit of endurance to overcome numerous obstacles. For instance, there’s give and take in house churches that people from conventional churches may be unused to. Sunday morning is usually more “take” than “give.”
- Conventional churches that have a building and professionally trained leaders have an endurance factor that house churches do not have. House church leaders will need to stay the course when resistance and competition come from the Christian culture and from society.
- Robert and Julia Banks speak about some liabilities in their book, The Church Comes Home. Some people want to be incognito when they go to church (p.85). They may not want the intensity of relationship found in some house churches. This kind of commitment takes time, and some don’t have any more time to give (p.86). There’s a price to pay for community, and many are not prepared to make that commitment. An increasingly mobile society works more against house churches than traditional churches, although both are impacted. The program orientation, as has already been noted, is a huge barrier to relationally-based houses churches. Banks observes that in many churches “the program is more important than the people who make up the group” (p. 90). They conclude that “home churching is about developing people, not programs” (p. 91), which is certainly true for healthy conventional churches as well.
Some reflections on the House Church Movement:
- If a structure is not working well, consider options. The present structure can inhibit relationship, which the church needs to be built upon. It is inefficient; the church building is typically used for only a few hours a week. Because of the focus on the building, the message to the lost has typically been, “Come to church,” not the message of the Gospel. The present structure makes celebration of the Lord’s Supper different from the way the early Christians celebrated it.
- The home is the basic structure of society. We need to return to this basic societal structure to strengthen the life of the church.
- The Church changed drastically when it stopped being the persecuted—and became the persecutor. The sad history of Christianity includes the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the killing of so-called infidels and heretics. The voice of dissent was squelched in horrendous ways. For the first three centuries and under persecution house churches flourished. Persecution of Christians is rising, and history shows that the most effective means of growth under persecution is the house church.
- Big is not always beautiful, though growing a mega-church is often the goal of pastors. Christian Swartz has showing in his extensive research (Natural Church Development) that smaller churches on the whole have an advantage over larger churches and they tend to be healthier. And Wolfgang Simson, in his excellent book, Houses That Change the World, says that we must become small to become large. The American church desperately needs health, which will lead naturally, not artificially, to growth.
- To multiply churches, we would need to multiply leaders. Leadership is a major focus of house church movements.
How would we begin a transition if we are convinced that one is needed?
- Think about underlying values first. Ask yourself, “Am I convinced that the values of the house church are worth going after?” What are the values of the house church?
- Don’t think quick fix. It is one of the long-term solutions to a 1700-year problem.
- Consider the questions involved: Must it be either-or? Could we take some things from the house church model and apply it to the traditional model? Could we begin with a cell church model and transition to a house church? Would we do a house church alongside a traditional church? Are we talking evolution or revolution? Would some be ready to experiment and simply test it out as Daniel tested out healthy food? Could it be an evangelistic tool for neighborhoods? How could oversight be given to the house churches to help keep the focus and to guard against heresy? Will pastors be busier if they transitioned to a house church model, or would they be less busy? Would pastoral care increase or decrease?
Pastors understand that to embrace the house church movement as an alternative structure could mean a change in their job description. The wineskins of the Church today are killing many pastors. As demands increase, more pastors are deciding that they would rather be doing something less exhaustive. Could house churches be one of God’s answers for the Church today? When we are faced with something that calls for massive change, we are tempted to fall back on the security of the past. Brian McLaren, in The Church on the Other Side, would encourage us to “maximize discontinuity,” that is, to be flexible in light of great need.
We have been hearing this message about house churches for several decades. Howard Snyder brought it in his excellent books (Community of the King and The Problem of Wineskins), and many have read Watchman Nee’s book on The Normal Christian Church Life. The success of the house church movement in recent years has brought it into the limelight from the fringes. It is gathering momentum around the world, and I believe it is coming from the wind of the Spirit. We would do well at least to understand what is going on, if not to get personally involved. It could be quite a homecoming!
DOES GOD HAVE FAVORITES? (Paul Anderson)
God moves comfortably in the realm of the impossible. We, like the old priest Zechariah, might look for reasons why something can’t happen. We struggle to wrap our brain around a miracle—God lives there. And He found a girl prepared to accept that without fighting. Her final input was, “Let it be.” She had come to know a mighty God, as she proclaimed in her song of praise, and He was about to demonstrate His power in her body. She agreed. Spell it faith.
Luke sets her story right after Elizabeth’s. Her priestly husband’s response contrasts Mary’s. He chose to receive the shocking news of a coming birth with skepticism. His final word (and I do mean final) was, “How?” He looked at probabilities, arguing against the angel based on age. The same messenger months later received the opposite response from the young girl. He saw her heart opening to the supernatural, not closing in doubt. So after explaining how the birth was going to happen, he gave an example of another impossible birth about to take place four months hence, then adding, “For nothing is impossible with God.” God has favorites—people He favors because of their choice to favor Him. Jesus said that those who honor Him would be honored—and vice versa (Matt. 10:32,33).
The back-to-back birth stories provide a rich contrast and complement. The senior couple prayed many years for a child, while Mary was still a virgin. The shame the elder couple felt in barrenness was lifted with the pregnancy, while shame came upon Mary when she began to show. Even geography figures into the drama. The priest and his wife came from Judea, while Mary lived in Nazareth, a place of questionable reputation. Both participated in a miracle, one because of age, the other bypassing the normal route toward parenthood. A pregnant virgin is an oxymoron is there ever was one. Both received visits from Gabriel, with five months intervening. Both women marveled at the grace of God shown them. And by divine action, both women carrying children marked for greatness came together at the home of Elizabeth. The young mother-to-be needed the strength her older relative could provide, but she had no idea how that encouragement would come—through prophetic proclamation of pinpoint accuracy.
Favor with God trumps the blessing of man, and that is how Mary towers above others. Elizabeth spoke appropriately and with volume, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear. But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 2:42,43). She then closed her astounding message with yet more strength-giving words: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” This provided a stirring entrance into the song of Mary, words set to music ever since.
THE REAL FAVORITE
The spotlight now turned from the girl to the God who favored the girl, the God her Savior, the Mighty One, whose “mercy extends to those who fear him,” as Mary certainly did, who “has performed mighty deeds with his arm,” who “has helped his servant Israel” through that mercy. It was being shown not just to a small nation but to the world, as the Mighty One sends His Child to be born of a virgin, whose birth will divide history, marshal armies, split up families and nations, and force a decision from every person who will ever live.
So how should we honor Mary? Do we worship her? Had the apostles wanted to assign her significance beyond what Elizabeth gave her, either as a co-redemptrice or with the title of “theotokos” (mother of God), they would have given her mention in the rest of the New Testament. Their silence is telling. We can say what Elizabeth said about her and what she said herself. She is to be honored greatly for her faith and humility and for raising the Son of Man, and yet according to her own words, she is dwarfed by the true favorite of God, the hero of heaven, the only begotten one. He, not she, stands at the center of Scripture. Mary’s prayer tells us where the focus is, on the great one. We magnify the person Mary magnifies. When David DuPlessis was asked in a crowd of Protestants and Catholics how we should treat Mary, he responded wisely, “We should listen to her words spoken at the marriage in Cana, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”
Mary was chosen above thousands of other potential mothers. Why? God found her to be a vessel ready for use. We will never do what Mary did, but we can live as Mary lived. We can choose to obey, when obedience brings a sword. We can please God, inviting His favor—regardless.
Daniel pleased God in similar way. When the same traveling angel visited that Old Testament prophet, the messenger said, “You are highly esteemed.” When another angel came to Daniel in a vision, he also told him twice that he was highly esteemed. How did the angel know this? God must have told him. To have favor with God means having influence with people. No one in history was given more influence than the young man taken from his homeland at a young age, who lived long enough to see two great world empires and to serve and strongly impact the mightiest men on the face of the earth. He wasn’t asking for favor with people. That honor brought opposition from those who were not honored as he was. People will always pay a price to be heard on high. Influence in heaven brings a reaction in hell.
Would you rather be noticed by people or by God? For whom are you performing? The Pharisees’ target audience was the people, and they received their reward. You could match them—or you could have an audience of One—and extend influence beyond your Nazareth. The One who hears and answers the most simple prayer is looking for participants in His story.
Where would God go today, two thousand years later, if He needed someone to cooperate with Him in a supernatural action? Would He find you prepared to sign up? Or would you give Him reasons why it could not happen? Would you encourage Him to go elsewhere because you are facing crises in your life, because you have endured a series of unanswered prayers or have just walked through some hardships that have discouraged you? Or would you receive the offer with a humble heart that says, “Let it be,” ready for the breakthrough of heaven into earth, ready to see a miracle masquerading behind misfortune?
And how God looks for such partners. “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron. 16:9). God would love to favor you. It does not depend upon gifting or personality or IQ but on your willingness to let God show His power—through you, just as He did through Mary and through Daniel.
A favorite is literally one who is favored. Favoritism is defined by Webster as “the showing of more kindness and indulgence to some person or persons than to others; being unfairly partial.” God does not show favoritism in this negative sense, and He forbids us from it as well, because He is a just God: “My brothers…don’t show favoritism” (James 2:1). But to have favorites (that is, to favor some over others) is both our right and obligation, and God definitely has favorites in this way. Gabriel’s opening words to Mary were, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (Luke 1:28). When she was troubled at the greeting, Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor (“charis—grace”) with God” (v. 30). How did Gabriel know this? God must have told him. Mary’s way of life, of putting God at the center rather than at the edge, of being humble and pure, was pleasing to God. The psalmist writes, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil” (Psalm 5:4). As a father, disobedience by one of my children gives me no joy. How much more so for a holy God. He is drawn to the obedient, compelled by His own righteousness to associate with them and pour blessing on them. Jesus said, “If anyone love me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). God enjoys spending time with people who show by their life that they want to be with Him. By contrast, the psalmist says, “With you the wicked cannot dwell” (Psalm 5:4b). If you disregard Him in your thoughts, words, and actions, He doesn’t want to be with you. He spoke through a prophet, “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained” (I Samuel 2:30). Grace does mean equal access and equal opportunity, but it does not mean an egalitarian status. God puts some down and raises other up.
It’s not that such action comes without an inner test. We don’t live in heaven. Both the elder priest and the young virgin responded initially to the heavenly visitor with fear. We are children of a fallen race. Skepticism comes easy for us. I’m not saying that a response of faith comes without effort. By nature we have more faith for bad news than good news. The advice that Elizabeth’s husband likely received from neighbors who learned to discount the God factor would likely have been, “Quit praying, old man. Your wife has two problems; she is old, and she is barren.”
Now an even more impossible story came to Mary, and yet she treated the news with faith. With poetry she blessed the God who chose to favor her above her contemporaries. Zechariah’s response did not please God, and we rehearse his doubt every Advent season. We identify with him, because we know our own struggles to believe. But it is the account in the next paragraph that we need to adopt as our own. And it is the final word of the angel that we are invited to declare: “For nothing is impossible with God.”
What impossibilities are staring you in the face today, challenging your circumstances, defying your peace, threatening your joy, mocking your future? Finances? Health? Children? Ministry? A spouse? How is God asking you to respond? What fight of faith is He calling you to? How can you please Him in the midst of your battle? Remember that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). He wants to reward your faith—even today. The bottom line message from Mary is that she believed God. May we do the same—and walk in God’s favor!
~A WORD FROM PAPA PAUL~
Please take the time to read through this. Any thoughts or comments can be sent to info@Communitasmn.com
Get a mentor. How to get one? Ask. Find someone you want to be like and ask him/her. Ask your pastor to help you. Mentors look out for you, pray for you, encourage & exhort you. Elisha had Elijah, Joshua had Moses, Timothy had Paul. Whom do you have? If you ask, seek, and knock, you will get one. Worth going after.
Join a small group. Many options to choose from. Discipleship doesn’t happen in the large meeting. Join the women Wednesday night. Choose one that is starting at C’tas. Detailed list of groups/times/vision coming soon!
Meet with us when starting a relationship. We want them to be positive and build you up rather than tear you down. Have you had any that tore you down? Most would say yes. We want to help you do them right!
Meet with us one on one. We want to get to know you and help you walk into your God-appointed destiny. We’ll send you some questions then sit down with you. Email us at email@example.com.
Win over sin. Do not give into sin of any kind, whether worry, fear or lust. You may feel like you have battled long enough and just put it in cruise. That is dangerous. You are dead to sin and your friends can help you win every battle.
Be generous with your money. Give to what blesses you. The early church gave to the local assembly, people in need, and the poor. Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given to you…” Don’t wait until you have a lot. Start building testimonies by faith.
Learn to serve. We made sure that our children were always serving others. I told them, “You are not important—they are. Serve them. Do the dishes; take out the trash; clean the garage.” Kat has difficulty finding committed helpers. Many more people stay and talk than help clean up, so don’t hesitate to jump in when you see a need!
Gary Gilbertson speaks on the difference between perfectionism and perfection. One brings death and defeat and the other is biblical command.
Bill Davis spoke on laying down our crowns at the feet of Jesus.
Paul shares on father wounds. After sharing from a few scriptures three people gave testimonies of being healed from father wounds.
Paul then gave steps to healing:
1. acknowledge you are wounded
2. forgive imperfect parents
3. receive forgiveness for imperfect responses
4. receive the affirmation of the Father
Drew shares a message on God’s good purpose in suffering. You can download the outline for the message by clicking the button below.
Ben gives a message on walking out our calling and discusses some of the obstacles to doing that by looking at the story of Israel and their failure to enter the promise land.
Summary text goes here.
Paul Anderson gives a message on the gifts of tongues. He gives some excellent perspective on how the gift is to be sought out (not just ‘tolerated’ – 1 Cor 14:1), God’s generosity in giving it, and how it is to be used (1 Cor 13). He also addresses some of the questions regarding tongues as well as the way it has been misused. He also explains a bit of why his theology is that if you have asked for the gift of tongues, you have it. He ends the message by giving some practical advice on how to start speaking in tongues. We have a part to play. For the most part, God won’t sovereignly move our tongue. Like the other gifts there is an aspect of faith. We have to ‘step out of the b0at’ and begin. A great message for anyone wanting to understand more about the gift of tongues or take a step out and begin walking in it.
Below are 3 articles from Paul on the gift of tongues:
The Apostle Paul exhorted the Church in Corinth saying, “may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Cor 13.14) This is accessible for every follower of Jesus to have deep communion with the indwelling Spirit
Jon Thorson spoke on being a blessing to others.
A call to receive and walk in the power of true grace.
As a community we are being invited into the joy of walking in the light of transparency together. (1 John 1.7)
A book by Paul Anderson on the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. To download, click here.
Jesus told us “You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16.13) This is a powerful message on how to see money biblically. It comes from a man of God with years of experience in this area.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5.16-18). Experience the transforming power of gratitude.
Bill shares his testimony of how God never gave up on him even when man would have.
Kevin speaks of his own recent experience of discovering more of the great love of God.
Hal Linhardt the director of Forerunner Evangelism at IHOP-KC shares a message on practical holiness and how to resist temptation by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Diane shares some revival history and encourages us to seek God for a release of His power in our day.
Steven Uggen, the Director of Trinity Works shares a timely message on ministering to the “least of these,” from Luke 14 & Matthew 25 leading up to the King’s Banquet outreach.
This is the final message in the series on Galatians.
Kevin speaks on grace vs legalism
Andy speaks about being freely embraced by the Father because of what Jesus did and not because of what we have done.
Bob teaches about the need for and nature of discernment.
Paul shares from the Epistle to the Galatians around the topic of justification by grace through faith.
Paul starts this series by giving a brief context to the book of Galatians along with the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul.
Chris, an evangelist with Trinity Works, shares on the need for fathering a younger generation in light of the urgency of the hour. A message birthed out of years of experience in mentoring young men in North Minneapolis.
A message on God’s desire for purity and the power of the cross to redeem and restore us in that area.
Bill shares his testimony of how the Father chased him down from a life of burglary, drugs, and alcohol. An amazing story of the pursuing love of God.
Paul encourages us to embrace tension as part of our growth process as we follow Jesus. Tension isn’t a bad thing it means God is doing something.
Karen shares about their trip to Israel and then Paul shares about God’s calling and election of Israel.
Jeremy Johnson from the Daniel Training Network shares a message of the role of Israel throughout the Bible and God’s future plan at the end of the age.
Bob shares some principles from Luke 10 as it relates to evangelism and marketplace ministry.
Questions are submitted to a panel around various topics.
“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2.2-3) A joint message from the Wolcyn’s looking at the things that commonly entangle us and how to make war as good soldiers.
A look at the Apostolic hope of the resurrection of the body and restoration of all things at the return of Jesus.
Martins Irbe, a Lutheran pastor serving in Latvia shares about the devastating reality of abortion and God’s heart for children.
Our God is humble and rewards humility with grace while resisting the proud.
We have all been wounded by the sin of our Father’s but there is healing available by the blood of Jesus through the power of the Spirit.
A closer look at the paradox of active waiting upon The Lord.
Communitas missionary David Hasenberg shares a word on the call to be soldiers in a real battle.
Diane shares about her story of growing up in rural Wisconsin and being called to declare the gospel among the nations.
Guest speaker Jeff Baker comes to us from Mexico where he serves as a missionary with David Hogan.
For the notes that accompany the message click here.
For notes that accompany this message click here.
Molly shares how Jesus brought here out of the darkness and into his marvelous light!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only one of the pillars of Christianity it also is the foundation of hope for every believer.
Dave shares a exhortation on the stewardship of money it’s importance to Jesus.
Jesus never sinned and because of His perfect life we now by faith have become partakers of His righteousness.
Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. The Son of God “partook of flesh and blood… that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2.14)
Jesus sent us the Spirit to lead us into all truth, this includes His own emotions towards His people.
Jesus said the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him to “preach good news to the poor,” and He has “chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.” (Lk 4.17-18, Jm 2.5)
Jesus taught us to pray “our Father in heaven,” this revelation of God as Father was central to Jesus’ message.
The Communitas finance team and Mike Bickle share on finances.(video from Onething 2010)
The Lord is raising up messengers in the last days who are intimate with Him and called to mission.
Jesus told us that the last days would be like Noah’s day, so what can we learn from the man who built the ark before God judged the world with a flood?
A Scriptural survey of one of the most common topics in all of the Bible and yet most misunderstood, the fear of the Lord.
Tim Miller the founder of the Daniel Training Network shares a word on the wisdom of the cross.
Levi shares about the power of God’s love to transform us from the inside out.
How we view ourselves matters, often we can take on the identity of a victim and be hindered from fulfilling our calling but Jesus came to change that.
Paul shares on the importance of keeping the first commandment in first place.
Paul trumpets the call to “count it all joy when you face various trials.” (James 1.2-3)
David shared a word on “who and who’s” – who we are and who’s we are. At the moment, this message is “fragmented.” You’ll have to figure out the missing spots. 🙂
The importance of God’s Word in our lives and one way to connect with the truth of the Word in a deeper way: pray-reading the bible!
Andy shares the 2 of 3 messages in the series on prayer and practical ways to develop your life in prayer.
Download notes here.
Paul kicks off this series with establishing a foundation for prayer in the Scriptures.
Download notes here.
Matt shares a great word on prophecy. Matt’s teaching can be summed up in a newcomer’s word: “Every teaching I’ve ever heard on prophecy made it hard. This one made it easy.”
Laura shares her journey of becoming a mom and how Jesus has revealed to her that “children are a blessing from the Lord.” (Psalm 127)
Ken and Laura share their journey into God’s heart for marriage and children.
Bob shares about the greatness of our Saviour – the One through whom all things were made. He is worthy of all praise.
Ben shares from John 10 and the privilege each of us have to hear the voice of our Shepherd.
Tom Oja shared his testimony and gave an encouraging word embracing the lifestyle of the cross and calling for God’s judgements in our lives.
Paul shares on our eternal home – the Earth restored! It’s great news!!!
We all wonder what God created us for, this is a message to help us step out in faith like Abraham.
Phil Mather a pastor at North Heights shares on worship – specifically the symbolism found in the design and care of the Ark of the Covenant.
As the other Paul said, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.” Paul shares on the wisdom of Christ.
Joe, along with his wife, shares some of his testimony regarding depression.
Bob exhorted us to examine our values – what we spend our time, money, energy on – in light of what God’s values and eternity.