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  • What if our value to God isn’t found in what we can accomplish in His name, but is rooted in our genuine affection for Him (2Chron. 16:9, Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Rom. 8:28)?
  • What if our extensive knowledge of scripture, and all our good works don’t really matter unless they are accompanied by His heart for others (1Cor. 13:1-3, 1John 4:20)?
  • What if God isn’t so much concerned with the perfection of our execution, as He is with the sincerity of our effort (Rom. 8:28, Heb. 11:6)?
  • What if partaking of His resurrection power is predicated on participating in His death and burial (John 12:24, Rom. 6:5)?
  • What if we’re not waiting on Him to move (John 19:30), and He is in fact waiting for us to discover what we’ve already been given (Rom. 8:19, Col.1:27, 2Peter 1:3)?
  • What if He’s already given us everything we need to be His glorious bride (1Cor. 2:16, 1John 2:27, 2Peter 1:3), and we’ve just been too distracted to prepare for a wedding (Matt. 15:8)?

A Question of Balance

Part of the fruit of “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” is the inherent belief that we know what is best for us, and ultimately what will make us happy.  Reflexively, we view situations through the lens of our own experience, and then lean heavily on our own understanding.  We may try to evoke some scriptural justification for our assessments, but it is the Spirit of God that offers us the balance. 

For instance, we can watch the evening news, and in our frustration, we can decide that what we really need is boldness, and then start praying for a “spirit of boldness” to be released; when the Spirit of Lord is actually trying to get us to take our eyes off the circumstance (i.e. temporal), and get us to engage in the actual spiritual battle (2Cor. 4:18).  Without the temperance of the Spirit, our fervor tends to drive us toward destruction.

No doubt, it was zeal for God that compelled James & John to want to call fire down from heaven (Luke 9:54), and Peter to swing the sword in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:51), and Saul to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 8:3).  But all were eventually admonished for doing what seemed right in their own eyes.   Indeed, boldness without discernment is a dangerous thing.

In much the same way, knowledge can be a two edged sword.  It is only when knowledge encounters humility that it has the potential to become wisdom.  Without the moderation of the Spirit, knowledge can simply puff a man up (1Cor 8:1), and God resists the proud (James 4:6).

Our carnal mind likes to classify things as either “good” or “bad”, but context is essential.  Paul tells us to eagerly seek spiritual gifts (1Cor.12:31), but then warns that without love, those gifts become worthless (1Cor. 13:1-3).  Scripture cautions that we are justified by faith and not by works (Gal. 2:16), but then declares that faith without works is dead (James 2:17).  We learn that there is power in the name of Jesus (Mark 16:17), but find that doing things in Jesus’ name is of no eternal value, unless we actually know Him (Matt. 7:23). 

To our finite way of thinking, things like justice and grace are diametrically opposed, and yet they are both perfectly reflected in the person of God.  The balance of these (and many other) issues can only be found in Him.  Ultimately, this is what allows us to be in the world, but not of the world (John 17:15-18).  Only He has the words of life (John 6:68), and apart from Him, we can do “nothing” (John 15:5).

The Living Word

The longer I walk with the Lord, the more inclined I am to believe that the depth of our relationship with Him directly corresponds to the role we assign the Holy Spirit in our lives.  If we simply regard Him as a ghost (who essentially backlights our spiritual journey), or cast Him in the role of Jiminy Cricket (i.e. a little voice to tweak our conscience when necessary), or treat Him like a Technicolor Dream-coat (i.e. to provide us with exhilarating spiritual experiences), or view Him as a tool in our toolbox (i.e. ostensibly to do the work of the Lord), our relationship with the person of God will likely remain vague and distant. 

Indeed, there are whole denominations who have concluded that the Holy Spirit essentially completed His work back in the 1st century, which resulted in “the perfect word of God” (i.e. the Bible), which is now to be treated as our sole source for truth.  And while I certainly would not want to diminish the vital role the scripture plays in our walk with the Lord, I can confidently say that it was never meant to supplant the work of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, I would submit that we have no hope of rightly applying the scripture without the Spirit’s involvement.

It is also important to note that the scripture never actually claims to be the “Word of God”.  It says that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1); and then it explains that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). 

Before the crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples that it was better that He go, so that the Holy Spirit would come.  And then, in the epistles, we learn that through the Spirit we have an anointing that teaches “all things” (1John 2:27), that we’ve been given the “mind of Christ” (1Cor 2:16), and that He’s provided everything we need for Godly living (2Peter 1:3).  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are reminded that apart from Him, we can do “nothing” (John 15:5).  That most certainly includes rightly dividing the scripture.

It’s much too easy to grab ahold of a verse that seemingly supports our position, perspective, or attitude; without ever really inquiring of the Lord as to what He is actually saying about a matter.  Devoid of context, we may want to justify walking away from difficult people (i.e. if they don’t receive you, dust your feet off and go – Luke 9:5), when the Spirit is actually saying, “they asked for your cloak, but you should offer your tunic as well (Luke 6:29).” 

We may rationalize walking by the homeless man based on Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which says that a man who refuses to work should not eat (2Thes 3:10), while the Spirit is trying to remind us that whatever we do to the “least of these”, we do unto the Lord (Matt 25:40-45).

Prophetic declaration is much the same.  We cannot simply grab ahold of what we want the Lord to be saying over a specific moment/situation.  We need to go directly to Him, hear what He is saying, and then declare those things.

The Pharisee’s and Sadducee’s dedicated their lives to the study of scripture, and yet, when the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah stood before them, they could not recognize Him.  In much the same way, we can spend time diligently studying the ancient texts without ever encountering the person of God (Matt. 7:21-23). 

Jesus warned, “You study the scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).  Though we like to refer to the Bible as the Living Word of God, this is only true to the degree that the Holy Spirit is involved.

For the First Time

Sometimes a couple picks a song to be their song, and other times the song seems to pick them.  For me, “For the First Time” by Kenny Loggins, was one of those songs that seemed to pick itself for me, and my relationship with my wife, Anita.

For the first fifty years of my life, I had a condition which kept my eyes from working together.  When I’d look at anything for any length of time, my eyes would drift apart, and skew the picture.  Consequently, I learned to take quick sideways glances, and was self-conscious about looking people in the eye.  Over time, my ability to feel people became stronger than my ability to see them, and consequently, I rarely developed much of a mental picture of anyone.  Combined with the fact that I was raised to never view another human being as a piece of meat, I was never one to “check-out” a woman, no matter how beautiful she was.

I can’t claim that I didn’t notice how beautiful Anita was when I met her, I just didn’t allow that observation to attach itself to any sort of emotion, or feeling.  I considered myself to be happily married at the time, and she was simply my co-worker.  I related to her much the way I would relate to a sister, and for the first five years I knew her that didn’t change. 

But In that time, my first wife decided to be with someone else, and my illusion of a happy marriage disintegrated.  The collapse of that life caused me to turn to God, and changed the course of my journey.  In that same period, Anita also went through relational upheaval, which left her as a single mom, who was extremely cautious about who she let into her daughter’s life.  Our first meaningful conversations centered on God, as neither of us was thinking about a future with someone else.  Even as our friendship grew, we stubbornly refused to view each other through the lens of a potential mate.

Over time, it became clear that God was up to something, but we remained steadfast in our commitment to not get ahead of Him.  Of course, this included not sleeping together before marriage.  As we grew closer, keeping those thoughts and feelings in check became more of a battle, but in lieu of bonding physically, we bonded emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.  Looking back, I realize that’s exactly what God intended.

After 18 months of growing together, and waiting on the Lord’s leading, we were married in March of 1998, and after a long season of trying to restrain our passion for each other, we were finally able to express it fully.  I vividly remember a moment on our honeymoon, where Anita was sitting on the balcony, doing her daily devotions.  She wasn’t aware of it, but I was staring at her through the sliding glass door.  And for the first time, I let myself look at her without being guarded about the thoughts or emotions that might result from it.  Even decades later, my eyes fill with tears as I recall that moment.  I felt like she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen, and I caught myself thanking God that He brought us together.  Whenever I hear the song “For the First Time”, I relive that instance.

For the First Time

Are those your eyes, is that your smile

I’ve been looking at you forever

But I never saw you before

Are these your hands, holding mine

Now I wonder how I could have been so blind

*

For the first time, I’m looking in your eyes

For the first time, I’m seeing who you are

I can’t believe how much I see

When you’re looking back at me

Now I understand what love is

Love is, for the first time

*

Can this be real, can this be true

Am I the person I was this morning

And are you the same you

It’s all so strange, how can it be

All along this love was right in front of me

*

For the first time, I’m looking in your eyes

For the first time, I’m seeing who you are

I can’t believe how much I see

When you’re looking back at me

Now I understand what love is

Love is, for the first time

*

Such a long time ago

I had given up on finding this emotion, ever again

But you’re here with me now

Yes I’ve found you somehow

And I’ve never been so sure

*

For the first time, I’m looking in your eyes

For the first time, I’m seeing who you are

I can’t believe how much I see

When you’re looking back at me

Now I understand what love is

Love is, for the first time

Anita imagines that after all these years, this is just a sweet memory.  But whenever I take the time to look into her eyes, this song still plays in my head.

Keys to the Kingdom

Many years ago, I felt like the Lord told me that He has not called us (i.e. the children of God) to be, “builders” of the KingdomAnd as I pondered that word, He began to show me that there is a big difference between building a house and moving one.  When we build a house, we choose a site, make our plans, and build to suit our expectations/desires.  But when the house already exists, we must go to where it is, and study its design, if it is to arrive intact at its new location.  It takes a totally different skill set, and it is a completely different activity.

The Kingdom of God already exists and God Himself was the Architect and Builder (Heb. 11:10).  God is not interested in some earthly replica of His Kingdom (Acts 7:48-49), He means for His Kingdom to come to earth as it already exists in the heavenly realm.  Scripture tells us that He is the “builder of everything” (Heb. 3:4), and that unless He builds the house, we labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). 

When Jesus spoke of destroying the temple and rebuilding it in 3 days, He qualified that the former was built by human hands, while the latter would not be (Mark 14:58).  He promised that “He would build His church”, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt 16:18).  Nothing that we’ve ever built has risen to that level.

I’ve heard many people use the first century church (described in the book of Acts) as the model or blueprint for what the Body of Christ ought to look like today.  And while there are certainly principles that we can derive from those early believers, they were never meant to become the prototype for the church. 

Reading through the New Testament, it is obvious that they had many of the same issues that we have today (e.g. arguments about doctrines, rituals, & traditions; factions; sexual immorality within the church…), and more importantly, they never became the glorious bride that Jesus returns for.

This isn’t to say that we (i.e. the Body of Christ) don’t have any role in the coming of the Kingdom.  Quite to the contrary, our part is essential.  Many have grabbed ahold of Paul’s allusions to a “wise master builder” (1 Cor. 3:10) as evidence that we are similarly called to be Kingdom “builders”.  But a closer examination of that passage seems to indicate otherwise. 

What he actually says is that he laid a foundation, as a wise master builder would (1 Cor. 3:10).  Part of moving an existing structure, is forming a foundation at its new location (preparing the ground), and that speaks to our role today.  He warns that no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:12). 

It is not incidental that within this same passage Paul points out that we can plant and water seeds, but only God can make them grow (1Cor. 3:7).  He is explaining the limited, yet vital role we’ve been given.  And so it is with the Kingdom of God.

Throughout the rest of that chapter, he reminds us that we are God’s field, God’s building (1Cor. 3:9) and God’s temple (1Cor. 3:16).  He’s not talking about structures, or organizations, or ministries, or doctrines, or methodologies, or networks, he is speaking of Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col.1:27). 

This foundation must be laid internally before it can be manifest externally.  Indeed, Jesus told His disciples that He would build “His church” upon the foundation (i.e. rock) of followers who’ve had the revelation of who He really is, and who hear the voice of the Father (Matthew 16:18).

Too much of the dialogue and activity surrounding the advancement of the Kingdom of God seems to take our focus off the King.  The idea that we are building something gets people excited.  It stirs our imaginations, and gets us strategizing.  But the Kingdom will not come until a proper foundation has been established, and that is ultimately a matter of the heart. 

To that end, I would submit that a more intimate connection to Him, and a greater to devotion to hearing/obeying His voice are the keys to seeing His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  Without those critical elements, we are likely to build yet another religious monument, that either crumbles from decay, or which the Lord Himself knocks over.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  The fruit of the (unholy) spirit of this age is self-pity, envy, strife, offense, depression, fear, lethargy, conceit, and addiction.  And you shall know them by their fruit (Matt. 7:16).

For the last couple of years we’ve repeatedly heard that the best way to avoid the spread of infection is to minimize the time spent around other people, and to maintain a safe distance and/or wear a face covering when you have to interact personally.  While the effectiveness of these actions with regard to the spread of COVID is debatable, it is hard to deny their effectiveness within the standard western religious paradigm. 

Jesus said that the world would be able to distinguish His followers by the way they love each other, but it’s doubtful that anyone would describe “Christians” in the west as a close-knit group.  Indeed, we are more famous for the contentious division that has resulted in thousands of different denominations, and other disenfranchised ministries.  Even amongst these independent tribes/sects, there seems to be precious little transparency, trust, or genuine fellowship (i.e. mask-wearing).  This obvious discord could rightfully be deemed “Religious Distancing”. 

As individuals we need to examine our own relationship with the Lord, and wonder at the degree to which our hearts have truly succumbed to His.  God means to be the end that we are pursuing, not the means by which we pursue some other end.  The truth is that you cannot walk closely with Him, and not be infected with His compassion for the lost, or His burning desire to see the will of the Father done “on earth as it is in heaven”.  You cannot spend time in His presence, or hear His voice without being changed in some way.  But just as Paul told the Corinthians (2Cor. 3:18), we must behold the Lord with “unveiled” faces in order to experience this kind of transformation.

It is unlikely that a lost world will be infected with the love of God, by a people who seem to be immune to it themselves (1John 3:15-17).

The enemy of your soul loves it when your declaration of oppression eclipses your profession of provision.

Friendly Conviction

When we first met, you were confident in your knowledge of the Lord:

You imagined I was impressed by you.

I thought you were kind of arrogant.

God saw that you needed a friend.

As we walked together, I began to learn your story:

You presumed that you were healed from the hurts of the past.

I thought you were deceiving yourself.

God saw that you needed a friend.

Eventually, I watched your life unravel:

You imagined it was an attack of the enemy.

I thought you were simply reaping what you’d sown.

God saw that you needed a friend.

Now, as I watch your rebuilt life shake:

You imagine that it will all be fine.

I wonder if things will ever change.

God sees that you need a friend who’s more like Jesus.

The Narrow Way

In my years of experience within the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement I’ve seen and heard some ridiculous stuff.  So I completely understand those folks who are apprehensive about walking down such paths.  But there is a reason that I’ve stayed.

For as long as I can remember, I have believed there was a God, who lived up in heaven, and who is “Our Father”.  Similarly, I was raised with stories of Jesus, who lived 2000 years ago, and who died for my sins.  I was taught that He was God’s “Only Begotten Son”.  There was also mention of a Holy Ghost, but being a ghost left Him a bit of a mystery.  Like some sort of eccentric relative, I’d heard his name at our gatherings, but no one ever seemed to speak of Him directly. 

Though I am thankful to have been raised with this understanding, it offered a woefully incomplete picture of who God really was.  More significantly, it made Him seem distant, and maybe even somewhat standoffish.  After all, the Father lived in a whole other realm, and Jesus was basically presented as an inspiring historical figure.  This made the most tangible elements of my relationship to God, a crucifix, some rosary beads, and possibly a communion wafer.  This sense of detachment made it easy to remain detached from Him.

Inevitably, I built a life without Him, and just as predictably, that life collapsed in the midst of the first real storm.  For the first time, I went looking for Him, and this time I needed Him to be as real as my struggle, my pain, and my fear.  I had to admit to myself, and to God, that He had been little more than a symbol or philosophy to me; and I prayed that He would reveal Himself to me in a way that would change all that. 

He promised that if you seek, you will find; if you knock, the door would be opened.  By His grace, He did that for me.  When I was finally introduced to the Holy Spirit, it was as though God had stepped out of heaven, Jesus had stepped out of history, and they all took up residence within my very being.

As awesome as that moment was, learning to live by the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, and be led by the Spirit has been (and continues to be) a journey.  What drew me to the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement was their acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit, and the supernatural dimensions of our relationship with the Lord.  What has disillusioned me about my experience within these circles has been the way the power of the Holy Spirit is consistently trivialized and prostituted for temporal pursuits. 

The working of the Holy Spirit is meant to be deeply personal, transformative, and ultimately life giving.  But the Charismatic world is often more interested in creating a sensational event; a sort of supernatural light, or magic show.  We love to loudly proclaim that, “Lives are being changed,” but we struggle to produce much evidence that this is true.  Too often, we view this power as a tool to cultivate/grow our ministry, when our ministries ought to be a tool for the Holy Spirit. 

God’s power was never meant to be an instrument in our hands, we are meant to be an instrument in His hands.  Attempting to implement spiritual power without a corresponding submission to the person of God, often devolves into a sort of religious witchcraft.  Several years ago, the Lord told me that “the church” has tried to use His power like a stolen credit card, making purchases He’s not authorized for items He never intended for us to have.

Many have suggested that I simply return to a more traditional form of religious practice, but I have no desire to go backwards.  The Holy Spirit is the gift Christ died to give us.  In fact, Jesus said that it was better that He go, so that His Spirit would come. 

Ultimately, there are ditches on both sides of this road.  On one side, we risk becoming the people that Paul warned Timothy about, who have a form of godliness, but who deny the power thereof (2Tim. 3:5).  On the other end of the spectrum, we can become like the people who boasted to Jesus about prophesying, casting out demons, and performing many miracles (Matt. 7:22), only to have Him turn them away because He never really knew them (Matt. 7:23).

There is a narrow path that passes between these ditches (Matt. 7:14).  Lord, help us to walk in Your way.