A Baptism of Fire and of the Holy Spirit, Part 3

In this post I'm going to talk about being baptised in fire. The main point of this post is that God's fire is a good thing. The scripture says that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). God's fire does not bring persecution or tribulation. God's fire helps us to live godly lives in Christ Jesus. His fire brings separation, it sets us apart from the world. His fire sets us free. God is good, and his fire is good.

Matthew 3:11-12
"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. [12] His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Fire can be a difficult thing to discuss simply because fire is used to illustrate so many things in the scripture. It is used to illustrate zeal, passion, light, power, purification, the heat of trials, being consumed, a lot of things. So when the scripture says Jesus will immerse us in fire it can be hard to say exactly what that means.

So I'm not going to say exactly what it means. I don't know that I can. But there are some things that, to me, indicate what we can expect from God's fire. One of these indications, from the scripture above, is separation. Being immersed in God's fire and in the Holy Spirit brings separation from the world into our lives. We are set apart, or made holy. Things that keep us from being used by God, from fulfilling our purpose, lose their hold on us (are burned up).

2 Timothy 3:10-13
10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Paul did not live a godly life because of his persecutions, he was persecuted for living a godly life. Fire helps us live a godly life. Fire helps us to walk in a way that is different from the world, and in a way that many in the world will hate. So as fire works in us to be God's servants and call people to Jesus, and as people respond and are set free, others will turn against us. Fire makes a distinction between people who have a desire to live godly and people who don't.

Luke 12:49-53
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Again, fire brings separation. Fire is not the separation itself, but one effect of God's fire is separation, setting apart, dividing all who have purposed in their hearts to serve God from all who do not have that purpose in their hearts.

Isaiah 6:5-7
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." [6] Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. [7] With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. "

In the example above a live coal from God's fire was used to touch Isaiah's lips. Just this coal from God's fire had the ability to take guilt away and atone for Isaiah's unclean lips. No pain, no suffering, just a touch from this living coal. There is great power in God's fire to make us clean. If just a touch of a live coal can take away the chaff of guilt, imagine what a raging and unquenchable fire can do in us.

Luke 14:27-29
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you

Jesus tells us to count the cost, and there is a cost to having God's fire in our lives. God is good and his fire is amazing. It fills us with his presence. But is it also costly. Living a godly life in Christ Jesus is costly. If you desire is to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, then I encourage you to count the cost and then ask Jesus to immerse you in his fire. It could bring you a time of great peace or a time of persecution. God's hand on each of us is different, but his thoughts for all of us are good. Trust him and let his fire rest on your and your home.

Daniel 3:22-27
The king's command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, [23] and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. [24] Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O king." [25] He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." [26] Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, [27] and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

While this fire was created by men, God's presence in the fire made it his. We see the effects of God's fire here. First, what had bound the men was burned off without causing any harm. They were delivered. Not a hair of their heads was singed. There was no scorching, and no smell of fire or smoke. God's fire is only destructive to those things that hinder us, that bind us, that come against us. But to us, God's fire is our friend.

Persecutions, trials, and tribulations are going to happen. And though many of these things we will learn patience, endurance, faith, and wisdom. But these don't come because we are baptised in God's fire. These things will just come. God's fire is what strengthens us in the midst of trials and tribulations, his fire imparts patience, endurance, faith, and wisdom. We need God's fire.

I really want to encourage you to start asking God to baptise, or immerse, you in his fire. Ask him to fill your home with his fire. I do. I don't do this expecting something in particular, except I fully expect his fire to help me and my family to stand, to be strong, to seek his face each day, to be comforted, to be delivered, to be encouraged, to help us live godly in Christ Jesus. That is what I expect from his fire. You can expect the same.


A Baptism of Fire and of the Holy Spirit, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series of posts I mentioned that I was sort of going around my elbow to get to the title topic. Still doing that. The main point of this post is that there is something in people that is spiritually alive and that responds to God's Word and his presence.

John 4:34-38
34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

This is really a simple point but so foundational to being a Christian. The "harvest" in this story is people. When it says the fields are ripe for harvest it is saying that there are a lot of people who are ready to respond to God; to his presence, to his Spirit, to his Word. Something has happened in them, in their spirits. Something has taken root, is alive, has matured, and is now waiting to be "harvested."

My wife and I deliver meals and food packages two weekends a month. It is a very simple and easy activity. It is scheduled for us. We don't do it because we feel a particular way; we just do it. And we do it in Jesus' Name. The response that we get from people doesn't depend on how we feel. The response comes from what is in the people we are serving, from what is alive in them already. It can be the simplest act of kindness, the simplest good deed, but when you tell people you are doing it because you are a Christian or that you are doing it in Jesus' Name then you tap into what is already alive and growing in them towards God.

Isaiah 14:24-27
24 The LORD Almighty has sworn,

   “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be,
   and as I have purposed, so it will happen.
25 I will crush the Assyrian in my land;
   on my mountains I will trample him down.
His yoke will be taken from my people,
   and his burden removed from their shoulders.”

 26 This is the plan determined for the whole world;
   this is the hand stretched out over all nations.
27 For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
   His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

It is God's plan in the whole world, in the whole earth, to free his people from all that would hinder them from knowing him, from knowing his mercy and compassion, from being full of trust and faith in all that he has done.

Luke 4:18-19
Jesus said - 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This is what God is doing in the whole world, in the whole earth. This is his purpose. And we are a part of it.

Sometimes we don't think we can affect someone for God because we feel bad, or because we are struggling, or because we have failed at something. That doesn't really matter. Remember that the life is already in the grain in the fields, the life is already in people. This was true before God sent the Holy Spirit to the world (Pentecost). It was true before the church was birthed. And if it was true then, it is certainly true now. Don't be afraid to encourage people, to do good deeds, to share scripture, and all in Jesus' Name. Even the smallest acts can make a big difference. The fields are full of life, ready for harvest.


A Baptism of Fire and of the Holy Spirit, Part 1

I have been wanting to write about being baptised in fire and in the Holy Spirit but I want to sort of go around my elbow to get there, so to speak. So I'm going to write this in several parts and start with the end in mind and then work our way to the beginning.

The main point in this post is: the more you love God, the more you are forgiven. I know that sounds odd, especially since Jesus has taken away the sins of the world. But, never the less, there is something here to understand.

Luke 7:36-50 (NKJ)
Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. 37 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

40 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

So he said, “Teacher, say it.”

41 “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” 44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

This woman did not do this because the Holy Spirit moved in her to act this way. This was before the Holy Spirit had come. She did not do it because she understood the plan of redemption or because she understood that Jesus would die on the cross and shed his blood to save her from her sins. We don't really know exactly what she had experienced in Jesus' ministry. She may have been delivered, she may have been healed, she may have been provided for. She may have watched Jesus minister and observed the compassion and mercy in his actions. Whatever she experienced her response was to love Jesus enough to annoint him, wash his feet with her tears, and to wipe his feet with her hair.

And because of this great love that she expressed towards Jesus, he told her that her sins were forgiven and that her faith had saved her. And to go in peace. All of this before Jesus shed his blood, and without the Holy Spirit working in the world.

Sometimes when people come in contact with God working in their midst, and they see his nature and his mercy, they respond with great love towards him. They recognize their own sins and failures and believe in a God that is merciful. And as their love is expressed towards him in true brokeness and worship, God expresses his mercy towards them through forgiveness and peace.

Things are not what they seem.

Many times things are not what they seem. Usually it is because of our perspective; how we think about what is going on around us. A part of our growth as Christians is allowing the Holy Spirit to change how we think.

One of the things Jesus taught is that many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.

Mark 10:29-31
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Matthew 19:28-30
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[e] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

There are a lot of things that could be shared using the scriptures above, but basically I wanted to show the teaching on "first will be last and last will be first" in a bit of context. Now let's look at someone Jesus noticed.

Mark 12:41-44
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

This widow did exactly what Jesus spoke about; she "left" all she had for God by giving all she had to live on. What she gave was out of poverty; only a few cents. Her offering made no difference in the care, service, or ministry of the temple (which was called and put in place by God). What she did was not productive in any way. The large amounts put in by the rich people did make a difference. Those offerings supported the care, service, and ministry of the temple. Those offerings were productive. But Jesus elevated the poor widow above the others.

Most Christians I know give out of their abundance. They don't give all they have to live on. I know I don't. I have always tithed but that still leaves me money to live on. And there are a lot of people who share Jesus with others and have various ministries, who are productive. I have ministries I do. But the ministries I do are, like my tithe, given out of my abundance. I still have time to do things I want to do, to relax, have fun, etc. There are others who live in poverty in the natural and in ministry. What they give is small and makes no real difference in what most of us would call the work of the church. But when they give all they have, even when it makes no difference, Jesus honors them above all of us who give only a part. He honors these people above many who have what looks like a great ministry but who are ministering out of their spiritual and natural abundance.

What do you think looks like a successful ministry? There was a time, described in the Book of Daniel, when Israel was taken into captivity in Babylon. The king wanted men to serve in his kingdom.

Daniel 1:3-4, 18-20
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.

18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

This is how many Christians would describe a successful church today, a place with people who are well disciplined, quick to understand, and highly intelligent. But our King is not like the king of Babylon. What Jesus is doing looks a bit different.

Luke 14:16-21
“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

   18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

   19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

   20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

   21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

1 Corinthians 1:26-31
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:25
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

We tend to think that the world needs to see great skill and intelligence so they will "approve" of the church and accept Christ's teachings. And there is nothing wrong with being skilled or talented or anything like that. I'm a musician and I work on my skills. And God uses all of us. He blesses and uses people who are talented and skilled and people who seem to have no talent or skills. My point here is that some of the most honored and powerful acts of service come from people that most folks pay no attention to.

The Kingdom of God is peace, joy, and righteousness in the Holy Spirit, and when we give all we have the Kingdom is operating in full force, whether it looks productive or not. Things are not always what they seem.

This Earthen Vessel

There is a story in 2 Kings where a man named Naaman, a commander in the army of Aram, has leprosy and goes to Israel to be healed. He eventually ends up visiting the prophet Elisha who sends him word, through a servant, to wash himself seven times in Jordan and he would be healed. Eventually he did this and was healed. After being healed he told Elisha "I now know there is no God in all the world except in Israel."

God already had his hand on Naaman prior to this healing. This story starts out with this:

2 Kings 5:1
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

So we have a man who is not of the nation of Israel but who has the hand of the Lord on him and who has been victorious in battle because of the God of Israel.

After the healing, before returning to Aram, Naaman does something interesting.

2 Kings 5:15-18
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

 16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.

 17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD. 18 But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.”

Even though Naaman had God's hand on him in Aram he took earth from Israel back with him to make his burnt offerings and sacrifices on. My point here, within the context of what Naaman did, is this. My body is an earthen vessel and this earthen vessel is not American soil. It is not Canadian soil, or Mexican soil, or French soil, or Russian soil, etc. In my life I seek first the Kingdom of God and make my offerings and sacrifices on that earth, looking for a country and a city whose building and maker is God. I am in this world but I am not of this world.

As I have said in previous posts, this doesn't mean I can't vote or be a part of the community where I live. It doesn't mean I can't be in the military. If I were to travel around the world there would be no question that I am from America. But the earthen vessel I am in is not my own. It belongs to Jesus. I belong to Jesus. And when I worship him and make offerings and sacrifices I do it from his earth, not from any earth of this world.

Each of us, as Christians, should have in our lives the presence of another country. That presence is expressed in the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. That presence is expressed in our love for each other. That presence is expressed in how we minister Jesus to people who need redemption. We are the "diplomatic mission" from a kingdom that is not of this world. Or, as I said earlier, this earthen vessel is not American soil. It is Kingdom soil. I belong to Jesus.


The Bride Shares in the Suffering

There is a thread running throughout God's Word concerning communion. Part of that communion has to do with suffering. I don't mean going through hard times in general; I'm referring to communion with Jesus in being rejected by the world. This is a part of the relationship of the bride of Christ. There is, I believe, a gentle wooing or loving invitation to fellowship in Christ's sufferings. It sounds strange, but for many the power of this relationship is not that it is a command to suffer but a relationship with Jesus in suffering. It is our willingness to respond to this invitation that can bring about an amazingly powerful result.

Let's look at some scriptures where Paul is speaking.

Galatians 6:17 (NIV)
Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Ephesians 3:13 (NIV)
I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Philippians 1:12-13 (NIV)
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. [13] As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

Philippians 1:20-21 (NIV)
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. [21] For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

The Apostle Paul experienced a great deal of suffering for the cause of Christ. He knew this from his calling to serve Jesus, from his conversion. But the suffering wasn't just for Paul.

Philippians 1:27-30 (NIV)
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel [28] without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved---and that by God. [29] For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, [30] since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

1 Thessalonians 2:14 (NIV)
For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,

1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 (NIV)
so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. [4] In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.

It has been granted to us not only to believe but also to suffer for him. Here we start to see that many of the churches suffered in the same manner as Paul did.

Colossians 1:24 (NIV)
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

This is a fascinating verse. It almost appears as if Paul is saying that Jesus didn't really finish the suffering he needed to do and that Paul had to finish it up. But if you take this in context with what the church as been granted to suffer for Jesus then you start to see that Paul is saying this as an example. It is not just Paul that is filling up in his flesh what is still lacking, or still needs to be completed. It is an expression of our communion with Jesus.

Philippians 3:7-11 (NIV)
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. [8] What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ---the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. [10] I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul was an example. His example of suffering and his words on the fellowship of sharing in Christ's sufferings are an invitation from the Lord to walk with the same heart and same fellowship. It is not a command. It is a call to communion.

2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 (NIV)
Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. [5] All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.

Matthew 24:9 (NIV)
"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.

Mark 13:9-11 (NIV)
"You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. [10] And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. [11] Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

Luke 21:13 (NIV)
This will result in your being witnesses to them.

There are a lot of ministries that are working to bring the gospel of Christ to all nations and those works are amazing. We need those ministries. But the context of Jesus saying the gospel must be preached to all nations is within a context of persecution and suffering. It is this persecution that will result in the witness of Christ coming to the nations. Not just from being scattered but, again in this particular context, the persecution will place the gospel of Christ "on display." This is part of God's plan.

Don't think that I am saying we need to be focused on suffering. Our focus is on Jesus. I am all for avoiding suffering if possible. When talking about the last days and the persecution in the last days, Jesus said the following:

Luke 21:36 (NIV)
Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."

I'm all for escaping any suffering I can. I think about this verse a lot. But at the same time I have a desire to have a deep communion with Jesus. When I take communion I don't just think about what Jesus did for me; I think about experiencing fellowship in what he did for me.

Many years ago some friends and I wrote a song. Here are the lyrics. This is the voice of the Bride to the one she loves.

Communion Song

Lamb of God; suffer in Your love
Feel my death, my life for me

Just for the unjust; suffering brings righteousness
To bring us back to God

I want to know You; Your joy, Your love, Your tears
Let me walk in Your steps and know Your ways
Let our minds be the same
I’m closer to You when I fellowship in Your pain

Let me love You. Let me die for You
Let me find true life in You

Oh, Jesus, make me just like you
Let me hide in You

Joy is what You bring; death to kill my sin
Freedom and liberty come within
As Your light pours forth like rain
I’m closer to You when I fellowship in Your pain

Sweet communion; let me die for the Son
Let me die for resurrection


Acknowledging the Truth

Sexual behaviors such as homosexuality are a big topic so I decided to do a post on what the Bible teaches on this. I will try to keep it from getting too complex though it will probably include a lot of scripture. With a few exceptions, most of the scriptures I'll reference are from the book of Romans.

The Bible doesn't address sexuality the way it is usually addressed in this day and age. It doesn't address homosexuality, or heterosexuality, or bisexuality, or whatever. The Bible talks about behaviors, about actions. In the world view our identity is often defined by something we consider a fundamental aspect of ourselves, such as sexuality, belief system, culture, a way of thinking, nationality/patriotism, career, or a personal passion for something. God's Word describes us as having a simpler identify. We are the sheep of his pasture. We are his temple, his dwelling place. We belong to Jesus. It is his thoughts towards us that define us; not our own thoughts, ideas, or passions.

Romans 1:5-6 (NIV)
Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. [6] And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

We are called to come out of the world in our way of thinking and our lifestyle. We are called to the obedience that comes from faith. If we have faith in God's thoughts and words towards us we will strive to walk or live in that. We are called to belong to Jesus.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (NIV)
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. [19] 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; [20] you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Sexual sins are sins against our own body and defile our body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is something that is very easy to overlook or ignore. Again, we are called to belong to Jesus. We are not our own. Honoring God with our body is important and sexual sins dishonor our body and dishonor God.

Romans 1:18 (NIV)
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

Major point here. God's wrath is revealed against those who suppress the truth by their wickedness, or suppress the truth by their actions. This is the foundational truth in this post. It is important to acknowledge truth by our actions and not suppress truth by our actions. Self-honesty can sometimes be extremely difficult to live out.

Romans 1:26-27 (NIV)
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. [27] In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Because of suppressing the truth through actions, God gave these people over to shameful lusts. These are actions; behaviors that defile the body and dishonor God and his temple.

Romans 1:29-31 (NIV)
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, [30] slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; [31] they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Most of us read Romans 29-31 and see all kinds of "wickedness" in a stereotypical fashion. What we seldom see is ourselves. Yet Paul is setting the stage here for much of the book of Romans. We may feel that we would never murder someone yet we may gossip. We may think we would never be arrogant but sometimes we are. We may think children should obey their parents yet we often disobey our Father in Heaven. And all of this is lumped together with the wickedness of sexual sins. Gossip and homosexual behaviors are lumped together with being arrogant, slandering people (big at political election time) and disobeying parents.

Paul didn't write his letters in chapters and verses. The first verse in chapter 2 includes the word "therefore." Basically Paul was saying, "having said all of this about wickedness, here is my point."

Romans 2:1-3 (NIV)
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. [2] Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. [3] So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?

Paul is speaking to the church here. If we break one of God's laws then we have broken all of his law. There is none righteous, not one. Paul's foundation in chapter 1 of the severity of suppressing the truth and the severity of wrath against sexual sins and wickedness wasn't to mark a particular group of actions as horrible, but to impart the severity of the sin we are all guilty of. And this is a truth we have to acknowledge in our actions, deeds, and words.

Jesus acknowledged this in how he handled the woman caught in the act of adultery.

John 8:2-11
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Whether sexual sins, addiction to porn, gossip, arrogance, whatever; Jesus doesn't condemn. He does say go and leave your life of sin.

He says that to all of us.

Being in, but not of, the world.

The scripture refers to our bodies as earthen vessels or jars of clay.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

We have an incredible treasure inside these jars of clay, and this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. This treasure was designed to make a difference, to separate light from darkness, day from night. It set's boundaries.

Shortly before his crucifiction, Jesus, praying for his disciples, prayed the following:

John 17:14-21
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.
15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

The greek word for "sanctify" used above means to be set apart, or to be holy. Even though we are in the earth, we are to be set apart. If you are familiar with the concept of national embassies then you will understand when I say that my earthen vessel, my jar of clay, is not American soil. It is not Canadian soil. It is not French soil. It is not Russian soil. It is not Indian soil. It is not Korean soil. I have been set apart in response to both the work of Jesus on the cross and in response to his prayers.

Hebrews 11:13-16
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

In Jesus' time Israel was under Roman occupation and authority. The Jews were praying for Messiah to come and deliver them from this oppression. The Romans had slaughtered many Jews. When King Herod ordered all boys two years old and under to be slaughtered in Bethlehem it was backed up by Roman authority. This was a very bloody time. Yet when a Roman Centurion asked Jesus to heal one of his servants Jesus did not hesitate to agree, even though this Roman's faith was based on his own submission to the Roman authority that had killed so many Jews. Jesus still responded because he was not offended by the Roman. Jesus' earthen vessel was not Israel soil. He was not a Jewish patriot. He was set apart.

Paul was the same way. Paul had a fierce love for the Jewish people. He would have given himself up for destruction if it would have saved Israel. Yet he was able to say the following about a heathen government that was responsible for the slaughter of many in Israel.

Romans 13:1-7 
1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

There is nothing about the Roman government at this time that was holy. Yet Paul did not go around criticizing the government or Caesar. Jesus paid taxes to support this government, yet he didn't criticize it. Both of them were able to fulfill their ministries because their hearts and thoughts were set on a county and city not of this world. Their citizenship was in Heaven. They were calling people to come out, to be holy, to be set apart.

Let me be really clear in saying that none of this means you can't love your county. It doesn't mean you can't fight for your country or defend your country. You can. But there are a couple of things that are important to keep in mind.

  1. It is not about whether or not a country is "right" or "wrong." Jesus responded to the faith of the Roman Centurion. This centurion was fighting for and defending a completely heathen nation. That didn't matter to Jesus. God honors faith. God doesn't honor our faith because we are fighting for the "right" county. He honors faith.
  2. In Matthew 11 and Luke 7 Jesus says that, of all men born of women none were as great as John the Baptist. That included every mighty man of valor, every warrior, everyone who had died defending their country and their people. We are talking all men, including heroes. Yet the least in the kingdom is greater than John. Not because the least in the kingdom are bigger heroes; they're not. It's because there is a different way of thinking in the kingdom of God. It's not about heros. It's about a treasure in jars of clay.

And it is an amazing treasure. Be in, but not of, the world. Be holy. Be set apart.


Birth & Pain

No, this isn't a post about women giving birth, but rather about a way God has used childbirth to illustrate his hand in our lives. This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible and I found it in a children's Bible my daughter had, which turned out to be a New Century translation.

Isaiah 66:7-9 (NCV)
"A woman does not give birth before she feels the pain; she does not give birth to a son before the pain starts. [8] No one has ever heard of that happening; no one has ever seen that happen. In the same way no one ever saw a country begin in one day; no one has ever heard of a new nation beginning in one moment. But Jerusalem will give birth to her children just as soon as she feels the birth pains. [9] In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born," says the Lord. "If I cause you the pain, I will not stop you from giving birth to your new nation," says your God.

This tells me that when it is God's hand on us that is causing pain it is for a purpose and life will come from it, and that life will come quickly. This is exciting to me.

Change is a part of God's hand on us. Sometimes it is incredible and amazing. Sometimes it is painful. Sometimes he brings healing and deliverance and provision. Sometimes he brings pruning and discipline. Sometimes he gives, sometimes he takes away.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
 3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
   a time to mourn and a time to dance,
 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
   a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 6 a time to search and a time to give up,
   a time to keep and a time to throw away,
 7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
   a time to be silent and a time to speak,
 8 a time to love and a time to hate,
   a time for war and a time for peace.

In all of this his thoughts toward us are good.

Jeremiah 29:11-12
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

One area of our lives that may contain pain is growth and maturity. We can't grow into something new without leaving the old. And many times we don't want to leave the old. It has become precious to us.

Luke 5:36-39
36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

I wrote a song years ago. Here are the lyrics.

Morning comes only after resurrection
Resurrection follows death
And death is never very easy
Oh, the tears I've cried
And fears my heart has felt
But Jesus took them all upon himself

First fruits always seem the sweetest to enjoy
But there's still more fruit to come
And how my soul often travails for the Son
Growing up has always
Make me want to hide
But Father gives me peace and joy inside

So, let the growing come
Peace, be still, and know your God
And, when the tears come
Count them as the morning dew
That heralds forth the coming of the sun

So I reckon that the present sufferings
Are really nothing when compared
To all the glory that awaits the bride
Saints that die to self are precious in His sight
Perfection is the purpose of my life

God's hand on us is for our good. If he causes us pain he will not stop us from bringing forth life and it will come quickly. Have faith, and find your rest in God.

The Things We Say

I have heard a variety of teachings over the years about the power of what we say, the things that come out of our mouths. What comes out of our mouths is important.

Matthew 15:10-11, 15-20
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Matthew 12:35-37
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

I think the scriptures above make it clear that our words are important. But sometimes people look at these scriptures and see a type of law rather than a living word. Those people can become very legalistic regarding their words. What we forget is that we are under authority. God can choose to disregard any of our words and confessions. He can even choose to take our guilt upon himself.

Numbers 30:3-8,10-15
“When a young woman still living in her father’s household makes a vow to the LORD or obligates herself by a pledge 4 and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. 5 But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the LORD will release her because her father has forbidden her.

6 “If she marries after she makes a vow or after her lips utter a rash promise by which she obligates herself 7 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her, then her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 8 But if her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her or the rash promise by which she obligates herself, and the LORD will release her.

10 “If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath 11 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 12 But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the LORD will release her. 13 Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them. 15 If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he must bear the consequences of her wrongdoing.”

Guard your heart and your words, but don't become afraid of saying the "wrong" thing. Our Father in Heaven can confirm or nullify our words. Jesus can confirm or nullify our words. He can even choose to be responsible for our guilt. And that price has already been paid. That's finished. So be careful, but also be at peace.

"Our maker is our husband, our redeemer is our friend." - lyrics from a song.