KNOWING HE’S THERE

And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. [Acts 13:52 (NLT)]

zebra longwing butterfly
Zebra Longwing butterflies (Heliconius charithonia) live in hammocks and damp forests. Unless they are resting on a plant, however, they are often difficult to spot. Unlike most butterflies, they don’t stay in the sunlight for long. I may see their shadows on the boardwalk but, when I look up, they quickly vanish into the shade they prefer. With their yellow and black colors, shallow wingbeats and languid flight, they float through the woods and often seem to be little more than flickering sunlight glimmering through the trees.

Oddly, I think of the Holy Spirit whenever I get a glimpse of these beautiful creatures. Just as I’ll probably never hold one in my hand, I have difficulty grasping the concept of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, I know they both exist and bring me joy. There are times it’s difficult to catch sight of the winged zebras and, unfortunately, there are times I have difficulty detecting the Spirit. Nevertheless, just as I know the butterflies are in the woods, I know that He is present. Some days are better than others when it comes to spotting the Longwings and some days are better than others when it comes to sensing the Holy Spirit’s presence. If I’m jogging down a trail, I’ll never spot the butterflies and, if I’m rushing through life, it’s just as easy to overlook the Holy Spirit.

While I can blame the season, weather, light, or location for not seeing a butterfly, I have only myself to blame when I fail to perceive the Spirit. The times I feel devoid of His presence are when I neglect Scripture and prayer—the times I become so busy with the “me” and “my” of life that I don’t leave room for Him. They are the times I refuse to accept God’s control of my circumstances, ignore His direction, or don’t want to hear His conviction of my unacceptable behavior. Most often, however, I can’t feel the Holy Spirit because I’ve done something that grieves Him. Things like anger, resentment, jealousy, guilt and pride serve as barriers to feeling His presence. Fortunately, unlike the butterflies that disappear as they float through the woods, the Spirit will never leave me, even when I’ve disappointed Him.

In perfect unity with God the Father and God the Son, the Holy Spirit is the power of God that dwells within every believer in Jesus Christ. Just as it’s likely that I’ll catch a glimpse of Zebra Longwings on a certain boardwalk through the mangroves, I’m sure to feel the Spirit’s presence when I walk in His ways throughout the day.

You might as well try to see without eyes, hear without ears, or breathe without lungs, as to try to live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit. [D.L. Moody]

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. [John 14:26 (NLT)]

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GROWING JOY

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. [1 Peter 1:8 (NLT)]

Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. [2 Corinthians 6:10 (NLT)]

cherriesWhile both are joy and happiness are pleasurable, there seems to be a fine line between the two. Happiness is more like satisfaction. Dependent on external circumstances, it needs everything to go right or as close to right as possible. On the other hand, because joy doesn’t depend on what is happening to us or to the people we love, it is possible even when everything has gone terribly wrong. Happiness is an emotion which, like anger, sadness, fear, and jealousy, is short-lived but joy can be a permanent state of mind. Because happiness takes the short view, it’s hard to be happy in suffering. Because joy takes the long view, it can endure through suffering.

After writing yesterday’s message, I wondered what God thinks of our pursuit of happiness. He certainly isn’t against happiness but, since happiness is circumstantial and temporal, God doesn’t promise that we’ll always be happy. Since God’s concern is the permanent and eternal, however, He does promise us joy and that joy is built on His presence in our lives! Unlike happiness that needs pursuing, we don’t have to pursue joy. Instead, when we pursue God, joy will find us! Joy is possible in all things because we know who is with us now and what awaits us in the future; we know we’re just in the prelude to our real and eternal life.

Rather than coming from people, things or circumstances, joy is a one of the fruits the Holy Spirit plants in our hearts but, like any fruit, it needs cultivating and tending. Rather than peach scab and brown rot, unrealistic expectations and discontent can hamper our receptiveness to God’s joy and ruin a harvest. Like weeds, envy and greed compete with the fruit for nutrients while anger, adversity, and resentment are like the destructive aphids and fruit worms that destroy new growth and keep fruit from developing. Instead of birds, racoons, deer, and groundhogs, things like guilt, unforgiveness, worry, and fear can destroy or steal the fruit from right under our noses!

So, how do we nurture this fruit and bring it to harvest? We apply weed killer with gratitude and acceptance, fertilize with forgiveness and humility, water with compassion and generosity, eradicate bugs and worms with a heavy dose of perspective and humor, and protect our joy from pests with a strong fence made of God’s word, worship, and prayer. The fruit of the Spirit exists because of God’s presence in our lives. While joy, like love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is produced by the Spirit, whether we harvest His fruit is entirely up to us.

Remember, O my soul, it is thy duty and privilege to rejoice in God; He requires it of thee for all his favors of grace. Rejoice then in the giver and his goodness, Be happy in him, O my heart, and in nothing but God, for whatever a man trusts in, from that he expects happiness. … Let God be all to thee, and joy in the fountain that is always full. [The Valley of Vision – A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (Arthur Bennett, editor)]

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [Romans 14:17 (NLT)]

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! [Philippians 4:4 (NLT)]

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CHUCK AND THOMAS

Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” [John 11:16 (NIV)]

You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” [John 14:4-5 (NIV)]

red-shouldered hawkIn 1976, Chuck Colson founded Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families and acting as an advocate for criminal justice reform. Nevertheless, whenever I come across his name, I don’t think of the 36 years he spent in his ministry. Instead, I remember the ruthless man once considered Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.” Along with being one of the Watergate Seven, Colson was known as a “dirty tricks artist” who tracked down incriminating photographs and leaked damaging and untrue rumors to discredit and blacken the reputations of political enemies. In 1974, as a new Christian, Colson pled guilty to obstruction of justice on a Watergate-related charge and served seven months in prison. It was after his release that he mobilized the Christian Church to minister to prisoners.

Why do we remember the negative rather than the positive about people? Think of the disciple Thomas. Most of us think of him as the doubter rather than a disciple zealous for Jesus. When the other disciples urged Jesus not to return to Judea because of the danger he faced, it was Thomas who urged the disciples to join Jesus and face death with Him!

The next we read of Thomas is at the last supper when the inquisitive man is probably more honest than the rest of the disciples. Not understanding that Jesus had just described His destination—heaven and eternal life—Thomas acknowledged his ignorance and asked the same question the others probably were silently asking. Thomas wasn’t doubting, the eager man just wanted to understand exactly where he was going and how he was to do it.

Although Thomas heard Jesus say that He was “the way, the truth, and the life,” like the other disciples, the man didn’t know what to believe after the crucifixion. One moment of skepticism and that’s what we remember of him but Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted. Luke tells us that the disciples didn’t believe their eyes when Jesus first stood before them and thought they were seeing a ghost. [24:37] Even after seeing His pierced hands and feet, Luke says they “stood there in disbelief” and it was watching Jesus eat a piece of fish that finally convinced them. [24:41-42]

Let’s remember, Thomas wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared and it wasn’t Jesus he doubted. He questioned the veracity of the disciples in the same way Mark tells us the disciples doubted Mary Magdalene that Sunday morning [16:11]. He wanted to be sure it actually was Jesus they saw. When Thomas finally sees Jesus, he makes the clearest confession of faith we find in any of the gospels by exclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” If anything, Thomas’ willingness to express his doubt led to a greater faith!

Neither Chuck Colson nor the Apostle Thomas should be remembered for their worst moments yet they probably are. Oddly, we don’t immediately think of Peter as the man who denied Jesus three times. Instead, we first think of him as the rock upon which Jesus built His church. May we grant the same amount of grace to the Chuck Colsons and the “doubting” Thomases we meet in life!

No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure—that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation—being sent to prison—was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one thing in which I could not glory for His glory. [Chuck Colson]

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [John 20:28-29 (NIV)]

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SUNDAY MORNINGS

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. [John 4:23-24 (NIV)]

The purpose of this Christian society called the “Church” is, first: to glorify God by our worship. We do not go to church just to hear a sermon. We go to church to worship God. [Billy Graham]

Old World Wisconsin
In this day and age, we refuse to be bored. We watch one of three TVs while on the health club treadmill, stream music or podcasts when out walking, and check our phones at red lights. (Technically, we’re not texting while driving—we’re simply texting while stopping.) We could blame technology, but our penchant for boredom has been a problem since the beginning of time. A golden calf and some “pagan revelry” was the Israelites’ antidote for boredom while Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Then, when they got bored with manna, the Israelites demanded meat. David had at least eight wives but boredom caused his eyes to wander over to Uriah’s house where Bathsheba was bathing. Mankind just seems to be hardwired to tire of the “same old, same old” and, sometimes, that propensity for boredom enters into our worship.

“I laugh so much during church, it seems almost sinful; it’s just so much fun to come!” said a neighbor about her church. Another neighbor urged us to join them at their church because of the musical talents of their pianist/organist who is known for playing six keyboards at once. Neither neighbor, however, mentioned things like the substance of their pastor’s message, the basics of their church’s beliefs, or how their worship affects them. There’s nothing wrong with pastors who insert humor into their messages or great worship music but we must be cautious of thinking of church as entertainment. The center of attention is neither the man in the pulpit nor the musicians; it is the man who hung on the cross for our sins! Jesus was an impressive man while He walked the earth but impressing people was not His goal. If it was, He would have performed far more miracles; instead, He often told people not to tell anyone. His purpose wasn’t showy miracles but the lasting message of salvation.

The purpose of worship is not to praise the pastor, music, or setting; it is to glorify God! Pope Pius X said it succinctly: “Worship is for the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful.” It’s easy to get the glorifying part—we’re praising the wondrous nature of God, thanking Him for our blessings, and celebrating His glory. Our worship, however, shouldn’t stop there. Sanctification is one of the Christian words we don’t use a lot, but it simply means that our worship is supposed to change us—to set us apart from the world and worldly concerns for God’s holy purpose. As for edification, another churchy word, worship is about helping one another along the road to Christlikeness—the building up of a group of disparate individuals into the body of Christ. Regardless of the pastor’s ability to deliver a sermon or the worship leader’s choice of music, if the service hasn’t glorified God, helped change us for the better, or built up God’s Kingdom, we haven’t worshipped properly.

Is church where we go to be entertained or is it the place we go to be strengthened by His word and grow to be more like Christ? Is it where we go to be distracted from the cares of the world or where we go to worship the Lord and to revel in His glory? While bells and whistles are pleasant, we should remember that the purpose of church is worship not theater. Rather than fluff and stuff, we should be seeking a foundation in God’s word, the presence of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit. If we’re bored during church, the antidote isn’t more pageantry or spectacle, funnier sermons, or better music; it is more mindful worship on our part.

Worship is not about my enjoyment. It is about my enjoyment of God. It is not about my pleasure or my delight or my satisfaction. It is about my pleasure, delight, and satisfaction in God. Worship is not simply about glorifying God. It is about glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. [Sam Storms]

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)]

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GOD’S WARDROBE

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. [Colossians 3:12-14 (NTE)]


When writing to the Colossians, Paul told them to clothe themselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love. A more literal translation would be to sink your heart (or the inner parts of your body) into a garment and wrap yourselves with God’s virtues. The Message translation simply says, “dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.” When we dress ourselves in His clothing, we’ll begin to look like Christ—not because we’re wearing an inner linen tunic, robe, cincture (belt), sandals, and a cloak—but because we’re acting as Jesus would act!

When my high school presented Jean Giraudoux’s Madwoman of Chaillot, I played one of the madwoman’s elderly and equally mad compatriots. But, at 16, I struggled with getting into the role and feeling like an old woman. It was not until dress rehearsal, when I actually looked like my character, that I truly began to act and feel like her.

The change from teen to old woman began with a make-up base giving me a pallor and continued when shadows were applied around my eyes, under my cheekbones, and along my jawline. Fine lines were drawn on my forehead and around my mouth and a little white grease-paint was sponged onto my eyebrows and hair. The transition continued when I put on my costume—a dark silk dress with petticoats and a bustle along with an elaborate hat and net veil. I wrapped myself with a fringed shawl and picked up the old black umbrella I’d be using as a cane. When I saw myself in the mirror, I gasped at the transformation. It wasn’t just my appearance that changed; once I looked like an old woman, I began to walk, talk, and even feel like one. I felt the aches, pains, and weariness of an octogenarian in a way I hadn’t during previous rehearsals. For a few hours the next several nights, instead of being a junior in high school, I became an eccentric old woman because, once I looked like her, I acted my way into being her!

We are called to live by faith rather than by emotion and it is Scripture, rather than a script, that tells us how to live out our lives. We may not feel like being patient with the co-worker who can’t get the hang of the new system, but we can clothe ourselves with patience and act patient while answering his questions. We don’t have to feel kind, loving, or forgiving to dress in kindness, love, and forgiveness. When we clothe ourselves with the wardrobe of Jesus, we’ll start looking and acting like Him and, the more we act like Him, the more we’ll become like Him! We can act our way into a feeling far easier than feel our way into an action!

Decades ago, I had to look like an old woman before I could act like her and be authentic in my portrayal. Today, in the same way, we must put on Jesus’ wardrobe and act like Him before we can become like Him. When you look in your closet this morning, be sure to put on the garments of God along with your shirt and pants!

Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. [C.S. Lewis]

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. [Galatians 3:26-27 (NLT)]

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. [Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)]

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LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR

Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” [John 9:13-15 (NLT)]

great blue heronIt’s easy to assume the Pharisees were irate just because Jesus had worked on the Sabbath but, for these sticklers for the law, it was as much about how He healed the man! Spitting on the ground on the Sabbath was forbidden because plowing was one of the 39 types of work prohibited on the Sabbath! Using their convoluted logic, that meant that digging any hole was prohibited and, when spittle landed on soil, it might cause a small dent in the ground (which would be digging a hole) and dislocate a small amount of dirt (which would be plowing)! Compounding Jesus’ violation of the law by both healing and plowing, He made mud. Kneading, defined as joining small particles into a mass using any liquid, was another of the 39 kinds work prohibited on the Sabbath. Jesus broke this law the moment his spittle wet the dust; the mixing of his spittle and the dirt together to make mud was an additional offense! To them, the restoration of sight meant nothing when compared to His many transgressions of the law!

When Jesus healed a man who’d been lame for thirty-eight years, it also was on the Sabbath. [John 5] Once healed, Jesus specifically told the man to pick up his mat and walk. Carrying anything more than six feet in a public place, however, was prohibited on the Sabbath. When the Jewish leaders accosted the man for carrying a burden, he explained that Jesus told him to do so after healing him! Again, the Pharisees were more concerned about work being done on the Sabbath than the miraculous healing that occurred!

In all, seven Sabbath healings are mentioned in the gospels. Although Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law in private, the rest of His Sabbath healings were done right in front of His critics. When He healed the man with the withered hand, the crippled woman, and the man possessed by evil spirits, Jesus was in the synagogue and He was having dinner at the home of a leading Pharisee (possibly a member of the Sanhedrin) when he healed a man suffering from dropsy (edema).

Like His other Sabbath healings, this didn’t appear to be a life-or-death situation and, for all we know, the man was there as a way of entrapping Jesus into another violation of the law. Nevertheless, after asking the Pharisees if it was right to heal on the Sabbath and not receiving an answer, Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. He then exposed His critics’ hypocrisy by asking which of them wouldn’t rescue his son or cow if they were to fall in a pit? His question exposed their convoluted thinking since rescuing an animal from a pit on the Sabbath was acceptable even to the Pharisees! In fact, a primary principle in Jewish law is preventing tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the suffering of living creatures, and the Talmud specifically permitted rescuing an animal in pain or at risk of death and even permitted moving prohibited objects to relieve their pain. Yet, the Pharisees seemed unwilling to have compassion on their fellow man!

Once again, when it comes to the law, Jesus made it abundantly clear that every other law is subordinate to the greatest one of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The next time we see someone in need, along with asking, “What would Jesus do?” we might also ask, “What would I want done for me in a similar situation?”

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. [Matthew 5:17 (NLT)]

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