WOULD ANYONE NOTICE?

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)… For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. [Romans 8:9,16 (NLT)]

canna - bandanna of the evergladesIt was obvious we had ceiling fans in all three bathrooms but, because all their bulbs were burned out when we moved here, we didn’t know they also had lights. Never having seen how bright the bathrooms could be with working fan lights, we didn’t notice their absence. It was only when we had some electrical work done that we discovered the dead bulbs. Now that we’ve put in new LEDs, we’ll be sure to notice if any stop working in the future!

I bring up the fan lights because this question was asked: “If the Holy Spirit withdrew from your church, would anybody be able to tell?” That question forces us to ask whether our church is more of a social club than a spirit-powered community. Is it centered on Sunday’s service or serving others? Is it about entertainment or enlightenment, conversation or conviction? Does it believe more in the power of networking than the power of prayer? Is it about growing bigger or becoming better, pleasing people or glorifying God, filling pews or fulfilling God’s purpose?

As thought provoking as that first question is for pastors and church councils, it raises another and far more personal question. If the Holy Spirit were to withdraw from you, would anybody notice?

When we accept Jesus, we’re not given a membership card, pin, or secret handshake. Underwriters Laboratories doesn’t certify us and there’s no symbol like the OU from the Orthodox Union to indicate we’re kosher. The only thing attesting to our salvation is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He regenerates and guides us, convicts us of our sins, teaches us to live in Christ’s righteousness, equips and empowers us to do all that God asks us to do, and helps us discern between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changes us so that we can grow and more and more like Christ and the only evidence of His presence is found in our changed lives.

We didn’t notice the missing lights in the bathroom because we’d never seen them on. In the same way, no one would notice that we’re no longer connected to the light of the Holy Spirit if we’ve never previously reflected “the glory of the Lord” in our lives. Life with the Spirit should look vastly different than life without!

While the Holy Spirit guides us, He doesn’t control us; we can ignore Him. Sin, like a burned out light bulb, can cause us to be unresponsive to the power of His presence. Although the Spirit will never abandon a true believer, the hypothetical question is one worth asking. Would anyone notice if the Spirit took a sudden leave of absence from our lives?  The answer to that will be found in another question: When we look into our hearts, do we see ourselves or the Holy Spirit?

O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams. [Augustine]

Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you. [Corrie Ten Boom]

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. [[2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)]

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RATS

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. [Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)]

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? [Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)]

Last week, my foot accidentally made unfortunate contact with an unmovable and incredibly hard piece of furniture. The intense jolt of pain that radiated from my toes through my foot caused words to come spewing out of this church lady’s mouth that had no business being there. While icing my bruised and swollen foot that evening, I recalled C.S. Lewis’ observation that provocation isn’t really what makes us “ill-tempered;” it simply shows us how ill-tempered we really are.

When our immediate response to something or someone is positive—the sort of thing Jesus would do—we’re more than willing to acknowledge our bravery, patience, compassion, or generosity. But, when our instant response to something (or someone) is less than stellar, rather than owning up to our sinfulness, we tend to blame the situation or other person. Justifying ourselves, it was the extenuating circumstance, problematic person, excessive demands (or table leg) that provoked, taxed, perturbed or goaded us into behavior unbecoming of a Christ follower. We, however, can’t have it both ways! Our emotions—our gut reactions, knee jerk responses, and unthinking words—reveal who and what we truly are deep inside.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis likens the sins that are usually revealed only when we’re taken by surprise to “rats in the cellar.” Not seeing the rats when we turn on the light and noisily stomp down the stairs doesn’t mean they’re not there. Most likely, those rats (like our hidden sins), will be seen only when they’re taken by surprise.

It isn’t life’s ambushes—the grueling day, a salesclerk’s rudeness, impossible deadlines, unreturned phone calls, a co-worker’s spitefulness, the vicious tweet, or even broken toes—that cause us to sin; those ambushes just reveal how sinful we actually are. When James and Peter wrote about considering our trials a reason for joy because they help us mature, I thought they were referring only to the significant and often long-lasting challenges of life. Lewis’s words made me consider that those trials include the small, often inconsequential, aggravations and vexations of life that come without warning. They are God’s way of shining a light on the rats in our cellars!

What a man does when he is taken off guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is. [C.S. Lewis]

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. [James 1:2-4 (NLT)]

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. [1 Peter 1:6-7a (NLT)]

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IT’S ABOUT TODAY

The thief only comes to steal, and kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life – yes, and have it full to overflowing. [John 10:10 (NTE)]

When I wrote about my friend Pat yesterday, I didn’t want to imply that the only thing non-believers miss is eternal life. The saddest part of being a non-believer (or waiting until the eleventh hour to believe), is foregoing the abundance of life promised by Jesus while we live on this side of the grass.

When we choose to believe in Jesus, our lives are transformed, renewed, and healed; they become “full to overflowing” right now! Sometimes, we overlook that point when we share our faith. Not being a Christian is more than missing the assurance that we’ll dwell in the house of the Lord forever; it means not having Christ live in our house today!

Evangelism messages concentrating on hellfire, brimstone, and the afterlife miss the point that failing to believe in Jesus means we forego the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in this lifetime. We don’t experience salvation when our soul leaves our body; it comes when the Holy Spirit enters our soul! Not following Jesus isn’t just losing the assurance of God’s forgiveness of our sins; it’s passing up the Spirit’s power that enables us to forgive the sins of others.

Whether believer or not, most of us can resist the temptation to steal or kill but we desperately need God’s power when it comes to resisting those everyday temptations of negativity, envy, pride, arrogance, stubbornness, laziness, impatience, anger, and fear. When God moves in, we experience the Fruit of the Spirit and, with His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we’re not helpless when it comes to temptation. While we’re far from perfect, we’re far better people than we were before Christ entered our lives!

The non-believer doesn’t have the stability that comes from faith in God and His plan. Christ’s followers are never at the mercy of their circumstances. When the storms come and the waves toss our boat, we know Jesus is there with us and will calm the storm (or teach us to swim). Like the Apostle Paul, Christ’s followers can find joy in all circumstances. We have confidence that God will provide our everyday needs—whether it is strength, courage, wisdom, or just our daily bread. Sadly, a non-believer foregoes the fullness that comes from being part of a faith community: the joy of corporate worship and having meaningful relationships with other believers. Being a Christ follower brings us a sense of purpose because, in God’s world, there’s always something to do! All of that, along with eternal life, is missed by the non-believer.

Following Jesus isn’t just about going to live with God some day in the future; it’s about God coming to live in us right now! It’s about experiencing the peace and joy that comes with the assurance that our loving God is at large and in charge! Let us remember to speak of the here and now as well as the hereafter when we speak to others about following Jesus.

Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate! Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. [Philippians 4:4-7 (NTE)]

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NECESSITIES

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! [Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)]

fireweedGames seem to be a requirement at wedding and baby showers and one such game is a purse scavenger hunt. Guests are given a list of items and the woman whose handbag contains the most of them is the winner. After playing it, I was amazed at the variety of articles beyond wallet, lipstick, tissues, and gum women pack into their purses.

Out of curiosity, I Googled what the well-packed purse should contain to be prepared for every situation. Combining the lists from the first two sites consulted, I’d need to carry 26 items. If I packed all of that in my purse, I’d need the recommended three zippered pouches to keep everything organized!

Even without handbags, men manage to carry things like handkerchiefs, pill cases, toothpicks, combs, Swiss Army knives, keys, cell phones, and overstuffed wallets. When researching what are considered a man’s necessities, the first site listed ten items and the next added six additional ones. Perhaps that’s why I’m seeing so many men carrying messenger bags and backpacks.

Looking at all the essentials these various sites listed, I wondered about the items a Christian brings with him or her when starting the day. More important than all the things we cram into our handbags or pockets, we need to remember the Fruit of the Spirit. I’d rather lose an earring because I don’t have an extra earring back than lose my temper because I forgot to bring along self-control! In a pinch, we’re more likely to need patience than a flask or stain-erasing pen. Faithfulness is more important that having a bit of shine on one’s nose, joy makes us more attractive than any lipstick, and a gentle word may save the day better than a safety pin. While I’d rather not have to choose, I’d prefer being a good person with bad breath or a kind one with body odor than a cold-hearted or unkind person who smells like cinnamon gum, peppermint or rose petal deodorant. An atmosphere of love is far more pleasant than the aroma from perfume or after shave and the peace of God is far more essential than even a flashlight or Ibuprofen!

God’s wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s guidance take less room and cover more situations than the multitask key ring that includes a pry bar and both flat-head and Phillips-head screwdrivers. We don’t need ear buds to hear God’s voice or a flash drive to keep His word in our hearts. People shouldn’t need our business card to know we are Christ’s followers and, unless we’re hiking in the back woods or expecting to light birthday candles soon, there is no need for a lighter or matches; we carry the light of Christ!

What we have in our hearts is far more important than what we carry in our purses or pack in our pockets. What are your essentials for the day?

Jesus spoke to them again. “I am the light of the world,” he said. “People who follow me won’t go around in the dark; they’ll have the light of life!” [John 8:12 (NTE)]

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BEING AN INSTRUMENT

tiger swallowtail butterflyBlessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NIV)]

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

We’ve come to know this prayer as “The Prayer of St. Francis” and usually attribute it to Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), the founder of the Franciscan religious orders. The patron saint of ecology and animals, Francis often is portrayed surrounded by animals. Stories first recorded by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century tell of the gentle man taming a wolf that had been terrorizing the town and preaching to the birds, rabbits, and fish (who both listened and obeyed).

Francis, however, was much more than a man who loved animals; he loved Jesus above all things, preached a gospel of simplicity, repentance, and radical obedience to Christ’s teaching, and put into practice the gospel life he preached. His contemporaries claimed that Francis lived out the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone other than the One who originally spoke those words. It’s easy to see how this prayer might have been penned by this godly man who endeavored to have the mind of Christ, but its origins are more recent.

Originally written in French and titled “A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass,” the prayer was published anonymously in 1912 in a small French Catholic magazine. In 1915, a French marquis sent the prayer to Pope Benedict XV and, in 1916, it appeared in Italian in L’Osservatore Romano (the Vatican’s daily newspaper). In 1920, titled “Prayer for Peace,” its original French translation was printed on the back of a prayer card bearing the image of St. Francis. The prayer circulated through Europe and, in 1927, it was attributed to St. Francis in print by French Protestants. Translated into English in 1936, the prayer was widely disseminated and, wherever it went, the name of St. Francis went with it.

This peace prayer became popular in an era not much different from ours. We may be able to travel from New York to London in seven hours rather than five days but we still are without peace! In spite of advances in technology, science, communication, medicine, and transportation we continue to have wars, financial disparity, social inequality, prejudice, injustice, unemployment, poverty, and even a global pandemic. We desperately need to pray for peace today as much as they did a century ago!

The author of this prayer asked to be an instrument—a tool, implement, or conduit—of peace. He continued with the actions of sowing (not gathering) love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy. Rather than receiving consolation, understanding and love, he sought to console, understand, and love others and then finished with the acts of giving and pardoning. His prayer reminds us that it is the peace makers, not the peace experiencers, Jesus said would be called the children of God! Being a peace maker takes us out of our comfort zones and into the territory of conflict resolution, relationship restoration, and change. Yet, we can’t resolve, restore or change anything if we are part of the problem! What seeds are we sowing? Are we seeking to console, understand, and love? Are we willing to give and forgive? Let us be peace makers and instruments of peace!

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. [Psalm 34:14 (NIV)]

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy. [Hebrews 12:14a (NIV)]

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THE “TERRIBLE PETITION”

Blessings on the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves. [Matthew 5:7 (NTE)]

Yes: if you forgive people the wrong they have done, your heavenly father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.’ [Matthew 6:14-15 (NTE)]

large striped swordtail butterflyWhen our pastor did a sermon series on “Dangerous Prayers,” he didn’t mention one many of us pray regularly: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” After giving the disciples “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus elaborated on this single petition by categorically stating, “If you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.”  The parable of the unforgiving debtor told in Matthew 18 leaves no room for ambiguity on this point. After the servant refuses to forgive the debt of a fellow servant, the angry king rescinds his forgiveness of the unforgiving man and sends him to be tortured in prison until the debt is paid. His debt (equivalent to several billion dollars today) was insurmountable and that torture would never end. Jesus warned his listeners that the same thing would happen to them if they withheld forgiveness.

Asking God to forgive us in the same way we extend forgiveness to others is dangerous. We are asking God to forgive us by the standard that we set—to deal with us as we deal with others! Called the “terrible petition” by St. Augustine, we’re actually asking God not to forgive us if we harbor any unforgiveness in our hearts! For some of us, could these words be a petition for condemnation rather than salvation, ones for death rather than everlasting life? If we’re unwilling to forgive, I suppose they are!

Paul’s words to the Ephesians tell us to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, and harsh words and to “forgive one another, just as God forgave you in the king.” [4:31-32] Without a doubt, forgiveness is a difficult process and time is needed between our being hurt and our ability to forgive. The struggle to forgive, however, isn’t the sin; it’s the decision not to forgive, to hold onto our bitterness, that is!

Fortunately, forgiveness is a fruit of the Spirit! Jesus said that good trees produce good fruit and that every tree failing to produce good fruit would be cut down and burned. Clarifying that people are identified by their actions, Jesus warned that only those who actually did the will of the Father would enter the kingdom of heaven! From His words, it seems that profession of faith alone does not equal salvation. While salvation is not earned by works, our faith is evidenced by them: by our willingness to do the Father’s will! Can there be an unforgiven Christian? I don’t think so. But, if we refuse to forgive, are we true disciples of Christ or merely hypocrites who say we are?

No part of His teaching is clearer: and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything or that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own. [C.S. Lewis]

Actually, good trees can’t produce bad fruit, nor can bad ones produce good fruit! Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. So: you must recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, “Master, Master” will enter the kingdom of heaven; only people who do the will of my father in heaven. [Matthew 7:18-21 (NTE)]

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